Saturday, December 20, 2014

6 great last-minute gifts for knitters

Attention, spouses! You've got 5 days left til a major gift-giving holiday. Lucky for you, knitters and crocheters are easy to shop for. Here's my go-to list of last-minute gifts for the fiber lover in your life:

1. Keep their fingers flying all year with a subscription to a fiber arts magazine. Interweave Knits and Interweave Crochet are obvious choices. Is s/he a relative beginner? Try Knit Simple. Fashionistas love Vogue Knitting and KnitScene. Subscribe online, print out the gift coupon, and put it inside a lovely holiday card. Classy!

Ceramic yarn bowls from Kristina Chadwick
2. One of the knitting accessories I'd never ever buy for myself, but have always lusted after, is a yarn bowl. The yarn bowl functions both as tool and decor (it keeps the yarn ball from rolling away while you work with it), so pick a pretty one that matches her/his style. There are about a million of them on Etsy in every conceivable color and style, but shipping at this point is dicey. I guarantee you that your local yarn store has quite a few in stock right now too.

The Namaste Hermosa knitting bag... drool.
3. File this one also under Stuff I'd Probably Never Buy for Myself But Would Love to Have: A stylish knitting bag. Whether you want to spend $25 or $150, you can find a great bag online and choose express shipping, or pick one up at your LYS and have it under the tree by Thursday. 

DellaQ circular needle wallet
4. Have you ever seen your Beloved Knitter struggling to untangle a pile of tangled-up circular knitting needles? Does s/he curse loudly searching for the right sized needle while digging through a drawer full of bamboo and plastic cording? S/he just might love a needle organizer - they're often called needle wallets. My favorites are made by Lantern Moon and Della Q

5. Everybody who works with their hands needs a massage right about now. It's gift-making season, and those shoulders, arms and fingers are tired. Give her/him a gift certificate for a half-hour massage. In 30 minutes, s/he will walk away with mojo restored and a smile on her/his face. This is another easy one to buy online, stick the print out in a tiny gift bag and feel like a superhero.

6. Okay, maybe this is totally obvious, but you can't do better than a generous gift certificate to your local yarn store. Support a local business, make a knitter happy, and dress it up with a shiny bow. No local yarn store? I'm really, really sorry. But there are some great online retailers too... the Webs store, Jimmy BeansKPixie and KnitPicks are full of yarn and tools that your crocheter or knitter will be delighted to browse through. 

I hope this helps! And I hope that you and your yarn lover have a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 10, 2014

the new girl

This weekend we added a new hen to our backyard flock.

Michelle and Dolley can't stop staring at the new girl

(Yes we have chickens. Have I never mentioned them before? They're lovely).

The new girl's name is Abigail, named for Abigail Adams, the second first lady of the US (except that I keep calling her Abigail Van Buren because I mix up advice columnists and first ladies, apparently). All our hens are named after first ladies, thanks to our 5 year-old's interest in them. Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy and Dolley Madison have been keenly interested in the new arrival, snooping around her little quarantine coop and generally being very nosy.

Poor Abigail is a sight. Before we got her, she was penned up with five roosters (FIVE! ROOSTERS!) and a gaggle of little bantam pullets. She's awfully bedraggled, missing some large clumps of feathers, and appears to have a broken toe, the poor thing. But she's still a pretty hen, a Plymouth Rock with lovely black & white feathers, young and a good layer according to her erstwhile owner.

I hope she settles into our flock happily. Three plump nosy hens have got to be better roommates than FIVE! ROOSTERS!, right? She's going to live like poultry royalty at our house: free run of a big bug-filled backyard, organic feed, lots of yummy lunchbox leftovers, all the mealworm treats she can eat, and herbal tinctures in her water jug. Basically chicken paradise. Except for being chased by an overly-affectionate toddler who really wants a hug, because that's the price a chicken has to pay at our house in exchange for all the organic grub. Toddler love, and giving up her delicious eggs. Yay, more eggs!

P.S. Writing this post led me to find that people on Ravelry are knitting chicken clothing. Of course they are. Penguins shouldn't hog all the sweaters for themselves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

stepping out... into teaching! (gulp)

Gentleman's Shooting Stockings, ca 2006
Socktober might be almost over, but I'm not ready to move on just yet. I'd stepped away from sock-knitting for a while (get it? stepped..? nevermind) and it feels soooo good to be back.

Sock yarn! Oh man, sock yarn. For $25 you can buy yourself the goods for a spectacular, satisfying knitting project with amazing color, luxurious fibers and a guaranteed appreciative recipient (especially if you're the lucky recipient). Not to mention the portability, the relative speed, the fun of the Magic Loop....  okay, I know, I don't need to preach the Joy of Socks to y'all.

But I am going to be preaching the Joy of Socks to an unwitting group of new sock knitters in November, because I'll be teaching a sock-knitting class!!! Eep!

That's right, I'm going to be teaching my first knitting class. We're going to be knitting The Perfect Sock by Jo Torr, which is a perfect introduction to toe-up sock knitting. It's super duper exciting, and also completely terrifying. What if the students don't like me? What if I don't like them (though that seems unlikely)? What if they figure out that I ACTUALLY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING??? What if they hate sock knitting and spent their hard-earned money and time on a class that would have been better spent on cleaning the bathroom?!? I have all these fears and many more.

But also, I have the excitement! And also the Joy of Socks, which I really look forward to sharing. And I have the trust of Great Yarns to use wisely and not squander, so I better live up to it.

So here's what I want to know from you: Have you ever taken a knitting class? What class did you take? What did you love about it? What did the teacher do that made it a wonderful experience (or if it wasn't that, what would have made it wonderful)? What do you wish that the instructor had done differently?

Please share your wisdom... I'll be needing it!

Friday, October 24, 2014

how do your socks grow?

Child's sock / Ready to work an Afterthought Heel
So many ways to make a simple sock! I think it's time to widen my repertoire.

My standard recipe is a top-down sock with a standard heel flap. I've made them so many times that I don't need to follow a pattern at all. I have the formula in my head and I can make them in any size, any weight yarn, more or less through sheer muscle-memory. As you can imagine, I'm loath to knit socks any other way, because then I'd have to think about it, and in my experience thinking while knitting can be a really disastrous proposition.

I'm working on a pair of adorable rainbow socks right now for the Little Pea, the first pair of socks I've knitted in a while. They're made from Crystal Palace Mini Mochi, which has got to be the cutest name for the cutest sock yarn I've ever encountered. I'm loving this colorful, super-soft stripey sock yarn. It felts a little to itself, but I don't care. It's got a wonderful handle and drape, and I love the wide bands of color, each fading gradually into the next.

I really didn't want to disrupt the rainbow color pattern by knitting a heel flap, so I decided to work Afterthought Heels (or 'Forethought Heels' if you're a fan of Elizabeth Zimmerman). This is the method where you work a piece of scrap yarn into the row where the heel would start, leave it and just finish knitting the sock without a heel. Then you come back later, pull out the scrap yarn, and knit in a heel. Being a heel-flap enthusiast, I have some trepidation about my competence in this method, especially in placing the heel at just the right spot (this long and informative discussion of Afterthought Heels on Knit Better Socks boosted my confidence tremendously though). So I'm halfway through the second sock and already itching to put those heels in and see how they look (and whether they leave big gaping holes, as I fear they might).

So you toe-up knitters make lots of Afterthought Heels, right? Or do you prefer short-row heels? I've tried both and keep coming back to my tried-and-true heel flap. But I really do see the value in toe-up socks, particularly if you want to make the longest sock possible, and use up all your sock yarn without risking running out of yarn. And toe-up means no heel flap... so perhaps I really do need to make friends with a wider variety of heel-knitting methods.

I'm thinking about teaching a sock-knitting class this winter, and I'd love to know what y'all think. What's your favorite way to knit a sock? Are there any sock secrets or techniques you're dying to learn? And while we're talking about it, I'd love to know what your favorite patterns are for a great sock that's fun to knit. Please share your ideas in the comments! Thanks!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

be fancy :: eyelet stitches

Welcome back to FancyStitchLandia! Our last stop was Block Stitch & Friends, where we learned that the most basic combinations of knit and purl can yield beautifully-textured results.

You can knit and purl, so I know you’ve got those patterns down. Now… can you increase and decrease? Some yarn-overs and K2togs are all you need to get yourself started with sweet little eyelet patterns that can make your knitting look way fancier, way more feminine, and/or just way more interesting, depending on how you work them. [Don’t know how to work a yarn-over (YO) yet? Check out this simple how-to and then come right back!]

There are more eyelet patterns than you could possibly imagine. Adding just a few eyelets to a project can provide really useful features besides visual interest. You can use eyelets to make buttonholes, vents, or a track for a belt or ribbon. Eyelets are the foundation upon which the timeless dishcloth pattern is built, though I cannot endorse frittering one’s knitting time away on a project that encourages housework. Lace (also known as openwork) is just a pattern that features lots and lots of eyelets. Here are some eyelet patterns to get you started:

simple eyelet pattern (multiple of 8 sts)

simple eyelet pattern
The most basic eyelet is formed by using a repeating pattern of YO, K2tog. Here’s a lovely simple version, courtesy of Barbara Walker's first Treasury of Knitting Patterns:

R1 (RS): Knit
R2 and all WS rows: Purl
R3: *K6, YO, K2tog. Repeat from * to end.
R5: Knit
R7: K2, *YO, K2tog, K6. Repeat from * to end.
R8: Purl.
Repeat rows 1-8.

cloverleaf eyelet pattern (multiple of 8 sts + 7)

Lucky Clover Lace Wrap / Melissa Wehrle
I love this pretty stitch pattern on ladies tops and dresses. It’s featured in the popular Lucky Clover Lace Wrap from Stitch & Bitch Nation:  

R1 and all other WS rows: Purl
R2 (RS): Knit
R4: K2, YO, Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO, YO. *K5, YO, Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO, YO. Repeat from * to end. K2.
R6: K3, YO, SSK. *K6, YO, SSK. Repeat from * to end. K2.
R8: Knit
R10: K1. *K5, YO, Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO, YO. Repeat from * to end. K6.
R12: K7. *K6, YO, SSK. Repeat from * to end.
Repeat rows 1-12.

wildflower purl
wildflower purl
This wonderful pattern is just a little bit trickier, relying on a P3tog to create the cute little wildflowers. I love how this stitch pops on variegated yarn! Instructions for working this stitch pattern in the round are included in my Wildflower Socks pattern.

quatrefoil / sundrop hat
The quatrefoil makes a sunburst or flower design that looks great on garments and accessories alike. I used it to create both visual interest, and cooling vents, on this summer hat for babies and toddlers. Instructions for working this stitch pattern in the round are included in the Sundrop hat pattern.

Just these three variations on the simple eyelet open up a huge amount of possibility for your knitting. Even a single row of eyelet stitches at the lower hem or cuffs of a sweater add so much visual interest to a simple garment.

Check out how other designers are using eyelets in a few of these hot projects on Ravelry right now. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

clockwise from left: miette by andi satterlund | star anise by svetlana volkova | caramel frappe by monika sirna | dotted rays by stephen west

Monday, October 13, 2014

costumes by hand

My mom & her handiwork: The broccoli costume, circa 2010
Halloween is just over two weeks away, which means that every day my five year-old daughter runs down a new list of costume ideas.

Monarch butterfly! Goldilocks! Mouse! Mouse and cheese! Anna! Elsa! The mama cat from Aristocats! Scarlet macaw! Lemur! Firefighter! Each one with as much passion and enthusiasm as the last.

Every year I eventually just stop her in the middle of a list and say "That's it! You've decide to be a _____ and I'll get to work on your costume right away!" As the days tick down to Halloween, she keeps listing ideas and I pretend to listen while mentally figuring out how to make a scarlet macaw costume.

I don't believe in store-bought costumes. I know, I know, they're so much easier... but please. I was put on this earth to try to do too much, and making Halloween costumes is just one of the many tasks I gleefully burden myself with out of a vague commingling of duty, pride and guilt that I inherited from my own mother. She worked more than full-time, but would sooner clean the grout with a toothbrush than let us go out in store-bought Halloween costumes.

And so the tradition continues. Though I don't really clean the grout at all, let alone with a toothbrush.

As kids, my sister and I usually went in thematically-grouped costumes. One year we were the aforementioned Mouse and Cheese. I don't remember which of us was the mouse, but the other went as a big cardboard wedge of cheese. One year we were hockey players, complete with blacked-out teeth. One year my sister wanted to be a Care Bear, and my mom sewed an incredible big pink fuzzy bear suit for her. I remember a lion costume with a big yarn mane, and an adorable sunflower costume. Thank goodness I have my mom to help with our family's costumes - she is an amazing seamstress, and sadly I did not inherit her sewing skills at all.

This year I'm trying to force a group costume on my family. HWWLLB (my man) is not big into costumes, so he will be a gardener, something he's typically dressed for anyway when not at work. Little Bee is recycling a costume we made out of 100+ pompoms a few years ago, and will go as broccoli. I'll be a packet of broccoli seeds, and Little Pea will be a caterpillar, though she's been lobbying for home-made wings, so in the end she may wind up as a butterfly. Not as thematically rigorous, but still cute and somewhat cohesive.

I've been collecting kids' costume ideas on Pinterest, and hunting for ingenious ways to make caterpillar legs. Mostly I'm finding people's various takes on the Very Hungry Caterpillar, which (while very cute) is apparently the only caterpillar most people are familiar with. Tragic, because there are so many cool real caterpillars out there to honor via costumage. Monarchs and Black Swallowtails and Wooly Bears are so wonderful, and I've always thought a parasitized Tomato Hornworm would make an amazing Halloween costume (cool nature + vampire all in one!). But I digress.

So I need to get to work on the caterpillar costume. Are you making your own costume this year, or some costumes for kids? What are you going to be for Halloween??

Friday, October 10, 2014

what to read this weekend

Hi everybody! Happy Friday!

I'm looking forward to a beautiful sunny weekend and lots of time scampering through colorful leaves with the little ones. And finally, time to exhale and curl up in my nest with a good book.

What are you reading right now?

Every fall I recharge my reading list with the Man Booker Prize nominees. The 'short list' is usually revealed in early September, and I try to read as many of the books on it as I can before the prize is awarded a month later. Not an easy feat, since I have other things to do besides devour novels, but there are few things as satisfying as a great book, so I make a valiant effort. After the prize is awarded I usually keep on working my way through the list til it's done, which makes for a delicious fall.

Right now I'm about halfway through David Mitchell's new book (you know him. The Cloud Atlas. He wrote that incredible mind-bending novel). Anyway I'm reading his new novel The Bone Clocks, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize but didn't make the short list (a decision I've decided to agree with). It's a fun read, and as I've said I'm only about halfway through, but I don't find it nearly as uncanny or revolutionary as Cloud Atlas, or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet. But it's fun and wild, and I hate to leave a book unfinished, so I'll definitely spend some quality time snuggled up with it this weekend.

Next I'm hoping to read Joshua Ferris' To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, which I've been waiting patiently to receive from the library for quite some time now... I just know somebody has an overdue copy malingering under their couch. Wish I could go to their house and get it!

I really want to read How to Be Both by Ali Smith, but the darn book won't even be released in the US until early December. I think the publisher just likes to annoy American readers. Any rate, like David Mitchell - or maybe very unlike him? - Ali Smith messes with the conventions of novels, storytelling, chronology and grammar, and lately I've learned about myself that I really enjoy that.

My prediction for who will take the winner's podium on October 14: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler (you already know her too. She wrote The Jane Austen Book Club). We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a gem: Powerful, clear prose that anybody can read and enjoy, moving characters and a cracking good story. If the conceit of the book hasn't been spoiled for you yet on Goodreads, please please take my advice and don't read any spoilers. Just go ahead and read this fabulous, surprising novel that will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about what it means to be human.

I'm about to start the weekend off right by cleaning out the chicken coop. But I'll be puzzling over plot twists in The Bone Clocks while I do it. Hopefully the chickens don't mind.