Mar 22, 2015

(Un)Natural Affinities

Personally, I prefer natural fibers. This means I gravitate toward yarn made with cotton, wool, bamboo, silk and similar materials. 

The same is true for needles, an arena where I favor bamboo. I won’t presume to tell you what type of needle to use, but I will say this: Needle material can make a significant difference in your knitting, so it's well worth experimenting with different options.

Through the years, I’ve used almost every conceivable needle type, but when I switched to bamboo, it transformed my knitting experience and the finished result.

Bamboo needles are light and provide just the right mix of “slip and grip” for me. The surface allows stitches to slip off readily with little resistance, but it also grips stitches securely enough so they don’t leap into oblivion when I stop mid-row or lay my knitting down.

The key point is this: No matter what you’re knitting, choose the fiber, stitch and needle combination that works best for you. Just keep in mind that substituting yarn or switching from one needle type to another may affect stitch and row gauge, and it can alter overall appearance.

In my case, bamboo needles helped me achieve a more consistent tension and made it much easier to hit gauge on the first or second try.

Because someone will ask, all the photos show versions of the bamboo stitch, a favorite of mine for all the reasons you know so well: It’s fast, it’s easy and with the right adaptations, it’s reversible (attractive on both sides).

Also because someone will ask, the yarns shown are:
Turquoise: Brilla (Filatura di Crosa; 42% cotton, 58% rayon)
Pink: Royal Bamboo (Plymouth Yarn; 100% bamboo)

At one end of the spectrum we have bamboo yarn, needles and stitches, examples of the many natural affinities ruling my knitting life.

At the opposite end we have photography, one of many unnatural affinities offering significant (ahem) opportunity for improvement.

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.

Mar 18, 2015

Strange Symptoms

At some point during the recent bout of startitis extremis, I started seeing spots.

Single spots.

Stacked spots.

Scattered spots.

Coffee spots.

Spots as far as the eye could see.

If you're looking at the screen and seeing spots, too, be forewarned: It's one of many surprising and strange symptoms of alien parasite infestation.

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.

Mar 8, 2015

Alien Parasite Hypothesis

American TV is far more educational than many people realize.

I can state this with some degree of confidence for two simple reasons: One TV show provided a clue to my recent, mysterious bout of startitisAnother revealed the definitive cause.

Here's how that came about.

In a Big Bang Theory rerun titled The Alien Parasite Hypothesis, the delightfully naive Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Balik) experiences a strange and baffling reaction. She’s introduced to an attractive, well-built young man, and her pulse begins to race, her ears grow hot and she can’t stop herself from repeatedly saying “hoo!”

(Substitute "yarn" for "young man" and these physiological reactions are eerily similar to mine at the peak of startitis extremis.)

To discover the source of this puzzling condition, Amy and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) conduct a differential analysis to explore causes ranging from flu and hyperthyroidism to alien parasites. The usual shenanigans ensue, and eventually they conclude Amy’s symptoms are a normal, healthy female response to an attractive young man.

(Whew! Substitute "yarn" for "young man" and apparently my knitterly response was relatively normal and perhaps even healthy.)

But wait.

Amy and Sheldon rejected the alien parasite hypothesis, but they never actually disproved it.

This alarming realization sent me scurrying to the internet to conduct some quick research. The pseudoscience is clear: Alien parasites run rampant on Earth and are a leading cause of bizarre and incomprehensible behavior in hapless human hosts.

This knowledge was useful, but it took another TV icon to solve the mystery. Sherlock Holmes came to the rescue with this observation: When all other possibilities are eliminated, whatever remains no matter how improbable must be the truth.

Finally, the explanation for my severe bout of startitis has been revealed.

Alien parasites made me do it.

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.