Pet the Yarn

If you’ve been to our home in the past year or so, you’d know: we really love our yarn here. Em invested in a gigantic set of solid-pine cubbyhole shelving units for the yarn stash at the beginning of last year, and we keep the cubby baskets overflowing. We inherited a lot of yarn from our wonderful mother’s stash she kept for kindergarten crafts – even the older, sometimes a bit loveworn, harsher acrylic blends make awesome pattern-test yarn and an endless supply of provisional cast-ons, thumbhole-holding-stitches, and knitted kitty toys. We also have gotten a lot of yarn as gifts (me on Christmas was a sight to behold, arms overflowing with skeins and pattern books), and of course we keep our eyes peeled for good sales. My personal indulgence this winter sale was to order my first skeins of 100% alpaca yarn, and I’m excited to see how it works up.

If you absolutely must ask what fiber or yarn do you love working with? for today’s challenge question though, I do have one fairly obvious answer. Over the lifespan of our Etsy shop and custom commissions, it’s become pretty clear that I have a blossoming love affair for Cascade Pacific.

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It’s turned into my go-to worsted weight yarn for any project, partly because it’s just such a delight to work with – incredibly soft, and available in a stunningly gorgeous range of colors. I’m enjoying collecting up a small rainbow of colors in our store-yarn stash as I finish off lace bags for everyone, and I’m planning on releasing more designs featuring this yarn in the next few months. It’s soft, it’s warm, it’s relatively easy to care for while still retaining some of the amazing features of fine merino wool. In short, while I adore collecting all kinds of yarn and will probably never stop, Pacific is shaping up to be an enduring favorite.

-Kit

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Challenge Accepted

Happy new year, readers! It seems fitting to kick it off with the next question on my list: what’s your most challenging project?

Measuring challenge in knitting isn’t always simple, and I thought about this for a long time. Since it’s a new year, though, I’m featuring a new project, one that will probably get a proper WIP Wednesday write-up of its own once it actually makes it onto the needles – a properly fitted, gorgeous emerald green sweater for my wife Kai.

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Look at that color! Silk fibers are known for holding dye with an unparalleled depth of color, and this yarn (Lang Yarns Silkmerino) is 38% silk.

Kai has often struggled to find off-the-rack “fitted” garments in feminine styles that are actually comfortable for her to wear. I, of course, took this as a challenge. Armed with what I’ve learned so far on my knitting journey, extensive explanations and diagrams in the “Shaping and Fitting” section of The Knowledgable Knitter, and this unbelievably touchable yarn I picked up for a steal on Love Knitting’s Black Friday sale, I’ve been getting to work.

Which, on a project this challenging and this important, means planning.

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Measure twice, knit once. Hopefully.

I’m a bit nervous about this sweater, to be perfectly honest. Margaret Radcliffe gives excellent suggestions and instructions in her book, but I’ve never done fitting before, and trying to adapt a basic top-down raglan pullover so that it is not only flattering but carefully avoids all possible pitfalls (too tight across the bust, restriction of arm movement, front hem riding too high) involves juggling several different shaping techniques in one seamless piece of knitting, and a truly large amount of math. I say “knit once” in my caption above, but I’ll probably end up having to rip back and reknit several sections once I see how they actually sit on Kai’s body as opposed to carefully planned theory.

I’m still really excited about this, though. I feel like it’s a definite stretch of my capabilities, finally designing something intended to not only be comfortable and pretty but tailored to a person. And, of course, I get to play with some gorgeous yarn while I’m doing it.

-Kit

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Dislike

Today’s question is another surprisingly difficult one: what about my least favorite knitting project?

I tend not to finish knitting projects that are making me truly upset. If I’m not enjoying it even a little bit, even in the “this is a challenge” kind of way, it’s really not worth knitting. I’ve abandoned a lot of truly weird projects, most of which I don’t have any photographs for: an insanely high-tension Scottish terrier amigirumi (tiny knit stuffed animal), a poorly-designed mug cozy, a lace vest I set down to “figure out later” and (spoiler alert) never went back to figure out. In terms of finished projects, there are the million and one incorrect attempts at the Perfect Hat, the socks where I misread a section of the pattern, the collaborative sweater vest I made with Em where my colorwork is crooked and the overall sizing is, um, on the large side.

The amigirumi was definitely the most painful knitting project I’d ever attempted, but looking at my list of projects on Ravelry, the project I genuinely like the least was this ill-fated attempt at a baby poncho. I foolishly decided to just throw together a mix of yarns that really didn’t work well for the design. Then, when I sat down to knit, the pattern was almost incomprehensible – I ended up recruiting Em’s help “translating” the pattern into a readable set of instructions. As I knit, I found myself highly skeptical – was this fabric really even wearable? It was far too stiff and rough, not baby-friendly at all. When even the translated instructions came out crooked and I was struggling to figure out how to juggle the scraps of different colorways of yarn to cover the full length of the poncho, I abandoned it. Maybe someday I’ll go back, armed with better yarns and a thrice-proofread pattern, but not today. Today I have the last dash of Christmas knits to do, and a years-end inventory to plan.

-Kit

Favorite Creations

Well, it has been a while! Sorry for disappearing for a bit there – the holiday craziness set in hard around here, and between car troubles, yarn shipment troubles, and weather troubles, writing had to take a backseat to making sure life kept trucking. I’m back to finish out the knit-blogging challenge, though, and I’m going to pick up where we left off with the next question: what is your favorite piece that you’ve knit?

That is a really hard question for me to answer, as I like a lot of the things I’ve made. There’s a few duds, and honestly the projects I’m most excited about right now are mostly still works in progress and/or those delightfully secret holiday gifts. In terms of finished works, though… I have to declare a tie.

The Baby Avocado sweater fills me with glee every time I see the product photos. It also fills the little pumpkin with glee – he likes to hold the bottom hem out from his body to admire it and giggle every time I’ve seen him in it. But the finished project still in my possession that I wear the most and adore the most is probably the shawl I named Brigid’s Arms.

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Me modeling the newly finished shawl, sometime March 2016.

It’s an incredibly simple pattern, one I’d knit once before and have made again one and a half times since then (and one that we knit for sale in our Etsy shop!), but it’s very soothing to knit, and the finished shawl is just… perfect for me. I resized this particular piece to fit my narrow, sloped shoulders comfortably, and I adore how the gentle color shifts played out over the body of the shawl. It’s the first large project I finished solely for myself, and even though I’m making much more complex knits now, this one will always hold a special place in my heart.

-Kit

How Time Flies (And Also Needles)

How long did it take from the time you learned how to knit to finish your first project?

Well, since Em talked me into making just a simple bracelet, it only took me a few hours from casting on to bind off and seam the simple strip of garter-stitch fabric. I also experimented with a couple of mug cozies and headbands of rather similar design (strips of varying ribbed fabrics, held together around a mug with simple threaded ribbon ties or seamed with basic sewing skills) before I embarked on what I’d call my first real project.

I feel like doing a bunch of small projects first definitely helped me gain confidence in the basics; if I’d jumped straight to a scarf (or two, or the two hats after that, or the shawl after that) I might’ve gotten bored, frustrated, or just burned-out before I really fell in love with knitting. Instead, I have a small collection of adorably weird strips of yarn to remind me of when making sure I remembered how a knit stitch worked was the biggest of my technical concerns.

-Kit

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Learning Never Ends

Today’s question, How did you learn how to knit?, was addressed in an earlier post on the blog. However, I was telling more of an ‘origin story’ at that point: it’s not very helpful for anyone who wants to learn to knit themselves.

I’m lucky enough that I live with someone who learned to knit before me! Having someone on hand to teach is extremely valuable in many ways – not only do you have a model there to watch you and help correct mistakes, but an in-person teacher can help you with techniques that you just don’t have the dexterity or eyes to figure out just yet. Em did casting on for me for my first few projects, troubleshot my weird errors as I got the hang of the basics, and fixed mistakes (while teaching me some of the tips and tricks as we went.)

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Your knitting teacher can also encourage your slightly weird beginner projects by posing for goofy photos!

A good chunk of my learning, however, was self-driven. Em and I have ended up specializing in very different sub-categories of knitting technique, and most things I know about lace and everything I know about colorwork, I taught myself. First and foremost, there are excellent YouTube videos for every technique under the sun (that is most of how Em learned to knit, in fact.) The website knitting.about.com also has a lot of excellently categorized articles. A lot of beginner patterns on Ravelry contain tutorials for the techniques needed to complete the pattern.Finally, the knitting blogosphere has an endless supply of tips, tricks, articles, videos, and gifsets for anything you’d need to know – we’ve collected some of the ones we like on the ‘techniques’ tag on our connected Tumblr blog.

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Yes, we do have a Tumblr! We mostly use it to collect inspiration, patterns, and techiques, although we do cross-post what we write here as well.

I’m still learning a lot. I picked up a new texture stitch for one of my Christmas projects, did a really zany colorwork brim technique I’d never seen before, and I’m planning to cast on an entirely new shawl construction method as my present to myself after the holidays. And I’m teaching – my wife has expressed interest in at least picking up the basics, and Em has started making curious noises about possibly picking up some very fine-weight stranded colorwork after all. The fun of learning never really ends… not when there’s a deep history of a craft, and an endless future of projects. And that’s exactly the way I like it.

-Kit

Spaceballs Prom Queen

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I tend to have a lot of projects going on at once. Two of my other fibercraft friends had a joking discussion about which one of them won the “spaceball tiara” for number of works-in-progress currently active; they both blew me out of the water, but then they’ve been doing this for a decade or two longer than I have. I’m still doing pretty ‘good’ (depending on your definition) at multitasking. Let’s assess:

Do you have any other WIPs (works in progress)?

  • there’s the present featured yesterday, plus four other presents still on needles (with, technically, two+ presents still in the planning stages)
  • one Etsy store project on needles, and another in the queue
  • one gift commission sweater on needles, and another in the queue
  • a half-finished purse
  • something that was going to be a Christmas present before I realized it was far more complex than was reasonable and has thus been set aside until January
  • the Duskwings and Frog Pond Melody shawls, also hibernating through the first half of winter
  • yarn arriving soon to match the sketches and notes for my wife’s birthday present this year
  • and measurements ready for me to tackle the knitter’s classic Operation Sock Drawer whenever I need small things to bust out between all the rest of this

Needless to say, I don’t think I’m running out of things to knit (or write about) any time soon!

-Kit

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No, I don’t need to go cast on one of those sock ideas… oh, maybe just for a minute.

On the Needles

Today’s question for the 30 Days of Knitting writing challenge made me grin – because the question of “what is currently on your needles?” is always a little inherently amusing to me. I am, in fact, one of those knitters… the one who keeps thinking of something else to cast on, the one who bounces between projects, the one who literally goes out to pick up more needles because the two pairs I have in that size already have projects on them but I need to start this idea right now.

Since later questions in the challenge ask about my “other WIPs,” though, we’ll focus on what I’ve been knitting most recently.

(Well, when I say focus…)

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C’mon. Did you really think I’d let you get a good look at your present? No way!

Without giving too many sneak peeks to whichever of my beloved readers I’m making this particular project for, I can say that this one’s going fairly well after a rocky start. I had to scrap the original idea I’d had in mind for this giftee because, as it turned out, the yarn I’d bought (Lion Brand Homespun, a perennial favorite) didn’t show the definition of the complex rosette stitch well. The wiggly, irregular spin does show regular stitch patterns with surprising clarity, but I have learned now that more angular shapes get a bit too lost for my taste. So, after some frustration, tears, cursing, and a dive through Ravelry, I found a secondary pattern that makes my heart happy… and also, hopefully, the recipient.

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Favorite needles and favorite yarn makes for very enjoyable knitting.

I planned for most of my gifts this year to be done in bulky or heavier yarn – partially because that weight does make some truly cosy winter knits, but also because it knits up delightfully fast, especially on larger needles. Some people look at US size 11 as if it’s huge, but one whole scarf was my first project done on size 19, so these needles feel comparatively tiny in my hands. Swapping back to delicate fingering-weight lace once the holiday rush is past will certainly feel strange!

Whatever I’m knitting right now, though, it’s an excellent feeling to know that these projects will (if all goes well) make people warm and happy. As much of an unexpected stress as Christmas knitting has been (I tried to plan ahead, I swear!), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Guess even with the bustle, this season will always find a way to make me smile.

-Kit

Holidays, Challenges, Writing, and Reminiscing

Hello all! It’s been a while since you’ve seen us here – between a lot of increased store activity (thank you!) and the abundance of Christmas knitting to do, Em and I have had our hands full of projects. And we can’t even post pictures of most of them without ruining the surprise, which just won’t do.

Since I’d like to keep writing about knitting, though, for this month, we’re going to experiment with a Writing Challenge! These questions were hosted by one of my favorite knitting blogs in the world, knitblr. Either Em, I, or both of us will check in once a day for the next thirty days and answer this day’s question about the knitting life.

So, to begin!

Day One: What was your first finished project?

I’ve written about that here before, tangentially – I quickly knitted up a bracelet out of memorial yarn and a spare button I had around. Em, as it turns out, had the same first project; when I asked her, she told me this college story.

Her RAs had been trying to do a typical group-bonding craft night, and they herded Em and her floormates into a lounge with big skeins of Red Heart Super Saver and a bunch of crochet hooks. Em was, apparently, supposed to make a scarf with this – but, as any beginning knitter or crocheter knows, scarves take a lot longer than you think they will when you’re still just getting used to working with yarn. Em gave up pretty quickly on achieving scarf mastery, and instead finished off a neat little yarn bracelet. Not too much later, Em’s roommate gifted her with yarn and knitting needles in a well-meaning Christmas present and, well, the rest is history.

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Fiyero’s first and only project – supervising yarn management.

Regardless of where we started, we’re both incredibly grateful to have the skills we have now. Above and beyond all the other benefits of knitting – which we have discussed before and will probably discuss again, knowing us – we’re staying incredibly cozy this winter, between hats and socks and our very first attempts at sweaters. We hope you are all staying warm and cozy too, and that your own crazy lead-up to whichever holidays you celebrate goes with at least a little bit of peace, love, and creativity.

Here’s to December!

-Kit

FO Friday: Baby Avocado Complete!

The time has finally come! Just as the chilly days have settled in here for good, I finished up the last stitches of my very first sweater, for my very favorite tiny man. This little pumpkin is my best friend’s son, and he is one of the most avid adorers of hand knitted-crafts; every time either I or one of his mothers finishes an item for him, we are guaranteed some delighted squeals and not to get the item back for a good long while.

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Being held is better than being on the ground! 

I knit this to the 1-2 year old size measurements provided in the Flax sweater pattern; the little pumpkin is a smallish 15 months, so he’s definitely got plenty of room to grow into it and layer it over shirts this fall and winter. Personally, I think he looks stylish as he is. He’s rocking the oversized-sweater-and-leggings fall selfie look.

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He can’t hear your fashion advice over the sound of how comfy and cute he is.

I learned a lot knitting this sweater. For all that the Flax pattern is beautifully simple and has excellent attached instructions, I still hadn’t ever knitted a full garment before. I stuck more-or-less to pattern for this first attempt, with the minor addition of learning a new cast-on and bind off for the best stretchiness for a growing, grabbing, exploring boy. I’m already brainstorming lots of ideas for future sweaters, and I’ve been reading The Knowledgeable Knitter by Margaret Radcliffe for a better understanding of the choices I’ve got for my next design. (It’s an excellent book; I highly recommend checking it out!)

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It’s a beautiful day to be a baby avocado!

I’ve actually already got another Flax-pattern sweater on needles for another friend’s daughter – this time, with a small lace addition. But I’ve got some ideas for a shaped sweater for my wife, maybe some colorwork stripes on another gift sweater, and of course the little pumpkin’s dad still needs his matching avocado-colored sweater to complete the set…

…better stop writing and start knitting!

-Kit

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Maybe baby cuddles first 🙂