Flax for Sam

[The title brings to mind the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” which just made me sad, and I’m kind of wishing I chose a different title, but nothing else popped into mind so I’ll just have to deal with it.]

Finished sweater, pre-blocking

I have finished my first sweater! Huzzah!

[Pattern: Flax, from Tin Can Knits. Yarn: Ice Road Trucker from Fiber ‘n Ice]

I sort of feel like I did everything possible to keep from finishing this dang thing. I made a mistake on the shoulders, but soldiered forward. I realized I needed to make the body longer, after I had already finished that and moved on to the sleeves, so I had to frog the original bottom band and re-knit. Then, I took out the original collar, because the white yarn was acrylic and felt a lot scratchier than the superwash wool I used for the main sweater.

[That last was the most nerve-wracking, as the rest of the sweater was perfectly fine, but could have all been undone if I messed up when picking up the stitches from the body and then taking out the old collar — resulting in at least a month of work down the drain.]

BUT!

It’s all finished! I’ve woven in the loose ends, closed up the small holes that form at the underarm of the raglan sleeves (that’s part of the actual pattern), and the sweater is currently blocking on one of my foam pads.

I’ll have a short reprieve before I start Joey’s sweater, simply because I have to wait until I find yarn at the end of April/beginning of May. Although my hands are happy to have a little break, my brain is super excited about getting to work on Joe’s sweater (and actually doing things right from start to finish).

[I also managed to set a whole bunch of skeins yesterday, as I was working from home. As you can see, I had a lot of things piling up on my to-be-set table. The small skeins are, largely, samples from the recent Fiber Farmer Market. So many pretties! I’m almost through spinning up all the samples — in between working on a big spin of alpaca and roving from Avalon Springs Farm.

Plus, here’s a picture of Alvin in his cat burrito. I had to take  him to the vet for a teeth cleaning, hence the teleworking. He did so well, the dental tech put stars and hearts on his file under the description for “how did the cat do?”]

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Sweaters for Penguins

No, I’m not really knitting a sweater for a penguin. Unless you count my youngest nephew as one and, honestly, he’s about the size of some of them.

When I was up in Alaska, I picked up some yarn (Fiber ‘n Ice, colorway: Ice Road Trucker) with the extremely optimistic goal of knitting a sweater for little Sam. Keep in mind…I only learned how to knit in January. Attempting a sweater with only four finished items under my belt? (those items are incredibly simple) Like I said – extremely optimistic.

However, I had pulled up the Flax sweater pattern from Tin Can Knits, which purported to be a simple sweater that even a beginner can knit. I printed out a copy and searched around for some tutorials online (I find it helps seeing what other people have done, and learning from their mistakes, as I fumble through a new skill). Tools in hand, I set about making my first sweater.

I am surprised at how quickly I am progressing through the pattern. Of course, this being me, I did make a mistake fairly early on and didn’t notice it until it was time for me to start dividing for the sleeves. It’s okay, though. It doesn’t affect the physical construction of the sweater, just the end look.

[The caps of the raglan sleeves are currently all in garter stitch, instead of there being a thinner panel starting up at the neck, like there is supposed to be. Once I realized what I had done, I made an adjustment to my pattern, so I’m back on track for the rest of the sleeves looking the way they’re supposed to.]

The Flax sweater pattern is, as it claims, remarkably simple. There were a few times here and there where I needed to look up how to do something (more to clarify that I was doing it correctly), but the pattern moved along pretty quickly. If you’re a beginner knitter like me and you’re looking for something that will push you a little more, I recommend trying the pattern out.

Halfway through making the sweater, I decided that Sam’s older brother, Joe, needed a matching, hand-knit sweater as well. And, because I never do anything halfway, I’m thinking this may become an annual tradition. Sure! I’ll just hand-knit sweaters for my nephews each Christmas, like Molly Weasley! They’ll get a new pattern each year!

Sam’s sweater is almost done – I started on the sleeves about a week and a half ago. It’s my first stab at using double-pointed needles (DPNs), which meant a slow start to actually knitting the sleeves. I’m really starting to get the hang of them now (I’ve finished one sleeve so far), but I’m also looking forward to being able to use the circular needles when I make Joey’s sweater.

As I mentioned before, Mom and I went to the Fiber Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I had hoped to pick up the yarn for Joey’s sweater (Sam’s should be done soon), but there were fewer vendors selling the weight and colors I was looking for. Most of the vendors on Saturday had roving — not a bad thing, but not what I was looking for, for Joe’s sweater.

Not to worry, though. The Powhatan Festival of Fiber, and Maryland Sheep and Wool are coming up at the end of April/beginning of May, and my goal is to find a lovely worsted or Aran superwash wool yarn for Joey’s version of the sweater. His favorite color is purple, but I haven’t decided yet whether I want to get yarn in a single shade of purple, in variegated shades of purple, or another color all together with accents of purple.

I’m really like this color that I found on Etsy (and got to see in person at the Fiber Farmer Market) but I think that’s more along the lines of what I would wear. For Joe,  I’m thinking it will probably be more along the line of “Purple Haze,” “Ziggy Stardust” or “Severus Snape” from Dancing Leaf Farm.

I’m also really tempted by “Bed of Iris,” from Kim Dyes Yarn, which she had at the farmer market.

Of course, it’s just as likely that something else will jump out at me when I’m at one of the upcoming festivals, but I’m really leaning towards that Bed of Iris.

I might have to contact her for a specific weight.

Getting an Early Start

I have begun working on gifts for Handmade Christmas 2017. This is undoubtedly the earliest I have ever started working on a Christmas present – even counting the quilt I made for Robert that took half a year. I always get so backed up with crafting projects in the weeks right before Christmas – which I’m sure is no surprise to fellow Christmas crafters – and the rush takes a lot of the fun out of making something handmade for someone. Not only do I usually have to contend with more mistakes, I don’t get to revel in the joy of watching something slowly take shape. Instead, it’s all hurry-hurry-hurry.

20170210_212645One of the added benefits of starting this early is…I have time to get extra yarn if I happen to run out partway through a project. I started knitting a simple cowl the other day. When I first cast on the stitches I thought “Hmm…that might be too many,” but I kept going. As I went forward, I fell more and more in love with the way the chainplied yarn created stripes of pink and purple, in the midst of the green (the colorway is “Irish Moss,” from Hobbledehoy Yarns). Unfortunately, I’m about 2 oz. short of the amount I need to finish the cowl at this width. I messaged Hobbledehoy on Facebook about seeing if she has more roving in that colorway, only to find that it had been a dye pot experiment. She said she could try to recreate it if I have pictures…which I have of the spun skein and the project in the works, but not of the unspun roving. [Note to self: remember to photograph the roving before spinning it up!] She’s scheduled to sell at the Fiber Farmers Market in Falls Church at the end of March, so here’s hoping the reconstruction of the dye pot works out, and I can finish the cowl as planned. If not, I have to frog the whole thing and start over.

Because no post is complete without a cat, here is Alvin, being uncouth while attacking a ruler on the bed.

Because no post is complete without a cat, here is Alvin, being uncouth while attacking a ruler on the bed.

Setting that project aside, I pulled out another couple of skeins from my handspun stash. A couple of months ago, I had purchased a 6oz braid from Fat Cat Knits in the colorway “Indian Corn.” I divided it up into three bits and did a traditional 3-ply, ending up with a worsted weight. It wasn’t the most even spin I have made, but I actually find it harder to spin for the thicker weights, so I’m okay with it not being as smooth, if I can at least manage a little heavier weight.

I came across the “Across the Heath” cowl pattern on Ravelry and just knew it was the 20170217_232237perfect pattern for some of my handspun – something simple enough to allow for both my beginner knitting skills as well as the color variations in the yarn.

The pattern worked up pretty quickly, and I liked the twisty look of it…but I think it would look even better with a variegated yarn where the color shifts are more muted. [Robert tried on the cowl later in the week and ended up wearing it for about three hours, so I guess it is comfy and cozy.]

20170222_083331I had a lot of yarn left, so I cast on a bunch of stitches and made up another simple cowl. I made it pretty big and still have a little bit of yarn left that I might try to make some mitts out of. Looks like 6oz. is the perfect amount for me to spin for a project.

I know exactly who two of these items are going to, come next December, and I have a possible match for the third one. But I’m not telling for now!20170222_083356

Alvin likes hiding in boxes

Alvin likes hiding in boxes

Caterpillars

After making a weird little knit tester, I bravely moved on to making an actual thing on my knitting needles. Since I hadn’t yet tried to knit in the round, I looked for a pattern that I could knit flat and seam up the side, rather than make a jump this early to circular needles. I found this pattern through a Ravelry search. It uses only knit and purl stitches, and is knit flat, so…SCORE!

I pulled out a skein of yarn I had purchased from a yarn shop in NYC when I was up there last year for business – actually, it’s the second skein of that color I purchased…I wound the other into a ball two weeks before, but I can’t find it now – and got to work.

I did have to learn something new for this pattern – the long tail cast on. Once again, Youtube was my trusty friend. Though, honestly, it took me a lot longer to figure out this method than it really should have. Once I got the hang of it, though, it was pretty quick. (The real test will come the next time I need to use it…will I remember how?)

The beginning ribbing on that first piece nearly undid me.

I don’t know how people alternate so quickly between purl and knit stitches, but I am very much not there yet. It felt like I was doing that section of the pattern forever! And, I hate to admit, I might not have done all five rows of ribbing stitch that the pattern called for. I sort of lost count along the way and went ::shrug:: “Looks good enough to me.” By that point, I was anxious to move on to the actual pattern part.

20170116_225910I messed up a little on the second row of “caterpillar” repeats, putting a purl stitch in the wrong place and not realizing until I was at the end, and then not really knowing how to undo that without frogging the whole project, so…that’ll just be a little quirky element of this pair.

I used a stretchy bind off stitch that Mom taught me – don’t ask me what name it goes by…I haven’t the foggiest idea – and VOILA! My first flat piece was done.

I went ahead and cast on the second piece that evening, while Robert showered, and began the ribbing the next day. Much to my pleasant surprise, the ribbing went along much faster that time, and actually looked “right” from the start. The second mitt moved along better than the first one. Part of that, I’m sure, is practice. The other part, I think, has to do with the fact that I made a switch to bamboo needles for the second mitt. [I’m sure seasoned knitters are gasping about now – “No! Surely not! Don’t tell me you actually switched needles in the middle of a project!” Well, I did, and it’s too late to fix that now.] I had noticed that the metal needles were just a little too slippery at times, and the points weren’t quite as fine as I felt I needed to easily slide them under the different stitches. So I made the jump, and I am happy with the change so far.

20170130_234210I made far fewer mistakes on the second mitt, with the shifts from purl to knit and back again coming much smoother and, before you know it, I had finished the second piece. All that was left was to stitch up the sides, leaving a small hole for the thumb.

Even though the long tail cast-on method is supposed to allow for a stretchier bottom edge, I found that the bottom edge doesn’t stretch quite as much as I would like it to. It’s a little bit harder to slip the mitts over my knuckles than I had hoped, but they are wearable. They aren’t nearly as large as some of the other fingerless mitts I’ve made…just enough to cover the wrists and a little bit of the palm. Sometimes, though, the longer cuffs of some other mitts get in the way, so I don’t think this is a problem so much as an observance.

These will now be packed away in some tissue and wrapped as a present for one of my younger cousins.

20170130_234228

(Notice Alvin draped over the arm of the loveseat in the background, like a lump)

I have an idea for what I want to knit next, but I won’t allow myself to start it until I cross off at least one more thing from my current list. [Robert’s shirt is almost done, though, as is a crochet hat I’ve been working on, so I anticipate being able to try a new knitting project soon.

NOTE: If you’re wondering why the title of this piece is “Caterpillars”…the pattern I followed is Caterpillar Mitts, which I think is a wonderfully descriptive name for these – it looks like little caterpillars are walking on them.

Old Dog, New Tricks

I’ve really done it now.

I tried to ignore the temptation, telling myself over and over I didn’t need to get involved. Despite the ever-present peer pressure, I had actually done a really good job of saying “No!” and meaning it.

Until now.knitting

That’s right, friends…

I’m finally starting to learn how to knit.

What’s that, you say? That’s not a big revelation? Well, perhaps not to you, but it seems like a big step for me. I only started crochet about…I think it was two years ago? Maybe three? I haven’t been doing it for very long, whatever the time frame. And I’ve been spinning for even less time. I’ve been quilting for a number of years now and sewing…well, I don’t actually know how long I’ve been sewing, anymore. I remember doing some embroidery and cross-stitch back in fourth grade, and I vaguely remember sewing on a button or making badly fitting clothes for my Barbie back in third grade. Suffice it to say, I’ve had a fair number of textile skills in my back pocket for some time. I really didn’t see the need to add more to my list. Certainly not knitting.

It’s not that I don’t like knitted things. I love them. I have my share of sweaters and knitted gifts that friends have given me over the years. In fact, my current go-to winter wear this season has come in the form of a knit hat made by my friend Angelica, some delightful knit mittens made by an acquaintance (using the first yarn I ever spun on my wheel, along with commercial yarn), and a knit cowl made by one of the Stitch n Time ladies, out of wool from the Colonial Farm sheep.

[The omnipresence of purple in my wardrobe is something of an inside joke by this point. Oddly enough, the folks who made those items are unaware of that fact.]

I was happy to leave the world of knitting to friends and family, and focus on fine-tuning the skills I have already acquired. I mean, I know how to crochet, but there are definitely stitches I haven’t mastered yet. And I’ve only been spinning for about a year and a half, and only half of that time on a wheel, so there’s also plenty to learn there. And, though I’ve been sewing and quilting for years now, there is always room for improvement. So, with all that to focus on, did I really need to add knitting?

Apparently, I did.

Although, perhaps it was inevitable. Afterall, Mom gave me a couple of booklets, some yarn, and two sets of knitting needles for my birthday one year. I think I probably would have started at that time, but a few days later the world turned upside down and I set aside a lot of things for a while. I hate to waste a gift, though, so those needles did eventually come out.

Last night, to be exact. I still can’t figure out where I put the booklets Mom gave me – I remember thinking “I’ll put them in a safe place” but, like everything else I put in a “safe place” I can’t remember where that might be. So I looked up a tutorial on YouTube and set about learning the basic knit and purl stitches.

[By the by, I highly recommend that tutorial. Large needles, repetition, clear picture…excellent work.]

I’ve only just started picking this up, so I don’t expect to become a fantastic knitter anytime soon, but I was pretty pleased with how my stuff looked – right up until I managed to slip two stitches off my needle and not figure out how to pick them up again, and then tried to alternate between knit and purl. I’ll get there, I’m sure, but probably not for a while.

This pattern is my ultimate goal. badgers-and-mash-hat

Isn’t it so cute! It’s got badgers and mushrooms! (and youth under a certain age probably won’t have any idea what makes that funny)

Also, there are these house_pride_socks_039_medium2

And thesedscn0529_medium2

And this.honeybadgerdontcare_medium2

But all of these will be far in the future.

[Can you tell I’m a proud Hufflepuff?]