When Good Knits Go Bad

At the start of the month, I cast on for the December Lights Tam from IK‘s Holiday issue. I was feeling quite clever, as I’d reduced the pattern from eight yarns to two by pairing a skein of Koigu KPPPM with a skein of solid black.

I was a bit fretful about gauge. Not that I actually measured my gauge—just that I worried about not knitting the piece too tightly, as I have been known to do with stranded projects.

So I knit and knit and just tried to keep things loose. Nice and loose. Loosey-goosey.

The pattern looked lovely in the colors I’d chosen. The hat did seem a trifle large, but I kept telling myself that would work out in the blocking.

Note to self: blocking does not make things smaller.

I dipped the finished hat into a sink of cool water, and it grew and grew and grew like some 50s mutant exposed to radioactive waste.
The reticule formerly known as hat
Here you see the result: an absolutey lovely hat that is big enough to eat—well, maybe not New York, but at least one or two of the boroughs.

I’ve worked my story out, and feel I’m dealng with this set-back rather well. I wasn’t knitting a hat; I was knitting a reticule. A pretty, pretty reticule. Now all I need to do is line it and add a drawstring.

And before you ask, no, it’s not felt-able: the black yarn is superwash.

(Not Quite) Tuesday Mewsday

It’s not the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, but here’s dancing Damian, full of good spirits and ready to share the joy.

Note the long, white mark on his back that—whod’a thunk it?—looks rather like a demon’s pitchfork.


Remember the Smooshy I was drooling over?

Here’s the hat I knit up with it for my LYS, The Golden Fleece.

The Orion hat

I’m calling the hat Orion, since the design looks like a belt of stars. The Golden Fleece will be giving the pattern away free with yarn purchase. (My friend Alice is graciously serving as hat model.)

Melissa did the pattern layout, and we included some shots of the stranding in action. My goal was to write it clearly enough that someone who’s never knit with two colors before would feel comfortable taking this hat on as a first stranded project. That’s also why I went with a single band of colorwork. I figured that stranding while decreasing and using double-points wouldn’t be beginner-friendly. (Leastways, that combination sure didn’t feel feel friendly to me when I was trying to do it all for the first time last spring!) I was also aiming for a unisex pattern, so that it could fill a variety of needs.

The skeins are very generous (450 yards each), so I have lots of yarn left over to play with, and I haven’t decided yet what I’ll make. Fingerless gloves? Something lacy? Another hat? Lace for edging pillow cases? (The yarn is superwash.)

Mmmmm… Yarn

Here are the yummy skeins I got from Curious Creek Fibers.

Bright and yarn-a-licious

Left to right you can see Arusha in Early Sunset (50% silk, 50% merino), Etosha in Sunrise on Daffodils (90% kid mohair, 10% nylon), Omo in Savanna Grasses (50% silk, 50% merino), Oban in Tilting the Gizmo (50% silk, 50% merino), and Isalo in Anemone (100% silk). Not surprisingly, the photo doesn’t do them justice—the colors just glow.

I don’t want to say too much about my projects until they’re done, but I definitely want to go back to the strategy I used on my Santa Cruz Hat and write at least one pattern that can be adapted easily to any gauge.

Meanwhile, here’s a recent FO…

A warm and cozy wrap

…my Cabled Capelet knit up in Malabrigo (Col China colorway). This pattern went quickly and easily (aside from a few problems with clarity regarding the decreases, which weren’t too hard to figure out). I ended the neck a bit early because it was already plently long enough without working all the rounds. I am definitely keeping this piece for myself, but I expect I’ll be knitting up another one soon for my niece. The malabrigo is wonderfully cozy under my chin.

Yarn-a-licious: Curious Creek Fibers

Check out Curious Creek Fibers. Look at the yarns (if only someone would develop an on-line fiber fondling tool!). Gaze longingly at the colors.

I had the pleasure of attending a Curious Creek yarn tasting at Article Pract several months ago and got to meet Kristine, the genius behind these yarns. She’d brought wonderful things with her: samples of new yarns, one-off colorways, all sorts of swatches arranged in relational pyramids to explain the process of choosing a final colorway. I learned why red is a hard color to get in a variegated yarn: it sets at a different temperature than most other dyes. I got to see how colorways react differently with different fibers (look at Rock Grotto for a good example of this: in some fibers it’s downright vivid; in others it takes on a earthy subtlety.).

These aren’t the sort of yarns one throws into one’s basket willy-nilly, the way one can with, say, discounted Soy Wool Stripes at Michaels. (Actually, it feels a bit like heresy to be mentioning Curious Creek and Michaels in the same blog entry.) These are yarns that you choose carefully for a project that you know will be treasured.

Of course, I wanted to buy five of everything, and, of course, I couldn’t. After much agonizing, I wound up selecting some Autumn in New England in several different fibers (I’m a sucker for autumn colors, and the electric blue paired with the copper just makes this colorway pop) and single skeins in Birches in Norway, Sunrise on Daffodils, and Rock Grotto. I was checking tags and calculating which skeins would give me enough yardage to knit what sorts of projects. Could I get a hat out of one skein of Nakuru? Could I get two fingerless gloves out of one skein of Serengeti? Would one skein of Etosha be enough for a pretty scarf or should I go for two?

In the middle of my decision-making I said to Kristine, “You need some single-skein patterns to go with your yarns.”

She looked right back at me and asked, “Do you want to design them?”


So after some back-and-forth with the email, I now have a box of yarns from Kristine with which I’m going to be cooking up single-skein projects (and maybe a thing or two that require just a bit more yarn than that) that will be available on her web site. I will be having very happy holidays, indeed! The colors! The textures! Joy, joy, joy!

I know it’s a bit of a tease to write about all this and then not provide you with a photo, but I promise a photo will be coming soon. I’m off to my parents’ house tomorrow and will stop by Melissa’s on the way up for a quick shoot.

Way Too Festive

Melissa throws a holiday party every year. I help out a bit, but really it’s her show. She bakes cookies for days beforehand, plans and prepares savories, compiles holiday music CDs, and cleans like a woman possessed. I show up the day before and alternate getting distracted by work/knitting on-line and following Melissa’s instructions and completing discrete tasks. This year I was feeling particularly unfestive and burdened by work, so I am afraid I wasn’t the help-meet I should have been.

On Saturday afternoon, Melissa sent me to the grocery store for cilantro, tangerines, and extra chocolate. While I was there, I got the inspired idea of picking up a bottle of Chandon Blanc de Noirs. I got back home, popped the cork, and within a few sips, I was full of the holiday spirit: slicing cucumber for little bits of salmon to perch atop, wrapping itty-bittty pigs in itty-bitty blankets, filling bowls with bourbon balls, and gyrating along as we listened to Elvis singing “Blue Christmas.”
The finished tree

Look a little closer…. This year, we had the brilliant idea of making a tree-topper out of a Melita no. 5 coffee filter.
No coffee fanatics here...

We spread out my Christmas cat quilt.
Christmas cat quilt

Christmas cat quilt, detail
(There is a cat fabric for every holiday out there, and I have them all.)

On Sunday, after we’d recovered from the festivities, Melissa photographed my Shell Stitch Shawl. She had lots of help from the cats.

Maggie approved of the stitch pattern.
The cats love the malabrigo shawl

And Damian found it a nice, soft spot to settle down on for a grooming session.
Let's stop and wash!

As I said earlier, now that I’m adjusting to the contrast border, I’m liking it just fine.
I expect I’ll be knitting another one—also in Malabrigo—soon.

Book Review: Ethnic Knitting Discovery: The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and the Andes

Ethnic Knitting
Donna Druchunas has written exactly the sort of book I love: not just a collection of patterns, but an introduction to an entire genre of knitting with the goal of helping readers design their own patterns. Ethnic Knitting Discovery (Nomad Press) begins with a chapter on working without patterns that outlines basic sweater shapes, sizing, gauge, and ease. In chapter 2, Druchunas explains techniques common to all the chapters: circular knitting, cutting (!) arm and neck openings, colorwork, and the like. She then moves on to individual chapters on the knitting of each region that are designed to teach specific skills and that include a set of sample patterns readers can knit as is or vary to suit themselves.

The first regional chapter, on the Netherlands, focuses on knit/purl patterning, centering motifs and horizontal patterns, standard drop-shoulder styling, and picking up sleeves at the armholes (as opposed to sewing sleeves in after knitting). The list of techniques grows more ambitious with each chapter: welts and half-gussets in the Denmark chapter, for example; cut armholes, boat necks, and colorwork in the round in the Norway chapter; steeks, puntas (scalloped edges), and alternate techniques for K and P stitches in the Andean chapter.

If you’ve done some sweater knitting, but stil can’t imagine making the jump from following patterns to designing your own, this book will see you comfortably through that transition. Each of the regional chapters also offers patterns for two sweaters and an additional accessory, but the reader has the option of approaching the patterns in three ways. One can follow the pattern as written, use a template to customize the pattern for any yarn weight and finished size, or follow a schematic for quick, improvisational knitting.

Ethnic Knitting Discovery includes an index—something I’d like to see in more knitting books, as it facilitates working specific skills/techniques into one’s own knitting repetoire.

My one regret is that this book doesn’t include any photos. The techniques and projects are amply illustrated with clear line drawings, but how I wish it included some regional photos for inspiration. Some shots of an Andean marketplace, for example, could inspire knitters to leap far beyond the frameworks offered by the book.

[Side note: while tracking down a link for the above paragraph, I wandered off on a tangent that led me to this tank cozy worked as by knitters and crocheters from across the EU and US and coordinated by Marianne Joergensen.]

This book is a good investment not only for those interested in ethic knitting, but for aspiring designers as well.

P.S. The Cameo Shell Stitch Shawl with the unplanned band of contrast color along the bottom? I am so loving it. It does wonders taking the bite out of the cold in Melissa’s cement-block, not-centrally-heated, artist’s-loft apartment.

Revontuli Too (Two)

My Noro Silver Thaw version of Revontuli is finished and blocked, and we’ve had cold evenings of late, so it’s been getting use.
The finished shawl
Aren’t the colors wonderful? Normally, I am not big on purple/violet, but pair it up with the right green and I just can’t get enough of it.
The finished shawl, up close
This pattern is such a quick, intuitive knit once it gets going and yields such wonderful results, I expect I’ll be working it up more than twice.

My Cameo Shawl is completed as well and awaiting blocking. I’ll be pestering Melissa to photograph it and upload the picture this weekend. I almost made it through the entire shawl with four skeins of malabrigo in bergamota, but ran just a bit short. (I should have made it. The pattern calls for 847 yards; I had 864. I must face facts: I appear to be a loose knitter.) So, I pulled out a skein of malabrigo in sealing wax and worked the last few rows in that color. I love how the shawl feels over my shoulders: all thick, soft sponginess. I’m still ambivalent about the change in color. It looks just fine, but since it isn’t what I’d pictured as I was working on the shawl, I haven’t quite accepted it yet. I need a little time enjoying its warmth to help me reconcile my mental image with the reality of the finished product.

Have any of you had a similar experience? Is it possible to accept that a knit isn’t the fantasy-item I dreamed it would be and to still fall back in love with it?

P.S. If you do not normally stop by Rose-Kim Knits for “Thursdays are for What the Hell is This?,” you might want to start. Today’s entry defies description.

Tuesday Mewsday: Kittens… Kittens Everywhere

So back in the day (as my students put it), before I got bit by the knitting bug and still had time for sewing quilts, I pieced this vivid number.
The second quilt
Can you spot the square that features a cat doing a handstand on an elephant’s back?

I purchased a kit for the star blocks on ebay. Most of the other fabrics came from Blythe Designs, an on-line fabric store that specialized in cat prints, which unfortunately has gone out of business. Blythe Designs started up before the internet boom and was originally a mail-order company. You could send them seven dollars and they’d send you swatches of the newest cat fabrics, after which you could, of course, order larger cuts. Many of my swatches made it into this quilt, along with slices from various fat quarters I’d amassed.

The second quilt, detail
In the upper left, you can see one of my favorite prints—wild-eyed black kittens bouncing on pillows.