Friday, November 28, 2014

FO Friday: Polar Hat

Last weekend, I finished my Polar Hat for the Bulky Hat KAL that's happening right now over on Ravelry! This hat was a fast knit, and you might think that attaching all of that fluffy fringe was a painstaking process - but it was actually quite easy & fun! 


This is a crazy warm hat, one which I will be donning on those subzero days which are sure to come. 

...and of course, today is Black Friday, which really isn't my thing. I am neither participating in the madness, nor am I officially participating (unless you count taking a field trip to the 3 Floyds brewery as participating), but if you are looking for some deals you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home, there does happen to be a something special for listeners of the Prairie Girls Knit & Spin podcast which coincides with today: Click here to listen to their most recent episode to get a 25% off coupon code good towards my Conversation Socks ebook! It's mentioned right at the beginning of this episode, and the coupon code expires at midnight CST on Sunday, November 30, so act fast! 

Of course, I'd be remiss to mention the Craftsy Black Friday Sale which is happening now through Sunday, November 30! All Classes will be $19.99 or less; it's a great time to snag the classes you've been eyeing all year....or snap some up to gift to your friends this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Make it a #yarnyxmas!

In recent years, I've been getting into the holiday spirit by knitting and crocheting holiday decor and tree ornaments for my house. This year, we'll be staying in Chicago for Christmas and we have a bigger tree....so I would love to see what other folks are doing, too, in the hopes that it helps me fill up my own tree!

Just for fun, I thought I'd try to start a new hashtag on Instagram (but feel free to use it elsewhere) to make it easy to share & discover handmade holiday decor - just tag your photo with #yarnyxmas to play along!

Here are a few of my favorite projects which I've made in years past:

Snowman, Build Your Own by Stacey Trock of FreshStitches

Olive the Monster Christmas Tree Ornament by Rebecca Danger

Cupcake from the Christmas Knit Ornament Pattern Set by Amy Gaines

Hot Chocolate Run Polar Bear by Sarah Delaney

I can't wait to see which patterns everyone else is making this year!

News Flash: Shop Craftsy's Pre-Black Friday Sale! 


Today and tomorrow only, you can shop the Pre-Black Friday Sale: Enjoy Big Savings on Yarn, Fabric & Kits!

Click the image below to start shopping!

Craftsy


You may like to know: This post contains affiliate links. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Designer Interview: Ela of Modish Knits

Ela models her Funky Frank hat & cowl design.
I was recently introduced to an Italian designer, Ela of Modish Knits, through my participation in this year's Indie Design Gift-along. Ela's Ravelry pattern store has lots of wearable garment and accessory designs with interesting-to-knit details such as a lacy yoke, stripes or textured stitches. Besides participating in this year's GAL, her most recent endeavor is Knitting Adventures, an ebook which will feature 4 sweater designs to be released each month now through February 2015.

I caught up with Ela via email and I hope you'll also take a moment to get to know her via the interview below. Enjoy!

1. How did you get into designing? 
I am obsessed by fibres. Some years ago, I started to spin and dye artyarns. Corespun, tailspun, etc needs basic, simple patterns to be awesome, so I started to write very easy patterns in order to highlight the yarns. With time, I am passionate about writing and I wanted to focus on more structured patterns for yarns easier to work with. 

That's the opposite, I know... I'm a contradiction!

2. Living in the mecca of fashion, do you find this informs your knitwear design? 
The Glitter Cardi
That's a difficult question...Milano is the fashion city, it's true. Surely I am influenced in this way, but I always try to create something comfortable to wear every day. There is always the intention to impress in Milan fashion; I try to create beautiful clothes to wear to the office or to take the kids to the park. I would not design something that I would not wear.

3. What is your favorite design from this year? 
Probably the Glitter Cardi. I think it enhances the femininity of women independently by sizes.

4. What are your design goals for 2015? 
I'd like to explore some collaborations. I think it will be important to grow my experience. I'm shy and I would love to overcome this shyness to share experiences. Also, it's not easy to work with a language other than your native, I am always afraid this might create misunderstandings. In 2015 I will work to improve myself and my designs.

5. If you could be any fiber-producing animal, what would you want to be? 
Definitely a camel. My daughter says I look like a camel in every picture. Has to be my spirit animal!

Friday, November 21, 2014

FO Friday: Polar Bear

After a chilly week here in Chicago, today's FO project seems more than appropriate: a polar bear!

I was hoping to be able to photograph him in some actual snow, but it seems like other parts of the country are getting ALL OF THE SNOW while Chicago is merely being teased with flurries. Therefore, I took matters into my own hands and used some natural-colored spinning fiber (Louet's Jacob sliver, to be exact) to manufacture a wintry scene of my own!


I used the Hot Chocolate Run Polar Bear pattern from WEBS; all proceeds from the sale of this pattern benefit Safe Passage, and last month they hosted a KAL which shares some handy tips for knitting and assembling your bear.

The pattern calls for bulky weight yarn, but I opted to make a smaller version with Valley Yarns Stockbridge yarn as the MC and some leftover stash yarn for the contrasting colors. Isn't he adorable?

In other news: it's last call for 25% off  my eligible patterns for this year's Indie Design Giftalong event! The coupon code expires at midnight tonight, so be sure to make your pattern purchases before then! 

Form + Function Socks
Berlin Cowl
Thanks for stopping by - have a crafty weekend! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

WIPs, KALs & GALs

It's that time of year when I can't share all of my WIPs publicly - thank goodness I have two KALs I'm participating in to keep things interesting! Over the weekend, I finished the knitting portion for my Polar Hat, which is part of the Bulky Knit Hats KAL:


As you can see, I have no cut out many pieces of fringe (over 100!) which are to be affixed to the brim of the hat, and I've also made a ginormous pom pom which will grace the top of said hat! This might be a project I save for this coming weekend; I kind of like to do tasks such as this all in one sitting, which I know isn't possible during the work week.

My other project is for the WEBS' Snow Family KAL, which I am not doing a great job of keeping up with, truth be told! You can click here to read about Week 3 on the WEBS blog; so far, all I have finished is one small tree and the body of a Snow Person (with half of a hat in progress):


Also, the window for snagging patterns for 25% off closes this week if you're planning to participate in this year's Indie Design Giftalong event! Click here to view all of my own eligible patterns (below are just a few of my top picks!) - you can find more participating designers and other useful info here on Ravelry.

Also, while I'm sharing GAL news, be sure to visit the Knit/Wit blog, where I am interviewed on today's post. I got to know Sarah as we corresponded via email, and she is also participating in the GAL. Click here to check out her awesome designs on Ravelry!

Button Bunnies

Scalloped Rib Socks

Like the Tides Cowl



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Etsy Early Bird Sale

For those of you who hexipuff, Zoom Loom, or are otherwise addicted to Sock Yarn Mini Skeins: I'm having a Black Friday early bird sale in my Etsy shop! Click here to snag your grab bags - limited quantity are available! Don't forget to enter the coupon code below when you check out for a 15% discount.


Here are just a few awesome patterns which are great for sock yarn miniskeins:

All orders ship FREE to US addresses (no coupon code needed) and include fun extras, too! If you have any special requests with regards to colors in your grab bag, just be sure to enter them when you check out and I'll do what I can to honor them! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blocking Handmade Gifts

Now that the Gift-along is in full swing, I thought this would be a good time to focus on the subject of finishing those holiday projects with ease: td to me, that means mostly translates to all things blocking-related! .There are a lot of great blocking tutorials out there, and I don't plan to spend too much time on such well-covered territory. Instead, I'll be sharing some of my favorite tools, tips and tricks for finishing my holiday projects with ease in the hopes that others find at least some of this information helpful!

The first question I always ask myself is: to block or not to block? Usually, the answer is yes, and my personal default is wet blocking. It's a simple way to make projects look polished - you can fix wonky stitches and pretty much stretch your piece to whatever dimensions you like (within reason). Pretty much any stitch pattern (and even stockinette) is guaranteed to look infinitely nicer with the magic of blocking. Witness this before and after with my first Pins and Needles Challenge mini-sweater:
Before: Bunchy & Kinda Misshapen

After: Nice, Neat & Sweater-y!
If you are new to the concept of wet blocking, it's really just a fancy way to say you immerse your finished article in a water with a gentle detergent of some sort, then lay it flat to dry (side note: there are a few other types of blocking you may wish to explore, explained in more detail here).

I like to use a no-rinse formula, since it saves both time and water. I know some folks say they just use dish soap or hair conditioner (I assume because it's a bit cheaper), but it can take a lot of effort to rinse all of that out of the finished garment - to me, it's just not worth saving a few pennies. Another benefit of using a detergent made specifically for wool and other luxury fibers is that they don't contain harsh bleaches or other chemicals which are damaging to fibers. Translation: your hand-made projects can be enjoyed for years to come!
Lately, my favorite detergent is a new fiber wash called Allure. I was recently sent a Sample Pack which allowed me to test drive all three scents: Woodland Mist, Prairie Breeze, and Unscented. If you have never wet blocked before, there are some easy-to-follow instructions here on the Allure website to get you started - just follow the instructions for hand washing.

My standard practice is to wet block anything that can be worn - sweaters, scarves, hats, socks, etc. The only projects I don't tend to block is finished knit or crocheted toys, although there have been times when I've felt the need to wash individual pieces of the toy prior to assembly.
If you've been shopping around for a wool wash, you've probably noticed that there are a lot of scented options out there. When I block items for myself, I absolutely love to use a scented wash; there's something about it that just feels luxurious. Usually, the scent doesn't linger (at least, in an overpowering way), but I still sometime worry about using scented wool wash when I'm making gifts.

If that seems like a strange thing to say, allow me to explain: it seems like a lot of men I know are particular about the kind of scents they like, if they like them at all. In my family, I have many guys who fit this description, and my husband is especially not a fan of anything overly fragranced. Also, with synthetic fragrances being added to so many products these days, it seems like more and more people are becoming hyper-sensitive to scents: sometimes, even a faint whiff can be enough to set them off. Just to be on the safe side, I've been using a fragrance-free wash for my gift projects this year.

For those of you who are curious about Allure, here are my impressions for each of the three scents from the sample pack I received:

Woodland Mist: If you are in the market for a good unisex/guy scent, this is a great option. It reminds me of good men's cologne - light & fresh with a hint of spice. It's a little woody, and the more I sniff it, the more I keep thinking of the word "mossy," which I think might be on account of the notes of spices and vanilla mentioned in the product description. 

Prairie Breeze: This definitely smells more floral to me, but in a really good, musky way. Reading the description on the website, I can see why I like it: it's got all of my favorite scents! Bergamot, jasmine, gardenia, and sandalwood are just a few of the notes; I hate to show a bias here, but this is hand's-down my favorite of the three!

Fragrance Free: Unsurprisingly, this has virtually no scent. As in: there has been no fragrance added to mask the natural aroma of the product itself (honestly, you'd be surprised just how often fragrance is added to a supposedly unscented product - it boggles the mind!). If I was pressed to describe it in some way, the best I could come up with would be clean.

Image from allurewash.com
I hope you'll join me next Monday for part two in this series, where I'll share some of my time-saving tips to make sure your projects are dry in plenty of time for gifting (especially if you need to allow extra time for shipping)! In between now and then, I hope you'll also drop by for WIP Wednesday and FO Friday. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 14, 2014

FO Friday & Gift-along Kickoff

Last weekend, I finished this adorable Flamingo from the FreshStitches Kit Club! Isn't he cute? You'd never know that winter has arrived here in Chicago - I managed to find the one part of our back yarn that hasn't yet died for the season!


I also finally found a frame for my Excelsior, which was my TSOLKAL project. Now it's hanging in my craft room, where it coordinates with the curtains almost perfectly. I think it needs a few friends, but that will have to wait til I'm done with my holiday gift-making, of course.


Speaking of holiday gift-making....the Indie Design Gift-along is here! Click here for all the details over on Ravelry, but in a nutshell, the GAL (as it's commonly referred to) is a great way to support indie designers while also saving money on your pattern purchase and having opportunities to win some amazing prizes!

Participating designers will be offering selected designs for 25% off with the coupon code GIFTALONG2014. Look for the Gift-along2014 bundle on the designer page to see which patterns qualify for a discount, then find a KAL or CAL for your chance to win prizes!


As you may have guessed, I am participating this year - click here to see all of my eligible patterns! You can click here to redeem the GIFTALONG2014 coupon code for your purchase.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Holiday Madness

I went a little crazy over the last week and have been indulging my startitis. It didn't seem like I was starting that many projects at the time....until I began to list them out! Over the weekend, I started a worsted-weight version of the Hot Chocolate Run Polar Bear, which is turning out to be quite plump (I may have gotten a little overzealous with the stuffing):
I also started a tree for the Snow Family & Evergreens KAL which is happening right now on the WEBS blog:
It would seem as though not much progress has occurred with my fingering-weight baby sweater, but that's only because I ended up frogging all of my work so that I could restart, making a smaller size so that I didn't have to worry about ending out of yarn. Oh, and then I promptly ignored this project in favor of starting new ones - as one does.
Case in point: just this morning I cast on for a mini sweater for the Pins and Needles Challenge using some destash yarn (click here for more details on Monday's post):
...and that's to say nothing about the project I'm prepared to start, once the KAL begins this coming Saturday (more on that here):
On the plus side, I'm finally introducing a few non-green projects to the mix. Baby steps!

Feel like enabling me a little more? Leave a comment telling me what's on your needles!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Take the Pins & Needles Challenge!

This year, the folks at Save the Children are challenging folks to Make the World a Better Place with a Sweater on December 12, which is also known as National Sweater Day! Non-knitters are encouraged to wear their most festive holiday sweater and donate $5 to Save the Children on Dec. 12, but knitterly folks have a special challenge for this year: to knit a sweater for someone special between November 12 & December 12, which Save the Children has dubbed the Pins and Needles Challenge.

Don't worry - it doesn't have to be a full-sized sweater! Save the Children and Vogue Knitting have provided two free knitting patterns for miniature sweaters for those of you who are pressed for time:




I myself plan to knit a few mini-sweaters using the free Sweater Garland pattern above - I think they'll make great ornaments to give as gifts this year! I'll be casting on this Wednesday, November 12, and I hope you'll join me; click here for more information on the Save the Children website!

ETA: One lucky participant will win a $50 Gift Certificate to WEBS

Friday, November 7, 2014

FO Friday: Quick Baby Knits in Winter Silk

I know this isn't the first time I've mentioned it, but it really seems like everyone I know is expecting a baby in the next 6 months. Seriously, I am starting to lose track - or rather, I would, if I didn't keep a running list in Trello. At any rate, when I was sent skein of Winter Silk yarn from Mountain Colors to try out (yes, it was free!) I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get started on my ever-growing queue of baby gifts.
Mountain Colors Mountain Silk yarn in Harmony Cottonwood
The colorway is the perfect kind of non-gender-specific colorway I love to use for baby knits; I figure, if they know whether or not they'll be having a boy or a girl ahead of time, they'll be drowning in blue or pink. As for the yarn itself, it's a 50/50 blend of wool and silk with a lovely hand; very soft with just enough drape. Though it isn't superwash (something I try to take into consideration when knitting for new parents), I still think it's a great choice - even babies deserve a little luxury!
My Barley hat by Tincanknits
I started off by knitting the Barley hat from Tincanknits, which is available for free on Ravelry. It was a rather quick project - from cast on to bind off, I don't even think this was on my needles for more than 24 hours!


With variegated yarns, it's always a gamble as to how they'll knit up. I was really pleased with how the colors looked in the finished hat - no crazy pooling here!

My Dreamy Baby Booties by Veronica Van
I had plenty of yarn left, so I decided to make a pair of matching booties, and found another free pattern on Ravelry, the Dreamy Baby Booties by Veronica Van. This was another quick project which I made in just three days' time, and somehow both booties match almost exactly - that's through virtually no effort on my part, might I add. Somehow it just worked out that way!


I really enjoyed giving this yarn a try; it was easy to work with and I was impressed with how the plies didn't split, even when I was picking up stitches or grafting the bottom of the booties together. Here's another bonus: I still have a pretty good amount of yarn left over! Each skein has 200 yards, and I'd estimate that I have about 80 yards left to work with - I'm hoping that's enough for a small toy! Many thanks to the folks at Mountain Colors yarn for sending this skein my way!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New WIPs for November!

The panic has started to set in....Christmas is less than two months away, and since we aren't traveling to Kansas City for the holidays, I have to make sure all of my gifts are done with plenty of time to ship them out. GULP! To free up my crafting time, I spent most of the weekend working like mad to finish the top-secret test knitting project I've been working on since September, and I'm just about ready to bind off the final section - most likely, that will happen tonight.

That means it's time to shift my gift-making into full gear, and unfortunately, a lot of those projects won't be shareable on this blog til after they are gifted. As a result, this is when I start to trot out the "decoy" projects to keep things interesting - these are projects for recipients who either don't read my blog, or won't realize it's for them if they do (I hope!).  Last night, I started the first such project - last month's FreshStitches Kit Club shipment, Gordon the Pink Flamingo:

Flamingo Feet!
I fell in love with the Snow Family & Evergreens pattern featured on the cover of the new WEBS catalog which arrived on Monday, and yesterday I bought the pattern (along with the super-adorable Hot Chocolate Polar Bear Run pattern - I have no self-control!). I'll probably be casting on for one or both of these projects over the weekend, if not sooner. There is a KAL for the Snow Family pattern which started yesterday here on the WEBS blog if you'd like to join in the fun!


You may like to know: believe it or not, I have no affiliation with WEBS, I just love shopping their online store and can't resist cute holiday toy patterns!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tutorial: Identifying Mystery Yarn & Fiber with a Burn Test

Not too long ago, I was given some very pretty spinning fiber which didn't have labels:


Despite having no idea what I was working with, I spun up the pink and purple braids pictured above to create this lovely skein:


After spinning with it, I had an idea of what I thought the fiber content might be, but I have been meaning to perform a few tests to confirm or deny my suspicions. It wasn't until this past weekend that I finally got a chance to perform a Burn Test, which is a very common way to assess the fiber content of a mystery yarn or fiber. I filmed my process and added it to my YouTube channel just in case anyone was interested to see the Burn Test in action; below are the steps I followed and some more detailed information to help you identify your fibers, should you decide to perform a burn test of your own.


First: BE VERY CAREFUL! I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that setting things on fire is dangerous, but please be sure to keep safety in mind every step of the way. Placing a candle in a pan of water is a really good idea - if you don't believe me, watch the video above, because that pan of water REALLY came in handy!

Make sure flammable items are far away from your work area. Set up your materials on a stable surface in a well-ventilated room; you'll want to keep pets and children away from your work area, too. Also keep in mind that long hair or curtains by an open window should be secured. Hopefully, that covers all of the safety precautions you need to take so that we can continue to the fun part: setting things on fire!

First, you'll want to have some yarn or fibers samples for which you know the fiber contents: cotton, wool, silk, acrylic, or linen are all examples of samples you way wish to amass. In my video above, I chose to use cotton, wool and acrylic yarns for my basis of comparison.

The results of my burn test.
For each yarn or fiber, you will want to perform the following steps: 

1. Move yarn or fiber near the flame.
2. Move yarn or fiber into the flame.
3. Remove yarn or fiber away from flame.

With each step, be sure to make note of how the fibers behave: do they move towards or away from the flame? When placed in the flame, do they ignite easily? When removed from the flame, does the fiber burn steadily, melt, or immediately self-extinguish? What does it smell like as it burns?

All of these questions will help you make an educated guess as to what type of fiber you have.

Cellulose fibers (cotton, flax, hemp and ramie) for the most part smell like burning paper (flax is the exception, which smells like a grass fire when burned). They ignite easily and continue to burn when removed from the flame.

Protein fibers (wool, silk and alpaca) smell like burning hair...which makes an awful lot of sense, wouldn't you say?! As noted in my video above, wool is well-known for its self-extinguishing properties. While wool and silk ignite easily, Alpaca fiber is harder to ignite. Most protein fibers produce a bluish-grey smoke.

Manufactured fibers (nylon, rayon and acrylic) ignite quite easily; both acrylic and nylon are known for melting when exposed to flame. Nylon yarn will move away from the flame and will self-extinguish when moved away, though it will continue to burn if left in the flame, even after it has melted. Rayon does not move away from the flame, nor is it self-extinguishing. Acrylic yarn burns very hot and will spatter and melt; it is also difficult to extinguish, which is why acrylic yarns are not recommended for making baby items in particular.

For more information about how to interpret your burn test results, check out The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin, which was my reference when embarking on my own burn test adventure. Other helpful resources include this page on the Dharma Trading Company website and this comprehensive chart on the Fiber Images website.