Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Latch Hook: 12 Projects for the Modern Maker [BOOK REVIEW]

On the very first day of 2020, my friend Heidi, the crafter behind the Hands Occupied craft blog, taught me how to latch hook so that I could make a sample for the pattern book she was working on. 

Heidi's Latch Hook book & my latch hooking supplies

As a sample maker, I was given everything I needed to make the project - mesh, precut yarn, and the latch hook. And I didn't have to worry about any of the finishing work, either. It was a pretty sweet set-up!

My sample for the book - the faux shearling throw

So when Heidi sent me a copy of  her Latch Hook book as a thank-you for making the sample, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could make a project from start to finish. 

I chose the Hey Welcome Mat and decided to sub in one of my favorite Brown Sheep Yarns, Lamb's Pride Worsted. I struggled with cutting the yarn lengths at first until I discovered a simple hack using a chenille cutter; after that, it was smooth sailing, and now I have this fun rug that I will probably display on the wall, because I can't bear to step on something I spent 4 months making!

Latch Hook: 12 Projects for the Modern Maker is the perfect introduction to this fun yarn craft. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and you don't need a lot of expensive supplies to get started. It's a refreshing take on a craft that many folks might overlook as overly kitchy or outdated, and there are several inspiring projects with nary a terrifying clown face in sight (thank goodness!). 

There are lots of colorful home decor projects in addition to the sample and project I made, including a variety of wall hangings and the sprinkle stool cover. The cool thing about a latch hook piece is that you can use it in a variety of ways - for instance, the Rainbow Back Patch is shown sewn onto the back of a jean jacket, the Layered Heart Tote is made by attaching the finished latch hook piece to a tote bag, and I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the smaller projects could just as easily be converted into pillows or cushions.  

There's plenty of inspiration for modern makers who want to explore a new yarn craft. Physical copies are available in big box craft retailers (I think), or  you can download a digital copy of Latch Hook: 12 Projects for the Modern Maker for $9.99 and get hooking

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Finished Sweater, With Cat Hair

After losing Tilly and Robin within a year of each other, I sure didn't think I'd be finding cat hair in my knitting any time soon. But the universe had other ideas. Over the winter, a white feral cat adopted us. I'd noticed her when we moved into our apartment last summer - I would see her hiding in the bushes or sunning herself in the grass when she thought no one was looking. I assumed she was someone's cat until I realized how skittish she was around humans, plus she had a tipped ear, which is a universal sign that a feral/stray cat has been spayed. Neighbors confirmed that she was a feral kitty (descended from several generations of feral cats, in fact), and that she has survived on her wits and whatever food various residents put out for her. 

We had some bitterly cold days over the winter, and I just felt so sorry for this poor kitty! I started offering her treats and slowly gained her trust. She didn't even want to come inside our apartment at first, much less let me touch her. If you surprised her or did something she didn't like (or, heaven forbid, take too long before tossing her a tread!) she would hiss at you. There were moments we didn't think this wild little kitty was going to embrace any sort of indoor living arrangement,

And now, Lulu has become a reasonably domesticated cat who loves sleeping on my lap, playing with her toys, and harassing us when she's hungry by whacking our legs when we walk by her food bowl. In fact, here's where she was hanging out as I wrote this post:

Lulu still spends plenty of time outside - as much as she cares to, because we aren't about to hold her hostage indoors - but more and more, has been coming back to our apartment for a good meal, playtime, and lots of snuggles. When the weather is gross out, she's all-in for an extended stay. If it's sunny, we know she wants to find a nice patch of grass to lay in until the sun sets. She is the master of her own fate, and we rely on her to tell us if she wants to be in or out (she's not shy). So far, it's been working fairly well. It certainly helps that she's super-smart and has learned some auditory cues such as the sound of my keys jingling or the sound of our car, not to mention she's starting to respond to her name so we can call her inside. 

And because she's quite floofy and it's spring time, she's shedding my newly-finished sweater has a mohair-like halo thanks to Lulu. I used my Gleener cleaner to get as much off as I could before photographing, but her fur has such a long staple length that some of it is just permanently knitted into the fabric (nerd that I am, I measured several samples and they all were around 2 inches long).

While I'm rambling on about random things, this is probably a good time to mention that I originally used this yarn to knit a different pattern (Ravelry link), but it didn't quite go as planned thanks to a no-good lying swatch.

I knit the entire yoke and body of before I tried it on and decided I didn't like how it fit, so I frogged the entire thing. I wasn't feeling confident that I could fix the fit issues with my original pattern (mostly because my actual gauge of the sweater was markedly different from my original swatch), so I decided to pick something different that would work with my current gauge. There's nothing like spending several months knitting a gauge swatch, which is essentially what I did - but it was totally worth it in the end, because this sweater fits great and I know I'll wear it tons! 

Pattern: New Wintermood (Ravelry link)

Yarn: Mountain Colors River Wash Sport in Raven & Blue Frost

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Sew into Quilting

Well, that didn't take long. I started working at MSQC last December, and I've already completed my very first quilt project, a quilt-as-you-go hexagon tree skirt! 

While I was waiting for more border/backing fabric for my quarantine quilt (which is also a quilt-as-you-go hexagon project), I decided to use all of the fabrics left over from making holiday masks last year by pairing them with a bright red solid fabric for the backing/border to make the hexagon tree skirt from BLOCK magazine (volume 7, issue 3 2020 for anyone who's interested). BLOCK is a Missouri Star publication, and when I started they gave me a few issues to page through to get a sense of what they were like. Right away, the tree skirt project jumped out to me, but I was hesitant to give it a try since I've never quilted anything, and my sewing skills are limited. 

With the help of the tutorial video below, I started sewing hexies with leftover fabric and precut hexagon batting...which ended up being really addictive! 

I decided to machine sew all of the hexies for the tree skirt using a zigzag stitch, but I think I will do a combination of machine sewing and hand sewing for the quarantine quilt. It's very easy to sew  all of the hexies into strips, but once you start attaching 1 set of strips to another, things get pretty dicey if you're using a regular sewing machine. 

So for a first-time quilting project, I am quite pleased with the results, and I can't wait to put it under our tree this holiday season!

As for the quarantine quilt, the rest of the backing fabrics arrived (I ordered more of the same dark grey color, plus a few yards of black and light grey) and I've been sewing more hexies. Still not sure how big this quilt will become - it might be nice to have a good sharing-sized lap quilt for the couch, but then again, something for the bed would also be useful.

 I do have the itch to make a regular-style quilt (i.e. not a quilt-as-you-go project), but I figured I should walk before I run, so I decided to try making a patchwork pillow first. If you look closely, you'll probably notice that some of the squares don't perfectly line up BUT again, I think it's pretty good for a newbie. I mixed precut 5x5 fabric squares (they're called charm packs in the quilt world) with squares of the same size which I cut myself from all of the new Mandalorian fabrics that just came out. 

What's cool about this project is you just sew one giant square...

...and then fold all the points in towards the center of one side to make the pattern on the bias. Such a neat trick!

It's magic! Here's a link to the pattern I used. I can't wait to share more sewing and quilting projects with you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

It's a Brown Sheep Mystery Knit-Along!

Brown Sheep is one of the first yarns I ever knit with, and they have always had a special place in my heart - so when they asked me to team up for a mystery knit-along, of course I said yes!

Now, I know that not everyone likes a mystery knit-along (or MKAL for short). In fact, I swore them off after being "tricked" into doing intarsia one too many times by Stephen West (said with tongue firmly in cheek). Not all mysteries are a delight to solve, but I promise this one will be. 

My goal was to create a fun-to-knit shawl with an interesting detail to finish things off. I don't want to give too many things away, but if you like slipped stitches, stripes, and bold mosaic motifs all wrapped up in a symmetrical triangular shawl, then I think you will be happy with the finished project. 

Not only that, but the pattern is available for FREE if you sign up for the Brown Sheep newsletter using this link. And if you want to buy the yarn I used for the pattern, you can pick 1 skein each of your 3 favorite colors of Prairie Spun DK yarn here or at your LYS (I used Coral Rose, Half & Half, and Damselfly, shown above from L-R). Whatever color combination you choose, just make sure there is plenty of contrast so that all of the colors pop. If you're having trouble deciding, check out these MKAL yarn kits, which ship for FREE when you shop the Brown Sheep online store!

Here are the official details:

Yarn: 3 skeins of Prairie Spun DK
Needles: US 8 circular needles, 32" or longer (the shawl is worked flat, but the longer needle will accommodate the large number of stitches) 
Gauge: 18.5 stitches & 38 rows = 4" in garter stitch 
Notions: 4 stitch markers 

There will be 4 clues in total. Participants will receive the first clue by email on April 27. The following clues will then be issued on a weekly basis every Tuesday. Remember to share pictures of your progress and the finished shawl with the hashtag #BrownSheepMKAL2021 to be eligible to win a prize!

At the end of the MKAL, 2 participants who used Prairie Spun DK for their mystery knit will be chosen to receive 4 skeins of either Cotton Fleece or Synchrony. Knitters must join Spinning Yarns, an online space where yarn lovers can share what they're making and talk about all sorts of yarny things in their forums. If you're looking for an alternative to a certain popular knitting website that is experiencing ongoing accessibility issues, Spinning Yarns is worth checking out! 

To be entered in the MKAL prize drawing, just post a photo fo your finished Prairie Spun DK shawl to the Mystery Knit-a-Long Group with the hashtag #BrownSheepMKAL2021. You are encouraged to post photos of your finished shawl with #BrownSheepMKAL2021 on Instagram and Facebook for additional entries!

Click here to sign up for the MKAL (you will also be signed up for the Brown Sheep newsletter if you are not currently a subscriber, but you can unsubscribe at any time).  I can't wait to knit along with everyone!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Cross Stitch, Reframed

At the start of this year, I managed to knock one of my favorite cross stitch pieces off the wall it was hanging on, breaking the frame. Since the glass miraculously didn't break, I was hoping to glue the broken pieces of the frame together, but unfortunately it didn't work out. 

Then I remembered the cool wooden frames from Modern Hoopla I'd spotted on Instagram, which are designed to fit a cross-stitch piece that is in a wooden hoop. I was hoping to get another black frame, but they didn't have that finish available in the styles I wanted, so I decided to buy two to see which looked best, figuring I could save the one I didn't end up using for my Pretty Little Chicago (whenever I finish it).

Option 1

Option 2

After taking a quick poll via Instagram stories, I landed on the darker finish, and it looks great - perhaps even better than the original frame job.

I will definitely be ordering from Modern Hoopla the next time I need to frame a finish cross stitch piece. You can check out their website here (FYI I was not compensated in any way for this blog post). 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

I'm A Poncho Person Now

I admit it: I used to think ponchos were stupid, and couldn't envision a single scenario in which I would spend time knitting one, much less wearing it. And I probably would have never changed that opinion if it hadn't been for a request to knit one as a sample for Knit Picks. Believe me when I tell you that the entire time I was working on it, I still had an unfavorable opinion about ponchos. But I said yes because I wanted to make a little extra money to help with the move, and it ended up being the last sample I knit before we left Chicago. 

Although this pattern is officially named  the Aspen Mantle, we all know it's really a poncho! 

So when I tried it on to snap a few FO photos before shipping it off to the catalog, something surprising happened: I enjoyed wearing it! It was an epiphany to just toss it on and have it immediately look good - all of the styling issues I have with shawls (which I love to knit) weren't even a thing. Ever so ironically, that poncho ended up being one of the hardest samples to send back.

Once the dust settled from the move, I found that I kept thinking about that poncho. Although I enjoyed knitting it the first time, the yarn I wanted to use wasn't the right weight to sub in (not to mention, I wasn't sure that I wanted to knit it all over again!).

I searched Ravelry hoping to find a similarly constructed poncho that I could make with 4 skeins of 100% yak sport weight yarn I've been hoarding from Bijou Basin Ranch. Honestly, there weren't many viable options, especially considering that I wanted to make something pretty simple that didn't require a lot of brain power. Ultimately I chose the complete opposite of that: an ultra-patterned design (Ravelry link: Marigold Poncho by Sandi Rosner) that combined various textured stitch panels with cables. It was slow going at first, but after a few repeats I started to get the hang of it. Would you believe me if I claimed that it (eventually) became easy and somewhat brainless?!

I wasn't sure if I would have enough yarn to make the collar, but decided to risk a little yarn chicken to see if I could eke it out without making any modifications. That bet paid off, and as you can see, I am pretty excited about my new poncho (my husband excels at capturing all the goofy faces I apparently need to make before we get a decent "normal" photo).

 The yak yarn is so soft and warm, and all of the stitches look a-MA-zing. I really wish this yarn was still made, because I would love to knit more things out of it. 

Click here to view more photos of this project in my Ravelry notebook!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Let's Talk About Yarn Stash, Baby!

Ah, the yarn stash. If you've stuck with knitting/yarn craft long enough, you've probably accumulated more yarn than you could ever use in this lifetime. People find out you knit and they gift you random skeins of yarn (or worse yet, random bits of mystery yarn), you buy skeins just because they're pretty, and if you happened to work in the yarn industry for 10+ years (off and on) like I did, there's also a huge amount of freebies and samples in the mix. Long story short, yarn keeps finding a way to sneak into your home and things can get out of hand quickly, even if you've taken great pains to establish some semblance of yarn order. 

Before the Big Move last summer, my yarn stash was neatly organized by yarn weight in several large 66-qt. storage bins, and nearly all of it was also photographed and accounted for on my Ravelry account. And then it quickly fell back into chaos as I tried to pare down in preparation for our move to KC. 

I donated several boxes of yarn to the Knitting Connection, a charity that makes hats, mittens and Christmas stockings for children in need. Since we were already a few months into the pandemic, I reached out to. make sure that they were still accepting donations, and they said that their local board of health had given them the green light to keep accepting donated items. I'm not sure if that has changed since then, but it sure felt good to ship several boxes of yarn their way (until I got an extra $100 surcharge bill after the fact from UPS, because apparently the shipping address they gave me was incorrect...but even with the extra shipping charges, it was worth it to re-home part of my yarn stash!). 

Then, as Moving Day approached, my focus shifted to condensing all of the remaining stash down to as few containers as possible. This is where the real anarchy ensued:  yarn weights were mixed with reckless abandon, spinning fiber became packing material for some of my favorite fiber tools (and other fragile items, for that matter), and partially used skeins were crammed in some pretty unexpected places. 

While I still have something of a craft room in our new place, we did downsize from 3BR to 2. Overall I've found the process of paring things down to the essential to be a satisfying challenge, getting my stash corralled has been tougher than I thought it would be. For the first six months we were here, yarn was spread out across several bins which were scattered in various corners of my office. Remembering which bin was stashed where was a struggle - it drove me nuts! So one quiet Friday afternoon, I decided to dive head-first into the Great Yarn Stash Reorganization. 

Basically, I just pulled every single bin out of hiding and dumped its  contents on the floor. Then the process of sorting began! For all of the partially used skeins or yarns that had somehow lost their labels, I kept a WPI gauge handy so that I could sort those properly as well. From there, it was easy - just throw the like yarn weights into the same bin and call it a day! I would like to do some additional organization within each bin of yarn weights, but for now, this works for me. Plus, All of my yarn now fits underneath the weaving/craft table for easy access!

Last year, once we'd decided that we were moving, I put a temporary freeze on buying any more yarn. It ended up being fairly easy to stick to since I have so much good stuff in my stash, including plenty of sweater quantities. I ended up shopping from my stash for most of last year, but I did give into temptation at the very end of last year during Miss Babs' annual gratitude sale - I treated myself to enough yarn to (most likely) make a Pink Velvet sweater, plus a really bright skein of Yowza in a color called Mix Tape. 

At the end of January, I treated myself to two more skeins of sock yarn from a new-to-me dyer called Old Rusted Chair. I've been following them on Instagram for a while and couldn't resist the colorway called Hipster Scum. Since I way already paying for shipping, I also threw in a skein of Panic in Detroit. Both colors are even better in person, but the names really make them! I'm thinking of using them with some other yarn from my stash to make a Simple Something sweater, or maybe a Radvent Cardigan - we'll see!

I did buy yarn from a few other places since the move, but have already used it up or am in the process of using it. Ideally, that trend will continue in 2021: buying yarn because I need it for a specific project I plan to start in the immediate future, NOT just 'cause it was pretty and I decided it needed to sit in my stash for the next 10 years. I'm sure that will still happen, but if the frequency can be decreased dramatically, I'll consider that a win. Plus, if I can keep working through the stash at my current pace, then a few "just 'cause" skeins here and there are not so concerning. 

Now that order is restored, I'd like to keep it that way....and perhaps some weekend when I need a break from knitting, I can work on the next phase: making sure all of my stash is photographed and catalogued in Ravelry!