Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rory and Jojo

Continuing with my theme of "The Year Of Accessories!", I give you a new hat pattern, Rory and Jojo.

This idea sprung up and was entirely knit while I was binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix.  [How did I not see that series when it ran the first time?  I blame having small children in the house. :)]  The bright blue eyes of both lead actresses inspired to name the hat after one of their characters.  "Jojo" is the type of yarn I used for this hat - Jojoland Splatter Dash.  It's a soft, silky 100% merino with a lovely sheen that will keep you warm without any itch factor.  And it drapes like buttah.

 I originally envisioned this as a slouchy-style hat, but while putting in the final edits from the test-knit, I decided to write in a length modification so people can make it a beanie-style (fitted, not slouchy) if they prefer it that way.  I'll be knitting a sample hat for that style myself as soon as I have a couple other projects off my needles.

 The brim on this hat is made from 2/2 cables, so if you're a "cable without the needle" kind of person, this is an easy project to work that way.  And, there's only 4 rows that actually use the cables, so it'll keep your interest without totally souring you on cabling.  The dense fabric of the brim is nice for keeping ears warm when the wind is blowing!

All the beanie styles can be made from one skein of Splatter Dash and so can the smaller two slouchy styles.  Actually, I made my Adult Small hat from one skein (97grams!) but I include a little extra yardage in my pattern estimates so people don't run out of yarn and hate me.  But if you like to live on the wild size (or don't mind shortening the length by a couple rounds if you come up short on yarn), go ahead and just get one skein for the smaller adult slouchy style.  Chances are good that you'll be fine and you'll save yourself $15.  Speaking of saving money, I see that the Yarnia website has this yarn on sale for $10 (and free shipping on $50 orders)!  This is nice yarn and that's a great price.  It's tempting me to get more for future projects!

Many thanks to the fun testers who worked on this project - queenbayman, JudyeNaz, gloriajj & schmitt642.  I always appreciate the work my testers put in on a project, but on one like this, where I decide to do something like change the crown decreases at the 11th hour, they deserve even more thanks!  (Speaking of, a couple of the test hats have a pointy look to the crown decreases that wasn't what I intended - the new decrease pattern will take care of this and round out the crowns of hats made from the final version of the pattern.)

So dive into your stash and see if you come up with a skein of DK (or two).  You may have Christmas knitting already on your needles, but this hat might make a lovely gift for someone on your list, too....

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Harry Potter for the Holidays!

As far as I can tell, everyone under the age of 15 loves Harry Potter.  And a good number of people older than that love him as well.

The most enthusiastic Harry Potter age group seems to be the under 12 crowd.  From the minute they become familiar with the books (or have older siblings who tell them about the books), kids seem to be attracted to the idea of being a wizard and the magical life that goes with that.

My own kids, at 11 and 14 still love the stories and the movies that were made from them, but they have grown out of their "pretending to be Harry & his friends" playtime games.  My niece and nephew, at 6 & 9, are still in their prime imaginary-play years.

"The" Sweater
Last year, upon hearing that my niece was obsessed with all things Harry, I took a look at Harry Potter-themed knitting patterns.  I had already made "The Sweater" for my son, and I think when I ran that idea across my sister, she talked me out of it.  I came across a pattern for double-knit bookmarks that I thought were adorable, but I know from experience how excited kids get about opening a bookmark for Christmas.  Even if it is Harry-Potter-themed, that sucker is probably going to end up behind a dresser or at the bottom of a toy box before we're very far into the new year.

But a scarf and hat set based on that bookmark there's something any kid could get behind!  They could wear this ensemble at recess as they cast spells on their friends!  They can publicly proclaim their Hogwarts house affiliation!  And having unique winter outerwear can also be a plus when it comes to reclaiming things from the lost & found at school.  (Ask me how I know this!)

So last Christmas I found maroon & gold yarn and double-knit a scarf.  I used the Gryffindor lion design from the bookmark pattern and monogram letters from this "Harry Potter Font" chart that I also found on Ravelry.  I added fringe to the ends of the scarf.  The hat was double-knit as well and I added two pompoms to the top just for fun!

If you click into my project page, the second photo shows my niece's adorable reaction of excitement that I caught just as she put on her new winter set.

This year, my nephew has gotten in on the Harry Potter action.  My sister told me that there had been some scuffles concerning the Gryffindor set because both kids wanted to wear it while casting spells.  So we thought a second set for the nephew was in order.  And this dude is not a Gryffindor....he's Hufflepuff to the core.

I wish I had caught a picture of my niece's face when her brother opened his birthday gift.  Apparently a new little friend of hers has pledged allegiance to Hufflepuff, which has made my niece feel like she should be Hufflepuff as well.  There was a serious sad face going on when she saw her brother's set.  If she was a typical first-born, she'd be scheming right now, trying to come up with a plan wherein she convinces her brother to trade sets with her while simultaneously making him feel like it was his idea in the first place.  But maybe she's not as cunning a first born as I was...

At any rate, the two sets were a hit and a new Hufflepuff set has been put on the table as a Christmas gift suggestion for my niece.  As far as cost goes to make these sets - the gold & maroon yarns were easy to find in a soft acrylic that is sold at Michael's (I believe it was Caron, but I'm not 100% sure that's right.)  I think I used 2 skeins of each color and the whole set probably came in under $30.  The Hufflepuff set was trickier to find yarn for because the canary yellow wasn't available in the softer acrylic brands at my local craft store.  I think I could have gotten it in Red Heart, but I can't imagine wrapping a double-knit Red Heart scarf around my own face, so I didn't want to go that way.  Instead, I went with a 60/40 acrylic/wool blend from my LYS - Pacific Chunky.   I would have preferred a worsted or aran-weight, but my options for washable yarn in canary yellow at this LYS were pretty limited.  And at about $8 per 120 yards, this yarn made the Hufflepuff set more of a $60 project.  Still totally worth it for all the use my nephew will get out of the set, and as you can see, it will easily fit him for as long as he is a Hufflepuff!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Designer: Kate Martin

One of the reasons the Gift-A-Long is such a fun thing for indie designers to participate in is that we get the chance to discover other designers who are involved in doing the same kind of work. As a knitter, I am participating in two of the KALs, and I've added a number of patterns to my Ravelry favorites list because I've seen some lovely patterns in the KAL threads!

One of the things the participating designers are doing for each other is introducing other participating designers on their knitting blogs. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Martin, a new designer who just began publishing knitting patterns this year. If you are into shawls or lacy patterns, she might be right up your alley!

Please share 3 fun facts about yourself, Kate:

I’m a huge fan of Jerry Lewis. I hate all boybands with a passion! My favourite film is Strictly Ballroom.

Can you describe your aesthetic?

My aesthetic is for clean, simple designs that although simple still have impact, as well as an element of challenge for less experienced knitters.

Do you set design goals for yourself? What is one of your current goals?

My designs tend to start with a stitch pattern that I like the look of, and things just tend to evolve from there. I do tend to buy yarn specifically for future designs, usually with a type of design in mind rather than ‘ooh, this yarn would be nice for something’. I’ve actually got ‘design yarn’ for at least four bigger projects - cardigans or something similar - so I could say one of my current goals is to design a pretty cardigan - but for now I’m quite content to get some more accessory patterns under my belt first before I take that next step.

What do you enjoy most about designing?

Making something unique, definitely, and developing my own unique style.

What part of designing do you not enjoy?

The long process from getting that initial idea to actually starting to knit. I can be quite indecisive, and I can spend weeks agonising over stitch patterns, yarn, colour etc before I actually feel ready to start knitting anything. And I’m a procrastinator too, which doesn’t help - I really annoy myself sometimes!

What has surprised you about being a knitting pattern writer?

I think the most surprising thing was how difficult it is to actually write a good pattern. I’ve always found writing easy, and I’m good at it - so it was quite a shock to discover that pattern writing is an art! Thankfully I have a great tech editor who keeps my writing on the straight and narrow.

What other handicrafts do you enjoy doing?

When I have time (which isn’t often) I like making cards and scrapbooking - I used to have a papercrafting supplies shop and website and at one point I used to scrapbook daily. I really want to get into sewing too - it’s just a case of finding the time to get my sewing machine out and have a play.

Who are some designers you look up to?

Krydda from Yarn-Madness 
 My absolute favourite designer is Madeleine Nilsson (Yarn Madness) - I think she is incredibly talented. During the GAL I’ve discovered some fantastic designers that I wasn’t familiar with before - Lee Meredith and Tori Gurbisz to name but two.


Leksak Lady from Yarn-Madness

What was your favorite knit of 2014?

That’s an easy one - Leksak Lady, by Madeleine Nilsson - it’s very versatile and so pretty. If I had to pick one of my own designs, it would have to be Nell.

Nell from Kate Martin
What is your most popular pattern and do you have any guesses as to why that one found the largest audience among knitters?

My portfolio is still quite small, but my most popular pattern to date has been Nell - and I’d like to think that’s because it’s a classic shawl that won’t go out of style.

Do you work in a field in addition to pattern writing, or are you focused exclusively on this work?

Yes, I have fingers in lots of pies! My main job is as a manager in the NHS - amongst other things I’m responsible for ensuring that all human tissue transplants we carry out in our department meet the legislative requirements of the Human Tissue Authority - it’s really interesting work. I also have a ‘hobby’ job doing all the admin for a medical association and helping to organise their annual conference; and I’m also a partner in the family business - making rubber stamps. Life is certainly busy, but never dull!

Kate is one of the 293 indie designers who have come together to make this year's Gift-A-Long a big success!  You can see all of her designs on Ravelry here, and if you'd like to browse through all the designers who are participating this year, you can find them here.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I live in Central IL, USA.  I've been hearing rumors for the past few months that this winter is supposed to be as bad, if not worse than the one we had last year.  And that's saying quite a bit.  We had a lot of snow (compared to what we have in an "normal" year), and we had temperatures that were so cold that our schools shut down multiple times for "snow days" even though snow wasn't really the problem.  The problem was that they were afraid kids would be outside waiting for busses for too long ("too long" in this conditions being longer than 5-10 minutes) and not wearing enough proper cold weather gear.  So you can imagine how much I have not really been looking forward to seeing whether this prediction becomes true!

Then two weeks ago, there was apparently a typhoon that hit Alaska, and basically blew freezing cold Alaska air all over most of Canada & the US.  Our temperatures, which normally have highs in the 50s through most of November, were more like highs in the teens - low 30s.  One day this past week, we had a morning where it was below freezing somewhere in each of the 50 states, and yes that includes Hawaii.  So while my attention might not normally be turned to gloves in November, this year I'm feeling very determined to make sure we are all properly outfitted for the winter-pocalypse that is surely on its way!

I thought these Karen Double Layer Mittens looked like a fun project.  And the "double-layer" thing was a big draw for me - the person who can put on regular gloves/mittens and still have freezing cold fingers.  These do a very nice job of warming my hands up and keeping them toasty warm, even when it's zero degrees outside.  

I chose Llambrosia yarn for the outside, which I loved because of the halo and the warmth.  It is the tiniest bit heavier than the yarn I chose for the inner lining, but that worked out great since I wanted the lining to sit inside of the outer mitten without bunching up at all.  

The inside fit my hand like a glove, if I do say so myself!  The lining was made from Bugga yarn leftover from my Rock the Lobster sweater.  It has 20% cashmere, so it's lovely to have next to the skin.  And if everything I wore was dyed this rich blue color, I'd be totally fine with that.  

The pattern has you starting at the fingertip of the inner glove, using Judy's Magic Cast-on.  Then you knit the inner glove, weave in all the ends for that, then join the outer glove and work from the wrist up to the fingertips on that one.  I finished the thumb before I grafted the top of the glove so I could weave in the end of the thumb without too much hassle.  Weaving in that last end from the grafting is tricky, but because there is a lace pattern on the front of the glove, I used the little holes to work my tail in and out of a few stitches.  Without that lace, this would be a very difficult pattern to finish off, with the construction done the way it is.  

I wasn't sure about the picot edging around the wrist while I was knitting it - it seemed to want to stick out and be too puffy.  But after blocking, it is flat and looks great.  It isn't the sort of mitten wrist that "grabs" you, so these aren't play-in-the-snow sort of mittens.  But for "I need some mittens to wear while I'm driving and my car is still warming up", or "I need some mittens to wear when I'm out running errands", these are perfect.  And like I said before, the double layer really helps these be a cut above when it comes to warmth!

If you're curious about the specifics, my project page is here.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Snowflake Girl

I was waiting and waiting these past couple weeks to get outside and take pictures of my next knitting pattern release.  Central Illinois in November pretty typically has right temperatures in the 50s, so I was reasonably confident that I could take pictures without freezing solid.  But I forgot to factor in the predictions that this winter was going to be another beast of a season, supposedly colder and snowier than the one we had last year, if that's even possible.  Judging by the fact that right now it's 12 degrees with a wind chill of -1, I guess the predictions are starting to come true.

So that just makes me happier than I made this lovely double-thick scarf to keep me cozy this winter.  I'll be outside shoveling my car out of the garage in knitterly style!

Make the long (48") version and it's perfect to wear long as an indoor accessory or twisted over on itself to keep your neck warm outside.  The shorter version (24") will keep your neck cozy without feeling like you're wearing a tight neck brace. Check out testers' project pages here to see the shorter version, as well as some beautiful variations on the color, and one lovely cowl that uses a yarn with long color-changes.  
The long version can also double as a head/neck wrap that might come in handy once Mother Nature really hits her stride this winter.  Loop this cowl over your head and neck, then pull your hood over the back and you'll be ready for whatever the weather can come up with!  
This pattern is written with the novice double-knitter in mind.  Some basic "Double Knitting Rules" are given, as well as a link to a video demonstrating how to work double-knit fabric.  If you're a knitter who can knit, purl, work in the round, and do a long-tail cast-on, you can be successful with this pattern.  If you're a more advanced knitter who likes a challenge, suggestions for a more complex (and elegant-looking) cast-on and bind-off is given.  These options will allow the cast-on and bind-off edge to not let the background color from the opposite side show - each side will only have it's own background color on the edges.  

Many, many thanks to testers who worked on this project!  LTimms, herzleid, queenbayman, woollykim, KirstenLund - I love that your chose such a wide variety of color combos, and I'm especially impressed by the couple of you that jumped right in with this as your first double-knitting project. Thanks so much for the time & work you put into testing this pattern!

Snowflake Girl is available now on Ravelry.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Anniversary

A year ago today, a very powerful tornado hit the town we live in.    The landscape was bleak - we lost something like 40% of our town's "property value" in a matter of minutes.  (Not 40% of the houses, just 40% of the "value".  Most of the neighborhoods that were hit had lots of bigger, more expensive homes than the "average" home in our town.)

The afternoon & evening of the tornado was chaotic.  Knowing that we wouldn't have power for a significant number of days, and knowing that we'd only be able to cook with the outdoor grill, the kids and I drove about 45 minutes to the next big town in search of a generator & food that could be grilled or eaten without cooking.  My husband stayed in town to try to find people who he could help, and because we didn't know if the kids and I would be able to get back into town after we left...someone had to stay here so our cats didn't starve.  

The next week was kind of a blur.  Once we realized the kids wouldn't be back in school for a while, I took our kids to my parents' house a couple hours away.  My husband stayed behind in "camping conditions" (no heat, quickly falling temperatures, & unable to cook), even though his parents who live in our town had their power restored after only 2 days.  He went to his regular job, but took off early a couple days to go help with recovery efforts.  He was out helping to move debris to the curb for pick-up and helping property owners sort through the possessions that were scattered all over the ground.  He took these first two pictures while he was doing that.  

He also volunteered at a couple of the places that were collecting donations for victims.  The kids and I joined him the day we got back from visiting Grandma & Grandpa.   It was really good for all of us to be able to pitch in and actually DO something to help.  

Here's what I learned from working at the clothing donation site:  1) ONLY donate things that people can use right now.  If it's late fall, don't donate summer pajamas and tank tops.  Those sort of things just have to get boxed up and shipped to a different donation site like Goodwill.  2) Don't donate anything that smells like smoke or musty basement.  These things will just get thrown away.  Same thing goes for anything that is ratty, full of holes, pilled-up sweaters, pants with worn-through knees....  Those went into the garbage as well.  3) It helps A LOT of your donations are sorted in some way - a bag of girl's clothes and a bag of boys, or a bag of toddler girl's clothes, a bag of girl's sizes, a bag of junior's sizes, etc.  The boxes that were just a big heap of everything under the sun took a lot longer to get organized.

Since the kids and I were back mid-week and they were still out of school, we went over to the school a couple times to help out there.  The school was being used as a base of operations for feeding the crews that were working on clean-up outside.  People would either visit the cafeteria mid-day and get a hot lunch, or they'd eat in the field with food supplied from one of the vans driving around.  Our school was handing out sandwiches and a couple other things (chips & cookies, maybe?)  So the kids and I showed up to help make & wrap sandwiches.  I've got them working assembly-line style here.  I know other people were taking food to volunteers, too.  The local coffee shop was bringing hot coffee around, I heard about a van full of fried chicken and pizza deliveries, too.  

 While we were at my parents' house, I had a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to sit around and feel like I wish I could be doing more to help.  The kids and I came up with an idea for the families we knew that were relocated to temporary housing (mostly hotel rooms this early on).  Since the kids were stuck in hotel rooms and had just lost most of their possessions, we decided to make "advent calendars" that we'd deliver before December 1st.  They were filled with puzzles, games, craft supplies, coloring books, trinkets, treats, and each kid got either a hand-knit stocking cap (boys) or a headband (girls) made out of our high schools' school colors.  I think I made 13 of those in all!

We wrapped everything in very fancy paper bags and each family had one bag to open every day in December.  We were able to give these advent calendars to six families.  That probably only represents about 1/4 of the families that we personally know that lost their homes, but they were the ones with young children who were hardest hit, so they were the ones we most wanted to help.

We drove all over the place on delivery day - our friends were now very spread out.  But it was 100% worth it to be able to do something that put a smile on the kids' faces!

The other thing that kept me busy during this time was the pattern I started working on as soon as we arrived at my parents' house.  The Whirlwind socks were released about a month after the tornado thanks to awesome, quick testers that helped me work the kinks out of the pattern that I had quickly written. Much, much later (this past June, to be exact), I found out that I had inadvertently uploaded the test knit version of the pattern rather than the finalized version that incorporated all the suggestions from testers.  And yeah, there was a big correction, so I was mortified that for 7 months people had been buying the rough draft.  Thank goodness that a Ravelry member messaged me to ask about a problem with the pattern.  When I saw her message I thought, "No, we fixed that part during the test knit!  Wait a minute.....oh no!"  Anyhow, people responded wonderfully and bought lots of copies of the pattern.  100% of the proceeds have been donated to the town's tornado recovery fund that was set up at a local band.  Through this date our donations have added up to $295, so thank YOU for helping to contribute!

I'm happy to report that driving through our town now makes us feel happy & hopeful rather than depressed & helpless.  New houses are going up everywhere and many families are back in their rebuilt homes.  Many more are hoping to be back by Christmas.  There are only a hand-full of homes that haven't been touched, and from what I understand it's because owners are having problems with insurance companies and can't do anything until insurance is settled otherwise the company might penalize them.  But overall, things are going really, really well.

Tonight we're having a town walk where people will start out at three different locations in the area of town that was badly hit, and the three groups will all walk about a mile to meet at the high school where our top band will be performing a song that the band boosters paid to have commissioned last year in commemoration of the tornado.  I believe the band actually performed it at their spring concert last year, but I didn't have a kid at the high school last year, so this will be the first time we get to hear it.  Another thing all the schools are asking the kids to do today is wear orange & black, our high school colors.  Maybe you can throw on an orange scarf for us today and help celebrate a year of rebuilding!

So on this, the anniversary of our town being destroyed, I can happily say that things are looking very good here.  And I thank you for any part you played in that recovery!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gift-A-Long 2014

Gift-A-Long Kick of Day had arrived!  The pattern sale and cast-on begins tonight at 8pm EST, and the sale runs through 11:59pm on Friday November 21.

Are you signed up?

I'm not.....but it's not for lack of trying.  I'm just still very up in the air about what KAL I want to participate in.  There are sweater patterns calling my name....

ObLaDi from Lyrical Knits
Coastal Hoodie by Tori Gurbisz

Karen Double Layer Mittens by Heidi Hennessy

....but there's also these adorable and very warm mittens....and I actually need a new pair of

....and I've kind of been on a sock kick lately, so these are tempting me as well.
Dillsboro by Rich Ensor

Complicating matters is the fact that two of the three categories listed above would be "ME! ME! ME!" knits, and with the holidays approaching, I kind of feel like my "extra knitting" (not to be confused with my "work knitting") should be used to make Christmas gifts.

So that's where I'm at today.  Never fear....I'll get it sorted out.  And even though I won't be knitting them all any time soon, I still have a list of 10 patterns I'll be buying during this sale since indie designers don't often discount their patterns!

If you're not signed up yet, scoot on over to the Indie Designer Gift-A-Long forum where you can find the list of almost 300 participating designers and all the KAL threads.  Pick your pattern, or a few, or heck, buy a whole bunch because the ones you like might never go on sale again!  Enter the coupon code giftalong2014 during the Ravelry check-out process for 25% off as many patterns as you want to purchase.  Just make sure the patterns you are trying to buy are part of the "Gift-a-long bundle" that each participating designer has put together.  There was a limit on how many patterns we could each discount for the GAL, so many designers (including me) are not able to discount their entire catalog for this event.  Then sign up in a KAL or two to help you stay motivated to work on your projects this holiday season.  A note about the KALs - ALL patterns from participating designers are eligible for the KALs and for winning prizes, not just the ones the designer had discounted.  So if you find one you like by a participating designer but it's not in their "GAL bundle", you can still sign up for a KAL and fully participate in the event.  During the KALs there will be some fun games and we have somewhere around 2000 prizes to give away (some electronic - codes for free patterns, and some physical prizes - lots of yarn and other things like stitch markers & project bags)!  There's also a thread that lists all the prizes we've collected to give away, so stop by there is you need any more motivation to join us!

Here are all the patterns in my discount bundle, plus a link to the bundle on Ravelry!

I hope to see you there!  Looking forward to figuring out which project(s) I'll end up doing!