Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Weekender Sweater in Brown Sheep Prairie Spun DK

Last winter, I reviewed Prairie Spun DK from Brown Sheep, which at the time was a new yarn in their lineup. I enjoyed using it so much, that I ended up purchasing a sweater quantity from Webs during their year-end sale, not knowing which pattern I would use it for. I kept this yarn squirreled away while mulling over my options and changing my mind more than a few times.

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Eventually, I realized that the perfect pattern had been under my nose the whole time: Andrea Mowry's Weekender Sweater! Of course, that didn't mean I started it right away, but then the stars aligned yet again when the Corner of Knit & Tea blog/podcast announced a Brown Sheep Sweater-Along that began on September 1 of this year. I knit my swatch in August and was ready to cast on once the calendar turned to September.

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Then I got a secret sample knitting commission and had a few other distractions pop up, and didn't get to work on this sweater as much as I thought. By the time November rolled around, it seemed like the November 30 end date would not be realistic for finishing this project, because I'm a really slow sweater knitter.

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And I probably would STILL be knitting this sweater if I hadn't taken some time off last month for my birthday and Thanksgiving, which I used effectively to zoom through Sleeve Island. I even knit my sleeves one a time, which is something I haven't done in years because I tend to get Second Sleeve Syndrome. Unfortunately, I've found that magic loop knitting (which is how I usually knit two sleeves at a time) really aggravates my arm/wrist/hand issues, so I thought I'd go back to one-at-a-time sleeves on DPNs to see if that allowed me to work pain-free....and naturally it did, so that means no more two-at-a-time sleeves for me.

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The sleeves turned out a bit long - I probably could have started the ribbing sooner than specified in the pattern, but I don't think that's enough of an issue to warrant ripping things back and reknitting the cuffs. Also, I've been wearing the sweater non-stop since I finished it, so I don't think I could bear to take it out of the rotation for a cuff fix! This is definitely going to be a sweater I wear a lot - the boxy shape is cozy (even if it does make me look a bit wide) and the yarn is warm, soft and sturdy. I'm so happy I finished this project relatively quickly so that I can enjoy it all winter long!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Knitting With Sock Blanks

In all of my 10+ years of knitting, would you believe that I have never tried a sock blank?! I've admired them on Instagram and at fiber shows but have never actually used one until I was sent a very lovely and luxurious blank to try out from Zen Yarn Garden.

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Part of a Zulily event, these blanks were produced in limited quantities and I'm not sure if the exact blank I used is currently available. They're approximately 400 yards of a 90% superfine superwash merino blended with 10% nylon, and the colorway I received was Midnight Stroll. BUT the good news is that Zen Yarn Garden is offering a new kind of sock blank in their online store right now, called Luxe Blanx, and they're a blend of merino, cashmere and silk (oh my!) and have a whopping 750 yards per blank.

Before I talk about the pattern I knit and how much I loved the yarn, let's have a quick conversation about what a sock blank is and how to use it. A sock blank refers to a piece of fabric that has been knitted up (usually by machine) prior to the dyeing process. This allows dye to be applied to the yarn in a different way than in a skein form, and also creates a different type of patterning when knitting or crocheting with the dyed blank. A lot of dyers treat sock blanks as a canvas, where they write out words or draw pictures which then knit up in an interesting way. I really liked the painterly approach that Zen Yarn Garden brought to the sock blank I used to create a pretty gradient.

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You have a a few options for working from a sock blank. Some folks prefer to wind the blank into a skein so that they can wash and try it to remove the kinks (since it arrives knit up, the yarn will look a bit like ramen noodles as you unravel it), and then wind it into a center-pull ball once it's dry. This step obviously takes the most time, but it can be worth the effort.

A less time-consuming option is to wind the blank into a center-pull ball which you knit from; this won't solve the issue of ramen noodle yarn, but it will make your project a little bit more portable.

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Or, if you are extremely impatient like me, you can just start unraveling your blank to knit directly from it! Sure, I was worried that using ramen noodle yarn would result in wonky stitches or uneven gauge, but for the pattern I chose (the Itty Bitty Picoty Shawlette, available for free with newsletter signup here), this wasn't an issue at all. Garter stitch is very forgiving, as was the soft and squishy yarn. A quick wet block worked out pretty much any kinked stitches, if any, and the shawlette grew to a very lovely size as a result.

I honestly didn't know what I was missing out on all these years....needless to say, I would definitely knit from a sock blank again!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Color Block Cowl in Brown Sheep Stratosphere

I was really excited to try out the new superwash yarn from Brown Sheep, Stratosphere. In fact, this yarn was sent to me near the end of the summer, and I am a bit overdue in posting my review (oops!). That's not the yarn's fault, however; I happened to bite off more than I could chew in my pattern choice, the Color Block Cowl from Purl Soho.

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It's not that the pattern was difficult to knit, but it was fussy. Each stitch pattern used the technique of knitting into the row before, which is actually quite easy to do - but again, fussy. Especially when you are working from all 3 skeins. Also, I don't know if it was just my newness to the technique or if this is typical of patterns like this, but I found that the fabric edges were a little messy looking when working with more than 1 color.

As a result, there were some days and even weeks where I just didn't feel like picking it up to work on, which made me feel a but guilty, because I loved the yarn and I knew I would love the end result....I just didn't enjoy the process of getting from point A to point B!


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Let's talk more about the yarn. Stratosphere is inspired by the Nebraska sky with its cloud-like softness and loft as well as its interesting color palette of bright solids and soft kettle-dyed color ways. It's a superwash DK weight spun with a soft, fine grade U.S. washable wool, and if washability and durability is your concern, this is the yarn for you!

And you don't have to sacrifice softness, either: while I know the softness is subjective, I was impressed with how my finished project softened up after washing. There's no hint of "prickle factor" when I loop it snugly around my neck. As you can see, the finished cowl is easy to wear and really pretty. I think the yarn is going to hold up really well and I doubt it will pill, even years from now.

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Stratosphere checks off a lot of boxes for me: Made in the USA, good quality, easy care, great color palette....I would definitely reach for this yarn again, both for myself or for a gift project.

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Click here to find your nearest Brown Sheep retailer; click here to view yarn details on the Brown Sheep website.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Hat Pattern I Never Tire of Knitting

It's not often when you find a pattern you don't mind knitting again and again (or maybe that's just me?!). But when you do, it's nice to have that old favorite ready to go whenever you need a quick gift or a soothing knit. When I originally designed A Most Addictive Slipped Stitch Hat, it used one of my favorite yarns from Bijou Basin Ranch, Himalayan Trail. I knit both of the samples pictured in the original version of the pattern (which then went on to become display pieces in the Bijou Basin Ranch booth), plus another one I got to keep for myself.

Recently, the yarn base originally used in the pattern was discontinued, and they have sold out of nearly all remaining stock - but the good news is that project kits for this pattern are still available, because I worked with the folks at Bijou to rework the pattern to use their newest yarn, Himalayan Summit!

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This crisp fingering weight yarn is really delightful to work with, and the 50/50 yak and merino blend works well with the simple slipped stitch pattern of my original design. If you're a faster knitter than me (and let's face it, most of you probably are!!), you can whip out a hat or two to give as holiday gifts this year - one project kit will easily yield two hats. I used 1 skein each of Big Hippo and Prickly Bottom, each from their Seriously, It's in Tasmania collection of hand-dyed colors; there are many more fabulous color combinations you can pick from when purchasing your kit, too!

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You can find the pattern and project kit over on the Bijou Basin Ranch website - be sure to sign up for their newsletter because they always run fabulous holiday sales this time of year. It's also available here on Ravelry.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Valhalla Cowl in Mauch Chunky Yarn from Kraemer Yarns

After spending most of last month working on a top secret test knitting project, it feels like forever since I've gotten to share a finished knit on here. I have an uncomfortable (for me) amount of WIPs currently on the needles at the moment, and my hope is to spend November fixing that problem so that I can start some new & exciting projects over the holiday break next month.

Back in September, I was sent some yarn for review from the generous folks at Kraemer Yarns, who have provided yarn and fiber for several reviews over the past few years, such as July's needle felted ornament tutorial, the Knit for Baby sweater kit review from this past Spring, and a solar yarn dyeing tutorial from 2016.

Each time, I've been impressed with the products they send me, which are all beautifully made at their mill in Nazareth, Pennsylvania using domestically-sourced fibers. After working with the Mauch Roving for the needle felting tutorial (and also carding the leftover fiber into batts and spinning with them!), I was excited to try the yarny counterpart to the Mauch line, and the idea of an instant-gratification project was pretty irresistible.

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Mauch Chunky is a single ply using 100% domestic wool; each 100g skein has approximately 120 yards, and there are a ton of colors to choose from (I have a feeling this yarn would also take dye beautifully!). Most chunky weight yarns I've encountered usually have less than 100 yards to the skein, so at $8.50 per skein that makes Mauch Chunky a really good deal, especially for bigger projects such as sweaters or blankets! I chose 3 skeins of Blueberry Ice to make the Valhalla Cowl from Jen Geigley's book, Weekend: Simple, Modern Knits.

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The yarn is spun tightly enough that it is smooth and doesn't start felting with use, yet it is still plenty soft; I am hoping that means that it also doesn't pill much with wear, but I'll have to report back on that after wearing my finished project through the winter. There were a few kempy fibers mixed in, but they were very easy to remove as I knit. I should also mention that the resulting fabric is very soft and squishy, and because the cowl is a knitted tube that is then seamed together, it is extremely warm!

I would definitely use this yarn for another project. If you are looking for an affordable chunky yarn that's made in the USA and doesn't skimp on quality, put Mauch Chunky from Kraemer Yarns at the top of your list!

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You may like to know: I was gifted 3 skeins of yarn in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Adventures in DIY Jewelry Making

When I was a tween/teen, I used to love making my own jewelry. I would go to my local bead store, which was called Nomadic Notions, and would buy way too many beads and charms. Mostly I made myself necklaces and earrings, and that crazy thing is that I never learned the right way to open and close a jump ring. It's true. Only recently have I learned this skill thanks to the folks at Solid Oak Inc, who share a handy free PDF covering basic jewelry making techniques here on their site.

Not to long ago, the kind folks at Solid Oak sent me a ton of goodies to play with, and I've been experimenting with different ideas over the last month or so. Nowadays, I don't wear a lot of jewelry, and when I do it tends to be something that's small and simple. My first (and favorite) project is this minimalist arrow necklace using a few pieces from their Estrella line:

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At first, I thought that the CZ arrow charm would be a bit too bling-tastic for my usual jeans-and-a-t-shirt style, but it turns out to add the perfect amount of sparkle. I used half a length of jewelry chain and these jewelry findings to make this necklace for just under $10!

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It's now my go-to necklace, and it's SO easy to make: just cut two equal lengths of chain to attach to either side of the charm with a jump ring, and then attach a lobster clasp and ring to the other end.

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Bam! Necklace!

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My next idea was to combine a couple of steam punk gears to create a single focal point. Similar to the arrow necklace, I cut two equal lengths of chain to attach to either side of the center charm; the trickiest part was linking both gears on either side with jump rings.

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For my third necklace project, I got a little wacky and attempted a layered look with two different chain lengths and a simple tea ball charm.

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I think the longer chain could stand to lose some length, so I might go back and shorten it. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with how this experiment turned out - and look, the tea ball really opens!

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Overall, I've been extremely impressed with the quality of each item I've tried from Solid Oak, especially for the price - each thing is super affordable. I still have lots of charms and chains to play with, so I will definitely be dreaming up more combinations to share with you soon!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Are You On A First Name Basis With Your Yarn?

Being a handspinner has its perks: you can create the exact yarn you want in terms of fiber content, color, and structure, provided you have the proper skill and materials. If you don't spin, you have to rely on the yarns you find in shops and at fiber festivals, which means that you can't always get your hands on a specific fiber, especially if it happens to be rare. The good news is that yarn producers are starting to get hip to the whole breed-specific thing, and now there are all kinds of unusual yarns and blends available to folks who might otherwise not encounter them outside of a fiber festival.

Over the years I've enjoyed exploring specific breeds of sheep, from Polwarth to Gotland and all points in between. Last year, I purchased some Shetland batts at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival from Whispering Pines, a small farm in Wisconsin that raises registered Shetland Sheep.

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My fiber came with a photo of their sheep and some stats on the specific one who donated their fleece to my project. Her name is Mustang Sally, and she was born on April 18, 2014; I happened to purchase her 2016 fleece, which had a staple length of 85mm (which is approx. 3.3 inches). That's on the longer side for this particular breed of sheep, which averages a staple length of 2-4.5 inches. I still struggle with super short-stapled fibers, so this ended up being the perfect length for me, and the fiber was downy soft - no hint of the hairy undercoat whatsoever!


I felt drawn to this particular breed of sheep after watching a very small and plucky shetland refuse to budge when its handler was trying to lead it out of the stalls to show during a competition at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool festival. It was hilarious!

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Shetland Sheep @ The Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival (where it's much warmer!)

These tiny little sheep are hardy, sassy and clearly have some grit - they'd have to, considering their native land is at a similar latitude to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Shetland Isles are even further than the Hebrides and Scotland! Hundreds of islands make up the Shetland isles, and only 15 are inhabited by humans. Only shetland sheep and ponies are brave and hardy enough to inhabit many more of those islands under subarctic conditions.

After washing my finished 2-ply yarn, it because even sproingier and softer than when it had come off the wheel - now I just have to decide what to make with it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How To Fix Live Mistakes & Dropped Stitches in A Knitting Project

There's no worse feeling than looking down at your work and noticing a mistake several rows back, or - worse yet - a dropped stitch! When I was newer to knitting, this usually meant that I had to rip back several hours or ever days of work; sometimes, I would even restart the whole project from scratch. I wish I had known back then just how easy it is to fix this type of mistake without all of that frogging.

The simplest mistake to fix is a dropped stitch in stockinette. While knitting on my So Faded sweater recently, I noticed that I'd managed to drop a stitch and not notice it for several rounds. Here's what it looked like by the time I noticed the problem:

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Notice that there is a removable stitch marker in the dropped stitch - this is to prevent it from dropping down any further until I could fix it, as I noticed this mistake while knitting on the go. It's always a good idea to have a few removable stitch markers in your purse or project bag for just such an occasion!

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I prefer to use a crochet hook similar in size to my working needle to fix dropped stitches because all you have to do is put the hook through the live stitch from front to back, and then pull the next row of yarn through the live stitch with the hook from back to front. Repeat until you are back to where you started!

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Of course, if you managed to knit several rounds without the dropped stitch, that means you will need to do some finagling to work the dropped stitch all the way back to where you're currently knitting. The good news is that any wonky stitches will probably block out just fine.

Not long ago, I Instagrammed a photo of a project I was performing surgery on to fix a dropped stitch in garter:

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A lot of folks commented that they'd never thought to use T-pins to secure each row of yarn. To be perfectly honest, it had never occurred to me until this particular project, and it happened out of necessity: I kept picking up the wrong strand of yarn as I recreated the knits and purls for the garter pattern. It was really frustrating, and then I remembered this technique that a lot of lace knitters swear by. It's great for non-lace projects too because there's no need to rip back several inches of work! With just a bit of patience and a few handy tools, you can fix just about any mistake.

You'll need:
  • crochet hook
  • t-pins
  • blocking mat
  • extra needle or cable needle

Method:

First, figure out which column of stitches needs to be fixed. It may be one, two, or more. In the swatch here, I need to add two purl stitches where the arrow is pointing:

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You'll want to work from the right side of the fabric, as it's easier to read your stitches. Mark the stitches 1 row below the one you need to fix with a removable stitch marker (this is to prevent dropping down too many rows).

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Now, slowly unravel each row one by one, taking the strands of yarn and pinning them as far away from your working stitches as possible; make sure to leave enough space for all of the rows you'll need to fix so that it is easier to rework them row-by-row for the next step.

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Once you reach the stitch that needs to be fixed, remove the stitch marker and put it on your crochet hook. Now it's time to work your way back up!

If you are trying to make a knit stitch, make sure that the strand of yarn for the next row is behind the live stitch. Insert your crochet hook from front to back and pull the strand of yarn for the next row through like so:

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If you are trying to make a purl stitch, bring the strand of yarn for the next row in front of the live stitch. Insert your crochet hook from back to front and pull the strand of yarn for the next row through like so:

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Keep going until you have worked all the way back up!

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Some of the reworked stitches may look a little wonky, but a good wet blocking almost always fixes that.

I hope this tutorial helps you avoid unnecessary frogging in your projects - and if you found it helpful, please do share it with a friend!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Fall Sample Sale!

Decluttering my office and craft room is an ongoing quest of mine. Earlier in the year, my focus was destashing yarn (both handspun and otherwise) to avoid overwhelming SABLE anxiety. Many skeins have found lovely forever homes already, although there are still some good things up for grabs on my Ravelry destash page and also in my Etsy shop if you are so inclined.

Once the Great Yarn Destash of 2018 was under way, I turned my attention to all of the finished items I never wear of use. I have piles and piles of them - it's madness! So I set up a shop on a new Etsy competitor site called Aftcra where I could host my first-ever sample sale.
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Everyone on my newsletter list got first pick, but there's still plenty of good things up for grabs. There are hats, scarves, fingerless gloves, cowls, toys, bags and more, and everything is basically priced at the cost of the yarn so you really can't find a better deal. Also, everything ships FREE to US addresses!

Click here to shop my fall sample sale.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What I'm Working On

The last two weeks have been a little crazy, and I'm glad to get back to my regular Wednesday posting schedule. Since it's been a while since I've shared any WIPs on this blog, I thought I would share everything I'm working on now that all of the secret knitting projects for designs in progress have been published (I blogged about the 3 newest designs here if you missed it).

To kick off September, I started a Weekender Sweater for this knit-along using Prairie Spun DK from Brown Sheep. And because I like to live dangerously, I used my shiny new Ginger interchangeables from Knitter's Pride (which arrived just in time for the KAL start date) instead of the needles I swatched with. Considering the sweater is to be work with plenty of ease, I'm willing to take the risk. So far, it's looking great and is the perfect, soothing knit.

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Also in the same roomy knitting basket is another project using Brown Sheep yarn! I'm knitting the Color Block Cowl pattern, which is available for free on the Purl Soho blog, and I'm using 3 skeins of their new superwash yarn Stratosphere, which they sent me for review. So far I am loving the yarn, but I'm not completely enamored with the pattern I chose, so it's been slow going. I do think the end result will be worth it, however, so I have decided to press on!

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I'm still working on my second So Faded sweater. It's become my on-the-go knitting project, which means it doesn't see very much action because I really haven't been going out too much. I am closing in on the body, though it feels like I'll never get to where I add the fourth color. ..the closer I get, the further away it feels!

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Would you believe that I have never worked from a sock blank before? It's true. I've always been intrigued by sock blanks, but it wasn't until recently that I got the opportunity to give one a try from Zen Yarn Garden. There are several options for how to work from one, but I decided to just go for it and am knitting straight from the blank. I thought it might make for a lumpy bumpy project since the yarn looks an awful lot like ramen noodles, but the yarn is so soft that it's knitting up beautifully. You would never know that I didn't first wind it off and/or wash the yarn first! I'm knitting this shawl pattern which you can get for free when signing up for the Zen Yarn Garden newsletter.

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I also joined the Scintillation Tiny Star KAL, which  is happening here on Ravelry. Even though I already have plenty of projects on the needles, I thought it would be a fun way to use up some leftover bits and bobs of yarn while also test driving my new Ginger DPNs (more on this nifty needle set later....I think they may be my new favorite DPNs!). If you've never knit a Hunter Hammersen pattern, this would be a great introduction I think - she is so thorough and makes sure to really explain things, while still leaving things open-ended so that you have a lot of options for customizing your project. For example, the Scintillation pattern is 18 pages long! It includes lots of tips and photos to help you knit the project, all I had to do to supplement was refresh my memory on the Figure 8 cast on. Since the pattern was so long, I decided to just print the page that had the charts for the cast on number I was planning to make, and then kept it loaded on my iPad to refer to any other instructions as I knit. So far that seems to be working pretty well. I finished knitting one side of the star and just need to move the held stitches (that you can't see in the photo below, but they are on the orange cord) over to DPNs to knit the second side of the star:

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Also, I haven't blogged much about my newfound interest in cross stitch, but if you follow me on Pinterest or Instagram you may notice that I am posting more things about this craft! Right now I am working on my biggest/most ambitious project to date using this pattern from The Witchy Stitcher on Etsy. As you can see, I'm going a bit off book and adding in some other colors; in addition to purple and black I plan on using grey and perhaps some sparkly or glow-in-the-dark floss. Over the weekend, I had to rip out almost all of the purple flower because I had made several mistakes. Man, ripping out cross stitch is way more annoying that ripping out a knitting project, if anyone was wondering. I was glad that I finally found where my seam ripper was hiding to speed things up a bit.

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I think this might be the most WIPs I've had in progress in quite a long while, and that doesn't even count the two sock projects I have in hibernation. Next week, I plan to share a tutorial on fixing mistakes in your knitting, so I hope you'll come back to check it out!