I’ve been dyeing like… well, like a wool purveyor in September. A lot of yarn has gone through the dye pots. It’s been worth it because this new beauty is out in the world after more than a year in the making:
What’s more, there are two versions:
I’ve been dyeing like… well, like a wool purveyor in September. A lot of yarn has gone through the dye pots. It’s been worth it because this new beauty is out in the world after more than a year in the making:
What’s more, there are two versions:
I finished a quilt because my cat threw up a purple hairball on it, and the hairball saved the quilt.
Let me back up.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know that I have two cats - Rufus and Vesper. Rufus is the orange three-legged one, Vesper is the little black one with amazing green eyes.
Vesper has a horrible habit of eating my finished knitted objects. To placate her chewing hobby, I let her keep some of her chew toys (formerly my knits) so that maybe she’ll be content with the one she’s currently chewing and not start eating a new one. Hope springs eternal, right? The chewing of the knits means that the hairballs in my house are technicolor beyond belief.
Back to the quilt.
The reason I hadn’t finished it and didn’t want to work on it is that I realized I made a poor fabric choice. I believed my fabric store when they marked a product “quilting cotton,” and that’s not at all how I would describe the fabric. It softened while I sewed it in a way that makes me concerned it’s just not going to hold up, and I have little hope for a long life for this quilt. It’s really depressing to put a huge amount of time, effort, and money into a project and then not feel good about it because of one crappy material - and of course it’s the material I used for the sashing AND the backing. Harumph.
So there I am, with the quilt on my machine table, trying to get around to doing the quilting, and then Vesper turns it into a day bed. Now it’s covered in cat hair, and I want to work on it even less. And then, dear thing that she it, she gacks up a hairball consisting of yarn from a former favorite shawl made from funky yarn I bought in China, and BAM! Giant purple stain.
At this point, I’m pretty sure the quilt is going to have a purple stain forever, and I think to myself that there’s nothing to do but finish it and wash it and see how bad the stain is. So over the course of a week, I finish the quilt.
Lo and behold, the stain comes out. The sashing and backing fabric is doing about what I thought it was going to do - it’s tracking and generally making a nuisance of itself invisible to everyone but me. But you know what? The (slightly crappy) fabric makes the quilt so soft and cozy - perhaps the lightest, softest quilt I have ever made. It’s like a well-worn tee shirt that you enjoy wearing all the more because it’s coming to the end of its life.
The purple hairball saved the quilt because it helped me see it through a new lens - the lens of utility. I was so caught up in what was wrong with the quilt as an art project that I lost sight of the point of the quilt as a household textile: to be used.
And rather than being the magnum opus of my quilting career, it is doing what it should be doing, namely collecting cat hair and baby drool. It may not last forever, but it’s here for now. At least until the next purple hairball.
Last week, I had the chance to speak with Gary and Christine of the We Talk Fiber podcast - a new audio podcast covering more than just knitting!
It was a really fun and far-ranging conversation, and you can listen to the episode here:
Thanks, Gary and Christine!
I'm feeling about as pleased as the cat that ate the proverbial canary.
I love it when I can find exactly what I'm looking for and do what needs to be done in a way that feels effortless - and I just had a whopper of an effortless experience.
Last year was the first year I committed myself to keeping good notes and entering my projects into Ravelry. I entered (almost! So close!) everything I knitted, including my own designs. Because I had the information at my fingertips, I was able to complete both of this week's StashFit Exercises in under 20 minutes. Woohoo!
My total knitted output for the year is around 8600. This does not count a few things I frogged. I thought it was going to be more, but hey, that's life.
Even if you don't have the information at your fingertips, I hope you will find the time to capture as best you can what you remember about the projects you worked on last year.
Next week we're going to be doing a deep-dive on what the results mean, and how to interpret your past knitting to make the most of your future knitting.
Thanks for joining me on this adventure!
Part 2 of the Walk Down Memory Laine exercise is to capture the words and phrases from part 1 of the exercise that feel the most significant to you. This step is important because it helps you home in on what your best knitting memories have in common.
Here's my work, based on my best knitting memories.
Key Words about Place:
Key Words about People & Purpose:
Key Words about Emotions:
Key Words about Projects:
Distilling all of this down to five words or phrases:
Next up, we'll continue to analyze knitting from the past with an exercise to looking at the highlights and lowlights of your output from last year!
I hope you're as excited about the StashFit adventure as I am!
it seems only fair to share my responses to the exercises I'm asking you to do, so look for my work on the exercises here on the blog on Fridays.
Without further ado, here's are my best knitting memories:
One of my first powerful knitting memories took place in my dorm room in college. It was after dinner, I was on my own and I was wrestling with my needles. I'd discovered sock knitting about three months before. Having knit one pair of very basic socks from Nancy Bush's Folk Socks and primed with the over-confidence only a teenager can muster, I'd bought a copy of Fancy Feet by Anna Zilboorg. I was determined to knit colorwork toe-up socks (having never done colorwork or toe-up socks before), and nothing was going to stop me - except the %^(*% figure-8 cast-on! I could not figure it out. This was before videos on the internet, and it was just me and the book and some very bedraggled yarn that had been knit over and over and over. Finally, it clicked - a tiny little square of a toe-nubbin emerged, and I knew I had it! I was so excited I yelled out loud and did a victory lap of the common room.
Another favorite knitting memory involves trains and Japan. I was traveling to Takayama, a snowy northern town, with my husband and two friends. We left Osaka in the morning, and were hurtling along at high-speed through snowy forests and beautiful countryside, with the entire scene bathed in clear winter sunlight. I was working on a zip-front hoody-style sweater with a fun snaky-cable pattern on the front. The yarn was dark chocolate brown, and while I loved the color, the sweater was taking forever because I hated working on it at night or in low light and I was starting to doubt the wisdom of my color choice. Seeing the rich brown in the natural light of the sun, I could finally appreciate the natural simplicity of the color - it matched the trunks of the bare trees going by, and fit perfectly into the landscape.
A list of favorite knitting memories would not be complete without mention of the Shanghai Stitch and Bitch group. This was a group that called it like they saw it, laughed hard, swore like sailors, and could put away a bottle of wine before you could say Bob's-your-uncle. You did not bring anything complicated to SnB, nor did you bring anything which couldn't handle a wine stain or a chocolate smear. The specific night that comes to mind involved a pair of socks I was knitting in Noro. In order to get the socks to match, I had fussy-wound the skein into two similar balls. This left pink and bright pink yarn left for the toes and heels. I was also attempting a round toe for the first time. I thought everything was fine, but the socks were eliciting highly suspicious giggles. It takes true friends to stage a knitting intervention to let you know your socks resemble... Well, you can look at the photo, imagine the socks partially knitted from the toe up, and fill in the rest.
I hope you'll consider sharing your favorite knitting memory in the comments!
Hello out there!
Since it's January, the pressure of New Year's resolutions is upon us.
Social media is full of images of freshly-cleaned homes, and reorganized offices. If you follow a lot of knitters (and oh boy do I follow a lot of knitters), you'll also see that people are working on their stashes, declaring yarn diets, and generally trying to figure out how to manage their yarn and other fiber-related goodies.
While I whole-heartedly support going through your stash, it can be a truly daunting project. As someone with a yarn company, I basically manage stash for a living. After five years of watching my inventory (read: professional stash) with the enthusiasm and attentiveness of a Border Collie, I've learned a few things, and I'm excited to share them with you via a new e-Course I've developed called StashFit.
StashFit is designed to help you discover where you find your knitting bliss, discern the kinds of projects that make you happiest, define your goals as a knitter, and use this information as a guide to help you organize, manage, and even (gasp) develop your stash to deliver maximum knitting happiness.
The first exercise of the program is live in the shop here, but if you sign up for my newsletter, you will get a download code to get a copy for free!
I'll be sharing my work on the exercises here over the next few weeks. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments!
A knitter recently sent me a picture of her version of Opus the Octopus, and I think he's amazing!
Please meet Magnum Opus by Rosy, a keen knitter and knitadermist based in Braemar, Scotland and coordinator of the Deeside Knitwits.
Rosy knitter her tentacles lengthwise, and added a picot edging for the suckers. You could get a similar effect with bobbles.
My obsession with toe-up colorwork socks is currently in full bloom.
These beauties from Donna Druchunas' Turkish Delight pattern were a blast to knit, and the bright, saturated colors made for perfect winter knitting.
If you're not already familiar with Donna, she is a teacher, designer, editor, and more - be sure to see what she's up on her site, sheeptoshawl.com
It's been a while since a traditional pattern really grabbed me, and this one did; which is really convenient because my Taj Mahal stockings from two years ago have been in heavy rotation.
I think the creation of a full collection of winter house socks is in order.
What's on your needles this week?
As you may have seen on Instagram, my cat Rufus lost a leg. He snuck out an open window and plummeted three floors, breaking his back left leg really badly in the process. He's doing fine now (and wearing a sweater! A cat in a sweater!), but it was a horrible ordeal for him and I'm beyond thrilled that he's alive.
In celebration of Rufus' three remaining legs (and his epic vet bill), I'm running a Buy 3, Get 4 Promotion on orders placed now through Feb 15, 2016.
Buy any three kits, and get an Extra Large Minicake Gradient Skein (reg. price $48) free.
Buy any three skeins of Helix and get a fourth skein free. You can double down on a sweater quantity, too - buy 6 skeins of Helix, and get 8!
Please make sure to let us know what color you want for your free skein(s) in the "Anything else we should know about your order?" box at checkout.
P.S. - Sign up for our newsletter (there's a handy button on the right) for a monthly free pattern and other special deals!
Today, I bring you an interview with Kelly, the creative force behind KIS Designs, and the Infinitely Shawl!
My current physical location is: Silverton, Oregon.
This morning, my breakfast was: Oh, you got me! My breakfast was a slice of raspberry crunch pie and a cup of coffee.
The best album ever is: Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti.
My current favorite album: Kendra Morris' Mockingbird.
I am currently knitting: A sweater and two shawls for pattern development and another shawl for a friend.
My secret super power is: I am able to juggle multiple WIP's ;-)
The design story behind Infinitely is: My idea was to create a shawl with simple lines and a touch of lace which would show off and emulate the beautiful, springy texture of Infinite Twist Helix yarn.
A favorite papery flower, shown growing in Yunnan province, and its interpretation as a yarn.
I love my job.
As you may already know, my frequent co-conspirator Mel has been showcasing great ways to get more out of the patterns you already have with clever yarn substitutions.
Mel asked if I'd be interested in creating an "alterknit" version of her pattern Akamai. "You could probably knit it in a weekend" she said, and I said "YES!" and than dove into my stash to find an appropriate yarn.
Akamai (in its original form) is a delightfully simple sweater with sweet details, worked in two colors of a linen yarn for a light, drapey summer look. I love linen for weaving, but I've never done a big knitting project with it: I generally avoid inelastic yarns as they tend to aggravate my elbow.
Long story short, I have gone through periods of cray-cray marathon knitting in my life and paid the price: I acquired an angry elbow. There is something up with my right arm that gets ornery and painful if I stress it or knit too much. It's been diagnosed as all sorts of things at one time or another: carpal tunnel, nerve impingement, tendonitis, tennis elbow, and a repetitive stress injury.
Against medical advice, I kept on knitting through it all - but I finally taught myself how to knit with my left hand, conserving as much motion as possible. I've developed a knitting style that may not be super speedy, but at least I'm not in pain.
That is, until I try to knit something inelastic. Like the gorgeous recycled Thai silk yarn I was using for Akamai. Womp womp womp.
I paired the silk with Penumbra (65% mohair / 35% nylon) in order to go up a needle size (which works better for my elbow), and to give the silk some much-needed stability. Recycled silk is generally a very dense and heavy yarn, and Penumbra is ultra light - they balance each other out nicely, and using two yarns together helps make the color look more even. The swatch looked and felt great after blocking, and I couldn't wait to rock out the project.
Except that I couldn't.
Already irritated by a recent rush project, I could only do three or four painfully slow rows on Akamai before the angry elbow chimed in. My plan for a super-fast, flies-off-the-needles sweater was meeting reality and unraveling rapidly.
But then something interesting happened: I started slowing down, taking my time with each stitch.
By being just a bit more present with each stitch, my yarn tension relaxed imperceptibly, and suddenly I could do five or ten rows without aggravation. Now I have a mostly finished sweater - one small neckline adjustment pending, and it still needs to be blocked and have the ends woven in, but it's quite close to completion.
It's surprises like this that keep me excited about knitting and working with fiber. Something unexpected happens, a project takes an odd turn, and suddenly you make a discovery.
Sometimes, you even end up with a finished sweater, too.
Could you tell me what a typical day is like for you?
I do a bit of knitting everyday. I usually teach a couple of times a week. I spend far more time on the computer than I would like, even though most of it is doing interesting things – responding to emails, endlessly tweaking patterns, writing my column for PomPom Quarterly and corresponding with the folks who help me get my patterns done: tech editors, graphic designers, photographers and test knitters. Weirdly, I tend to work in silence, as even music breaks my concentration and talk radio or podcastsjust leave me feeling like I’m not concentrating on either writing or listening. I try to go out for a walk or bike ride once a day. That’s when a lot of sweater spotting and yarn and old car matching happens. I spend a couple of hours on Instagram; putting up pictures, writing the accompanying blurb, responding to folks and of course looking at other people’s pictures – it’s an approach to blogging that really suits me.
Cooking is a big part of my creative practice – it’s important for me to make something that is instantly satisfying and well received on a daily basis, because so many of the projects I do take months if not years to reach fruition. I sometimes wonder if having a typical day would suit me and if suddenly I’d manage to get even more done if I had a regular schedule. The reality is I don’t have one.
Any special recommendations for knitters visiting London?
My North East London centric creative supplies circuit involves Wild and Woolly (for a chat and a good range of price points – including unexpected finds in her £2 customer destash baskets), Loop (for a stroke and fondle and any needle size I need), Prick Your Finger (British yarns and the arty side of things – keep an eye out for opening receptions), Ray Stitch (wool felt and pretty sewing stuff) , Delicate Stitches (for ALL the Appleton colours), Lenarow Wools and Crafts (kids class craft supplies and standard basics), Rolls and Rems Nags Head (sewing basics and the odd surprise), The Handweavers Studio (lots of colour and inspiration), Donlon Books (art books), Artwords Bookshop and Wardour News (magazines), Argun Stationers, and Fish & Cook Stationers (googlie eyes, printing and labels). I shop local, offline and independent whenever I can, enjoying the fact that each place has its specialities and staff quirks. The relationships that I build up in each place are really special to me. And I can stop in on my favourite charity shops along the way.
Do you have a knitting tip, project win, or project disaster you'd be willing to share?
For thrifty lovers of playing yarn chicken (like me), it’s good to know that most patterns specify around an extra third/ball/skein of yarn to play it safe. This is because we all knit a little differently and it accommodates some mistakes and personalising a pattern – plus it really is bad news when there isn’t enough! The good news is, those leftovers are super inspiring as we usually feel way less precious about them and therefore get much braver about combining colours and just playing.
Kermis is such a fun and whimsical design! Would you tell me a bit about your design inspiration?
Knitting is no longer a necessity for keeping us clothed and warm, the way it was even 50 years ago. We do it because it’s fun and satisfying – it makes our hearts, hands, eyes and brains sing. I like my designs to reflect that. Colour plays a major part: finding ones that really work together, but in unexpected ways. I like my projects to have different elements in them to keep me entertained along the way and then trust that this will suit others too. I don’t want a pattern I slog through before or after I’ve done the one entertaining bit, but I’m not one for a heap of counting as I go (no big lace shawls where I have to pay attention along every row for me). So this pattern has ribbing, a stripe section and a spot of colourwork. I like adding little elements that let you flex the skills you have as a hardened knitter – like a few short rows and a small section of steeking - while providing a safe learning experience for those who haven’t tackled those technique before. I really strongly believe that when you chose to make something it should be something you can’t buy – why bother?
Since Kermis is a Dutch word, is there a Dutch connection?
My direct family: mum, dad, sister and I consider ourselves Londoners more than anything else. We’ve all spent at least half our lives here. I’m the first person in my family to be born in the UK and my sister is the only other. My mum and dad are imports, as is my husband – the rest of our families are elsewhere in the world. I grew up speaking Dutch. It’s where my mum is from.
What did you think of the hand-spun yarn?
That was the yarn that enticed me to work with you! From being part of setting up Ricefield Collective, I really appreciate the fact that you went and taught new skills to a community who already had a lot of other existing skills. Knowing that the yarn I was using had already passed so actively through someone else’s hands was really nice. The difference in texture between the hand-spun and the mill-spun yarn kept my fingers entertained too. In that way, it’s a yarn that is satisfying to my brain and my fingers.
Any styling suggestions or how-to-wear-it advice?
I’ve been enjoying working out spring and summer outfits to go with my Carousel Kermis. I’ve been looking through my wardrobe to find items that have at least one of the Carousel colours in it and then trying it on. Contrary to what I expected, I’ve had the best luck combining it with other patterns – the floral 60s shift dress I’m wearing in the picture and the skirt my Dutch grandfather (Opa) painted for my grandmother (Oma). In terms of combining it with solids, the blue and grey ensures it goes really well with denim. I have a threadbare denim skirt that is barely blue anymore because it was second hand when I got it and I’ve worn it every summer, since so it will certainly be worn with that. I think it will be my go to for wearing with my Frankie and Ray http://frankieandray.bigcartel.com/ dress that Jo made for me last year. It’s a dress that isn’t really fitted in anyway, so I like the fact that by buttoning up my Kermis I get some of my womanly shape back. Mostly I’m planning to wear it with skirts and dresses. That’s not because I can’t imagine wearing it with trousers, it’s just my high-waisted jeans have to work their way to the top of the mending pile. I have worn it with a long T-shirt over low-waisted jeans.
Thanks so much, Anna!
Inspired by a conversation with the one and only MSkiKnits, I've created colorways inspired by and named for Hawaiian flowers. Mel used four of the colorways (Plumeria, Bougainvillea, Anthurium, and Carnation) for her Ikaika II sweater, and I made kits - you can find them in the shop here!
You might not think of the carnation as a hawaiian flower, but lots and lots and lots of them are grown on Maui and the Big Island, and many make their way into leis.
Carnations remind me of Hawaii by way of two weeks I spent with my grandma Jinny, and one specific afternoon full or carnations. Like Proust's madeleine, I think of this particular afternoon every time I smell a scented carnation.
My parents were enjoying a child-free vacation to Hawaii, and Jinny had planned all sorts of Hawaiian-themed activities to keep me from feeling left out. These included "hula" dancing to tapes of Hawaiian music in the dining room, and making carnation leis. The lei making involved three huge bags of "lei heads" (these are carnations that have had their stems removed) lei needles (which are at least six inches long, and luckily for my little fingers, not too terribly pointy), and heavy thread.
We sat outside in her yard, and strung what seemed like hundreds of flowers into leis, holding each one by its green calyx and passing the long lei needles through each flower vertically, each one nesting into the last. The spicy smell was pure magic, and I still remember how cool the petals felt against my neck.
The carnations were every possible color - white, peach, pale pink, fuchsia, red, and even pale green.
The ones I loved best were pink splashed with red veins. It's this particular flower color that I wanted to capture in my new colorway, named unsurprisingly, "carnation."
Check back next Wednesday for the story behind Plumeria!
"On The Needles" has moved to the Infinite Twist Group on Ravelry! This is a good thing because:
Speaking of prizes, there’s a Vesper-approved sweater sack up for grabs! Post what you’ve got on the needles between now and May 31st, and you could win a fully-lined sweater sack in the winner’s choice of Japanese fabric made by yours truly.
Without further ado, the project of the week is:
I’m knitting this in recycled sari silk I picked up at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, held double with a strand of Infinite Twist Penumbra.
Verdict: Love the pattern, love the knitted fabric, hate the inelasticity of the silk! My elbow hurts just thinking about it. I can only do about six rows at a time without aggravating my knitter’s elbow (somehow, calling it “tennis elbow” just seems inaccurate).
In short, this is more of a product knit, and less of a process knit. The good news is I really love the washed swatch, and I think this will be a delightful and wearable sweater. I'm also excited about using up stash yarn, especially one that reminds me of confetti!
I would love to see what you're working on this week, so please drop by the Ravelry group!
This image of the women of the Qinghai Spinner's Cooperative in 2012 brings back a lot of memories: hearing the unique cadence of spoken Tibetan; the sharp, earthy (but not unpleasant) smell of burning yak dung; the brocades, sheep-skin collars, and brilliant woven trims of traditional Tibetan robes.
Less pleasant, I also remember the hotel with one sink for all the guests, the two-hole pit toilet guarded by a huge dog on a tether of indeterminable length, altitude sickness, and being so cold that I wore all my clothes at once to try to get warm enough to sleep. There were other questionable fashion choices as well, case in point: a blue fur hat. What can I say? It was warm.
But through all of it, there was the rhythm of spinning wheels. I was in Qinghai to teach women who'd be spinning on spindles their whole lives how to spin on wheels. In short, it was AMAZING to be surrounded by such a delightful gaggle of spinners.
And now, it's time for me to share the best of their yarn (yes, I've been hoarding it). I have two large boxes of DK weight that I've been saving for a very special project, and the lovely Anna Maltz (aka Sweater Spotter) has designed Kermis, a fun and whimsical summer sweater to make the most of this unique yarn.
I've been wearing my Kermis today, and just loving it - it's delightful to have a hand-knit, hand-spun, hand-dyed souvenir or a very special time and place.. especially one that keeps me warm!
If you'd like to knit a Kermis of your own, kits are available in the shop.
Way back in November, when I was hatching plots with the delightful Jill Wolcott, she requested an orange for an upcoming project - a pure, happy, bright orange.
Like any dyer, this request gives me plenty of rope (yarn?) with which to hang myself.
After lots of tweaking of dye recipes, I arrived at a combination that I hoped would match the sunset-inspired orange of Japanese temple gates, known as torii gates.
A capelette sample was made with the yarn, I brought it to Japan, and then the moment of truth: it matched!
Whether you love orange or not (and if not, never fear - there are 18 other colors), have a look at Jill's Mt Emei Capelette. It was a great travel piece - easy to take on and off, light weight, and a fun way to add color to a limited array of clothes.
What colors are inspiring you this Spring?