Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When I'm Not Knitting Sweaters

I always have so much trouble getting back into blogging when I've taken an accidental break.  This post will simply be to play catch up and then hopefully blogging won't seem so daunting.  I have quite a backlog of things to share, despite the fact that I have spent the majority of my knitting time these past couple of months knitting samples for designers.

I moved to a new apartment at the beginning of June and still feel like I haven't fully settled in or unpacked, but I'm growing accustomed to the new place.  I now have internet at home (this hasn't happened since 2010) so it will make blogging easier, I hope.  For today, though, let's just do a quick update.

Way back when there was still snow on the ground (which was much more recently than I care to remember) I finished another pair of socks for myself.  Please ignore my ghost-white Minnesota-winter legs.  This pair is part of my initiative to only wear handknit socks in the winter.  I hate making them, but love wearing them.  I'm hoping to crank out another few pairs before the cold sets in again.
Yarn: Malabrigo Sock in Ivy
Pattern: None, simple 2x1 rib
Needles: US 0

One of my best friends is pregnant with her first child, so I wanted to be sure the little guy would be equipped with a nice blanket when he arrived.  The due date was this past Sunday, but he still hasn't made an appearance.

Yarn: Frabjous Fibers March Hare (Muchness, Looking Glass, Caterpillar, Dreamworld, and Marmalade)
Pattern: Blanket from Wearwithall
Needles: US 7

The colors of the yarn are so vibrant, I'm really happy with how the blanket turned out.  I finished it several months ago and it has been on display at the yarn shop ever since, but I took it back yesterday so I could give it a good wash and send it out to my friend in Seattle before too long.

My friend also sent me a picture of a baby hat and asked if I could make a similar one for their newborn photo shoot.  I made three, just in case.  They requested sage green and because I'm colorblind, I thought I would give them options.  Also, I have no idea how large a baby head is, so I guessed.

Hat 1, Rowan Lima.
Hat 2, Fibre Co. Savannah.
Hat 3, BrooklynTweed Shelter.
(Clearly I'm not concerned about washability)
Pattern: None.

Now, despite all the samples I've been making, I have somehow also found the time to get sucked down the rabbit hole of a few other (somewhat related) crafts.  Crochet anyone?

Yes, I am making a giant granny square.  This is the first time I've ever really crocheted anything and it's sort of mind-numbing in a good way.  I'm using Shetland Spindrift in about 30 different colors and I love the way it's coming out.  I've added a few dozen rows since that picture was taken.  There are actually about eight of us at the yarn shop making this blanket together as a sort of crochet-along.  It's fun to see everyone's progress every week and we've all chosen such different color palettes.  Crochet is a great way to play with color because it combines them in a way that knitting doesn't.  Planning the color sequence is just as enjoyable as actually crocheting the piece.

And as if that's not enough to fill my time, I've also become oddly interested in card weaving.

That's the first band I made.  I really just threaded the cards to play around with it and came upon this pattern by accident.  You can see in the background a bit of the random patterning I was trying out before I came upon this one.  I just realized I don't actually have a picture of the cards that you use to weave with, but the technique itself is used to create narrow, strong bands.  For what?  Who knows.  I don't have a plan, but it's fun to explore the possibilities.

And it's FAST, too.  I'm able to weave several feet in just a few days.  It's definitely one of those instant gratification projects.

And if I really want to relax, I pick up my Multigrain Scarf from Shibui.  They sent me the yarn and pattern as a way to explore the "Shibui Mix" concept - holding multiple yarns together to create different fabrics.

This scarf uses Pebble, Silk Cloud, and Cima.  In the above picture you can see Pebble held double on the left (cashmere, silk, and wool), then 1 strand of Pebble and 1 of Silk Cloud in the middle, then Silk Cloud held double on the right.  (Silk Cloud is similar to Kidsilk Haze, only better in my opinion.)  It then progressed to Silk Cloud/Cima, Cima doubled, Cima/Pebble, and then Pebble doubled again.

Every time I pick up this project, I feel all of my stress melt away.  It's an incredibly indulgent project and there is no way I could possibly work with these fibers while remaining tense.  It's just impossible.

I'm using the same color (Mineral) for all of the yarns, but changing the combinations adds an interesting dimension to the texture of the scarf, despite the fact that the gauge remains the same.  It's a fun concept to explore and customers at the yarn shop have been falling in love with the different fabrics you can produce.

So there you have it, that's what I've been up to on top of knitting sweater after sweater after sweater (and working two jobs).  There are potentially some very exciting changes coming up in my near future, but more on that later.  Take care!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Shepherd's Harvest

Shepherd's Harvest - Minnesota's sheep and wool festival - was this past weekend and I think it's safe to say that I was an active attendee.  Last year I felt like I went a little crazy with my purchases, so this year I arrived with a small list of humble purchases I was hoping to make to keep myself reigned in.  I had already decided I wasn't going to buy any fleece this year because I still haven't spun what I bought last year and I wasn't interested in buying yarn, so really what I was looking for were small samples of this and that for a class I'm going to be teaching next month all about fiber.

Needless to say, I was able to find everything on my list.  I had methodically worked my way through all of the buildings that morning (Buildings A-D) before meeting up with a friend.  I had made my way through buildings A, B, and C before disaster struck.  My friend texted me, "Where are you?"  "Building D.  Save me from myself!!"  I had come face to face with this fleece.

My friend did not, in fact, save me.  Instead, he said something like "you need to buy that."  Some help he is.  I really am excited about it, though, and hopefully I will actually get around to using it.  It's a Corriedale fleece from a young ram and I'm a sucker for those natural colors.  Have you ever seen a colored Corriedale like that?  I sure haven't.  I washed a handful of locks when I got home to play around with and fully intended to wash the whole fleece in one go with the intention of carding it, but when I combed a few locks and spun them up, I swooned.  So now I've stored the fleece without washing it and will wash it more carefully to keep the locks intact.  Washing the whole fleece at once is just fine for carding because the fibers are going to get jumbled up when you card them anyway, but for combing you want the locks to stay together so you can comb the fibers into a parallel organization.

And now you're wondering what that other bag on the left side of the picture is, I'm sure.  Last year I missed the fleece judging/silent auction, but this year I walked through and looked at all the fleece up for auction and I couldn't resist...

That would be me with the Grand Champion fleece, which I won because I'm greedy like that.

But helloooooo, would you have left that there?  It's a Romney and this one I will definitely comb because it's a longer-stapled fleece that wouldn't lend itself well to carding.  (Generally fibers less than 3 inches are carded and greater than 4 are combed.  There's some wiggle room there in the middle and certainly you can try what you like, these are just standards that industrial mills tend to follow.)

So there, now you know the truth.  I have no idea where I'm going to put all of this when I move in two weeks, but I'm sure it'll all work out.  I'm eager to get back to my wheel, but sample knitting keeps me busy, busy, busy.

Oh, and speaking of moving, the most exciting thing about my new apartment is that I'm finally going to have internet at home again!  And my front yard will be a park, which will maybe entice me to get out and take FO pictures again.  That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sweater Surgery

I realize that I have been away from the blog for quite some time.  Thank you for all of the messages I have received checking in to make sure that I'm ok and asking for updates.  I do intend to keep this blog up and running, but it may be another month or so before I get back into the swing of things.

Brief update about what's been going on here:

1. I got a job!  Well, two actually.  At the beginning of February I was hired by my favorite LYS, The Yarnery, and I jumped at that opportunity.  Any store that acts as a flagship for BrooklynTweed, is the exclusive Twin Cities carrier of Neighborhood Fiber Company and has an intimate relationship with Shibui is where I want to be.  In January I had been lamenting to a friend about how difficult it is to find a job in music and she suggested that you just have to think outside the box and try to combine your passions.  How does one combine knitting and music?  I'm still not sure, but the day after I started working at The Yarnery, I got a call from the temp. agency I was working with and they told me about a job working for the Minnesota Orchestra.  As some of you may know, the MO recently overcame a 16 month lockout due to a dispute between the management and the musicians over a proposed salary reduction.  It was great news when the orchestra finally reached an agreement, but it also meant that the ticketing and sales department had three weeks to process nearly 2,500 subscription orders before the orchestra began playing again at the end of February.  Once that period ended, the orchestra very graciously offered to hire me on as an employee so I could continue working for them.  So I'm not sure how to combine both my passions other than to simply get jobs in both fields, but that works for me!

2. I still knit all day every day.  In fact, now I can even knit at work without being reprimanded.  At the yarn shop knitting sort of comes with the territory, and at the orchestra I spend all day answering calls on the ticketing line, so between calls if there isn't any other work to be done, I knit a few rows.  It comes in especially handy because most of the knitting I do these days is sample knitting for designers. I was watching a video a few weeks ago (Orenburg Knitting with Galina Khmeleva, I'm a sucker for instructional videos) and she was talking about the women of Orenburg knitting for survival.  It's a story we hear quite often about the past.  People in Orenburg, Estonia, Shetland, knitting so they can put food on the table and then I realized... that's exactly what I'm doing.  It sounds excessive to say that I'm knitting for survival, but when it comes right down to it, I do in one way or another depend on knitting to supplement my income.  People at work sometimes say how wonderful it must be to have the free time to get so much knitting done, but I don't consider it "free time."  Most days I work back-to-back shifts at the orchestra and then the yarn shop, and then I go home and knit for 4 hours because I have deadlines to meet.  I do enjoy it for the most part, but that doesn't mean it's not work.  It may not be a scheduled shift in an office, but it's not really a leisure activity either.

3.  I do still knit for fun, too, don't worry.  It just has to happen slowly in between projects, like if I send out a sweater and the yarn for the next one hasn't arrived yet (like right now) or if my "for pay" project is too big to take on the go, I may work on a sock at work instead.  Like I said, I'm knitting all the time.

4. My brother got married last weekend and it was a ton of fun, despite the fact that I cried every two minutes.  I was one of his groomsmen.

The reason I'm even bringing this up is because my brother is a dancer and as a surprise for his husband, he choreographed a dance to a Beyonce mashup for the reception and it was amazing and I think you should all watch the video.  I'm not actually sure if it's on YouTube, but maybe you can watch it on Facebook by clicking on this link.  Let me know if it works?

5. There are probably 17 other things I should be telling you, but it's almost 1am and I need to get to bed.  Quickly though, the sweater surgery.  The other day, my brother who just got married said to me, "Peter, the sweater D (our sister) made for me has a dropped stitch on the cuff and it's unraveling.  How do I fix it?"  Well, it turns out that it wasn't really just a dropped stitch, but both cuffs were completely falling apart.

I'm not surprised.  My brother doesn't go anywhere without this sweater.  I don't know how he can wear it, I have two sweaters in Ultra Alpaca and even in the dead of winter I get heat stroke within minutes of putting them on.  But he doesn't seem to have that problem.  Anyway, when he showed me the sweater and asked, "How do I fix it?"  I told him, "You don't.  I do."  So I took it home with me.  The yarn is now discontinued (Ultra Alpaca Tonal), but I managed to find some for sale online.  The sweater was knit flat from the cuff up, so I undid the seam a few inches past the cuff and picked up stitch in the row below (above?) the cuff so I could knit a new one on.

Then I snipped the cuff a row or two above my needle and unpicked that row of knitting.

It was quick work to knit new cuffs onto the sweater after that.  In total it really only took me about an hour to do and I'm sure he'll be thrilled that he can wear his sweater again without worrying that it will unravel.  It sure beats having to knit a whole new sweater.  (I bought two skeins of the discontinued yarn just in case I need it again.)

Speaking of discontinued yarn, I'm looking for an extra skein of Cascade Soft Spun color 2803 (charcoal gray) to finish a sweater I should have finished last July.  You don't happen to have any in your stash, do you?

And with that I'm going to bed.  Have a good night, y'all!

Monday, January 27, 2014


Thank you to each and every one of you for your thoughtful comments and generous words. I appreciate that you all took the time to write such kind messages and I'm trying to take them all to heart.

Today I thought I would write about another realization that I've had recently in regards to my knitting. (The first being that handknit socks are warm, in part, because they cover my ankles.) A few months back I was in a knitting slump. Do you ever find yourself in this situation? I didn't have any projects on the needles that interested me, the idea of purchasing new yarn – a thought that is usually accompanied by a rush of adrenaline and a far away look in my eyes – inspired little more than a shrug, and every pattern I saw had that boring, “been there done that” look to it. And then I began to think about my knitting in general. How many things have I made in the past? How much time have I spent on this craft? How many of those things that I've made do I actually wear? As an aside, I should mention two things: a) I was thinking these thoughts while riding the bus to work at 7am. b) I am not a morning person. No, I don't think that's the right way to put it. I loathe mornings. I don't care how much coffee I consume, I find it nearly physically impossible to smile or have a positive thought in the morning. It's genetic. Anyone who has had the misfortune of being in a relationship with me or one of my siblings knows first-hand the extent of this normal and incredibly rational hatred. In the mornings, it is probably safest for you to simply pretend we aren't there. Do not say “good morning.” Do not ask us if we want coffee. In fact, don't even look at us. Even that would be more interaction than we care to have in the mornings. (I promise this is all somewhat relevant.) An ex-boyfriend of mine (a relationship that was obviously doomed to fail) once asked, before we went to bed, “Can you at least be happy to see me in the morning?” And I tried. Despite the sun threatening to blind me and those god awful robins screaming at a decibel that could shatter glass, I sat up, put on what I felt was the biggest smile I have EVER attempted and in the happiest of voices I said, “Good morning! It's nice to see you!” He only stared back. In fact, he looked pissed. He didn't even acknowledge how strong I must be to have overcome my internal struggle against darkness to express a happy sentiment right upon awakening. Had I done it wrong? Was he trying to get back at me? Reversing the roles so I know how I appear in the mornings? He was glaring at me. I took another breath thinking I would try again when he blinked once in annoyance and said, with anger in his voice, “we slept in. I missed my train to New York.” I have since gone back to being single as well as hating mornings. Clearly false optimism doesn't make anything better and it's too exhausting to keep it up.

And so there I was on the bus, aiming my morning death-stare out the window so as not to accidentally lock eyes with another passenger, and fuming about my knitting. Of all the sweaters that I've knitting for myself over the years, how many of them do I wear on a regular basis, I wondered? None. Scarves? Perhaps one or two. Hats? It turns out I don't wear hats. Nor do I wear cowls. In fact, my personal tastes don't really gravitate towards man-shawls, accessories, or bright colors at all. I have been knitting quite consistently for about seven years now – has all that time, energy, and money been wasted? “If I don't wear 90% of the crap that I make, what's the point?” thought my 7am self.

Back in the fall I was asked to knit a sample sweater to be displayed in my LYS. The idea was that the sweater be displayed for a few months and then I get to take it home. I thought about all the sweaters in the back of my closet that I never wear. This one's too heavy. I don't like that collar. That one is scratcy. Pullovers make me overheat. One thing I realized as I was mentally tossing through my wardrobe was that I hadn't completed a sweater for myself in about 4 years. That's more than half my knitting life. More importantly, though, was that maybe – just maybe – I've learned a thing or two about knitting in that intervening time and a thing or two about myself as well. And so with this store sample I was determined to create a sweater not that I would want to knit, but one that I would want to wear.

And that was my revelation. I wasn't relating to my knitting anymore because my focus had shifted. For years I have chosen patterns because I thought they looked like fun. They had interesting stitches, intriguing construction techniques, dapper models. I would see a pattern and think, “I'd like to knit that” while rarely giving voice to the second question. The one that was giving me so much grief on the bus - “Will I actually wear that?” I often find myself entranced by a pattern, thinking, “If I owned that, I, too, would be effortlessly trendy. I'd flip my shawl around my neck, latte in hand and heads would turn to watch my better, more fashionable self strut down the sidewalk. I'd totally wear that” paying no heed to the fact that, in truth, my style is a hoodie and blue jeans, not chinos, styled hair, and a latte. I want my knitting to have a real, physical presence in my life. I want my hard work to be put to use, to be functional, to serve a purpose. Knitting, to me, isn't simply the act of creating fabric or a way to de-stress before bed. Knitting is a way to provide for myself and connect to our collective past through the act of making. I want to feel as though I'm contributing toward keeping this craft, these skills, our knowledge alive and it's not going to thrive in the back of my closet. When I started knitting I was all about the process. I would have a dozen projects on the needles. I didn't give any consideration to when I would finish anything because finishing wasn't the point. Knitting was the point. I've known for years now that my opinions have changed on that matter, but it wasn't until recently that I realized that finishing, triumphant as it is, holds little importance unless that item gets used. I took a step in the right direction with my sample sweater and now that I have it in my hands, I wear it all the time.

Pattern: Slade by Michele Wang from BT Men  Yarn: BrooklynTweed Shelter in Truffle Hunt

The process was simple – row after row of stockinette. A neutral color. A classic shape. But the end result was just what I had hoped for. A functional, wearable, fits-with-my-wardrobe sweater that I use. And you know what? When I wear it, I can almost picture that latte in my hand.  (I would have taken better pictures, but the wind chill was -35 today and I wasn't going to go out there if I didn't have to.)

I'm hoping my next sweater will be just as successful.

Back and start of front of Redford by Julie Hoover, BT Men  Yarn: BrooklynTweed Loft in Almanac

Friday, January 24, 2014


Last night I wrote a lengthy blog post about why I have been away for so long. I realized as I was nearing the third page that what I had intended as a blog post quickly became a stream of consciousness, getting my thoughts all out of my head and down on paper. I'm not going to make you read that post, but it did help me recognize that I miss blogging and have been keeping myself away from it for unjustified reasons.

This past month has been a difficult one for me. My job ended before the holidays and I have spent the past few weeks trying to find a new one to no avail. My days are full of uncertainty and the ever-present feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. I try to stay positive and optimistic, but there's always that constant voice in the back of my mind whispering to me about how I'm a failure, that I'm no good, that I'm not trying hard enough.

Through it all, I've been knitting. I've been knitting every day, and you know what that voice says? “You're wasting your time.” “You don't deserve to be knitting.” “Stop being lazy.” It must be my Catholic upbringing resurfacing. Feeling guilty for trying to relax. But I do it anyway because I know - and you know - that knitting is so much more than a way to use up spare time. Knitting has given me something to hold on to, a way to push that voice away that says I'm not good at anything. Knitting is the constant in my life that keeps me grounded when it seems like everything else is up in the air.

It's for these reasons that I've kept myself away from the blog. I didn't want any of my negativity to work its way into my posts and I didn't want others to look at my posts and think, “that's what you spent your day doing?” That's just projection – my own voice and feelings of guilt resurfacing. And the truth is that yes, that's what I spent my day doing. I also spent my day practicing clarinet for several hours to prepare for upcoming auditions, doing chores, running errands, networking, tweaking my resume, etc. But this is a knitting blog, so I'm going to talk primarily about what I've been knitting and will most likely leave out the other 22 hours of my day. Knitting is important to me, especially now, and I want to continue to share that with all of you because you guys understand. You have my back, and sometimes what you need is someone to simply say, “it's ok. You'll get through this. Just keep knitting.”

And so I will.

Would you like to see what I've been working on? For Christmas, instead of buying everyone a gift, everyone in my family pulls a name out of a hat on Thanksgiving. Every year this process gets a bit more complicated as we add husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, and nieces and nephews to the mix. My youngest sister, tech savvy as she is, came up with the idea for everyone to upload a wish list onto Google Docs so they can be seen by everyone else. (I still have trouble with this every year. I always have to ask my brother to help me figure out how to make it work.) This year I pulled my sister's name (Sister #4) and just by luck, one item on her list began “If a knitter pulled my name...” She requested a charcoal headband with a flower.

I have to confess - and I can't blame my colorblindness for this because it's gray – but I don't know what the color “charcoal” looks like. So I had three options, three different grays, but in the end I went with Ultra Alpaca. Apparently my other two choices were too dark to be charcoal.

I used the pattern Knit Earwarmer with Crochet Flower by Ashlee Prisbrey.  It's a free pattern that Sister #5 posted on Sister #4's wish list asking "Something like this?"  See how Google Docs can be helpful with things like this?

It became painfully obvious that I have no idea how to crochet when it was time to make the flower.  I tried four times and I assure you that this one is the best of the bunch in the way that it sort of resembles a flower instead of something I pulled from the trash.

I love this button.  I think it's a perfect fit for the project.  It did start at the end of the headband, but it turned out to be too large for my sister, so I had to relocate it.  It was still too large, though, so after these pictures, I took the button off, ripped out a bunch of the headband (nearly 4") and fixed it up so the button is now back on the end.  This is why knitting is superior to store-bought items - it's customizable.

A friend of mine had also asked if I could make her a headband this winter.  They're apparently a hot item to have this season.  I used the same pattern, but left out the flower on hers.

The yarn is Shibui Merino Alpaca in the Cypress colorway.

Then I made my brother a long overdue scarf.  He asked for one last year and I bought the yarn, but unfortunately never got around to making the scarf.  Perhaps that's a good thing, because this year he no longer wanted a gray scarf, he wanted a green one.  With cables.

This is one of those projects that once it was finished and dry, I had a very hard time giving it away.  I used what I consider to be the ultimate in luxury - Zealana Rimu DK in the Kiwicrush colorway.  Made with 40% New Zealand Possum, I have never met a yarn that was warmer, softer, or had such an incredible halo as this.  (And it has the price tag to match...)  For this scarf I used four balls and it ended up being a generous length - perhaps 6 feet.

I love how the halo of the dark possum fiber adds such depth to the cables.  The pattern is Quay by Jared Flood.  The cables were a little more involved than I anticipated, but the pattern was intuitive and I had it memorized after the first repeat.  I had to bring out the cable needle for this project, though.

This winter I have been making good use of my handknit socks.  I've never been a capital S Sock Knitter, but this winter I have begun to embrace the merits of a nice pair of wool socks.  Mostly, and you'll find this absurd I'm sure, I've realized how much warmer my feet are when my ankles are covered.  I only buy ankle socks, so imagine my surprise when I put on a pair of wool socks - with legs! - and discovered how wonderful they feel.  It's a no brainer, but somehow it never occurred to me.

So now that I am actually wearing my handknit socks, I don't have enough.  I'm working on rectifying that.

I took this picture while I was driving my brother back to school in Madison.  (Or, rather, he was doing the driving.  I was doing the knitting.)  These socks are an exact replica of the last pair I made and showed you briefly in this post.  Malabrigo sock in a simple k2, p1 rib.  These new ones are in the Ivy colorway.  I have read a number of poor reviews on the durability of this yarn and even mentioned in my other post that I didn't think my socks were going to last very long, but I have worn that pair several dozen times now and they are no worse for wear.  They continue to be my favorite, most comfortable pair.  The sock above is now done and I'm slowly working on the second one while I practice.  That's what I use sock knitting for - practice breaks.   Practice for half an hour, knit two rounds on the sock, etc.  It's a good incentive for me as it gives me a reason to take necessary breaks and keeps me occupied so I don't wander off or stare at my music stand for five minutes.

While I'm not working on those socks, I've started another sweater for display in my LYS, The Yarnery.  (That reminds me, I have to show you the other one I made.  It's the only handknit sweater I actually wear.)

Am I lucky or what?  Who could resist a beautiful pile of BrooklynTweed Loft in the Almanac colorway - a wonderful, rich blue.  It is on its way to becoming Redford from the BT Men collection.  The best part is that after it has been displayed for several months, I get to keep the sweater for myself.

Ok, enough is enough.  I actually do have to go practice some more now.  It's nice to be back!