What to stash this week: Yowza! Whatta pairing!

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Designer Lara Smoot has had some really fun Game of Thrones-inspired collaborations with Tennessee-based indie dyer Babs Ausherman, better known as Miss Babs. Lara’s latest designs are inspired by none other than Babs herself, whose “likeableness and charm come out in the beautiful yarns that she dyes,” Lara says. The three-piece set includes mitts, a cowl and boot toppers, which can all be made from just one skein of Miss Babs Yowza! The simple cable pattern on each of the pieces can work well with fun variegated colorways, such as Zombie Prom and Funny Papers or semisolids like Vlad’s Red and Blackwatch. All three patterns in the Babalicious set are available on Ravelry for the introductory price of $5.99.

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If you’re going to make a cowl, mitts and boot toppers, why not make a hat? Brangien, a new pattern from KarenDawn Designs, is inspired by a character in the medieval love story Tristan and Isolde. The hat is knit in fingering weight yarn and features a cable panel on a background of textured moss stitch.

Hemlock Springs

Karen, a veteran knitter, works full time on her small business Hemlock Springs Soaps, crafting goat milk soaps in fun-sounding scents like Dazzleberry and Sexy Man, as well as lotions and potions — including an Arnica Muscle Rub for your tired knitting hands — out of her farmhouse in the New Hampshire woods. The products are made in small batches with ethically-sourced ingredients.

Knitting indie: Winter gifts

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about marking my grandma’s 90th birthday with some crafty gifts. My mom was also the recipient of a handknit, a hooded scarf that she requested last year, and that she luckily gave me until January to finish (she spent the holidays with my brother, sister-in-law and nephews in Australia, where a scarf was definitely not necessary).

Last winter, I ran a few patterns by her, and she really liked Cecily Glowik MacDonald’s Levee. Over the summer, I picked up some Quince & Co. Lark on my trip to Portland for the Astral Bath open house, but when I started knitting with it, it was feeling a little rough for next-to-skin wear (but would probably make an amazing sweater or vest). I inherited my princess-y skin from her, and I knew I had to use something else. And why shouldn’t my mom have a little luxury?

Frances Hayden Worsted

At the last minute, I picked up some in-stock Hayden Worsted from Ami of Lakes Yarn and Fiber. I’d used it for a friend’s baby blanket and I knew it would be soft enough.

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The color was perfect — a deep red that leans pink for the camera. The lace took a little while, but it was easily memorizable, even for post-VKL drinks with one of my local knitting groups and while binge watching Season 4 of Homeland. The superwash grew a bit, and I had my first experience putting a handknit in one of my building’s dryers (I hope someone got to enjoy the 25 minutes of free drying time!).

So, while I didn’t have the pressure of finishing up gift knits in time for the holidays, I really stepped it into high gear in January. I started my grandma’s shawl on New Year’s Eve and the Levee a week later. And I know, despite the delay, my mom is thrilled with it — especially during this crazy winter.

Untangling: The SkeinMinder

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SkeinMinder-lineup

The knitters I know do so many amazing things when they’re not creating garments out of sticks and string. My friends include lawyers, editors, techies, teachers and at least one neuroscientist. Carrie Sundra of Alpenglow Yarn had a career designing and building electronics, until about five years ago, when she decided to do a complete about face and become a natural dyer. But Carrie didn’t leave her fascinating background far behind, and last year she combined her two seemingly disparate worlds and invented the SkeinMinder.

The SkeinMinder has a great “necessity is the mother of invention” story. While winding skeins for Stitches West a year ago, Carrie was growing frustrated with having to constantly watch the rotation counter on her winder, manually stopping it when it had wound the proper yardage. If her mind wandered, she’d have to un-wind the skein and prevent it from tangling. She knew the big industrial winders at textile mills had programmable controllers, and realized that with her expertise she could build a similar device for the small tabletop winders used by many indie dyers. She sent 10 test models to several of them last fall, including Indie Untangled vendors Canon Hand Dyes, Pigeonroof Studios and Western Sky Knits. Krista of Pigeonroof called it “the most amazing invention ever.”

I’ll let Carrie take it from here, but make sure to check out her recently-launched Kickstarter campaign, which includes some amazing yarny rewards from several indie dyers, including Canon Hand Dyes and Pigeonroof. And, if you’re at Stitches West this weekend, visit Carrie and see the SkeinMinder in action in booths 936/938.

What did designing and building the SkeinMinder entail?

It started with an idea, and the first thing I did was build a proof-of-concept model. I hand-wired together some plug-and-play components that I got from various hobby electronics sites, and threw them in a cardboard box. That was the quickest and cheapest way to get something up and running, and I wanted to quickly get into the programming, to find out if the idea as a whole was feasible. But that “device” wasn’t something I could give to someone else to use — nothing was soldered, so it wasn’t very portable, and it was easy for wires to pop out or to accidentally short something out.

After I was satisfied that I had a decent core concept, I made the first SkeinMinder prototype. I still used off-the-shelf modules, but this time used smaller components, soldered them together in my workshop, and enclosed everything in a plastic box. Then I could actually hand it to someone else to use without it falling apart, so I immediately gave it my dyer friend Brooke of Sincere Sheep.

After she had used the prototype for a while, I buckled down and did all the custom design work for the what I call the pre-production model. I designed everything as if I were intending to manufacture 100, but only had about a dozen made. I used CAD software to design custom circuit boards, which were manufactured by a company in Oregon. I soldered the components on the circuit boards myself to save on cost, so that was two days of fun, peering through a microscope and sniffing fumes! I found an enclosure that was pretty close to what I needed and had it custom machined to fit the circuit boards, the LCD, and the buttons. I enlisted the aid of a graphic designer to create the overlay, which was the final main interface piece. At that point I was really setting up a mini first production run, so it was a lot of talking to manufacturers, figuring out who would even do “prototype” quantities, and who would do it at a price that wasn’t completely prohibitive. I was really fortunate — I had been talking to a few dyers about the idea, and they had enough faith in me that they bought their beta units when only about 60% of the design was finished. This enabled me to have those custom parts made, and deliver them a beta unit that was quite polished from the start.

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How did the device change through testing?

There were tons of little things that added up to make a big impact! You may think that winding is winding is winding, but every dyer has a slightly different setup. We use different winders, different swifts, we wind at different speeds, different lengths, different skein circumferences, different amounts of tension. I really had to make the SkeinMinder more customizable than I originally thought. I added several user-adjustable settings — not only can you set what count to wind to (i.e. the length of the skein), but you can also adjust for the amount that your winder free-wheels after power is cut, what length of time passes before the SkeinMinder decides the yarn is jammed, and you can even turn the “minding” part off entirely if you want to use your winder “normally”, without an automatic shut-off. I really wanted it to work for everyone, not just people who have my exact setup.

Probably the funniest change was the OFF feature. I made the very bold move of not having an on/off switch on the SkeinMinder. There are actually good reasons for this — power switches are kind of bulky and expensive, and it’s one more thing to have to wire by hand. Which means there’s more assembly time and cost, and also one more chance of making a mistake and mis-wiring it. So with the original software, the only way to turn the SkeinMinder off was to unplug it. That didn’t go over super well, as it turns out! So I added an option to turn it off with one of the existing buttons, and people were generally happier.

The other that’s changed from one model to the next is the big red button. Every time it got bigger! :)

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What other kinds of electronics have you designed and built?

I designed and built avionics hardware for small unmanned aircraft for… I guess close to 15 years. Wow, time flies! The projects encompassed everything from the sensors and microprocessors that controlled the airplanes, to interfacing with small cameras and distributing analog video, to custom little GPS modules, to some power conditioning and driving little motors, to custom connectors. A couple of the planes I worked on are in the Smithsonian, and that’s kinda cool.

When did you first learn to knit and how did you become a dyer?

I actually learned how to crochet first! My mom had a tradition of making baby blankets for friends who were expecting. So when my friends started to have kids, I wanted to do the same thing. I probably crocheted exclusively for two years, then one of my engineer friends was being a pain, and when I said that “I don’t know, knitting seems more complicated” he said, “What are you going to do, make slip knots for the rest of your life?” So I got mad and decided to learn how to knit. I was pretty lucky in that Alana Dakos of Never Not Knitting was the teacher at my LYS at the time. I picked it up pretty easily, and then one fiber thing led to another. I learned how to spin and I started to learn about natural dyeing at about the same time, in late 2008. My then-boyfriend’s family had sheep, I met locals Tom and Mette Goehring who have Ranch of the Oaks mini-mill, I was really burnt out on engineering, and as Monty Python would say, “…and now for something completely different.”

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Why did you decide to use natural dyes?

It just spoke to me. It’s challenging and technical, and requires some knowledge of science to really understand what’s happening. So all that spoke to my techie geek side. It also has deep cultural and historical roots going back thousands of years, which is fascinating to learn about. Just as interesting is the fact that it was dropped like a hot potato around the turn of the 20th century, in favor of synthetic dyes. In our culture, not many people do it anymore, and even fewer people concentrate on creating really bright, saturated colors. So there’s a bit of wanting to keep this knowledge alive and in use. I also get a lot of satisfaction from actually creating a color from scratch. When you dye with logwood chips and see your yarn turn dark purple, or make an indigo vat and watch the yarn turn from yellow to blue before your eyes… it’s kind of magical.

Do you think your engineering background informs your dyeing?

Oh, definitely! I would say that technical troubleshooting is a skill that applies itself quite handily to natural dyeing. Try as I may to be as consistent as humanly possible, the unexpected always pop ups. Then I have to figure out how my process was different this time, and how exactly that affected the dye and the final color. Sometimes I’ve had to run controlled experiments, where I dye little test skeins and change one variable at a time, until I finally figure out what happened. With hand-dyed yarn, and with natural dyes especially, it’s impossible to control every variable. My weld this year won’t yield the same amount of dye as my weld last year. When I move, my water may be different. The heat profile and temperature uniformity in the pot is different depending on if I use a hot plate or a propane burner, and it also changes depending on how full the propane tank is! But that’s also the fun of hand-dyed yarn, it’ll never be quite the same twice.

What to stash this week: Handmade goodies to swoon over

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Brianna of Swoonish, one of the newest Indie Untangled artisans, dyes out of sunny Palm Coast, Florida (a state I am seriously regretting leaving on Monday). She’s offering 15% off her yarn and fiber, which include workhorse superwash Merino and luxurious Merino/silk blends that you’re sure to swoon over. Use code FB15OFF at checkout through March 1.

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You’ll have to do a little more than say the name three times to make the Slipped Stitch Studios Bag of the Month appear at your house. The Beetlejuice bags, notions pouches, needle nooks and spindle totes went up for sale on Friday the 13th and will go back to the Netherworld when they sell out.

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Isaura means “gentle breeze” in Greek, according to many baby name sites, and it’s the perfect moniker for Fiber Dreams‘ newest sweater pattern. The light, breezy cardigan is knit in pieces from the bottom up with delicate lace and cable stitches, and looks like the ideal cardi to throw on when spring finally arrives.

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When she’s not creating needle felted stuffed animals with the hair of her Bergamasco sheepdogs, Jeanine is creating batches of face and body creams and lip balms with organic ingredients. She just launched the Solstice Handcrafted online shop last month, so head over to sooth your winter-ravaged skin.

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Here’s an upcoming fiber festival you can participate in without traveling. Sort of. Jo and Kate over at The Golden Skein have partnered with the Edinburgh Yarn Festival for the Linne Foirthe Club, which celebrates the Scottish city’s vibrant fiber community. The inspiration for the club is “Face Over The Forth” by Chris Combe, an photograph of Forth Bridge, which connects Edinburgh with Fife and turns 125 years old this year. Subscribers will get three 100g skeins of fingering weight yarn, each dyed by a different dyer, using the photograph as inspiration for the colorway. Packages will be mailed out by March 12, to arrive just in time for the festival. TGS ships worldwide, so you if you’re not journeying to the festival, you can still feel like you were there (and if you are going on March 14 & 15, it’s an extra souvenir).

Make $1M a year selling your ‘knitting,’ or How to be a successful Etsy importer

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Source: Screen grab from Fast Company

Source: Screen grab from Fast Company

Etsy doesn’t have much in common with China-based online marketplace Alibaba. Except that it does, with more and more mass-produced goods competing with products that are legitimately handmade. But you wouldn’t know it from this Fast Company feature on Etsy seller Alicia Shaffer of Three Bird Nest, who apparently makes $1 million a year selling knit socks and scarves.

Looking at the former, extremely click bait-y headline, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the story.

Knitting socks, scarves, and headbands doesn’t have much in common with performing orthopedic surgery or governing a country. But this crafty hobby earns mother-of-three Alicia Shaffer’s business $80,000 a month, in part via her Etsy shop—which adds up to an annual revenue of $960,000, she claims. That’s about as much as top orthopedic surgeons make, and more than twice as much as the United States president makes.

I’m not going to even get into a business magazine comparing annual gross revenue to a yearly salary. But, the writer somehow decided to paint the picture of a woman churning out lacy scarves and cabled boot toppers, and making big profits, and then buried this little nugget:

Not all the items are entirely handmade by Shaffer’s team—many, like the knitted legwarmers, socks, and gloves, are sourced wholesale from India. “We finish them here, adding lace trimmings and buttons,” Shaffer says. The profit margin from such imported items is 65%.

Of course, they’re still categorized as “handmade” — and, more importantly, hand knit — on Etsy:

Source: Screen grab from Three Bird Nest on Etsy

Source: Screen grab from Three Bird Nest on Etsy

Source: Screen grab from Three Bird Nest on Etsy

Source: Screen grab from Three Bird Nest on Etsy

This has been the problem with Etsy since even before they decided to relax their rules on what’s considered handmade. People who actually produce things themselves — including dozens who are on the Indie Untangled Marketplace — are increasingly crowded out by sellers who buy items wholesale and pass them off as artisan made. Even if Shaffer was purchasing 100+ pairs of socks that were actually handknit in India, which could be possible, or was selling her own machine-knit designs, why isn’t she explicitly mentioning that in her listings? Obviously there’s a certain cache to being on Etsy, or else she would have completely decamped to her own website ages ago. And, another big question — is she really paying Etsy $35,000 a year in commission?

I really wish the writer of the Fast Company story had delved into this, instead of propagating a myth about making thousands of dollars selling hand knits (I could only imagine what the writer of the Yahoo story about insulting knitters would have to say about this). There’s also a ton of pretty good advice for selling on Etsy — which would probably come in handy if people actually selling what they knit didn’t have to compete against shops like Three Bird Nest.

What to stash this week: Love is in the air

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Buy your Valentine, or yourself, a floral or dessert-y treat that lasts and lasts. To mark the holiday of love, Alicia of Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe is offering 10% off your purchase of $18 or more through this Sunday, Feb. 15. Use the code love10 at checkout for a discount on two lotion bars or a gift set of three lotion bar samples.

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We knitters do love to collect shiny objects… So, here’s another indie dyer to obsess over. Dami of Magpie Fibers launched at the end of last year, and brings bold gradients to luxurious bases. The name Magpie Fibers actually comes from the vintage part of Dami’s jewelry line, made up of flea market finds that she up-cycled. So, pretty perfect for the items we’ll add to our stashes.

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If you want some color in your winter wardrobe, and not just on your cheeks, try Vinterbär, a new cowl pattern from Laura of Fiber Dreams. Swedish for winter berries, this new design, worked in the round, features folded hems and three different Swedish colorwork motifs. Receive 15% off with the code VINTERBAR on Ravelry and Love Knitting.

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The latest Broadway musical-inspired colorway from Eternity Ranch Knits is loverly. Shades of grey, burgundy, pink, red and black/white speckles merge on superwash BFL to mark the transition of Eliza Doolittle from a common flower girl to a lady.

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BeesyBee Fibers recently listed some fiber, including some of her old favorite colorways. Get them on 19 micron Merino, BFL/Silk blend, Falkland and more.

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Go beyond Merino. Katie of Sylvan Tiger Yarn, who dyes with natural dyes out of Yorkshire, England, has tons of fibre from a number of different British sheep breeds in her shop, including the soft BFL, the “sheepier” Jacob, woolen-spun Shetland and the shiny Wensleydale.

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Stay super warm in Sundance, a new colorwork mitts pattern from Lara Smoot Designs. The sample was knit up in Knitted Wit’s Victory DK in Wild Orchard and Naked, but they can easily be resized by going up or down a needle size or two, or by using a lighter or heavier weight yarn. Use coupon code stupidgroundhog for $1 off of Sundance on Ravelry through Sunday, Feb. 15.

SkeinMinder-lineup

It’s not a new iPhone, but this new electronic gadget from California will wind up the knitting world. Dyer Carrie of Alpenglow Yarn is preparing to launch the SkeinMinder, a device that automates motorized skein winders, stopping them when the desired yardage has been wound. A Kickstarter campaign will launch later this month, with plenty of yarny rewards. Carrie will be demoing the device next week at Stitches West.

Cupid’s needle

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Reds and pinks are wonderful year-round colors (I should know — they make up much of my wardrobe and stash), but they’re certainly very present by mid-February. Whatever you think of the little holiday we have coming up this weekend, you will be sure to love these Valentines-y shades on offer from some Indie Untangled dyers:

Norris Point by Cedar Hill Farm Company

Norris Point by Cedar Hill Farm Company

Debauchery by The Uncommon Thread

Debauchery by The Uncommon Thread

Pink gradient by Black Trillium Fibres

Pink gradient by Black Trillium Fibres

Poppaea by Countess Ablaze

Poppaea by Countess Ablaze

True/Princess by Invictus Yarns

True/Princess by Invictus Yarns

Lhasa Reds by Bijou Basin Ranch

Lhasa Reds by Bijou Basin Ranch

Flamethrower by Pigeonroof Studios

Flamethrower by Pigeonroof Studios

What to stash this week: From your secret admirer

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A few of the yarns that Michelle dyed up for the special Indie Untangled pop-up shop were reminiscient of Valentine’s Day, so I decided that a little gift was in order. From now through Feb. 15, buy any two skeins from the Berry Colorful Yarnings/Indie Untangled Pop-up and you will receive one pattern of your choice FREE from an Indie Untangled designer. Click here to see the list, or choose from one of these new designs:

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The new shawl design from Keya of Cedar Hill Farm Company, called Wicker, will make you want to sit out on the porch in a wicker chair and… knit one. This asymmetrical and completely reversible shawl, which also makes a great scarf, calls for 438 yards of fingering weight yarn. It’s shown here in Cedar Hill Farm Company JOURNEY, a superwash Merino.

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Keeping warm doesn’t have to mean hiding behind baggy knits. These leg warmers from Knitwise Design are shaped to hug your legs and have lovely twisted stitch diamonds breaking up the ribbed design. The pattern is also 20% off through Feb. 10 with the coupon code ‘snow.’

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Finnish designer Janina Kallio’s newest pattern, Melodia, is a simple shawlette designed to show off those treasured single skeins of sock yarn. The sample is shown in Väinämöinen from Knitlob’s Lair, a Finnish indie dyer.

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The results from groundhogs across the country may have been a little inconsistent, but spring is coming. So, Sarah of Silk Road Needle Arts couldn’t have found a better time to start adding spring colors to her shop. She’s dyed luxurious Cashmere blend yarns in delicate purples, pinks and greens. And, like a farm, she’s added a Pick Your Own option: Pick three colors, and a Cashmere yarn base, and Sarah will dye you a skein for $25.

Lakes Feb 2

There will be a Lakes Yarn and Fiber Etsy shop update on Saturday, Feb. 7 at 10 a.m. PST. Ami will have sweater quantities of Sport, DK and Worsted weight yarn, as well as a bit of fingering.

Knitting indie: Marking a milestone

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Those of you who follow Indie Untangled on Instagram may have seen this latest project. Or, rather, projects. My grandma, who’s a loyal reader of this blog (Hi, Grandma!) turned 90 last month. If that’s not deserving of a handknit, than I don’t know what is.

So many people have stories of their grandmother teaching them how to knit, and though I ended up learning from someone else, my grandma has a long history of being crafty and artistic. She was no longer knitting or crocheting when I came along, at least not that I remember, but she was a very talented painter, and I grew up with many of her paintings decorating our home, including one of a big-eyed brunette girl with bangs that hung in my bedroom (and eerily looked like me, even though she painted it in 1969). She also beaded, and there are some gorgeous beaded flower arrangements in her apartment. Though my grandma is the youngest, most vibrant 90-year-old I know, her hands are no longer up to that kind of work, so I’ve taken up the crafting torch. I keep meaning to crack open the big box of beads and embroidery thread that she sent me home with a few years ago. One day…

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A week or so before her actual birthday, which was just after New Year’s, I was looking at my stash and mulling over shawl patterns, and decided that the Shattered Sun Shawl I was planning to make with some Tanis Fiber Arts fingering in Grapefruit would be it. My grandma’s favorite color is yellow, but I already knit her a yellow Henslowe for her 88th birthday, so I thought this would be different, but just as sunny and cheerful. The pattern was very easy, aside from the fact that I had a similar deja vu Yarn Chicken experience to the one with the Henslowe I made for her, and had to rip out a few rows of the stockinette section before the ruffle to ensure I had enough yarn to finish.

I had thought the shawl was going to be it, but on New Year’s Day, I was at my friend Jess’s for her annual brunch, and as I was grabbing my coat, I saw a gift that her mom had made for her wedding (which was a year ago yesterday!) hanging in her bedroom. It was a Scrabble board with glued-on tiles spelling out words from her and and her husband’s life together. Aside from Jess, my grandma is the biggest Scrabble fan I know, so I knew I had to make a second present. That night, I went on eBay and ordered a vintage game and a second set of tiles, and then later had to get a couple of extra letters from Jess’s mom, who makes these a lot and has quite a collection of boards and tiles from garage sales. Once I had a set-up I was happy with, and all the tiles in place, I glued them on with Elmer’s glue. Then, I picked up a few wooden rulers at the hardware store and glued one to the top and one to the bottom to stabilize the board, and to also provide a way to hang it.

Both gifts were a huge hit at the small family gathering we recently had for her birthday. I wish I’d taken a picture of her wearing her shawl, but this shot of her before blowing out her candles will have to do.

Grandma birthday

What to stash this week: Knit up kicks

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Even if you do knit socks, here’s a great way to show off your love of knitting from head to toe: Lisa, AKA The Knitting Artist, provides the canvas sneakers, which are dyed in the color of your choice and embellished with her hand-drawn stockinette “fabric.”

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If you live in the Northeast, you probably want to reach into your screen and grab that cowl. It’s probably not necessary, as Lexi Parisse‘s new River Run Cowl, inspired by rocks and rapids, is a quick knit in super bulky yarn. If you don’t need something quite that warm, check out her new Peaks & Valleys Cowl, which is less chunky and more elegant.

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Sock knitters looking for something different should check out the latest from June Pryce Fiber Arts: gradient double knit sock blanks. If you’re not familiar with blanks, they’re long knit rectangles that easily unravel from one end, so you can knit directly from the blank, or wind a traditional center-pull ball. These have been dyed in subtle gradients, with plenty more colors on the way.

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Breakfast just got better. Anne Hanson and the crew at Bare Naked Wools have some new delicious colors for their Better Breakfast Blend, a dehaired alpaca that can be tolerated by even the most sensitive skin. I got to pet it at last year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show and can definitely attest to its softness.

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It may not be spring yet, but Linda of Kettle Yarn Co. is already prepared. She’s introduced colorful new shades of her luxurious BEYUL yak/silk/Merino. See and pet the new yarns in person if you’re going to the Unravel fiber festival in the UK or l’Aiguille en Fête 2015 in France.

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Here’s some “frogging” you’ll be happy to do to your knitting. The Rib-It Frog Hat from Knitwise Design has an adorable and subtle frog knit out of cables and is offered in three sizes, from toddler to adult. And, it’s 20 percent off through Jan. 31 with the code “frog.”

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Sometimes less is more, but definitely not when it comes to yarn. Bijou Basin Ranch has increased the yardage on Lhasa Wilderness, their yak and bamboo blend, from 180 yards per skein to 250 yards at no extra cost. Grab one or several of their beautiful Outlander-inspired Outlandish colorways.