Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Maybe Mittens

It's Halloween, and you know what that means. I'm not talking about candy or costumes. I'm talking about crazy unrealistic Christmas knitting spreadsheets!!!

I know I can't be the only one who breaks out Excel about this time. Somehow, I keep thinking that the key to successful knitting is organizing the list better. I refuse to believe that the number of hours in the day and my ability to knit during them has anything to do with it. 

This year, mittens factor heavily into my scheming. My wife's family only buys gifts for the kids, so there are 8 potential gift recipients. 8 kids, 16 mittens... and they're not even grown up sized hands! I don't know if I'll make it, but I figure that I can mix up the patterns and colors to keep things interesting. It's a good chance to make a dent in my worsted weight leftover stash, too. Mainly, I feel like a kid can get away with a store-bought acrylic hat on a snowy day, if they have to. But how can they even hope to compete in a snowball fight without woolly mittens? 

Iris in mittens I made, 2009-ish.

If you want to join the insanity mittening, let me know! Here are some of my favorites:

1) Honey Mittens You know that super popular Honey Cowl? It's popular for a good reason. These mittens come by their texture a little differently, by way of tiny cables instead of slipped stitches. But the effect is still squishy and delightful. I'm actually making a hybrid of these and Susan B. Anderson's Baby Mitts, just because I can.

2) Cruiser These have an interesting texture, and the design features an afterthought thumb- neato! 

3) Maize Never say no to a free pattern from Tin Can Knits. I like that these are simple without being too plain. 

4) Mister or Missus Mittens I'm a sucker for cabling that grows naturally out of the ribbing. 

5) Stars or Stripes Mittens The kids are too cool for matchy-matchy mittens these days. Go crazy!

6) Houndstooth Mittens Okay, make that nine pairs. Cuz I need these.

7) Octopus Mittens Because it just wouldn't be the holidays without some quirky Japanese mittens... right?

8) Deep Blue Sea: Shark Mittens Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your coat pocket...

9) Soon to Be Lost Toddler Mittens Because... realism.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Canine Compulsions

I've always been more of a cat person. I think it's because they're cool, confident, aloof, independent... just like me.



Well anyway, I quite accidentally met a chihuahua mix last Friday at a shelter (we were looking for a dog for my mother-in-law, not for us), and it became clear that my self-identification as a cat person was swiftly becoming less of a scientific theory and more of a loose construct. Before I knew it, our family had grown by one teeny dog named Harvey. 

Those eyes! They melted me into a giant puddle of dog-loving goo! What can I say?

A little research (and observing Harvey firsthand) told me that chihuahuas, and other teeny doggies, are better suited for warm climates because they don't have much in the way of protective fatty layers. Harvey is especially diminutive, so with the delightful 30 degree "spring" weather we're still having, sweaters are an outdoor necessity. We have some commercially knit dog sweaters, but let's face it- being a knitter pretty much spoils you forever for commercially knit stuff. I'm convinced that what Harvey needs is some custom-knit sweaters- stat! 

(I should mention here that yes, we already have a dog- Katie, Lynn's nine year old Jack Russel Terrier. And yes, I have always planned on knitting her a sweater. Lest you think I am showing doggy favoritism.... well, how can I put this delicately... Katie does not lack for a protective fatty layer. I didn't have such a sense of urgency about it.)

Even if you aren't a dog person, I've become convinced over the last few days that there isn't really anything more entertaining on the internet than looking at pictures of dogs in sweaters. I may have expressed this feeling to my wife. She may have given me a look that said, "Holly, please don't say that to anyone else." But here I am, telling the internet anyway. Quick, look at these sweater and then come back and tell me I'm wrong. JUST TRY.

1) The Little Black Dress with Pearls made me fervently wish I had more gala events to take my dogs to. The pearls just slay me. Check out this dignified Dachshund!. Classy!

2) Drops 102-43 Knitted Dogcoat and the Biscuits & Bones Dog Coats both have a traditional Aran feel, without having the commitment of knitting an actual enormous Aran sweater. Unless you want to make it for a Great Dane or something, in which case I have no help for you.

3) Wurstwarmer was specifically designed with Dachshunds in mind, but I think it would work for other longish, barrel-chested dogs (including Katie.) The pattern seems thoughtfully written. Speaking of Pamela Wynne, have you seen her Willie sweater- not a sweater for dogs, but a sweater for kids with a dog on it? Awwww. All proceeds from Wurstwarmer go to a dog rescue in Michigan- sweet!

4) From the Knitty archives, here's Penny, a ribbed sweater for little dogs. Ribbing could be a big help with a variety of fitting issues. I wouldn't mind having one just like this. Those stripes are so sporty! The Dandy Dog Coats are another ribbed option, with more size options and stitch pattern variations.

5) There are several simple-ish, measure-your-dog and knit-to-fit type patterns, but my two favorites were Perfect Fit Dog & Cat Sweater (available online) and Howl (available in the first Stitch and Bitch book.) Perfect Fit is top down and seamless if that's your thing, whereas Howl is garter stitch and a little seaming, but still super simple.

6) If you don't want to commit to a whole sweater, you could probably knock this teeny Triangle Cowl for Tiny Creatures out in less than an hour. Most of the posted projects are for cats, but this pug is rocking the look. Work it, little pug. OWN IT.

If you have have a pet pattern you love, shout it out! I leave you with a dog in a pimp hat. Just because.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Easy Does It: Kid Sweater Roundup Edition

This week I started a Boathouse Mini for the girls (which I hope to embellish with some kind of vintage owl motif, inspired by this adorable hedgehog embroidery). I just love a nice, easy kids' knit. While there's certainly something to be said for children's garments that use descriptors like "heirloom" and "intricate", I find myself most often looking for good basics. Simple to knit, quick to finish, easy to wear... basically, the knits that have the best odds of being finished and used. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Tea with Jam and Bread by Heidi Kirmaier: With a size range all the way from a child's size 4 to an adult XXL, this pattern fills me with desire to make matching sweaters for the whole family. The color blocking possibilities! So exciting! Fun fact: I am a huge sucker for knits with pockets.

2) Gathering Stripes by Veera Valimaki: I was a little skeptical about the collar on this thing at first, but the kids wearing the sweater just look so damn stylish. It's true that a fingering weight pullover is quite a commitment, but it's pretty loosely knit (5.5 st/in), and you have to consider the added versatility you get out of a lighter weight sweater. Hearkening back to last weeks' post, there are some lovely rainbow interpretations out there. Also, this little boy in pink stripes? Rocking it. Oh, there's a grownup version too! 

3) Plain Cardigan by Anna & Heidi Pickles: While I find the Pickles website pretty complicated to navigate at times, they have some very sweet and simple patterns available. This one is available for free in size 0 - 3 months, or you can purchase sizes up to 8 years here. The Ravelry listing is for DK, but the pattern calls for yarn held doubled so gauge is a chunky 3.5 st/in. Malabrigo Worsted, perhaps? Cascade Eco Wool? Oh, yes. Delightful. 

4) Child's Classic Raglan Pullover by Jane Richmond: This pattern does exactly what it says on the tin. Timeless style, common gauge. I like it straight up, but visions of the many ways it could be varied and embellished are quite tantalizing. Duplicate stitch, fair isle, stripes... it's a perfect blank canvas. Having started one of these myself not long ago, I can vouch for the pattern as clearly written and beautifully laid out. 

5) Wonder Years Toddler/Child Cardigan by Elizabeth Smith: What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Or would you knit this sweater for my daughters? There's a very popular free version of this for babies, but I think the toddler/child sizes are worth shelling out for. Those babies are only going to get bigger.

6) Toddler Raglan Hoodie by Megan Goodacre: This is another great (free!) blank canvas sort of pattern. I love this example with variegated body/solid edging (and bonus points for referring to the sweater recipient as "Fatty McFatterson" LOL). Don't forget that a hood is a costume gold mine, as evidenced by this adorable little lion and zebra. And a Brobee! Also, check out this cool cloud/wavy thing with the stripes.

Feel free to shout out your favorite simple kid knits in the comments so we can all knit for our children as lazily as possible!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Rainbow Roundup

My wife and I love rainbows. You probably could have guessed that from the rainbow colors at our wedding and our matching rainbow heart tattoos. Yes, it's partly the gay thing. But, it also has a lot to do with being born in the 80's. Our brains were saturated with ROYGBIV related color schemes from a young age, so there's a certain nostalgia factor. Plus, rainbows go with everything because they have all the colors in them!! Yay!

I got an urge to knit something rainbow-y for Lynn before the wedding, but there was that whole thing where I barely knit at all last year. And the thing where I proposed in July and we had the wedding in September, 77 days later- a tight deadline even for someone making contact with yarn on a regular basis. Still, I am not well known for my sense of what can reasonably be accomplished, so I dreamed big. Specifically, I was thinking of a Mitered Cross Blanket knit with Kauni Effektgarn Wool 8/2, a scratchy sport weight wool, in EQ. It's a self-striping rainbow colorway with l-o-n-g stretches of color, which I was hoping would pair up nicely with some neutral color to produce something like this example. I even bought the pattern and cast on, but thankfully doing two rows of miters on size 4 needles was enough to snap me back to reality. 

The rainbowl Kauni waited patiently until last month, when I experienced a Perfect Knitting Storm:

1) My wife said magical words- "You know, you haven't knit anything for me since we started dating!" 
2) BFF Allison gifted me with a beautiful Wurm hat for my birthday in the first week of Februrary.  I am convinced that it makes me look sophisticated, tough and European- a fat Lisbeth Salander. I can't show you a picture because I can't bear to have anyone tell me this is not the case.
3) Lynn admired the Wurm, and looking at other Ravelers' projects, I realized that Kauni was a viable option. She loves rainbows and seemingly has no sensitivity to less soft wools. Pefect.

And thus, Rainbow Ridges was made. 

My worry was that the color repeats would be so long that all the colors of the rainbow wouldn't fit on the hat. The pattern calls for 10 ridges, but I decided that I would keep knitting to the end of the spectrum, no matter what. For a while I was feeling pretty hopeful that I would only have to add one extra ridge, but I ended up with 14 ridges and a hat that vaguely resembles a windsock. Lynn says she can use the extra room at the top for storage, so I guess it's okay. Now my wife has hat with a little rainbow magic in it, and I have the satisfaction of seeing my knitting on someone who really appreciates my woolly expressions of love.

I was a little sad to see the end of the hat, but there's plenty of rainbows where that came from. This cute little sweater made my heart go pitter-pat. There may be some Rainbow Earrings in my future. Or maybe some of these fingerless gloves with Rainbow Fingers! (Another good use for Kauni, I think.) Hopefully, my knitting life will be pleasantly punctuated with these happy colors for a long time to come.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Magnum Opus

I knew a woman named Jan who knit on
one blanket for almost a whole year. On the project page her notes
say that she took several "sabbaticals", so it's possible that during one of
those breaks, she worked on something else. If she did, I never saw it. The
blanket was so closely associated with her in my mind that once she did finish
and I started seeing her without it at Stitch and Bitch, I really did miss the thing
(and made sure to tease her about the lack plenty. "We won't even recognize you
without that blanket!")

The blanket was knit modularly, square by tiny squre. Primarily yellow, with
lots of other cheerful colors mixed in, it was just the kind of happy thing you
would hope to see a child wrapped up in. She chose to knit it with Cascade
Sierra, an 80/20 cotton and wool blend. That yarn really made the rounds at our
LYS, especially for baby things. It's heavy and tends towards splittiness, but
its durability and washable nature made it good choice for small people. With so
many color changes, Jan made the wise choice to weave in the ends as she knit.
As a matter of fact, I think I remember more of her weaving in ends than
actually knitting.

Slowly but surely, it came together. You can see in the picture that she was
rightly proud of her accomplishment. I don't know if she would have thought of
it as a magum opus- great work- but I certainly do. I'm always impressed with
knitters who have the capacity to see a Herculean project through to the end
(maybe because I'm not one of them.) I know that Jan was motivated by love even
bigger than the work itself, for the son of a good friend. How wonderful to have
left behind a finished object that wasn't so much a feat of knitterly skill as
it was a tangible act of devotion.

Jan passed away last weekend unexpectedly, leaving a hole in our little group of knitters. She will be truly missed. To me personally, she was very supportive of my many life changes, and attended my confirmation in the Episcopal Church last December, when I'm sure it would have been easier to sleep in on a cold Sunday morning. After the Knit Nook closed, Jan did much to keep us seeing each other often, . Plans had been made to go out for lunch this Saturday. Instead, we'll be going to her funeral. I knew that Jan was active in many other crafts prior
to knitting, including making jewelry, embroidery, counted cross stitch,
needlepoint, and even some sewing, but I was surprised to learn from Ravelry
that she only really started her knitting career in January 2008. Her neat
stitches and willingness to tackle a big project belied a more experienced
knitter. I felt like I knew her much longer, but not long enough. I guess there
isn't ever a "long enough" time to know someone you care about.

It's easy to get bogged down by the enormity of death. I mean, it is for me
anyway. My finite human brain has a hard time grasping things like "forever" and
"eternity" and "never again". Maybe it's better for us mortals to consider
instead the evidence of a well-lived life, like fun memories, good friends, and excellent handmade objects. I hope that Jan is sitting around the table in the big yarn shop in the sky, chatting with other departed knitters, and enjoying an endless supply of beautiful wool.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

(Belated) 2012 in Review

A couple days before NYE 2012, I started writing a post about my knitting year in review, as is traditional in knitblog land. Then I failed to get the post up on New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, or even the first week of 2013. As is typical of my self-imposed deadlines, once I fail to meet them and no longer have the pressure of a looming due date, all bets are off. So here we are, more than 2/3 of the way through January, and I am just now year-in-reviewing. 

Which is especially nuts when you consider that I don't have that much knitting to review.

1) A while before Easter this year, Allison sent me a link to Cassia, and I fell in love. A cute little girls' dress! And here I was with two cute little girls who needed Easter dresses! I started making crazy plans involving matching dresses. So like a really good friend, Allison talked me off the ledge. She volunteered to knit the larger dress for Iris, while letting me tackle Hannah's somewhat more petite dress. A very speedy knitter, Allison soared right through Iris's dress. I plodded along on Hannah's, but didn't make it in time for Easter. Or the month after that. Or the rest of the summer. Actually, it still needs to have the pockets sewn on. And some buttons. Iris won't even be with us this Easter, so even if I manage to finish up, they won't get to match this year. Alas!

2) I'm not really a variegated yarn person. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) A couple skeins of Gnome Acres grabbed me at a knitting camp this summer though, and it didn't take me long to cast on for the Age of Brass and Steam, a very simple shawlette that I hoped would let the beautiful dye job shine through. It's still not finished, but it went a lot of places with this year and I'm sure the long (LONG) rows will eventually pay off. 

3) Pumpkin hats are mandatory knitting for babies born in fall. So I ended up knitting two this year, one for a co-worker and one for a friend. This is just a simple variation on the classic Umbilical Cord Baby Hat from the first Stitch and Bitch book, a pattern I have made approximately 50 babillion times.

4) This year, my most satisfying project was this Snappy Hat for Allison. It was the only Christmas knitting project I managed to complete, probably owing to the bulky nature of the yarn and fun nature of the cables. Allison is picky selective about her knits, so I went with the only safe bet and bought a skein of yarn I knew she already had and knit an accessory to match a cowl she already made herself and wears regularly. Actually, I bought it last Christmas, started two other accessories which didn't work out, and then frogged those projects to make this year's present. It's practically recycling. Doesn't my good friend look rosy in this picture? It's the glow of being gifted with quality knitwear.

My biggest project last year was my wedding, buying a house, and the subsequent formation of our new family unit. (Need I say that last one is ongoing?) It wasn't my biggest year for knitting, but it was without a doubt the best year I've ever had in so many ways. I hope to spend this year enjoying my wife and kids, good friends, and good yarn. And dispensing advice about the last thing via this blog. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mo' Hair, Mo' Problems

My first yarn purchased in a real yarn store was Lamb's Pride Bulky, a wool/mohair blend spun into a fuzzy, lofty single. I remember being so excited to have real wool in my hands, but scandalized by the price tag. $8.50 for 125 yards!! SACRE BLEU!!!! Thank goodness I could not see into the future that day. If I had known how much money I was going to spend on yarn over the next decade, I might have dropped dead on the spot.

My first knit scarf was the Ribbed for Her Pleasure scarf in Lamb's Pride Bulky, plain black. Very practical, I thought. Since the whole point of knitting a simple ribbed scarf was to teach me the difference between my knits and purls, knitting it in black, fuzzy yarn was sort of a fool's errand. I could barely even see the damn thing to knit it, it was B-O-R-I-N-G, and the finished product was so practical it put me to sleep. Additionally, I could barely wear the scarf. I don't know if "allergic" is the right word, but I'm definitely sensitive to mohair. 

The weirdest part of this tale is that I didn't stop buying Lamb's Pride after that. I don't think I made any more scarves, but right of the top of my head I remember knitting a Lamb's Pride toddler sweater, a bunch of hats,  and scores of felted bags... I even started a massive rainbow colored sweater for myself out of the bulky version. No, I don't know what I was thinking either. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, ya know? It took a few years to admit that I couldn't really wear the stuff comfortably and move on. 

Anyway, what got me thinking about mohair was a reader request for yarn help. She writes:

"Dear Yarnvi-
I have two balls of Lana Grossa Lace Lux in my stash, I have been envisioning a cosy cowl or scarf to be made with them. My eye was caught by this, it calls for Kid Silk Haze. I would like to make something like that, or actually that. I don’t know how else to search to find the right neckwear, there is no choice for “cosy” or “squooshy” I really want squooshy.
XO- Glam Squooshy Scarf Wanter"
Unfamiliar with the yarn in question, I did a little digging. Lace Lux is shiny, fuzzy, intriguing blend of microfiber and merino. It's a fingering weight single ply with a mohair-esque halo. From the reviews it sounds like it may suffer from some difficulty with frogging, just like real mohair. So I would recommend either choosing a simple pattern or proceeding with caution. There's an element of fragility as well, probably a hazard of the single ply construction. While real mohair is more durable than a lot of wool, merino and microfiber wouldn't have the same toughness. With that in mind, I wouldn't subject it to heavy pulling, tugging, or even strenuous blocking to avoid disappointment.

I actually think the Cabled Glamour Cowl, from The Knitting Tree, that caught this knitter's eye is a good choice for the yarn. A lot of the projects on Ravelry that have been made with Lace Lux are big triangular shawls, but it seems a shame to have such a soft and pretty yarn so far away from one's face. Also all that single ply yarn hanging loose would make me nervous. A cowl definitely gives more opportunities for snuggling, and less for snagging.

My next choice would be the Eva by Stricklust, but in cowl form, inspired by this project. I love that it's reversible. The pattern says it's an easy one, and just glancing over it quickly I would have to concur. Just an 8 stitch and 8 row repeat. The element of garter stitch alternating with lace screams "squoosh" to me. 

I also like the idea of Song of the Sea by Louise Zass-Bangham. I think the different sized waves would keep the knitting interesting, and the final product is quite lovely and fun to look at. I like how the waves flow into each other. 

Finally, I know I just said I probably wouldn't knit a regular triangle shawl out of this stuff, but a couple weeks ago Lilaceous by Derya Davenport of Laylock fame, stopped me in my tracks. The construction is so intriguing, and the final product so lovely. Yet it calls for a mohair yarn I would never be able to live with. Of course, any lace to fingering weight yarn could likely be substituted, but I think this is a case where the texture really adds something magic. So yes, I would break my own damn rule and match these two up. They're like two crazy kids I can't stand to see kept apart.