Thursday, March 20, 2014

Knit your way through?

A few weeks ago I started listening to the Knitmore Girls podcast. (And actually as I wrote that I legitimately thought that it was only a few weeks, only to look back to find that it was at the beginning of the year. My brain is a sieve.) I listened to a few of their recent episodes, and was enjoying it so much that I decided to go back and listen to the archives. All 270+ archive episodes....

Basically the show is a mother and daughter who knit and talk about it. When you say it out loud it sounds a little ridiculous to be so into listening to that, but they are really engaging and knowledgeable, and I've been really happy with a lot of their book or pattern recommendations. I'm sure I've learned a few things as well, but again, brain is a sieve. The mother of the pair, Gigi, has a little bit of a reputation now for knitting her way through entire books or pattern collections. So far she's gone through Rosemary Hill's 7 Small Shawls collections (you'll need a ravelry sign-in for some of these links, which is totally worth having by the way) and the Little Box of Socks. In the latest episodes on my tear through the back catalog, she's starting on all the socks in the Knitter's Curiosity Cabinet, and I just have to say that there is something about working your way through a collection that totally appeals to the more obsessive parts of my nature. There is evidence of this aspect of my personality right in the very act of wanting to listen to the show right from the beginning. Netflix has been a wonderful enabler as well, because I just love tearing through old TV shows, one episode after the other. My preference is actually for shows that have been cancelled, because then I know I can go through right from start to finish! I've been known also to read books I'm not even enjoying that much because I just have to know how the series turns out.

All this to say....I feel like I would love to do that someday. Take a collection of work, and knit my way all the way through. My problem with that, apart from absolutely not having time to dedicate to such a project right now, is that I haven't found that soulmate designer or collection just yet. It seems to work out for Gigi because she knits a ton of socks. Personally, I don't really see the appeal of some of the more complicated socks. If it's warm enough for lacy socks, I'm more likely to just not wear any at all. I could maybe see a shawl that I've been knitting awhile, I'm being brainwashed into thinking of shawls less like something Magda (Miranda's housekeeper/nanny from Sex and the City? Anyone?) would wear and more like a large scarf. Maybe that's just what "they" want me to think? Shawl knitting seems to be an inevitability of knitters! A sweater book would be cool, because it would be cool to have that many handknit sweaters, but #1, whoa expensive. #2, whoa, that would take a lifetime. and #3, my tastes tend to run to the simplistic and classic in my own wardrobe. I'd love to be one of those people who just has those classic pieces that never go out of style, and I feel like many of the pattern books out there tend toward the fussy or the trendy. Does anyone have any suggestions for pattern collections to knit through?

In the meantime, I had to put a halt to all the projects I wrote about in the last post to get 2 pairs of mittens out to a customer. My hope is that she's planning ahead for next winter, but I think we all know that this winter just isn't going to actually end. Yes, I know it's the first day of spring, but to that I say....prove it.

Once those went out, I went back to the Solar Sweetie dress I've been working on. I'm making good progress I think! I'm almost done with one of the sides. I'm all the way down to the last 5 rows. The pattern calls for a garter stitch edging. I can't decide if I should just do that, or if I'd rather do some sort of pretty lace edge. I'm going to mull it over this morning and maybe figure it out over my lunch break. I'd love to bind that half off, and then finish up the first of my pair of socks.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Project Juggling

Typically, I'm what you might call "project monogamous." I like to focus all my energy on one particular thing until it's DONE. I don't really like cleaning up after this burst of finishing energy, but that is neither here nor there. In fact, I'm usually most motivated to clean up and organize when I'm ready to start the next project, which leads to sort of consistently messy project space. Which is why I need my own space to lock away my mess. :)

So about a month ago, my shop started slowing down as people get tired of buying warm weather knits after the holidays and set their sights on spring. Can't blame em, I'm right there with you! I seized this opportunity to start making things for myself! I whipped out a cowl, and then I started on a pair of fancy convertible gloves for easy phone access. And....well, it was sort of a fail. I usually knit small items in the round on double pointed needles, which look a lot more impressive than they are. However, I also usually knit on thicker yarn than the fingering weight this pattern calls for.


And I ended up with what they call "laddering," which is basically loose spots between where you switch from one needle to the next. Grrrr.

See the stretched out bits between the ribbing? Unacceptable.

I googled for solutions, and while a lot of them suggest which stitches to pull tighter, and alternating where your needles join, those weren't working for me. I saw several message board posts that point to using either 2 circular needles or one super long one in a magic loop configuration as a potential solution. I opted to try 2 circular needles for a few reasons. I've heard that magic loop can be tricky if your cable isn't flexible enough, and I didn't want to deal with experimenting with a bunch of different brands. I also thought that if I got circulars in a few lengths, I'd be able to tell which needle was #1 or #2, so I'd know which was the end of the round. I also thought that I'd have a better shot of having the right length needle for all the sweaters I have queued up in my mind. So I ordered a bunch of needles from Knitpicks, because that was the most cost effective way of getting the quantity I wanted.

In the meantime, I worked on a few other things, which I might someday get around to posting about in more detail. For now, a few photos.

When my needles finally arrived, I cast on my gloves for the 3rd time, and it went much better!

I nearly finished the ribbing....and then I discovered something horrible and wonderful. You can buy other people's unwanted yarn on Ravelry for sometimes very, very cheap. And then I started dreaming about wearing nothing but hand knit socks because this winter has been oh so very cold, and so have my feet. I may or may not have had packages of sock yarn....and enough for a few sweaters....arriving at my house every day for about a week and a half. And now I am grounded from Paypal, so says my bank account. In order to make good use of this accidental stash enhancing, I started my odyssey to hand knit socks with some yarn a friend from knitting group de-stashed to me months ago. It's a sport weight, so it's slightly heavier and easier to learn on than true sock yarn. I've done a version of socks before from the top down, but I sort of feel like those don't count because the yarn and needles are so huge! For my first pair of "real" socks, I decided to switch things up and go toe up, so that they could be as tall as possible. I have 2 skeins, so one per sock. I figured that by starting from the toe, I could just knit till I run out of yarn. It's going very well so far!

As you can see, I got nearly done with one sock before I got distracted..... I was cleaning out some things, and I came across a pattern I saved YEARS ago. I've always wanted to knit this little dress, but never knew if I'd have the right recipient. It just so happens that I DO have a little lady in mind....and the sizing for this dress only goes up to 24 months! Which means I'm running out of time! I decided to work it up in cotton yarn because that would make a more sensible summer dress. It also gives me 2-5 months to finish, whenever summer decides to arrive. :) In this case, having a few projects going is a good thing, because I'm just noticing what everyone says - cotton is a little hard on the hands. The yarn doesn't have as much give as wool or acrylic, so the loops on the needles sort of dig into my hand. The fabric itself feels nice though, so I just need to work on it in shorter bursts.

I love how it's starting out though!

In the OTHER meantime though....I got an order for a few pairs of mittens, presumably for someone planning ahead for next year, so those jumped right to the top of the list!!

Ah, if only I had all the time in the world. :) We'll see if this project juggling is something I keep doing, or if I go back to my monogamous ways. I could see a logical doubling up of projects coming from trying to have a personal project going alongside Etsy orders. I think I've been a little too shop focused lately, and it's been nice to have some personal gain happening, both for me and little gifts for people. It will be nice to have some finished projects sticking with me instead of heading off to new homes!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Everything in its place

I've tried for years to make the first floor bedroom in our house work as an office/craft room. And it just....never does. We started out with a corner desk from my husband's bachelor apartment that in my opinion was good for exactly nothing. What kind of sense does it make to have all the available desk surface behind the computer? It was hard to even pay bills in there because there was no place to spread out the papers, checkbook, calculator... We bought our house almost 6 years ago so it's hard to even remember now, but I think I brought an old drafting desk in there as well to put next to the corner desk for some work surface, but I hated that too.

I checked this and a few other of my defunct old blogs. and I've never posted a full picture of the office....I guess because it just doesn't work. I eventually got rid of the small desks and traded up to a long Ikea dining table. I remember looking for something solid wood, but never managed to find anything that was in budget and that I could arrange transportation for, so Ikea and their flat pack boxes won. This is the one we have. I added some wall shelves above the filing cabinet to the left of the desk in an attempt to get stuff OFF the surface. As you can see from the partial photo below....that hardly ever works (you can sort of see the shadow of the shelves above the printer).

I would take a more current photo....but that would involve actually downloading pictures from my camera. Which I never do. Because I don't have an always ready space to do that in. I have at LEAST 3 posts worth of photos living on my camera, destined to never be downloaded. At least not in a timely fashion. So I have my covered in junk work surface, which actually does work perfectly for bill paying and sewing, but the room itself does NOT work well for actually doing sewing projects, which makes me really sad. I have the closet - not pictured, sort of organized, really full - and a storage box below the futon/guest/mostly cat bed which takes up the room opposite the desk that serve as supply and book and random storage, but I have nowhere to cut. This has to be the bane of crafters everywhere. With my sewing machine and laptop/TV set up on my desk, I don't have the work surface to lay out pattern pieces or pin things out. This leaves me to either spread out on the precious little floor space and trip over it every time I go to the ironing board, or I can squeeeeeze out the door to get across the house to the dining room table. This is annoying because it's on the other side of the (small) house, and because I have my ironing board on the back of the door. This is a space saving holdover from (even smaller) apartment living, but it means I have to have the door to the office closed to pull it down. I can open it juuuust enough to squeeze out, but it's irritating enough that I usually cut on the floor, which is super ergonomical. Real word that I just made up. Sad that my dreams involve buying a full sized ironing board. Is that what it's like to be a grown up?

Anyway, since my interest in sewing and knitting and generally making a disaster of the office/craft room has continued to grow over the years, I set my sights on the basement. Our basement is roughly divided into fourths, like most of the rest of our cape cod. 1/4 is laundry, 1/4 is the area for water heater, furnace, storage, just over 1/4 was always sort of horribly finished by previous owners which left the remaining slightly less than 1/4 with no purpose at all, which we used to house extra pantry storage and the dog crate. My goal - convert the finished and purposeless half of the basement into a den/craft room extraordinaire. Last year we built a ton of wood shelving, which I did not yet photograph, in the storage 1/4 of the basement in anticipation of all the junk in the rest of the basement needing a place to live. It worked out really well for my parents, who were moving, who actually stored a bunch of their stuff there last summer and fall while they were between homes. However, this meant that we couldn't start clearing out all of our stuff until all of their stuff went to their new house, which happened a few months ago. A few months after that, our stupid less than 6 year old washing machine irreparably broke, so we had to replace it.

Nice matching appliances in fancy blue:

Sad new washing machine in dumb floor sample white:

In the time since this photo was taken, the man of the house pushed the washer back next to the water pipes, and moved the dryer to its right. Which is actually be able to toss things right into the dryer from the washer, rather than either carrying them across the room wet, or using a basket to transport them. It's the little things I guess. Oh, and he swapped out the flex duct to rigid. Apparently flex is a fire hazard. As an added bonus, you can see that our basement actually gets great natural light most of the day - this is with no lights on! A not-scary basement was on my list during house hunting. Also, I ultimately plan to replace the giant, gross, leaky wash tub with a smaller, single basin. I actually bought it years ago for $10 on craigslist...just need someone (ahem, man of the house) to do some plumbing work and brace himself to get the concrete monster up the stairs. It's possible I'll have to help with the hauling.

Anyway, so here is the ultimate plan for the basement. Drawn in CAD, because that's how I roll.

And because I accidentally closed the pdf editor before saving (cursewords), enlarged plans of the finished side are without refined annotation.

The "den" portion, which will include the ability to stream my netflix stories right to the TV so that I don't have to use my laptop and can use it for other things, once we get some wires to connect new netgear box to old tv:

And the craft studio side:

The plan is to mostly work with furniture we have, to keep the budget down and give this project a chance of actually happening. In fact, the only new piece is the standing height cutting table, which I plan to build from an Ana White plan and which will be AWESOME!!!

Modern Craft Table

The only other new things might be the studio lights and some of the wall storage for all of my fabric and crafting paraphernalia and some of the storage for office supplies and books and such. Most of the cost will be to put lighting where we want it, rebuild the wall running vertically down the basement, since studs at 48" on center are not exactly sound, and to re-paint the walls and floors with some of that fancy water blocking stuff. Our basement stays mostly dry, but some of the corners DO get a bit damp from time to time, so we want to make sure that we've done what we can before putting up new drywall. We also have the unique idea to use moisture resistant boards and studs which I can only guess that previous owners did not do....They definitely didn't use moisture resistant ceiling tiles, which is gross and saggy and I have only been too happy to start pulling down.

There's the stupid wall that will come down. I had a few hours to myself on Sunday, so I ran to Home Depot and set up a bagster in our garage to give me a place to put all the tiles. I did it in there because it keeps freaking snowing and I didn't want it to fill up with powder. I figure the tiles are light and we can drag it down to the street before starting to fill it up with heavier stuff. Like that stupid wall.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Garter stitch cowl pattern (sort of)

*scroll down to end if you're more interested in the pattern than the rambling*

I've mentioned before, it's cold out this winter. Colder than usual, and it's only mid-February. Here in the midwest, we know that it will be many, many weeks before it's actually spring out there, despite what lies the calendar may tell. So because I was cold, and on a little break from Etsy orders while I wait for a yarn shipment to arrive, I found myself in the lately unusual position of having a little time on my hands with which I could knit something....for myself!!?!

I saw a simple shawlette/short poncho sort of thing at a friend's house, and knew I wanted something similar, but a little different. Like a cowl, but something I could pull over my shoulders. Like an infinity scarf, but not quite. I also knew that I didn't really want to buy anything new, so it would be cool to use up what I already had. I'd purchased a few different colors of Lion Brand Homespun for a custom order of a newborn cocoon for a photography prop. I like a lot of the Lion Brand yarns, but homespun isn't my favorite. While it's quite soft, it's not plied very tightly so it can get fuzzy and splitty. It's acrylic and polyester, which in addition to the softness makes it quite nice for a baby prop because it's machine washable - for when babies inevitably do what they do - it's just not what I gravitate toward. But anyway, I bought a few different colors because I wasn't sure what the buyer wanted. She chose the lovely gray/white color, and I was too lazy to return the rest. So in a cold daze, I grabbed the unused cream/off-white skein and blindly cast on.

I had poked around on Ravelry, but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for. Which is funny, because it's so simple that it's not even really a pattern. Maybe that's why no one has written it yet? Because it's just THAT simple? I wasn't going to either, but the ladies at knitting group said that I should, so here we are. :)

I decided that I'd rather cast on the width and join up the ends to make the loop for the infinity scarf because I didn't actually know how long I'd like it to be. That told me that this might be the time to experiment with a provisional cast on and grafting rather than just doing a mattress stitch. I knew from experimenting on the newborn cocoon that a very simple stitch pattern works best with homespun. I used stockinette for that, but since this was 2 sided, I decided garter would be the way to go. So in the end, I basically mashed these 3 patterns together (1, 2, 3), and made some executive decisions along the way when it became clear that a single skein wasn't going to be long enough.

When I started running out of the cream color, I noticed that the nature of the homespun dying made these wide color bands. I chose to grab the leftover 2/3(ish) skein of the gray colorway and alternate 2 stripes of each color for several rows before switching over to all gray. Initially, I determined this number by guessing about how much of the cream to leave so that I could do the 2x2 striping at the other end of the gray. Then I would have cream section, striped section, gray section, striped section, and it would all look like it was done intentionally. Even though it wasn't and was based on laziness and not really wanting to buy more yarn, since it isn't my favorite and I was using up what I had. Shhhhh. Then I knit the gray section until I had about the same amount left as I had of cream, at which point I started striping again. I ended on a cream stripe, because then I would use the gray to join between the last cream stripe and the beginning cream section. I could have done the grafting with cream as well, but my visual judgement of "equal" amounts left leaned slightly heavy toward gray, so that's what I used. Very scientific.

My initial thought was to put a twist in the scarf before joining to give it a little more interest than a long string of garter stitch. I ended up testing it both twisted and straight as a friend said that it could get a little tight if I chose to double up the scarf with the twist in it. If I was working this from 2 complete skeins, I think I would have done a straight join and worn it doubled. However since I had one partial skein, it's juuuust slightly tight when doubled even when straight, so I opted to twist it and will mainly wear it either looped just once or pulled down to warm my shoulders. And there you have it. A super simple striped cowl, so simple it's a little embarrassing to write a "pattern" for.

Garter Stitch Infinity Cowl

One size
Materials - 2 skeins Lion Brand Homespun, 1 of each color
size 8 needles (I used a circular, knit flat)

Using provisional cast on, cast on 40 stitches in color A

Knit every row in color A until work measures about 24"

Knit 2 rows in color B, then knit 2 rows in color A. Carry strands up one side. Repeat for about 4-5", ending with color A. Cut color A at this point, leaving a long tail to weave in end.

Using color B, knit every row until color B section is about 24"

Knit 2 rows in color A, then knit 2 rows in color B. Carry strands up one side. Repeat for about 4-5", ending with color A. (This is the point where I knit until I was just about out of yarn, while being mindful that I had enough left over to graft the ends together)

You can choose to either twist the scarf once at this point, or simply line the ends up straight. Use kitchener stitch to join the working end back to your provisional cast-on end using color B.

Weave in ends.

Wear. Be warm!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Everyone should have a book club

Yesterday was the second Tuesday of the month, so in my world, and the worlds of a dozen or so other ladies in my area, that means it was time for book club. I was thinking about the night as I was getting ready, and it just struck me that it was just a really GOOD night. It wasn't necessarily anything special or different than usual. In fact it was probably much the same, but that I just happened to stop and think about it. It was just...really good, and I think everyone should have something like that.

Our host last night was a new mom, who rather bravely volunteered to host while her little guy was only 6 weeks old. Like 6 week old babies tend to be between the hours of 7-9 (the witching hour for the uninitiated) he was a little fussy. We continued having conversations, large group, small asides, background music playing, baby fussing and then calming, new mama doing a great job doing her thing as well as joining in with the group, and this morning I just felt so lucky to be part of a group like that. Comfortable, accommodating, really smart, great people. Over the years people will sometimes ask how we operate, how we got started, how we keep going. I invite everyone local to come join us if they are interested, and I think most of our group is the same way. Our door is open if you want to hang out, and if not, that's cool too!

We've been meeting for just over 6 years, second Tuesday of the month, from about 7-9, with surprisingly few deviations. Our members have a lot of similarities, but we're rather diverse as well in terms of life stage, marital status, jobs. Membership ebbs and flows as new people are invited, and others leave. There are 12-15 of us on the invite list, and maybe 6-8 attend. No one has perfect attendance and there's certainly no penalty for that. We started out with our 2 founding members - both of whom have moved away now and are missed! - dreaming about one day having free time beyond the grind of thesis preparation. From what I recall, they had lots of plans about what they would do with all of that free time, and starting a book club was one of those things that came to fruition.

(as an honest aside, earlier in my college career a different friend was talking about joining a book club, and I thought it was the most pretentious thing. Maybe some of you reading are thinking the same thing, but I totally GET it now, so bear with me)

Anyway, so those 2 ladies told a few other ladies they were thinking of starting this club, and we all invited a few other friends, and a group was born. At the beginning or end of each year, we each bring a few book suggestions, and we put them all down on a list. The list is both set and isn't - it can be changed if we decide that the next book just isn't speaking to us for whatever reason. We volunteer to host - with a group our size, we end up hosting just once, maybe twice a year. That way it isn't too much of a burden to make a whole bunch of food (homemade soup and salad and frozen apps from Trader Joes are both equally loved - if you want to go gourmet or if you only have time to open packages, both are totally cool) and clean up for guests (no one minds piles of blocks in the corner and there is a standing agreement not to notice rogue dust bunnies). Half the group brings a beverage to share, the other half freeloads. :) Sometimes we divide by last name, sometimes by geography depending on group makeup. Sometimes we have a healthy book discussion if a large proportion of us managed to read, sometimes we have a summary given by the few who did - we play a little fast and loose with the definition of "BOOK" club. I've heard of some groups that are more academic than ours, and that's cool if that's what you're into. I prefer keeping it casual with a nice healthy side of chit chat. We also happen to have a knack for choosing books that later get made into movies, so you can claim those bragging rights of saying, "oh, but the book was sooo much better."

So to me, THAT'S what a book club is about. We started through word of mouth, but in this era of the internet, sites like or your local library can be a great place to start if you're new to an area. You could even keep it real and just call it a wine club if you're not so much into reading. But I love it - hanging out with cool, genuinely nice people, expanding my mind when I have time, but not being shamed about it if I don't. I look forward to it every month, especially if I'm going through periods in my life where that might be the only socialization I get for whatever reason. Yeah, we had some awkward silences in the early days when a lot of us were just getting to know one another. I love that we've grown comfortable and grown together and have nights like last night. Yay books! Yay friends! And yay wine!