Let the knitting begin

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Acer swatches

Tomorrow night marks the start of something I look forward to every four years — the Ravellenic Games! Yes, I do also love the games that start with the letter O (as a business, I do have to watch my wording), but I am more partial to winter sports, especially figure skating.

What I like about Ravelry’s Ravellenic games is the idea of challenging yourself as a knitter. Two years ago, I completed a fingering weight cardigan for my soon-to-be born nephew. Two years before that, I knit a Multnomah shawl in fingering weight yarn, the first time I had finished such a large project in just two weeks.

This year, I’m taking on a challenge I never thought I ever would have considered — knitting a cardigan. In pieces. With set-in sleeves. Backtracking a little, I have long wanted to knit an Acer Cardigan and I picked up a sweater quantity of Skeinny Dipping’s Journey Worsted at last year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show to do just that, for this year’s Rhinebeck sweater. I knew I would be using Amy Herzog’s CustomFit, and after purchasing the Acer pattern, I generated a second pattern in CustomFit using my measurements and similar parameters: a crew neck cardigan with two inches of 2×2 ribbing and a 1-inch button band. The big difference is that CustomFit doesn’t account for stitch patterns that may affect your gauge. For cables, which generally compress stockinette, you have to add stitches to compensate. After gathering some advice from the awesome sweater-knitting experts in Amy’s Ravelry group, I knit a swatch in the cable pattern and then decided it would be less risky to knit the sweater in pieces, so that I would have a better idea of how it measured out before knitting too much of it.

I have set in sleeves on a CustomFit sweater before (it did take me several hours, but I did it!) so, in theory, doing the side seams should be a piece of cake. Still, I am a bit daunted by the prospect. My nightmare is that somehow not all of the pieces will block out to the right size and then won’t fit together. A couple of my knitting friends have offered to do some seaming handholding when the time comes, so I will probably take them up on it.

It didn’t help that last night, I attended a talk that one of my knitting groups held with designer Kristina McGowan, who developed a friendship with the fascinating Barbara Walker, a pioneer of top-down, seamless knitting. Barbara, Kristina explained, hated things like seaming and stranded colorwork, so she created her own innovative ways around them. Ultimately, as I’m a big follow-the-rules knitter, I will be sucking it up and seaming.

Since I already started the sweater, and most likely won’t be able to finish it in two weeks, I’m not planning for this project to be in contention for a Ravellenic medal. But, I am still considering this my Ravellenic project. Because the only way to grow, as a knitter, an athlete or just as a person, is to swallow your fears and jump in feet first (uh, or head first, if you’re a diver).

IU FOs: Drops of Honey

lisaKC Drops

Janina Kallio’s Drops of Honey, which she designed for the Indie Untangled Where We Knit yarn club, is available for sale to the general knitting public today, so I thought it was the perfect time to post the beautiful FOs that have been made by club members. That’s mine above, with my Maryland Sheep & Wool 2015 Jennie the Potter mug, and I can’t wait to show off at the festival on Saturday!

While the pattern matches perfectly with the Lakes Yarn and Fiber Drops of Honey colorway, which Ami dyed up exclusively for the club, this simple, elegant shawl would be perfect in almost any hue.

On the importance of building up a stash, and a mystery KAL

The start of my MKAL shawl with designer Casapinka.

The start of my MKAL shawl with designer Casapinka.

This past weekend, as most of you know, the East Coast got hit with a monster blizzard that sent people lining up outside of grocery stores beforehand and clearing the shelves of bread (well, except for the seven grain baguette, which at least let me feel somewhat virtuous outside of the polenta, mushroom linguine and onion soup I cooked as my husband and I took refuge in our apartment). It was the ideal knitting situation, and I indulged, settling in on the couch to finish Season 2 of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

I also got swept up in the fun of Casapinka’s mystery KAL, Welcome Back Garter, which kicked off last Thursday night. I’ve never done a MKAL before, but as I trust Bronwyn’s taste and wish I could knit pretty much all of her patterns, I decided to jump in. (It’s not too late if you want to participate!)

The shawl calls for three skeins in three different colors, with a suggestion to include one variegated colorway. I raided my stash and dug up some sock yarn from Tanis Fiber Arts that my mom brought back from Nova Scotia a few years ago in colors that I had requested. The yarn didn’t have a specific project attached, but I figured it could be called on if I needed a baby gift or finally started knitting socks. I then pulled out a skein of Roman Hills in the Bates/Downton Abbey-inspired colorway that I was drawn to when I discovered the dyer, Lisa Roman, at a BUST magazine holiday Craftacular ages ago. The combo got the approval of some knitters in the Casapinka Ravelry group, but Bronwyn cautioned me that a more “blendy” variegated colorway might be better. She was right, as the Roman Hills started working up a little stripier than I was hoping for, so I ended up switching to the skein of Rhinebeck Twilight from Sophie’s Toes that I had admired at the trunk show back in October and placed in my stash without a plan. So far, the shawl is looking great and I’m very excited to see what it becomes.

I love the color combinations that Miss Babs offers and I was very tempted to use one of them, but A. Blizzard and B. I really wanted to see what I could put together from my stash.

The experience gave me a revelation of sorts about the importance of acquiring those random skeins just because you’re drawn to them. I might be unique in that I tend to buy yarn for specific patterns I plan to knit (eventually…) because it helps temper my desire to buy All The Yarn. There is a bit of a drawback to that, because you might not have what you want on hand when a pattern comes out, and there’s a blizzard and you have to cast on RIGHT NOW. There’s definitely a balance you need to achieve if you don’t have an endless budget, space, or both. As long as you’re not racking up credit card debt, don’t feel too guilty about those impulse buys — you never know when you might “need” them.

Knitting indie: Winter gifts

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Mom hood 1

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.

Mom hood 2

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.

Knitting indie: Marking a milestone

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Grandma Shawl 1

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…

Grandma Shawl 2

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

Happy knit year

Pendulum

I’ve never really been the type to make New Year’s resolutions. If I resolve to do anything, I tend to just pick a date and do it, like deciding to start working out again (constantly sitting at a desk wasn’t doing me any favors) or reorganizing my stash (well, more like finally putting my Rhinebeck purchases away… in an entirely new box).

My knitting resolutions have been similarly immediate. On Christmas morning, I was trying to decide what to knit while I wait for new yarn for my mom’s hooded scarf. I so wanted to try out the Quince & Co. Lark that the pattern called for, but as I started knitting with it, I decided it was a little too rough for wearing around the neck. My husband, who wears his Bugga! scarf much more than his Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride one, felt the WIP and even agreed that it was a little rough (and I hate to sound stereotypical, but if your husband is encouraging you to buy more yarn…).

Anyway, I was looking at my project page, and realized I had a project that’s been hibernating since 2013. It was the Scalene that I cast on for on the way back from Australia (the yarn is from Rhinebeck 2012), and then messed up the increases for while knitting during a VKL class. Every time I pulled it out of the closet, I resolved to finish it. This time, I decided to repurpose it. So, I frogged the quarter-done shawl and cast on for Amy Miller’s Pendulum. greentrianglegirl, AKA A Playful Day, had called it a soothing knit, and she was right. The mindless garter is perfect for this more relaxed time of year, and the short rows keep it interesting. I probably won’t finish it in time for the Indie Untangled Winter KAL (which you still have the rest of today to enter. Read: PRIZES), but this is something I don’t really need to rush.

Swiss Delights Kit

I could have cast on for the Myrtille shawl as part of the Swiss Delights KAL with the Siidegarte kit, but it starts on Jan. 6, so I figured I would be good and wait. I made this my own Hanukkah splurge, and I’m so glad I did. The yarn, which arrived really quickly for an international package, is lovely and silky, and I can’t help but take it out every now and then to admire it.

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Speaking of 2015, there are also some really cool things happening knitwise early next year. First off, some really exciting news about Gauge + Tension: On Feb. 7, Michele is moving the former pop-up shop to a permanent space inside the Brooklyn Craft Company! This is a crafting space in Greenpoint with all sorts of different classes (they also have knit wallpaper they designed themselves!) and I keep meaning to go, so hopefully this will give me the kick in the butt I need.

Michele has also been organizing some really fantastic trunk shows (I really wanted to attend the Jill Draper and Queen Bee Fibers events, but I had my friends from Italy in town and then I had to work. Sigh.). If you’re Plucky obsessed, then you probably already know about the Plucky Knitter trunk show taking place at the old G+T space on Saturday, Jan. 24. Then, the next day, the store is going to be filled with yarns from Miss Babs (but, alas, no Babs herself).

If that’s not enough, on Jan. 25, Maria from the Subway Knits podcast, along with Sarah of KnitYorkCity, Kristin from Yarngasm and Marsha from One Geek to Craft Them All, are speaking at a panel on yarn crafting and blogging, organized by the Brooklyn Knit and Crochet Guild. It sounds like an amazing weekend! And that’s not even factoring in that Vogue Knitting Live is the weekend before.

I think I need to resolve to make another trip to The Container Store.

The end of Cowl-a-palooza 2014 and Happy Holidays!

Ceramic Flowers 1

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing Santa/Hanukkah Harry over the last week and a half, and I’d like to thank the extremely generous artisans who donated skeins and gifts for the newsletter giveaway. Some of the last grand prize goodies have still been coming in, and it’s been fun to open up all the packages (don’t worry, they will be shipped off to the winner!).

There are still two more prizes to go, including tonight’s prize, a Squish Me Hat Kit from Bare Naked Wools.

In between giving out prizes, baking, getting work done before everyone decamps for the holidays and binge-listening to the Serial podcast (the best way to do it, IMHO — no waiting!), I managed to finish another cowl. I made Mademoiselle C’s Ceramic Flowers, with French Market Fibers Silky DK in Margaret’s Endymion colorway, originally a limited-edition one that she recently decided to bring back. I favorited that pattern two years ago, and knew when Margaret started dyeing again that I had to finally cast on.

The pattern was simple and easy to follow, and I love the way the flowers look in Margaret’s yarn. The cowl is also the perfect size, I think: long enough to wrap around twice, and then tight enough to keep the chill out (though we haven’t had too bad of a winter so far).

Next up is the hooded scarf that I promised my mom (Levee by Cecily Glowik MacDonald), and that she gave me until mid-January to finish, since she won’t need it in Australia, where she’s going to visit my brother, sister-in-law and nephews. I’m also participating in the Myrtille KAL with the Siidegarte Swiss Delights Kit I bought myself as a Hanukkah gift. 🙂

My husband and I will be spending Christmas this year in our traditional way: maybe a movie tonight, and then Christmas dinner with a friend and her family. I hope all of you who celebrate have a wonderful Christmas!

Cowl-a-palooza 2, Electric Boogaloo

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Gather DDW

When I first saw Duck Duck Wool‘s Boys and Berries colorway, I knew I had to have it. The opportunity came at the Rhinebeck Trunk Show. There wasn’t a whole lot left when I finally got to visit Sandra’s table, which had been mobbed. And there it was: the shiny pink-purple that most people who know me would call a Lisa Color.

I would have taken a bunch of skeins, but there was only one lone skein of 50/50 DK. In deciding what to make with it, I found a couple of people had made Tin Can Knits’ Gather Cowl. I had the pattern since I made the hat for my nephew.

I cast on while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and finished late last night. It still needs a quick block, otherwise I would have it on right now. It is the color of my dreams, and now I have to decide on a way to get, and use, more of it.

Aphasia 2

The other project that’s ready to be blogged about is the Aphasia I finally blocked this week in anticipation of finally giving it to its recipient. I knit this scarf for Carmen, who lived with my family in 1998 as an Italian exchange student. She got married in May and my parents were supposed to go to the Roaring ’20s-themed wedding, but my mom was having heel pain and they decided to reschedule for September. My husband and I were all set to go with them, but then he ended up having back pain that turned out to need surgery. Luckily, Carmen and her new husband decided to take their belated honeymoon in the U.S., and just flew in last night!

I have to thank Melissa Wehrle, aka Neoknits, for handing off her leftover Straw Sea Silk after I was running out perilously close to the end. I ended up meeting her in Midtown to get it when I thought I’d be flying out to Italy that next week. I finished it anyway, and it’s been sitting in the To Block pile.

Though it probably won’t be quite warm enough for our winter, I’m definitely glad to get to give it to her in person.

Knitting indie: Cowl-a-palooza Part I

Horloge

Perhaps I’ve been knitting with fingering-weight yarn, and making sweaters, for too long. I’ve forgotten the pleasure of having an FO in three nights.

My first Indie Untangled KAL project, Alex Tinsley’s Horloge, is the first in a series of cowls I’m planning to make. I used the Skeinny Dipping Silky Worsted in Mulled Cider that I picked up at the Rhinebeck trunk show. The silk really makes the color shine and the cowl itself has the perfect amount of drape, just enough to sit well under my winter coat.

The pattern, with two easy cables every other row and knit inside out to minimize the number of purl stitches, was just interesting enough. I can definitely see it being a great gift knit and I’m already thinking of picking up some Rustic Silk Worsted from Pigeonroof Studios to make one for my friend Sharon, who’s allergic to wool.

Also, if you haven’t checked out the Indie Untangled KAL thread you may be enticed to participate by a whole bunch of new prizes, including two patterns donated by Lara Smoot, a $25 gift certificate to Lakes Yarn and Fiber, a Sweet Sheep lotion bar, a $24 gift certificate from Inner Yarn Zen, a 240-yard High Twist Sock mini-skein set from Pigeonroof Studios and an Autumn Basket kit from Laura Aylor.

I’m definitely looking forward to wearing my new cowl to Thanksgiving dinner, where I plan to work on Cowl No. 2. Speaking of which, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, filled with tons of knitting and all of the things you’re thankful for!

(Also: stay tuned for a roundup of great Black Friday/Shop Small Saturday/Cyber Monday deals from a bunch of Indie Untangled vendors! If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get that list in your inbox super early.)

Knitting indie: The perfect sweater with Custom Fit

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Enjoying my new Custom Fit sweater on the beach in Maine. #happysweaterface

Enjoying my new Custom Fit sweater on the beach in Maine. #happysweaterface

When I first started knitting sweaters a few years ago, I thought, Finally, here’s a way I can make clothes that fit me perfectly. Like pretty much every woman who has ever stood, frustrated, in a dressing room, I don’t always have an easy time buying things off the rack. I’m just barely 4’9”, with narrow shoulders and curves, and while I’ve found LOFT and Banana Republic to offer a decent range of petite styles that fit pretty well, there will often be things that are just… made for someone taller, or who doesn’t have hips.

But, as I started knitting garments, I realized that they also come in pre-determined sizes, and that altering them to fit me wasn’t quite as easy as a trip to the tailor. Then you throw gauge into the equation, and all bets are off.

Last summer, I started hearing about Amy Herzog’s Custom Fit software from some of my Ravelry friends who were testing out the beta version. Around the same time, I ended up deciding to re-knit my all-done-but-the-sleeves Pont Neuf because I had misjudged my gauge and should have used smaller needles, and also knit based on the pattern without making any mods. And it really needed some mods: the waist shaping was in the wrong place for my short torso and it was just a little too long. While it was a good learning experience, it wasn’t one that I wanted to repeat. A program that provided you a custom pattern based on your measurements seemed like a godsend.

Amy and her crew were at Rhinebeck last year, and they generously organized a session where they whipped out the tape measures and sized people up. While I was there, I also discovered the cool gradient boxes from Fiber Optic Yarns. I knew Custom Fit offered fairly standard sweater options, so knitting a gradient striped sleeveless top seemed like a good way to do a test drive with a basic design, while also spicing it up a little.

CF Gradient Tank

The way Custom Fit works is that you input an extensive list of measurements (which are best taken by someone else — check out whether your LYS has a partnership with Custom Fit and can help you with this, or try a local tailor if you don’t have a friend or loved one who you think can do it accurately) that go way beyond your bust size (have you checked out your inter-nipple distance lately?). Then you swatch. And maybe swatch again if you aren’t pleased with how the fabric feels. Of course, most knitters will groan, or say they never swatch, but a few hours of fairly mindless knitting is much better than spending weeks working on a sweater that you never wear.

This may have been my second swatch, but I liked the fabric on US3s much better.

This may have been my second swatch, but I liked the fabric on US3s much better.

Also, while Amy recommends knitting the sweater pieces separately and then seaming them together, the CF patterns do provide a mostly seamless option. I ended up taking that route for my gradient top, because I didn’t really want to match up the stripes, and my gauge is generally tighter when I’m knitting stockinette in the round. The knitting itself was fairly mindless, and I mainly had to pay attention to the stripes. When it was all done, it fit me perfectly, and the only real trauma came in weaving in all those ends…

CF Gradient before finishing

Custom Fit is the perfect option for when you impulse buy that sweater quantity in a beautiful hand-dyed colorway, but you just don’t know what to make with it. When I snagged some Tesseract at the Astral Bath open house a few months ago, I knew that with the silk content and my fairly loose tension that I would want something that I wouldn’t have to keep second guessing.

My next Custom Fit project in Astral Bath Tesseract.

My next Custom Fit project in Astral Bath Tesseract.

I decided to copy molliebatmit’s Moon River, a crew neck cardi with a lace edging and twisted rib at the hem, button band and sleeves. While the sweater has a bit more drape to it than Mollie’s does, because my gauge is much looser, the fit at this point, without sleeves and a button band, seems pretty spot on. So, if you’re planning to go to the pre-Rhinebeck trunk show, you will likely see me in my Conjured Cardi with a #happysweaterface.