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.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

fall yarns to make you salivate

I've been fighting a yucky cold the last few weeks, which has made my brain dull. All my best ideas revolve around drinking tea and crawling into my nest on the couch. Not really worth writing about.

But I have been spending some QT at the LYS, and I just can't help noticing all the pretty, pretty new fall yarns coming in. Do you have your eye on anything special? Here's what's been piquing my curiosity (and making my wallet vibrate in anticipation):

Colinette Jitterbug / Mint Julep colorway
Colinette Jitterbug. There's no end to how much sock yarn I could buy, and new colors from this wonderful, bouncy favorite have me itching to make up some socks. Come to think of it, the Little Pea could use some warm winter socks... would she let me pick a color for her?? I know she'd pick Earth, Rose Garden or Peaches & Cream, but I adore Turquoise and Mint Julep (shown in the picture).

Dream in Color Smooshy / Deep Regret colorway
Dream in Color Smooshy - Don't touch it! If you do you'll have to buy it, and then you'll have to tuck it under your pillow and stroke it lovingly every night before you go to sleep. Even your cat will think you're weird. OMG Smooshy. I love the new colorways for this fall, though the emotional rollercoaster represented by the colorways' names give me pause (my favorite new colors are Vague Unease and Deep Regret). PS Cashmere!!!!!

Rowan Felted Tweed / Hedgerow colorway
Rowan Felted Tweed - If there's a more classic, British-Islesey fall comfort yarn out there, please show it to me. If you ask someone to close her/his eyes and imagine a beautiful fisherman's sweater, they're going to imagine something knit from Felted Tweed. Rowan has 4 new colors out for the season, and I love Jaffa (I have a thing about rusty reds...). I just want to knit myself a winter cocoon from it to just live in until spring comes.

Knit Picks Diadem / all colorways
KnitPicks Diadem - What an interesting new yarn. In theory I love it, this ultra-luxe alpaca/silk blend that comes in fingering and DK weights. The colors are solids, and a somewhat limited palette (maybe because it's new?). KP has a call out now for free pattern designs, and I'm scratching my head a little over what I'd want to do with this silky, silky yarn were I to get my hands on some. Any ideas? Is this one on your list?

So what are you yearning to add to your stash right now? I'm sniffling away but enjoying my fantasies of just wrapping myself in silky wooly goodness til I get better.