Sneak Preview

Hey! It’s me! Back after another looooong silence. Whoops. It’s clear that I have trouble keeping promises about writing more frequently, so I’m not going to make any promises today. I’m not even going to apologize. Instead, I’m going to start fresh. Because I’ve been keeping busy and I’ve got many, many new things to show you.

I guess I’ll begin with my latest project. As some of you are aware, I have a very large family. While growing up in cramped quarters with my three brothers and two sisters produced plenty of acrimony between us as kids, we’re all grown up now and, having gone our separate ways, we get along a lot better than we used to. Why, I’d even go so far as saying that we’ve become pretty good friends. So, because I like my brothers and sisters so much, and having reached the point in life where I have a job and can pay for things, I’ve decided that it’s high time I think about giving them birthday gifts. The gift, I’ve decided, will be handknit socks.

Why socks? Well, I’ve waxed poetic on the merits of handknit socks in the past, one of these being they are extremely warm. And, since my siblings live in Edmonton, where winter temperatures regularly plunge to -30 Celsius, I figure that even such a boring gift won’t be entirely unwelcome.

The first birthday is my sister Lara’s (which also happens to be my own birthday), and the socks pictured above are for her. They’re a basic 3×1 stitch rib over 64 stitches, and I managed to start and finish making these in 3 days. I’ve decided to stick to boring and plain socks because, otherwise, I know I’ll struggle to finish in time for the birthdays. This is, after all, my 3rd try at starting the birthday sock project–my attempt at making ankle socks for my brother, Bill, was an abject failure, and two pairs of fancy socks that ended up being comically too small for my Mom taught me that, when under the gun, simple is best.

Almost immediately after Lara’s and my birthday is Clifford’s, so I’ve begun a pair for him as well:

These will also be simple, a 2×2 broken rib stitch sock. The yarn is Fleece Artist Trail Sock, and I hear it’s pretty tough wearing. I love the autumnal colours of this yarn, and I especially love how masculine they are without being the standard issue dark blues and greys.

I’ll leave you now with more pictures because I’ve been holding out on you, dear readers… I have blog posts for weeks because of the confluence of rabid knitting and it being too hot to wear a sweater even for a picture. It won’t be hot forever, though, and I’ve been dying to show you what I’ve made… stay tuned!

P.S. Is anyone else as excited about the Summer Sweater Knit Along as I am!?!

On Socks and Slumps

Image

When I first started knitting, I was very skeptical about socks. More specifically, I was confused by their popularity in the knitting community.  Socks are just about the least exciting garment a person could make, I thought at the time. They’re also among the most expensive compared to other garments: 1 skein of good sock yarn runs about $25 and only makes one pair, but you can make a whole sweater with two skeins of sock yarn and slightly larger needles, and a $50 sweater seems like a way better investment than $25 socks. Money considerations aside, I’ve also been a person who has hated wearing socks for the majority of my life. My socks were always replete with holes after just a few wears, and they’ve always felt rather suffocating next to my skin. 

While nothing can really change the price of hand knit socks, I’ve come to the conclusion that wool socks are different than those other crappy socks that have caused so much discomfort in the past. Wool socks are luxurious. They are uncannily warm or cool whenever you need them to be, and I find them so comfortable now that I’m able to wear them through the night and wake up to find them still on my feet the next morning. I have come to love socks for these reasons, and because of the way they boost my ego. Few things have made me feel more clever than learning how to turn a heel to make perfect fitting socks, and knitting two socks to be as close to exactly alike as possible is something that I get better and better at doing with each pair that I make. So, I hope you’ll forgive me my lack of modesty when I brag about the socks pictured above. These are Light Rye, modified from a pattern by Tin Can Knits and made with Knit Picks Stroll Handpainted in the Constellation colourway. Because the original pattern is written for worsted weight yarn and I wanted to used fingering weight, I cast on more stitches (72, to be exact) to fit a large man’s foot. I think my garter stitch pannel in the front is wider than what the original pattern calls for, but I don’t really mind. In total, these socks took 5 days to make. If I didn’t have a job to go to, they might have been done in 3.

Obviously, I am not a large man, and these socks are not for me. My sock knitting appetite has been whetted, though, so I definitely am making some socks for myself.

Image

 

Allow me to introduce my first pair of Cookie A‘s wildly popular Monkey socks, knit in self-striping Drops Fabel. These are my first patterned socks since I made that fancy pair for Margaret, and I completely understand why knitters love this pattern so much (there are 17919 pairs and counting on Ravelry!). The repeats are short and very easy to memorize, making these the perfect travel knitting project: easy, but not too brainless. It’s my first time using Drops Fabel and, so far, I really like this yarn. I can see that marled self-striping yarn might not have been the best choice for a moderately busy pattern, but I love the colours, and the yarn seems sturdy enough that it would survive the washing machine (P.S. any knitters out there able to comment on this yarn’s machine washability?).

My absolute favorite thing about socks right now is that they’re giving me the confidence to try another sweater soon. I mean, if I can do a fancy pattern and turn a heel like a boss, surely I can find my way back to making lovely sweaters that fit the way I want them to, right? So, I’m thinking that Xanti looks like a challenge I’m nearly ready to undertake. There’s plenty of stockinette to balance out the cable and lace details, and I already have some great yarn in a hard-to-photograph bottle green colour that I’ve been saving for the right pattern. It feels great to be getting excited about sweaters again!

Though this might be the end of my sweater slump, I’m still not done with socks! I’ve picked out the next yarn I’ll be trying out, but I haven’t settled on a pattern yet. Any of you seasoned sock knitters have any pattern recommendations that will make the best use of my beautiful yarn?

Image

Best Laid Plans

Lila

Readers, I am in the middle of a frustrating creative slump. It seems that, lately, I can’t do anything right despite my best intentions. That sweater you see, for example. Isn’t it gorgeous? The pattern, Lila, by Carrie Bostick Hoge, is exactly the sort of simple modernity I’ve been craving in my wardrobe for a long time. The yarn, Malabrigo Rios in the Pearlten colourway, was a dream to work with. I’d heard that it can grow a lot when you get it wet, so I diligently swatched with a few different needle sizes to make sure that I got a perfect fit. Looking at this picture makes me feel both proud and deeply saddened. Why? Because the sweater is too small!!!!

I know exactly where I went wrong with this one: I did the wrong kind of swatch. You see, when you knit a flat swatch for a garment  that is made in the round, you’re bound to run into trouble. In this case, my flat swatch told me that the smaller needles were the ones to use, which turned out to be the wrong decision. The worst of it is that I pressed on with the work even as I worried that it would be too small, ignoring my better instincts. Now, I’m the unhappy owner of a beautifully made sweater that just doesn’t fit. The one smart thing I managed to do was not sew up the arm pits and weave in the ends, so at least the unravelling will go smoothly.

Unfortunately, readers, that’s not the end of it. Assuming that the best way to shake off my failure was to jump back in the saddle again, I decided to cast on a lightweight cardigan. After all, it won’t be winter forever, and it would be great if I could turn some of the raw materials I already have in my possession into a new spring/summer wardrobe rather than buying things that don’t quite fit. After hemming and hawing for a few days, I settled on Jane Richmond’s Grace, a simple top down cardigan with some easy looking lace at the yoke. What could be more foolproof?

Grace Fail

 

Well, as it happens, lots of other top down sweaters. Because, unfortunately for me, the simple lace in this cute little number actually requires some attention to detail rather than the autopilot I set myself on. I’ll concede that maybe I’m just too picky, but those mistakes in my lace, starting about a quarter into the yoke, are too much for me to ignore. So, I’ll have to start over. I really would like to finish this cardigan eventually, but we need a bit of a break from each other until I can get some of my confidence back.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to focus on socks:

These are what I’m calling my Antidepressant Socks. I bought the yarn, Phildar Folk 100, at the height of winter when I was feeling as though a burst of colour would be just the thing to break me out of the winter sads. The colourway (Perroquet), however striking in the skein, turned out to knit up into some pretty ugly fabric, so I let these languish for longer than I should have. They’re done now, though, and they actually photograph much better than they look in person. And, like all hand knit socks , they’re pretty darn cozy, so I suppose I don’t have much to complain about.

And, what am I working on now? Well, this amazing shawl for one. I’m nearly at the end, about a quarter of the way through the cabled border, but I’m taking my time with it in an effort to not screw it up. I’m also making a pair of fingering weight Rye socks for Keith’s Dad, just because. The yarn is Knit Picks Stroll Tonal Sock in Constellation:

Rye

Sometimes it’s nice to make things for others for no particular reason. And, who knows, maybe the good karma will break me out of my sweater slump!

Fellow knitters: how do you deal with your knitting when it seems like you just can’t do anything right?

Past and Present

Image

Hello, and happy new year! I’ve been reading a lot of 2013 retrospective posts in the past week, which I had initially decided I wouldn’t participate in. I haven’t written that many blog posts, after all, and it’s been far too long since I last blogged. Surely, I thought, my readers deserve some content. A recipe, maybe, or an honest-to-goodness finished project. And then I realized that I have lots of finished projects to show you! You see, I knit a metric buttload of Christmas gifts this year (actual count: 17), and now that Christmas is over and most of the gifts have been delivered to their intended recipients, there’s no need for me to hide what I’ve been doing anymore. I also realized that I completed 56 projects in 2013. 56!!! Many of these were smaller projects, like hats and mittens, but I also managed to complete 9 adult sized sweaters with varying degrees of success. It’s been a productive first year as a knitter, to say the least, and I’m now of the opinion that this deserves some kind of second look. Not every project I worked on this year is worthy of note, but there are a few that I’m especially proud of. So, without further ado, here are some of the highlights of my year in knitting, 2013 edition.

Image

First up are the Cadence Socks I knit for my friend Margaret. I began these socks shortly after I started my job in July and I worked on them nearly every lunch hour until they were finished, about two months in total. I love the complex cable-like lace pattern, and the yarn (Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock) was a pleasure to work with. I’m not sure I will make this pattern again–it’s maybe a bit too complex for a repeat–but if I did, I would probably use a solid coloured yarn instead of a variegated one. The pattern gets kind of swallowed up by the colours until you get really close to it.

Image

When I first decided to knit Christmas gifts for my family, I initially decided to make mittens. I quickly changed my mind, though, when I realized that I’d have to knit two for each person (17 gifts, people!) and, eventually, I settled on hats. Above is Stephen West’s Botanic Hat, made for my brother Clifford. I don’t know why, but I was so intimidated by this pattern until I actually sat down to make it, at which point I discovered how easy it is. Unfortunately, Clifford finds it a bit too itchy, but still! That’s one nice lookin’ hat, if I may say so.

Image
Image
Photo Credit: Ewe Knit, Toronto, ON
The Meier Cardigan was definitely one of my proudest moments of 2013. I knit this as a sample for Ewe Knit, my favorite yarn shop in Toronto, and it was a project that really helped me to grow as a knitter. This cardigan is knit flat from the bottom up and features my very first set-in sleeves. I liked making this cardigan so much that I made one for myself in a charcoal grey colour, though I have yet to take any pictures of it to show you. I also pushed myself to knit my own in 7 days, which includes all the weaving and sewing on the buttons. I’m glad to have been able to push myself to complete a whole garment in 7 days, but I definitely won’t be doing that again if I can help it.

Image2013 saw the birth of my niece, Khloe, and my nephew, Peter, for whom I knit these ruffle rib baby socks. As if being painfully cute and fun to knit wasn’t enough, I also received complimentary feedback from the designer, the incomparable Ann Budd. Praise from Caesar!

Image

The Hallgrim Hat was yet another challenge that helped me grow as a knitter, mainly because I found the original pattern to be completely the wrong size. When I first cast on, the ribbing was so large that it fit around my waist and it was immediately apparent that this would never fit anyone’s head. Undaunted, I modified the shit out of this by knitting fewer pattern repeats, using smaller needles and a heavier yarn. The result: a bit snug initially, but an okay size with blocking. I just love the cabling in this hat… it feels so Scandinavian to me. More importantly, though, I learned how to be patient and to figure out knitting math to modify a pattern in such a way as to preserve the integrity of the original design. I also learned how to do a tubular cast on for this hat, which I am totally sold on despite the extra work it takes. It’s one of those small details you might not notice if you weren’t looking for it, but the edging is far cleaner and neater than it would have been with a long tail cast on. I gave this hat to my Mom for Christmas, and she loved it.

And, finally….

Image

I FINISHED THE HUMBOLDT RAGLAN!!!!

So, that’s my Best of 2013. As for 2014, the headline picture shows a bit of what I’ve got in store for myself. Basically, I’m in the middle of a selfish knitting bender and I don’t plan to stop until I start to feel *really* selfish (which might be never? haha!). I have yet to finish my Burrard Cardigan (set aside so that I could finish my gift knitting before Christmas day), though I will complete it before too long. I’ve also begun knitting the Seven Sisters pullover in a green yarn that can only be described as vibrant. I love how the yarn really highlights the asymmetry of the pattern. Unfortunately, I’ll be ripping back much of what I’ve completed because I’ve found some mistakes that I don’t think I can live with. This, to me, is another sure sign that I’ve grown as a knitter: the willingness to take time and undo mistakes rather than plowing ahead without regard for the final product. It’s the whole journey-and-destination thing. Yep, I’m a grown up or something. I’ve also been obsessing over socks lately and, thus, have started two new pairs for myself: the woodpile socks in a fiery red and some variegated jaywalkers for those nights when I’m exhausted but antsy and in need of something simple to knit. That Knitting Sarah is currently leading a Socks with Sarah Knit-a-Long that I’ve decided to participate in is a very happy coincidence indeed. Finally, I’m also in need of a new hat–my Milanese Lace Topper, though lovely, isn’t exactly warm enough for the cold snap we’re currently experiencing here in Toronto–and I think I’m going to make another Gentian with that beautiful deep blue Madeline Tosh DK in the picture.

So, happy new year and all that jazz! What new year projects will you be treating yourself to in 2014?

Two at a Time

Image

So, remember when I complained about how much I hate knitting two items on the same needles at once? Remember my frustration over yarn tangles and boredom?  My steadfast refusal to never ever knit two things at a time again? Okay, maybe I kept that last part to myself, which is probably a good thing because I’m about to flip flop. That’s right, people: I’m officially endorsing the two-items-at-a-time knitting strategy. Not for every item, of course… I still maintain that trying to do those two sleeves at the same time was a bad idea, not least because it killed my desire to ever finish that sweater (I will finish it, though, dammit! I will!). The problem, I see now, is that sleeves are far too large an item to knit comfortably at once without a long enough circular needle to do magic loop. Socks, on the other hand, are just right.

I was inspired to give this technique another go when a knitting friend (yes, I have those now) showed me a pair of fingerless mitts she’d just finished. These mitts, knit in a Noro yarn, were absolutely gorgeous, and I imagined that she’d probably been anticipating wearing them all summer. There was one very obvious problem with them, though: one mitt fit her hand perfectly while the other was comically large. It wasn’t because she’d changed her needles, and the yarn certainly didn’t get fatter or anything like that. Unfortunately, it’s just a sad fact of knitting that your gauge can change if you’re not paying attention (and sometimes even when you are paying attention), especially when you’re trying to create two identical items separately.

Fast forward to last weekend, when Keith and I found ourselves in Hamilton for the annual Supercrawl. My favorite Hamilton yarn store was having a sale on Koigu KPPPM, so I grabbed two skeins with the intention of making a pair of very special socks for Keith’s birthday (I was actually going to make Keith a sweater for his birthday, sweater curse be damned!, but, one day, Keith turned to me and said, “I know you really want to make me a sweater, but what I really want is socks. No, really. Just socks. Lots of socks.” And I am nothing if not obliging…). This Koigu yarn can be mightily expensive ($14 for 175 yards), and the smaller yardage means you need two skeins to make a proper pair of socks. And because it would bother me to no end to waste even a little bit of this precious yarn, I decided to take a crack at something that had been intimidating me for a while now: knitting socks two at a time from the toe up.

So, I’m here to eat crow because, now, I love knitting two socks at once (I’m using this tutorial, by the way). Sure, yarn tangles are still a minor annoyance, and it’s definitely a bit slower  to knit two at a time than it is to knit one top-down sock on DPNs. But there are several advantages to knitting socks this way that have me thinking I might abandon my DPNs forever. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why I’ve grown to love this style of sock knitting:

1. The socks are both of uniform size and shape.

2. When the pattern I’m using to make socks is fairly plain and easy to manage, I don’t need a row counter to keep track of my work. If I want to know whether or not the socks are the right size, I can simply slip them on my feet and know instantly whether or not I’m ready to turn the heel. Once the heel is done, I can keep going up the leg until they’re as tall as I want them to be.

3. It is obvious which side is the front and which is the back.  The picture at the top of this post is obviously the front, whatever Keith will see when he looks down and admires his custom socks. Here’s what the back side looks like:

First toe-up socks back

Plain, easy, obvious, and no fuss.

4. No laddering! This is possibly my absolute favorite thing about toe up socks because, try as I might, I can never seem to avoid the big gaps in the fabric where my needles join whenever I use my DPNs. Sometimes the ladders go away after a wash or two but, very often, they distort the fabric and make my socks look raggedy. When I make my socks toe up, on the other hand, my stitches are uniform and beautiful:

First toe-up socks side

So, them’s my reasons. I am definitely a convert to toe-up sock knitting and I plan to make many pairs of socks this way in the future.

Fellow knitters: What are  your favorite ways to knit socks?

Challenge Accepted

Image

I know I promised you last week that I would write about the best roast chicken ever (and it’s coming, I promise!), but I need to show you what I just finished making. Check out that sock! Isn’t it cool looking? It might seem crazy to be knitting thick, warm socks so close to summer, and knowing that I generally hate wearing socks and avoid buying them until the moment I absolutely need them probably won’t make me seem any less insane. But these sock were born out of necessity, you see. I knit them because I needed to learn how to do something before I try something else.

It began last weekend when I was at a conference in Hamilton, Ontario. The conference organizers had arranged for us to see Hamilton’s Art Crawl,  a free monthly event where numerous galleries and shops on James St North stay open extra late so that people can check out the truly vibrant art scene that has been quietly growing for several years without the usual institutional or corporate support that tends to ruin local, independent communities. It was here that I discovered the wonderful and amazing  Handknit Yarn Studio, Hamilton’s lone and brand new local yarn shop. Yarn from the LYS, as knitters call them, is usually far out of my price range, so I was expecting to have a quick poke around and leave empty handed. Then, I spotted the Lopi.

ImageLopi is a type of yarn from Iceland that is famed for its warmth and its extreme delicateness. According to Cirilia Rose, lopi pulls apart like cotton candy if you’re rough with it, so it’s something that needs to be handled with care while knitting. I’d also heard that it can be expensive, being an import from Iceland, so I definitely didn’t expect to be bringing any home with me. Anyway, as I was admiring the beautiful range of colours stocked by the shop, I spotted the price: a mere $4.50 per skein. Totally in my price range! And, with that, I brought home 4 skeins in two colours, enough to make a pair of warm mittens and maybe even a hat as well.

Because this yarn is so delicate, and because I wanted to try using both colours in one garment, I realized that I would need to start practicing a technique that’s been scaring the crap out of me for as long as I’ve been knitting: stranded colourwork. (Okay, I haven’t been knitting all that long, but you get the point) Colour stranding is exactly what it sounds like (knitting with two or more strands of colour at once) and I was convinced that it was going to be really hard to do. So I decided to start small, with an easy stitch pattern on a project I could easily start over if I messed up badly (full finished project to be revealed in another post).

Fair Isle pattern

Turn out, colour stranding is SUPER EASY!  Emboldened by my success, I decided to start a pair of socks using a pattern I’d long admired but could never see myself having enough skill to do well. And, well, the sock you see above is the final product!

So far, I’ve finished the left sock and I’ve cast on for the right one. These socks are really time consuming to make, and I can’t seem to knit anything without including a mistake or two (the mistakes aren’t obvious, though, so I’m not going to point them out). I probably should have continued my colourwork experiment with a less complex pattern, but I’m the type of person who likes to throw myself into a challenge head first. In this case, my recklessness has definitely paid off. After I finish the second sock, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to turn that Lopi into something warm and beautiful without ripping it to shreds.

To all you experienced knitters out there: have you ever knit with lopi before? Are there any tips or tricks for handling this yarn that you might be willing to share?