Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Easy DIY: Beaded Vintage Snowflake Ornament Kits from Solid Oak Inc.

I was really excited to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new as part of my "Christmas in July" theme this month. The kind folks at Solid Oak Inc offered me a chance to review one of their Nostalgic Christmas beaded crystal ornament kits I couldn't resist. My tree is already full of ornaments I've inherited or been gifted from other family members and friends,  so these pretty crystal beaded ornaments will fit right in I think!

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I was super impressed with this compact little kit, which includes everything needed to create three gorgeous vintage-style ornaments - just add a pair of round nose pliers (I found mine on Amazon for less than ten bucks). 

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The instructions had some fabulous tips for newbies like me; for example, it recommended sorting the beads and laying them out in order on a towel or beading mat to prevent them from rolling away. That may seem obvious, but I was totally ready to start beading on my kitchen table without a second thought of WHAT IF THEY ROLLED AWAY. 

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What a relief to avoid a beading mishap right out of the gate! Also worthy of note, they do include extras of each bead type, which came in handy because I ended up dropping a few even with the towel in place, and I also managed to crush part of a crystal bead when I got a bit overzealous with a metal loop (more on that in a sec).

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It was extremely easy to follow the step by step instructions to make each ornament. The only thing I was worried about creating the loop at the end, as the instructions noted that it will take "some hand strength" to do so. If you know me even a little, you know that I am not known for hand or upper arm strength, but the good news is that I found a way to create the loops, even if they don't look exactly like the picture (if I can do it, so can you!). 

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My hand was a teensy bit sore after the session was over, so I would probably invest in nicer pliers with a more cushiony handle if I were to make more kits (and I would definitely like to!).

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Best of all, it took me a sum total of 1 hour from start to finish to make all 3 ornaments, and that was even with taking lots of notes and photos for this blog post! To be perfectly honest, when I sat down to make this kit, I planned to just do one and then save the others for another day....but it was just so fun that I couldn't stop!

I was beyond impressed with the quality of this kit, and could totally see myself making more ornaments to give as gifts - each kit retails for just $9.99, making it an affordable stocking stuffer, secret Santa, or guild gift. Solid Oak has a lot of other interesting kits, charms, and jewelry making supplies available here in their online store, and lots of fun tutorial ideas here on their blog.

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BeadedSnowflakeOrnamentDIYKit

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Sneak Peek: Christmas in July!

Happy Fourth of July! Since it's a holiday here in the states, I'll make today's entry short and sweet: for the entire month of July, I will be sharing some fun holiday craft projects that ANYONE can do (seriously!). They will be fun, easy, and affordable ways to make holiday decor for yourself or to give as gifts. Here's a little sneak peek:

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Don't worry, there will also be some fiber-related projects, although I have to say that working with beads was incredibly fun, I might have a new obsession!

You can subscribe to my blog via Bloglovin using the link in the sidebar (it's free!) so that you don't miss each weekly post.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Free Pattern: Lilium Cowl in Manos del Uruguay Serena Yarn

When you think of Uruguay, inevitably you think of yarn....at least, if you are a knitter! Every yarn I've touched from Manos del Uruguay has not disappointed. I've been fortunate to work with several over the years, but somehow a skein of Serena, their blend of 60% baby alpaca and 40% pima cotton, never found its way into my hands. Until now! The kind folks at Fairmount Fibers, the US Distributor for Manos yarns, recently sent me a skein of Serena in a new colorway called Ethereal.

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As soon as I felt how soft and squishy this skein was, I knew it wanted to be a lacy cowl of some sort. What I found interesting about this yarn is that it's labeled as a sport weight, but the site notes that it has a "versatile" gauge. I ended up using smaller needles than recommended to knit this project, but I have a little bit left over and may have to try knitting a swatch on US 6 or 7 out of sheer curiosity!

This yarn was amazing to work with, and in fact, I forgot that it had cotton in! Like a lot of knitters, I find that cotton and cotton yarn blends are sometimes stiff and cause pain in my hands, but this yarn was soft and supple, gliding effortlessly over my needles. It also stood up to a good frogging - I was about halfway through the first version of this pattern when I decided to rip everything out and restart so I could add in a few more pattern repeats (this is apparently an important part of my design process).

I was pleased with this yarn's stitch definition after a light steam block: there was just enough bloom and all the "lumpy bumpy" stitches relaxed beautifully! I do plan to do a full wet block at some point, which is what the care instructions recommend.

As I was knitting this cowl, the pretty heathered color paired with the elegant stitch pattern made me think of the beautiful art in the Monstress comic series, so I decided to call this pattern the Lilium Cowl (lilium is a fictitious magical substance...I won't bore you with any more detail than that!).

The free pattern (which includes full written instructions) can be found below, and if you want a printable PDF that also includes a chart (yay charts!),  you can purchase for only $2 here on Ravelry.

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Lilium Cowl
by Stefanie Goodwin-Ritter

Skill Level
Intermediate

Sizing
One Size Fits Most: Approx. 22” Circumference
11” width x 9” height when measured flat

Materials

1 skein Manos Del Uruguay Serena yarn in Ethereal (60% baby alpaca / 40% pima cotton, 170 yards (50 grams) US #3 16” Circular Needles
Stitch markers
Darning Needle

Gauge
25 stitches and 42 rounds = 4” in Lilium Lace stitch pattern

Abbreviations can be found here.


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To Make Cowl:
Cast on 168 stitches; I used the german twist method to produce a stretchy edging.
Join to work in round and place unique marker for beginning of round, being careful not to twist stitches.

Garter stitch border:
Round 1: K all stitches.
Round 2: Purl all stitches.
Repeat Rounds 1 & 2 one more time.

Work 12 repeats of Lilium Lace as follows (charted pattern available for purchase here):
Round 1: *K5, k2tog, k3, yo, k1, yo, k3, ssk, k5, repeat from * to end of round.
Round 2: *K4, k2tog, k3, yo, k3, yo, k3, ssk, k4, repeat from * to end of round.
Round 3: *K3, k2tog, k3, yo, k5, yo, k3, ssk, k3, repeat from * to end of round.
Round 4: *K2, k2tog, k3, yo, k7, yo, k3, ssk, k2, repeat from * to end of round.
Round 5: *K1, k2tog, k3, yo, k9, yo, k3, ssk, k1, repeat from * to end of round.
Round 6: *K2tog, k3, yo, k11, yo, k3, ssk, repeat from * to end of round.

Tip: Placing a stitch marker in between each 21-stitch repeat will keep you from getting “lost” as you knit across the round. Find more of my tried-and-true chart reading hacks here on this blog post.
 
When you have worked all 12 repeats of the Lilium Lace stitch pattern (72 rounds total), work 4 rounds of Garter Stitch Border as you did at start.

BO all stitches loosely knitwise. We block in your preferred wool wash and lay flat to dry.


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LiliumCowlFreeKnittingPattern

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Too big to fail, or too big to succeed?

For the first time in the seven years since I started working at Stitchcraft Marketing, I didn't go to the TNNA Trade show this past weekend, which is the annual buying show for yarn shops (and hence, where a lot of my clients exhibit). It's kind of nice to have the year off, because while trade shows are fun, they are also quite tiring. I spent a very relaxing weekend at home crafting and watching the Royals get swept by the reigning world champs. So it goes.

I'm not one to suffer from FOMO, but I am curious to hear what everyone thought about the new venue in Cleveland. I'm especially interested to hear who was - and wasn't - there in the wake of last weeks' surprising announcement that Classic Elite Yarns is closing. It seems like this news has made the rounds of social media, but they aren't the only yarn-related business to recently announce that they are closing their doors: Lantern Moon posted about a "closeout sale" earlier this month on Facebook, and in the comments they state that the owners are "moving on to new adventures in life." Similarly, the owner of Mango Moon Yarns, distributor of Be Sweet and Dale Garn Yarns in North America, has decided to retire and is closing out all remaining stock. Local Yarn Stores (LYSes) continue to close at a steady rate - it seems like I hear about at least one every month or so.

Running a small business in our industry - in any industry, really! - is tough, and I am sure that companies like Classic Elite must look "big" compared to a one-person hobby hand-dyer on Etsy. And I mean no disrespect to either - both make amazing contributions to the world of yarn and knitting. But aside from some of those big box store brands that probably ARE huge faceless corporations (hey, look! Now I'm making assumptions!), most yarns you will find at your LYS are made by companies that are smaller than you realize. They are run by real people who have families, some of whom might even work for them. They might be their own accountant, marketing department, graphic designer, and in-house designer, in addition to everything that goes into the "fun" stuff of running a yarn business (which I assume is designing a line of yarns and/or picking out the color palettes - I could be wrong, though!).

So what makes some brands seem "big" while others are perceived as small (and, apparently, more worthy of our support)?

If it's putting out beautifully produced collections of patterns for years or even decades as Classic Elite has, doesn't that mean that Brooklyn Tweed is "big" by the same reasoning? Is any yarn company that doesn't dye by hand "big" as well? Interestingly, when I was a hand dyer for Lorna's Laces, plenty of people thought that we were "big," but the truth was that we had less than 10 employees, many of which were part time (at the time I worked there, mind you, which was many moons ago. I can't speak for now!).

Te average yarn consumer probably doesn't spend hours researching every single yarn purchase (well, some of you might?!). We only know what we have see in front of us, or have perhaps encountered on social media - so if a company isn't sharing this aspect of their business effectively, it's easy to make a snap judgement in either direction, big or small. Some companies may even be shooting themselves in the foot by using too much business-y jargon in their zeal to appear like a legitimate company, not realizing that in some knitter's minds, this is a turn-off.

In the case of Classic Elite,  they've been around for years and had crazy amounts of both name recognition and street cred. We've all seen their ads on the back cover of Interweave magazines over the years, and I don't think you could throw a skein of yarn too far without finding a knitter who has either used their yarn in at least one project or has a skein or two lurking in their stash.

But with such a wide range of yarn lines, pattern collections released consistently, and heavy print advertising campaigns, most of up apparently made the following conclusion: this is a well-run, profitable BIG company with lots of money in the bank, and that has always been around and will always BE around. A reasonable conclusion to come to, but unfortunately not true.
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Pop quiz: which of these yarns is dyed by hand?
What do you think?
I'm curious to hear what makes people perceive a yarn brand as "big" or "small," and even some of those brands that you think fall into either category. The nerd in me is already brainstorming new theories and ways to solve this problem of perception with my own clients, but I realize that drawing solely on my own experiences and opinions is not very scientific, so reader opinions are very much appreciated. Also, I think this is a conversation that needs to happen, or else we are risk losing even more well-loved brands, perhaps sooner than we think.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Weaving Wednesday: Project Planning Hits & Misses (PLUS: Cats!!)

Sometimes, when you plan a project, it goes horribly wrong. For example, I was really excited to weave with some yarn I've been given at the Creativation trade show at the start of this year; my plan was to make a soft and squishy bath mat using some recycled organic cotton yarn as the warp and t-shirt yarn as the weft. However, my plans quickly fell apart when I started warping my loom and discovered that I had completely miscalculated the amount of yardage I would need for this project. I ran out of yarn pretty quickly, and discovered that it was nearly impossible to purchase this yarn online, either from a yarn store OR via someone's destash on Ravelry.

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It would have been such an awesome project...
The problem with running out of yarn mid-warp is that you can't really take it off the loom and re-use it for something else. Once it's on, it's on, because it's such a pain to get off that you're better off just cutting your losses, quite literally. The thought of wasting such a lovely yarn that had been gifted to me was something I didn't think I could live with, so I left everything intact on my loom for several weeks while I racked my brain for something else it could be used for. There it sat, mocking me every time I glanced over at my loom (which is quite frequently because it's in the same room as my office!). And I absolutely could NOT think of another project that would be suitable for it.

I was just about ready to give up and cut it off of my loom when I spotted something on Instagram  that inspired me to try making it into a wall hanging. One Saturday afternoon, I grabbed a bunch of different leftover bits of yarn and some pieces of fiber and spent a few hours weaving away randomly, with no plan whatsoever....which is probably evident when you look at it!

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Reclaimed Wall Hanging

For a first attempt, it's not bad, and I think it looks nice in our living room. Robin seems to like it, and curiously neither of the cats have discovered how fun it is to play with the fringe.....yet.

After making this project, I have a new appreciation for what goes into those trendy wall hangings I keep seeing everywhere - they look like they would be SO easy to do, right? I can tell you, there is a lot of skill involved and planning involved to create a truly great composition. Flying by the seat of my pants wasn't the best approach; I would definitely be more methodical and perhaps sketch something out ahead of time if I ever attempted another wall hanging project.

However, the real objective in finding a use for this warp was to get it off the loom so that I could start a new project that I had very much been planning: a version of the Color-Play Plaid Scarf from Liz Gipson's Weaving Made Easy using 3 skeins of Organic Rambouillet/Mohair single ply yarn from Shepherd's Lamb. I made a few modifications for the amount of yardage I had on hand and my preference to make the blue color dominant; I also wove a longer scarf, because I like to be able to wrap it around my neck a few times.

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This project wove up really quickly, I think it took about 2 weeks from start to finish. The draft pattern was easy to memorize, and it made the weaving process fun and engaging. I could add 2 weft sequence in less than 10 minutes!

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Shepherd's Plaid Scarf

I love how this scarf turned out, and although I am not really a plaid-wearing person, I definitely enjoyed the weaving process and am looking forward to playing around with more plaid projects soon.

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Since I can't stop making crazy faces....

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...Tyler had to take over modeling duties.
Tilly enjoyed laying on it while it was drying (weavers have the same #catladyproblems as knitters!), so I'm sure I can find someone who would love to wear this scarf!

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As soon as the plaid scarf came off the loom, I was rarin' to start another multi-color project. I found two skeins of Lhasa Wilderness in my stash that I think will be fun to stripe with:

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I have worked out my warp sequence, but still need to decide on the weft. I figure I'll play it by ear so that I can see what looks best as I start to weave. I'll be posting progress shots on Instagram if you are interested in following along!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

New Knitting Pattern: Canyon Steps Cowl

I'm so excited to finally share this pattern with you! I've been working on it for a while because I am a Very Slow Knitter these days, plus my design process seems to involve a lot more frogging and reknitting these days. At any rate, it is with great pleasure that I introduce the Canyon Steps Cowl!

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A series of triangular motifs grow larger in this fun-to-knit cowl using one skein of Gobi, a luxurious blend of baby camel and mulberry silk. The cowl begins with a wide rib edging followed by 3 sections using charted and written instructions and finishes with a wide rib edging and a stretchy bind off. If you can knit and purl, you can make this project!

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Project Kit Contains:
  • 1 skein - Bijou Spun “Gobi" (35/65 Baby Camel /Mulberry Silk) in the color of your choice. 
  • 1 copy of the Canyon Steps Cowl pattern by yours truly
  • 1 3.4 oz bottle of Allure Fine Fiber wash in your choice of fragrance 
  •  1 three pack of custom, hand-made stitch markers from Purrfectly Catchy Designs
Project kits for the Canyon Steps Cowl are available here and include free shipping to US addresses; if you already have a skein of Gobi fingering in your stash, you can purchase individual copies of the pattern here.

We'll be announcing a KAL for this pattern soon over in the Bijou Basin Ranch Fan Club on Ravelry, I hope you will join us!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Enamel Pin Obsession

Over a year after I initially dipped my toe into the enamel pin collecting waters and the obsession has not died down - in fact, I think it has grown stronger! To wit: my most recent acquisition of several cute pins from The Clever Clove which arrived over the holiday weekend:

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This purchase was a direct result of following The Clever Clove on Instagram (and maybe having a few beers that night!), because everything she posts makes me say "I have to have that!"...don't say I didn't warn you.

My pin collection has grown so much that it can no longer be jammed onto one project bag. I'm thinking about grouping them by the above themes to put on my two most-used bags from the rotation (both of my Yarn Pop dandelion bags), and then finding some new canvas bags that are sturdy enough to support the heaviness of enamel pins. It seems like most folks love the Fringe Field Bag for this purpose, and I do have my eye on a grey one, but the $65 price tag is giving me pause. If anyone has a more moderately priced bag that is similar they can recommend, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

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You can find links to most of the pins in my collection (plus a few more!) here on my Enamel Pin Pinterest board.