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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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Jun 21, 2015

Alien Parasite Antibodies

Remember earlier this year, when I contracted a severe case of startitis?

The initial symptoms were so subtle and innocuous, they were easy to ignore ... until that moment they reached fever pitch and there were 10 (15?) WIPs and swatches on the needles. (Some but not all appeared in the post, COAT Weather.)


That's typical for some knitters, but we all know it's not the norm for me. As a a slow knitter with limited knitting time, I've learned to aim for a balanced mix of WIPs: One concept piece (swatching). One primary project (manageable and modular). And one or two small, quick knits (like the Sweet Hearts and whimsical knits).

Between your thoughtful suggestions and my research on the wacky side of the web, we were able to trace the onset of startitis to an alien parasite infestation (API). Putting a name to the problem helped and gradually the symptoms abated.

It turns out API is far more common than we realized, but beyond that very little is known about the condition. At present, scientists believe:
  • Exposure confers short-term resistance rather than lifetime immunity
  • Repeated bouts boost resistance but unpredictable relapses are common
  • Some people never achieve complete immunity
  • API can be fatiguing and frustrating, but it's non-fatal

These facts were moderately reassuring, but it was obvious further wacky-web research was in order.

There I found a compelling analysis of blood samples drawn from hapless humans afflicted with alien parasites. During this analysis, researchers were for the first time able to isolate the API cell form:
(Oh, dear. It's probably just my work-weary eyes, but doesn't that API cell bear a striking resemblance to ... No, surely it's just my imagination.)

The scientists were among other things stunned to find API cell strands "vary greatly in size, feature a wide range of textures, display a full spectrum of colors and some are even variegated." (Their words, not mine.)

You'll be relieved to learn the same team also managed to capture an image of the only known antidote, the powerful but elusive API antibody:
Reluctant to comment openly on what this discovery might mean, the scientists sheepishly confessed they were puzzled by certain facts. 

Apparently the antibodies vary in size and configuration much like the API cells, but they can be recognized by the presence of "stick-like structures that appear to be neutralizing the cell strands through some process we have yet to identify." (Again their words, not mine.)

Should you tell them? Or should I?


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Jun 14, 2015

Yarn | Weights & Conversions

I've been doing a lot of swatching to experiment with specific stitches in different yarn weights. I've also been mixing and matching assorted weights to test varied approaches to multi-stranding and assess the effect on color, stitch and fabric.

There's no mystery or magic involved, I'm simply striving to see my stash with fresh eyes and find creative ways to transform lurkers and lingerers into something pretty, practical and appealing.

      Lace + Sock

For several years, I've ruthlessly culled and donated yarns that no longer suit my preferences, are too fiddly to fathom or don't perform well in real life. Technically, I'm not cold-sheeping but I'm so committed to stash depletion, I've focused on designing patterns and prioritizing projects that help make the most of the yarn on hand.

The results have been satisfying, but many lovely yarns still reside in their cozy cupboards. (Yes, plural.) From afghans and accessories to cardis and cloths, it's time to employ innovative combinations that continue to whittle the hoard to a manageable size.

      Sock + Fingering

To make this ongoing effort easier, I created the yarn weight chart (below). Most of the information is familiar and readily available in various forms and countless locations. What's not so easy to find are quick conversions for multi-stranding.

After many frustrating results and false starts, I bit the bullet and pulled together the information I needed most. This chart has become my constant companion, and while I plan to continue adding to it, I thought you might find it helpful now for your own knitting adventures.

YARN WEIGHTS & CONVERSIONS
WEIGHT
TYPE
PLY
NEEDLE SIZES (US)
NEEDLE SIZES (mm)
GAUGE
STS/IN
(Stock.)
TYPICAL YARDS
(50 gr)
2 STRANDS
APPROX.
3 STRANDS
APPROX.
0
Lace
Lace
Light Fingering
2-ply
000 to 1
1.5 to 2.25
8.25 to
10 sts
440
Sport
DK
1
Super Fine
Sock
Fingering
Baby
3-ply
4-ply
1 to 3
2.25 to 3.25
6.75 to
8 sts
230
DK
Worsted
2
Fine
Sport
Baby
4-ply
5-ply
6-ply
3 to 5
3.25 to 3.75
5.75 to
6.5 sts
180
Worsted
Aran
3
Light
DK
Light Worsted
8-ply
5 to 7
3.75 to 4.5
5.25 to
6 sts
150
Aran
Chunky
4
Medium
Worsted
Afghan
Aran
10-ply
7 to 9
4.5 to 5.5
4 to
5 sts
110
Chunky
Bulky /
Super Bulky
5
Bulky
Chunky
Craft
Rug
12-ply
9 to 11
5.5 to 8
3 to
3.75 sts
50
Bulky /
Super Bulky

6
Super Bulky
Bulky
Roving

11 and up
8 and up
1.5 to
2.75 sts
40



Keep in mind the conversions are approximate, since every yarn is so very different. Also remember working with multiple strands is not the same as knitting with plied yarn. In general, the combined strands work up in a slightly more substantial (aka heavier) manner than you might expect, so plan accordingly.

These shifting and unpredictable variables are among the many reasons why swatching is so important. It's the only way to see how any yarn or mix of yarns will look and behave in a given stitch.

      Chunky

Meanwhile, there’s a swatch calling my name, so I’d better get back to my knitting.

For more tips, tricks and tools, click here.

Jun 7, 2015

Pattern | Papa Owl & Family

If you’re among those who asked and waited patiently for the Whimsy Owl Family, thank you for your forbearance. The pattern has been released, so your wait is over!

The Owl Family works up fast and the pattern features:
  • Three sizes (SML)
  • Directions for solid and striped versions
  • Tips and tricks
  • Easy modifications
  • A handy Quick Reference guide to help you use yarn from stash
Individually or as a collection, the Owls function as cloths, coasters, hotpads or pure decoration for special occasions or everyday use. Simple, sweet and just a little silly, they never fail to make me smile.


In any combination, Papa, Mama and baby owl are:
  • Fun and decorative
  • Easy to customize
  • Perfect for partial skeins and scraps

Opt for matching pieces or mix things up with a variety of sizes, colors and combinations.
It's easy because:
  • The design uses increases rather than decreases to create a reverse mitered garter square. This approach allows you to control size and make changes as you work.
  • The pieces remain compact and portable for quick knitting on the go.
  • The bias technique is easy to master and equally easy to memorize.
  • The color work is a snap: Only one color is worked on a row, there’s no stranding involved.
  • The yarns shown are worsted weight cotton-wool blends, but the design adapts to different yarn weights and fiber types.
  • The pattern is simple enough for beginners, and a handy Quick Reference guide helps you rapidly adjust size, yardage, etc.

Pattern | Whimsy Owl Family (Papa, Mama & Baby)
Yarn: Worsted Weight
Shown: Cotton Fleece (Brown Sheep), Four Seasons (Classic Elite)
Needles: US 8 (5 mm)
Sizes: SML (6 ins to 9 ins)
Yardage: 46 to 77 yards each (approx.)

Because they work up so quickly, Whimsy Owls make fast, fun gifts and decorations for baby showers, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and family occasions. To help you celebrate, the pattern will be available at a 30% discount until midnight on Father's Day (June 21 EDT).

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

Enjoy!


To read about the Owl projects, check out Whoooo is Watching and Owl in the Family.

May 31, 2015

Summer Blooms

Many of us have considerable yarn reserves, which makes knitting from stash an ongoing priority.

Based on your comments here and flash-the-stash threads on Ravelry, it's clear my yarn hoard is somewhere in the broad middle range: It’s substantial enough to provide variety, but not so massive it requires a new room addition.

The current stash in fact fits into its designated cupboards and drawers (more or less). I know this because I recently devoted a chunk of time to tidying up the studio space, returning yarn to bins, retrieving runaway needles, filing sketches, organizing current project notes, pitching outdated ones and trying to restore some semblance of order.

The results were far from perfect, but I confess, the process felt great and the space looked much more inviting.

It lasted for almost 24 hours. The simple acts of restashing yarn and clearing the decks revealed unseen possibilities. The studio space is now rapidly regressing as clusters of yarn continue to creep out of the cupboards and clamor for attention.


The rosy group above consists of Helen's Lace (Lorna'a Laces) with variegated rayon metallic (Blue Heron), while the bunch below shows Silk Ribbon and Regal Silk (Artyarns), Champagne (Grignasco), Wool Cotton 4-Ply (Rowan) and the last of my blue-green variegated rayon metallic (Blue Heron).


I’m not sure precisely what these skeins hope to become, but it’s clear they want their moment in the sun. Summer blooms, filled with bright promise and the tantalizing possibility of a fresh crop of knits. Straight from stash.


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May 26, 2015

Stitch Works

As knitters, we all have opinions regarding the type of stitches we prefer for different items.

I've been thinking about this, because I'm working on a new afghan concept. As a result, I've been rummaging through existing swatches, experimenting with the impact of different colors and yarns, scouring stitch dictionaries and swatching, swatching, swatching. (Below: front and back)




These steps are an essential part of the process, but they can test the patience of a saint (and I'm definitely not a saint). There's plenty of knitting going on but very little to show, because most of the swatches were frogged in the tadpole phase and never made it in front of the camera.

I was ready to scrap the concept and head back to the drawing board when this little cluster caught my eye:


The group reminded me that where afghans are concerned, there's a reason certain stitches land and remain on my short list. In general, the keepers tend to be: 
Simple and easy –  The easier a stitch is the more likely I am to work a few quick rows while I'm on the phone or carry the project with me to knit on the run.
Reversible – The front and back don’t have to match, but I want both sides to be attractive in their own right. 
Versatile – I’ve made a number of afghans using stitches that to my eye are most appealing worked in solid colors, but I have a true passion for those that also create a pleasing effect in two or more colors. These stitches offer more flexibility and encourage me to experiment with different combinations, which is especially helpful when I'm knitting from stash.
Solid rather than lacy – Don’t misunderstand me please: I love the look of light and lacy afghans and admire the exceptional skill it takes to make them. One of the most frequent complaints voiced by afghan recipients, however, is how much they hate having their toes poke through the fabric. For this reason, my favorite stitches produce a fluid material with an attractive texture but few if any holes. 
That sounds rather straightforward, don't you think? When you add these criteria together, however, the list quickly grows shorter. (Below: front and back)


As knitters we face a complex challenge. What elusive combination of yarn, needle and stitch looks good? Meets our core criteria? Performs as intended in a specific project?

It's a stage of the creative process most non-makers rarely see and frankly don't understand. That's okay. Meanwhile, I'll continue to experiment, swatch and swatch some more until I find which stitch works.


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May 20, 2015

Colors of Summer

In the United States, red, white and blue are the unofficial colors of summer.

There are many patriotic holidays throughout the year, but three major ones define the season: Memorial Day signals the defacto start of summer, Independence Day marks the midpoint and Labor Day tags the transition to fall.

This confluence of celebrations (coupled with my own quirky nature) helps explain why I've worked for several years to slowly build a collection of coordinated RWB cloths, coasters and decorative items for summertime use.

The latest addition is this color-block heart. (Yes, it's from the Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern.)
It helps round out this cluster:

It's a nice complement to these cloths (and the many others not shown, which we'll save for another day):
And it helps me believe (however delusionally) that no matter how small the item, if I continue to add to the RWB collection I might one day knit my way through this portion of the stash:


Summer has arrived in this corner of the world. How do we know? Once again, it's time to bring out the red, white and blue.


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