Jan 31, 2016

11 Rich Color Combos

As much as I love neutrals in all their infinite variety, when winter arrives I find myself reaching for cozy yarn dyed in deep, richly saturated shades.

This craving for color intensifies with each passing week, until right on schedule it reaches fever pitch in late January. In my experience, it's the best way to combat cabin fever and deal with the cold and gloom that characterizes winter in this region.

Just in case you feel the same, I thought I'd share some favorite combinations that deliver the color fix many of us need to weather winter in fiber fan style:

Black, red, purple

Aged pewter, merlot, old gold

Coral Sea
Aqua, coral, sand

Gemtones Deep
Sapphire, ruby, emerald

Gemtones Medium
Turquoise, amethyst, citrine

New Nautical
Deep navy, faded red, fog

Redheart, Fortune, Damson

Rainbow Deep
Currant, gold, forest, indigo, purple

Sage, coral, butter

Rosemary, chili pepper, mustard

Walnut, pumpkin, squash

This assortment contains perennial favorites and more current color profiles, but it doesn't come close to exhausting the full range of possibilities and variations. The combination below with its mix of medium and deep gemtones remains one of my all-time winter favorites:

     Drumlin Gemtones

Looking at these saturated shades speaks to a very real, very primal need. I'm eyebrow deep in knitting projects, and we all know I get a bit twitchy when there are too many things on the needles. So I'm fighting the urge to cast on something new and choosing instead to focus on active WIPs that feature soft, inviting yarns brimming with rich, vibrant color.

Jan 24, 2016

Best of Both Worlds

Not long ago, I shared my intent to buy more yarn in order to maximize yarn in stash. I agonized over that decision as I'm inclined to do, but based on the results to date it was a sound move.

This handful of quick WIP snapshots shows some of the new yarn in action:

Flashpoint Afghan
Stash: Red (Korall, Laines du Nord)
New: Cream (Extra Soft Merino Grande, Gedifra)
New: Black (Valley Superwash Bulky)

Christmas Trees (ornaments, coasters, hotpads, table toppers)
Stash: Red (Korall, Laines du Nord)
New: Cream (Extra Soft Merino Grande, Gedifra)
New: Green (Torino Bulky, Tahki)

Stash: Variegated (RicRac, Blue Heron)
New: Black (Cotton Fleece, Brown Sheep)

Stash: Purples (Cotton Fleece, Brown Sheep)
New: Black (Cotton Fleece, Brown Sheep)

Stash: Purple (Torino, Tahki)
Stash: Red (Korall, Laines du Nord)
Stash: Turquoise (Merino 5, Crystal Palace)
New: Black (Superwash Bulky, Valley Yarns)

As knitters, we know numbers tell an important part of the story. I did some rough calculations and found every new skein is helping convert three to six stash skeins into productive use (including a couple projects not shown). This strikes me as a very respectable return on investment, whether we measure it in dollars or fiber.

Yes, the new skeins have had a minor effect on storage, but since everything still fits into the designated cupboards, the impact has been inconsequential. As an added plus, the fiber infusion has sparked fresh ideas for stubborn stash, inspired new designs and promoted slow but steady progress on targeted projects.

Of course, these tantalizing results mean I've begun compiling a wish list for my next round of stashbusting buys, but that can wait. Right now, I'm savoring the yarn in hand, relishing the promise it offers, and enjoying the best of both worlds old and new.

Connecting with the linkups in the sidebar.

Jan 17, 2016

Maker's Monday

The Stash Knit Down group is one of my favorite Ravelry forums. Years ago, shortly after I first discovered it, I emailed a friend saying, "I've found my people."

It was true then, and it's still true today. Then, I had I dialed up my commitment to wrangle the stash into submission and was seeking practical ways to translate that aspiration into action. Today, the helpful, encouraging and non-judgy SKDers continue to play an important role in these ongoing efforts.

The group offers something for everyone, whether your goal is to knit solely from stash or you're seeking fun challenges, such as the new Me Made Monday thread launched by moderator ToniS.

If you're not familiar with the premise, it's simple: Every Monday, wear something you've made, whether it's knit, crocheted, felted, spun, sewn, quilted, embroidered or woven. If you made it, it counts, and the same is true for beading, jewelry and more.

I can't speak for you, but it's easy to fall into a rut. Afghans are used daily in this household and I routinely wear my hand knit cowls, scarves, shawls and mitts. Meanwhile, there are handmade cardigans and sweaters that only occasionally see daylight.

Me Made Monday has quickly become the nudge I need to remind me to use all the things I've worked so hard to make. If you're always knitting for others but your own handcrafted cupboard is bare, it's also a gentle hint to make something just for yourself.

Today is Sunday, but thanks to Me Made Monday, I'm already devising a plan for tomorrow regarding which hand knits will find their way onto my hands, neck, shoulders and lap.

The Dojeling scarf and shawls are worn so often, I thought I'd change things up. Right now, I'm leaning toward a cozy tweed sweater that's at least 25 years old, along with one of the neckwarmer-mitt sets shown. If I'm really on top of my game, I'll use a lapghan in a complementary color. One of these might do the trick:

We gush over the handwork of others, but we sometimes forget to celebrate our gifts as makers and make it a priority to regularly wear with pride and pleasure our own handmade pieces.

With this in mind, let's make a pact: From now through the end of the year, let's embrace Maker's Monday and every single week wear/use something we've made (or someone has made for us).

So tell me, what old favorite or new FO will be first on your list?

PS: Red won the day: Monday was very, very cold, so the heartwarming colors and heavier weight yarns in the red mitts, cowl and afghan were especially welcome.

Connecting with the linkups in the sidebar.

Jan 10, 2016

11 Color Combos for Kids

Soon, several babies will be joining our network of family and friends. In preparation for these happy events, I've been scouring patterns and playing with yarn and color in an effort to find just the right combinations for each new arrival.

Others view this as a strange obsession, but you understand. Creating things for little ones is just one of many threads that bind us together as makers

Decades ago, for example, my great aunt crocheted a charming baby sweater for my sister. True to her independent nature, Great Aunt M eschewed traditional girly shades and instead used a fresh mint green accented with cream, the perfect complement to my sister's lovely red hair and peachy skin tones. That little sweater may be gone, but its legacy lives on.

In terms of current trends, Pantone has selected not one but two colors of the year: rose quartz (soft pink) and serenity blue (periwinkle). Alone or in combination, they could be ideal for baby knits, and as an added plus, Pantone assures us they create "a sense of calm and relaxation."

That sounds desirable, but because I'm not totally convinced, I've continued compiling options. If knitting for a kid is on your list too, here are 11 color combos with universal appeal that might help jumpstart your own planning process.

Navy, cobalt, true blue

Bright pink, medium pink, light pink

Neutral Boy
Grey, soft turquoise, cream

Neutral Girl
Grey, rose quartz, cream

Neutral Unisex
Grey, butter, cream

Primary Pure
Red, yellow, blue

Primary Shift
Deep rust, gold, dark blue

Deep purple, medium purple, lighter purple

Rainbow Bright
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple

Rainbow Soft
Rose, marigold, butter, mint, sky, lavender

Turquoise, coral, lilac gray

If many of the combos seem rather conventional, you're right: Year after year, kids gravitate to the same time-tested selections. We long to change things up, but they don't.

That said, I often find it difficult to land on the perfect combination for a particular child. If you struggle with this too, these strategies might help: For a baby, use the mom's preferred color scheme. For a young boy, opt for his favorite superhero or team colors. For a young girl, use colors worn by the lead female character in her favorite animated feature. For a unisex combo, go with the selection above or substitute minty green for butter yellow. For tweens and teens, use school colors.

If your project isn't secret, sit down with the youngster in question and scroll together through these selections to begin paring the list. If you're completely stumped, talk to the parents, mimic the kid's bedroom decor, or pay attention to the colors they wear most often.

Finally if all else fails, follow my personal kid-knit rule: When in doubt, opt for rainbow shades. It's one combination most children (and many adults) can't resist.


Jan 3, 2016

The Venn of Knitting

Recently a reader commented that "with the speed at which you churn out those beautiful afghans," she couldn't imagine I'd have difficulty completing smaller items like Christmas ornaments, mitts and so forth. What a wonderful compliment, thank you!

There's just one problem: I'm a relatively slow knitter.

The incontrovertible proof? Other knitters routinely offer to teach me how to knit faster. (It's true, and because their offers are generous and well-meant, I thank them sincerely for their thoughtfulness.)

     Swatch for an upcoming project

This is not to say I knit at a snail's pace. A turtle or camel might be a fair comparison, however, since to reach the defined destination and produce a finished object, I've learned to rely on focus, resolve and tenacity rather than speed.

I've experimented with different speed-building techniques, and while they worked up to point, I discovered two things: Knitting at a steady tempo is (for me) part of the pleasure of the craft. It's also essential for quality, because the faster I go, the more mistakes I find later.

The best analogies I can think of are yoga and tai chi. Slow, deliberate movements help build strength and flexibility, so speed may have its place, but precision and control are more important. (That's my rationale and I'm sticking to it.)

Essentially this means I can produce finished objects and generate the appearance of speed if certain factors are properly aligned. In reality it's not speed at all, it's simply knitting in that elusive sweet spot where interest, desire and time coincide.

These factors go a long way toward explaining why I often (but not always) knit my own designs. It's typically the easiest way to ensure the essentials are in place: simple elements, modular construction and great yarns. (Great yarn doesn't have to be expensive or luxurious, it just has to suit the stitch and design.)

I've been thinking about these things because like many of you, I'm trying to establish goals for this bright and shiny New Year. I may eventually do a roundup of last year's projects, but for now, I'm setting my sights on the promising road ahead.

Defining my own personal Venn of knitting has been an important part of that look-ahead process. (What can I say? It's how my mind works.) It's helped me think through my approach to knitting and gain a fresh perspective.

Already it's been helpful. It's reminded me to be realistic. It's highlighted the value of developing strategic rather than numeric goals. It's reinforced the need to acknowledge obvious limiters, such as the fact it's unlikely I'll magically acquire more knitting time or develop the speed that's eluded me for so long.

It's demonstrated (once again) I spend waaaay too much time thinking about all things knitting related.

None of these revelations are earth-shattering, but the thought process has helped pinpoint three priorities that will help translate the Venn of knitting into action:
  • Keep things simple.
  • Knit in the sweet spot.
  • Focus and finish.

That's it for me, now it's your turn: Have you set goals or strategies for 2016? Care to share?

Connecting with the linkups in the sidebar.

Dec 27, 2015

Christmas Tree-fecta

Many things are clamoring for attention today, so I'll get right to the point.

Christmas trees were at the heart of this year's holiday knitting and decorating theme. At times, it's been difficult to see the forest for the trees, but the end result has been satisfying. Many have been given as gifts, and others are winging their way to distant parts of the country. 

A few stragglers are still blocking, but overall the Holiday Knitting KISS Plan has worked rather wellThe weather's been gloomy and gray and I've been focused on knitting, finishing, blocking and wrapping, so there are just a few quick WIP snapshots to share.

By the time Christmas arrived, the essential gifts were wrapped and ready. Luckily I had a few extras prepared, because an unexpected child joined our celebration and without the little trees, he would have been the only kid without a gift to open.

Pint-sized trees made with velvety soft Touch Me chenille were a huge hit. They're all gone, except for the lone example below. There's a little chenille left, so a few more may find their way onto the needles. (We'll see.)

The trees made with cotton-wool blends such as Cotton Fleece and Four Seasons aren't as silky, but they hold their own appeal and function well as ornaments, mug mats, coasters and hotpads. This shot shows a short stack waiting patiently for final finishing and blocking.

The trees made with soft merino combine the best of both worlds, and as an added plus, the ones featuring bulky yarn and large needles work up quickly.

The small versions look charming on the Christmas tree and dangling from cupboard, closet and door knobs throughout the house. The mid-range sizes are perfect as coasters, mug mats, dish cloths and hotpads, while the largest ones function as table toppers, placemats and more.

As this year and the Great Christmas Tree-fecta wind to a close, I'm eager to set my sights on the horizon ahead. I'm working now to pinpoint top priorities (knitting and otherwise) and develop a broad plan of action, with the hope of being somewhat prepared to welcome the bright and promising New Year.

Happy New Year one and all! Have a joyful week filled with family, friends, fun and fiber, and I'll look forward to seeing you next year.

Quick reminder: The holiday BYOB (Build Your Own Bundle) special ends Jan 2 (midnight EST).

Dec 20, 2015

FO | Wineberry Mitts

Kay, the NYC member of the Mason-Dixon Knitting duo, recently said she had a theory that "fingerless mitts only exist because knitters like to make them."

She could be right, although I'd suggest we also make mitts because we love to wear them, and once we discover how useful they are, we can't resist making some for those around us.

I have no idea who devised the first fingerless mitts, but I always imagine a knitter in the Scottish Isles whipping up a quick pair to keep her hands warm and nimble while she worked a delicate shawl or intricate Fair Isle sweater. When other knitters saw this clever and effective solution, they started making mitts for themselves as well as their families and friends.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I took a break from Christmas items to make more mitts. Plush, soft and warm, they coordinate with my Wineberry wrap and Blackberry shawl, and alone or in combination these pieces add the perfect pop of color to my basic black winter wardrobe.

Wineberry Mitts
Yarn: Charlemont (Valley Yarns); Happy Feet (Plymouth)
Yardage: ~200 yards (double-stranded)
Weight: Fingering/sock
Needle: US 8 (5 mm)
Size: M

My quick detour into mitt-land was fun but non-essential, so Christmas morning you might find me weaving the last ends on a few gifts.

I'm okay with that. Why? When it's time to gather with the rest of the family, I can sally forth with confidence because my hand knit accessories are ready. (Priorities, right?!)

Now, I'd better run, because I have several more gift knits to finish. Onward!

May your holidays be filled with peace, joy and the warmth of family, friends and soft, cozy fiber!

Dec 13, 2015

Countdown to Christmas

Where did the time go?

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas always whiz by at top speed, but this year, they're passing at an accelerated rate. Some years, I'm on top of things and have most major holiday tasks completed shortly after Thanksgiving. On a few occasions, I've actually had everything except last-minute preparations completed by mid-November, which made the build up to the holidays especially relaxed and enjoyable.

Not this year. In spite of my best efforts, I'm behind.

If you're in the same boat but still hope to put a few more hand knits knits on or under the tree, these fast and easy projects may help:

Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots
Last year, I made a flurry of hearts and spots for my godkids and a few special friends. Each one received a special mug and color-coordinated coaster, and as simple as these gifts were, they were a genuine hit with cocoa, coffee and tea drinkers alike. They work up quickly, are easy to customize and allow you to leverage yarn from stash.

Owl Family
These fast and easy cloths are ideal for someone who loves owls, appreciates a touch of whimsy or is expecting a baby. They're fun, decorative, easy to customize, and perfect for partial skeins and leftovers. The examples below feature button eyes, but substitute embroidery or felt, and the baby owl would make a fun wash cloth for a young child.

This versatile pattern creates a reversible fabric that's lighter and more refined than garter stitch in three sizes ranging from small to large. Between now and Christmas, speedy knitters could whip out any size, while slower knitters like me might opt for the small kerchief or shawlette. The design accommodates a variety of yarn weights, fiber types and color strategies, so you can leverage lovely yarns from stash or your favorite LYS. The version below (Wineberry), pairs a solid burgundy with a colorful variegated yarn to create subtle tone-on-tone stripes.

I'll go out on a limb here and say with it's simple shape, bulky yarn and large needles, Flashpoint  is completely doable, especially if you're making a baby blanket or lapghan. The pattern accommodates virtually any yarn weight, so multi-stranding or super bulky yarn and larger needles would make things even speedier. Try rainbow shades for a child, jewel tones for a grandparent, blues or browns for your favorite guy, or neutrals for just about anyone.

I'm in full holiday knitting mode, so if I were a faster knitter, I'd be making the reversible Breidan afghan in alternating red and white strips. In combination, the cable twists and alternating colors would create something akin to a candy cane effect perfect for the holidays. Since I'm not a fast knitter, I'm resisting the urge, but if it's in your wheelhouse, go for it.

All these patterns qualify for the BYOB: Build Your Own Bundle holiday special. Buy one pattern at full price and save 15% on each additional purchase. And yes, previous purchases apply, so if you've met the minimum purchase, you're eligible for the savings. It's my way of celebrating the season and saying thank you.

Meanwhile, there are 12 days left in the countdown to Christmas. I have my backup plan in place, but since hope reigns eternal, at the moment I'm holding fast to my mantra: There's still time.

Happy Hanukkah!