Nov 22, 2015

Holiday Knitting: Forest or Trees?

Fall has arrived. The air is cool, the leaves are crunching underfoot and the last of the pumpkins are perched on porches signaling the final lead-up to Thanksgiving. To celebrate the season, I've pulled Twegen Harvest from its storage drawer, and already it's seeing plenty of action.

In the spirit of a different season looming on the horizon, I've been busily making plans and working on pre-holiday preparations.

Several years ago I made a series of Christmas Tree prototypes, then life events intervened.

Recently, the time seemed right to revisit these designs and add some refinements. To accomplish that, I've been knitting trees in yarns ranging from DK to bulky weight ...

      (These colors are accurate.)

and sizes from small to large ...

in various colors and fibers from cotton-wool and chenille to pure merino ...

In other words, if the yarn is green, red or white and it can't outrun me, it's fair game!

Periodically I look at the growing pile and think: Surely there's a holiday decorating theme hidden in this disarray ... 

I'll have to deal with that issue another day. At the moment, I can't see the forest for the trees.

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Nov 15, 2015

Match. Set. Love.

Every now and then, we all need to take a break from larger projects and work on something compact, quick and easy.

From socks and hats to cowls and cloths, we have our personal favorites. For me, mitts are my go-to project of choice, particularly this time of year.

The reasons are obvious: They're a great way to experiment with stitches, play with color, put singletons, scraps and partials to good use, and make something fast, fun and functional.

When I say I wear mitts daily from early fall well into spring, I'm not kidding: Every pair in the rotation gets worn. A lot. (I'm wearing the burgundy pair as I write.) Cool weather has arrived, and it's evident I'll soon be experiencing a mitt shortage.

Hard to believe, right? But it's true.

Late last spring, I pitched several ancient pairs that were so limp and lifeless, they were well past their expiration date. Several others were relegated to home use only, because they're functional but battered and pilled. Now it's time to restock the supply.

The simple mitts I made at the start of the year are so soft, comfortable and versatile, that seemed like a good place to start. By keeping things simple, I hope to steadily produce a fresh crop of handwarmers suitable for public wear.

The (unblocked) gradient mitts below were the first off the needles, for two reasons: They allowed me to use up a mix of remnants from past projects, and the neutral color goes with everything. (They feature the same stitch as the burgundy pair above.)

Unfortunately, there's nothing like a speedy, satisfying knit to get the fiber-oriented neurons firing.

My Wineberry wrap, Blackberry shawl and Plumberry scarf (below) see plenty of wear, but they'd see even more if I had a nice pair of mitts to accompany them. (You can see where this is heading, can't you?!)

I have enough yarn left over from those particular projects to accomplish that, but in other cases, I'll have to get creative. For example, every inch of the lovely Quince Tern went into the Oyster Bay shawl, so I'm contemplating the combination below. The colors clearly aren't the same, but the gray and black in the variegated yarn might tone down the solids just enough to make it work. (I see some swatching in my future.) 

Holiday knits are the top priority plus there are several non-holiday projects on the needles (and wish list), so mitt-making will be sporadic at best. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward with anticipation to one day soon having mitts that both warm my hands and coordinate with my favorite scarves, shawls and wraps.

Match + Set = Love. As simplistic as it sounds, it just might be a winning combination.

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Nov 8, 2015

Holiday Knitting? Try a KISS Plan

Truth time: Every now and then I bite off more than I can chew. (Does that ever happen to you?)

I seem particularly inclined to do this in the months and weeks leading up to the holidays, but I've promised myself this year is going to be different. (I swear!)

Rather than turn the season into a frantic, stress-filled knitting marathon, I've made two crucial changes: I've started earlier. And I've developed my very own Holiday Knitting KISS Plan. (KISS stands for Keep It Simple & Straightforward. Ahem.)

Here's how it works:
  • List. Create a master list of  all planned hand knit gifts along with the recipient's name and a basic progress bar.
  • Swatch. The first step for each project is to make a small, gift-worthy swatch or simple ornament.
  • Prep. Because the swatches and ornaments will eventually be hung on the tree, they'll be carefully blocked and feature a hanging loop.
  • Tag. I'm creating two simple tags. The first says: Handcrafted with love just for you! The second says: Santa got delayed, but a handcrafted (scarf, shawl, afghan, whatever) is on its way!
  • Knit. Tackle each project in whatever sequence works.
  • Plan A. When the project is finished and ready to give, I'll wrap it, attach the "just for you" tag, put the gift under the tree, hang the swatch/ornament and I'm done.
  • Plan B. If the gift isn't quite ready, I'll use the "Santa got delayed" tag, wrap the swatch/ornament as a small gift or simply hang it on the tree.

My hand knit gift list isn't extensive, but I already feel more in control. This is undoubtedly delusional, but it's a good feeling nonetheless.

One way or another, everyone will have an actual or token gift in hand, so instead of mumbling apologies or appearing with the bleary eyes and caffeine jitters associated with desperate late-night gift knitting, I can relax and enjoy the occasion. (At least, that's the theory.)

If there were little ones in the picture, I'd make sure their presents were ready before tackling gifts for grownups. Luckily the kids in our extended family are in their teens or early twenties, so they'll be fine with this approach and happy to receive their gifts whenever they're finished. 

We'll see how well this plan works as holiday deadlines grow closer. Meanwhile I confess I'm looking forward to this bonus: The joy that comes from seeing the house and Christmas tree decorated with a fresh (albeit temporary) crop of hand knit ornaments.

What's your plan for keeping holiday knitting manageable? Feel free to share!

The holiday knitting is in full sway, but at the moment, I can't see the forest for the trees.

Nov 1, 2015

Fall Fantasy

Several years ago, I devoted a healthy chunk of an extremely hot, sticky summer to my first top-down sweater, a cardigan

Working on that project taught me several powerful lessons. In a nutshell, top-down cardigans are:
  • Cleverly constructed.
  • Basically blankets with sleeves.
  • Cozy to work on in winter but sweltering in summer, especially when the yarn is wool.

Not long after it was finished, I realized it was a flop. 

I loved the yarn (Merino 5 by Crystal Palace) and the color. The pattern (Flair by Wendy Bernard) was nice, versatile and adaptable. The finished cardigan was the ideal weight for fall and fit just fine.

The problem? As lovely as they are on others, on me raglan sleeves and top-down designs accentuate my weak points and are very unbecoming. So the sweater languished in a drawer for a couple years, but was never worn. (Never. Nada, zilch, zero. Not once.) 

I finally faced facts and frogged itFrogging a finished item is difficult under any circumstance, but it can be particularly problematic for those of us who are slow knitters because sweaters, afghans and similar large projects represent so very many hours of diligent effort.

That was then, this is now. 

I've been studying various swatches, trying to decipher what this yarn might want to become.

A few months ago, I thought it might be destined for an afghanThat option is still on the table, but I think I was on the right track the first time (cardigan) and just choose the wrong method (top-down). 

With that in mind, I'm adopting a fresh approach. The design is extraordinarily simple (of course), features some of my favorite stitches (of course), incorporates modular construction (of course), and has been floating around in my portfolio for years (of course).

The crisp air has me indulging in a familiar fall fantasy: This will be the year this lovely yarn becomes the sweater it was meant to be.

PS: I know, I know! Afghans, shawls, a flurry of Christmas knits, quick cowls and mitts on the needles (more on these soon), and now chatter about a cardigan. It sounds like the early stages of startitis. I'm working hard to prevent a relapse, but we shall see ...

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Oct 25, 2015

Lost in Neverland

My sister always said every skein of yarn and knitting project I tackled had a story behind it, and she was right. This particular sweater saga is just one of many examples, something I alluded to in a recent stashbusting post and reader Martina insisted I share.

The tale begins on a gorgeous fall day. I was out of town staying with a dear friend, and we'd decided to spend the afternoon running errands and doing casual things. We tackled a few items on her list, then popped into a local yarn store so I could fondle fiber and inhale yarn fumes.

I quickly discovered a pile of Korall, a lovely chunky merino yarn that was exquisite and expensive. Enamored with the soft hand and beautiful clear red, I stood rooted to the spot, stroking it and admiring the color.

Perhaps I muttered something about a sweater. Perhaps I sighed audibly, knowing full well I'd already spent every cent of my yarn budget on premium yarns to make gifts for friends and family.

Since I was browsing not buying, I stiffened my spine and moved on, petting random skeins while I explored the store. As we climbed into the car to head to lunch, my friend handed me a bag filled with the lush Korall and said, "I saw how much you admired this, so consider it a belated birthday gift."

I was speechless. Not only was it a thoughtful gesture, that bag of yarn represented an outlay far greater than our traditional token gifts. I stammered my thanks, we hugged and then got on with our day.

When I returned home, I started searching for a suitable sweater pattern. With the limited yardage typical of most chunky weights, it was painfully evident I would need more yarn. (The loose and relaxed look I prefer requires plenty of yardage.) After lots of math and preliminary swatching, I realized I needed roughly 15 more skeins to make the vivid red cardigan I imagined.

And so it began. I hit the phones and called every local yarn store. No luck. I called the original yarn store to try to snag more, but the Korall was gone. I searched online, contacted more stores, and struck out again and again.

Finally I managed to track down 10 skeins of red and 10 of black at two distant locations. After months of searching, I wasn't willing to risk running short: I bought all of it, paid a bundle for shipping, and soon it was on its way. Finally, I would have sufficient yarn in hand.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months as I swatched and searched for a design that would optimize this new mix of red and black to create the wonderfully wearable cardigan I envisioned. As time marched onward, I began to wonder if adding a third color might improve my options.

Yep, you guessed it. I tracked down a gorgeous purple (Torino Bulky), bought a handful of skeins, then returned to sketching concepts and scouring books, Ravelry and blogs in an effort to find the perfect pattern.

Therein lies the rub. I swatched repeatedly and tried the growing assortment of bulky yarn in one design after another to no avail. In more than one instance I knit significant portions (50%, 60%, 70%) before it became evident the design wasn't right for me, the yarn or both.

Time and again, the Korall was swatched, knit, frogged, rewound and returned to stash. I simply couldn't seem to land on a combination that did justice to it and my friend's generous gesture.

Then one day, the right light bulb turned on. I worked up some sketches, whipped out my needles, knit several swatches then made this:

While I'd cheerfully forego the years of trial and error when the yarn and I were lost in neverland, this version of Flashpoint worked up so quickly and was such fun to make, I couldn't be happier.

Clearly from the very beginning, the yarn longed to be something other than a cardigan. This is actually good news, since many bulky merino skeins remain in the stash, eager to find their purpose and fulfill their destiny. As afghans, not sweaters.

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Oct 18, 2015

Two-Shawl Weather

In our little corner of the world, fall weather has arrived.

Mornings are chilly, evenings are cool and afternoons are crisp and breezy. I'm not quite ready to don full winter gear, but an extra layer of warmth is always welcome and often essential.

What's a knitter to do?

My solution has been simple: Wear two shawls. Today, the look features two Dojelings, a favorite pair-up for all sorts of reasons. The red shades are cheerful and warming, the colors coordinate nicely, and the combination works perfectly with my standard black attire.

At the moment, the smaller Wineberry is snuggled around my neck and the larger Blackberry is draped around my shoulders. In tandem they're ideal: Soft. Light. Cozy but not hot.

The closeup above shows Blackberry at the top and Wineberry at the bottom. To cap off the look, there are red merino fingerless mitts on my hands and the bold version of Flashpoint draped over my knees. (As you know, once the weather turns cool my office does too, so there's always at least one afghan folded at the ready over the back of an office chair.)

The two-shawl strategy is working well from a comfort standpoint, but as a fashion statement (ahem), it's putting my limited collection to the test. There are swatches on the needles and skeins vying for contention as companion pieces to complement Oyster Bay, but it's time to buckle down, make some decisions and get a new shawl underway.

Why? My optimistic self fervently hopes we'll have the mildest fall and winter on record, but my realistic side suspects two-shawl weather might be here to stay.

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Oct 11, 2015

Where Fiber Meets Fingers

National I Love Yarn Day (ILYD) is October 17, so consider this your early warning.

Mark your calendar and make plans to enjoy the occasion in true fiber fan style. This weekend is also the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival, but since many of us won't be able to attend, one of the best ways to celebrate is to visit our favorite LYS.

This is on my mind because through the marvels of Ravelry, I recently had an interesting exchange regarding the symbiotic relationship among yarn makers, yarn dyers, yarn buyers, designers and LYS owners. 
As part of that discussion, I commented that LYS owners ...
occupy that unique space where fiber meets fingers. You know what appeals to your customers, and you’re the ones who face the challenge of guiding them through the process of matching the right yarn and needles to the right patterns and vice versa.

The designer/knitter/yarn maker/seller relationship is complementary and when these factors come together, a little magic happens and everyone wins. As an added bonus, fiber folks are a generous lot, so loved ones and strangers frequently gain something too: 
  • A welcome-to-the-world baby blanket
  • A comforting shawl for a nursing mom or someone dealing with difficult challenges
  • A warm afghan for those who are frail, ill or simply far from home
  • A cozy hat, scarf or pair of mitts as a reminder we care
  • A small handcrafted coaster or cloth to make someone smile

It's easy to participate in ILYD, just visit your local yarn store. Inhale fiber fumes, pet some yarn and connect with those who share your passion. Find the perfect yarn and pattern so you can create something special. Take along a stubborn stash skein and pair it with new yarn to make something fresh and delightfulIndulge in a coveted set of needles. Work on a WIP or cast on a holiday gift. Teach someone to knit, attend a class or master a new stitch.

If you knit, crochet, design, dye, spin, weave or work with fiber in any way, it's likely your LYS plays a pivotal role in your creative endeavors. Celebrate your craft by doing what you love with others who love it, too, in that unique space where fiber meets fingers.

Connecting with the linkups in the sidebar.

Oct 4, 2015

Afghans in TV Land

Have you noticed how many TV programs incorporate afghans as part of the set decor?  If you pay attention to the details, they provide interesting clues to the characters.

In Scandal, for example, Olivia has an exquisite afghan featuring classic, controlled cables worked in fine, white yarn. Without even touching it you know it's cashmere and absolutely as soft and enticing as it looks. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it draped casually over the back of the couch, while at others it's folded into a large triangular shape and positioned with care. Like Liv herself, it's precise, pristine and elegant, and quite clearly a subtle "white hat" symbol. (If you watch the show, you know what that means.)

The afghans that appear in the Big Bang Theory tell a different story. Amy's couch sports a throw made with small, colorful granny squares with a delightful retro feel. The riot of colors picks up elements from around the room in a non-matchy-matchy way. The overall effect is charming, and to my eye, the granny-ghan is the perfect choice for such an endearing character (perhaps because bright colors and faux-block construction have been on my mind lately.)

In the short-lived program, Growing Up Fisher, the story line centered around the amazing capabilities of the writer's father who was blind. When the parents separated, the father moved into an apartment in a renovated old bakery. Much like him, the apartment decor was streamlined, modern and efficient, but subtle touches like a muted tone-on-tone neutral throw added depth and texture to the room and hinted at the softer side of the father's strong, self-sufficient personality.

For many of us, knitting and TV go hand in hand, and every onscreen sighting of handcrafted items enhances this symbiotic relationship. My knitting time is limited which means my TV time is too, so when I'm watching, I'm torn between following the action and scanning the screen for the next fleeting glimpse of unexpected yarny goodness.

What can I say? I may miss pivotal plot points, but I try not miss hand knits. With the new fall season underway, I confess I'm looking forward to spotting a fresh crop of afghans in TV land.

If you're like me and relish these brief but recurring handcrafted appearances, you might enjoy these posts: Hand Knits in TV Land (Halifax)Hand Knits from TV Land and Alien Parasite Hypothesis.

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Sep 27, 2015

Pattern | Flashpoint Afghan

Longing for an easy, breezy knit for family, friends and gift-giving? 

Flashpoint might well be the solution. It combines triangular modules and simple techniques to create a striking afghan with zigzag lines flashing across the surface. 

The clean unisex design lets your yarn and color selections shine: Make it bold in brights, dramatic in darks, handsome in handpaints, sophisticated in subtle neutrals, terrific in team colors or vibrant in variegated yarn. Or work each module in a different color for a rainbow effect that appeals to the young and young at heart.

The design features a crossed stockinette stitch on the front and plush texture on the back, so both sides are attractive. Modules knit quickly, stay compact, and are joined with crisp seams that highlight the construction, form the lightning flash and make seaming a cinch.

Flashpoint is a speedy, satisfying knit. The:

  • Crossed stockinette stitch is easy to execute and produces a subtle texture on the front and a plush texture on the back.
  • Colorwork is a snap. Solid and striped versions are equally easy, since only one color is worked on a row.
  • Modular 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 blanket in your lap or on the needles. 
  • Seaming method uses a fresh variation on a three-needle bind off, so assembly goes quickly and smoothly.
  • Pattern is simple enough for any moderately experienced beginner. Concise but complete, it includes a basic schematic along with directions, stitch counts, yardage and dimensions for three sizes.
  • Yarn is bulky weight or its multi-strand equivalent, so your project grows quickly whether you use fresh fiber, yarn from stash or a blend of both.
  • Unisex design suits males and females of every age group young and old, so have fun and experiment with different color combinations, yarn textures and module arrangements. 

Work the pattern as written, or tailor it to your tastes using the tips, tricks and ideas for easy modifications included in the pattern, it's your choice. The handy Quick Reference guide provides detailed yardage estimates so customization is easy.

Picture the possibilities: Just change the colors, yarn and mix of solid and striped modules, and you can quickly create a stream of blankets suitable for everyone on your knitting list from brand new babies to beloved grandparents.

Flashpoint | Fast & Easy Afghan
Yarn: Bulky or multi-strand equivalent
Shown: Korall (Laines du Nord), Torino Bulky (Tahki), Silk Blend Sport (Blackberry Ridge)
Needles: US 11 (8 mm)
Sizes: SML (baby-lapghan-throw)
Yardage (approx.): 750 (S), 1375 (M), 1850 (L)

Eager to cast on? Click here to purchase the pattern and read the Ravelry description. Whether you're trying to 
get a jumpstart on upcoming gifts or you're simply in the mood for cool weather knitting, Flashpoint is a fun, fast and easy afghan to make.

Shopping at your favorite yarn store? All patterns are activated for LYS in-store sales.

Want to know more? See FO | Flashpoint Bright & Bold and FO | Flashpoint Blue.

Making Flashpoint for your favorite fella? Check out these guy-worthy color combos.

Considering a multi-strand strategy? See this helpful conversion chart.