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Talking About Myself

You know, I’m starting to wonder if my trouble with blogging doesn’t come down to the simple belief that the wide world of the internet couldn’t possibly be interested in what I’m up to. That’s not all of it – partly I also have trouble taking good pictures, and I don’t like to do a post without good-quality photos to go with it. But there’s a lot of wisdom in the “learn by doing” approach, so let’s see if I can make something of that!

When last we spoke, I had shown you my completed Fly Away Home lace shawlette, and was contemplating buying a sewing machine. I had a few WIPs, but most noteworthy among them was my Vivian sweater by Ysolda Teague, from Twist Collective. I’ve hit the approximate 50% mark based on yardage called for, and at last photograph the sweater looked like this:

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Not too bad, in my opinion. It’s languished a bit in favor of a couple other things, but I’m saving the other WIPs for another post. Right now, I want to tell you about what I’ve accomplished! For one thing, I did indeed buy a sewing machine. I checked the bank account where I’ve been squirreling away sewing machine money as well as the tax refund for this year, and was able to get a lovely Pfaff machine that was a bit nicer than I expected would be in the budget. A penny saved is indeed a penny earned, and they add up! It may be a little silly, but I decided he needed a name, and have been calling him Otto. We’re just getting to know each other, but we managed to turn out a lovely little shoe bag from a fun chicken fabric I found on sale at Joann Fabrics using this pattern.

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I also may have brought home a couple of yards of a nice purple linen that’s intended for a Pavlova skirt from Cake Patterns. I’m not officially entering the sewalong and I don’t intend to make the top right now, but a purple linen circle skirt with a cute and functional pocket seems just the ticket for the upcoming spring and summer, and a 30 minute a day commitment with detailed tutorials sounds just right for my skill level. Hopefully it will go well!

I also whipped up a quick hat for a fun swap I was in on Ravelry, but most of my time has gone into WIPs. On the needles now, besides the Vivian sweater, I have two different pairs of mitts, each with one mitt completed (one with simple cables for me, the other man-sized colorwork mitts for a gift), a pair of socks on which I’ve just turned the first heel, a pair of spats, and my poor neglected entrelac cowl. We’ll see if I can finish something on that list before I make it back here!

WIP Wednesday

You may call it a bandwagon, but I say there’s nothing like a classic. Therefore I’d like to present: WIP Wednesday!

First up is my entrelac cowl.  I took a class at my LYS, Stitches with Style, in order to learn entrelac, and let me tell you, I heartily advise learning this technique from a knowledgeable teacher. Entrelac on the needles just looks wrong, even when it’s right, and the weird back-and-forthiness of it would have been challenging to puzzle out on my own from written directions.

Of course, with the help of a good teacher, like many other things in knitting, it’s quite easy once you know what you’re doing. The secret – after figuring out the weird construction – is learning to knit backwards. Otherwise, you’re turning your work every six stitches, and I think I’d go crazy. Knowing how to knit backwards is also, I’m told, a godsend when working stranded colorwork on a flat piece.

The yarn is Classic Elite Liberty Wool. Entrelac is great for showing off dramatic color-changing yarns!

Then there’s my Vivian sweater, from Twist Collective. I have one and a half sleeves knit as well as a good chunk of the back, but unfortunately the only photo I have to show you still looks like this:

Maybe next week I’ll have a new photo! I’m absolutely in love with it, seed stitch and all. It’s designed by the incomparable Ysolda Teague, and I’m using Cascade Eco+ in a stunning colorway called Purple Jewel Heather. My goal for 2013 is to knit more sweaters! I hope to never have another storebought sweater if I can help it.

Last up is just a seed of an idea, but I’m beyond thrilled about it. I don’t want to say too much at the moment, but for right now, it looks like this:

Fly Away Home

I’m fond of saying that hardly anything in knitting is as hard as it looks. I credit my growing adventurous spirit in knitting to this basic principle. Lots of people tried to tell me when I first started knitting that it was all just knits and purls, and if you could do that, then you could do anything. Now, nearly five years later, I’m finally sold. Stranded colorwork? No problem, just keep those floats loose. Intarsia? Cumbersome at times, but really not bad. Cables? My favorite of all, especially when worked without a cable needle – such an impressive return on a stunningly simple technique. Sure, there are things in knitting that are finicky, but that’s a question of dexterity, not true difficulty. Only one thing tests my commitment to this position.

Lace.

Lace is my nemesis, my archenemy, my white whale. In 2011 I chose what I thought was a fairly simple lace pattern for my first lace shawl. It was pattered on one side only, with just simple yarn overs and decreases, and a knitted on edging. It was rectangular, not a soul-sucking triangular monster or a pi shawl with a neverending edge. The pattern was Moon Dance by Melanie Gibbons, and it was every bit the clearly-written, well-designed, perfect beginner’s lace that I’d hoped.

It was a disaster. I couldn’t even get through the first section, the simplest of all. Over and over, I frogged and cast on. (To its credit, the Eos yarn from The Unique Sheep held up extremely well.) Curses were uttered, teeth were gashed, but to no avail. I simply could not knit this lace.

Ultimately, I did pick the shawl back up, and managed to knit it without any major hiccups. The finished product was beautiful, exactly what I was looking for, and has served me well. I thought perhaps I had just needed a little more experience, and that now lace knitting could join my arsenal of skills. So you can imagine that when I went looking for a project for 230 yards of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift from my stash, the elegantly simple Flying Home shawlette by Kat Coyle seemed a natural choice. A nice, consistent, repeating, easily readable lace pattern. Just the thing for testing the waters and honing my skills before taking a crack at another large shawl, right?

Well, if you were anyone but me, it would be.

The wailing. The cursing. The gnashing of teeth. The 300 froggings and casting back ons. I finally had to resort to placing my lifeline after each and every six-row repeat. And then, because I wanted to get a slightly larger shawlette by using every scrap of the yarn that I could, with the end in sight, I ran out of yarn halfway through the bindoff. But at last, finally, I can show you my second piece of finished lace ever:

I expected that once I finally cast off this monstrosity that I would never want to look at it or any other lace again. But you know what?

I adore it and I can’t wait to wear it. And I’m already planning the next lace.

Dear Hogfather

This time of year, knitters on Earth are often finishing last minute Christmas stockings, so I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that this knitter has modified a Christmas design to be a little more tailored to Hogswatch. I took the Falling Snow Stocking pattern by Jennifer Hoel, and re-charted the middle section by adapting Sandra Jäger‘s charts of Father Christmas and a pig, and adding in some one-stitch “snow” to deal with the long floats. To capture the blood-on-the-snow spirit of Hogswatch, I chose to use bare Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky alongside the color Wine. I hope you’re pleased with the results:

I’m normally a continental knitter, but I taught myself to carry the second color English, which made a world of difference in the speed and ease of knitting this stocking. I’m looking forward to knitting more colorwork than I ever thought I would with the help of this new skill. My friends are already clamoring for Hogswatch stockings of their own. I’m proud to be doing my bit to shore up belief in you, Hogfather, so that the sun will continue to rise (rather than a ball of flaming gas simply illuminating the world).

As always, Hogfather, please bring me snow for Hogswatch, and also a pony. Cheers!

Warm Hands, Warm Heart

You know, after relating the saga of my Damson shawlette earlier this month, I’ve had a new appreciation for how far I’ve come as a knitter. I’ve been apprehensive about projects that I consider to be more complex, often putting them off “until I have more experience.” I took the plunge on these gloves because my hands have just been so cold, and I’m absolutely thrilled with everything about them.

These gloves are everything that storebought gloves are not: warm, comfortable, well-fitted, long cuffs, and if I do say so myself, beautiful. This project is a perfect illustration of why I became a knitter. I needed something specific, and I made it happen. The cabling was a piece of cake, especially since I did it without a cable needle, using this method by Grumperina. I wasn’t sure about the fingers, but I ended up picking up twice the number of stitches when joining one finger onto the next, and then using k2tog to decrease to the correct number of stitches. This only left a few small gaps that I was easily able to close when weaving in ends. The results are comfortable as well as good looking, with no gaps to catch on anything or let in too much wind.

Just the facts:  Knotty Gloves by Julia Mueller in Knit Picks Stroll, color Aurora Heather.

Startitis (Induced)

Hurricane Sandy rolled through the Northeast this week, and here at the farm, we were ready. While everyone else was out buying bread and milk, we were stocking up on firewood and aluminum foil (for cooking in the embers) and making sure we had enough chicken feed laid in. We battened down the barn for the poultry, changed batteries in lanterns and flashlights, and freshened up the water in the gallon jugs we always keep full. And last but not least, I printed out plenty of knitting patterns, of course!

What followed was a serious bout of induced startitis. I cast on a Hogswatch stocking for Kurt. I used the Falling Snow Stocking pattern by Jennifer Hoel, which is gorgeous and rustic and knits up in a flash, since it uses bulky yarn! For yarn I went with my trusty standby, Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky, in Wine and Bare. I planned to cast on and knit the first section as written, then re-chart the second section to depict the Hogfather and his sleigh pulled by wild boars by adapting some of Sandra Jäger‘s excellent charts. I wasn’t anticipating just how quickly this piece would go, so when I got to the point of needing to chart the Hogfather, I set it aside.

Next up was a pair of gloves for me. I normally opt for fingerless, but I think that’s going to be changing as I work outside more and more – my fingertips just get too cold. I lose more fine motor abilities to the cold than I do to something covering my fingertips, but cheap cotton or acrylic storebought gloves certainly won’t do! This pair is out of Knit Picks Stroll in Aurora Heather, and matches the hat I knit to wear around the barn and under my riding helmet. The pattern is Knotty Gloves by Julia Mueller. If you like gloves, you’ve got to check out her designs – they are just jaw-droppingly gorgeous!

It wasn’t only about casting on, though. I did finish up a Christmas gift, as well as my long-suffering Damson shawlette. This is a lovely, simple, well-written pattern from the incomparable Ysolda Teague, and I’m really ashamed of how I’ve treated it! I attempted it as a very new knitter, before I had any ability to read my knitting or fix mistakes without starting over. Through no fault of the pattern’s, that was a frustrating endeavor. I set it aside and restarted last June – that’s 2011, for you folks keeping track. Over a year ago! I got two rows from the edging cast-off and knew I’d run out of yarn before it was finished. I had more yarn, but, unable to face winding another ball, I simply buried it. So, faced with hours of hurricane knitting time, I dug up the last skein of yarn and wound it (much less painfully than it would have been a year ago, thanks to my new Strauch ball winder, which I love) so that I could finally cast off and declare victory! Perhaps I will find time to get a good photo to share with you at some point in the future, but for now, all that matters to me is that it is finished!

Knitting Madness

After one false start (two weeks of gorgeous cool sunny weather followed by several days of disgusting hot 98% humidity horror), fall has finally arrived in a cold, grey, rainy kind of way. While I wish we could have enjoyed crisp sunny 70 degree heaven a little longer, this kind of autumn does have its compensations – namely, a roaring fire, snuggly kitty companionship, and an overwhelming urge to knit everything in sight. Very fortunate, since I have a mountain of things to knit before the holiday gift-giving season arrives. Although I don’t think I’m going to meet my goal of having a knit gift for every member of the family this year, I have a few done already and I should be able to knock out at least two more.

For as much knitting as I’ve been doing lately, I feel like I have disappointingly little to show for it. The sweater I cast on for myself is still only one sleeve and a tiny start of the body, despite being bulky weight yarn and completely simple. I still can’t find the time to figure out the last couple rows of my Damson shawl, and I haven’t knit a square for my sheep blanket in months. I absolutely must cast on a Christmas/Hogswatch stocking for my long-suffering housemate, and I have one other Christmas present to knit before the end of the month. At Rhinebeck I’ll be purchasing another sweater’s worth of yarn for the Harry Potter movie weekend I’ve planned. I had wanted to knit myself a pair of socks, too, but that will have to wait, I’m afraid.

I did finish a Christmas gift in just a few days this month, and a baby sweater for a couple of dear friends. The pattern is Willie, by Pamela Wynne, and the yarn is Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky in Honey, Lumberjack, and Hazelnut. Buttons are from forbeadintreasures on Etsy.

I just adore this pattern for my dog-loving friends, especially with those buttons! It’s a quick knit and I found it to be great for learning intarsia. I just hope it fits properly – since I know less than nothing about babies, I just have to follow the pattern and hope it’ll fit comfortably for as long as possible.

We’re gearing up for fall and winter around the rest of our bare-bones homestead, too. The young roosters are getting big enough to start butchering, and the earliest hatch of pullets are starting to lay. The ducks are laying too, at a much better rate than I would have expected from Muscovies. We only kept two females, but most days we are getting an egg from each of them. We’ll be winterizing the barn soon to make sure the birds keep nice and warm. The herbs will be coming inside soon, as I try to overwinter as many as possible. I can’t believe we’ve been here over a year already, but starting the garden cycle over again is making it feel real at last!

I’ve also been delving into baking more yeast breads since it’s gotten cool enough to have the oven going. I have a go-to recipe for dinner rolls, and I have a decent rosemary bread that I make; it’s not crusty like I’d prefer, but the flavor and crumb texture is to die for. I’d like to nail down a recipe for sandwich bread and a crusty Italian-style bread I can use when I make garlic bread this winter, if possible.