Friday, July 27, 2012

The Sweater That Wasn't

For a little over a week now, I've been turning that pretty blue yarn you saw in the wooden bowl into a sweater for myself (and maybe a pattern for you!)  I began with an idea and after about 20 rows decided I needed to drop the front neckline a little more.  So I ripped it out and began again.  This time the neckline was just right and I kept knitting.  About half-way through the first skein I suspected that this yarn was not a good match for the design (design was all about the textured bands and the variegated yarn seemed pretty intent on competing with the texture) but I decided to finish the first skein.  At that point, I'd take it off the needles, try it on, and give it an honest assessment.

So....about 500 yards later, I'm finished up through a few inches below the arm holes.  I tried it on last night and it was *okay*, but it didn't make me go, "Wow!  I love it!"  I'm not one to throw good time after bad, so I ripped it out and decided to go in a slightly different direction.  Still a cardigan, but the shape is going to be different (set-in sleeves, not raglan, a zipper instead of buttons, and maybe cables instead of the textured business I had going on here.)  My hope was to model it after My Favorite Hoodie Ever, which I bought from Old Navy about 10 years ago and wore the pants off of it.  (Well, I wore the elbows out of it, anyway.)  I actually made fabric elbow patches (purple corduroy!) and sewed then onto the light blue hoodie (!!!??) so I could continue to wear that sucker until it developed many holes in other locations.  I guess I could have embraced the "patch" revolution and sewed patches over the holes in random spots all over the sweater, but honestly, I'm 37 and I'm not sure I can pull that look off.  So I retired the hoodie to my closet in case the Clothing Fairy wanted to pay me a visit and heal my sweater in the middle of the night.

I tore my closet up today looking for the thing, then the drawer in the hallway where I used to store out-of-season clothes, and finally the rubbermaid tub in the basement where I store all of my husband and my off-season stuff.  It's not here, y'all. 

I had a garage sale last summer, and while I'm sure I didn't sell this thing, I do remember going through my clothes and forcing myself to either sell or donate everything I hadn't worn in the last year, and have no hope of wearing in the future.  I have a bad feeling that My Favorite Hoodie Ever got caught in that raid.  So sad....I thought that one day I would use his exact measurements to re-create him in another yarn (without all the holes), but apparently at the time of the Great Closet Purge, I had forgotten that.  *tear*

So, I'm going to do my best to recreate him from memory, and I'm going to see if this yarn is a little happier becoming this new design.  It's very pretty and soft, so I hope we can agree on something soon!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kindness of Knitters

Were you paying attention yesterday?

If you read this blog, I'm sure you're either a friend/relative of mine, or you're really into knitting and have therefore heard of the Yarn Harlot.  And if you've heard of her, you probably also know she had a blog.  If you've read the Yarn Harlot blog, you know she's hilarious and informative and you probably check in with her quite regularly.  So I may be telling you something you already know.

But, in case you missed it, something fantastic happened yesterday because of her blog.

She's been preparing for a bike ride that benefits an AIDS organization.  She has mentioned the preparation a lot, but has really asked for donations only a couple times.  Yesterday she was auctioning off a shawl she made to the highest bidder, and the proceeds of the sale were going to the bike race fundraising.  She mentioned at the end of yesterday's post that one blog reader said that if she were to raise an additional $1000, this reader would send her a check for an additional $1000.  She ended the post saying something like, "even a $5 donation will add up when paired with others, like stitches on a sweater," and she gave a direct link to her donation page.

Inspired by the generosity of the reader that made the $1000 offer, understanding the "it all adds up" reference, and having the easy link right there was the right combination for me to pull the trigger.  And I wasn't alone.  When I donated in the early afternoon, her total was somewhere in the $16,000 range.  This morning, less than 24 hours later, she just made it over $25,000 (and I'm guessing this might not even include the $1000 match from the blog reader yet).

I was amazed by the generosity of the people who read her blog, and, from the looks of her twitter feed, she was, too.  It was an amazing jump in her fundraising total in such a short time.  All she had to do was ask, and The Knitters responded.

I listen to a podcast called "The Knitting Pipeline".  Not too long ago, Paula, the host, suggested that groups of knitters should be called a "Kindness".  Just like a "school" of fish or a "gaggle" of geese, we would be a "kindness" of knitters. Since I began knitting, I have received almost exclusively kindness from other knitters.  From my friend Kristin who taught me the very basics, to Paula who convinced me that I could learn any technique that I wanted to and that I absolutely could follow a pattern.  The knitters who purchased my first couple attempts at patterns were extremely kind when they would e-mail to ask questions about something that wasn't written as clearly as it could have been, or who alerted me to errors in my math before I learned how to consistently figure things correctly, they almost exclusively did it with a spirit of understanding and helpfulness.  Their kindness helped me learn how to provide better patterns going forward.

I still experience the kindness of knitters every time I run a test knit.  I would love to be able to pay people to test my patterns, but at this point, there are designs that don't have enough sales to even cover the cost of the yarn I knit the sample out of.   So for the time being, I rely on the test groups on Ravelry.  The testers get the patterns for free in exchange for confirming that the numbers in the pattern are accurate and providing feedback on the clarity of the pattern and the fit of the garment.  I know that people are only volunteering for the things they actually want to knit, but they could just as easily wait a couple months for the kinks to get worked out of a pattern and be able to knit it without any worries of something being inaccurate.  I think it takes a very special heart to want to help a designer work the kinks out, and to send their valuable time providing feedback so the designer can publish a better product.

Other designers have also shown themselves to be generous souls.  Any time I have a question or can't decide how to best word something, all I have to do is post a thread to one of the Ravelry designers' groups I am a member of, and within the hour, I'll get all sorts of advice.  These people are (technically) my competition, but you'd never know it from the way we help each other out.  On the rainbow dress I just posted about, I was stumped as to how to work pleats from the top-down.  It's a simple technique when done from the bottom-up, but I wanted the bodice of the dress to be easily adjustable in case a child needed the width of a larger size but not the length, or vice versa.  And adjusting length is a lot easier when done from the top-down than the other way around.  Anyway, I asked the pleats question on one of the designer's forums, and people kicked it around for days.  I got many suggestion from helpful designers, but it wasn't until about the 20th suggestion that someone hit upon the answer that worked.  The point is, the other designers didn't ignore my plea for help just because they didn't know the answer...they threw out ideas and built upon the ideas of others until someone finally figured out exactly how it could be done.  And you know what?  It worked out great!

So the Yarn Harlot's fundraising miracle only underlined for me what I already knew was the truth: you'll be hard pressed to find a group of people who are more generous than knitters.  I am a lucky girl to belong to that group, and I hope you are one of us, too!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dress That Nearly Ended Me

I don't mean to alarm anyone, but this dress was almost the death of me.

I don't mean to say that I dislike this dress - I actually like it quite a lot.  But a week ago, I thought I would die before I finished writing the pattern for it.

If I had learned my lesson by now, I would have taken perfectly written notes, in order, and crossed out or erased any pattern notes that went with my first or second attempts to this dress.  Because those extra notes could really make things confusing if I forgot which attempt each note was referring to. 

But I have not learned my lesson (or, I hadn't then.  I certainly have now!)  My notes were written all over the place, not particularly in order or in much of an organized way.  If I had been writing the pattern right after I finished knitting the sample, it would have been fine.  I would have remembered which parts were the "real" parts and what I meant when I scribbled little partial phrases.

But I just wrote the pattern this week and last.  And those notes?  They were written up in March or April.  Then I got distracted by the other pretty things that were trying to get out of my head.  And I kept telling myself that Knit Picks wasn't expecting this dress pattern until the fall, so it was totally cool if I got sidetracked for a couple months and came back to this later.  And it would have been....if I had written reasonably complete notes.

I learned my lesson the hard way while reverse-engineering the sample garment I made in the spring.  Once I did that I could tell which of my notes to pay attention to and which were left over from prior attempts, but man, I do not want to have to do that again!

Miraculously, my sample even fits my little model just right, so we have big plans to go out on a little photo shoot as soon as the temperature drops below 80 degrees.  We've had temps in the upper 90's - 100 degrees for the better part of the last month, so I'm not getting my hopes up that we're going to cool off any time soon, but it'll happen.  We'll have at least one cool day before the end of September when I need to get this pattern submitted to the yarn company!  (Please?  Pretty please?)

Anyway, if you enjoy testing new patterns (you get the pattern for free in exchange for giving feedback) the testing thread can be found here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Unexpected Gifts

Our little family went to visit my parents this weekend.  While we were there, I was given three yarn-related gifts and they were so perfect that I just had to share.

First, behold the bamboo needles.  They are "Joint Venture" brand and are made from maple milled in Maine and birch milled in Lithuania.  They are pointed, assembled, and hand-painted by artisans in Russia.  My mom picked them out at a yarn shop on my parents' recent trip to Door County.  That's also where she picked up the little "Knitting Is Sexy" button that you see clipped to the front of one of these lovely blue yarn hanks.  I'm not typically one for wearing buttons, but I am confident that just the right occasion will present itself for me to make use of this one!  Maybe it should ride around on the outside of my knitting bag until then.

The third unexpected gift is this gorgeous hand-made bowl.  It's perfectly made and finished, but there are a couple things that make it even more special than your typical run-of-the-mill unexpectedly gifted hand-made bowl.  First, it was made by a friend of our family.  I can't remember the last time I saw Bob the wood-carver, but he carved a Harry Potter wand for my son a few years ago and that was awesome as well. But even beyond being made by someone I remember from my childhood, this bowl has history.

Back in the mid 20th century, my great-grandpa planted a tree in the yard of his church.  It's the church my great-grandparents attended and were very active in, the church my parents were married at, and the church my sister and I were baptized at.

Years later, the church decided to expand and the tree needed to go.  They dug it up and re-planted it in my grandparents' backyard.  It has been there as long as I remember, a gigantic monster of a tree that grew right in the middle of the concrete patio that makes up about a third of their backyard.

Recently, the giant tree needed to be trimmed, so 80-something Grandpa has been outside off & on for the past couple years on the roof to reach branches, tying ropes around branches to try to keep them from falling on someone or on the house, and occasionally attaching the chainsaw to a long pole so he can reach higher.  (This is not, mind you, one of those chainsaws that is meant to be attached to a pole.  It is just a plain old chainsaw that Grandpa has decided that he can attach somehow to a pole.  I'm sure he went over the details with the guys at the coffee shop and they all came to a consensus before he tried anything crazy.)  But, I digress.....

Point is, this perfect bowl is a little piece of family history and I will display it proudly in our house.  It might even make its way into some pictures on the Etsy shop if I can find the right occasion.

Hooray for unexpected treasures!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Finger Knitting

When my daughter was 6 or 7, she asked me to teach her to knit.  A couple of her little friends were interested, too, so I got the three of them together a couple times and showed them the basics.  My daughter was really interested - as long as I was sitting right next to her.  When I wandered away, she'd get a tangle or just get bored and wasn't quite interested enough to make the hobby her own.

Now she's 9 and a few months ago it occurred to me that she might enjoy a little finger knitting.  I got out a ball of yarn and refreshed my memory with a little video from You Tube, then showed her this very easy technique.  Minutes later, she was off and running, making gigantic snakes of finger-knitted yarn.  She looped her first project around and around to make a sort of thick loopy scarf and was quite happy with herself.  She then experimented with finger-knitting an extremely long tube, then finger-knitting the resulting tube into a shorter but much thicker snake.  Today she decided to see what it would look like if she held the yarn double, using two different colors, and she was quite pleased with the results.  This has been a good, quiet, portable project when we're on long car rides, and she can take it with her when we go together to watch her older brother play basketball or perform in a concert. 

If you have a child with a creative streak who might enjoy a new quiet-time activity, you can watch this video with him or her and learn together.

Just be prepared for an invasion of yarn snakes that are miles long all around your house!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Time for some Salsa!

 I've been on a mission for the past couple weeks.  I was really wanting a shrug to wear with my summer tank tops.  Probably half my summer wardrobe is sleeveless tops, but so far this summer I've barely been wearing them.

Memorial Day weekend, I went to an outdoor party one evening and got bitten by a few mosquitoes.  Normally I get pretty big welts, but they're gone the next day.  This time, I woke up the next morning with hives all over my torso (not attractive!)

Over the next couple weeks, the hives came back about every other day.  I got it checked out at the doctor's office and she gave me a prescription that is supposed to help suppress them for the next month.  It helped a little bit, but they still came back a couple times a week.

Anyway, being polka-dotted did not inspire me to bear a lot of skin early in the summer.  The hives have only come back once since finishing the 30-day prescription, so I'm hopeful that this little episode is coming to an end.  But the curse of having fair skin is that any time something disturbs it (zits, scratches, HIVES), I end up with dark marks that take months to fade.  So even though the hives aren't much of a problem now, I am still all sorts of polka dotted, especially on my back.

Enter - the Salsa Shrug!  It's constructed in one piece (sleeves are knit together with the body, not separately), then the border of the body & sleeves are worked from picked up stitches. Between it being a construction I've never made before and the gorgeous yarn I used, it was a really fun one to make.  I'd love to write a pattern for multiple sizes, but the main measurement is one that isn't on any sizing charts, so I'm going to have to figure out how to get that measurement for a range of sizes in order for me to write this properly.  Do you think people on the street will mind if I approach them with a measuring tape and ask them if I could have a moment of their time?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tiny Dancer, Jr.

The photography fairy must have been with me today when I shot pattern photos for another design - Tiny Dancer, Jr.  This sweater is very similar to the teen/adult version that I have previously shown, but the shaping is slightly different (more gradual waist decreases, proportionally shorter length, slightly more fabric on the shoulders).  Together, these two patterns could be fun for a mother/daughter set of sweaters.

Testing starts today for this design with high hopes that it'll be ready to publish at the end of August.  If you would like to try this pattern out now for free (in exchange for providing feedback) you can find the testing thread here:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Honor of July 12th... are 12 random facts about Nicole!

1. I have known my husband since we were 19, when I called into his college radio program and dedicated a song to him to get his attention. We had only met once, about a year before I made that move. It worked.

2. I come from a very creative family. Just between my parents, grandparents & great-grandparents, I think we have all the bases covered from music to painting, crocheting, quilling, sewing, embroidery, woodworking, and probably any other made-by-hand skill you can think of.

3. I am a cat person. About 4 years ago, we had to install an "invisible fence" and I used it to train our cats to stay in our yard. (Not something I would have chose...more oof a necessity created by our nutty neighbor.)

4. When I used to imagine my life as a wife & mom, I always knew I would work from home, but I never imagined that it would be as a knitwear designer. My other work-from-home job is that of a piano teacher. I still do that, too.

5. About 5 years ago, my friend invited me to a "Sangria & Knitting" night. I don't usually care for sangria, but I was immediately hooked on the knitting!

6. I love to play piano & sing Broadway & pop music. I played the violin in junior high & high school, then gave birth to a boy who screamed every time I tried to play. I can play "Take Me Home Country Roads" on the guitar (and that's just about it!)

7. I could be alone for a solid week and be perfectly happy. One of my kids is just like me. The other would be thrilled if she saw her friends every single day.

8. I would love to have a beautiful garden, but I don't enjoy the work it requires. I've planted quite a bit of landscaping in my yard but I apparently need to hire someone to keep it up. For now I settle for looking at weeds 90% of the time, then occasionally taking two solid weeks to spruce it all up.

9. I am a night owl. It kills me to get up before 7am, but it's easy for me to stay up until 2am.

10. I'm good enough at scrabble that most of my friends won't play with me anymore (this includes my husband). I do have a couple stoic friends & an aunt who still challenge me to games. (Thanks, guys!)

11. The last time I sang kareoke was at a bachelorette party 14 years ago. I believe I may have danced on a speaker.

12. I think we'd all be better off if all the 24-hour cable news channels disappeared.

Now you know a little more about me, so introduce yourself with a random fact in the comments and let me know you're out there!

Monday, July 9, 2012

A gift from Mom & Dad is my birthday!  Now that I've crossed the line from 36 to 37, I think that puts me officially in my "late 30s".  I'm a happy birthday person griping about getting older here.  I always say it's much better than the alternative! :)

Usually when my family asks me if there's anything I'd like for a birthday or Christmas gift, it takes me a while to come up with something.  But this year, I was prepared!  On the knitting front, I knew I could really use a ball winder and a yarn swift.  You should see the contortions I put myself into to hold the yarn on my legs or feet while I wind it into a ball, and although I could occasionally talk my husband into holding it if I was winding while he was home...well, it's not his favorite way to spend an hour.

My mom must have gotten caught up in some web sites with expensive swifts because in the end, my parents gave me a check towards a swift.  I was lucky enough to have just gotten a 20% off (to use in my birthday month!) coupon from The Fiber Universe, one of my local yarn shops, and I knew they sold Knit Picks swifts.  I had read quite a few reviews of the swifts on Ravelry boards and the consensus seemed to be that they may not hold up forever, but that Knit Picks does have great customer service and will replace the swift if it breaks.  That's good enough for me, so not only was I able to get the swift with the money my parents gave me, I had enough left over for a skein of this gorgeous blue Three Irish Girls yarn as well.  (I didn't want that skein to be lonely, so I got two more, which should be enough for a sweater for me since they include so much yardage in one of these skeins.  They're labeled as containing 430 yards, but they weigh about 30% more than the label says, so I think the yardage is more like 550 yards.)

I actually picked up two more skeins of yarn in a different colorway for the shrug I'm currently working on, but it's in the basement right now blocking, so that's a post for another day.  I'm hoping that by turning a fan on it for a few hours, I can get it dry enough to start knitting on the border tonight....that's if it dries to be the size I'm expecting....otherwise, I may have just knitted a really, really big gauge swatch!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sock Monkey Hat Gone Wild!

 One of the things I love most is the fact that after I publish a pattern, there are all sorts of creative knitters who work their magic and put personal touches on their work that I never would have imagined.  No where in my catalog of patterns is this more obvious than when people use my Sock Monkey Ear Flap Hat pattern as the base for their own magical creations.  I thought I'd do a post today that featured some great variation that are (mostly) not my own!

Kelly, knitter extraordinaire from Canada, made this first adorable little girlie monkey.  She added little corkscrew i-cords for "hair" and ties and put tiny little flower earrings.  (How cute is that?)  I saw that little monkey project go up on Ravelry and knew we were two peas in a pod.

Sticking with the theme of "sock monkey with a twist", my friend Nicole asked me to make a sock monkey hat for a friend who was having a baby.  She mentioned that the parents either attended Notre Dame, or followed the sports teams there, so she wanted to tie in the school colors somehow.  So I knit her a monkey in navy blue with a gold stripe and cut a little green clover out of felt that I sewed on to the hat.  I think this may be my favorite sock monkey hat that I've ever made.  (And I've personally probably made between 70-90 of them.  I lost count a long time ago!)

Another way to go if you have high school/ college/ professional sports team colors that you like to wear, and you feel like you're a little too old to be wearing hats with faces, is to do something like this:

Just pick two or three colors and knit the hat up plain.  It's a nicely-fitting hat (as long as you use appropriately-sized yarn & needles that allow you to get gauge!) and is very wearable by people of all ages when done up this way!

 I love this next example for girls of any age.  It's from Kelly probably suspected since it has her signature curly ties.  :)  She knit the hat up with stripes and did a double layer for warmth just around the ears & forehead area, then did this darling dragonfly (it's a combination of knitting & crochet) as a decorative touch.  I would totally wear that.

 I completely missed the Owl Bandwagon, but Cathy from Kansas figured out a way to transform a monkey hat into an owl hat!  She crocheted big owl eyes and knitted a little beak to put together for this little face.  Then she used two colors to jazz up the pom pom and the ties.  What a hoot! :)

Until I sat down to write this post, the lion hat that Jean had posted on my Facebook page had slipped my mind, and since I forgot to ask for her permission to steal the picture for the blog, I thought I'd like you to the Facebook picture instead.  Behold, Jean's Little Lion Hat!

If I was giving out prizes though, I'd have to give it up to Kelly, because, honestly, can you even believe that this Eeyore hat is even loosely based on the sock monkey hat?  I'm sure it took a couple tries to figure out how to get those ears exactly the right shape, and can you believe how perfect all the other features are?  Those droopy, sad eyes?  The little shock of black hair?  Even the way she stitched right down the middle of the face is spot on.  She even figured out a way to incorporate Eeyore's little tail into a hat pattern.  Brilliant.  I would have suggested she publish it as a separate pattern if it weren't for that whole "selling things based on other people's copyrighted characters" thing.  So, I'm sorry to be the meanie that is dangling something in front of you that doesn't have a written pattern.  But, it just goes to show what a knitter can do with a basic pattern and a little ingenuity!