Sep 14, 2014

WIP | Warning Signs

It all started so innocently.

Last month, I cast on my very first shawl:

Fast, easy and reversible, it was a fun and satisfying knit. The moment it was off the needles, I began rummaging through the stash seeking yarn for another one.

Soon, this was on the needles:

It mixes alternating strands of bright pink and fuchsia Helen's Lace (Lorna's Laces) with variegated Happy Feet (Plymouth) fingering weight. It works, but it wasn't quite the look I was after.

That version went on hold, so I could cast on this one:

It features Richesse et Soie, a discontinued yarn so exquisite it may never actually get knit into anything. It's difficult to find a project worthy of this delicious blend (65% cashmere, 35% silk), but I'm a big fan of red paired with purple, so this version has real possibilities.

Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to stop and in a moment of distraction, I cast on this:

It alternates the variegated Happy Feet with solid burgundy Charlemont (Valley Yarns), and it would be fair to say this combination is beginning to grow on me:

To the casual observer, these pictures look like innocuous WIPs or perhaps a simple case of start-itis. but we know better, don't we? They're proof of another dangerous knitting addiction in the making.

They're warning signs. Which I've decided to ignore.

Sep 7, 2014

WIP | Coffee is Perking

The last time we talked about afghans, the current WIP was little more than a gleam in the eye.

My original intent was to test out a new concept, but for better or worse when it was time to cast on, I decided to revisit the Fluted Rib pattern. Why? I simply couldn't resist the urge to see it in these warm neutral shades of Cotton Fleece.

Color-wise, the photos aren't particularly accurate because the camera and its hapless operator (me) can't quite capture the warm brown undertones. Each strip incorporates two shades for a tone-on-tone effect, and you'll have to trust me when I say the colors are richer and deeper than they appear here.

Strip 1 blends brownish black with gray brown.

Strip 2 combines gray brown with deep brown.

 Strip 3 mixes deep brown and medium brown.

Strip 4 features medium brown with cream.

Here in blog world, I've been preoccupied with the search for a Four Seasons replacement yarn and the fast and easy Oyster Bay shawl. In non-blog world, I was quietly working on this afghan, so all the strips have been completed, bound off and are ready to seam.

My method for seaming and edging is very easy, but I'm always happier with the results when I focus, work deliberately and take my time. The next few weeks are filled with deadlines and commitments, so these final stages may progress even more slowly than usual. And that's okay.

As eager as I am to see this come together, for now it's enough to know the coffee afghan is perking steadily in the background.

To see what others are working on, drop by Wisdom in WonderFrontier DreamsSmall Things and Tami's Amis.

Aug 31, 2014

Spotlight | Four Seasons Yarn

If you're a regular reader, you know Four Seasons by Classic Elite is one of my go-to yarns. When the company decided to discontinue it, I was relieved to have a significant quantity safely ensconced in the stash.

Four Seasons had many desirable qualities. The 70% cotton and 30% wool blend combined the silkiness of fine cotton with just enough wool to offer the springiness and memory I need. It came in a wonderful range of colors, and as an added bonus, it was well suited to myriad projects, producing a worsted weight fabric that was comfortable to work with and use year round.

The differences between Cotton Fleece and Four Seasons are subtle but real, akin to the way cake and bread flour are similar but different. Cotton Fleece works well for many things, but there are times I want that extra bit of woolly resilience and loftiness that made Four Seasons a must-have staple.

With that context in place, let's take a quick look at a few projects.

Colorado Baby (2012)
(This is the only photo I have of a small blanket for a friend's first grandchild.)

Cable Rib Berry (2013)

Fluted Rib (2014)

Dishcloths, Coasters & Placemats

April Showers (2013)
Christmas Trees (2013)

Double Luck Coasters & Mug Mats (2014)

Hot Shot Kitchen Set (2013)

Owl Family (2013)

Sweet Hearts (2014)
 Soft Spots (2014)

Red, White & Blue (2012, 2013, 2014)

When you're knitting from stash, it's crucial to mix and match yarns to make the most of what's on hand, so some of these projects also appeared in the Cotton Fleece round up. The berry Fluted Rib afghan is a good example: the colorful strips are Four Seasons, while the creamy seams and trim are Cotton Fleece. 

These projects are representative but by no means all inclusive, particularly where cloths, coasters and holiday knits are concerned. Unfortunately now that Four Seasons has been discontinued, my supply is rapidly dwindling. There are a few skeins of red, white and blue, but the rest has been reduced to partial skeins and scraps.

You don't have to be psychic to know one day soon, I'll be desperately searching for precisely the right cotton-wool yarn for a new design or familiar favorite. Frankly, I'd rather avoid that crisis by starting the search for a substitute now.

So, tell me: Do you have a favorite cotton-wool blend? What do you like and dislike about it? What have you made with it?

Share whatever details you feel are pertinent, and together, perhaps we can discover fresh yarns that suit projects we've longed to make or those we have yet to conceive.

For more fiber fun, visit Wonder WhyFrontier DreamsSmall Things and Tami's Amis.

Aug 24, 2014

FO | Oyster Bay Shawl

I’m delighted to report the Oyster Bay Shawl is finished.

This was a wonderfully fast knit and it would have been even quicker if I hadn’t miscalculated. I completed 95% of the blue wing and part of the oyster wing before I realized I was going to run out of yarn about two inches shy of the points.(To see work in progress, go here.)

Yes, I could have done a work-around. Instead, I bit the bullet and ripped and restarted both wings. Such is the nature of knitting sometimes.

Pattern: Personal pattern
Yarn: Tern in Boothbay Blue and Oyster (Quince & Co.)
Yardage: 442 yards
Weight: Fingering
Needles: US 7
Dimensions: 44 ins wide x 18 ins deep (unblocked); 60 ins wide x 22 ins deep (blocked)

Tern's mix of wool and silk is lovely to knit. It has a pleasing hand, plenty of wooly springiness and a subtle sheen. Equally important, it produces a versatile light weight fabric with a pleasing drape so this shawl will see lots of wear when cooler weather arrives.

The finished dimensions were determined partly by yardage and partly by the blocking method. The goal was to use up the yarn, so I knit until it was almost gone, bound off, wove in the ends, then lightly steamed it to relax the yarn and stitches.

Because it's worked in seed stitch, it's reversible and nearly identical on both sides. Size-wise, it's ideal for me: Large enough to wear as a small shawl but compact enough to wrap as a scarf this winter.

There are several fingering and lace weight skeins tucked in my stash. This concept might be just the ticket for transforming a motley assortment of odd balls into warm and wearable things, so it's likely another will soon be on the needles.

We all saw that coming, didn't we?

Joining Wisdom in WonderFrontier DreamsSmall Things and Tami's Amis.

Aug 17, 2014

WIP | Oyster Bay

This year has been about focusing, finishing and frogging, the strategy I've adopted in an effort to accomplish more by doing less.

The upside? Overall, this approach is working. Typically, there's one major WIP on the needles along with a few projects in the concept and swatching stages. As a comparatively slow knitter, this hard-won restraint is the best way for me to start and finish a project within a reasonable timeframe.

The downside? Every now and then, the call of the wool is too strong to resist.

While the Fluted Rib afghan in warm coffee tones continues to perk in the background, progress has slowed a bit. Why you ask? For reasons I can't explain, two stashed skeins of Tern (Quince & Co.) in Boothbay Blue and Oyster attracted my attention.

So simple. So sedate. So understated.

So sly and seductive. That humble little start quickly turned into this: 

Then it grew into this:

And now it's evolved into this:

It's a concept I've been toying with for awhile and now that it's on the needles, it's revealed something quite terrifying: Shawls, like afghans and potato chips, are dangerously addictive.

Why didn't you warn me?

Joining Frontier Dreams, Small Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Tami's Amis.

Aug 10, 2014

Hand Knits in TV Land (Halifax)

If you’re a knitter or fiber fanatic of any sort you should check out Last Tango in Halifax (PBS).  The story takes place in Halifax, West Yorkshire, the historic center of wool production in England.

The main story line features an elderly couple who reconnect after 60 years apart. Key characters include Alan and Celia, the romantic leads; Alan’s daughter Gillian, who owns a sheep farm; Celia’s daughter Caroline, who is headmistress at an elite school; Celia’s son-in-law who is often drunk, always philandering and striving to recapture his status as a best-selling author; plus various grandsons, lovers, bedmates and pals who create the requisite cast of quirky characters.

Accents and colloquial expressions run rampant, but they're intriguing and sound quite genuine to my American ears. Currently, the program is wrapping up season two. (Some episodes are available online and both seasons are available on DVD. Season three starts in Britain in the fall, but a US release date has not yet been announced.)

Enough context. Let’s get down to business.

Subtle threads of knitwear and wool fabrics weave through the show. It starts in the first few minutes of episode one with several key characters wearing warm wool scarves and sweaters. As the show progresses, each episode features something woolly to drool over. Hand knit or not, these include:
Gillian’s fair isle sweater that’s intricate, colorful and suited to her active life as a sheep farmer.
Caroline’s fabulous silvery gray wool topper that’s stylish, upscale and perfect for a polished, wealthy headmistress. (I own something similar in black and brown alpaca, but I covet this version in gray.)
Caroline’s lush gray sweater made with a stitch that resembles the Sprig Pattern (Walker, Second Treasury, p. 32).
Gillian’s practical red cardigan with a simple cable accent.
Alan’s myriad pullovers, vests and cardigans that are timeless and traditional.
Raff’s fair isle vest glimpsed under a coat.
Gillian's long-sleeved gradient pullover and Kate's similar short-sleeved version.
Kate’s long cabled cardigan made with tweedy brown yarn.
The baby’s sweet pink and gray garter square blanket that will make knitters ooh and ahh out loud. (The baby's cute too.)
The program is engaging, but the knitwear definitely boosts its appeal. Watch carefully and you’ll spot many more examples than the few cited above.

I’ve said it before but will say it again: If the producers want to juice their already successful ratings and broaden international appeal, they’d be smart to provide some behind-the-scenes info on knitwear featured in the show along with facts about wool production and sheep farming in West Yorkshire.

Feed the insatiable appetite of knitters, weavers and fiber enthusiasts and Last Tango in Halifax could become the quintessential “must see TV” show for an entirely new group of rabid devoted followers.

We are legion.

For more fiber and craft talk, visit Frontier DreamsSmall Things and Wisdom in Wonder.

Aug 3, 2014

WIP | For Better or Worse

When I was about 12 years old, I talked my mother into buying me a suit.

It consisted of what I now know was a Chanel-style jacket and a very plain skirt. The original price was steep, but because it was very late in the season, it was radically reduced and almost within the range she’d set before we ventured out to shop.

Both pieces were knit from a very fine wool. The skirt was solid gray, but the jacket featured a tweedy combination of cream, camel and gray trimmed with gray edging. The clean, classic lines and sophisticated color combinations were definitely not a typical preteen look. 

I adored that outfit and wore it for years. It also revealed an essential truth: My fascination with knitted fabric and love of muted neutrals are woven into my DNA.

Fast forward to today.

For better or worse, I’ve been planning another afghan using this combination of Cotton Fleece yarn:

For better or worse, I decided to do something a bit different, so I started swatching and experimenting in the background. After all, if you dig deeply enough, there are a number of fast, easy and reversible stitches to choose from, right?

For better or worse, I finally buckled down and got started.

Yep. At the last minute, I returned to my roots and cast on for another tone-on-tone Fluted Rib afghan, this time in warm, earthy neutrals.

I simply couldn't resist the desire to see how the stitch and pattern would work in muted colors. For better or worse.

To see what others are working on, stop by Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.

Jul 31, 2014

FO | Whimsical Woodpecker

A busy little Downy Woodpecker seems determined to deconstruct the six-foot cedar privacy fence that encloses the backyard. (To read the backstory, go here.)

So far, the damage is relatively minor but visible. In an effort to prevent more damage and stop that persistent tap-tap-tapping noise, I'm trying behavior modification techniques.

Every time I catch her in the act, I shoo her away. (Yep, my nemesis is female.)

Because she's clever as well as determined, she's developed a predictable pattern: She leaves her favorite "work site" and perches on the fence, studying me intently to see if I'm serious or just shooing for the fun of it. Her look says it all: Silly woman, stop that crazy clap-clap-clapping and stop flapping your arms. You can't fly, but I can!

To prove her point, she flits away. A little time passes, then: Tap-tap-tap.

Downies are supposed to be somewhat shy but this little girl has a single-minded focus that's admirable. And annoying. For her own amusement and perhaps mine as well, she likes to pick up her mission of destruction on the opposite side of the yard in what is clearly her second favorite site.

I shoo. She flits. The whole cycle starts all over again.

In an effort to retain some semblance of sanity (and to divert my attention away from that darn noise), I tap-tap-tapped into my creative side:

My little woodchipper is clearly female, so her natural coloration is black and white. Because the knitterly version clamored for a dash of color, I valiantly resisted the urge to give her demonic red eyes and opted instead for the red crest found on males.

This whimsical woodpecker is an adaptation of my reverse miter seed stitch coaster-cloth pattern and you can see the basic two-color version here. The yarn (Cotton Fleece) and buttons are of course straight from stash.

Meanwhile, the verdict is still out. Cute? Quirky? Or completely crazy?

Let's pretend it's a whimsical mix of all three.

NB: I feel compelled to point out no Downy Woodpeckers were harmed in the making of this whimsical knit. Also, stay tuned for my upcoming tutorial: How to Train a Downy Woodpecker in 3 Easy Lessons. (Just kidding.)

For more fiber talk, visit Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.

Jul 27, 2014


A persistent background noise has been driving me crazy. 

Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap.

Is there someone at the door? Nope. Is it the roofers working on the neighbor’s house? Nope. Is it the noisy new water heater? Nope. Is it something about to melt down or blow up? Nope. (At least I hope not.)

There it is again. Tap-tap-tap. It’s like water torture without the water. Again: Tap-tap-tap. Over the course of several weeks, I finally tracked the sound to its source: a Downy Woodpecker.

The good news? It's not the water heater. The "shoulda-known-better" news? The first time I saw the culprit, I thought it was cute. The bad news? The demented creature has fallen in love with my tasty cedar privacy fence and appears to be on a driving personal mission to take it apart. One annoying and devastating peck at a time.

Because I am who I am, I went off to learn more.

Downy Woodpeckers are about the size of large sparrows and can be recognized by their distinctive black-and-white checkered coloration. The beak is comparatively short, sturdy and broad, and the males can be identified by the small dash of red located at the back of the head.

They can be found throughout much of the US and Canada. They range from coast to coast, wander as far north as Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and enjoy spending time in sunny southern California and the Gulf states. Smart birds. (To see photos and learn a few basics, go here.)

Because I am who I am, I did the only rational thing a knitter could do. I started this:

The verdict?

It might indicate I’m dealing with this cute but destructive creature in a calm and rational way by tap-tap-tapping into my creative side. 

Or it might be a sign I've well and truly lost it.

We shall see.

For more fiber and craft talk, visit Frontier Dreams and Tami's Amis.

To read the rest of this tale and see the FO, go here.