Monday, July 15, 2019

Tour de Fleece

As I write this, Tour de Fleece 2019 is well underway.

What is Tour de Fleece?
It’s an online spin-along created by Star Athena that coincides with the Tour de France — the idea behind it being “they spin, we spin.” This is the event’s fourteenth year, and the goal is unchanged: Challenge yourself and have fun!

Handpainted top whorl spindle with skeins of handspun yarn in front and unspun white and rainbow fiber behind on a white background.

This year’s Tour de Fleece runs from July 6 through July 28 with rest days on July 16 and 22, and challenge days on July 18 and 26.

A lot of participants join teams, which can be based on just about anything that might bring a group together. Goals will be set and spinners will post online about their daily progress. On some teams, prizes are awarded for different achievements.

I’ve joined teams in the past, but for those Tours my biggest challenge seemed to be keeping up with what was going on in the groups! For the last few years, I’ve loosely followed hashtags online while keeping to my own pace. It works for me.

My Progress
We’re almost halfway through this Tour, and at this point I’ve spun on my spindle every day. I don’t have a set goal this year, except that I’m spinning more of the fiber that I started earlier this year: eight ounces (227 g) of handpainted Targhee wool from Spunky Eclectic in the colorway Let Love In, and four ounces (113 g) of white alpaca roving.

Progress for Tour de Fleece 2019 with skeins of colorful yarn on the left, a top whorl spindle with loose fiber ready to be spun in the center, and loose balls of fiber on the right, all on a white background.

I have one 95-yard (87 m) skein of two-ply yarn (0.55 oz/15.6 g) to show for my efforts — but a third of that had already been spun before the Tour began. I also have a singles yarn waiting on my nostepinne as I prepare to spin what will become the second ply in a skein that should end up about twice as long as the first.

Since I began spinning this fiber in February, I’ve finished about 467 yards (427 m) of two-ply yarn spun at a relatively consistent weight and color mixture. I still have about two-thirds of the fiber to spin.

Are you participating in Tour de Fleece this year?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Lace Hem Top

We have a keeper!

My skeins of Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport have been through two previous projects — Diamond Pullover and Elphaba — but neither was quite right. Both require a certain amount of structure from the fabric that this yarn doesn’t provide.

It wants to drape. Mari Tobita’s #02 Lace Hem Top from Vogue Knitting, Spring/Summer 2018, allows it to do that.

Front view of a woman standing in front of a white rail and green trees wearing a lavender colored sleeveless hand knit top with a lace motif toward the lower hem.

The pattern is relatively easy to follow. The cast-on is fussy, but it creates a nice base at the shoulders from which the shirt is knit seamlessly downward. Another minor quibble is that the instructions for the I-cord could have been clearer. But most of the knitting for this pullover is simply stockinette stitch and lace charts.

I usually add length to tops. I didn’t do that this time because I expected the yarn to grow as it had in the previous projects. For the same reason, I made the armholes a little shorter than directed by the pattern. Overall, these decisions worked out well.

I had forgotten that the finishing included adding I-cord to the neckline and armholes, which would help them hold their shape. I added the I-cord on one armhole, but it almost became too tight and wasn’t visible due to how the fabric curls under. In the end, I kept the I-cord on the neckline but removed it from the armholes. I reinforced the bottom edge of the armholes with duplicate stitch.

Back view of a woman standing in front of a white rail and green trees wearing a lavender colored sleeveless hand knit top with a lace motif toward the lower hem.

Some of the shaping is created by increasing the needle size as the piece progresses. I started with US-7 (4.5 mm) needles in order to achieve gauge, then moved to US-8 (5.0 mm) and US-9 (5.5 mm). With the Mauve Mix colorway of this yarn, the needle changes are evident in how the colors pool. I can’t say I love the pooling, but it doesn’t bother me either.

I’m happy with this top and happy to have found another pattern that I would like to knit again. I think it has a classic shape that can be dressed up or down, and it’s comfortable in our hot climate. With some variation in yarn choice and lace motifs, this pattern is a versatile wardrobe addition.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Hexagon Project: Block 21

The last time I wrote about The Hexagon Project, I ended with how exciting it would be to see my progress on this English paper piecing project in six months. It’s been almost exactly six months and the results aren’t exciting after all. My dear reader, I’ve completed one additional EPP hexagon flower block in that time.

Angled view of a hand sewn EPP hexagon flower block in blue, off-white and dark brown on a white background.

To say I fell out of my routine is an understatement. The routine is nowhere to be found!

And just as I was starting to get back into basting hexies, I noticed that I only have enough templates to stitch two more blocks. I’m trying to be both economical and environmentally-conscious by cutting the templates from card stock that I already have, but the temptation to buy a few packs on templates is strong.

Precut hexies next to basted hexies placed as hexagon flower blocks on a white background.

My plan is to report back in a month. My hope is that I’ll have additional templates cut and these two blocks — perhaps more — hand sewn. Wish me luck!

How do you get back on track with unfinished projects?

Monday, June 17, 2019


I’ve been on a roll with crochet recently. Two months ago, I was overly optimistic with my project plans for a five-day road trip. Being settled in at home didn’t stop me from wanting to finish each of those projects.

Almost a full view of an off-white Fractal doily on a dark background.

The last of my travel projects is Fractal by Essi Varis. It’s a modern twist — no pun intended — on the classic crocheted lace doily or table runner. I love the way the simple geometry of the crochet blends a contemporary look with a vintage feel.

Detail of Fractal Table Runner highlighting the center circle and the back vane.

The design is made up of two vanes building off of a center circle in an easy-to-follow pattern. I was able to crochet the greater part of the vanes from memory, which made it ideal for on-the-go. I suppose it still ended up being a travel project!

The pattern calls for a 2.0 mm crochet hook, but I opted for a B-hook (2.25 mm) in part because I tend to crochet tightly and in part because I don’t happen to own a 2.0 mm hook. I used Aunt Lydia’s Classic Crochet Size 10 undyed thread, which surprised me with its silky feel. As expected with the change in hook size, my version of Fractal is a little larger than described in the pattern; it measures about 26.5 inches (67 cm) across at the tips of the vanes.

Detail of Fractal Table Topper highlighting the stitches on the center circle and part of one vane.

While the natural color adds to the old-fashioned spirit of the table topper, my attention span doesn’t do well when working with a single color — especially one as bland as light beige. This was likely made worse by the fact that my last few projects have been one-color pieces, or nearly so. Clearly, I need to branch out more when planning.

And the repetitive style of the design probably hurt my attention span as much as it helped me memorize the stitches. Even so, the table runner worked up relatively quickly at three weeks from start to finish.

Detail of Fractal Table Runner highlighting the front vane and the center circle.

I definitely want to make at least one more version of Fractal as a gift, but I need to “cleanse my palate” with something a little more colorful and intricate before I cast on again. Maybe I’ll set this pattern aside for our next road trip — and plan for a more attention-grabbing color!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Almost Fractal

Isn’t it fun when a project becomes more than you planned? Sometimes that can be something greater than you expected. In this case, I mean when the components of a piece lend themselves to their own smaller projects.

Angled View of the Center Circle in the Fractal Crochet Table Runner Pattern in Size 3 Ecru Thread

I’ve been eyeing Fractal by Essi Varis for a long time, but it’s not a free pattern — plus it’s in a different currency. Such silly excuses not to buy a unique pattern that costs very little!

I finally downloaded the pattern, and bought a ball of Size 10 crochet thread. But I had some Size 3 thread leftover from a different project and thought there might be enough to crochet this table topper. Why not make two version in different sizes?

I picked up my 2.75 mm C-hook and set to work with the Size 3 thread. The pattern is easy to follow and works up quickly. But partway through the first vane, I realized there was no way I would have enough thread to finish the entire table runner.

Top View of the Center Circle in the Fractal Crochet Table Runner Pattern in Size 3 Ecru Thread

No matter — the center circle has a pretty simplicity of its own. I ripped back to the end of the center circle and finished it off as a doily.

And then I started another. I definitely had enough thread to make another circle, so why not have a set of doilies? The second circle used up almost all of my Size 3 thread.

Top View of 2 Center Circles in the Fractal Crochet Table Runner Pattern in Size 3 Ecru Thread

I’ve moved on to crocheting the full pattern in Size 10 thread, and am still enjoying the process. But that’s a story for another day.

What projects have surprised you by becoming more than you first intended?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Verena Sleeveless Knit Shell

Summer is here in full force with temperatures topping 100 F (38 C) already. That’s far above normal for this time of year. I thought I’d be a little ahead of schedule with the summer tops in my project queue by starting in May. Not quite!

Front view of woman wearing blue hand knit sleeveless shirt with lace detail at the lower edge.

My first tank top for the season is #09 Sleeveless Shell by the Verena Design Team in the Summer 2008 issue of Verena Knitting. I used Plymouth Yarn Hannah in the color way 5 Navy. The yarn is 65% cotton and 35% rayon from bamboo. It’s a dense yarn made up of six 2-ply strands and it’s amazingly soft, although prone to splitting.

After my last sweater debacle, I didn’t want to take any chances with fit this time. I bought enough yarn for the largest size to ensure I wouldn’t come up short. And I swatched, and swatched, and swatched again.

I know cotton and rayon have little elasticity, so while the drape is lovely the fabric may not hold its shape; it can grow with wear. But I also know that those same fibers can shrink with washing and drying. I tested different gauges along with different washing and drying combinations, and felt I had a good handle on how the yarn would act as a fabric.

Ultimately, I saw a little growth in the swatches — enough that, with a bust size between two pattern sizes, I felt comfortable making the smaller of them. I debated lengthening the body of the shell, but decided against it. I was worried that the weight of the finished piece might make the shirt hang more than what I was seeing in my swatches.

Back view of woman wearing blue hand knit sleeveless shirt with lace detail at the lower edge.

The pattern is relatively straightforward. The transition from the body into the straps was unclear, but with close examination of the photos I was able to work it out.

I thought the lace chart was odd; it showed the pattern for 25 stitches plus selvedge, but the instructions were to only work the center 12 stitches plus two stitches at the beginning and three stitches at the end of each row. I never used the rest of the chart. In addition, decreases were to be made while working the lace but the decreases weren't accounted for in the chart; I had to count stitches to make sure everything was aligned once I began decreasing.

I’m happy with the shell. So far, the fit is good and the fabric doesn’t show signs of changing shape. But there are a few items I would address if I were to make it again. I would adjust the stitch pattern in the straps because they want to curl. And, while I’m happy with the overall length of this tank top, I would feel more comfortable if the lace started lower on the body; it reaches above my belly button right now.

If this heat wave continues, maybe I’ll find that I prefer the lace placement as is. A little extra “air conditioning” might be just the thing!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Two Kinds of Cloths

I never know whether to call them washcloths or dishcloths. The same cloth could be used for either purpose. But today, the two kinds of cloths I’m writing about are different patterns.

Two crocheted cotton orange washcloths or dishcloths stacked on top of a white cloth on a white background.

Alex Cloth
Last week, I wrote about crocheting the Alex Bath Mat by Busted Hook Patterns. I used a cone of Lily Sugar’n Cream Solids in White for the main color, and two balls of Lily Sugar’n Cream Ombre in the colorway Summer Prints for the accent color.

I crocheted until I couldn’t make another full repeat of the pattern, and ended up with 0.3 oz (8.5 g) of White and 1.35 oz (38 g) of Summer Prints left over. Why not make a coordinating cloth with the main and accent colors switched?

Two bright orange crocheted cotton Diagonal Dishcloths on an Alex Bath Mat with another cloth made from the Alex pattern

Once again, I used an I-hook (5.25 mm instead of the standard 5.5 mm). I started with a 32-stitch chain for a cloth that measures 9.5 inches (24 cm) square. I ran out of both colors toward the end, but was able to crochet the last few rows as an accent stripe with some extra white cotton yarn from another project.

Diagonal Dishcloth
With a 3-ounce (85 g) ball of Lily Sugar’n Cream Ombre in the colorway Soleil Ombre and the Diagonal Dishcloth pattern by Ananda Judkins, I was ready to make more cloths.

This is another easy pattern. Crocheted as written, except once again using my I-hook instead of the recommended H-hook, I was able to make two 9.5-inch square cloths with a little yarn left over. After a trip through the washer and dryer, these cloths are 7.5 inches (19 cm) square. They worked up very quickly and have a nice springiness to them — both in feel and in brightness.

Two bright orange crocheted cotton Diagonal Dishcloths on an Alex Bath Mat with another cloth made from the Alex pattern

All of these are going to be used as washcloths, although our dishcloths are looking a little worse for wear. Maybe it’s time to plan — and shop — for making dishcloths!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Alex Bath Mat

Road trip! I think most makers can relate to that moment when the highest priority in packing for a trip is choosing the projects.

For a recent road trip, I packed four projects and enough supplies to make some duplicates — such optimism! Over the course of 30 hours of traveling, plus some making time during odd moments throughout our visit, I finished about half of the first project.

Alex Bath Mat Crochet Rug from an Angle in White with flecks of Yellow, Green and Blue

Choosing a Road Trip Project
I like crochet projects for travel, particularly repetitive patterns in cotton. I find the single crochet hook less fussy than two or more knitting needles, and less scary for my fellow passengers when I fly. An H-hook (5.0 mm) doesn’t look that different from a pen, but a set of US-1 (2.25 mm) sock needles in the round looks like a lot of stabby points.

I like cotton because it’s inexpensive, washes easily, and it’s grippy enough that if the hook slips out, the stitch usually holds its shape without unraveling. And that’s another point in crochet’s favor: if the hook slips out I might have to remake a few stitches, whereas if a knitting needle slips out it could lead to major reconstruction.

And the repetition aspect should go without saying. If I can quickly memorize the pattern I can easily start and stop as needed, have conversations, and enjoy the scenery.

Dertail of Alex Bath Mat Crochet Rug in White with Flecks of Yellow, Green and Blue

The Project
Which leads me to this trip’s project: Alex Bath Mat by Busted Hook Patterns. The pattern calls for an H-hook, but I tend to crochet tight so I bumped it up to an I-hook (mine happens to be 5.25 mm instead of the standard 5.5 mm).

The pattern is designed for two colors. I chose a cone of Lily Sugar’n Cream Solids in White for the main color, and two balls of Lily Sugar’n Cream Ombre in the colorway Summer Prints for the accent color. Summer Prints is white interspersed with short lengths of yellow, green and blue, so the idea was for a subtle addition of color. And my plan was to keep going until I ran out of yarn.

I ended up with a rug that measures 24 by 36 inches (61 by 91 cm), with just a little bit of each yarn left over. The pattern was well-written and easy to memorize. Due to the colors I chose, the stitch variation doesn’t stand out as well as it might with a more distinct color difference. But I was aiming for subtlety and I love the way it turned out.

Even if I did make half of my one and only road trip project from the comfort of my own home.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Three Years!

Today marks The Art of Making Blog’s third blogiversary. Wow, three years!

This year I’ve had to change a few of the places where I share my posts, and that’s impacted how many of you have been able to read it. Still, more than 2,900 visitors have viewed 8,400 pages over the past year. Thank you for choosing to share some of your time with me!

The five most-read posts from this year cover a variety of topics. I like to see if I can recognize a pattern in the top posts, but I’m not seeing one jump out at me this year:

Five photos lined up horizontally to represent the top five posts for The Art of Making Blog in year three: socks, mittens, quilt, Trello, and another pair of socks.

Maybe the commonality between these posts is making a project your own. I definitely see that as being a topic that most makers can relate to.

I’ve branched out a bit more as far as types of projects, as I had expected to do once we settled in from moving. I’m trying to focus on working through stash, and this goal is helping me see the bright side to not having any local yarn shops. I’m still adapting to making items that suit our new climate.

My main goal over this past year was to figure out a balance in posting slow-moving projects; I don’t want to bore you with micro-updates, but I also don’t want to introduce something then have months pass before I mention it again. I’ve changed on this front in three ways:
  1. I’m splitting my time between fewer projects.
  2. I’m trying to plan out regular updates for long-term projects.
  3. I’ve given myself permission to get away from a strict weekly deadline.
Of course, this is still a work in progress. Case in point: I made it through eight monthly posts about The Hexagon Project before life changed enough to throw off my routine, both for sewing and for posting about it. But life changes and I need to be flexible enough to change along with it. I’ll find a new rhythm for that project.

I hope you’ll stay on this blogging journey with me. Hooray for the beginning of year four!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Finally, a Finish

Finally! My striped sweater is finished, and I’m happy about that on so many levels.

Back view of Elphaba Pullover knit in stripes of scrap sock yarn.

The pattern is the Elphaba Pullover by Mary Annarella. The first time I made it, about five years ago, everything went smoothly. It’s a lovely pattern.

The second time I made it, a few months ago, I used a yarn with a blend of 45% wool, 35% silk, and 20% rayon from bamboo instead of 100% wool as the pattern recommends. The sweater was too big — and then it grew.

The third time I made it, a couple months ago, I used an assortment of leftover sock yarns unraveled from a top I wasn’t wearing. I was back to 100% wool yarn, or nearly so, but the size was strange — too wide but also an odd combination of too long in some areas and too short in others.

The fourth time I made it, about a month ago, there was another fit issue that I seem to be blocking from my memory now out of self-preservation. But I started knitting wider color stripes with this attempt and found that I prefer their relative brightness for this sweater. I also added some black and ivory from my stash to ensure I would have enough yardage.

The fifth time I made it, what you see here and only the second version still in existence, this top finally worked up as I wanted it to. I reused the leftover sock yarns one more time and went down a size from what I had been previously knitting. The pullover’s width is the same as the first version but it has a bit more length, which is what I’d been aiming for in the first place.

Front view of Elphaba Pullover knit in stripes of scrap sock yarn.

The neckline and lace edging proved to be another challenge with my yarn choices. I didn’t want the stripes to compete with the lace stitch pattern, but a test knit of striped garter stitch didn’t look right as the edging either. Knitting the edgings in all one color wasn’t an option based on the yardage I had available, and the self-striping yarns wouldn’t work because they would bring me back to the stripes-on-lace I was trying to avoid.

Gray at the neckline stood out against my skin tone without creating too much visual contrast. I chose the dark handspun merino for the lace on the body of the sweater to give it a visual base. The combination of the ivory with the lace sleeve edge seemed a natural choice based on historical fashion.

I spent at least a full week weaving in the ends. Two ends of each stripe of color would have been bad enough, but there were more than that. Some of the lengths of yarn were quite short after being worked into so many projects. Normally, I would have woven the ends as I knit to keep the task from becoming overwhelming. But with so many missteps on this journey, I held off until I was sure the top would fit.

And, I’ll admit, the fit isn’t perfect. I’ve put on a little weight over the past few months — coincidence or induced by knitting stress? Either way, I think I can block the sweater a bit bigger for now. I won’t be wearing it much, if at all, until cooler temperatures return in the fall. That buys me some time to re-evaluate.

But if I don’t like the fit in the fall? This pullover is going to become socks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Slow but Steady

A week and a half ago, I posted that I was going to rip out my sweater progress and start again. I've been knitting away, and I’m back to where I was then. This time, so far, the size looks good — in any event, I’m not redoing this pullover again!

Progress on hand-knit Elphaba Pullover in stripes of scrap sock yarn.

The body of the sweater is nearly complete. I’m leaving the lower hem stitches on the needle while I move on to the sleeves. I may want to add a few rows to the lower hem, and this way I can base that decision on how much of my scrap yarn is still available after the sleeves are done.

I’m trying to decide how to handle the lace at the lower edges of the body and sleeves. Originally, I had planned to convert it to a basic garter stitch edge to prevent the lace pattern from competing with the stripes. But after trying that a couple versions ago, I don’t like the look and want to stay with the lace. Do I stripe it, or knit it in a single color? If it’s a single color, which one should it be? Since I’m working with scraps, my choices will be limited.

Meanwhile, ideas for new projects are piling up. I have yarn and patterns ready for four more projects, three of which are not wearables!

What sort of progress are you making on your current projects?

Friday, March 29, 2019

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

It’s been more than a week since I posted that I would be working toward correcting the fit issues in my two most recent knit projects. As of last night, I expected to share a positive update — the body of the new version of the striped sweater is done!

But when I tried it on again this morning in the bright light of day, I saw some fit issues that I hadn’t noticed after my nighttime knitting sessions. Again, I think this is entirely user-error, not a problem with the pattern.

As much as it pains me to say it — and to do it — I’m going to rip it out and start over one more time. I’ve come this far, I might as well get it right! At least I didn’t weave in all of the ends yet.

Back side of stockinette knitting in stripes of gray and beige with yarn ends still hanging loosely.

On a more positive note, another change I’ve made is to the color distribution. For the earlier incarnations of this combination of scrap yarns, I made random stripes based on the varying yarn lengths I had available. Some stripes didn’t carry across a full round, while others were as long as seven rounds.

This time, each color is carried for three to five rounds. While the stripes still look random, due in part to some self-striping and variegated colorways, there’s a better sense of balance. And it’s amazing how much brighter the sweater looks as a whole! I’m definitely keeping this change, and will remember the difference for future projects.

What challenges have you been working to overcome in your making?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Time to Regroup

Sometimes everything rolls along smoothly, and other times there are nonstop bumps in the road. I’ve hit a bumpy stretch with my knitting.

I recently started knitting more tops but, as with most new things, there’s a learning curve involved. I’m learning to recognize which styles work well for my body type, which adjustments might be needed to fine-tune the fit, and which yarns will suit both the patterns and how I intend to wear the garments.

In 2014, I knit a pullover that fit well with minimal adjustments: Elphaba Pullover by Mary Annarella. Last month, I knit it again with different yarn. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a third version with yet another type of yarn. Each was knit in the same size and the gauge is consistent, but ...

Front view of three sweaters stacked on one another, showing that they progress from narrowest to widest.

The red is the original sweater, the lavender is last month’s attempt, and the gray striped version is my unfinished current project. Notice that they keep growing wider!

I don’t think the problem is with the pattern. The instructions are straightforward, and the math between the stitch counts and the schematic is sound. And I know it can turn out correctly because I’ve done it once already.

The red sweater, knit with 100% merino wool yarn, has been worn and laundered quite a bit over the years. It’s possible that it was larger when it first came off the needles and has shrunk over time.

The lavender sweater was knit with Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport, which is a blend of 45% wool, 35% silk, and 20% rayon from bamboo. Based on how much the sweater has grown in the few times I’ve tried it on — yes, it’s longer now than it was when I posted about it — I think any bounce from the wool is being overpowered by the drape of the silk and bamboo.

The gray sweater was knit with an assortment of sock yarns. Many of the yarns are 100% wool, although some have a small amount of nylon. It’s the widest sweater of the three, but look at this photo:

Side view of the necklines of three sweaters, showing the variation in the depth of each neckline.

I didn’t even finish the neckline yet for the striped sweater — which would first uncurl the edge upward, then raise it by another 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) or so — and already it comes up higher than the other two necklines. But the armholes aren’t any shorter than those on the other two sweaters. Granted this sweater hasn’t been blocked yet, but something is definitely not right.

It might be another yarn issue. If so, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. I think it’s more likely that something about my knitting is affecting the result. Whatever it is, it’s pointing toward going down a size in my next attempt.

Yes, you read that correctly. As much as I’d like to unravel these two newest sweaters and move on to something simpler, I’m determined to get at least one wearable pullover out of this experience!

So if you need me, I’ll be over here bumping along as I undo weeks of knitting and begin again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reading About Making

It’s been a little longer than usual since I last posted. I’ve been giving myself permission not to write a post simply for the sake of staying on a schedule. While I’ve been busy with knitting and spinning, none of the projects are ready for an update.

But I have an update on books I've been reading.

I’m usually an avid reader and a frequent library user, but I’ve been struggling since we moved in 2017. My favorite way to choose my next book is to browse the new book shelves in the library. Over the years, I’ve come across some great books that I would never have noticed otherwise. The library system in our new home has been a disappointment in this and other ways.

Rather than focusing on the negative, I’m trying to get all that I can out of our library system this year. So far in 2019, I’ve read six books about making:

  • The Graphic Design Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Each page in this book features a different idea for conveying messages through graphic design. None of the ideas were new to me, but it was a fun refresher.
  • The Typography Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters by Gail Anderson and Steven Heller. In a similar format to the previous book, this book features ideas for using type. Again, there was nothing new here. This time, though, revisiting the ideas was more boring than fun. Maybe if I hadn’t read it on the heels of the previous book it would have been more appealing.
  • Designing for Newspapers and Magazines by N. E. Osselton. If you haven’t picked up on it already, by day I work in graphic design. This book caught my eye because it’s specific to the niche of designing for journalism. But it came out in 2003, which might as well be a million years ago when it comes to the publishing industry. While the actual layout information is good, some of the information on how to produce those layouts is sorely out of date.
  • Creative Pep Talk: Inspiration from 50 Artists by Andy J. Miller. I recently discovered the Creative Pep Talk podcast, so the title connected in my brain right away. Each spread has some text from a designer on the left and a piece of their artwork referencing the text on the right. While the range of design styles kept me interested, it quickly felt repetitive and I was disappointed by how many pieces were clearly recycled from previous projects. I’m all for working smarter, not harder, but in some cases the “inspirational” message was nothing more than an explanation of the original project or random rambling lacking in any semblance of “pep.”
  • Spin Control by Amy King. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a spindler. This book is geared toward spinning on a wheel, so I found the information useful but not directly applicable to how I spin fiber. I think it could be a good resource for beginners.
  • Spinning in the Old Way: How (and Why) to Make Your Own Yarn with a High-Whorl Handspindle by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. This book on spinning is more relevant to me as a spinner. None of the information was new to me, but I think it’s a solid reference book. The black and white line illustrations might be more confusing for beginners than a source with photos. The author is very opinionated about techniques that she likes and dislikes, which may not sit well with some readers.

I’m off to a good start with reading this year. I’ve learned about a couple of used book stores that I plan to visit soon, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep it up.

What books about making are on your reading list?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Elphaba Revisited

In 2014, I knit the Elphaba Pullover by Mary Annarella in madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light. It has a classic design, and the pattern is easy to follow. I still wear the sweater quite a bit in cooler weather.

When I ripped out the Knit Diamond Pullover last month and was looking for a new pattern with which to use the yarn, the Elphaba Pullover quickly came to mind. The Mauve Mix colorway in Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport would look quite different from the deep red Tart colorway used in my first version.

I had knit the 37-inch (94 cm) size for the first version. At the time, it allowed 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) of positive ease. My body has changed over the years, so the same size sweater now allows 1.5 inches of negative ease. Since I still like the fit of the first version, and the pattern is intended for negative ease anyway, I stayed with the 37-inch size.

I had added about three inches to the overall length and included one more waist decrease for the first sweater. This time, I added the same amount of length but kept the waist decreases as written in the pattern.

I achieved gauge on US-4 (3.5 mm) needles. And yet, when I finished the pullover and compared it to my original version, this one is noticeably larger by about four inches (10 cm) in both length and width.

Did my gauge change between the swatch and the project? Or was there still some kink in the unraveled yarn that loosened up after blocking? No, measurements of the blocked sweater are still showing the correct gauge.

Did the first sweater shrink over the years? That's entirely possible, and would make the new sweater seem overlarge in a comparison.

Does the Tosh Merino Light hang differently than the Reserve Sport? I think this is also possible. The first is made of 100% merino wool; the second is a blend of 45% wool, 35% silk, and 20% rayon from bamboo. The silk and rayon could very well be affecting the overall grip and elasticity of the yarn.

The good news is that the fit still works. I’m back to having a pullover with a little positive ease, as I initially had with the first version. And I rarely complain about extra length in my clothes.

And, hey, in a few years it might shrink or I might grow.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Handspun: Let Love In

Last week, I wrote about my excitement to start a new spinning project after buying eight ounces of handpainted Targhee wool from Spunky Eclectic in the colorway Let Love In. This week, I separated most of the gray-colored fiber and hand-carded it with four ounces of white alpaca roving that I already had on hand, leaving the bright colors intact.

The fiber spun up as beautifully as I had hoped, with one ounce (28 g) becoming 118 yards (108 m) of two-ply super fine yarn. It’s incredibly soft and bouncy, and captures the essence of spring-like silver skies and rainbows. I’m looking forward to spinning the remaining 11 ounces (312 g). If my gauge is consistent I should end up with a little more than 1,400 yards (1280 m) of yarn, which opens the doors to a wide range of projects.

Skein of colorful handspun wool and alpaca yarn with a penny tucked in to show scale.

Then an interesting thing happened. The same day that I shared a photo of my newly spun yarn online, a friend on Facebook posted two photos from a theater. One photo was of her and her husband with another couple, smiling together as they waited for the performance to begin. The other was looking down from the balcony on a woman who was — GASP! SNICKER! — knitting.

I’m not going to lie; that struck a nerve.

The knitter was quietly minding her own business. The surrounding seats were empty enough that there was clearly plenty of time before showtime. Why shouldn't she spend that time doing something productive rather than, say, passing judgment on strangers?

But then, isn’t my reaction passing judgment in return?

I learned recently that my desire to keep my hands busy is medically considered a tic. I’ve found a harmless way to manage something that drives about 25% of the general population on a biological level. Research has shown that knitting and other such handiwork reduces anxiety levels, thereby coming full circle and reducing the incidence of tics.

I don’t understand my friend’s contentment with simply sitting, drinking, and talking any more than she understands my desire to do something more in the same situation.

I know that my friend is an intelligent person with a successful career. She’s a caring mother who tries to make the world a better place for her children by speaking out against the negative “-isms” that we encounter daily. The tone of her post doesn’t reflect the person I believe her to be.

This example shows the limits to real communication on social media and other modern forms of electronic interaction — yes, including blogs such as this one. I don’t think her reaction would have been the same if she knew the knitter personally, and I don’t think she set out to be insulting when she posted about it. How could I respond without sounding overly-sensitive and defensive?

By letting love in. Every one of us is a complex and contradictory combination of biology, environment, and experience. I don’t need to understand every nuance of you any more than you need to understand every nuance of me. Matching judgment for judgment may feel easier in the moment, but reflection from a place of love serves me better in the long run.

That and keeping my hands busy.

Today, that means I’ll be over here joyfully handspinning 11 more ounces of gorgeous fiber and daydreaming about what it will knit up to be.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Unravelling and Going Back to Basics

Sometimes unravelling is part of the process.

Last April, I used an assortment of sock yarn scraps to knit a tank top. As much as I love the way the colors came together into stripes, I never fell in love with the top itself. The few times I wore it, I found myself fussing with the drape of the cowl neck and how the shirt rested on my shoulders.

After taking apart the ill-fitting pullover that I knit in January, I guess I was on a roll. My next move was taking apart that tank top.

Small balls of unravelled sock yarn in shades of gray and beige on a white background.

As I’ve been reknitting the unraveled yarn from January, I’ve kept the tank top scraps nearby. I have a few ideas floating around, and those thoughts solidify a bit more each time I glance over at that small pile of yarn. I’m not sure yet what the yarn will become, but I’m getting there.

Other times, it’s all about going back to basics.

Dryer balls made from handspun multicolored mohair locks and off-white wool on a light wood background.While I was painstakingly knitting my way through way too many furniture socks, my mind turned to spinning. That led me to discover Spunky Eclectic’s Let Love In. This Colorway for a Cause reminds me of yarn that I spun in 2011 from an off-white Shropshire fleece and a small bag of bright multicolored mohair locks. I named it Confetti because of the way the random spots of color stood out as they were intertwined with the off-white. Unfortunately, both fibers were already a little the worse for wear when they were given to me. The resulting yarn was rough and lumpy; I turned all of it into dryer balls.

This colorway, however, is (as of this writing) available in nine fibers — any one of which is surely better quality than that fleece. I ordered eight ounces of Targhee, and can’t wait to start spinning. I have four ounces of white alpaca roving that I think I’ll add to the mix to play up the confetti look. I know the dyed areas of the Targhee won’t pop the same way the shiny mohair locks did against the Shropshire wool, but the overall look should still be cheery and playful.

Handpainted Targhee roving and white alpaca roving on a white background.

It may look like I took a few steps back this week, but that’s only because sometimes I need room for a running start. I’m excited to see what these next projects become.

What projects are you excited about right now?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Finish: Furniture Socks

The most recent version of this project started when I found holes in the bottoms of a set of socks on our dining room chairs. I repaired those socks, then decided to knit sets for our coffee table and six kitchen chairs. It would be a lot of uninspiring knitting, but not unmanageable.

As I was finally seeing the light at the end of the furniture sock tunnel, my daughter pulled out one of the bar stools at our kitchen counter. Nobody ever sits there. Why now? For that matter, why do we have so many places to sit? The noise as she scraped the stool across the floor made it clear that I needed to knit sets for those four seats, too.

The supplies were already out. I might as well keep going.

Bottoms of bar stool legs wearing hand-knit furniture socks on a dark wood floor.

The size and shape of each furniture leg dictated the size of its sock. The smallest furniture sock was 20 stitches around, with decreases at the end, for a a total of 20 rounds. Each of those socks took a little more than a half hour to knit. None of the larger socks took more than an hour. I ended up making 48 furniture socks, which translates to at least 36 hours of knitting.

It felt endless.

And now it’s done! I no longer have to worry about scratches on the floors from the self-adhesive felt pads slipping off the bottoms of the furniture. Sure, the socks may wear through again, but I’ve already learned that the most-used chairs are the ones I need to watch.

Bottoms of bar stool legs wearing hand-knit furniture socks on a dark wood floor.

So far, I’ve noticed that the acrylic socks don’t hug the furniture legs as closely as the wool socks do. The acrylic doesn’t have the same springiness that the wool has, although it still holds its shape better than something with no elasticity, like cotton. For this purpose, that’s a secondary issue; my primary concern is the durability of the yarn. It will be interesting to see which sets need to be repaired next.

Fingers crossed that any mending is a long way off.

What projects have you recently powered through?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Repairing Socks and Knitting Needles

In the hierarchy of fun projects, repairs rank just below practical projects for me. Repairs to practical projects? Oof.

In late 2016 and again in mid-2017, I knit wool furniture socks from scrap yarn. I made sets for our six dining room chairs and a set for our sofa. The socks protect our wood floors, and stay in place better than adhesive felt pads. I chose wool because I thought it would be gentle on the floors while also being durable.

Chair wearing a knit sock next to one with a slipped felt pad.
A chair wearing a sock next to one with a slipped felt pad.

This past December, I noticed that the set on one dining room chair was worn through. Thinking the rest of the chair socks were likely the same, I mentally prepared for knitting another six sets.

Close-up of the hole worn through the bottom of a chair sock.

I had knit the original sets from the top down. As I gave it more thought, I realized I could simply take apart and reknit the lower end of each sock. And I was excited to discover that only the one set needed to be repaired — on the chair our children use the most when doing homework. My chore had eased considerably!

But our kitchen chairs had begun slipping off their felt pads, as had our coffee table. That’s another seven sets that needed to be knit. The project was squarely back in the chore category.

Close-up of the newly knit bottom on a chair sock.
The lighting is different, but the top of this repaired sock is the same.

It’s slow-going, but I’ve repaired the initial set and knit three more sets so far. This time, I’m using scrap acrylic yarn. I’m a little nervous that it might be too abrasive for the floors, but acrylics are so soft these days that I’m optimistic. It will be interesting to see if they’re more durable than the wool.

A set of hand-knit chair socks on the legs of a kitchen chair.

Needle Repair Tip — or Needle Tip Repair?
When knitting the furniture socks, I’ve been using worsted weight yarn on US-5 (3.75 mm) double-point needles. I double the yarn at the bottom of each sock for extra durability. Unfortunately, this also puts extra strain on my needles. Have I mentioned that I can be a tight knitter to begin with? The needles I’m using are birch hardwood; a few of them have begun to splinter at the tips and catch on the yarn.

Close-up of splintered tip on a wooden knitting needle, next to nail file and polish.
Can you see the roughness of the damaged needle tip?

Fortunately, wooden needle tips can be easily repaired. I keep a nail file with my knitting supplies, and it works well to buff out those splinters. After I’ve “sanded” the needle tips, I give them a light coat of clear nail polish to protect them against future wear. To ensure the nail polish has time to cure, I like to let the needles rest overnight before knitting with them again.

Close-up of repaired tip on a wooden knitting needle, next to nail file and polish.
Sanded smooth and clear-coated.

I’ve made it to the halfway point of this practical project, and I’ve salvaged a set of damaged knitting needles. Meanwhile, I’m daydreaming about projects that rank higher on my fun-scale. How do different types of projects rank for you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Grapevine Socks

I may have mentioned this before: Socks are comfort knitting for me.

After my bad sweater experience, and with a cold coming on, I felt the need to cast on a new pair of socks.

Feet crossed at the ankles wearing dark green hand-knit socks on white background

With a skein of Dream in Color Smooshy in colorway 43 Boot Camp, I started knitting Grapevine by Charlene Schurch. The pattern is from her book “More Sensational Knitted Socks,” and it knit up quickly on US-1.5 (2.5 mm) needles.

Top view of feet wearing dark green hand-knit socks on white background

The lace motif was probably a little more complicated than I needed while nursing a cold, but it would have been fine under normal circumstances. If I made any mistakes along the way, I haven’t noticed them yet! The fit is perfect.

Feet with soles together wearing dark green hand-knit socks on white background

I’m off to drink more orange juice. What are your go-to comfort projects?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Knit Diamond Pullover, Garment Ease and Schematics

It took me six weeks to knit this sweater.

In November, I wrote about starting the #07 Diamond Peplum Pullover pattern by Jill Wright from the the Holiday 2012 issue of Vogue Knitting. The yarn I chose is Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport in the colorway 306 Mauve Mix. It’s incredibly soft and the colors are a mix of light to medium lavender, ivory, and beige.

Front View of Hand-Knit Diamond Peplum Pullover in Light Purple

This sweater highlights the struggle I have with garment patterns, for knitting as well as sewing. The instructions describe it as a “very close fitting pullover” but give no further information as far as how the pattern’s measurements should relate to the wearer’s body measurements.

If you’re familiar with making clothing, then you know about the concept of ease. Ease is the difference between your body measurements and the garment measurements. This is useful in not only achieving the look you want but also in making sure you can move in your clothes!

For some items of clothing, particularly those made with fabric that doesn’t stretch, you’ll want positive ease. That means the garment will measure larger than your body.

But for other items, made with fabrics that stretch, you may want zero ease or even negative ease. That means the garment measurements will be either the same as your body measurements or a bit smaller.

Back View of Hand-Knit Diamond Peplum Pullover in Light Purple

The amount of ease you include when creating a garment will depend, in part, on the type of garment. For example, a jacket will likely have more positive ease than a blouse because you need to allow space for wearing other clothes under the jacket. But ease will also depend on personal preference, both for a particular garment type — jeans versus dress slacks, for example — and for how you generally like clothes to fit on your body.

If a pattern doesn’t explicitly state how much ease is intended for the garment, we’re left to guess. There are, unfortunately, no industry standards that I can find to relate fit descriptions to ease.

But we’re not left completely in the dark when the pattern includes a schematic. This to-scale line drawing shows the measurements at each size for every piece of the garment. At the beginning of the pattern, the size information is typically given in relation to bust size alone. By referencing the schematic at the end of the pattern, you can check the rest of the measurements and decide whether any particular aspect of the pattern needs adjusting.

Back to the Diamond Peplum Pullover: my measurements are three inches (7.6 cm) larger than one size, and two inches (5 cm) smaller than the next size. My gauge on US-3 (3.25 mm) and US-6 (4.0 mm) needles measured tighter than the gauge needed for the pattern, which meant my finished garment would be smaller than whatever size I chose. More than three inches of negative ease sounded like it would be too close-fitting for me, but less than two inches of positive ease should result in a nice skimming fit. I set to work, adding an inch (2.5 cm) to the length.

The finished pullover fits me terribly. The top is so loose that the shoulders, three inches wider than the measurements given in the schematic, droop down my arms. Moving down two sizes, which would be a half inch (1 cm) smaller than my actual shoulder measurements according to the schematic, should make the pullover just a little too large at my shoulders. At that size, the ribbing at the bottom would be embarrassingly tight on me.

Action View of Hand-Knit Diamond Peplum Pullover in Light Purple

And, yes, I double-checked my gauge. After blocking, it’s consistently 23 stitches over four inches of stockinette stitch on the larger needles, while the pattern calls for 22 stitches under the same conditions.

What I did not check ahead of time was that the math works between the gauge, the number of stitches, and the schematic. I shouldn’t have to do that, but if I had I would have learned before casting on that the numbers don’t match up as they should.

Ultimately, there is more than one problem here. The pattern sizing is unclear at best as far as ease. The stitch count given for each size is not consistent with the schematic measurements. And I chose a garment style that doesn’t work well with my body shape and fit preferences — I would need to change the bust-to-waist proportions considerably in order for the pullover to fit me, and at that point the look of the garment would be completely different than what was intended.

It took me six weeks to knit this sweater, but only an evening to rip it all out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Welcome to 2019

2018 was another year full of changes. Nothing drastic, but we’re still feeling the ripples brought about by our move across the country in 2017. One thing that hasn’t changed this year is that I’ve continued to create:

  • 20 hand-stitched flower blocks for The Hexagon Project
  • 5 coasters
  • 2 quilts made, plus 1 repaired
  • 2 pairs of panties
  • 2 cushions
  • 1 tunic
  • 1 dress
  • 1 teddy bear
  • 1 lining for a felted bag
  • 1 pillow
  • 1 placemat
  • 1 luggage tag

  • 5 tops, one of which will be shared in early 2019
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 4 hats
  • 2 basket liners
  • 1 pair of mittens
  • 1 teddy bear
  • 1 rug

  • 511 yards of two-ply mystery wool
  • 185 yards of two-ply merino wool

My best nine pics from Instagram in 2018 are almost all knitting projects.

I read four art-related books, knit more blocks onto my scrap blankets, and made a no-sew fabric ornament. I finished setting up my sewing space, then organized my fashion fabrics and clothing patterns in Trello. I updated the layout of this site in anticipation of releasing new knitting patterns.

What I didn’t do was actually release those new patterns. I also didn’t explore local art museums and events as I had hoped. I plan to correct both of those in 2019.

I’ve enjoyed getting back to more sewing after having my machine packed and inaccessible for so long. But my new sewing space is in the basement. I don’t like to spend time alone down there when the rest of my family is home, which means I’m still not sewing as often as I would like.

I want to continue to find ways to use the sock yarn I have left over from previous projects, and I want to knit more warm-weather tops. The wool chair socks I knit last year are starting to wear through; I need to either mend or recreate them. Perhaps an acrylic yarn would hold up better?

I’ve been itching to do some spinning, and the bobbin lace pillow has been calling my name. I haven’t tried any exercises from the tatting book I bought before we moved, and I keep coming across my quilling supplies.

All that to say, I’m not sure yet what you’ll see on this blog in 2019. I’m settling into a new normal, and the items I make reflect what our lives call for or allow at a given time. I can’t foresee what I’ll make, but I know that I’ll keep making.

I wish the best for you and yours in 2019! What do you have planned for the new year?