A Monster for Baby Francis

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My wonderful friend from my PhD program is having a baby! So to celebrate, I knit her this sweet monster baby toy. This is Gort from the Big Book of Knitted Monsters by Rebecca Danger.

Toys like these monsters are my favorite way to use scraps of yarn. I use larger leftovers for the body and those small offcuts for the stuffing. Unravelling thrifted sweaters produces a surprising amount of yarn scraps – some of the scraps used to stuff Gort were from 2015.

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Speaking of stuffing toys with scraps, I once heard an experienced toy knitter say that the only reliable way to stuff plush and full toys was to use poly-fil (or some sort of polyester batting) specifically for toy use. I’ve never used polyester filling for my toys. I’ve stuffed with lambs fleece, roving, and mostly scraps of yarn and fabric. I have never had a toy collapse or grow lumpy. I prefer to use scraps as it saves them from the landfill and serves a wonderful purpose.

The body is stripped with worsted weight yarn – the dark blue hails from my mother-in-law’s stash while the light blue marl was from a wedding blanket I knit in 2015.

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I decided to embroider the facial features on this monster to make it baby safe. The embroidery process was a bit nerve-wracking, but I pulled myself together and tried my best to plan it out. I think this little toy has a friendly face, perfect for small ones. Though, I did have a bit of a crisis immediately after finishing the face as I feared it could come across as terrifying. Thankfully, everyone who saw the monster disagreed and thought it was adorable and said it was overreacting.

This little monster is going off to meet it’s new family this afternoon! I’m hoping it will fit right in and be a loved for many years.

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Finished Object: Zweig

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Also known as the sweater that was a little tighter than I planned.

This sweater is an hommage to my Minnesotan childhood winters.  The natural white mimics a blanket of snow and the tonal blue reminds me of a the blue skies that can only happen on the coldest days. Would this sweater keep me warm when windchill hits -40 degrees? Probably not by itself. But I would  be super stylish while waiting for the endless winter to end. (Also, -40 is the point where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet… v. cold)

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This sweater is tighter than I planned. I don’t mean uncomfortable or ill fitting, it just doesn’t have as much positive ease as I imagined. I’ve decided that one of the reasons for this closer fit is due to the 100% merino of the body – it’s probably more like a sport weight than a fingering. Second, I made the crucial mistake of swatching flat rather than in the round. While my flat swatch matched gauge – once I started to knit in the round, I no longer had purl rows to bulk up my stitches. The fabric I produced in the round was much tighter than if I were knitting flat. So lesson learned… always swatch in the style in which you will knit. I’ve already fixed my bad habit in my next sweater project.

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I experimented with bind offs on this sweater. For the sleeves I used Jeny’s surprisingly stretchy bind off and for the hem I used a stretchy bind off (k2tog, tbl). At this point, I prefer the stretchy bind off for ease and overall finished look.

I have a few more sweaters planned this winter – but I’m happy with the first finished sweater of 2018. Here’s to many more!

Finished Object: Logalong Circle Skirt

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Holy Moly. She’s finished.

My dreams of a full circle skirt knit in the log cabin style have been actualized.

I left my last post on this skirt a bit hesitant. I was unsure my design idea could even be realized and not at all confident my planning skills were up to the task. However, after taking a few gambles, I am pleased to say my skirt checks all the boxes. It’s full, flowy, light, high-waisted, and delightful. IT WORKED and I’m not totally sure how.

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Here are some specs:

  • I originally planned for ten triangle segments to make up my skirt, that number shrunk to seven after a layout test.
  • I seamed the triangles together with a three needle bind off.
  • I finished the bottom of the skirt with an i-cord edge treatment.
  • Each triangle uses 40 grams of Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. Overall for the whole skirt I used seven skeins of yarn.
  • I picked up stitches for the waistband and knit a casing for elastic

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The most difficult part of this project was decision making. I have no experience designing – and this was a pretty large and intense way to get my feet wet. I was baffled by the sheer amount of decisions that must be made in a garment. Stitch texture and yarn choice proved relative easy for me, but the waistband was more challenging. For a while I imagined I would knit the waistband separate from the body of the skirt and seam it together, but after mulling over this option for actual days, I determined that fitting a waistband to my body as well as the skirt would be beyond my skill level. So, I calculated the number of stitches needed to fit around my waist and picked up stitches to generally match this number. My waistband is taller than I imagined – but I think this height helps balance the volume of the skirt. It also ensure the skirt falls at a wearable length. One unintended result of my waistband that I love is how the body of the skirt (the triangles) start right at my hip.

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I’m pleased (and surprised) that this skirt has turned out as I imagined. During the construction process I felt a bit nervous about knitting so far out of my comfort zone, but now that I’ve worked through the decision making process I feel quite empowered. I’ve tasted the sweet results of seeing a project from design idea to finished project – and they certainly are addictive. Now I wonder if I can go back to settling for patterns that aren’t quite right (answer: probably not). But I’m not in a rush to give up patterns entirely. I feel quite grateful to Karen Templer and her marvelous idea for the #fringeandfriendslogalong, without which I would be skirt-less and uninspired.

 

Logalong Plans and Progress

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When Karen Templer of Fringe Association announced the plans for a log cabin knit-a-long, I had mixed feelings. The log cabin style of knitting was never something that caught my eye, perhaps because I tend toward color minimalism – preferring solids to multicolored items. The log cabin construction style lends itself to items like blankets or scarves – anything square.

I knew if I wanted to join in this knitalong it would mean knitting a solid colored garment that incorporates the log cabin construction. Realizing that I have a baffling amount of sweaters (and more on the way), I knew sweaters were out of the running. I was left feeling sans inspiration for some time – without any confidence in my log cabin knitting plans – until early one morning I woke with the most brilliant idea. So brilliant that it takes a little extra explanation.

The Plan: Log cabin full circle mini skirt made of triangles.

I’ve been attracted to the look of full circle mini skirts this year (my logalong pinterest board has a few), especially those made of wool. They have volume and a little bit of sass that would really brighten up a winters day. While I haven’t found any patterns for a knit full circle mini skirt – I don’t see why it can’t be done.

Full circle skirts can easily be broken into triangular sections – like pieces of a pie.

But is a triangle even a log cabin thing? Yes it is my friends, quilters do it and so will I.

By using a circle skirt calculator for sewing, I was able to make some extra calculations to create triangular sections. But, in order to have room for the waist, I have to chop off the very tip of the triangles – making them trapezoids with triangle insides… a hyprid shape.

My original plan is to have 10 triangles 15 inches high with a 15 inch base. That will give me a very full skirt and a pretty short mini. I’m planning for the waist to have a little bit of negative ease (being knitwear and all) and adding a waistband (maybe with some cables?).

That said, I’m about five triangles down, and I’m starting to think I might prefer the skirt with a little less volume – maybe a 3/4 circle skirt – so I might stop with eight triangles, maybe even six, it all depends on if I can make the waist fit.

The Yarn: I chose to use Brooklyn Tweed Shelter in the Old World colorway. I am so excited to finally be working with this yarn. I really wanted to see what it was like working with a wool that blooms after blocking – and I can confidently say it is everything that I’ve hoped and dreamed for. While knitting, the yarn feels stiff, scratchy, and sticky – however after a 30 minute soak in warm water it transforms into a drapey, soft piece of fabric. After knitting and blocking my test triangle I was so surprised by the change in fabric characteristics. I went from unsure that this design would even be possible to very excited and confident that it would work.

The Old World colorway is a navy blue tweed with flecks of bright red and turquoise. I know this skirt will fit in with my wardrobe color palate. That’s why I chose it. I’m actually using two dye lots (break all the knitting rules!) but since this skirt is made of pieces, I figure the difference won’t be noticeable.

The Log Cabin: While most of the log cabin knits I’ve seen are made of garter stitch, I chose to knit my triangles in stockinette. I was really drawn to Norah Gaughan’s Log Cabin Shawl pattern, especially her use of different stitch textures in the log cabin blocks. However, after a small test with alternating stitch textures, I realized my triangles were better suited for a very basic stitch pattern. The bit of inspo I did pull from the Log Cabin Shawl was the use of a ridge to separate between blocks (however, my ridge is way simpler than the one used in this shawl pattern).

While I’m excited about this skirt, I won’t fully know if the whole idea works until I seam the pieces together and try it on. I’m proceeding with fingers crossed and a general attitude of knitting recklessness.

Finished Object: Flora Mittens

I’ve been excited about colorwork mittens for a while now – and the design of the Flora Mittens stood out miles from other colorwork mittens I’ve seen. This pattern is available in a bundle – five patterns in all (for about $25). The designer recommends that new-to-colorwork knitters start with the first pattern in the bundle and work their way to pattern number 5. Flora is third pattern, not the easiest but also not the most technical. I would consider myself a colorwork newbie, but I decided to jump straight to the pattern that stood out the most. I’m happy to report that it turned out just fine.

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I have been knitting for six years and these are my first proper pair of mittens. Sure, I made the obligatory newby mitten trial pair with acrylic yarn and poorly shaped thumb gusset (that was also back when I was unaware about weaving in ends… I tied everything in knots). I spent two of my winters in St Louis – which has a mild winter according to my Minnesotan climate gauge – in bulky scrappy mittens made from acrylic scraps found in a dumpster. Last Christmas I made my mom a pair of double layer mittens for her winter walks to work. It was this pair of insulated northern style mitten that made me realize I was lacking proper mittens.

Of all the knit items, I think mittens are the best way to show off knitting skill – yes, that’s right, mittens. While sweaters, scarves, and hats are amazing, a beautiful pair of mittens will add color to the dullest of dark winter days. Waving hello to someone with a stunning mitten shocks them out of their winter hibernation coma.

For these mittens I chose to purchase yarn. In my stash of thrifted sweaters waiting for unravelling I have yet to pick up some good wooly options. Trying to find two sweaters in the same weight yarn with colors that would work together was a challenge I was unwilling to take on at the moment. However, after completing these mittens I can say this challenge seems less overwhelming. My curiosity for rustic wools has been growing – and I wanted to see for myself how knitting with and wearing wool compares with my usual knitting projects (which are dominated by merino and alternative fibers).

The yarn I ultimately chose (though it’s lacking in true rustic-ness but the colors are on point) is Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok in October Sky (blue) and Quartz Crystal (pink). The wool is sourced from Peru. I was glad to find that the yarn company has documented the source of their wool in a blog post (you can read it here). The yarn is sold in 50 gram skeins which is the perfect amount for one pair of mittens for about $8. One pair of mittens for $16? I can justify that as a luxury project. Would I use this yarn again? Perhaps, I appreciate that the source of the wool is documented, but it does have to travel quite a distance to reach me. I’d like to explore the colorwork potential of American produced wools in my next pair of mittens. For my usual knitting projects (sweaters and larger items) locally produced ethical yarn are usually out of my budget – but a small project like 100 gram colorwork mittens might be the perfect way to support local yarn producers without breaking the bank.

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I’ve done colorwork before – but the last major colorwork project was this cardigan back in 2015. So deciding to jump into an intermediate colorwork pattern was definitely a risk. On my first mitten I had a couple of blunders – there’s some misplaced stitches that I chose to keep rather than rip back and replace. The second mitten, however, I would describe as perfect. I was expecting this pattern to be difficult and overwhelming, but I was pleasantly surprised how fun it was to knit these mittens. Deciphering the colorwork chart was like solving a scavenger hunt – following clues which create a magical result.

Colorwork involves the new and added difficulty of holding two strands of yarn but only knitting one at a time. I’ve experimented with different techniques including holding one strand in my left hand and the other in my right, wrapping one over my first finger and one over my second, and dropping the strand of yarn I wasn’t using. I finally settled on the Norwegian style of tensioning colorwork – holding both strands on the same finger. As a continental knitter, this method requires more dexterity in my right hand as I pick the correct strand of yarn – but I found it created the most even tension of the four methods.

I now recognize my new love for mittens. These also only took me three days to make. I have four other patterns in the Selbu Mitten Club bundle – and you can bet I will be making more colorwork mittens this year.

 

2017 Gifting: The (Sock) Hat

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I really wanted to knit Kyle a pair of socks. I have been on such a sock knitting binge starting with this pair here, and I thought I could wow Kyle with a pair of his own hand knit socks for Christmas. I bought yarn, making sure it would be soft and easy for him to care for, and I cast on. The yarn is Araucania Huasco Sock in the Toco Tucan colorway. I couldn’t find much about this yarn online. The Araucania website says they’re handdyed by artisans and inspired by Ancient South American Crafts – but I couldn’t find any information on who actually dyes the yarn, where the artisans live, what kind of dyes they use (though my guess is some sort of acid dye process), or where the wool comes from. The yarn is a 75% merino/25% nylon blend. I wouldn’t call this an ethical yarn option, but I chose it because it was the only color option in the yarn store I knew Kyle would like and soft enough for him to enjoy wearing. Would I use this yarn again? Most likely not. As I’ve been learning more about superwash wools and nylon, I want to avoid them more . I’m considering the natural alternatives to petroleum derived synthetic fibers like wool, cotton, and linen. I also want to avoid chemically intensive production processes which rules out materials like bamboo or any superwash wool. I’m quite new to this conversation, and I’ve been learning quite a lot from Mrs. M’s Curiosity Cabinet – one of my favorite knitting podcasts as well as this episode of the Fruity Knitting Podcast.

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Let’s get back to the project.

This sock story doesn’t have a happy ending. It was never even made. I forgot to factor in how specific Kyle is about his socks – very tight, very thin, never falls down. Kyle’s sock preference is the opposite of a hand knit sock. There’s nothing wrong with this, I’m not trying to convince him to prefer hand knit socks over store bought socks – I just wanted to make him something he would actually wear and be proud of. I made Kyle plenty of terrible things when I was learning how to knit, and he accepted them graciously and now doesn’t wear them (neither would I). It’s high time he had something that was actually good.

So we sat down together to find something that would be worn and fit his style. We came across Mawson by Jarod Flood, a trendy and simple hat that has two gauge options. I wanted to use the original sock yarn (we both agreed the colors were perfect), and holding this yarn double I could make the DK weight gauge requirement. After I barely swatched two inches of fabric I decided it was good enough and was off on the knitting race that I arbitrarily set for myself.

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The best part about this pattern is the crown. The decreases are so clever – reversible!!! And the decreases create the loveliest crown design. I love the simplicity and versatility of this pattern, but it’s very clear that this hat (though simple) has been well designed. I will probably knit this hat for everyone who is knitworthy in my life sometime in the near future.

Kyle knew he would only wear this hat watchcap style, so he requested I sew the brim to keep the look permanent. I just used a running stitch with the same yarn to invisibly secure the brim to the hat. It’s still stretchy, the seam is invisible, and it’s exactly what he wanted.

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2017 Gifting: Open Waters Shawl

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Boy oh boy, what a project.

Back in September, during a phone chat with my lovely mom, I confessed that I was already thinking about Christmas gifts – making them, that is. I really wanted to get ahead of the last minute make-a-thon that usually takes over my festive spirit. Apparently, she was already thinking about gifts too – she knew exactly what she wanted. It went something like this,

I want a wrap for church when it gets cold that matches my kitchen backsplash.

After digging a little deeper, it came to light that she was talking about a shawl (not necessarily a rectangular wrap) and her backsplash was slate blue (very specific, thanks mom). So I set out to knit her a warm, slate blue shawl for Christmas.

I have never, ever, knit a shawl. Every time I think, “maybe I would like to have a shawl,” I always imagine how I could use that same amount of yarn to knit a sweater… and then knit that sweater. So this gift knit was necessary for me to break into the shawl knitting universe that I know so little about – and for that I’m grateful to my mom for her slightly weird request of a Christmas present.

I sent her a few patterns of shawl’s I liked, and ultimately we settled on the Open Waters Shawl my Melanie Berg in Making no. 2. I was drawn to the unique stitch pattern. It looks so inviting and creative. I also liked that most of the body of the shawl is in garter stitch and a smaller section in a more complex stitch pattern – enough complexity to stay interested but enough basic stitches to chill. The dream combo. This pattern is for an asymmetrical shawl, which includes increasing on one side (to create the wingspan/hypotenuse of the triangle). I know shawls come in a variety of shapes (words like crescent and half pie that make me think of baked goods, not knitting), and some folks have strong feelings about which shapes they prefer. My feelings toward shawl shapes are distinctly underdeveloped; I just don’t know which one is best.

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Finding the yarn for this sweater was a minor effort. I traveled out of my usual thrift shop boundaries to a suburban thrift store. After circling the sweater racks for 30 minutes searching for a slate blue fingering weight sweater with good fiber content to unravel, I finally settled for a less preferable option: multiple lace weight sweaters. The first sweater was a cornflower blue 100% cashmere sweater from Ann Taylor LOFT (I always find this brand has fantastic quality sweaters). The second was a graphite grey linen/silk/rayon blend from J.Jill (also good quality sweaters from the brand in general). Both of these sweaters were machine knit with very fine yarn (cobweb/laceweight). I knew unraveling was going to be a *t a s k* but I decided the right color (literally blue/grey) in quality yarn was worth the challenge.

And it sure was a challenge. The cashmere sweater was quite weak, snapped often, and produced a lot of fuzz. This is to be expected of a short fiber like cashmere, but still I was struggling to remain positive through this sweater harvest. The grey sweater was a whole other bag of worms – I didn’t notice that this sweater was machine knit with two separate strands of yarn, which unraveled at different tensions. So one yarn was always a little saggier than the other.

I’ve done most of my unraveling without a yarn swift, but halfway through endless winding of laceweight yarn, I gave in – I needed a yarn swift as soon as possible to finish this project. After maybe about 20 minutes of research one weekday morning I decided to buy an amish style swift. By that evening, I walked out of my LYS with the ChiaoGoo Amish Style swift at a price that just fit within my monthly craft budget (no extra yarn for me).

The yarn swift is a game changer.

I sped through the rest of my unraveling, washed the yarn, stretched it gently to remove any knitting kinks, and was ready to start knitting.

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The pattern calls for a US size 2.5 needle, which I do not have… so I decided a US size 3 metal circular needle would have to do – and my swatch turned out okay, but again, my first ever shawl, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

This shawl was strange to knit. My yarn combo did not want to knit nicely, it was both slippery and stiff. The main part of the stitch pattern is small sections of bound off stitches – this was really difficult to do with my yarn + needle combo. The knitting process felt like it took ages! I’m used to garment projects with their different sections, sleeves, button bands, and the like. This shawl was one large piece of repeating patterns – a new style for me. Once I finished the last pattern repeat I rejoiced at the thought of binding off. But I knew binding off wasn’t the last step of this project. It would need a serious session of blocking to help the stitch pattern shine. I was generally intimidated by this step so I put off blocking for two weeks to try to build up the courage to stretch my knitting.

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I’m pretty unsure about the finished look of this shawl. Generally in the middle. After blocking, the fabric turned into something light and airy. I don’t know if it will actually keep my mom warm, which was a crucial part of her request. I do know that it hits slate blue straight on the head. However, I do worry that I stretched the fabric out too much and that I should have added one more strand of yarn to add a little bulk to the shawl. But, alas, these are all lessons learned for next time. I do think I’ll knit a shawl again, and probably one of Melanie Berg’s designs. For a first ever shawl, I think this turned out just fine.