Reyna: My First Shawl (for me)

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Hooray for my first shawl (for me). I knit my actual first shawl last fall (read about it here) as a gift for my mom. After seeing the versatility that the shawl brings to an entire outfit – I set my sights on starting my own shawl collection. Reyna is what I would consider a classic beginners knitting pattern. A triangle shawl with simple increases, the mesh lace sections add manageable places to build skills in reading your knitting. The simplicity of this shawl made a perfect summer travel project. Reyna went with me to the lake, the pool, and the parking lot waiting to pick my husband up from work…

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I have something to admit though, about shawls. When I first started knitting… and until last year… I was anti-shawl. I had no idea why they were wanted objects. Why would I want to knit something I couldn’t wear? Also they have this reputation for being downright matronly and I am not a matron. I had to deal with so many granny comments already simply by knitting in public and adding shawl knitting to my list of activities would only bring on more old lady comments.

I was very prejudice. And discriminatory. First of all, there is nothing wrong with “matronly.” Except that it maybe conflicts with an American overemphasis on the values of youth and sex appeal. I’m actively working to destabilize that in my own life. An item doesn’t have to be youthful or sexy to be valuable (and to be honest sexy is never something I’m going for anyway). Second of all, sweaters will always be my first love – I seriously doubt they will be booted from the top of my knitting queue. However, the shawl is a useful and beautiful way to add more wool to my life.

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Reyna, while being a simple beginner shawl, has also made a serious contribution to my life. She has pointed out unfair prejudices that needed examination. She has allowed me to move past those prejudices into a much more open and beauty filled world. And she had given me knitting – the only gift I really wanted.

If you want to see the other blog posts about Reyna, you can find them here and here

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Set Up your SSK’s

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About halfway through my Reyna shawl I had an idea. Reyna by Noora Backlund (a free shawl pattern) uses knit two together (k2tog) and the opposite facing decrease (ssk) to create the lace sections.

The slow and jerky nature of slipping stitches to create the correctly leaning decrease started to annoy me. So I found a way to orient my stitches on the needles so they were already set up to ssk and k2tog without having to do any extra slips. This is a free pattern – so I’m not going to be very discreet with the pattern details. However I won’t be regurgitating the pattern in this post, so check out that pattern!

The lace sections in the Reyna shawl are simple – right of the marker is a yarn over + k2tog classic lace combo. Left of the marker is it’s counterpoint: the y/o + ssk. The trouble is, after the speed of the k2tog, the slipping portion of the ssk feels jerky and awful. But there’s a faster way.

The trick is in the purling. On the wrong side rows, I used two different purl methods to change the directions of my stitches. On the side that is going to be the ssk section (wrong side of the shawl, right side of the marker) I used the combination purl stitch. Combination purling orients your purl stitch so the first leg of the stitch is behind the needle and the second leg is in front of the needle. Basically, it’s backwards. Then, after the marker, in the section that is going to be k2tog, I purled in my normal continental style.

Here’s the break down:

Right side: k2tog on left side of marker. Ssk on right side of marker

Wrong side: combination purl, marker, continental purl.

Just for added clarity – I made some videos! (It’s my first knitting and video experiment okay so it’s going to be bad.)

This is how I combination purl:

And this is my awkward continental purl:

So when it’s time for the right side, this is what my k2tog + y/o looks like

And here is my ssk + yo, all set up with no need to slip any stitches.

That’s my trick to setting up my ssk!

I have a secret. That combination purling method? I do that all the time. I confess that I’m a combination knitter. So for this shawl, I actually figured it out the other way around – I had to remember my awkward way to continental purl to properly set up my k2tog stitches.

One of the reasons I’m a combination knitter is because my purling was so awkward and started to hurt my fingers and wrists! So I found another way. A quick google search for continental knitting hand pain brought me to handful of links about arthritic knitters and easier methods on the joints. After switching to the combination method – my joint pain has significantly reduced and I can knit for longer sittings. I’m a full on combination knitting convert.

There are more informed videos out there about combination knitting (I learned from this video). If you’re interested, I recommend checking them out!

Finished Object: Tegna

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My Tegna certainly had a rough start (and middle) but now she’s here and beautiful.

The popular Tegna pattern by Caitlin Hunter has been in my sight since it was first published. I fell in love with the delicate lace, the simple body, and the dropped shoulders. It was the perfect pattern to cast on early in the summer. I’m glad it’s finished so I can enjoy wearing it while the sun blazes and my skin fries – except I’ll be wearing sunscreen and a hat so this hopefully won’t happen.

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While all my newly finished projects feel special, my Tegna has a little more oomph. The yarn I chose to work with was unraveled from a cotton/silk blend J Crew cardigan. When I found the cardigan at the thrift store, it was originally cream, but that next weekend I went to another amazing dye session at Alpaca’s of Troy, an alpaca farm outside of St. Louis, MO, and dropped the sweater, pre-unravelled, into the indigo bath. Then, I left it for eight months.

When I pulled out the cream-machine-knit-now-indigo sweater and unraveled the pieces – I was delighted with the results. I imagined that dying a sweater in its knit form wouldn’t affect the dye process – and the dyed sweater looked thoroughly soaked. However, while unraveling I noticed that each knit stitch created a unique resistance technique. The resistance of the knit stitches created a speckled like appearance on the yarn. This was aided by the fact that the cotton/silk blend was unplied and shifted during the unraveling process.

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I ended up with a beautiful teal speckled yarn that blew all my previous expectations of the effects natural dyes can give. That said, maybe if I had ever knit from a sock blank I might have figured this out sooner. Hand-dyed sock blanks seem to have the same closely speckled effect.

I adjusted the pattern to fit my tighter gauge. In my original gauge swatch, my yarn in the pattern recommended gauge (22 sts and 26 rows) appeared loose and unorganized. So I swatched on smaller needles and landed on a gauge of 27 stitches and 36 rows per 4 inches. I’ve noticed that I prefer tighter gauges in my recent projects – like my Featherweight – which have all used non-wooly yarns. Clearly, when knitting garments, slippery, non-fluffy silks, linens, and cottons benefit from a tighter gauge than their fluffier yarn counterparts. If I followed the pattern for size M (43.75″ bust) then my Tegna would come out around a size S (38″). Gauge math is by far one of my favorite knitting techniques I have ever learned. Nothing has made me happier than adjusting the pattern to fit my gauge so I can have the pattern I want in the fabric I want.

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I made one other tiny mod: I only knit my Tegna body to 12 inches instead of the 14 recommended in the pattern. I always like to shorten patterns a tad because I’m 5’3″ and I wanted my Tegna to be cropped (more than slightly cropped as intended in the pattern). The result is a little stomach-bearing, but I’m cool with that.

I had some hiccups in the knitting process – all of my skeins were noticeably different shades of teal-indigo. I tried to blend the yarn by alternating skeins, but the striping effect was quite apparent – and something I wanted to avoid. So I chose to apply the “fade” technique and slowly transition from one skein to another when my current skein was nearing it’s end. Overall, I think this blended the different shades of blue in a much more palatable way and one that I’m happy with.

It was difficult to decide to unravel my almost completed Tegna to correct the striping effect. I put up a poll on Instagram stories to crowd source some advice – and I found the votes were split evenly: 50% knit again and 50% leave it as is. But, to be honest, I didn’t even wait for the results of the poll to unravel it – I determined that the striping would prevent me from feeling proud about my color management in this sweater – something which I’ve been learning about and working on with a surprising amount of effort since I began to knit. I feel like I’ve finally hit some sort of stride with color management and I don’t want to settle for something that doesn’t feel right to me. So, in a double effort not to cut corners and to trust my gut, I unravelled half of my little baby Tegna and started again.

The extra work always pays off. I have said this in previous blog posts, but every time I decide to unravel something and try again, I always feel like it’s worth the effort. I think I’ve built up enough rapport with myself to trust my opinion regarding the knitting process, what looks good, and the artistic qualities of my pieces. Basically, I’m feeling like a knitting bad-ass that can’t be stopped.

My Tegna is going to serve me well this summer, and for summers to come.

Happy Making

Jaime

Thrifting Tips and Tricks: Sweaters

It’s no secret, the majority of my materials come from thrifted items. The low prices and wide variety of materials make it possible for me to stock my obsessive craft hobby on a tight budget. I’ve spent a lot of time at thrift stores searching for sweaters: so here are my favorite tips and tricks for how to find quality thrifted sweaters.

  1. Season Matters (mostly). I’ve noticed that more thrift stores I encounter rotate clothes on a seasonal basis. Especially larger chain stores, like Goodwill and St Vincent de Paul, seem to only stock seasonally relevant clothes. I rarely find quality sweaters during the summer months. So I stick to cooler weather months for my sweater thrifting. However, I have found that smaller towns or locally owned thrift stores rarely have the staff to be selective about seasonal clothing – so if you are on the hunt for sweaters in the summertime, I recommend searching in a smaller/locally owned shop.
  2. Check the Tags. Very obvious tip, but checking tags for fiber content is the best way to determine if a sweater is worth it. I try to avoid those acrylic sweaters, but sometimes I’m desperate for a specific color so I’ll compromise by purchasing a fiber with some acrylic or nylon content. While that 100% wool sweater might be the prize find, don’t discount other natural fibers or blends. Some of my favorite projects are made from thrifted cotton and finding a silk or silk blend yarn always feels like finding a secret treasure. I like to keep track of the brands I find with quality materials. That way, if I’m drawn to a sweater and notice the brand is one I’ve unravelled before, its likely to be another quality sweater. This also goes the other way, I keep track of the brands whose sweaters are almost always acrylic and avoid them like the plague. Some of my most unravelled brands are LOFT (and Ann Taylor), J. Jill, and J Crew. I also jump on any Eileen Fisher sweater I can find. The one’s I avoid are typical fast fashion brands like Forever21, H&M, and Old Navy (unless I really want cotton).
  3. Explore your area. You might find that the thrift store closest to home rarely carries quality sweaters, so branch out – check out some shops in different areas. Check the next town over, the suburbs, the city center, the outskirts of town. If I’m on the hunt for a specific project, I like to devote a weekend morning or afternoon to my quest and hit up the various thrift stores in a certain area of the city. If you do take this approach I recommend bringing snacks – it can be a big day. It might be a good idea to keep a running list of shops that tend to carry quality sweaters. Keep a list on your phone or in a notebook, that way if you’re in need for a good sweater and don’t have hours of time, your list can guide you.
  4. Stick to your budget. While I’ve had the occasional failed thrift store run, more often than not I can find numerous sweaters with fibers that would love to knit with. But, even thrift stores sweaters can add up in price and could quickly get out of control. Before you even leave your house, acknowledge what you can spend on materials that day. Setting those limits will prevent you from experiencing sweater regret.

I hope these tips help you on your thrifted sweater adventures. Let me know if you have any favorite tips and tricks when you search for thrifted sweaters in the comments below. And thanks to Mia for suggesting this topic as a blog post. I hope this helps, Mia!

Happy Thrifting!

My First Featherweight Cardigan

I finally have my basic lightweight cardigan that I have been longing for!

My #MeMadeMay18 goal was to complete the cardigan of my dreams. I had exactly one handmade cardigan in my wardrobe (my uniform) and was in desperate need of a warmer weather layer. The Featherweight Cardigan by Hannah Fettig is one of the most popular patterns out there, for good reason as it’s wonderfully basic and altogether simple. The Featherweight Cardigan was my perfect match.

The yarn I used was recycled from a pink 100% silk sweater originally from Eileen Fisher. I found this sweater at a thrift store for $6 – yarn this quality for a price I could fit into my $40 monthly craft budget. The color is a dusty rose pink that blends in well with my collection of pink handmade clothes. Unraveling this yarn was a little tricky, the silk caught regularly during the unraveling process. However, the best part was washing process – when the yarn magically released all it’s memory. Silk is basically magic in a fiber.

The silk did present a few challenges during the knitting process, but I chalk these troubles up to my lack of experience working with silk (or linen for that matter). It seems like a fiber like silk or linen, without a lot of fluff or squish, behaves totally differently than something like wool (duh Jaime…). I found that this difference is most obvious in ribbing and bind offs which I mention a little below, but also I found a big difference in gauge and transparency. I swatched according to the pattern gauge (22 sts and 36 rows = 4″ which I got on a US 6 needle), and found that my swatch was far too open to be a wearable sweater. I actually ignored this for a while and spent a week knitting up my cardigan until it smacked me in the face. My sweater would have been see-through, almost a mesh like fabric. I find that I prefer silk, as well as linen and cotton, in tight gauges (unless transparent is the goal of course). I chose to jump down to a US 3 needle where my new gauge was 32 sts and 40 rows in 4″. I did some magic gauge calculation to determine that, with my new gauge, I would need to cast on the 45.25″ size to fit my 35″ bust. These extra calculations took time, but it was worth it as now my featherweight cardigan is perfectly wearable.

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Another tricky aspect of working with silk was choosing the right bind off. This yarn reveals all, so I wanted a bind off that would both be elastic but also have a smooth finish. I chose to use Jenny’s surprisingly stretchy bind off for the sleeves, a k2tbl bind off for the hem, and a crochet bind off for the collar. Overall, the crochet bind off, though not elastic, looks the best, while the k2tbl looks quite bumpy and loose (though not enough for me to change it).

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Challenges aside, this sweater is going to be a staple in my warm weather wardrobe. I love the drape and the color; it elevates my casual wardrobe just a touch without putting it over the top. I have plans for another featherweight soon out of a more standard yarn choice – hopefully long with stripes – but I’m ready for some more engaging knitting at the moment so my second featherweight isn’t immediately on the horizon.

 

In Progress: June Knitting

My summer of knitting has arrived.

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I’m very excited that I finished my #MeMadeMay18 featherweight cardigan. I’ll have a post about this soon. Though I’m sad I can no longer knit with this amazing yarn, this finished object has opened up space for a new cast on in my knitting queue!

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I have a tiny little hem worm of my Tegna sweater by Caitlin Hunter. I am so excited for this top – perfect for summer but suitable for cooler months as well. I am knitting my Tegna out of a silk/cotton blend I reclaimed last fall. I dyed this yarn at Alpacas of Troy with with Sumac berries and Indigo. The result was this lovely teal-blue with green undertones. I also experimented by dying this sweater in its machine knit form. The result was quite exciting, the dye is speckled evenly on the yarn which enhances the shimmer effect from the silk fiber content. This yarn looks like the waves of a lake on a summer day softly lapping the shore; not too much drama but just enough movement to capture my attention and lull me into relaxation.

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I had a little hiccup with my Tegna. I swatched three times to achieve the pattern gauge – starting with a US 5 and finally getting gauge on a US 7. I cast on for the medium, which would have given me about 9 inches of positive ease and knit half of the lace, I realized the bottom circumference of the sweater was far too large for my size. Even with the decreases in the lace, I would have been swimming in this top. Nine inches of positive ease on my petite frame is just a little too much. I also noticed that in my gauge on US 7 needles, the lace was already quite open. I thought this whole top could do with a downsize. I downsized my needles to a size 5 and, after some gauge math magic, cast on, again, for the medium size. This will give me a top with about two inches of positive ease which will probably be more my style. I’m hoping this all works out.

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I have two other projects that are probably going to travel with me the entire summer. The first is my Reyna shawl by Noora Backlund – which I’m knitting because my friend Kate in St Louis decided to cast this on as her first shawl project! After yarn shopping with her and guiding her through the first bits of the pattern, I realized that I really wanted one of these shawls for myself.

I had the perfect yarn – a gift from my friend Anna after her trip to Wyoming during the 2017 total eclipse. This yarn is the most amazing collection of purples. It’s Palouse Yarn Company Merino Fine in the Total Gravity colorway. This color is part of a special collection the dyer made especially for the eclipse and I think the dyer absolutely nailed it. The purples are so rich, but shift in tone from a lavender to an almost black. I’m really enjoying the color of this yarn.

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My second project is this little basic sock – made with a commercial Patons sock yarn I picked up from a reused craft store in Cincinnati. I have yet to find sweaters that I can unravel that are suitable for sock yarn, as I always prefer a tightly spun yarn for my socks. Most of the sweaters I come across in thrift stores end up loosely spun, if spun at all (especially if they’re blended fibers or have any sort of cotton content). Therefore, I keep my eyes out for any commercial sock yarn I can find at secondhand craft stores. One day, I would love to knit my socks without superwash or nylon content – but until that day I’m eagerly watching Mrs. M’s no-nylon sock experiment to glean from her research.

Usually, I knit my socks cuff down and use a heel flap and gusset, however, I started this sock toe up and will probably throw a short row heel on there just for ease. The short row heel doesn’t fit my foot quite as well as a flap and gusset – I have quite a high arch and instep – however, it’s been a while since I tried a short row heel and I want to double check the fit on my tighter sock gauge that’s developed over the last year since I’ve been regularly knitting socks.

I’m quite pleased with the projects I have on the go for June – my Tegna, Reyna, and my toe-up sock. The variety of these projects has kept me interested as I still mourn the absence of my sewing machine. Speaking of my wonderful sonata sewing machine, I’m beginning to miss it so much that I’m thinking about naming it! Naming is a skill that I seriously lack (if you only knew how long it took me to come up with a name for this blog – hint two+ years). However, I think my trusty machine deserves some attention while I’m away. Since my machine was originally owned by my mom, I’m thinking a name from her generation will suite it best. Something like Linda, Karen, Tammy or Denise. Or I might go super 80’s like Heather, Tiffany, or Stacy. As of now I’m leaning towards Stacy or Linda.

Summer Crafting Plans in Oregon

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I am thrilled to be writing this from central Oregon, where I plan to spend my three months of summer in absolute delight. This will be my first real time in the Pacific North West – an area of the U.S. that I’ve always wanted to visit. I also feel this strange affection towards the PNW, since most people I met imagine I grew up here, so I’m interested to see why this place appears to be my homeland (I have a theory about this and it has to do with Lutherans, individual sports, and Subarus…)

I love exploring new places – unknown adventures or scenes always ignite my curiosity. So, to get to know my new summer home I have one goal: get outside everyday. Compared to the sweaty humidity that St. Louis summer’s have to offer, central Oregon is paradise. I am going to capitalize on the arid, warm weather by forcing myself to spend time outside. I’ve been doing well so far – going on runs (which I used to hate) and brushing off my disc golf skills. I’m usually glued to my bike in the summers, but I couldn’t justify either bringing my bike to Oregon or buying a cheap one here, so I’ve made do with my old running shoes and the quiet trails of the Deschutes National Forest.

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My bike wasn’t the only think I had to leave in St Louis, my sewing machine was also booted from the packing list. My husband and I share a two bedroom apartment with his college roommate – there was just not enough physical space to justify the sewing machine plus the necessary sewing materials. This is one of the sadder packing decisions I had to make since I had already selected my summer projects, fabric, and patters. So my sweet and reliable sonata sewing machine is resting in the corner of my St Louis bedroom, eager for my return. I had a small session of mourning, but quickly diverted my grief into planning my other craft projects.

Despite no sewing projects, I managed to check an entire bag of craft materials on my flight. I brought two existing projects, and enough yarn to last me two years… as well as a few craft books and my embroidery materials. While I do tend to plan what I’m going to make, I want to give myself some creative freedom. I planned to take a few large projects, some small projects, and all the yarn I bought at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival. I would be surprised if I managed to make everything on my summer projects list in my three month time frame, but it’s there, just in case.

For my large projects I have four sweaters, one top, and one shawl on the list. I want to finish my #MMMay2018 perfect cardigan, and I’m hoping to knit a Ninilcihk Swoncho by Caitlin Hunter and a Portage Cardigan by Melissa Schaschwary. I brought enough yarn to make another featherweight cardi if I feel inspired; I already know I will want to have another in my wardrobe. I have some recycled cotton/silk yarn I overdyed with indigo and sumac that’s waiting to be a Tegna by Caitlin Hunter. I also want to cast on the Raina Shawl by Andrea Mowry in Making 4 Lines.

The sweaters I mentioned above are all items I will love to have next winter as I’m in desperate need of actual cardigans. After my last failed attempt at the Portage Cardigan, I am hopeful that round two will give me a lovely wearable cardigan. The Swoncho is just a lifetime goal – so I want to accomplish that as soon as possible. I love the Tegna, and I think my yarn choice will make a lovely summer-appropriate top with flow and ease. My guess is that this Tegna will be my next cast on, if I can keep my hands away from those larger sweater projects.

I have peppered these larger projects with a variety of small projects to choose from – just in case a sweater feels too overwhelming for the summer heat. I have a couple of mittens I can make for the #yearlongmittalong hosted by Skeindeer, a sock project, and a fun shawl project for a mini KAL with my St. Louis friends. There are some extra skeins in case I want to make a hat or something like that (probably this one…). Obviously, I brought too much yarn, but it was the only way I could soothe the wound of absent sewing in my life.

I’m positive that I will have enough yarn to keep me busy this summer, especially since my new home is an outdoor playground. My only hope is that my knitting mojo stays high and my desire to create keeps steadily on. My game plan is to set loose goals, like finish a sweater a month, to keep knitting but also leave room to try something new.

Happy making!

 

Jaime