london knitting

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IMG_0339.JPGI went away! I am back, but I spent ten beautiful days in August in London and Paris, and am left wishing it was longer. They’re both amazing cities. We only spent a night and two days in Paris, but filled that time with beautiful sights and walking and cafes and more walking and tiny glasses of rose and more pretty buildings, and I already want to go back. London was just as wonderful – I love how walkable it is, and the breadth of architecture, and the museums, and the way it’s so similar to NY in some ways, but so different. Coming from the lovely, well-organized, clean Tube with escalators to the gross, smelly subway the next week was something of a shock to my system.

IMG_0486.JPGWe traveled as light as we could – two bags each so there was nothing we’d have to check for the flight – which meant that I had to select knitting projects carefully, and souvenirs even moreso. To make it easier to pick the projects coming with me, I decided that it was a vacation and I was therefore only going to do selfish knitting. I cast on the first of a pair of Smokestack socks that I’d been wanting for some time (I just like to have socks started if I’m getting on a plane, so that I don’t just have pointy metal objects in my bag going through security), and wound a skein of yarn that I’d bought as a souvenir from our trip to Savannah, GA, this past May to become a Shaelyn shawl. The shawl is only 3 repeats in, but also easy to memorize, and I’m really happy with the tonal pinks in the yarn colorway. It’s super soft, and I’m hoping to squeeze an extra repeat in, since I want this shawl as large as I can get it.

IMG_0485.JPGThe first sock was finished shortly after we got home – I knit the toe the weekend after we landed back in the States, and am pleased in a slightly goofy way at how nicely it turned out. I love the cables on the heel flap, and found the pattern lovely and easy to memorize, plus I’m happy with the yarn choice – my stash has lots of sock yarn, but lots of darker colors or single-ply or stripes, none of which would have done the pattern justice. I’ve gotten through the cuff on the second sock now; even knowing how much more knitting I have to do before the holidays, I still want a pair of socks for me. Plus I’m knitting these magic loop (which is the first time I’ve tried the technique), and I like it, so I want to keep going.

IMG_0487.JPGBut even more important than what I knit while there and while on planes is what I found there, right? Part of why we went was for business things for C, which meant I spent the first few days in London mostly by myself. And so yarning I went. First was Liberty of London. I knew it would be full of beautiful, pricey things, and lovely floral fabric, but it was still a bit overwhelming of a store. So many pretty displays! I’m sure I could have spent tons of money on all the pretty things there in thirty seconds had I tried, but decided that I only wanted a little something that said ‘Liberty,’ so I picked out a handkerchief that will surely see use this winter and a retractable measuring tape that’s covered in a pretty floral Liberty print that will surely see use whenever I pull it out of my knitting bag.

IMG_0488.JPGAfter all – why buy soap or a pretty mug that we don’t have space for at home, let alone in the suitcase, when yarn packs so much more easily? And so I was off to Loop! It’s an adorable space, with walls of beautiful yarn. I don’t like to buy yarn while I’m traveling that’s easy enough to find at home or online, so I zeroed in on the more local skeins that are either made from yarn in the UK or dyed there or something that makes them remind me of where I was when I bought the yarn. I came away, very responsibly, with a beautiful light green skein of a fingering-weight wool and silk blend: Eden Cottage Yarns Titus 4-ply, which is dyed in Yorkshire (not London, but considerably closer than where I live, so it counts as local). I also got to talking with one of the women working there about some of the samples up, and wound up purchasing the shop’s book, Juju’s Loops. So many pretty projects, which I can’t wait to knit from. I just need a friend to have a little girl so I can cast on a baby sweater in there that I’ve got my eye on.

The only other yarn shopping I did, in an effort to keep things under control, was at iKnit. It was a very cool shop, with samples and different yarns everywhere I turned. There was so much lace weight the shop had dyed, in so many bases, that I had trouble picking which would be a color I wanted with enough yardage and with the right blend of fibers. I finally gave up and just grabbed the softest thing ever, 800 yards of lace alpaca in an undyed, off-white color. I have no idea what to use it for, but could just pet it forever. I also haven’t ever seen Fyberspates in person, only heard about it online, and the colors were just amazing – so saturated and rich. I picked a dk weight for a hat or cowl or something, in a gorgeous tonal indigo. Now that I’m back, I have to fight startitis and keep working on all the things I’ve got on the needles so that I can dig into the tempting new fiber soon!

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thumb way or another

IMG_0451.JPGIt is August – the end of August – and while it’s still a bit hot in the northeastern US to want a lap full of wool, I confess that I’m already in fall mentally. Part of this is probably due to the sweater I’m making, as part of the Very Shannon Summer Sweater KAL – which I’m excited to be participating in, and determined to finish. And when I’m done, with any luck, I’ll have a sweater that doesn’t fit me at all.

IMG_0439.JPGBack a year or so ago (I think it was less. I recall winter coats being involved), my mom (crocheter), my grandmother (knitter), my little sister (crocheter), and I (knitter) went to Webs. Somehow, over the course of things, I convinced my little sister that she could totally make herself a sweater. She used to knit after all, and we found a simple raglan pattern and some bright, bulky yarn, and one of us would have the right size needles. And somehow, over the course of things, I ended up holding the yarn and the pattern and had agreed that I would have even less trouble than she would knitting her a sweater.

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Since I’m working on holiday knitting, and since there are plans for socks and shawls for various family members, I figured there should probably be a sweater for my sister ready as well. The book we picked up was Tundra: Elements – it starts with a base of a bottom-up raglan-sleeve sweater and adds in lots of variations, from stripes to different collars to elbow patches. I was told that I could choose whichever combination of things I liked. So of course, I decided to take the basic pattern and do something completely different. I have plans for a kangaroo pocket, my friends. I have knit super long cuffs with a thumbhole (that can also be folded over to wrist-length). This sweater is going to be loud and warm.

So far, the sleeves are done to the point of being joined to the body for decreases, and I’m working on the body (and have done all the waist shaping so far). I’m really liking this whole knitting sweaters with bulky yarn thing – I’ve cast on about as many stitches as I would for a baby sweater, but when I’m done (with any luck) I should have a sweater that fits a full grown adult. So fun!

1300 yards later

So the knitting 5k with my knitting group is over. I didn’t break 5000 yards of yarn knit (or even come close), but I did hit my much smaller goal of 1000 yards, which is great. Especially since it gets me about half done with holiday gifts!

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The greige honey cowl wasn’t anything I planned, but I had a skein of dk weight and needed something quick to finish. I picked up the ‘whiskers’ colorway of madtosh at a yarn shop in Soho and couldn’t put it down, which is why it ended up in the stash. No ideas on whether I’ll keep it or gift it once it’s blocked.

The socks are all singles, but two of them were second socks of a pair – the pinky purple one is the second Jaywalker for a pair for my mom for the holidays, out of some Patons Kroy sock yarn I’ve had for a while. It’s the second pair of Jaywalkers I’ve knit this year – want to see the other?

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This is one of the best pairs of socks I’ve knit to date. The stripes matched perfectly (once I’d done some adjusting to cast on in the right place in the stripe sequence), they fit my little sister perfectly, and let’s just say ‘perfectly’ a few more times, hmm? Most importantly, the birthday girl was delighted with them, as were our parents, which is what I’d wanted. Let’s just ignore the fact that the birthday girl got wool socks at the end of June.

But back to the stash dash! The other sock that joined its mate was for me, the plain one with aqua and orange stripes out of str. Loved knitting with this stuff, and happy that there’s more waiting in the stash.

That last sock is the first of a pair for my dad for the holidays this year. It’s a Col. Mustard sock with a 72 stitch cast on since it’s in fingering weight. I didn’t want to use any pattern that would compete with the yarn (knit picks stroll hand painted in the ‘cartoons’ colorway – nothing much could compete if it wanted to), but with enough stretch that it would fit snugly, and the garter rib totally fit the bill. I’ve just cast on (truly, haven’t even joined in the round, just cast on) for the second one, which I’ll be bringing with me on a trip.

And then there were shawls. The first one I finished was the blue one, a Beithe shawl out of Colinette Jitterbug in a blue speckly yarn that I love. Unfortunately, I don’t love the size of the shawl – which is completely my own fault for not paying attention to the recommended yarn weight per the pattern. I’m thinking of frogging to make myself a pair of socks, since it’s such a sproingy yarn and I don’t think blocking is going to get me the sort of drape I want.

The last shawl, the one I cast off the day before the end of the yarn 5k, is my second Nefertem. This time it’s for my mother-in-law, who’s allergic to wool, so I made it from Three Irish Girls bamboo cotton fingering weight. It’s not even blocked yet and it’s lovely – so soft and drapey, and the colors are very her. I won’t be blocking this for a while, but between this shawl and the pink sock, both mothers are getting handknit things for the holidays this year, and finished five months before they’re needed.

In my opinion, the yarn 5k was a huge success – I’m already in another kal, one that I might actually complete on time – and I’d definitely do it again. Once my desk (in a new room in a new house) stops looking so much like this:

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WIP it good

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I have joined a knitting group. I am not much of a joiner, nor do I have friends who knit, so this is not an insignificant thing for me. But I’m loving it – I can’t always go each week, but I’ve been attending as much as life allows, and it is so nice to get to sit and chat and knit with the lovely group I’ve found.

So the group, or some of it, is doing a knitting 5k, and while I have a feeling I will not make that sort of yardage, I still seem to have cast on all the things. The orange and teal striped sock is not new – after receiving an amazing package of STR from the boy this past February (in honor of Valentine’s Day and something work-related), I cast on some plain vanilla socks and have been working on them off and on. This is the second sock, and it’s getting close to being done. This means a new pair for the sock drawer this winter, which will be exciting.

The yellow, multicolored bit of yarn will also be a sock. I’m trying to not rush my holiday knitting at all this year by throwing in a smaller project here and there, so I cast on for the first sock for my dad after finishing up a pair of birthday socks for my little sister.

The light purply yarn will be a shawl. I’m repeating a pattern I’ve already knit (and enjoyed), but this time for my mother-in-law. She’s allergic to wool (of course), so normally I can’t do much stash knitting for her. This time, I’d bought a bamboo/cotton blend in a color way I loved – and then realized that yarn was never going to be socks. But it would (and does) drape beautifully, so there’s another holiday project started.

Finally, that bright blue wool is going to be a crescent shawl for me. I keep thinking about the shaping of the Beithe shawl that was on Knitty a couple years ago, and I threw caution, gauge, yarn weight, etc to the wind and cast on (thrice) to start. I’m already a quarter of the way through the lace, since it’s knit bottom up, and since the rows get shorter as I go it seems like the type of knit to power through in fairly short order once the lace is done.

Hopefully I’ll finish at least a few of these by the end of the 5k!

in like a lion

I wish I had embarked on a binge of knitting down the stash and making things for me after the holidays. After all, I managed knitted gifts for a lot of my family, and had been working on presents since June.

But March is going to be a busy month for a couple reasons. Two of them are this:

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Two of the women at my office are pregnant (yes, there always seem to be babies on the way in my life). Both are having little girls, which is so exciting – time for pink yarn and lace! And both are due in March. One is getting a blanket, which I’ll need to block this weekend to make sure I can gift it in time. The other, the little pink sweater, is for a baby due at the end of the month, so it will probably need a hat to go with it.

The other thing that happened was socks. One pair will be for my sister, and they don’t need to be done until her birthday (in June) or the holidays. I owe her a sweater too.

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But the lavender pair has to be done and blocked and have the ends woven in by March 15 – for a 90th birthday that’s really important to me. I’m much further along on sock 1 than I was when I took the picture, and am feeling okay about finishing it this weekend and then casting on for sock 2.

Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to do some completely selfish knitting once I finish up all the gifts that I need for March – and hopefully plenty of other knitters out there have cast on (or maybe even are already wearing!) something they’ve made for themselves.

the longest

What makes some parts of knitting take so much longer than others? Is it laziness, or bad habit, or just something that all knitters do?

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Here is a pile of mittens – except that all of them are missing something. Thumbs! It happens like that every time. No matter how hard I promise myself that I’ll do each thumb as soon as I finish the rest, it turns out that I’ll go so far as knitting a second pair of mittens to avoid finishing up the thumbs. Usually it’s weaving in ends that kills me and adds a week to each project, but except for those dangling bits of waste yarn I’m holding the thumb, all the ends are woven in. Hello procrastination.

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And hello sock feet. I love starting a new sock (once the cuff is over). The leg always goes so fast, especially if there’s a lace repeat or stripes or a cable; and turning the heel is a little bit magical to me. But the foot? Takes forever. It’s worst when I’m knitting for C or one of our fathers, but even with my relatively small shoe size, knitting the foot for socks for me takes ages longer than it should.

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And sleeves. It’s not the second sleeve for me, it’s all the sleeves. This is the first sleeve for a baby sweater I started a month ago. It’s worsted weight yarn on size 7 needles, and it should barely have taken me any time at all – but it’s taking me forever.

Anyone else have strange things that they procrastinate on in their knitting?

a wrap

So now that I’m recovered from the marathon of finishing knits for the holidays, I figure it’s safe to share the gift knits I made!

purple Ishbel shawlI mentioned at the beginning of the summer that I was making a shawl for my grandmother, and that was the first of the planned gift knits I finished. There are over 12,700 versions of the Ishbel shawl by Ysolda Teague, and I’ve made three of them now. This third I made with the large size of stockinette and the small lace section, and it turned out to be the perfect size. The lace is so nice and intuitive (I feel like a broken record saying that about certain patterns), and the Ella Rae Lace Merino yarn I used was a great color and also had a nice twist, so the yarn shows the lace really nicely and blocked out beautifully.

edge of Nefertem shawlNefertem by Kirsten Kapur is another really lovely shawl to knit. It was the first shawl I’ve tried with a half-circle shape, and my first crocheted bind off. The yarn wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice, but my mom picked it out for me because she liked the colors, and I bought another skein of Opal Smokey Eyes so that I could make something for her. It was a hit – and not just for my mom. The lace was definitely the type that needed attention, and blocked out to be striking, and the stockinette section went quickly. The crochet edge took a few tries – I sized up the crochet hook I was using a couple times so that my chains wouldn’t be so hopelessly tight – but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the shawl.

espresso Waffle Creams socksI’d been stalking Anne Hanson’s Waffle Creams sock pattern since before it was released outside of the BNK 2012 bundle – the gorgeous twisted cables, the squishy waffle texture all over the rest of the socks – how could I resist? I may have pounced on the pattern more than purchased it, and earmarked two yarns for it, one for my father-in-law and one for me. I notice that most of the things I earmark for me take a backseat to baby knits for friends and colleagues and gift knits for birthdays and holidays, and this pattern was no exception. I cast on months ago for socks for my father-in-law, since the socks I’d made him for the holidays last year were such a hit. Knitpicks Stroll Sock yarn in Fedora – I don’t remember buying it, but I’ve used Stroll before and it’s held up really well, and I wanted a yarn that would be masculine enough for the recipient of the socks and that wouldn’t distract from the pretty cables. It’s a great pattern – I love the texture just as much as I thought I would, and the cables took me a bunch of tries to figure out on the first crossing; but after I found the sort of instructions I needed on a Knitspot forum on Ravelry, I was all set. They weren’t a quick knit, and I definitely fudged the heel and a little bit of the foot (I just can’t keep counting to make sure the twisted stitches come out correctly when I’ve finally gotten to the foot of a sock for size 10.5 feet), but I still like the way they came out, and my father-in-law was just as delighted by this pair of handknit socks as he was for the last, which is what I wanted. I’m still looking forward to making myself a pair (I have some MadTosh Sock in a lavender color)!

Finally, the ones that got away (without photos). The socks for my dad didn’t so much get away as the pattern they were knit from is still in my notebook and not yet available, but you’ll see them at some point. I made my little sister a pair of flip-top mittens from Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride in the Cranberry Swirl color – she loved them, and I loved the way the yarn knit up. Pretty and toasty warm! For my best friend’s birthday, I made a Honey Cowl in a size between the short and medium, with blue for the background (knit stitches) and red for the slipped stitches – her favorite colors, especially when put together. I know that I used Berroco Lustra in a shiny red (it is not my favorite yarn, but I specifically wanted the shine for the slipped stitches), and I think that the blue was a Cascade 220. For a pair of friends in Washington, I made a quick ribbed cowl from a super bulky wool, and a gorgeous Twin Leaf Loop from Botanical Knits by Alana Dakos (which I can’t wait to knit more from).

It was a very handknit holiday, which is just the way I like things – and after a marathon weekend, I’m relieved that everything was finished in time. One would think that it would be time for some knits for me now…but there are a couple babies on the way at work, and I’ve taken the ludicrous step of starting a promised pair of socks for next Christmas already, so we shall see how that goes. I hope everyone’s holiday knitting was successful, and all the best in 2014!

free pattern: The Cowl of the Baskervilles

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What was it about this pattern? The houndstooth stitch pattern that demanded I knit it right away? The yarn that practically jumped from my stash into my hands? The need for tea and something warm to ward off the cold, early dark of the late autumn days?

Baskerville Cowl

Whatever the reason, the Cowl of the Baskervilles was knit up almost as soon as I thought about it – perfect for staying cozy, whether it’s during a New England December or while solving mysteries and wandering the moors. The oversized cowl knits up super-fast with bulky yarn and would look great on men or women in almost any color combination. The faux seams running down the sides add a touch of interest, the colorwork is striking in the larger yarn and simple to knit (and memorize), and the double layer of wooly goodness adds extra warmth.

front of the Baskerville Cowl

This cowl happened nearly by accident. Between the shawl I made for my friend’s grandmother and the pile of partly-knit items that still needed to be knit for the holidays, I was feeling just a little overwhelmed with all the yarn that had to become things in time to be blocked and dried and wrapped and given. I didn’t exactly lose my head – but I did knit something that wasn’t only not on the to-knit list, but which existed up until that time only in my head. For a few nights after work, I watched the strands of bulky yarn grow into a cowl on the needles and imagined all the other knits I should have been working on (none of them in such large yarn) working up just as quickly. Soon, though, I was knitting for the cowl itself, imagining how cozy the double layer of bulky yarn would be once it was finished.

Baskerville Cowl detail

The Cowl of the Baskervilles  is knit in the round, and the simple colorwork would be a great learning pattern for someone new to stranded colorwork. The cowl is just right for this time of year — whether you need a quick knit to give, or a warm treat for yourself. Enjoy!

Download the Cowl of the Baskervilles:
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Check out the Cowl of the Baskervilles on Ravelry:

steady on

It’s under a week until Christmas, and that slight haze of panic-over-gift-knitting that knitters know so well is starting to set in.

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Though there’s been plenty of progress. Last weekend we were snowed in pretty well, and I spent large swaths of time watching movies I’ve seen before and knitting. A pair of socks for my father-in-law are done. A pair of cowls that will be off to friends in Washington are finished. The second sock of the pair for my dad is on its way, as are the tops of the flip-top mittens requested by my sister. I even survived my first crocheted cast-off on a shawl for my mom – see?

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(I am already planning full posts for the gifts once they’re given.)

At the moment, there’s still blocking and finishing for a number of things, wrapping for all, shipping for some, a cowl, the rest of the tops of the mittens for my sister, and 2/3rds (it’s probably closer to 3/4ths, but that panicked haze grants me denial) of a sock. The cowl is for a good friend’s birthday, in her two favorite colors, and needs another couple rounds, a cast off, a quick blocking, and the ends woven. The sock is causing me the most worry – I really really want to finish and block them this weekend, but am not sure if it will happen. The mittens are the flip-top kind, and I think that there’s maybe an hour and a half of knitting and finishing yet to do. But there’s also wrapping all the gifts, hand-knit or not. I usually love wrapping things, and have a tendency to use leftover yarn that won’t be used elsewhere in place of bows or ribbon. But this year I wandered into Michael’s for something, and $1.50 later I had this:

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I would never knit with it – but I will gleefully tie it in bows around all the presents I’m going to be wrapping! Good luck to all the knitters trying to break physics in order to finish gift knits – we can do it!

shiny shawl

Once upon a time, early in the fall before I was thinking about scheduling all the gift knitting I’d need to finish in time for the holidays, my friend at work passed me some yarn.

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It was not my type of yarn – a light brown mohair blend twisted around a copper-colored cord, with a thin silver thread that twined and snarled around them both – but I couldn’t say no to the yarn or to my friend, especially after she thought of turning that yarn into a shawl for her grandmother for Hanukah. So I took the yarn (anny blatt) and some size 10.5 needles and took to Ravelry, in search of the perfect pattern. Luckily for me, there was the Old Shale Shawl.

It checked all the initial boxes: the yarn was more or less the right weight (and I had about the right amount for the pattern), it would go fast on large needles, it had a simple but graceful lace pattern, and it was big enough to really be used as a shawl to bundle up in.

It knit up even better than I expected. The lace was intuitive, and alternating between stockinette and lace broke up both sections so that just as I started to tire of one (especially as the rows got looong), the pattern shifted to the other.

The reason I didn’t complete the whole shawl (I stopped and did some garter stitch and bound off before the final lace section) was because of the yarn. This is why I can’t handle novelty yarns – ouch! The mohair and copper cord were really splitty, and things went slowly as I kept checking to make sure I’d picked up both strands in a stitch. And that silver thread bunched up in loops (I have to imagine on purpose, because it happened throughout 7 skeins) that caught on the needles and roughed up my hands. As much as I liked the pattern, once it started to look big enough I wound up stopping so that I wouldn’t have to knit with that yarn anymore.

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So, good pattern, less than cooperative yarn – and that was just knitting! I hadn’t worked with mohair before, so I did some research to figure out the way to block it. Apparently it’s best to spray mohair with water and then pin into shape. I usually block on a table or a towel, depending on what I’m blocking, but this shawl (thanks to the mostly artificial fiber content) was having none of it, and kept springing back into a trapezoid sort of shape while it dried or after I unpinned it. The third round, I sprayed it down really thoroughly, and pinned that sucker to the floor. Success! It blocked out beautifully that time, and to a 70-inch wingspan.

And so the shawl was knit and blocked and given – though I did catch my friend wearing it at work the day I passed it to her. She said that her grandmother was really pleased with it, too, and so the whole fight with that yarn was worth it. Next up is racing to finish all those gifts that I want to have done in just 15 short days!

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