Monday, September 9, 2019

Open Twisted Ribbing Socks

I think my tastes are changing. For years, socks have been my favorite knitting project. No matter what else I was working on, I always had a pair of socks on the needles. It might take me as little as two days or as much as two weeks to knit a pair of socks.

The pair I just completed took a month. And that required a lot of willpower.

Feet standing casually wearing socks knit in autumn colors on a white background.

It’s possible that the yarn wasn’t holding my interest. It’s Berroco Sox Metallic in colorway 1375, which is a self-striping wool and nylon blend in orange, green, brown, and purple with flecks of metallic gold.

The yarn itself is fine. In fact, I used it to knit a pair of socks for my children about ten years ago. The socks were outgrown long before they showed any signs of wearing out, so I had frogged them and set aside the yarn to reuse.

I think my original plan was to reuse the same stitch pattern — Little Shell Rib by Charlene Schurch in her book “Sensational Knitted Socks” — but somehow that idea didn’t make it to casting on. Instead, I chose the Open Twisted Ribbing pattern by Charlene Schurch in her book “More Sensational Knitted Socks.”

Feet wearing wool socks knit in autumn colors on a white background.

Working top down, the instructions for the heel turn came out noticeably off-center. I adjusted the stitches to center them, and then my stitch count on the sole was off by one stitch. I preferred the one-stitch difference, so I kept my adjustments to the heel turn.

When picking up the stitches along the side of the heel flap, I used the “Perfect Pick-Up” technique that I learned and shared last month. With that last pair of socks, knit stitches made up both edges of the heel flap and I found the technique to be easy and pretty. With this pair, the edges are garter stitch; it was more difficult for me to pick up the correct stitches, and it didn’t turn out quite so pretty on one sock.

Otherwise, the pattern was easy to memorize and to knit. I really like that the stitch pattern creates strong vertical lines in contrast to the horizontal stripes of color.

So why didn’t this project hold my interest? Maybe it was because I already made a pair of socks with this yarn. The colors are ideal for autumn, but maybe they don’t hold the same appeal ten years later. Or maybe — gasp! — I’m losing interest in knitting socks.

With more than 25 pairs of hand knit socks in my drawer, time is on my side until the desire to knit a pair of socks strikes again.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Teal T-Shirt Pillow

Over the summer, we’ve been slowly going through our youngest’s clothes to determine what still fits and what doesn’t. We have a 13-gallon (50 liter) trash bag full of items that are ready to be donated.

As the one who receives all of the hand-me downs, many of the items aren’t to our daughter’s taste; it’s almost a relief to have them no longer taking up drawer space. And, of course, there are some pieces with designs that are too childish for her now. But a few still hold some appeal, if only they were her size.

Detail of teal t-shirt throw pillow with sequins set in horizontal stripes on a white background.

I set aside a few tops to upcycle. Since my sewing background is mainly in quilting, you’d probably expect a memory quilt. While she likes the shirts, they’re not quite at the level of holding special memories.

They are, however, strong enough designs in their own right to become stand-alone projects.

T-Shirt to Pillow

First up was a long-sleeved T-shirt with sequins set in horizontal stripes across the front. It really wanted to become a throw pillow.

Teal t-shirt throw pillow with sequins set in horizontal stripes, on a white background.

I cut the shirt along the seams, then ironed 13-inch (33 cm) squares of non-woven fusible interfacing to the wrong sides of the front and back shirt pieces. After cutting the shirt pieces down to the size of the interfacing, I marked the corners to make them rounded.

With right sides together, I machine-sewed most of the perimeter with a 1/2-inch (1 cm) seam allowance. I left about 5 inches (13 cm) unsewn on one side, to turn the pillow right-side out and insert a 12-inch (30.5 cm) pillow form, then closed the opening with a hand-sewn ladder stitch.

The entire project took no more than two hours — most of that was spent steaming the interfacing onto the fabric. I’m looking forward to making similar projects from the other saved T-shirts.

What I'm not looking forward to is phase two in my daughter’s room: going through the old toys.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Live Oak Shawlette


A friend once told me that their team motto at work is simply the word pivot. They even had t-shirts made up with this verb that means to turn around a central point. They have one primary goal in their department, but they often find themselves taking that goal in different directions.

I was reminded of her story as I worked on my most recent project.

Details of wool hand knit lace shawl edge in gray with colorful flecks on dark wood.

In the spring, I bought a skein of Skinny Singles by Hedgehog Fibres in the colorway Juniper. I was so taken by the overall look — gray speckled with an assortment of bright colors — that I missed that little detail about the singles construction.

I was all set to cast on for a pair of socks when I realized my oversight. Singles yarns aren’t as durable as plied yarns, and therefore not ideal for the abuse that socks need to be able to withstand.

It was time to pivot.

After going through my pattern library, I decided to make the Live Oak Shawlette by Romi Hill. It seemed to have just the right balance of simplicity and detail to play well with my flecked yarn.

Details of wool hand knit lace shawlette edge in gray with colorful flecks on dark wood.

The cast-on was new to me, but overall the pattern is simple and straightforward. I thoroughly enjoyed knitting this shawlette, watching the colors come together as the center stockinette took the shape of a semicircle while the outer lace moved the design into straight lines and angles.

Although I’ve made plenty of scarves, I rarely make shawls. When I wear one, I feel like I may as well be wrapped in a blanket. But at about 40 inches across (102 cm) and 13 inches high (33 cm), this shawlette feels more like a playful scarf. (And the pattern includes instructions for a larger version, for those of you who prefer a full shawl.)

Wool hand knit lace scarf in gray with colorful flecks draped on a metal ladder in front of a blue wall.

This is one pivot that I’m glad I made.

How have your unexpected turns worked out recently?

Friday, August 16, 2019

M7092 Sleeveless Top

A while back, my husband needed new undershirts. Out of convenience, he looked for some while at a nearby supercenter and chose four in a new-to-him brand. That was a mistake.

Woman standing in front of a porch rail wearing oversized t-shirt with stretched out collar.

The fabric is soft and has good stretch, but that's the extent of its positive points. Did you notice how the collar sticks up? Who could wear that under another shirt?

The four shirts had already been washed, and the packaging and receipts thrown away when we noticed the poor fit. I suppose we still could have returned them, but it didn't feel right at that point.

I thought I might remove then resew the collars to get them to lie flat. I set the undershirts over the back of my sewing chair and they were forgotten after my husband purchased replacement undershirts from a familiar brand.

A few weeks ago, I walked by the pile of undershirts for the umpteenth time. I remembered that I have some Rit dye in the laundry room, and an idea bloomed.

I’d been wanting to attempt garment sewing again — maybe pajamas so beginner mistakes wouldn’t matter as much — but didn't want to spend money on fabric. Why not change the color of those undershirts and reuse the fabric?

I followed the instructions on my package of purple all-purpose Rit dye to color three of the four undershirts, hoping the cotton content labelled on the shirts was correct. I’ll admit, I would not have been surprised if the dye didn’t take because the shirts were made from a synthetic material.

Wonder of wonders, the fabric really is cotton! And a lovely purple now, too!

This is where things get a little silly. Any experienced clothing sewist will probably wonder why in the world I cut up four men's shirts to make one semi-fitted nightshirt. What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking that I want to get better at sewing from patterns. Learning isn’t about efficiency — that comes later.

McCall’s M7092 sewing pattern was already in my pattern library. I chose to sew View A, which is a sleeveless top. The upper bodice crosses at the center front with accent fabric at the neckline and gathers near the bust line.

I learned a few things from this project:
  1. I need to learn a good way to improve my size choices because, once again, I used the wrong pattern size. Based on my measurements, I needed to make at least a size 18. My pattern only went up to size 16. Since sewing pattern sizing is often too large for me, I thought size 16 might be fine. Measuring the pattern pieces themselves seemed to confirm this. But the finished top ended up at least two sizes too big. I took in each side by probably 1.5-2 inches  (3.8-5 cm) at the underarm then graded it out to the waist. It’s still too large in the shoulders, but for a sleep shirt it will work just fine.
  2. Reusing fabric from another garment isn’t necessarily a practical choice. True, I didn’t spend any additional money. But in the photos, you can see that there’s some excess fabric below the underarms and along the lower size seams; those are areas where I had to cross an existing undershirt seam, including an armscye, when cutting my new pattern pieces. I wonder if that worsened my problem with choosing the wrong size. In retrospect, I should have cut and sewn a new seam in those places to be sure the fabric was on grain and flat.
  3. On the other hand, reusing fabric isn’t all bad. I lined up the lower bodice pattern pieces along the bottom hem of the undershirts, which saved me from having to sew that hem.
  4. Quality of materials matters! I knew this already, of course. But one of my original dislikes about the undershirts was their uneven seams. Working with the fabric, I learned how much this fabric shifts during sewing — the uneven seams were (and are!) due more to the fabric type than the workmanship. I’m sure this affected the collars as well.
The pattern itself is labeled as “easy” and I agree that it is. I didn’t expect there to be four layers of fabric at the bust; if I decide to make this again as a daytime shirt, I’ll be sure to choose a lightweight fabric to account for those layers. And I’d like to point out that the accent fabric is only attached to the main bust fabric at the shoulders and under the bust, which would make this a discreet nursing top.

The best part? The dye color happens to perfectly match the purple sheep in my favorite pair of pajama pants!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Purple Pointelle

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know that knitting socks is one of my favorite types of projects. There’s something very relaxing to me about casting on for a pair of socks, and wearing them brightens my day.

What’s not to love?

An overstuffed sock drawer! I’ve gotten away from knitting socks for that reason. And because I have a lot of partial skeins of sock yarn that I need to work through before I have a clear enough conscience to buy more.

This spring while we were visiting family, we stopped into a local yarn shop. My sister, who doesn’t knit or crochet, was admiring some of the colors. I told her that if she bought the yarn, I would knit a pair of socks for her. Win-win!

She chose Sparkle Sock in the colorway Rainbow Connection V1.2 from ShirtsyCat Designs. The subtle color variations are amazing and the sliver stellina non-metal fiber adds just the right amount of sparkle.

Then my sister gave me free rein to choose the stitch pattern. I wanted something pretty, of course, but the stitch pattern also had to strike a balance between being intricate enough to minimize potential color pooling and simple enough not to compete with the color variations in the yarn.

I chose Pointelle from the book “Knit. Sock. Love.” by Cookie A. For as complicated as the socks look, the charts for each foot — yes, the motifs for right and left are mirrored — made the pattern surprisingly easy to knit. And the softness of the yarn made the experience that much more enjoyable. (I’m not affiliated with any of these, by the way.)

As usual before starting the pattern, I researched comments on Ravelry. I found a few that I thought might be helpful, but there was only one that I ended up using. Ibnik shared a pair of videos for “the perfect pick-up” of heel flap stitches. Here they are:

I really liked this technique and will use it going forward. It was a little more effort to pick up the stitches but, in the end, the heel flap looked just a bit more polished to me.

All in all, I had my sock-knitting fix, my sister has a new hand knit pair of socks, and my sock drawer still closes — barely.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Hexagon Project: Blocks 22-23

After a six-month lull, I’m getting back into a routine of stitching together hexies for my English paper piecing hexagon flower quilt.

Angled view of green cutting mat covered with printed papers, a metal ruler, an X-ACTO knife, a hole punch, cut hexagon templates, and paper scraps.

First up was cutting more paper templates. This is one of those boring-but-necessary tasks, but now I should have enough to keep me going for a while. The current mix of whites and ivories adds a small amount of visual interest, at least.

I’ve been cutting my templates from card stock that’s too thick for our printer. This time, I also added some light press board; I won’t be doing that again as it’s a little too thick for the EPP blocks. It’s difficult to bend the press board templates while I stitch, and I can actually feel the difference in how the seams fold over the thicker surface.

Angled view of two hexagon flower blocks, one in bright primary colors and the other in purples, on a white background.

With more templates at hand, I as ready to get back to sewing. I finished the two blocks I had in progress, as I had hoped to, but Tour de Fleece distracted me from making more.

A lot of time has passed since I grouped color combinations of hexies for the flower blocks. I have them set aside in stacks, and it’s a fun little surprise now to see what I end up with each time I grab a stack to begin a new block.

Top view of two hexagon flower blocks, one in bright primary colors and the other in purples, on a white background.

I can’t wait to see the blocks I have done by next month!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The End of Tour de Fleece 2019

Today is the last day of Tour de Fleece 2019. I’ll spin more fiber into yarn today, but for all intents and purposes I’ve reached my personal end of the race.

Three skeins of of light-colored handspun wool and alpaca yarn with stretches of bright color throughout, on a white background.

As I wrote last week, I didn’t set any goals beyond spinning each day of the tour. In particular, I planned to work on a fiber pairing that I started spinning 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.

Three skeins of various sizes of light-colored handspun wool and alpaca yarn with bright colors mixed in, lined up horizontally on a white background.

This year, I spun yarn on each day of the three-week tour. That alone is a huge accomplishment for me! Using a 0.7-ounce top-whorl spindle, I spun 1.6 ounces (45 g) of fiber into 266 yards (243 m) of two-ply yarn.

Of this fiber, including the handspun that I made before the Tour, I’ve spun a total of 3.9 ounces (110.5 g) into 638 yards (583 m) of two-ply yarn. With about eight ounces (267 g) to go, I should end up with about 1,900 yards (1,737 m) of yarn when I'm done. I'm browsing patterns already.

Six skeins of various sizes of light-colored handspun wool and alpaca yarn with bright colors mixed in, lined up vertically on a white background.

As usual, Tour de Fleece has renewed my interest in spinning. I want to keep it up, even if it’s only for five minutes a day. What did you get out of Tour de Fleece 2019?

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?