Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Finally Finished: Cheri Chevron Shawl + JUL Shawl Cuff

Although my Cheri Chevron shawl has been off the needles since mid-June, it's taken me all this time to finish weaving in the (many) ends and get some photos taken. Yes, I can be a procrastinator when it comes to finishing work!

I needed a refresher on weaving in ends on garter stitch, and found this fabulous video from Staci Perry of Very Pink Knits (she's basically my go-to any time I need  to brush up on a specific technique, because she has a video for everything). Staci makes it super easy - just look for the smiles and umbrellas and you can't go wrong!

You may recall that this is the shawl where I lost at Yarn Chicken....and then had an epic fail in my attempt to order more yarn to finish it. Oops, it happens. Anyway, I don't think it's obvious that I ended up finishing the shawl by using the variegated color the rest of the way - can YOU tell in the photos?!

View Pattern & Yarn Details here

When it comes to styling shawls, I am kind of a doofus. There's no other way to say it, I just can't seem to get the hang of styling shawls on myself. I don't think I'm the only one with this problem, I'm sure there are plenty of people who enjoy knitting/crochet shawls but then struggle with actually wearing the thing they made. I've tried all manner of shawl pins, and they do actually help, but if I don't happen to have a pin that looks good with the shawl I want to wear, then I'm back at square one.

Enter the shawl cuff - have you spotted this trend on Instagram? That's where I first became aware of this option for shawl styling, and when I was at Stitches Midwest earlier in the month, I bought one from JUL Designs to try out. My first attempt at using it looked a little funny:

But then I did a search of the #shawlcuff hashtag on Instagram and came up with a better way to use it with this project:

What I like about the shawl cuff that I bought from JUL is that it's very simple - just a good, thick strip of black leather with a snap - and it can also be worn as a bracelet or even a choker, so it's multi-use. Also, you can use it for a wider range of projects because you can wrap it around a smaller shawl multiple times, or use it on a larger shawl with more fabric by wrapping only once or twice.

I'll definitely keep working on my shawl styling skills, so if anyone has any tips or resources I should check out, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Stitches Midwest 2019

Last weekend, I made the journey out to Schaumburg to spend one day at Stitches Midwest. It's been five years since I last went, and it was interesting to note how much it had and hadn't changed in that time.

Most noticeable to me was the amount of signage stating their policy regarding a safe, inclusive environment for all, no doubt a response to the incident that happened earlier this year at Stitches West. I saw signs on display throughout the venue (not just on the show floor), and there were prominent mentions in the show book and website as well. I really wanted to go to the Diversity Panel with Creative Ceci, Louis Boria of Brooklyn Boy Knits, Michele Costa and Phyllis Bell Miller, but it was during the middle of the day on Friday and I had already committed to working on Saturday afternoon (more on why I can only do 1 day of Stitches in a bit). I'm really glad that they have taken steps to address these issues; I'm sure there is more to be done, but it's at least a step in the right direction.

Other notable changes included the addition of some sewing and quilting vendors, and my favorite part was the display of Prince-inspired quilt projects. They were fantastic! I probably took the most photos at this display than I did anywhere else that day, and I kinda wish I had taken more!

The quality of vendors was much better for this show; in 2014 there were a lot of eyebrow-raising booths (vibrating pillows (?!?!) and what seemed like 20 million aloe cream vendors, for example). This year, the emphasis was on hand-dyed yarns, but there were also some really cool accessories and jewelry.

The Forbidden Fiber Co. booth was awesome - Harry Potter nerds will recognize the flags in the background!

One thing that hasn't changed since 2014 is how sparsely attended it was, at least on the day I was there. You would think that a Saturday would be jam-packed with shoppers in the marketplace, but  that was definitely not the case. I spent four hours working in the Zen Yarn Garden booth and we only sold a handful of skeins and had less than 100 shoppers pass through in that time - not super great, in my opinion.

Wide, spacious aisles with precious few shoppers to fill them.

I can only think that the non-transit-friendly location plays a huge part in the attendance, or lack thereof. Sure, there's ample (free) parking for people with cars, and a big 'ol drop-off area for buses from nearby towns or groups, but considering how many crafters live in Chicago proper (and also the fact that most of us don't have cars), you'd think they would want to make it reasonably easy for this substantial demographic to get there. It's not a fun drive, even if you have a car. And if you don't have car access, you're probably not going to make it out there unless you're willing to chance the Metra (which didn't appear to be stopping at the station nearest to the convention center - which was 2 miles away, mind you) or put some of your yarn-buying money towards Uber/Lyft.

At any rate, I went, I squished yarn, and some even came home with me. Will I go again next year? Probably not. But I'm glad I did this year.

So without further ado, here's what I bought at the show:

My first purchase was the yarn and pattern to knit Sempervirens, a layering cardigan to add to my list of "selfish" sweaters to knit this year. It's probably going to jump the queue once I finish the sample I'm knitting on a deadline, and/or the boxy worsted that's been languishing on my needles.

The yarn is Katahdin from Miss Babs, a fingering weight 100% Blue-Faced Leicester yarn, which I'm really excited to try. In case you can't tell in the photo above, that skein is MONDO - big enough to knit an entire oversized sweater, in fact. Here it is with Tilly for scale:

Part of my show-going strategy is to do a walk-through survey of everything, where I make note of things that catch my eye and then go back to those booths later on to spend more time checking things out. One of the booths I was really smitten with was Forbidden Fiber Co., and I think I went back at least 4 or 5 times before I was able to decide on what yarn to buy. They had a lot of really gorgeous colors and bases, including a huge range of Harry Potter-inspired colorways. But in the end, I chose a skein of Babel, a fingering weight blend of Superwash Merino, Nylon and Yak, in the Gemstone Blue color from their Hidden Gemstone Collection. I have no idea what I'll make with it, but I'm sure that I'll figure it out (eventually)!

I also bought a shawl cuff from JUL Designs - this is one of those things I've been seeing everywhere on Instagram, and since I always struggle with styling shawls on myself, I wanted to give it a try. JUL's shawl cuffs are made by hand and can also be worn as a bracelet or choker.

The last bit of yarn to come home with me was from Zen Yarn Garden; I chose a Serenity Silk+ Gradient Yarn Cake and a Gradient Quartet mini skein set. I'm thinking of using them together in a project - perhaps even to knit a sweater, although I'm not 100% sure I have enough yardage. I may spend a little more time looking for project ideas for these yarns (suggestions welcome!).

And that's it! I resisted quite a bit of temptation as part of my ongoing effort to stop randomly buying yarn with no immediate plan for it (believe me, if I'd bought all of the yarn that caught my fancy, this blog post would be even longer!). It was nice to see some of my yarn friends at the show as well, and although it was a very long day (on not a lot of sleep, incidentally), I'm glad I made the effort to get out there....if any

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tour de Fleece Recap & Yarny Events in Chicago

This past Sunday was the final day of this year's Tour de Fleece, and while I can't claim to have spun every single day that the Tour de France rode, I did manage to spin some nice yarns along the way:

Two of those yarns are from the fiber I dyed and blogged about last week; the other yarns are spun from rolags and batts I've made on my Strauch drum carder, plus I have some singles left to weave with (I've recently discovered that thick-and-thin handspun singles are really fun to weave with).

I spun nearly all of the fiber I'd earmarked for this year's event along with 2/3 of the new fiber I acquired and dyed midway through. Not bad! 

Last weekend, the Chicago Yarn Crawl kicked off, and although I don't plan to visit a ton of yarn shops, last night I did make a stop to one of my favorite newer stores, Firefly Fiber Arts. And, of course, a skein of yarn followed me home!

This yarn was part of a special trunk show to showcase the yarns from this German yarn company, Ovis Et Cetera. They source all of their wool from local European farms, and the beautiful jewel tones are made with GOTS certified dyes that don't contain heavy metals. The fingering weight skein that I bought is 100% Corriedale wool and it's super soft. I plan to combine it with some mini skeins for my next shawl project!

Stitches Midwest is this weekend, and I'll be trekking out to Schaumburg on Saturday to do a bit of shopping, see some friends, and work in the Zen Yarn Garden booth for a few hours. I haven't been to a Stitches event in the last 5 years (!!), so I'm interested to see what has changed since then. Surely I will have an easier time getting there than I did back in 2014, right?!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Hand Dyeing Adventures: Brown Sheep Spinning Fiber for the Tour de Fleece

After all of my adventures with overdyeing finished knits, I was tempted once again to break out the dye pots for this year's Tour de Fleece event. One of my colleagues hosts a team each year, and for the 2019 TDF, Brown Sheep Company provided us with some spinning fiber....and when I say "some" spinning fiber I actually mean quite a bit - here's a photo of what arrived on my doorstep with my cat Tilly for scale.
Now THAT'S a lot of spinning fiber!

As lovely as all this fiber is (it's a blend of Rambouillet and Columbia wool - heavenly!), I thought it could use a bit of color. To be totally honest, I've been on a real dyeing kick, so any excuse to break out the dyepots is a good one in my book....and this giant ball o' spinning fiber had me feeling particularly inspired to step outside of my regular color scheme of murky shades and greens and blues. But first, I had to separate it out into smaller bundles so that each one would fit in my dyeing crock pot (when the weather is nice, I prefer to dye on my back porch using my crock pot that is dedicated to dyeing, rather than dyeing indoors on my stove top).

First, I dyed the fiber for the team host, Laura, to offer as a prize for my fellow teammates - click here to check out the thread on Rav! For some reason, I have a lot of pink dye, despite the fact that it's my least favorite color. This was the perfect opportunity to put it to use, since I know a lot of folks love pink. I was able to get some really vibrant colors! Each braid of fiber is a little bit different, but coordinated enough so that they could be plied together if you want.

As you can see, the fibers took the dye BEAUTIFULLY.  I've dyed a lot of different yarns and fibers over the years, and some are more challenging than others. For this project, I had no issues achieving vibrant, saturated colors using my trusty Gaywool dyes and a little citric acid.

Dyeing is really quite simple - you just need to prep your yarn or fiber by soaking in tepid water and a bit of soap while you heat up water for your dye bath. I also use this time to measure and mix my dyestuffs and auxiliaries (I like to use citric acid and occasionally glaubers salts, if I'm looking for an even color tone).

Once the water is hot enough, I add the dyestuffs and auxiliaries and stir until they dissolve:

Then all you have to do is add your yarn or fiber, and leave in the heated dyebath until the dye exhausts (i.e. the dye is transferred completely to the thing you're dyeing, and the water is clear). Fun fact: most of dyeing is waiting!

I like to let the fiber cool down before I remove it from the pot - sometimes, I even let it sit overnight after the actual dyeing process is finished. Then I remove it, gently squeeze out the excess water, and lay it somewhere to dry (outdoors is best, if the weather cooperates!).

For more info on my dyeing process, check out overdyeing a finished knit and tips for overdyeing yarn.

Naturally, I saved some of the fiber for myself, and decided to continue my exploration of atypical-for-me colors. I started with a yellow that I wasn't sure would turn out very well, but it exceeded my expectations once it emerged from the dye pots (phew!). Next, I wanted to do an orangey-red with some of the pretty natural fiber shining through. For the last one, I returned to my comfort zone and created a pretty blue.

Last week I started spinning the fiber and it's a dream to work with - very soft and easy to draft as I work. I'm pretty happy with how the yellow and orange braids have spun up, and I am going to try to ply them this week before the TDF ends on Friday. That blue braid of fiber might have to wait til after the event, which is fine by me, I'd like to have something to look forward to once the event is over so that I keep on spinning !
Tour de Fleece spinning progress, 2 weeks in.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Review: Garter Stitch Shawl Kit from Kraemer Yarns

I love garter stitch for a lot of reasons; besides being easy-peasy, it's always squishy and lays nice and flat without the edges curling. When you combine that with the effect created by knitting each row in a different color, a simple project is transformed into something that's extra special!

This wrap is perfect for the hazy days of summer....

The kind folks from Kraemer Yarns sent me a Garter Stitch Shawl Kit from their Festival Wear Collection, which features knitted and crocheted garments and accessories using their Tatamy base, a cotton/acrylic blend that is available two weights (DK and Worsted) and a palette of solid and tweed colors.     

I tend to avoid working with cotton yarns because they are less pliable than wool and wool blends, which translates into hand pain while I knit, but I'm pleased to report that the Tatamy was nice and pliable. I was able to knit without any hand pain!

The pattern was easy to follow and I learned a nice trick, too! It suggested using a provisional cast on  to begin the project so that the top and bottom of the piece have the same amount of tension, because you can bind off the stitches on each edge using the same method. My only challenge was remembering which side I had just worked, and as you can see there were a few times that I forgot to flip before knitting the next color....oops! It's subtle and probably not noticeable to most people (unless I mention it to them, of course!), and although it wasn't intentional at all, I think it's kind of a cool effect.

I decided to try a new-to-me bind off that I spotted on Instagram just as I was finishing up this project. It uses a crochet hook to create a nice, stretchy edge - click here to check it out!

The four colors I chose - silver, blue jeans, flannel and navy - ended up being absolutely perfect, but my avorite thing about the pattern was that there were NO ENDS TO WEAVE IN! Since each row is knit in a different color, you just leave a yarn tail at the beginning and end to be used as the fringe when you're done. I knotted the fringe as I knit, and then it was a just a matter of trimming it down after I'd washed and blocked the wrap.

Whoosh! Along came a gust of wind!

To cut a nice, even fringe, I used my favorite trick learned from weaving: using a rotary cutter, mat and ruler.

I've always been pleased with the quality of yarns and fibers from Kraemer, but more importantly, I love their story: all of their yarns and fibers are milled in the USA using domestically-sourced materials wherever possible, and their mill has been in operation in Nazareth, PA for over a century. I hope you'll check out their online store and give some of their yarns a try!

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

It's Tour de Fleece Time!

I really haven't been spinning much lately. Although I enjoy it, I have so much handspun yarn sitting in a bin, unused, that I'm not terribly motivated to spin more at this point, considering I'm making yarn faster than I can use it!

But the Tour de Fleece is an event I've always enjoyed participating in. Usually I choose a low-stress team without tons of rules and just try to spin a little bit each day, even if that only amounts to ten minutes. The last couple of years, I've spun with Team CKT and they are totally my speed. There are always a few prizes and it's a nice, laid-back group of folks.

I spent last weekend digging through my fiber stash and deciding on what I wanted to spin this year:

A few weeks ago, I carded a bunch of alpaca fleece into batts; I'd bought it on Etsy several years ago and ended up getting two orders when the post office lost the first one....then delivered it something like six months later (I ended up messaging the seller to let her know it finally turned up and sent her some funds on Paypal, since she'd reshipped the order at her own expense due, it only seemed fair!).

I've also been been collecting a lot of random rolags and batts that I've made on my Strauch Petite since I got it, so I think it's finally time to spin them up!

Lastly, I pulled out a few fiber braids from the deep stash - if I can get through all of the rolags and batts, they will be on deck!

Everything fits in a modest-sized bin and is ready to go for this weekend when the tour kicks off! I'll be posting my daily progress on Instagram if you want to follow along.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Knitting & Crocheting for a Cause

The first year I seriously took up knitting, I made scarves and hats for everyone I knew for Christmas. For many years after that, I would spend each year making holiday gifts - toys, socks, bags, you name it.

For a few years, I was equally split between gift knitting and so-called "selfish" knitting. (honestly, knitting for yourself really isn't selfish, and neither is crocheting or weaving for yourself, for the record!).

As the holiday gift knitting deadline stressed me out more and more, I moved almost entirely towards knitting for myself in favor of (gasp!) giving store-bought gifts for the holidays.

However, if you've been knitting long enough, you find there is a limit to how many handmade gifts you can reasonably give, not to mention, how many handmade garments and accessories you yourself can keep.

That's when I started taking up sample knitting as a side gig and dabbling in charity crafting. There are certain things I absolutely love to knit, but either have a surplus of them, or simply don't use - and thankfully, those are the things that I can either knit for hire or donate to a good cause, with the added bonus of using my skills to make the world a slightly better place.

Considering the dumpster fire that the world at large has become, that last reason is quite compelling for me. Whenever I feel depressed or helpless after hearing about the latest crappy thing that's happened, working on a project that's destined to be donated somewhere helps me to focus my energy towards something positive amidst all the negative. And even though it's a very small thing, it's certainly better than nothing. We have to start somewhere, right?

For those of you who are interested, here are some of the charities I enjoy making items for:

Mother Bear Project
A couple of years ago, I knit a Mother Bear for a KAL in the 2 Knit Lit Chicks Ravelry group. When I was cleaning out my craft room earlier this spring, I found the pattern and started knitting bears again. I've finished three so far, and my goal for this year was to make 6 bears total before sending them in. However, I spotted a post on Instagram that says that there is currently a shortage of Mother Bears, so I think I will send in the ones I have made right now instead of waiting til the end of the year!

The 2 Knit Lit Chicks podcast is hosting another Mother Bear KAL right now, so you can join their group to get inspired and maybe even win a prize!

Knit and crochet patterns for the bears can be ordered here; I highly recommend the knit-in-the round option! Also, if you need further convincing, check out the photo gallery of children with their bears, it's pretty much the cutest thing ever!

Hat Not Hate
I discovered this one via Louis Boria of Brooklyn Boy Knits, who has done a lot of work with Lion Brand to promote #HatNotHate, and anti-bullying campaign launched last year. If you want to participate, all you have to do is make wear, and post handmade blue hats, adding #HatNotHate when sharing on social platforms to raise awareness.

If you want to take it a step further, you can donate handmade blue hats to be distributed to select schools throughout the US to be worn by kids during National Bullying Prevention month in October. Their goal is to collect 25,000 hats and it sounds like they have a ways to go, with less than 2,000 donations so far.

Since I love to knit hats and have a TON of blue yarn in my stash, I'm going to see how many hats I can make this summer - so far I have 3 finished hats (apparently that's my magic number for charity projects).

Warm Up America
During the month of May, Knitter's Pride held a KCAL challenging their fans to knit or crochet as many 7"x9" blocks as possible for Warm Up America. The blocks are then made into blankets by volunteers in the community. WUA receives requests from a variety of social service agencies, including homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, American Red Cross chapters, veterans homes, senior centers, hospices and religious organizations serving families and individuals in communities around the country.

I decided to practice my crochet to make some blocks during this KCAL, with the goal of making 20 total (enough to make a baby blanket). Unfortunately, I kind of petered out, because making blocks is a bit boring! I'll probably end up weaving in the ends of the blocks I was able to complete and sending them in, rather than making them up into a blanket myself.

Even though I was kinda lame and didn't meet the modest goal I'd set for myself, some of the other KCAL participants really came through - one person even knit 160 blocks during the month of May! So, I suppose that is knitting rectangles is your thing, this is the perfect charity project for you!

I'll be sharing many more opportunities for charitable crafting here on my Knit & Crochet For Charity Pinterest board, and if you have a cause you love to knit or crochet for, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!