Monday, January 27, 2014

Last year's fave knits and must-try recommendations

Looks up from knitting

Oh. Hey. I'm surprised you're still here! Nice to see you! I appreciate your comments and interest in my ramblings, despite my poor correspondence. Life has been pretty busy, but not in the December deadlines kinda way; I just tend to work best when I throw myself into a project and tune out the world for a while. January is my knitting free-for-all, and I love thinking back to the old projects as I scheme up new ones for the coming year. As I've had time to put last year's knits to the test, some of them stand out as real winners, probably because I use them all the time. So this is my "items I am most glad I knit last year" recap.

My "red" sweater.
This is literally my every-day sweater. Except in the extreme temperatures we've experienced in the recent "polar vortex," I don't usually wear a coat; if anything, I layer a light sweater underneath this one and wear it everywhere. Indoors and outdoors, this is my favorite sweater. Here's why:
  • It rakes in compliments all the time.  The color, the collar, the cable - there's something gratifying about receiving a compliment from a stranger or coworker before they realize that my sweater is handmade. 
  • Nothing says "snuggly" like a good shawl collar. I'm glad I took the time to get it right. Thanks to Bill for the pointers!
  • Long sleeves. I really hate sleeves that don't cover the base of my hand; in this sweater, even when my elbow is bent my wrists feel safe and secure. The extra-long ribbing at the cuffs has a similar effect as the shawl collar. Yum.
  • The yarn is fab. (It's Spud & Chloe Sweater, a wool/cotton blend.) Okay, so while knitting, the cotton content in the yarn made my hands a little tired, but the result is a sweater that actually looks best when I've gently machine washed and dried it, and it feels great even when I'm only wearing my short-sleeved work shirt underneath. It's perfect for indoor wearing because it's not too hot, but when layered with other stuff it becomes snuggly. I'm so glad I was able to get this yarn while I still had a store discount at Loop. It's quality stuff. Also, considering the constant use it gets, it is holding up pretty well.
I knit this sweater from Barbara Walker's top-down method, and I think it's my best sweater so far. Despite the fiddly bit in the shoulders, it was a beautiful construction that flows pretty nicely. I've been experimenting with different patterns and constructions, but perhaps I should revisit this one soon and see if I can't perfect it some more.

I was initially frustrated with some technical issues on this hat, but those were worked out, even if I felt a bit miffed in the process. So when I finished the hat, I had mixed feelings about it; despite that bias, this has become my go-to hat, and I'm quite glad I purchased the pattern. I believe the hat was designed specifically for this yarn, and with good reason. The yarn looks great, and feels as luxurious as anything you could buy in a store. The hat has held its shape despite almost daily wearing. As hats go, it's perhaps a bit more forgiving than some on my hair, and it covers my ears comfortably (I'm very picky there). The designer did a lovely job working out a stylish hat using just the one skein of yarn. I have to admit that a lot of hand-knit hats look or feel inferior to the ones available in the stores, but this is certainly not one such handknit. If you decide to give this hat a try, I highly recommend using the yarn called for - and that's coming from me!! 

Leaves of Grass
It's just so purdy, thanks to the yarn being so fabulous.
Think of it as a favorite painting that you enjoy every time you look at it, then try wrapping that painting around yourself to keep off the chill. My sisters loved it enough that they put in their requests for next Christmas. 

Norwegian-wool Experimittens
One of my responsibilities at the nursing home includes taking smokers out into the cold and doling out cigarettes, then standing watch so no mishaps occur. These mittens have been a constant companion during smoke break, and I love the feel of the padded fabric created by the stranded colorwork, especially in the Norwegian wool yarn. I have dreams about knitting another pair that does not flip open, perhaps in the same charming pattern, for those times when I don't need to use my fingers.

Color Craving
This one kinda surprised me, since I put up with so much negativity from other people knitting during the mystery KAL. The look really bothered some people, and the shape challenged people who couldn't figure out how it could be worn; I think in both instances they were trying to approach it the same way as all the other shawls they had knit. But for me, it has served as an extremely functional and smart-looking accessory. Whenever I or my partner wear ours out, strangers go out of their way to let us know how they admire our scarves. It also helps that I ended up substituting a color that matches my red sweater rather perfectly! The scarf fills in the gap in the v-neck of the sweater, and I feel pretty good about it. Sometimes I entertain the thought of knitting another one in different colors, to coordinate with other outfits, even though it's quite an investment of time and money. The process was a fun one, and barring any stupid mistakes, it was an easy enough knit.

Woolen-spun Shetland Triangle
I know this is another shawl, but I view it as being from the other end of the knitwear spectrum in its creation and aesthetic. It is my other go-to shawl because I love the feel and look of it, and it packs easily. This may be the first time I was able to successfully create a yarn that was designed for a specific purpose, and I am still amazed at its softness and lightness. Usually my handspun yarns are heavy and lunky, and while I feel fairly comfortable making a knittable yarn on a spindle, the addition of spinning a gradient from rolags made this project unique and exciting. This shawl keeps out the chill quite well, despite being riddled with holes. Ever since finishing it, I've been plotting to repeat the process and probably even the pattern.

So there you have it; if you've been looking for project inspiration, I hope this gives you some ideas that have proved worth my while. What have you made in the last year that you've most enjoyed?

Cheers, and happy wool-play!

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Where does your knitting passion turn in January, and is it any different from what drives your stitches in December?

For me, this is the time of year when the holiday knitting is over, the new year has begun, and I find myself dreaming about what lies ahead. I feel motivation to scheme up new projects and rip out old ones, to pore over classic knitting books and stitch dictionaries, and pile into baskets yarns I'm itching to try out. I don't let myself worry about guilt-driven resolutions, and when I do make a commitment I set out knowing I will probably get sidetracked along the way. After all, it is merely knitting. So my Countdown Challenge was successful enough, but that does not mean I finished everything I set out to finish. That's totally fine with me; it helped me prioritize, narrow the playing field to manageable bits. I finished the important stuff, so I'm very pleased.

Two things I'm mulling over, whenever I have days off work:

  • knitting socks with less-common, breed-specific yarn bases - especially bouncy, rustic yarns. I've set aside a Perendale/mohair blend, a cone of alpaca/wool/nylon, and a Targhee/nylon sock flat. I'm also finishing up my own handspun Dorset/silk blend for the same purpose. Ooh, just listing these gets me all excited! These aren't the kinds of yarns you commonly find in a yarn shop, whether online or brick-and-mortar -- unless it's a super-cool one that features locally sourced farm-produced yarns. This is why going to fiber festivals is so valuable for a knitter; it is understandably difficult for yarn retailers to stock and sell such items, and the offerings from farms is often deliciously unique. This is especially true for the large crop of urban knitters out there; city life just doesn't know what to do with rustic yarns.  I think this is because fashion drives the industry and generally focuses on a sleek and consistent aesthetic. Happily, the result is that there are some really brilliant discoveries to be made for city knitters that can get to a festival! I can't wait to feel these yarn bases on my fingers and feet, and watch how they wear over time.
  • sweaters - with the record low temperatures I'm dreaming of plump cables and cozy shawl collars. I'm so over knitting a 'fitted' sweater at the moment, especially from a written pattern. I think this is because I'm not rolling in money to pick a pattern and go purchase the recommended yarn; as a result I'm always trying to modify things, and too many tweaks makes me unhappy (shooting a wickedly satisfied sideways glance at the basket of handspun yarn freshly frogged).  Now I'm thinking of returning to the tutelage of Elizabeth Zimmermann, Barbara Walker, Priscilla Gibson Roberts, and Deborah Robson. Their approaches are different from each other, but they each give a framework for constructing a sweater based on the yarn you have and the basic shape you wish to create. That's much more reasonable, considering I have sweater quantities of yarn in bases that require substituting and special treatment (for instance, handdyed colors that would obscure highly textured patterns).  No doubt I will try to combine methods from several sources, when all is said and done.
So again I ask, where have your knitting thoughts been traveling these days?

If you're in the northern hemisphere, keep warm, and if you're down south, keep cool, and to all, happy knitting!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wrapping up 2013

Happy New Year!

I've been a busy bee, and now I can show you what gifts I managed to eke out during the past several months.

Another yule ball - I finished just in time to pop it on the tree for a couple pics; by this time I had already gifted the two I made previously. I guess I'll have to make more for next year, since there are none left for our tree. They all went to very good folks, though, so I don't mind in the least.

My sisters both received fan-art inspired knits (for lack of a better term):

Because I couldn't just knit plain hot pads:

And these were intended for last year:

These Galadriel Socks have got me working my way back through the audio recording of Tolkien's The Silmarillion, which is epic and worth the work of getting through the chapters about geography. Just saying.

When the family visited for Thanksgiving, Mom put in an order for a scarf; that wouldn't be a problem except that I had a couple labor intensive gifts already underway, and there was no way I was letting them fall to the wayside. As it turned out, though, I managed to get the scarf done without stressing. 

The only glitch was that the weather turned hot and soggy just before Christmas, and it made drying after wet blocking rather impossible. So I resorted to desperate measures: the oven. It worked pretty well, except that the center fold was hanging off the baking sheet and actually browned a bit. Whoops!

Here's why I was a bit nervous about getting to Mom's scarf:

My sister had mentioned that she'd like something pretty like a lace scarf to dress up her otherwise sporty and modest wardrobe, and I was happy to oblige with a bit of Estonian-inpsired lace - especially since she mentioned it back in January. I'm not used to being so spoiled as to have ample planning time. I shopped around a good bit and decided to go with Meadow by The Fibre Company.

I did have a bit of an issue with the color between skeins, as you can see below. I mail-ordered the yarn right after it came out, and I wonder if the dyeing had a few kinks initially. That's what I get for mail-ordering my yarn, and not paying attention to the yarn label when it recommends alternating skeins throughout. The color difference wasn't noticeable until I began adding the second skein. Even after offering to overdye it, my sister assures me it's fine, and I must admit it probably won't look bad when she wears it like a neck scarf. I'm not too worried that she's going to be wearing it with a ball gown or anything.

Despite the color issue, I'm a big fan of the yarn. It's just gorgeous, and feels amazing with a certain rustic charm. It's lace-worthy without being to frighteningly fine. (I'm quite happy with fingering weight most of the time.) I wouldn't mind working with it again. I'll just make sure I buy it in person and handle the skeins more carefully.

I think that about wraps things up for 2013 knits. I'm relishing a bit of selfish knitting at the moment, dreaming about a couple sweaters and working with some delicious yarns.

Speaking of  yummy yarns, I'm still destashing some nice yarns, so if you or anyone you know is still interested in helping me take the edge off paying for my harp lessons, stop over to my destash page. When I get time, I might just add some more.

Cheers, and happy knitting!