Thursday, December 30, 2010

Icelandic love

Omigod, it's here! Apparently it had quite a journey. I got the shipping notification Monday and I checked on USPS's website yesterday to see if it was on the truck for delivery. It usually takes 2 days for packages from Blue Moon Fiber Arts to get to me. To my horror, I saw that it had a status of "Missent." It had been sent to the post office in KIRKLAND, WA instead of Maple Valley! Noooooooooo! I was so pissed. Thankfully Kirkland is only 30 miles away, so I figured it would arrive today, and after I stalked the mailbox all morning, it did.



Sigh... Swoon! Blue Moon Fiber Arts Icelandic in the "Quinault Canopy" colorway. It's gorgeous! It's perfect, it's exactly what I wanted, and I can't wait to wind it later and swatch for the Wavy Lace Capelet. I hope to crank it out this weekend, since it's such a chunky knit. I am dying to knit it and dying to wear it.

The yarn inside was thankfully perfect, but the envelope that it came to me in... hoooweee. It looked like it had been kicked down a hill. I had a moment of concern for my beloved yarn when I saw this envelope:





Holy crap, right? It's the color of baby poop but has no smell. My last shipment from Blue Moon Fiber Arts looked like this as well. Gorgeous, perfect yarn inside a jacked up envelope. I wonder... did someone knock a bottle of (unfortunately brown) dye over onto a stack of these envelopes? Are they being plopped on a dye-stained table before they go out? Does our mail lady hate me, and she's kicking my most precious shipments down a hill before delivering them to me?

Ah, well. Either way, the yarn inside both times has been perfect, so who cares if the shipping materials look like hell for whatever mysterious reason?

I'll undoubtedly blog some more this weekend about the Wavy Lace Capelet, that is, if I can stop knitting it long enough to blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Old friends

Well, by some sort of postal miracle, my Dad's hat and sister's mittens were delivered to them yesterday... on Christmas day! The lady at the post office told me they'd arrive Monday and I was happy enough with that. But lo and behold, they arrived yesterday. They were received as well as a knitter could hope for... Dad loves his hat and my sister loves her mittens. Hooray!

One of my New Year's resolutions (yes, the list continues to grow) is to clean up our third bedroom, which is currently the computer room, and make it look like a room where people live. We bought this house about 15 months ago, and that third bedroom is the final frontier. It's where the last boxes are to be unpacked, it's a hodgepodge of furniture that didn't really fit anywhere else when we moved in, that chaotic time when I was 7 months pregnant with my second child and still worked full-time. In cleaning it out, I unpacked a box that I thought contained my first two hand-knit sweaters, but they weren't there! A bug thoroughly up my butt to find them, I went out to the garage and went spelunking in a box labeled "master bedroom closet." About halfway down, there they were! Behold, my first hand-knit sweater, about my 4th or 5th finished object ever, made about 6 years ago:



Jeebus. I'd ask, "What the hell was I thinking?" but I know what I was thinking. I was a brand new knitter who didn't know any better. I didn't know that a shell knitted out of THREE STRANDS of worsted weight mercerized cotton held together in three bright shades of pink would look horrifying when actually worn by anyone, particularly someone as busty as me.

It fits, but it's never been worn for obvious reasons. I tried it on today and had a good laugh. I have been looking for this thing, because I have about 3/4 of a ball of each color left and I wanted to find and frog this monstrosity so I could put the yarn to a much better use: a crocheted tablecloth. This yarn, the timeless Tahki Cotton Classic, will make a very pretty tablecloth, and surely I'll blog about it when I get around to it. It would probably make a nice sweater, too, if not held triple-stranded and if not in three such loud colors all together at once.

Along with it was another sweater I'd been looking for, the second sweater I ever made, knitted about 6 years ago as well. This one was more successful, and given that I'd only been knitting for about 5 months when I made it, I'm rather impressed with myself.



I wore it for a while today, and it was like being reunited with an old friend. It's knit in Brown Sheep Company Lamb's Pride Worsted one of my hands-down all-time favorite yarns. It's so warm and cozy, and I love the color, Kiwi.

This sweater taught me many things as well: that I adore Lamb's Pride Worsted, that I hate drop-shoulders and they are NOT flattering on a broad-shouldered, busty woman such as myself, and that I hate seaming. Nonetheless, this sweater is among my favorites and I'm so happy to be reunited with it, especially in December, with several months of cold weather ahead.

Both patterns are from Hip To Knit, a book full of good patterns for someone who has just learned to knit. It was my first pattern book after Stitch n' Bitch, the book that taught me how to knit.

Finding these sweaters has been a really nice trip down memory lane. It's nice to have liberated them after they spent over a year in a box in the garage to find good uses: one as a cuddly, warm, much-loved sweater and one as a second incarnation as a tablecloth.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lemongrass

It's here, it's breathtakingly beautiful, and it's exactly, EXACTLY what I wanted for my shawl design.



It's going to be gorgeous, and I know I'll feel like I can hardly take credit for it, since the yarn will be doing most of the work.

As soon as my husband gets home and can distract my three-year-old, I'm going to get out the swift and ballwinder and wind it into two beautiful balls (giggity!). Then, let the swatching begin.

Receiving this yarn today has prompted me to add another New Year's resolution to my growing list of resolutions (lose 10 more pounds, keep the breakfast bar from being the family dumping ground, etc.). I have 5 or 6 hanks of Socks That Rock aside from this, waiting to be turned into luscious, gorgeous socks. That is an embarrassment of riches. As I mentioned, I belonged to the Rockin' Sock Club in 2009, when I still worked full-time at a very demanding job, already had one kid, was pregnant with my second and we were looking for months for the house that we have now. It was a crazy year, and I only got one pair of socks knit of the 6 sock yarns and patterns that I got in the Rockin' Sock Club. I already had one other hank of STR Mediumweight waiting in the wings before starting the Rockin' Sock Club. So yeah, that's a lot of sock yarn (and I have about 4 pairs worth of KnitPicks sock yarn aside from that... quite a backlog!).

These lovely hanks of yarn need to be liberated from the drawer, made into socks, and put on my feet. Seeing this obscene backlog, I now know that I'm not joining the Rockin' Sock Club this year, but instead will do what YarnHarlot, aka Stephanie Pearl-McPhee did this year and have a self-imposed sock-of-the-month club until all that sock yarn is socks. Then I'll be all ready for 2011's Rockin' Sock Club.

It's a plan.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday knitting done and blocking!

And it's only the 22nd. Dad's hat and sister's mittens are soaking in the sink, to be blocked and dried tonight and shipped out tomorrow. They'll arrive a day or two after Xmas, but who cares?! That's close enough for me. It's such a relief to have them done. I have been knitting like a madwoman (even more than usual) to make it happen.

Now back to my regularly scheduled knitting, crocheting and designing. I'm working on the crocheted shawl and tomorrow, once my two gorgeous hanks of Socks That Rock Mediumweight in Lemongrass arrive, I'll begin my knit shawl design. Ahhh, I can't wait to dive in!

Aside from my own designs, there's more knitting planned. My parents sent me some money for the holidays, and I ordered two hanks of Blue Moon Fiber Arts Icelandic in the stunning, breathtaking colorway "Quinault Canopy." Quinault as in Washington. A gorgeous colorway, and it has a Washington tie... gotta love that! It's to make this unbelievably gorgeous Wavy Lace Capelet from Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2010. I think Quinault Canopy is subtle enough to work with this chunky lace pattern. I can't wait to knit it and most of all wear it!

I'm a huge fan of Blue Moon Fiber Arts and have done the Rockin' Sock Club before. I did it in 2009, but couldn't justify the cost this year and I knew I'd never be able to keep up with it with a newborn and a toddler. I might join in next year, now that I have a tad more time, I'm not sure yet.

Aside from being a source of gorgeous, brilliantly-dyed, top-quality yarn, I also love that Blue Moon Fiber Arts is semi-local, being based near Portland. I hope to one day attend a Sock Summit or one of the other retreats Tina Newton and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee host when my kids are a little bit older. I want to meet Tina Newton and thank her for enriching my life with her amazing dyeing skills. Seriously.

She and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (who I am also dying to meet someday) are two of the women in the knitting world that I look up to the most. They are like the knitting world's Oprah and Gail. I hope to one day have a friend like they are to each other. Reading their Twitter posts back and forth to each other is hilarious, it's like they're sisters!

Now, back to my crocheted shawl. Creativity at a somewhat more sane pace... this will be relaxing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You just have to want it that badly

If someone wants to do something badly enough, they'll find the time, even if they have to get really creative to make the time to do it.

My 1-year-old hates her crib. She will not sleep there. The second we put her in it, she cries. She is a "high need" baby... the kind that needs to be held all the time and flips out if mommy leaves the room. The "cry it out" method, which we personally can't stand to do, does not work on her (we tried twice out of desperation) because she does not give up. So she sleeps and naps in our bed.

This royally cuts down on my free time, as you can imagine, since I have to stay on the bed with her while she sleeps. Thankfully most of the things I want to do and love to do can be done quietly, on the bed (hey now, not that!). Blogging, reading, writing, knitting, crocheting, drawing, designing... I do them all next to her while she sleeps.

This can get kind of complicated, particularly for knitting and crochet, because it's dark at night and about half of her naptime. But where there's a will, there's a way.

One night I really wanted to knit, and no one was going to stop me. I thought maybe I'll sit close to a night light... nope, not bright enough. Maybe I could knit by the light of my laptop. Eh, cumbersome and also not quite bright enough. The book light! Close but no cigar, it doesn't really work except for reading.

Then I remembered that we have a few of these bad boys:



It's PERFECT. I plop it in the center of my chest, recline on some pillows and knit or crochet away. Baby's happy and safe, mommy's happy and sane. Everybody wins!

One night, my husband walked into the bedroom and saw me doing this. As proof that he's the best husband ever, he laughed and said, "Cute." That's right, he found it "cute" and not "batshit crazy" that his wife had rigged up a way to knit in the dark. He's the best. Even if he calls all of my knitting shows "The Delicious Dish" after the Saturday Night Live sketch that spoofs NPR. He's sort of right, they do all kind of resemble that sketch, what with the awkward knitting humor, tiny budget and minimal set.

And with that, here's my favorite episode of "The Delicious Dish," "Schweddy Balls."

Knitting giveth and knitting taketh away

Yesterday afternoon during my children's nap I was happily knitting away on the cuff of the second mitten that I'm making for my sister. I was flying, making so much progress! So much that I thought I'd be able to give her mittens to her before she left. I cast on, started the k2p2 ribbing, and I was in the zone. I was so relaxed, so happy. The yarn was just flying off the needles and it looked great. I felt like I was on top of the world.

And then I thought, "Hmmm. This ribbing looks a little different than the first mitten. I don't recall starting any of the DPNs with purls. I have the right number of stitches, 40, just like the first mitten. They're cast on evenly, 10 on each needle, just like the first mitten. What the hell is different?"

"Oh, f***."

The pattern calls for k1p1 ribbing, NOT k2p2. All my progress was lost. I had to rip it out and totally start over.

Knitting took the progress away, but there was one thing that it could not take away: the sheer bliss, the total relaxation, the absolute, calm happiness I felt while knitting totally the wrong kind of ribbing.

So I ripped, I cast on anew, and I started the mitten over. Knitting really is a metaphor for living, a microcosm of life in general. If I can be this calm, have this good of a sense of humor in all areas of my life and apply this same perseverance in all areas of my life, I'm set!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fair Islein' and profilin'

There's nothing but feverish holiday knitting going on around here. I finished what I'm calling the Caveman Hat, a hat I designed for my husband and dad. That is, I finished my husband's. I still have to knit my dad's, but since it's a hat and it's worsted weight yarn, it's a quick project.



It's Cascade 220 Superwash in color 900 (charcoal) for the main color and color 862 (walnut heather) for the contrast color. I love the result, and so did my husband. Hopefully my dad will love his, too!

As soon as I finish my dad's hat, I'll publish this as a free pattern on Ravelry. The yarn is fantastic... super soft, without any wooly scratchiness, and it's beautiful. It's mostly plain Stockinette, and even the small colorwork section is easy and meditative. It's a very simple 4-stitch repeat, so it would be a great first Fair Isle project.

Also on the needles for the holidays is a pair of mittens for my sister, who is allergic to wool (the poor thing! I would die if I were allergic to wool, I love it so much.)



I'm knitting them in my beloved Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton, in the colorways nut and bone. (Giggity!) I have one mitten done (I've been flying on it since taking the above picture) and hope to have them done and blocked by Friday morning. She's here visiting now, and I want to send her home with a cozy pair of handmade mittens!

I'm also still crocheting away on my self-designed shawl that I hope to submit for publication. I hope to have that done by the first week of January. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stash Enhancement eXpedition

Is it considered stash if you have a specific project in mind for it?

My husband really needs a hat, scarf and gloves. I also need a Christmas gift for my dad, and thus a trip to the yarn shop was in order, namely Quintessence, the glorious LYS and gift shop in my hometown of Maple Valley, WA that I've talked about before. My 3-year-old came with me and helped me pick out two manly shades of Cascade 220 Superwash.



It's super-soft and they can get it good and dirty, because it's superwash. I'm continuing with my stranded colorwork obsession, and the hat and gloves will be done with a simple checkerboard Fair Isle motif. Gotta do something manly... I thought about snowflakes, but they're not manly enough. My husband and dad are both big cavemen, so a checkerboard will look great and they'll actually wear it. The yarn is also free of any wool scratchiness, further ensuring that they'll wear it.

In the clearance bin, some Noro Daria Multi has been taunting me for some time. I grabbed 2 of the 3 hanks that are there, and if the third hank is still there when I go back in a couple weeks, I am totally going to grab it, too. It's sooo pretty, and it just said "crocheted bag" to me. Part of it might end up being a bracelet, too, since I saw this pattern on Ravelry. Simple and beautiful! Too bad Noro Daria Multi has been discontinued, it's really unique and pretty.



It was 40% off, too. Gotta love that!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Still Stranded

I still can't stop with the stranded colorwork. Now that I've created two stranded designs of my own, I feel ready to tackle a project that I have wanted to do for 2 years now: the Potpourri mittens from Vogue Knitting Fall 2008. I'm not doing the colors as prescribed in the pattern. I almost never do, unless the colors are critical to the pattern or unless they really speak to me. I'm doing my own thing, using one hank of a lovely Koigu KPPPM colorway and one hank of KnitPicks Stroll in "bare" (undyed). I llllove Koigu. Adore it. I am making it a policy to grab a random hank of Koigu every time I'm in a yarn shop that carries it. Not nearly enough shops do. I hope to stop at Weaving Works when I'm in downtown Seattle for my birthday, and while I'm there, I'll grab a hank or two. The hank I'm using for this pattern is one I got there a few years ago, and it's sat in my stash just waiting to be turned into something.



And from another angle...



I am in love with it! The colorwork chart is super-easy and fun to follow. The only challenge so far was the picot cuff, which uses a provisional crochet chain cast-on. I had never done one of those before, and there was a learning curve, not to making the cast-on, but to removing it when folding the cuff together. I learned not to pull the chain out and let the stitches pop off, because they will quickly unravel. Stick your needle into each stitch one by one, and gently pull the chain out stitch by stitch. That's the way to go!

The cuff is kind of insane. You do the provisional cast-on, knit 3 rows, then do yarn-over, k2tog for a row, then knit 3 rows. You then pull out the provisional crochet chain cast-on and put those stitches onto a second set of dpns, fold the cuff together, and knit a stitch from each dpn into one stitch (like doing a three-needle bind-off). So there is a point in time where you have the stitches on SIX size 1 dpns, while knitting them with a 7th. It is beyond fiddly and challenged my dexterity, but I did it, and the beautiful picot cuff that results is totally, totally worth it.

I was inspired to use the Koigu with a plain white yarn when I saw this ingenious use of this pattern on Ravelry. I'm doing the same thing, only with Koigu instead of Noro Kureyon Sock. I think they're going to be gorgeous! They will be warm for sure, with all that stranding!

Aside from these beautiful mittens, I'm also working on a crocheted shawl of my own design that I plan to submit for publication. It uses Lion Brand LB Collection Cotton Bamboo, which is to.die.for. It's super-soft and cool to the touch. It makes a garment that would be comfortable in hot weather as well as cold. I am totally loving it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Knitting Makes Everything Better

I was having a rough afternoon. I was in a vile mood, PMSing hardcore, I was tired and my 3-year-old was in super-obstinate mode. Then I got my babies down for their nap and picked Selbuvotter up from the stack of my books and library books next to my bed and all my cares melted away. I finished the first chapter, totally engrossed and fascinated. The author, a Seattleite, has a palpable passion for the topic and did exhaustive research, making this a very fun read. Since she's local, I hope to check out one of her classes sometime. I love that she self-published this book. That is bad-ass. I've seen it mentioned in a few places, and it seems to have a great reputation, which it deserves. I think it will become a classic.

The author is a fellow former software person like me. On her website, selbuvotter.com, she mentions starting to write knitting patterns in 2002 after becoming a stay-at-home mom out of a need for the "project-oriented direction" that she was used to. I laughed out loud when I read that. That's half the reason I started designing patterns. I need structure, badly! Mostly it's because the fiber and textile arts are my burning passion and I feel compelled to do it and to make it my "career." But yeah, I really need the structure that a project with a deadline and a clear goal gives.

Since I decided to write and submit a sweater design for publication a few weeks ago, which I am putting in the mail tomorrow, I've really enjoyed taking all the steps of working towards that goal. The planning, the research, the time-budgeting, the execution. This has been good for me. And when mom is happy, everyone is happy.

I'm now knitting a swatch for a second design (also stranded!) for a hat that I plan to submit for publication. I hope to have that design ready to send off by the following Monday. After that, I have a design for a pair of mittens that I plan to send to still another publication.

Aside from self-designed stuff, I am still crocheting away on the Vintage Vertical Stripe blanket, probably about 20 rows in. Aside from finishing the hat design this week, my other goal is to embroider my daughter's pillow cover and cast one on for my other daughter. Hanukkah starts on 12/1 and I plan to have them both finished by then. They are simple, so it'll be no problem!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meditative Needlework

Well, OK, this post is about crochet, but "Meditative Needlework" sounded better than "Meditative Hooking."

I am having so much fun with the Vintage Vertical Stripe Blanket! It's so easy to pick up and put down and totally mindless. Just double crochet after double crochet forever and ever, picking random colors of Mission Falls 1824 Wool and Lion Brand Vanna's Choice leftovers. I am loving the way it's turning out.



That's 9 rows so far. I have a looooong way to go and will need more yarn to finish it, and I am determined to keep it a leftovers-only stashbuster blanket. Good thing I have another blanket in Vanna's Choice planned for someone who shall not be named because she may read this blog. Tee hee. She needs a handmade blanket. I hope to have it done by the holidays, but we'll see how fast my hook can fly.

While hooking away on this blanket, I was thinking of something Julia Cameron said in her wonderful book, The Artist's Way, which I'm currently reading (and totally loving, and which I highly recommend). On page 22, she says "Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulates the artist within." I can attest to both. I found it indispensably soothing when I was still working full time after having my first daughter and really needed some serious soothing. While knitting or crocheting, all stress and anxiety just melted away, as the repetitive actions of my hands quieted by very busy mind. I also come up with some of my best ideas while knitting or crocheting. Ms. Cameron is absolutely right!

With that, it's back to work on my stranded project, which is the first of many! I came up with three more Fair Isle ideas just this afternoon, after a couple hours of leisurely crocheting and watching Spongebob with my kids and husband (and what better way is there to spend a Saturday?).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stranded!

Why did it take me so long to try stranded colorwork? I might be a little crazy, too, to make my first stranded project one of my own design, but so far it's working, thanks to the obscene amount of reading that I did on the topic before beginning.

I found this article on knitty immensely helpful and most helpful of all was this booklet, Stranded Color Knitting by Nanette Blanchard. She tells you everything you need to know there. Reading these two things gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to take the design that was in my head and make it reality. The swatch that I intend to submit with my submission package for publication is on the needles right now and going really well!

I'm now so fascinated and obsessed with Fair Isle and other stranded colorwork, I'm reading all I can and going through my stash to look for more yarn to make Fair Isle projects with. I've got a couple possibilities in there! My favorite book so far on Fair Isle is Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting. It's comprehensive and AWESOME. I just added Selbuvotter to my queue at the library, and I imagine after that I'll devour some books on Latvian mittens. Once I get on a tangent, I stay on it until it has been completely, exhaustively explored!

Also on the needles is my second swatch for the TKGA Master Knitter program. The first is garter stitch, the second is Stockinette. I never thought I'd put such care into a simple swatch! It's actually fun. I definitely did the right thing by reading most of the "On Your Way to the Masters" articles that are available to TKGA members. I learned so much that I absolutely need to know to successfully complete this program. There is a wealth of information there to the point that the Master Knitter program feels like an open book test. Everything I need to know is all right there!

I want full mastery of my craft, so I have all the possible options for creativity that I can. Learning stranded colorwork opens up whole new worlds! After this obsession, maybe I'll give lace a real, official try. I bought yarn to make this scarf years ago, and there it's been sitting for years. Good thing I downloaded the pattern then, because it looks like it's no longer available.

And with that, I'm going to bed, but maybe a few more pages of that Alice Starmore book first...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Problem

Do you, like me, have a book problem? A bad book monkey on your back? A book jones?

Since I've become a stay-at-home mom, I had to give up my old way of getting books that I want, which was to thoughtlessly load up my cart on Amazon.com and order whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, sight unseen. I got some great stuff, I got some "meh" stuff. I have some books that I got years ago and have yet to read... shameful, and my new year's resolution (well, one of them) for 2011 is to read them all during 2011.

My new, el-cheapo book acquisition system is great. I get books I'm interested in from the library (the wonderful, incredible, massive King County Library, which I adore) and read them, then if I love them, if I have to have them in my library or if they require more than one read, I go on eBay, Amazon, or my new favorite, Thriftbooks.com and buy them used, often for a few dollars, or even less than a dollar. As I mentioned, I recently scored Maggie Righetti's glorious Sweater Design in Plain English for 99 CENTS on eBay. It is such a wonderful book, I had irrational pangs of guilt while reading it for acquiring it so cheaply.

The best part about my new fave, Thriftbooks, is that all shipping is free AND they are based in the Seattle area, so shipping is hella fast and I am supporting a local business. They have no idea who I am and are not paying me to say this, I'm just a fan. I love to share wonderful local businesses, which you'll notice I do quite a bit on my other blog, Culinary Hijinks, where it's apparent that I am a full-on Full Circle Farm fangirl. It took me a long time to love the Seattle area after moving here 7 years ago, but now I totally love it here, despite the atrocious weather. I don't know if we'll always live here, but as long as we do, I plan to enjoy the hell out of it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

His and Hers Baby Blankets

My babies and my husband are about the only things that I love more than making stuff. Above all, I like to make stuff for babies, particularly mine or other babies in the family. So I had to make something special for my new niece and nephew (TWINS!) that are due to be born sometime in the next several weeks.

For my first nephew and my daughters, I was still working full-time so I had the money to go all-out and make the Big Bad Baby Blanket from Stitch n' Bitch in Koigu KPPPM (about $100 per blanket). With two kids of my own and being a stay-at-home mom, I knew there's no way I'd have either the money or the time to knit two Big Bad Baby Blankets. Heck, with my second daughter, that blanket was a photo-finish. I finished the last two rows and bound it off when I was about 6 hours into labor!

So I thought of the perfect solution. What's fast and easy to pick up and put down? Crochet! I had recently made my oldest daughter a granny square afghan, but I hated seaming the million 4-inch squares together. Then I happened to be reading the Purl Bee and saw this brilliant idea: a gigantic granny square! The Purl Bee's giant granny square is, once again, in the delightful, amazing Koigu KPM. I couldn't afford to do that, so I went for my go-to acrylic, Lion Brand Vanna's Choice and Vanna's Choice Baby.

I hate most acrylic yarn. I'm not a yarn snob or a fiber nazi, but I do prefer natural fibers just because I prefer the way they feel and they are what I like to knit and wear. That said, there is something about Vanna's Choice that transcends its 100% acrylic content. It's just better than any other acrylic I've found. It's soft, cushy, shiny, has an unbelievable selection of colors to choose from, it's even softer after washing, launders extremely well and can often be found on sale at Joann's or Michaels for $2.50 a ball or less. What's not to love? I made my daughter's granny square afghan using it and I also made her a sweater using it that random bypassers comment on, the Theodora Sweater. Since I already knew I loved it and could afford to make two blankets with it, Vanna's Choice was Sara's Choice for this project.

Et voila... Baby Boy Blanket



And Baby Girl Blanket



I thought others might love a sure-fire, easy, affordable baby blanket, so I wrote it up as a pattern, which is a free download from Ravelry. Since it's so simple, it's a perfect first crochet project, if you're thinking about testing the waters and giving crochet a try. I have only been crocheting for about a year and a half, but given its speed, ease and versatility, I am (har har)... hooked!

Here are the details on the pattern:

Yarn: Three balls of Vanna's Choice Baby/Vanna's Choice. I used:

Girl’s Blanket: 1 ball each of Vanna’s Choice Baby in Angel White (A) and Pink Poodle (C)
1 ball of Vanna’s Choice in Pink (B)

Boy’s Blanket: 1 ball each of Vanna’s Choice Baby in Angel White (A), Aqua (B) and Little Boy Blue (C)

Hook: J/10 – 6.00 mm

You'll also need a tapestry needle for weaving in the ends.

Gauge: Not terribly important for this project. The blanket should be about 30 x 30 inches when you're done. For me, this took 19 rounds. If your gauge is tighter and 19 rounds doesn't make the blanket big enough, just crochet a few more rounds. I only used half a ball of each color for each blanket... you could get two of these blankets out of 3 balls!

Download it free right here: download now

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obsessions

Periodically, I'll become obsessed with something, beyond my constant, 5-year-long, neverending obsession with knitting. Painting and embroidery are two of this year's obsessions. Sometimes I'll become obsessed with a particular facet or technique of knitting, or a particular fiber. My husband recently became obsessed with learning how to play the banjo, and after a little more than 2 months, he's getting really good.

I think these things are encoded in your DNA, like little bombs waiting to go off. You hit a certain age and BAM! OK, you knit now. Now you crochet. Now you paint. Now you play the banjo. It's like when a baby can't do something one day but the next day they can suddenly, like walking, talking or crawling. My husband and I call those "developmental downloads." Recently, he said he thinks those don't stop after you're a baby, that they keep going, hence the banjo-obsession and my sudden, desperate need to learn to knit 5 and a half years ago. I think he's right!

My great-grandmother crocheted, embroidered, tatted and painted on ceramics. I learned this after I developed my fiber arts obsessions and remembered sleeping on some really lovely pillowcases that she embroidered when I was a kid, waking up with a relief of the embroidery imprinted on my face. My dad's side of the family was loaded with artists, something I learned after I started painting last spring. It's encoded in my DNA.

Now I'm suddenly obsessed with Fair Isle knitting after a flash of inspiration came to me while falling asleep the other night (I love those!). I am actually working on a pattern to submit for publication. Since I'm planning to submit it to a magazine, I won't be able to talk much about it here, but let's just say it was inspired by Frida Kahlo and some Blue Sky Alpacas Sport Weight. (An obsession within an obsession! I just can't stop with the Blue Sky Alpacas!)

So now I'm reading all I can about Fair Isle technique from knitty, from the library, everything I can get my hands on. I have to devour it all fast, because the submission deadline is next month. Late next month, thankfully.

I have this (possibly delusional) belief that I can do anything, and so far that nutty confidence has never let me down. Hopefully my luck will continue this time!

Friday, October 22, 2010

More inspiration

To further my goal of making knitting, fiber arts and art my career, I've decided to go after something that I've been considering for years: Becoming a TKGA-certified Master Knitter. It fits exactly with so many of my other goals and I know I can learn so much from this program that will bring me closer to my goals, so I am now embarking upon the Level One program. This will be so much fun! I love knitting, I love a challenge, and I love following directions anal-retentively (I know, I AM a weirdo, always have been!). That's why I was a software tester for so long!

It is freaking me out how much of my experience and knowledge gained from testing software can be applied to knitting and to my ultimate goal of making my living from knitting, sewing, crocheting, embroidery and other fiber arts. One of those "connecting the dots looking backward" things. Steve Jobs is one insightful, wise dude. (See this speech, if you haven't read my earlier posts and have no idea what I'm talking about).

So what am I knitting currently? I finished my daughter's mittens and have one partially embroidered. I'll finish that this weekend. Now I'm knitting the front of a pillow case for my younger daughter, which I'll embroider, then sew together with the back half (soft, satiny fabric), sew on a zipper and voila, a personalized, totally unique, handmade pillow. I have another pillow case for my older daughter in the works, too.

I love combining multiple fiber arts!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A new low?

So how pathetic is it when you use your laptop's display for light so you can knit in the dark?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inspiration in my Own Backyard

I had been lamenting the lack of a craft store, fabric store or LYS (local yarn store for the uninitiated) in my hometown of Maple Valley for the longest time, thinking I had to drive to Renton, Kent, Bellevue, Issaquah or other parts to get my fabric, yarn and other stuff. Then I stumbled across Taylor Creek Quilt Studio about 5 minutes from my house and the lady who owns it told me that Quintessence, a mere 3 minutes from my house, sells yarn! My jaw dropped. Yarn! Really!

I went to check it out last weekend, expecting nothing special, maybe some acrylic mainstream brand stuff. Nope. I was totally wrong. I walked into Quintessence, a large, lovely, unique gift shop at Four Corners in Maple Valley, having driven past it for a year never having any idea that they carried yarn, and was blown away. They have an enormous section of their store dedicated to yarn and other knitting and crochet supplies. And not just yarn, most of my favorite yarn!

They have Malabrigo (I sigh a little when I utter the word "Malabrigo!"). Misti Alpaca. Brown Sheep. Cascade! And not just one or two types of each company's yarn, they had everything. Or at least nearly everything. Many different lines of Malabrigo (worsted, lace, Rasta, more!), Brown Sheep (Lamb's Pride, Cotton Fine, Burly Spun, more!), Cascade (220! 220 Superwash! more!) and Misti Alpaca (tons!) are available here.

If they carried Blue Sky Alpacas and Koigu, they'd carry ALL of my favorite yarn. This is amazing. And it's been right here the whole year I've lived here!

And they don't just have nearly all my favorite yarn, they also carry my favorite needles, Brittany and Addi Turbo. They also have a great selection of notions, like stitch markers, cable needles, row counters and more, plus a sizable collection of books.

I was in heaven. I am so excited that Quintessence has this amazing selection of all the stuff I love, and that they're right by my house! I will be going there for everything I need from now on, because I want them to stay around and to keep that wonderful section of knitting stuff!

While there, I grabbed 5 hanks of Tahki Cotton Classic in bright orange and a light orange from their clearance section for 40% off. I saw this yarn and it was instant inspiration. Immediately an image of a tank-dress with embroidered accents for my older daughter popped into my head, so I snapped the yarn right up. It was a total of $18. What a deal.

In other inspiring news, today I got an e-mail from Knit and Crochet Today (or Now, or whatever the heck the show is called) and in it was some news about some cool-looking new sock-knitting books and also a link to a very cool, very inspiring blog called Knitta Please. I immediately laughed at the title (very creative, especially since every possible joke substituting "knit" for "shit" has already been done on other knitting blogs) and clicked the link. There I found yarn graffiti, yarn bombing... enormous, beautiful works large enough to cover buses and Airstream trailers! Crazy and cool. Definitely go there and see what this chick is up to, it's really cool. I'm going to add it to my blogroll over on the right.

And with that, I leave you to make my second afterthought thumb.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mother-Daughter Knitting

The title of the post would lead you to believe that one of my beautiful, currently tiny daughters is knitting already, but no, not yet. I do all I can to spark their interest, by knitting them blankets, hats, mittens, sweaters, everything, and by letting them see me knit and crochet and explaining to them what mommy is doing and why. I have heard and read many times that knitting helps kids learn, particularly math. Then I saw a segment on Knit and Crochet Today (which I DVR because it airs at like 3:00 AM... LOVE that show!) about a professor named Dr. Linda Williams who was studying the beneficial effect that knitting and crocheting has on learning. It was a fascinating segment, from episode 244, "Teens Get Stitching." Here is a little info about it. I am not finding much more about it, so maybe she hasn't finished the study or published her findings yet, but as the mother of two very smart, creative, inquisitive children, I am very interested in her findings!

The title of this post didn't even come about because of that, that was just a bonus! The title came about because yesterday while designing and knitting a pair of mittens for my three-year-old, I had a fun moment of realization that I was using knowledge and techniques developed by a mother and a daughter, namely, Elizabeth Zimmerman and Meg Swansen, both of whom I look up to and have learned from immensely. First off, I am knitting the mittens in a stripe pattern in two-row stripes, in the round. Knitting stripes in the round results in an annoying "jog" at the beginning of color-change rounds, since knitting in the round is really knitting in a spiral. I have tried other methods of eliminating this jog, like slipping the first stitch in the second round after a color change. I didn't like that, though, because I found that the slipped stitch created a small hole and thought it didn't really look all that much better than just letting the jog be. Some additional Googling a few weeks ago led me to this far superior (in my ever so humble opinion) method, developed by Meg Swansen. In this method, you make your color change, finish that round, then at the beginning of the next round, you grab the first stitch of the last round in the previous color, put it onto the needle, and knit it together with the first stitch of this round. BRILLIANT! It looks beautiful and results in nice, firm, non-holey fabric. (BTW, the above link explains it way better than I am).

Later, I wasn't entirely sure where to put the thumb-hole and since my daughter was napping and (though it crossed my mind) trying the mitten on her while she was asleep surely would have woken her up, I decided "Screw it" and kept on knitting so I could try it on her later and make an "afterthought thumb," which was one of Elizabeth Zimmerman's brilliant ideas, from Knitter's Almanac. This is similar to EZ's thumb trick, of which I am also a huge fan, and which I will be using on the second mitten, now that I know where I'm putting the thumb. Since it requires cutting your finished handknitting (just one little stitch!), it is a bit scary and takes a little bit of knitterly balls. It is really no big deal, though, and is just as easy as the thumb trick, in my opinion.

This was the first time I'd ever cut my knitting. I have not yet ever made a steek, and the thought makes me absolutely shudder. I find the photos in the article on steeking in the link above hard to even look at! Someday, though, I'm sure I'll have to make one and I'll undoubtedly kvetch about it here!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Taylor Creek Quilt Studio!

Until Saturday, I thought there weren't any fabric stores anywhere near Maple Valley, nevermind right in Maple Valley, mere minutes from my house. I thought the closest fabric store was Joann's in Kent, and to find specialty, unique and designer fabrics, I'd have to go all the way to Bellevue or Puyallup.

Turns out there is an AMAZING fabric store right in Maple Valley, which is Taylor Creek Quilt Studio! I've been driving by it for years and thought it was just a place to buy finished quilts. It never crossed my mind that they'd sell fabric, thread, patterns, trims, stabilizers, you name it. Then Saturday I met the owner, Joanne Lee, at the Covington Quilter's Guild farmer's market stall and I took one of the flyers for the store. I was so excited to see what they sold there! Sunday I got my husband to watch the kids for an hour so I could go over and take a look, and what a revelation. Gorgeous, inspiring fabrics, nothing ordinary, boring or run-of-the-mill. It's the total opposite of a chain fabric store, which I've learned are good for basics but not much else. This place is just wonderful. Aside from all the quilting and sewing-related stuff, they also sell some really cool locally-made, Northwest Native-inspired jewelry and art cards. This is definitely a LOCAL shop... aside from the Northwest Native stuff, they have many Asian-themed or influenced fabrics. There is a wide array of classes offered, too. It's just wondrous, and it's in my backyard.

I'm definitely going to join the Covington Quilter's Guild. You get a 10% discount at Taylor Creek Quilt Studio if you're a member, and it will be great to meet some like-minded fellow crafters!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Connecting the Dots

As Steve Jobs so brilliantly puts it in his Stanford Commencement speech that I linked to in a previous post, you can't connect the dots looking forward, only looking backward. This means that although something makes no sense at the time or that you learn but think you'll never use in the future can end up proving incredibly useful or even critical later on.

I always wondered why I toiled so many years doing tech support (I shudder even thinking about it). I wondered why the hell I was a software tester for so many years after that. As a creative, free-spirited person who hates being told what to do, what was I doing there, in such rigid, left-brained positions? Then it hit me today. To start my own business and make it successful, I would need to know how to provide excellent customer service. I would need to have anal-retentive attention to detail and an understanding of what quality truly is, and how unbelievably important quality is. I had to work in tech support and software quality assurance to learn these things. Now that I have finally, after a year away from the corporate world and from those jobs, figured out what I want to do, I can apply everything I learned during all those years in which I thought my job was pointless.

It was the opposite of pointless, it was critical. It served its purpose and taught me what I needed to know.

With that, I give you another pattern, written, proofread over and over, and extensively tested. I combined a couple of my passions in this pattern, namely babies (particularly mine) and knitting. It's written for one of my favorite yarns on earth, a glorious, uber-soft, wonderful, highest quality yarn that I am nothing short of addicted to, Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton. It's as soft as a cotton ball, is grown organically, and holds up brilliantly wash after wash, so it is the perfect yarn for baby stuff. Expect many more patterns written in this yarn, because I can't get enough of it.

Here is a pattern for a baby hat and mittens set, knit in Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton, with instructions for both a boy's and a girl's hat and mittens, complete with detailed, photo-illustrated instructions for making the "lazy daisy" embroidery on the girl's hat and mittens. The pattern contains instructions for four different sizes: newborn, 3-6 months, 6-9 months and 12 months.





Cost: Only $6

Friday, October 8, 2010

Knittters are so Knice!

With the rare exception of a nasty person found in a blog's comments or a message board, I have never met a knitter I didn't like. Knitters are just so nice, such giving people. We want to knit something for every new baby, for charity, for our families. If we're stressed, we knit so we don't kill people. It really helps, God knows what I would have done if I hadn't knitted daily when I still worked full time in corporate hell.

There are so many warm, friendly, inviting blogs, where negativity is simply not seen, like my favorites, Yarn Harlot and Knit and Tonic. Even the Knitting Curmudgeon seems like she's actually very nice. And then there are the books... Elizabeth Zimmerman's and Barbara Walker's warm, charming, conversational tones and hilarious senses of humor convey their brilliant knitting knowledge and ideas in such a way that you feel like you have a new friend when you finish one (or all!) of their books. And I've recently found a new knitting friend, Maggie Righetti. I am only 50 pages or so into Sweater Design in Plain English, and already I want to give her a big hug. Yet another knitting instruction book by yet another author with a warm, conversational tone and a great sense of humor. What is it with us knitters? Are we warm and friendly by our very nature, since we love to make warm, snuggly things out of warm, snuggly fibers? Kindness must just come with the territory, I think.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Noro Kureyon Felted Latte Sock ( Hot Coffee Cozy) Pattern


I'm not usually a big fan of "cozies," but I am a big fan of coffee and I'm not a big fan of burning my hands on hot coffee in a paper cup, insulated only by a thin, disposable cardboard jacket. For this reason, I decided to knit and felt my own eco-friendly, reusable Latte Sock. It insulates as well as a pot holder, since it's felted wool, and wool is naturally very absorbent, so it catches any drips of hot coffee before they can burn your hands. It's also stylish as all hell, and you can make it in any color of Noro Kureyon that you want!

The pattern is quick, fun, and uses less than a quarter of a ball of Noro Kureyon. It's easy and is a great first project to knit in the round, to try out double-pointed needles for the first time, and to try felting for the first time! Since Kureyon has many subtle color changes in each ball, you can knit several from the same ball, and they'll all be different! It's just big enough to show off about 3 color changes in each Latte Sock.

Yarn:
Way, way less than 1 ball of Noro Kureyon

Notions:
size 8 double-pointed needles, or size needed to obtain gauge
tapestry needle for weaving in ends

Cost: Now FREE!

Get it here: download now

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Day Till Etsy Shop Launch!

Getting ready to launch my Etsy shop tomorrow. This is really exciting! The ideas are positively exploding out of my head and I'm so busy finishing and photographing everything to get ready!

Meanwhile, I scored a copy of Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English for 99 cents on eBay, so I'm feeling very encouraged and unstoppable!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Knitting Takes Balls

And it also takes considerable balls to reject the idea that you have to work for someone else doing something you hate in order to make a living. Part of what gives me the balls I need to do my own thing is this wonderful speech my Steve Jobs. Enjoy.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505

Whenever I get discouraged or intimidated, I re-read it. I'm re-reading it again now!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happily, busily making stuff!

I've been too busy making stuff to blog about it! There are lots of exciting things going on. In the past, I have had trouble finding patterns for children's knitwear that I like, that are written for yarns that I like and that I would actually want to knit for my children. This has inspired me to write my own knitting and crochet patterns for children's clothing and accessories. I'll be writing my own sewing patterns, as well! Over the last year, since quitting my full-time job and becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have experienced an explosion of creativity and it finally has a direction. I can combine all my passions at once and design adorable things for my foremost passion, my children.

Soon there will be a lot of exciting changes here, as I get up and running. There will be free patterns available, as well as patterns for sale in my new Etsy shop, which will be announced here soon. Along with patterns, there will be finished hand-knit, hand-embroidered and sewn items for sale, designed and made by me. Most things will be for children, but there will also be some items for grownups and for the home, as well.

It is in the spirit of wonderful, brilliant women who have inspired me like Elizabeth Zimmerman, Barbara Walker, Wendy Bernard and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka Yarn Harlot) that I am jumping in with both feet and forging ahead with my own business based on my own designs. Off we go!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Like to Make Stuff

I'm Sara and I like to make stuff. I have ever since I was a kid. I think it started when I was about 9 and I got a potholder loom. Then I started sewing around age 17, taking a year of sewing classes in high school. When I was 29, I learned to knit. At 30, I learned to spin. At 33, I learned to crochet. At 34, I started to paint.

These are the ways that I love most to spend my time, second only to being with my children and husband. I had a knitting blog once before, but I do so much more than just knit, it didn't really work. Also, all the posts on that blog were written when I still worked full-time, and since I hated every minute of working full-time while being a mother, the posts were often very bitter and angry, and that's just not me. Now I'm a happy stay-at-home mom who works part-time from home, and I do my various arts and crafts in 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, occasionally stealing an entire hour or two. Here is where I'll document it all, the happy creations, the epic fails, the struggle to get any time to do it at all.