Friday, January 31, 2014

Tornado Relief

It's time to thank my customers again.  I get the privilege of writing another check today in the amount of $91 to send to the City of Washington Tornado Relief Fund.  Thanks you for making January another good month of sales for the Whirlwind Sock pattern.  We're up to a grand total of $251 contributed toward clean-up and rebuilding efforts!

If you have been putting off your pattern purchase, it's not too late!  I'll be sending in donations as long as the fund is open, and from the look of our town, I think it's safe to assume the fund will be accepting contributions for a long time to come.

Another way you can help is by "favoriting" the pattern on Ravelry, "pinning" the pattern on Pinterest, posting about it in a knitting forum, creating and sharing a Ravelry project page linked to the pattern, or by uploading photos of your Whirlwind socks to Ravelry, Pinterest, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, your personal blog, or any other website.  Each of these things helps the pattern find more people who might be willing to help out, and doesn't cost more than a few minutes of your time.

Most of the destruction in our town is residential, so I don't drive through the worst part of it very often.  But an errand last week took me through one of the most devastated neighborhoods, and it took my breath away all over again.  The photo below is of the remains of the house of one of my son's closest friends. on a street that used to be full of homes, families, clubhouses, and mature trees.  You can see one small room (maybe a bathroom or laundry room) still standing on the foundation next to the car covered by a tarp.  His family was blessed to have gotten to the neighbor's house before the tornado hit because their house did not have a basement for them to take cover in.  I don't even want to think about what might have happened to this boy, his parents, and his toddler-aged brother if they had been in the house when it got destroyed.

The weather this winter has not been kind to the rebuilding efforts.  Many properties were able to be cleared before the below-normal temperatures arrived and we started getting hit with snowstorm after snowstorm.  But there has been very little rebuilding started yet.  I have seen crews at homes that are too damaged to live in, but still standing - installing new windows, ripping out carpet full of glass and insulation and replacing it with new flooring, and getting those homes ready for families to move back in.  Most of the people we know whose homes were completely destroyed are still up in the air about when they might be able to return to town.  I have one friend who just got a move-in date set before the 2014-2015 school year, and she is thrilled.  The weather has already made this winter difficult for kids getting to/from school, but having to live 30-45 minutes away from your child's school in a rental home and drive back and forth twice a day to transport them has got to be the rotten icing on this rancid cupcake of a situation.  I think it will be good for everyone when we start to see signs of rebuilding this spring.  A glimmer of hope that things will eventually return to normal and our friends will be back where they belong.

So thank you again for any contribution you have / will make toward this disaster relief.  Whether it be your money, time, or spreading the word about the situation proceeds from this pattern will benefit, every resident of this city appreciates what you've done.  This disaster has touched every single person in this city, and I know it has touched a lot of hearts outside our boundaries as well.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rock Island

I always enjoy the occasional "knit someone else's pattern" project.  I helps me continue to learn new things, and, let's face it….sometimes it's awesome to pay your $6, grab your yarn and needles, and be able to start knitting, without having to sketch something out, work through the construction in your mind, work multiple swatches, and do a bunch of math before you begin!

Rock Island was my latest "not my pattern" project.  It was a Jared Flood pattern with tons of projects, and totally worth the $6.75 he charges for the pattern.  

I wouldn't call myself a beginner when it comes to lace, but I wouldn't call myself advanced, either.  I'm kind of a brave adventurous beginner.  I'll take any lace project on if I like it enough, but chances are I'll have to look something up, watch a tutorial video, or end up frogging and re-knitting part of the project.  

This one was no different!

I found the border chart easy.  Well, except for the fact that you have to repeat the 8-row chart about 70 times.  Now THAT took a little determination to stick with it!

I blocked the border after it was done because I thought it would make picking stitches up from it easier.  It seemed to work - not only did I find picking the stitches up easy, but I came out with exactly the number the pattern calls for.  Don't you love it when that happens…especially when that number is in the high 200's?

When I started in on the "Rock Island" chart (the body lace), I was over-thinking it.  I was glued to every stitch, counting and re-counting where I was.  I got through 8 rows before I admitted something had gone wrong.  Most of it looked good, but it was obvious I had messed up a few stitches here and there.  Unfortunately, this was not a chart with any "resting rows"…there was patterning on every single row.  And do you think I had used a lifeline?  Ha!  Lifeline, schmifeline.
I pulled it back down to the garter stitch section on top of the border.  

When I started the Rock Island chart for the second time, it hit me - I should be looking at these stitches in groups of three - not in groups of six (as the chart shows the main repeat), and not as the single stitches I was looking at before.  Once I grouped them into threes, I barely had to look at the chart.  I just had to glance to see how each section began, then I intuitively knew what to do for the rest of the section.  The 8 rows that had taken me 3 days to finish flew by in a little more than an hour, and I was done with the entire 24-row chart in a couple days.  

This shawl was a very fun knit.  And I feel like that little epiphany helped up my lace game just a smudge.  But here's the tragic part (for me): I just don't wear shawls.  I enjoy occasionally making them, but I just never wear them.  I have one in my closet that has been there for about 6 years now, and the only time it's made it off the hanger was to take photos for my Ravelry project page.  And this shawl is just too pretty for that sort of fate.

So I've decided to put it up in my Etsy shop.  It's made of Malabrigo 100% baby merino yarn.  This lace-weight shawl has a wingspan of 53" and a depth of 26".  In the event that it needs cleaning, care is hand washing ONLY in cold water, and it will need to dry flat using pins or blocking wires.

I hope it goes to someone who will get lots of use out of it.  It would be a shame for something so pretty to sit on a hanger in a closet forever!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

For the Boys….

We have a 50/50 family.  Husband, Wife, son, daughter.  Even our cats kept us on track.  They are brother and sister from the same litter.

From a purely personal point of view, I don't have a strong pull toward designing garments for one sex over the other.  I can get away with more decorative touches with girl's clothes, which can be fun, but designing a boys garment that is interesting without being overly fussy can be a fun challenge, too.

There are three factors that have pushed be toward designing more for females than males though, and they are completely out of my control:

1. More knitters are female than male.

2. Males tend to be "warmer" than females (just speaking very generally here), and the men/boys I know personally wear far less sweaters / outerwear accessories than the girls/women I know.

3. Patterns written for male garments / accessories just don't sell as well as patterns written for females.  Certainly, my sample size is pretty small, but the four patterns I've written where I used boys as the models have gotten almost no attention / purchases, whereas the patterns I've aimed at females have typically sold pretty well.

Because of these factors, I have focused my writing on designs for females.

Still, my husband, who has always been extremely supportive of my knitting business deserves a handmade sweater at least once in his life, even if it won't get much use indoors.  I've been showing him patterns for a couple months now and he finally made his choice.

Want to see the contenders?

Of course you do.
copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

 I liked the texture and overall "plain-ness" of Fort.  I was going to do it without the kitchy professor elbow patches…I didn't think Jason would be into those.

copyright Berroco
Beagle is a pattern by Norah Gaughan.  It's way more textured than the competition, but it doesn't come off as "busy".  And I thought it would be fun to knit.  A peek at project pages made Jason decide that it wouldn't look good on his body type though.  I'm not sure I agree - I think the beauty of handmade sweaters is that you can make modifications so the pattern better fits your body type.  But if he wasn't in love, I didn't want to spend the time / money on the project.  So it was on to the next candidate.

copyright brooklyntweed
The Cobblestone Pullover was another nice-looking Jared Flood pattern.  Again, high marks for "plain yet interesting".  When Jason took a look at the project pages though, it was another case of "most of these sweaters don't look as good on these people as the sample does on the model."  And I wasn't sure that a circular yoke was going to be the best compliment to my husband's shape.  So….NEXT!

copyright Pipibird

 Tea With Jam and Bread is a sweater that I had originally marked for myself, but it is a pretty unisex design.  Jason looked at it with interest, and I think it was one of the top contenders, but it just wasn't quite what he was looking for.
copyright CherylIN
I'll admit, I was rooting for Mr. Darcy.  Jason had a gray sweater in college that was almost identical to this one and I was ready to relive the college sweater days.  That gray sweater was the only one I've ever seen Jason wear so much that it eventually fell apart, so clearly it was a favorite of his.  Apparently, 16 years after graduation, he's ready to leave the college sweater days behind and move on to something else.  Maybe I can eventually convince my son that he wants a Mr. Darcy someday. 
Copyright Falling Stitches
This zip-front hoodie initially struck me as a little young for Jason, but I threw it into the mix just to see what he'd say about it.  Not that we're super-old (we haven't even hit 40 yet), but this is a sweater with some young, hipster attitude for sure.  I think he agreed, since he didn't say much about it after a spark of interest.  It was like his brain saw it and said, "Oh, that's cool!  Wait….I'm almost 40.  And also, I don't drive a Prius and have a Mac computer.  That's right….next candidate, please!"
So….you want to see the winner?

Yeah, I know you do.  Here we go.

I'm going to be making "Learn to Knit a Men's Sweater".  Yes, the name is terrible, but whatever.  I'm not 100% sure about the raglan sleeve, just because Jason doesn't currently own any sweaters in this style, but he's pretty broad-shouldered, so I think it will look good.  We both like the simple texture - it's just a very wide rib, and the fit looks decent on most of the sweaters shown on the Ravelry project pages.  Jason has a few zip-neck sweaters similar to this, so I know he's comfortable in that style.  

copyright Staci Perry
I haven't started yet - this is going to be my Ravellenic Games project - but I have read through the pattern.  I was pretty disappointed that gauge was only given as "5 stitches per inch".  It said that on the Ravelry page, but I assumed (and you know what they say about people who assume things…) that the pattern would give a complete gauge.  The problem with doing a raglan without knowing the pattern row gauge is that the arm hole depth is going to be written as a certain number of rows, not as a certain number of inches.  So if my row gauge is different from the pattern (and if my stitch gauge is right on, my row gauge is almost always different than the pattern), I need to know whether to throw in a few extra rows or do a few less rows in order to come up with the right arm hole depth.  Now this isn't a huge problem if you're an experienced sweater knitter and you know to go get a sweater that fits well and measure that arm hole depth, then compare it to your project, but it was an odd thing for a pattern to be missing, and it makes me leery of things to come.  Hopefully this is just a fluke and the rest of the pattern will be well-written….I'm sure I'll post about it again once the project is complete!  (And likely during The Games as well!)
Now it's time to pick a yarn.  I was initially leaning toward cascade 220 in "chocolate heather" since Jason isn't sensitive to wool, but when I asked him to show me his favorite sweaters, both the ones he pulled out were cotton blends.  I am very inexperienced with cotton, but I'm willing to learn.  Anyone know of a good worsted-weight cotton that comes in a darker brown color?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Honeysuckle Hat

The summer of 2012 was the Summer of "Foyle's War" for me.  It was the series I'd play on the laptop while I knitted on my backyard patio. If you haven't seen the series and you tend to enjoy shows like Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, I would highly recommend Foyle's War! 

The only reoccurring female character on the series is Samantha, played by an actress named Honeysuckle Weeks. I enjoyed the period costumes of the series, set in the first half of the 1940s, as England was fighting WWII.  Sam's wardrobe was always fairly simple, often wearing her military uniform which included a flat-topped brimmed hat.  It inspired me to imagine all sorts of ways I could make a knitted hat in a similar shape but incorporate something decorative and lovely on the sides of the hat.  The Honeysuckle Hat is the result of my military-hat daydreams.
This hat is written as a "one size fits most" pattern, but modifying the hat circumference is very easy and will not require you to do any math.  The cabled band would be a little deep to try to attempt this hat for a baby, but I think it would work for anyone aged 5 or older with a modified circumference.  Most teens and adults will fit comfortably in the 22.5" circumference the pattern is written for.  
This hat uses fingering-weight yarn held double for a sturdy, thick fabric.  If you strongly prefer using a single strand of yarn, you should be able to get stitch gauge using dk-weight yarn and small needles (Size 2 is recommended, but you should use whatever size gets you closest to pattern gauge.)  
The bill is reinforced with a layer of craft foam, available at any craft store and in my local Walmart's craft department.  
Instructions for the cabled band are both charted and written.  Two options are provided for seaming the band - either use a long-tail cast on and sew a seam to connect the CO and BO edges of the band into a circle, or begin with a provisional CO and use Kitchener stitch to graft the band into a circle.  The choice is up to you!  A video link is provided to demonstrate how to Kitchener cables so the seam is invisible.  
I consider this an intermediate level pattern.  Previous experience with simple cables would be helpful.  You will also need to work increases & decreases, pick up stitches, sew on the brim, and either sew a seam in the back or use Kitchener to graft the back together.  
Many, many thanks to test knitters, schmitt642, Eskimostitches, querie and mzpaul071506, for all your hard work and valuable feedback!

The Honeysuckle Hat pattern is now available on Ravelry & Etsy!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

More projects!

Photo credit: brooklyntweed
 I have had the casting on bug lately.  I have at least 3 projects lined up in my head, one that needs to be written, one that I need to order yarn for, and one that need to be written and have yarn ordered.  Since I couldn't / didn't want to start doing any of these projects last night, I decided to cast on something completely different: an intricate lace shawl.   Yay for having the right yarn in my stash for at least one thing!

The yarn is Malabrigo lace, the pattern is Rock Island by Jared Flood.  

The pattern begins with the lace border that goes across both sides of the triangle.  It's worked from an 8-row chart that you repeat 71 times.  Aargh.  I'm all for doing what it takes to accomplish something awesome, but 71 times?  It was kind of a bummer way to begin.  I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end though - the finished shawl is really stunning.

I worked on it for an hour or so last night, then a couple more hours this afternoon and I have 22 repeats down….49 to go.  Maybe by this weekend I'll be on to the body of the shawl.  That chart is way more intimidating than the lace border chart, but whenever I see something like that,  I just remember the words of my knitting guru, Paula: "Work the first row.  Don't worry about the second row until the first row is finished."  You can really do anything if you follow that advice.  Focus on whatever is in front of you and don't worry about the next thing until the first thing is complete.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Save Your Sweaters!

 One of my Christmas gifts was so fantastic that I wanted to tell the world about it - especially the world of knitters!  I assure you that I have no interest in this product or the company that makes it.  I read about it on a Ravelry thread and my sister gave it to me for Christmas.  It's my new "must have" knitting accessory!

Now that I've been knitting for about 6 years, I've gotten to the point where some of my sweaters, even though I hand wash them with care, have started to look a little ratty.  I've tried hand-picking the little pills off, and I've tried one of those little battery-operated 'sweater shavers", but neither method really got the job done, so I wasn't satisfied.  I saw a Ravelry thread where a number of people were all raving about "The Gleener" as being the best method for making sweaters look almost as good as new, and for $22, I figured it was worth a try!  My sister saw me mention something about it just a couple days before Christmas, and I assumed I'd just order it after the holiday was over, so imagine my surprise when I opened a box on Christmas that contained a picture of the gleener inside and a note that told me it was on its way to my house!

I've used it on 4 sweaters so far - 1 heavy 100% wool sweater, 1 lightweight wool sweater, 1 lightweight acrylic, and the one in the photos, a heavy wool/acrylic blend.  It worked magic on all of them.  They all went from being quite "pill-y" and ratty-looking to going back to almost-new condition.  

Depending on the fiber and weight of the sweater you're working on, you choose one of 3 heads to attach to the handle.  All three heads are basically long, thin pumice stone in varying degrees of grit, and the one with the largest grit has a little wire cage over it.  You just lay the sweater out flat, pull the fabric taut, and pull the pumice stone end over the surface of the sweater.  You might think that the stone would tear up the surface of the sweater, but it does't - it just collects all the little pills from the surface and pulls them into a big strip of fuzz that's easy to discard.  

I'm not sure yet if the pumice strips last forever or if there will come a point where I have to replace them.  Even if this little device needs to be replaced in a few years, I'd happily buy it again - with about 10 minutes and willingness to give your arms a little workout, it restores your sweaters to a much nicer-looking state!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Snowed In

My neck of the woods is in the middle of a weather "situation".  Well, it's a situation as far as Illinois people are concerned.  I'm sure if there's anyone from Alaska or the colder parts of Canada reading this blog, they'd just refer to a day like today as "winter".  Anyway, it's been snowing since yesterday evening and we've probably accumulated around 6 inches so far.  Then tomorrow the high temperature is supposed to be almost 10 below with a -45 wind chill.  So it's one of those days where emergency services tell you to stay home unless you really, really need to leave the house.  School has already been called off for my kids and for lots of kids in the midwestern & eastern parts of the US.  Hopefully things will be back to normal by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest, when our high temp will be a balmy 21 degrees.

Just in case you're not a northerner and you like snow pictures, here's what it looks like out my front door.  See the road there in front of my house?  Yeah, neither do I.  

In lieu of being able to participate in the world at large today, I decided to go domestic.  My son and I baked a pie.  It's my first attempt at lemon meringue.  It looks like a deflated whoopie cushion, but I'm pretty sure it'll be delicious because I licked the pan after we poured the filling in the crust.  

 I worked another crocheted baby bootie this morning.  If you have "liked" the Trappings and Trinkets page on Facebook, you already know that I've been learning to crochet this weekend.  I started with a misshapen gnome hat for my cat on Friday night.  I graduated to booties yesterday, and they both came out great, although two very different sizes.

My third bootie came out the same size as my second (so I think I'm getting that whole tension thing sorted out), but I accidentally worked it inside-out.  Easy fix - I'll just have to pull out the top few green rows and redo them, then I'll have a matched set.

Pattern is Baby Goshalosh Boots by Elizabeth Alan. Yarn is tosh dk in calligraphy and thyme.

Not sure what my next crochet adventure will be….I'm looking for patterns that I can instantly download.  I have a "how to crochet" book that is full of patterns, but they are some seriously ugly things.  Fantastic diagrams and descriptions on how to work each stitch, but there are no projects in the book that I would ever be interesting in making/wearing/using.  So if you're a crocheter, leave me a suggestion in the comments - I understand ss, sc, hdc, dc, s2tog, dc2tog and how to do increases.  I'd love suggestions on well-written crochet patterns for either baby / kid items or accessories for bigger people!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

New Year's plans at my house were pretty quiet this year.  My little family happily spent our last evening of 2013 playing on the Wii together - first a dance-off, then family Rock Band, and we concluded with a Mario Cart tournament.  Before the kids headed to bed, we enjoyed some chocolate fondue together with strawberries, bananas, raspberries & rice krispie treat chunks to dip in it, then we watched one of the home movies I edited together a number of years ago.

Once the kids were asleep, my husband and I watched an episode of Downton Abbey while I started another pair of socks.  Actually, I made a plain vanilla sock out of this Prism yarn that I bought when I was in Madison, WI back in November, but I decided I wanted to do something a little more interesting with them.  But I just finished writing and editing 3 patterns, so I wanted a little break from making up another.  I decided another pair of Whirlwind Socks was the way to go.

Speaking of Whirlwind Socks, yesterday was the end of December, which means I promised to send the first check to the City of Washington Tornado Recovery Fund.  I'll be writing that check for $160, and I thank every one of you who has purchased the pattern so far!  Remember, even if you haven't bought the pattern, "favoriting" it on Ravelry helps other people to see it, and if you have bought it and plan to make a pair, sharing pictures on your project page, personal blog, Facebook, or on other knitting websites will also help get the word out so we might be able to send even more assistance to Washington.

I have two hat patterns and a lovely textured cowl coming down the pipeline.  Tests are underway and you'll be seeing a few new patterns published toward the end of the month and beginning of February.  I hope you like them!