Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Making with Thread

Many years ago, I bought some white size 10 J&P Coats Knit-Cro-Sheen cotton thread and a Leisure Arts leaflet, #2880, to make some coasters. I had inherited some crocheted thread coasters and a doily from my grandmother and wanted to add to the collection. There were only two problems with that plan: my crochet skills were minimal and I didn’t have anyone nearby to teach me.

Vintage handmade white cotton crochet doily and coaster on a light wood background.

Fast forward to last year. We were preparing for a road trip, and I decided it was time to finally use the thread. The Reusable Produce Bag by Tia Stanfield caught my eye on Ravelry. The pattern calls for a thicker size 3 cotton, but I didn’t think it would hurt anything to have lighter, airier bags.

I thought the beginning of the produce bag pattern was a little fussy as written. After the base, I found it was easier to start knitting in the round with double-point needles instead of the circular needle recommended in the pattern, and switch to a circular needle later in the project. But, in general, I prefer double-points to circulars so take that with a grain of salt. Overall, I enjoyed the pattern and I'm happy with the results.

I made two and a half produce bags during our road trip, and the project sat once we returned home. Part of that is because I realized that while I like the idea of reusable produce bags, I rarely remember to take them with me into the store. They keep the center console of my vehicle well insulated! This week, I decided it was time to finish the third produce bag to free up those needles. The result is this small bag, which is still a pretty good size.

Hand knit white cotton lace produce bag with apples inside and next to it on a white background.

I had a partial ball of leftover thread, so I revisited the coasters. My crochet skills have improved over the years, and I approached the project with more confidence. The leaflet is called “Coasters with Heart” and the seven patterns each feature a heart in some way. I made four coasters as written, and adapted a fifth coaster as my thread supply dwindled.

Five white cotton crochet coasters in various heart-inspired designs on a light wood background.

I’m happy with the way they turned out, although they’re large for coasters and definitely don’t coordinate with the smaller, finer coasters I inherited. The two larger circles are almost seven inches across, and the squares are almost six inches. The only one that is what I think of as coaster size is the adapted circle, which is just over four inches.

Three handmade white cotton crochet coasters next to each other a a light wood background, showing their relative sizes.

I may try these again someday with a finer thread. In the meantime, I'll keep my eyes open for other patterns that remind me of my inherited pieces.

What have you been inspired by recently?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Tale of Two Hats

I’m not entirely sure where to start with this post so I’ll start at the end: I made a hat then I re-made it.

I’m one of the many who adore the Baa-ble Hat by Donna Smith. I didn’t get to it last year, but this week I rediscovered the pattern nestled in with my handspun yarn, enticing me to revisit the project. I was challenged to find yarns with the right combination of fiber, weight, and colors. And I wanted to use stash, particularly handspun.

Hand knit wool hat with ivory and black sheep motif surrounded by dark orange above and green below on a white background.

The yarns that stood out to me were two skeins of Wensleydale handspun, a green and a rusty orange. Wensleydale may be my favorite fiber to spin. It is a wool with a wavy crimp, brilliant luster, and long staple length, but it's not recommended for wearing against the skin because it can feel prickly. I purchased it as a dyed “cloud,” which means it was a disorganized mass of colored locks. It was fun to allow the curls in the fiber to choose how they wanted to settle into becoming yarn.

The rest of the yarns weren’t as easy to select. I don’t have any light-colored handspun right now, so I chose two commercial ivory-colored yarns: one for the sheep, and another for the “flowers” and “stars.” The yarn for the dark areas was the most difficult to select. Darks blended too much with the green, midtones blended too much with the orange, and lights blended too much with the sheep. I picked a rosy-beige that seemed to stand out enough.

Four skeins of yarn on a white background in dark orange, ivory, rose, and green.

That hat did not turn out well. The ivory yarn for the “flowers” and “stars” was a shimmery DK-weight merino/nylon blend. The rosy-beige yarn was another smooth, delicate yarn. Neither of these yarns had the heft to hold their own against the Wensleydale; the stitches either disappeared or were elongated far out of proportion. The white stood out too starkly against the green and orange, while the rosy-beige all but disappeared.

In addition, comments on the pattern warned that it knit up large, so I had gone down a needle size. Apparently I knit stranded colorwork very loosely because the ribbing was the perfect size while the rest of the hat puffed up like the top of a cupcake. I was so disappointed that I didn’t even think to take a photo before I ripped back to the top of the ribbing.

For the second attempt, I used the smaller needle size throughout. I decided not to include the “flowers” and “stars” because the Wensleydale is lovely enough on its own. I swapped the delicate rosy-beige yarn for a basic worsted-weight wool in black, which is strong enough both in color and fiber makeup to hold its own against the Wensleydale. The only other change I made was to cut back on the ribbing rows so the brim doesn’t fold up; this was a practical choice based on the amount of green I had.

Child in front of a light gray background wearing hand knit wool hat with ivory and black sheep motif surrounded by dark orange above and green below.

I’m very happy with the result. The hat looks a little large here because I only had a child available to model, but for an adult head it fits nicely. It will look sharp with my black winter coat. I’m almost looking forward to colder weather!

How are you preparing for the change in seasons?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Twist at the End

Winter weather is almost here, and I’ve been in the mood for another woolen knitting project. A skein of Classic Elite Yarns Alpaca Sox from my stash caught my eye. The colorway is Shaded Lilacs #1865 and it’s a remarkably soft blend of 60% alpaca, 20% merino wool, and 20% nylon.

Detail of a skein of wool sock yarn in greens, blues and purples on a white background.

I went back and forth trying to decide what to make. Mittens or gloves? A scarf or cowl? Socks? Ultimately, based on the colors, I went with socks — which is most likely what I had in mind when I originally purchased the yarn.

Hand knit wool socks in progress on bamboo needles in blues, purples and greens on a white background.

In choosing the pattern, I didn’t want the stitches to get lost in the color changes. I’ve had success in the past with Slip-Stitch Cable Socks from “The Little Box of Socks” by Charlene Schurch and Beth Parrott. I decided to use it again, with the knowledge that the structure of the cables makes the circumference of this pattern lose some stretch. With an 8.5-inch foot circumference, making the 10.75-inch Men’s Medium on US-2 (2.75 mm) needles instead of the US-4 (3.5 mm) needles called for in the pattern gave me a good fit.

Wooden darning egg and mushroom on white background.

The last time I made a pair of socks, as I was weaving the end on the toe I started to wonder why I don’t use a darning egg for the task. On some level, I guess I think of my darning tools as just for darning. And yet, I weave in ends using Duplicate Stitch, also known as Swiss Darning. This time, I pulled out my darning egg and I’m so glad I did! It seemed like the task was completed more quickly, and it was easier to maintain the proper tension. I used the darning mushroom while weaving in the end at the cuff, and it was tricky to keep the sock from sliding around but still seemed easier somehow.

I also learned an important lesson while knitting these socks: Don’t knit with dilated eyes.

I had an eye exam yesterday, and thought I could finish decreasing the toe of the second sock mostly by feel. It was going along smoothly until I grabbed the wrong needle and pulled it off the knitting. Now, this clearly wasn’t directly related to the dilation because even when dilated it’s easy enough to see whether a light-colored needle has dark stitches on it. But I wasn’t focused and was fumbling around a bit, and that’s how accidents happen. At that point, I thought it best to put the knitting down and step away.

Bottom view of foot wearing hand knit wool sock in blues, greens and purples on a white background.

I was able to complete the second sock after a short break, and I’m enjoying wearing them today! What successes have you achieved with your recent projects?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Making Discoveries

This week was fun in that I kept making little discoveries.

I needed to buy a book for work and I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour or so at our local bookstore. I found the not-as-dry-as-expected book for work then spent some time in the art and design section. I kept gravitating toward books related to hand lettering. One might say it was a subconscious realization that my handwriting has devolved to being nearly illegible, but I’m going to stick with the reasoning that I want to learn more about a current design trend.

A lettering book, sketch book, and set of colors pencils on a white background.

I ended up choosing “The ABC of Custom Lettering” by Ivan Castro, and I’m so glad I did. I’m about halfway through reading it, and all I can think is how amazing it would be to take a class in person from Castro. He gives some history about the types of letterforms then walks through the basics and gives practice exercises. The lessons build on each other. I don’t want to say they become more complex; it’s more that each lesson develops skills that are useful in the next lesson, just as in elementary school we learned to print before we learned cursive.

I haven’t tried any of the exercises yet. I’m more of a “read the entire book then go back and do the exercises” type of person. I guess I like to know what I’m getting myself into before I start something new!

Plus, there’s the little detail of acquiring the proper supplies. I’m pretty sure I have a pen and nib hidden away somewhere, but I know that my ink — if it hasn’t dried out — is not what Castro recommends. Please don’t remind me that I can order supplies online or make a quick stop into a chain craft store; I’m relishing the excuse to immerse myself in the local art supply store!

Pencils with multi-colored leads lined up along the top of a green book cover on a white background.

You’ll notice that the photo also includes a small sketch book and a set of pencils. I couldn’t resist them, even if they aren’t the right kind for the early exercises in the book. The pencils, which I also haven’t tried yet, look fun because each pencil lead is made from multiple colors. I’m confident that by the end of the book I’ll have found a use for them.

Family Album knitting book by Kaffe Fassett and Zoe Hunt on a white background.

A few days later, our library was having its semi-annual book sale. I picked up “Family Album” by Kaffe Fassett and Zoë Hunt for a quarter! The book was originally published in the 1980s, and the styling definitely reflects that. Some of the patterns don’t look like they would be too hard to modernize; I think it would mostly be a matter of adjusting the waistbands, sleeve cuffs, and collars. In any event, the colorwork is fun and timeless, and could easily be incorporated into other patterns.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this quote I came across from Hrant Papazian: “Nothing made by a human can avoid personal expression, and nothing made for a human should avoid personal expression.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I changed my mind.

Last week at the end of my post, I wrote about knitting Meander Mitts by René E. Wells from Moda Dea Bamboo Wool for my youngest daughter. The pattern is worked in a sport weight yarn on US-3 (3.25 mm) needles. Bamboo Wool is a worsted weight that calls for needles between US-4 (3.5 mm) and US-7 (4.5 mm).

A pair of hand knit blue fingerless on a white background.

After I knit a swatch from the Bamboo Wool, I preferred the fabric that resulted from using US-6 (4.0 mm) needles. So now, in addition to scaling the pattern down to child size, I was going to have to further adapt the pattern to suit a very different gauge. At that rate, I may as well write my own pattern — and I simply wasn’t up for it this week.

I went back to Ravelry and found Maize by Tin Can Knits. (No, I'm not affiliated with any of them.) It’s a free pattern that includes a range of fives sizes from toddler to adult large, and options for both fingerless mitts and full mittens. And it calls for worsted/aran weight yarn.

The backs of a child's hands wearing hand knit blue fingerless mitts on a white background.

My daughter’s hand circumference is only 6” but I couldn’t bring myself to make the toddler size for an eight-year-old. Happily, my gauge was also off; on US-6 (4.0 mm) needles, I was getting 22 stitches per four inches while the pattern calls for 20 stitches per four inches. The difference was enough that I thought the child size would knit up about right.

A child's hands wearing hand knit blue fingerless mitts and holding an American football on a white background.

I set to work, and the pattern worked up quickly and easily. I made one mitt on the first evening and let my daughter try it on the next morning. It fit perfectly — dare I say, like a glove! The second mitt was done that evening, and I don’t think she’s taken them off yet. They’re exactly what she wanted so she can catch a football without it stinging her hands.

Sometimes a change of plans is just what’s needed.