Monday, April 20, 2015

Da 'Burbs

We took a weekend trip to Chicago to visit a couple friends.  One is a friend I've known since we were 7.  He and I were in class together from 2nd grade until he left in 10th grade to go to a different high school.  As adults, I've remained in various places in IL where we grew up, and he relocated to LA.  Luckily, his family still lives in IL, so he visits a couple times a year and I try to make it up to see him at least every few trips he makes. 

 The second friend is a mutual friend that my husband and I met in college.  He now lives in one of the western Chicago Suburbs, so we do get to see him every once in a while, but since we were already making the trip to see the California friend, it worked out well to meet the college friend for lunch the next day.  And as a bonus, husband and I got our once-a-decade night away from the kids, since my parent's house was on the way up to Chicago and they were willing to host overnight grandkids!

Anyway, I hadn't been thinking about visiting any yarn shops on this trip, but as it turned out, we got to swing by two different places!

On Saturday, we stopped by Knit Nirvana in Forest Park, IL.  I've been looking for Malabrigo Rios yarn in the Azul Profundo colorway and having no luck finding it online, so I was hoping I might get lucky since their website listed Malabrigo as one of the brands they carry.  I struck out though.  They had a lot of nice yarns, but most of them were brands that my local yarn shop carries, so I didn't have trouble resisting the urge to bring it home with me.  They also have a super-sweet dog that was at the shop with a woman I believe is the owner.  The dog is 13 years old and very mellow...he just wants to sniff you hands, convince you to pet him, and push his head between your legs, where he hides it while you pet him!

The next day, I found plenty to buy.  String Theory Yarn Company in Glen Ellyn was a cute little shop full of lovely yarns, a few of which I was not already familiar with.

I picked up 4 skeins of Manos del Uruguay "Serena", a cotton/baby alpaca blend that I previously used when I wrote The Sweetest Thing.  It's so soft and has a beautiful halo - I can not wait to turn these skeins into a pattern for next winter!

Another yarn that I was already familiar with, but couldn't resist bringing home a couple skeins of is Dream in Color's Classy with Cashmere.  It's $30 a skein, so it's a special treat for sure, but it is worth every penny.  Gorgeous tonal colorways, super, super soft, and just an all-around scrumptious yarn to work with and to wear!  

Don't just take my word for it - Ravelry users give it a solid 5 out of 5 stars!

One of my new-to-me purchases was this "Mesa" from Classic Elite Yarns.  It is 100% cotton and really has a nice feel to it in the ball.  It's definitely not your "sugar and cream"-type craft store cotton.  I can see myself using it for a baby sweater or something else worn next to the skin, and I couldn't resist the tonal colorway.  That's usually not seen very often in cotton yarns.  I was happy to see that this yarn is also highly rated by Ravelry users!

The other new type was "Cotton Silk DK" from Sublime.  I bought small quantities of both the Mesa and the Sublime since I had no idea what I'd be using it for.  I just wanted enough to use for swatching so I could play with it and figure out if it would be right for whatever project ideas might come up in the future.  I picked a natural linen-type color, but the Cotton Silk DK had a nice array of colors to choose from.  I'm pretty sure this is a new yarn since it only has one user rating on Ravelry and only 10 people have it listed in their stash.

I rounded out my haul with a new Size 4, 40" Chiaogoo circular needle.  I have a set of Knit Picks interchangeable needles that I like quite a lot, but I have to admit, I like the feel of the one Chiaogoo needle that I own even more.  It's a size 3, which is once size smaller than my interchangeables run.  I like it so much, in fact, that I tend to knit more projects with a size 3 needle than I probably should.  My Knit Picks Size 4 needle has been used so much that the nickel coating has started to wear off on one of the needles, so I thought I'd replace that with another Chiaogoo needle (even though Knit Picks has a lifetime guarantee on needles, I just haven't gotten around to exchanging it).  If you're still working with craft-store-type needles, I could highly recommend either the Knit Picks nickel-plated or the stainless steel Chiaogoo needles with the red cables.  Both have a really nice feel to them, and I promise, once you compare them to the Boye or Takumi Clover circulars that you can buy at places like WalMart or Michaels, I think you'll have a hard time going back to your old needles!

If you do visit String Theory Yarn Company, make sure to cross the railroad tracks and go up the street about a block to the Blackberry Market.  We stopped there to grab a snack for the ride home and both of us picked treats that were delicious!  My husband got a blueberry muffin that he said was fantastic.  Because of my lactose intolerance, I can't usually eat much in the way of baked goods when I'm away from home because they so often contain butter, milk, or other dairy products like sour cream or cream cheese.  But when I asked the cashier if there were any options available that might be ok for me, he pointed out a little rack of vegan cookies.  I'm always a little suspicious of vegan baked goods because I haven't had the pleasure of tasting many that are very good, so I grabbed two different types of cookies thinking that if one was terrible, maybe the other kind would be ok.  I ate the chocolate chip cookie on the way home and it was excellent.  So good, in fact, that I polished off the other one later that evening - a chocolate chip/oatmeal/dried fruit concoction, and I think it was even better than the plain chocolate chip!  Anyway, the Blackberry Market is a little cafe that also has baked goods, packaged snacks, and a few other doo-dads like jars of jam, bags of coffee...that type of thing.   I highly recommend it for any hungry knitters!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Knitting Fails

 Last night, we were clearing furniture out of our living room.  It's finally time to replace it.  We bought the two couches we currently have in 1997 and 1998.  One of them moved with us from a small apartment to the house we live in now.  They survived the first pair of well-behaved geriatric cats that were my childhood pets and who lived until our younger child was about 3.  But a couple years later we adopted two newborn kittens that were abandoned in the bushes at our church, and we were terrible at training them to not use the furniture as scratching posts.

But they're eight years old now and the time has finally come to replace our old, but overly-used furniture.  The only thing I was sad to see go is our enormous ottoman with a lot of storage on the inside.  For years, that has been the spot I put knitting projects that make without a purpose in mind.  Going through the ottoman last night, I managed to separate things into three categories: pattern samples that I need to keep, things I could offer for sale in my Etsy shop or give as gifts, and things that need to GO because they are complete knitting fails.

Usually, I like to cover this blog in beautiful pictures of projects that you might enjoy working on.  But today, the theme is "Nicole has Bad Knitting Days, too!"  And as someone who had her first knitting lesson just about 8 1/2 years ago, those first years of questionable projects are still in the recent enough past to come back and haunt me....or make me laugh.  (Mostly, they make me laugh.)  So enjoy taking a look at the Knitting Fails I came across....and maybe you can explain to me why I didn't just get rid of these things years ago???

 Knitting Fail #1: The Whirlygig Shrug.

This comes from a pattern that actually results in an ADORABLE little sweater to go over a little girl's dress or sleeveless shirt.  By the time I made this monstrosity, I had already knit up maybe 3 or 4 of these little shrugs in a lovely bamboo yarn (Caron Naturally Spa yarn).  In my mind, I was going to take cute to new heights by using two colors of yarn to emphasize the pleats at the base of the sweater and the sleeves.  But the yarn I chose for this one (some sort of cotton disaster from Michael's) was too heavy for the needles I used, so it didn't drape nicely.  And I was new to carrying colors, so my floats were way too tight, which made the back pull together more than it should.  Blerg.

Here's a picture of what this sweet pattern should look like:

See?  It's not the pattern.  It was definitely just my terrible choice of yarn/the wrong gauge & my lack of colorwork skills!

Knitting Fail #2: Bubblemania

Next, we have a scarf that you may not immediately recognize as a knitting disaster if you didn't know what it was supposed to look like.  But if you had seen the photos from the pattern, you'd recognize that the yarn I chose for this was much heavier than what the pattern called for.  And although I could have gotten a better result if I had used appropriately-sized needles (which, obviously, I didn't), what I ended up with was a winter-weight scarf with a stitch pattern that is full of holes.  Maybe not the best possible combination.

Plus, the yarn I used here was some sort of acrylic nonsense, which does not block well when trying to show a lacy texture.  Yeah, I could probably "kill it" with an iron and get it to drape a little more, but the yarn itself is terrible and feels like itchy plastic.  I'm sure that what attracted me to it was the fact that it was a tonal colorway in a sea of solid Red Heart & Caron yarns (this was back in the day when I didn't know that there were alternatives to Michael's Craft Store!)

The good news is that I did eventually re-make this pattern in fingering-weight yarn.  The original pattern calls for lace weight, but I upped my needle size and came out with a project that I loved and wear regularly!

 Knitting Fail #3: Evil Sock Monkey

This little patch wasn't so much "knitting gone wrong" as "I'm not sure what I want here".  I had had a number of requests to design a child's sweater that would go with the sock monkey hat pattern I already had published.  I'm not really one for super-kitchy style, so it took me a while to figure out how to do a sock monkey sweater without making it over-the-top.  I decided on a raglan sweater that had a layered look to the sleeves that would just have a little sock monkey face in the middle of the chest.  Personally, I was all for knitting the sweater in one color, then double-stitching that face right on.  But I wasn't sure if other people would love the double-stitching as much as I did.  So I came up with a pattern that gave people a choice: either double-stitch the face on, or knit a little intarsia square that has the face knit into it, then sew the square on to the sweater.

 In the end, I could have probably just saved myself the trouble because as I look at the project pages posted on Ravelry, only one sweater posted used the intarsia square.  The rest of the sweaters have adorable little faces double-stitched right in the center of them!

<---  See?  Double-stitched face is MUCH cuter than evil intarsia monkey face!

Knitting Fail #4: Felted to Death Bag

My husband pulled this out of my "pitch it pile" and wanted to to know why this bag was a knitting fail.  The bag itself is fine.  It's nothing fantastic, and I don't know what I would use it for, but it just doesn't really float my boat.  But the handles that I felted along with it are terrible.  They are puffy, round, the wrong length for putting over your shoulder, and super uncomfortable.  I love a big bag with a nice handles that will stay on your shoulder.  I do not love a mis-shapen "blah" felted bag with puffy handles.

I have no idea why I made this bag.  I'm thinking it must have been a pre-cursor to my Knit Purl project bag....maybe I was trying to get the shaping right?  Or maybe I didn't know what I wanted to do with the handles yet?  Whatever it was, it was a dark day for knitting.

Knitting Fail #5:

This one fall into the category of "on the right track, but didn't quite get there".  I was figuring out the Sadie Baby Dress design.  A friend of mine has a daughter named Sadie, who was 2 or 3 at the time.  This friend was the person who taught me to knit.  She had asked me if I would let her pay me to make a dress for her daughter (ironically, the friend who taught me how to knit didn't really knit herself.  She knows the basics, but I quickly took off from there, and she knew I was just starting to design at this point.)  So I took her up on it.  She described the type of simple, empire-waist dress she had in mind, and I made a sketch to show her what I was planning.  Once the idea was on paper, I set to work trying to create it with sticks & string.

I went with a dolman sleeve for it's ease & simplicity, and decided to start at the waist because I thought it would be nice, on such a small project, to be able to complete the bodice first (the part where you actually have to pay attention and do things), then have the super-easy skirt as the final part.  More importantly, it would allow people who don't want to buy extra yarn to just knit that skirt until they run out, and the dress could just be whatever length it was.  (Another thought at the back of my mind was that if people wanted to make a knit bodice to sew a fabric skirt to, they could use this pattern for that type of project as well.)

Well, not everyone was excited about that design choice.  Project pages for this dress are full of comments like "why isn't this a bottom-up design?" and "so unnecessarily complicated!"  I don't worry about it too much because, in my past life as a teacher,  I quickly learned long ago that you can't please everyone.  (And also, what's so hard about just knitting it as a bottom-up design if that's what you really want to do?  What's with the complaining?)   But I mention this because sometimes I knit patterns from other designers and think, "Now why did she choose this construction?"  "Why did he use this type of increase rather than this other type of increase that I prefer?"  "Why does she want me to bind off on the WS rather than the RS?"  But I usually stick with the instructions and find out a little farther down the line that there was a reason the pattern was written the way it was.  After all, I buy patterns because I don't want to have to go through the figuring out, the trial & error, and everything that goes into creating a pattern from scratch.  So I'd be silly to abandon that ship and decide that I know better than the person who spent all that time creating the pattern I'm knitting!

So this first little bodice wasn't so much a knitting disaster as a first step on the path to creating a pretty cute little baby dress.   The owner of my LYS will watch me rip something back for the 5th time and just laugh.  She knows I'm a quick knitter and am always willing to just redo something if it's not coming out right, but it still makes her cringe to see me destroy work that will take hours to fix.  But that's what you have to be willing to do if you want to create new patterns.  Since Sadie was an early pattern for me, I might have re-knit that bodice 10 times before I had it exactly right.  But that was what I need to do in order to learn.  It's no coincidence that my earlier patterns are mostly children's clothes - it often took a few tries to get each garment just how I wanted it, so I knew I would be able to better manage my time if learned my craft on children's garments rather than adult-size.  I'm thankful that I can do most of the design work with swatches & a calculator now, but when I'm doing something that uses a new construction, I might still knit more than one sample, just to tweak things a little bit.  I'm currently working on a shawl that I knit twice because I wasn't sure if I wanted it to be worked side-to-side or as a separate border with picked-up stitches that create a short-row shawl.  Once I could compare them side-by-side, the second way won out (with some help from fans of my Facebook business page!) and I'll be re-knitting the sample for a third time to create the shawl I will actually be using for my pattern photos.  It's all part of the gig....good thing I really enjoy knitting!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Release: End of the Day Ottoman

Have you ever considered knitting your own furniture?  I was peripherally aware of the "pouf" trend that was going on, mostly because one of my LYS owners was knitting one last fall.   Poufs have their place, kind of like the beanbag chair of yore.  But for my money, if something is going to be out in a living area of my house, I want it to look a little more tailored.  And I want it to be multi-functional.   A pouf can be fun for a little kid to lay in while watching tv, but it doesn't offer much support when you want to use it as a footstool.  I want to be able to pull it up as an extra seat when we have visitors.  I want to be able to sit on the floor and use it as a table for my laptop.  I want to be able to put a tray of drinks on it and know they won't tip over and spill.  

So with those things in mind, the "End of the Day Ottoman" was born!

 Since this is a big project, I wanted to keep it pretty simple.  And I wanted it to be portable for at least most of the time it is being knit.  That's why this is constructed in three pieces: a top, a bottom, and a long rectangle that wraps all around the sides.  Seaming is very simple - attaching each circle to the long side rectangle (each circle is 75" in circumference) took me less than an hour.  I include step-by-step instructions with accompanying photos to explain how to seam using a slip-stitch crochet chain, but if you're staunchly anti-crochet, a knit alternative is also provided.

Continuing with the theme of simplicity, the only stitch used is the knit stitch.  The stockinette circles are knit in the round and the garter stitch rectangle is knit flat.  (A lifted-leg increase is also used to create the circular pieces.)

Here's a close-up of the joining seam.  It gives the ottoman a nice, finished look where the pieces meet.

Nervous about what's inside the knitted fa├žade?  Don't be.  If you don't have an unnatural fear of packing tape, you can do this.  No tools are necessary - just the ability to tape stuff together and shove it into the shell of knit fabric.  The interior is based on this brilliant ottoman design that was posted on-line in a million different spots (so sorry - I don't know where the post originated, so I don't know how to credit the original poster.  I can, however, thank Kelly, who made me aware of the idea!)  Anyway, all the materials are readily available at your typical craft, home improvement & grocery stores, and you might be able to find some of them in your recycling bin or bucket of old rags!

This pattern was written for Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky for 3 main reasons:

1) It's a long-wearing workhorse yarn that can take some abuse and still look good.

2) Knit Picks currently offers this yarn in 25 different colors, so one of them is sure to match every decor.

3) It's economically priced.  For a project like this that uses 16-17 skeins of yarn, being able to buy each one for $5 makes this project within reach for many knitters.

Because my family is currently in the process of replacing furniture that has been shredded by cats who took an exceptionally long time to give up their habit of sharpening claws in inappropriate places, I recruited a friend to let me take pattern photos at her house.  She even modeled for me, even though we had just come back from ice skating.  Her kindness, and the fact that I couldn't possibly continue to keep every project that I knit without auditioning for "Hoarders", meant that the ottoman gets to live at her house now.  She said that as soon as her young daughters saw it, they backed it up to the wall, put pillows along the back of it and christened it their "reading chair".  I bet it's just the right size for them!

If you could use a new footstool, an extra seat for guests, a place to sit down in your bedroom or near a door when you want to put on socks or shoes, or a comfy new place for your cat to sleep, download the pattern and get started today!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How YOU doin'?

Are you having a good February?  Things have been going very well for me ever since the beginning of the year, right up to last Friday night.  I was so exhausted that I went to bed at 6:30 in the evening.  I shouldn't have been surprised when I woke up on Saturday morning with the plague.  I went in Monday for a strep culture and it was negative, so I've just been laying low, waiting for this virus to run its course.  

I'm working on a knitting project (of course!), but since I haven't gotten to the fun part of it yet, I thought I'd just post a little bit about what I've been up to over the past couple weeks.  That will be way more fun!

We got some damaged ceilings fixed, so that was exciting for us!  (And my pattern sales continue to help fund our home improvements, so I say "thank you!" if you contributed to this ceiling repair!)  Our house has plaster board walls - kind of a weird drywall/plaster hybrid.  It's plaster (trying to repair it with dry wall mud looks super bad), but it doesn't have the wood slats behind it, just a solid board (that's the drywall-esque part of this situation.)  From what I've learned from the guys at the local Ace Hardware, many post WW II homes in this area used plaster board, but then after the 50s, it wasn't really used anymore.  So, we're just lucky I guess.  Last year we had some roof troubles and by the time we replaced the roof, we had ceiling damage in 5 different rooms.  You can imagine how happy I am to finally have all these spots plastered over.  Now if I could just get the painting fairy to visit me....

  I bought a whole cart full of cheap soda.  I needed pop bottles to serve as the innards for a knitted ottoman that I constructed.  I had been playing around with different construction ideas and the best I came up with was a circle of wood, a plastic milk crate and towels/stuffing to fill out the sides.  It was fine - not fantastic, but ok.  I posted a picture of it on my Facebook business page and soon received a Pinterest message from Kelly, a fellow knitter who has shared wonderful ideas with me a number of times.    This is the link she sent.  Brilliant, right?  It was the lightweight construction I was looking for (although I decided to keep the disk of wood instead of using cardboard like in the link), but with all those bottles supporting the weight, I knew it would still be sturdy.  And the thing that made it superior to my wood & milk crate idea was that the inside structure was already curved and wouldn't have any droopy stuffing or towels crammed in there to fill out the sides.  (That was what made my first attempt just "fine", it was difficult to fill out the sides without them being lumpy.)  

When I visited the grocery store, my plan was to buy the cheapest bottled beverage I could find.  We don't buy 2-liters at our house unless we're having a party, so I knew whatever I bought was just going down the drain.  Big K soda (the generic Kroger brand) was on sale 4/$3, so it cost me $15 to buy the 20 bottles I needed.  It was SuperBowl weekend when I bought the pop, so I didn't want to be a jerk and buy the flavor I thought people might actually want to buy.  So I looked for the grossest flavor I could find and bought every bottle.  Pineapple Passion Fruit fit the bill.  And since they didn't have quite enough of that flavor on hand, I also dipped into the Peach soda.  I'm sure the store inventory had a moment of confusion when he realized both of those nasty flavors had flown off the shelf that day!

Speaking of this knit ottoman, get ready to use your crochet hook.   It's the method I decided on to seam this puppy, and let me tell you - it is far faster & easier than any knitted join I could have done.  The ottoman is about 75" in circumference and it took me about an hour to work a slip stitch chain around the top edge, and another hour for the seam around the bottom edge.  Super easy, and it leaves a nice looking seam!

What else.....?  I got new glasses.  I've had my old frames for about 8 years now.  I've been trying to replace them for the past couple years, but the trend was either rectangular frames or enormous Zooey Deschenel frames, which just remind me of being an awkward 12-year-old.  So apparently 8 years is the length of time it takes for glasses frame shapes to come back in style, because when I looked at the new collection of frames after the first of the year, there were a lot of oval-y choices.     So now I have these new brown frames.  And, because I apparently have a weird emotional attachment to my black oval frames, I got the lenses replaced in those, too.  

On the knitting front, I've been playing with color.  My LYS has started carrying yarns from Wonderland Yarns.  They do these lovely color packs, and I found one I absolutely loved.  The colors in this photo are a little real life they're much more jewel-toned.

Anyhoo....this colorwork will be incorporated into the project I'm working on now, so stay tuned for new developments!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Gleener Giveaway!

My February pattern, a cowl called "Crush on You" has just been released, which means it's time to give away The Gleener!

Check out the video below for a demonstration on how to use this fantastic tool, a little Q & A about it, and the drawing for the winner!

Thanks so much to all who entered and to everyone who reads my blog and supports my pattern business.  And congratulations to the winner....I don't want to spoil the surprise by putting the winner's name here, I'll let her be surprised when she hears her name on the video!  :)

Crush On You

Just before Christmas, I was looking through my closet thinking, "I don't really have anything "Christmas-y" to wear to church on Christmas Eve.  But I do not want to go shopping."

What's a knitter to do?  Pick up some red yarn and come up with an accessory that can instantly turn any outfit into a Christmas outfit!

Now that it's two months later and the pattern is test knit and ready to publish, I realize that this cowl is just as appropriate for February, the month of Valentine's Day and celebrating love.  In honor of that, we're calling this cowl "Crush On You"!

The pattern is written for the smaller size (Top picture.)  The larger size (middle picture) was my first draft, and while it was perfectly lovely - and the cowl that I sported to all my Christmas gatherings - it just wasn't the size I had intended for this project.  If you prefer it though, the only think that needs to change is the cast-on number (and you'll need about 150 more yards of yarn).  Find details on my project page here. 

This cowl pattern looks lovely when paired with a solid, semi-solid, or tonal yarn.  The stitch pattern is small enough to be memorized, but has enough going on to keep things interesting.  The border stitches are made more plush by using "knit one in the row below" stitches.  A demonstration video is linked in the pattern for anyone who is not familiar with this easy-to-learn technique.

The groundhog just saw his shadow, which means there's at least 6 more weeks of start this quick-knit now and enjoy a new pop of color in your winter wardrobe!  Click this link if you'd like to purchase this pattern through the Ravelry website.

Thanks to all who entered my "Gleener Giveaway"!  If you would like to hear the answers to the questions asked in the comments thread, see a little live demonstration, or find out who the Gleener winner is, stay tuned to the blog!  This morning I am busy running my kids to school and going to the gym, but I hope to get a short video made after I get back and it should be uploaded to the blog by later this afternoon!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Gleener Giveaway!

I know I've posted about this contraption before, and I swear I have no association with the company that makes this thing!

But if someone asked me to list my Top Five Tools for Knitters, this would FOR SURE be included.

Because really, if you're going to spend a wad of cash on yarn, then invest a whole bunch of your time making something, don't you want to be able to keep that thing looking nice as long as possible?

Last winter I took before and after pictures while I was de-fuzzing one of my sweaters.  NIGHT AND DAY, people!
<--- Yuck - nobody wants to wear a sweater covered with pills like this one!

                                                                           Good as new! --->

The Gleener kind of feels like a big razor.  You hold the middle of the handle and just drag it across the surface of your fabric, holding the fabric taut so the pills slough off easily.  The Gleener comes with 3 different detachable heads and the instructions (and some experimentation) will tell you which head works best for each type of fabric.  It's VERY easy to use, and it gives results that are far, far better than any of the other "sweater shaver"-type products I've tried in the past.

Now that I'm a few months into sweater season, I've had to get my Gleener out to shave a few of my more-often-worn sweaters.  And it occurred to me - maybe one of my blog readers needs of of these things!  So I stopped by Bed, Bath & Beyond and picked one up this morning.  Leave a comment below to enter your name in the drawing!  Make sure to put your e-mail address in the comment form so I can contact you if you're a winner.  Your e-mail address won't display, but it will allow me to click on your name and send you a congratulatory note if your name gets drawn!

I'll be promoting this giveaway on my Facebook business page, too, so you can enter your name more than once if you click over to that page, "Like" my business page, and "Share" the Gleener Giveaway post! (posted Jan 21 if you have to scroll through a few things to find it.)

I want to leave this post up for a couple weeks to give people a chance to enter, so I'll do the drawing on the day I release my February knitting pattern, which will likely be on Feb 3rd or 4th.

Good Luck & Happy Gleening!