Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Finished Sweater Alert: Comfort Fade Cardi

I'm so excited to share my finished Comfort Fade Cardi this week! I this projectstarted way back in March, and I'm honestly not sure which took longer - my stay on sleeve island, knitting the shawl collar, or weaving in the ends. All of them seemed to take a really long time, but I can finally call this project done and I absolutely LOVE it!

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I used Lhasa Wilderness yarn from Bijou Basin Ranch, which is a blend of 75% yak down and 25% bamboo. It's silky-soft, and other projects I have knit with this yarn have yet to pill. The bamboo fibers are really breathable, so it's both lightweight and cool to wear in warmer temperatures, but when it gets colder you are still nice and warm thanks to the yak down, which is super-insulating. It's the best of both worlds!

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If I could knit this sweater over again, I think I would have added a few more stitches to the sleeves. Mine are a bit snug, and while I wouldn't describe them as being too small, I find I prefer a half-inch or even an inch of ease these days. Hopefully they will stretch out a bit with wear. All but one of the colors are OOAK test dyes, but you can see their current palette of hand-dyed options here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Off The Needles: Canyon Steps Cowl

Last week, the Canyon Steps Cowl KAL came to an end, and I just barely finished my project in time!

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This is my second time knitting this pattern because it's my own design for Bijou Basin Ranch, and the first one I made is now a display piece in their booth! This time around, I chose the Aasgard colorway from their collection of Valkyrie-inspired colorways (or Thor, if you'd rather!) that are dye on Gobi fingering yarn. Baby camel and silk is soooo divine (how could it not be?!), and I love the way the hand-dyed colors shimmer on this blend.

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The variegated color kind of hides the stitch pattern, but it's so darn pretty that I don't mind if the pattern gets a bit upstaged by the yarn color. It was still fun to knit and I'm super excited to keep this one for myself! Even though the KAL is over, you can still get project kits here if you are so inclined. I'd love to see your project if you do, so make sure to share it on Instagram with the #bijoubasinranch hashtag!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tour De Fleece Recap: Crawling Across The Finish Line

In previous years, I have dutifully spun every day of the Tour de Fleece - even on rest days, even when traveling. There is something programmed deep within me that makes me want to check all those boxes off of my list, even if there isn't an actual end goal or anything at stake. I just have to do it because I can (and, you know, it's fun)!

This year was a little different. I started out strong, spinning every day for the first two weeks...and then on Saturday the 21st, things just ground to a halt! I spent all day working on this blog tutorial, and planned to spin in the evening but then my husband texted to say that a customer gave him free tickets to Pitchfork that night...so I met up with him to see The War on Drugs play their set, have a few beers, and be reminded of why I never leave the house (actually, it was fun, but people, y'know?).

I also had some swatches for new designs that needed to be finished by the end of last weekend, so that comprised all of my Sunday, and by Monday I was fighting the recurring hand/arm issues I get from overuse, so...no spinning. It wasn't til Thursday of last week til I dared to sit back down at my wheel for a bit of spinning.

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All that to say that I spent the first week spinning the top two projects to completion, and the remainder of the event struggling to finish both of the bobbins spun from the most luscious moorit shetland fiber that I bought last fall at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool festival (I can't wait to ply it!).

It was actually a bit freeing to let myself not do something 100%, is that weird?!

Speaking of not doing things, I have decided not to reprise my role as the Captain for Team Louet for Spinzilla this year. I loved our team of awesome spinners over the years, Dave at Louet was a fabulous, generous host, and winning it all two years in a row was extremely gratifying.

However, it has always been a struggle to find time to participate, especially since I physically can't spin for very long without hurting myself. Also, October is typically a very busy month for me in terms of workload, so I always felt guilty that I wasn't a bigger help to the team (also, I was never able to crack 4,000 yards, which was kind of frustrating). It seems silly to feel stressed about an event that was supposed to be fun, but I have definitely felt that way in recent years.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that last year's event was under the new management at TNNA, rather than the original organizers of the event. This was painfully obvious to me and countless other spinners (just check out this Ravelry thread - yikes), as there was a lot of disorganization (and perhaps even some all-out mismanagement) that really left a bad taste in my mouth. I had many team members privately tell me that they would not be returning in 2018 for a variety of reasons (not all related to the afore-mentioned issues with last year's event), and I had already been pondering the same thing. Supposedly a new team is in charge of the event this year, and I wish them well - but I think I'll be sitting this one out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Christmas in July: DIY Needle Felted Ornaments with Kraemer Mauch Roving

A few years ago, I spotted some cute needle felted ornaments on Pinterest that were made using cookie cutters to create the shapes. How clever is that?! Ever since, I have been thinking about giving it a try myself, and finally decided to take a stab at it for my Christmas in July theme. Pun very much intended - please feel free to roll your eyes accordingly!

It had been so long since I last attempted a needle felting project that I couldn't find any of my supplies, so I ended up buying this affordable little kit on Amazon that has everything I need and then some! Then I dug out my cookie cutter collection (make sure they are the kind that are open on the top and bottom) and grabbed some wool roving from Kraemer Yarns for an afternoon of stabby fun.

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First, if you are new to needle felting, here are the basics: you are using a special kind of needle that has bumps on it to repeatedly stab the wool fiber, causing the scales on the wool fibers to begin fusing together. So, it's important that you are not using any wool fiber labeled superwash, as those scales will have been removed to prevent felting! You can use other types of fiber so long as they have felting properties, but typically wool fibers are used for needle felting projects. The needles are super duper sharp, so make sure that you are careful and you may even want to verify that you're up-to-date on your Tetanus shots. The kit I purchased includes some finger protectors that are a little awkward to use, but definitely worth trying out.

I chose Mauch Chunky Roving for this project because I'd heard that this fiber was great for felting projects. Another plus is that it's made from 100% US-grown wool that is processed at their mill in Nazareth, PA and comes in a huge palette of colors - 56 in all! Here are the ornaments I made one rainy Saturday afternoon; the star is made with Strawberry Mauch Roving and the tree is made with Vibrant Green Mauch roving, both from Kraemer Yarns:

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To make the ornaments, I started by placing a small amount of fiber inside of a cookie cutter placed on top of the felting surface. Chaos is encouraged here, by which I mean you should lay the fibers down in various directions to aid the felting process. If the fibers are placed in an orderly fashion going in the same direction, you'll spend way more time and energy felting them.

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Now for the fun part: start stabbing! I like to start with the outline of the shape and work my way inwards, but there really is no WRONG way to stab fiber repeatedly. Needle felting is fun, easy and therapeutic that way!

Make sure that you frequently flip the fiber you are felting over so that it doesn't get stuck to the felting surface. The nice thing about using this type of cookie cutter is that you just have to flip the whole kit & caboodle over, then push the fiber down to lay flush with the surface before you start stabbing once more. You can also add more bits of fiber as you see fit to make sure that the felted piece is nice and even.

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Then keep stabbing....and stabbing....and stabbing some more.

At some point, you might think you are close to done, and you will remove the felt shape to most likely discover that YOU ARE NOT!

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Place it back in the cookie cutter and start stabbing some more. You'll get there soon!

You'll know you're done when it becomes difficult to pierce the felt with your needle. Once that happens, remove it and use a darning needle to run some scrap yarn or thin twine through the top as a hanger. You may wish to trim any "fuzzy" edges to give a more crisp appearance, and you can even embellish the piece with beads, sequins or smaller bits of wool if you're feeling fancy.

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You may like to know: I was provided free product in exchange for this blog post. All opinions & ideas are my own!


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Christmas in July: Knit & Crochet Ornament Pattern Round-Up

Knitting or crocheting ornaments is a fun way to use up leftover yarn while adding a handmade touch to your holiday decorations. They also make great gifts and look adorable on top of a prettily wrapped package in place of a bow.

Here are some of my favorite knit and crochet patterns I've used over the years, plus a few new ones to try out!

Images via sources below.

Knitted Ornaments

Top Left: Holiday Cheer Ornaments (free) by Kate Gagnon Osborn - these fun ornaments are designed for fingering weight yarn, perfect for mini skeins!

Top Right: Knit Candy Cane Ornament (free) by Heidi Gustad - you can't have Christmas without candy canes!!

Middle: Snowball Buddies ($6) by Susan Claudino - a few years ago, I made several of these and they were so darn cute! Most of them were given away as gifts, so I might dig out this pattern and knit a few more for 2018.

Bottom: Mochimochi Snowmen and Teeny Tiny Santas ($3) by Anna Hrachovec - I've always been a fan of Mochimochiland patterns, and these tiny toys make great ornaments if you just add a little hanger at the top! Somehow I missed the Teeny Tiny Nutcrackers ($5) pattern from a few years back, so those have been added to my queue for this year! 

Crocheted Ornaments

Top: Crochet Bell and Crochet Christmas Tree (both free) by Heidi Gustad - these are in my queue for this year, I am particularly excited to find my seed bead stash to use up for the Christmas trees!

Middle: Christmas Bauble (free) by Carmen Heffernan - this pattern is also in my queue, I might try to adapt it for using with some styrofoam balls that I have in my craft stash.

Bottom: Grandma Trees and Grandma Twinkle (both free) by Michelle Kludas - both of these patterns are super easy for beginning crocheters, and totally addictive to make!


In search of more ornament pattern inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board here for all kind of fun crafts to make your tree merry!

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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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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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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

4 Chart Reading Hacks for Knitters

What if there were some easy hacks to make knitting from charts easier, faster and more enjoyable? It's not too good to be true - there are plenty of simple tricks you can use when working from charts. I use each of these tips myself (sometimes all at the time!) and I'm sure that one, some or all will work for you, too.

Hack #1: Blow It Up!
For years, I would struggle through a tiny chart with tiny symbols that made my eyes crossed. Then one day, I realized that I could just MAKE IT BIGGER. Whoa. Mind blown.

Back in the day, this meant a trip to the local copy shop, but now that I have a printer/scanner at home, it is really easy to enlarge charts as needed. Plus, it is a lot easier to adjust the way a PDF will print out, so you can also enlarge the page containing the chart in question, subject to the capabilities of your printer and level of techno-savvy, of course.

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A color-coded cabled chart and highlighter tape!
Hack #2: Color Inside the Lines....and Out Of Them. 
The pattern you are working from doesn't need to be a pristine document worthy of the Smithsonian - so don't be afraid to write on it. Here are some things that I will do to a chart to make it easier to read:
  • Number the rows. Honestly, I don't know why any chart wouldn't have numbered rows, but it's been known to happen. 
  • Draw "reminder" arrows. Most of the projects I make are knit in the round, so when I am working a charted pattern flat, it is very easy to forget that wrong side rows are worked left to right (instead of right to left). So, I will draw a tiny arrow on the left hand side of EACH wrong side row to give me a visual reminder to START THERE!
  • Color coding is your friend. If there are a lot of symbols to keep track of - particularly, a lot of cables - color coding is your friend. Grab markers, highlighters, or colored pencils, and start by filling in the chart key to assign your colors. Then, carefully go through the chart to fill in each symbol with the corresponding color. As you work more and more repeats of the chart, you should be able to move faster because your mind will remember which color belongs to which stitch, eliminating the need to keep referring back to the key! 
Hack #3: Sometimes, you gotta chart the chart.
Unfortunately, not every designer uses the standards created by the Craft Yarn Council, and the result can sometimes be a Very Weird Chart Symbol. You have probably encountered one or two in a pattern: they often appear as strange squiggles that probably indicate a stitch that you are familiar with, but it's just so darn inscrutable and forgettable that it trips you up EVERY TIME. 

Perhaps the pattern you working from is full of them - that can be a real headache! 

This is when having some sort of charting software at your disposal can be really handy, because you can just create your own version of the chart using symbols that you can actually understand and remember. The only downside is that it will take a bit of time and cost some money, since most free versions of charting software are either limited in their scope or for the length of time you can use them - but I assure you, it will be worth it in the end, because you will finish your project faster, with minimal hair-pulling. 

For the price, I really like Intwined Pattern Studio. I have used it for many years and found it reasonably easy to both learn and use. 

I recently purchased Stitch Mastery based on countless recommendations from designers I work with, but I am having a really tough time making friends with it. I am not certain I can wholeheartedly recommend it thus far (but that is probably another topic for another day), and every time I try to use it, I find myself wishing I had tried the free version first before jumping in with both feet. 

I have never tried Chart Minder, but I'm probably going to test it out soon because it's free and it does so much more than just knitting patterns - you can also chart crochet and cross stitch patterns! 

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Knitter's Pride Chart Keepers.
Hack #4: Accessorize
There are a few gadgets that are worth investing in to make working from a chart easier:

Highlighter tape. It's affordable and easy to use - one roll is around $3 and each one I've bought has lasted for a couple of years. The draw of this product is that it is reposition-able, which means that you can reuse the same strip as long as it remains sticky. I find that placing your chart in a plastic sleeve will keep the ink from transferring to the highlighter tape, which not only makes it look gross, but also causes it to lose stickiness faster.

Chart Keeper. I'm sure there are a lot of versions of this type of product, but the ones I have been using for years are by Knitter's Pride and are similar to a notebook that you can stash your pattern in. One of the surfaces is magnetic, allowing you to secure your pattern with smaller magnets, and then keep track of where you are with a long magnetic strip. It can also be propped up on a nearby table for easy reference while you work!

I actually don't use the magnetic strip that came with each of my pattern holders because I have some Adventure Time-themed strips I bought a long time ago from Slipped Stitch Studios. They were designed to clip around a sheep of paper, but I found that the darn things never stayed put, so I cut them in half to be used on the magnetic board of my chart keeper.

Another cool thing you can do is stick things like small scissors, darning needles, and even stitch markers to the super-strong magnet that is holding your pattern in place. As you can imagine, that can be quite handy!

Row Counter. Honestly, I am not opposed to just making tic marks to keep track of where I am in any given pattern. But I know that a lot of people swear by a row counter, and I have found them to be useful in certain situations. The Sirka Row Counter, in particular, is really useful if you are trying to follow several sets of instructions concurrently.

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Oh my glob! Magnetic stripes from Slipped Stitch Studios, in use on my Knitter's Pride chart keeper.

Do you have your own tips and tricks for speedy chart reading that you don't see here? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! 

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ChartReadingHacksForKnitters

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Things I've Learned About Drum Carding

Drum carding looks so easy: you just toss in some fiber, and out pops a perfect batt, right?


Like anything that's made by hand, it's simple....but not that simple. For me, a lot of my learning curve was due to my tendency to overthink things and try to fix things that didn't need fixing. Once I got over that, I found that any other little hiccups were solved simply by doing. Practice does make perfect, and here are some of the most important lessons I've learned along the way - may they shorten your own learning curve when you give drum carding a try!

1. Prep before you prep. 

Sounds a bit silly, right? But the denser your fleece or fiber is, the harder it will be to process in your drum carder (not to mention, harder on your drum carder). Pretty much everything I've come across cautions against feeding too much fiber into the carder; the instructions that came with my carder (a Strauch Petite) recommend teasing fleece and fiber before processing and feeding a little at a time. In The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs, Sarah Anderson suggests that the fiber on your tray should be thin enough to read a paper through - a good reference point for us visual folks.

While I haven't attempted to process a raw fleece (yet), that also has an important bit of prep involved before reaching the carding phase. Apparently, any lanolin or grease on your fleece can wreak havoc on your drum carder in a number of ways. First, if the fleece is very clumpy due to lanolin, it may damage your carder if you try to force it through. Not to mention, that lanolin will also coat the card cloth and can transfer to other fibers that you card later on. So, make sure that any fibers you plan to card are squeaky clean.

Last but not least, the carding process isn't meant to remove those bits of the outside world that you sometimes find in a fleece (known as vegetable matter, or VM for short). Sometimes, VM will fall out on its own as you card, but you should consider that a bonus.

The bottom line: Make sure your fiber is washed (if needed), and flick or tease it to open the fibers and remove VM.

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I've been flicking on a hand carder to open compressed fibers before feeding into my drum carder.
2. Slow is the way to go. 

As a beginner, you will have the overwhelming urge to crank the handle on your drum carder and let the fiber fly!

Resist that urge.

Believe me, I know how hard it is - learning to slow down has never been easy for me, either. But the slower you go, the better your end results. I promise!

On one particularly stressful day after I'd finished doing my taxes (groan), I decided to break out the drum carder, and made an awesome discovery: the more I slowed down, the easier it was to fill my drum and create beautiful batts. As an added bonus, I felt way less stressed afterwards, so if anyone is suffering from anxiety or stress, I highly recommend an afternoon of slow drum carding.

Channel your inner sloth when processing fiber.


3. Don't be afraid to experiment.

I'm not sure if anyone else has this paranoia, but I'm always worried that I'm "doing it wrong." In knitting, in spinning, in life....I fully expect someone to pop out from behind the curtain in my living room to announce that whatever I'm doing is incorrect.

However, impostor syndrome can be a huge barrier to making some pretty cool discoveries, so sometimes it's good to ignore that irrational little voice. Somewhat ironically, in my zeal to discover the "right" way to drum card, I came across a suggestion that sounded absolutely wrong - feeding the fiber in sideways - but ended up giving it a try.....but not after first thinking "that's ludicrous - every single book I own tells me to feed the fiber in lengthwise, and so does the operating manual for my drum carder!"

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Slowly feeding that fiber in sideways...

Thankfully, curiosity got the better of me, and one afternoon I used a variety of dyed tops that I flicked on a hand carder before feeding into my drum carder sideways, and the resulting batts were lovely! I'm not sure if it was because I was using a shorter stapled fiber (merino), but it seemed to pick up and transfer the fibers a little easier with this method.

There are compelling reasons to use both methods of feeding fibers into my drum carder, and I plan to use both going forward. Should anyone interrupt to tell that I'm doing it wrong, I'll be sure to have a few choice words for them!

Got any helpful fiber prep tips to share? I'd love to read them in the comments. And if you liked this post, be sure to pin the graphic below to save it for later!


Things I've Learned About Drum Carding

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Half Birthday Sale: A Gift for You!

Fun fact: my husband and I are almost exactly 6 months apart in age (my half birthday is the day before his actual birthday later this month). I thought it would be fun to celebrate both with a little sale on Ravelry and Etsy!

Ravelry Pattern Sale

Enter HALFBDAY at checkout to get 50% off all of my patterns on Ravelry - including the Conversation Socks ebook! - now through May 18.

Half Birthday Sale (1)
Click here to visit my Ravelry pattern store!

Etsy Shop Sale

On Etsy, you can choose your discount below, good towards any of my current listings for mini skeins, hand dyed yarns, and handspun yarns. Plus, all US orders (still) ship FREE!

Spend $10, get 10% off when you enter SPEND10 at checkout.

Spend $20, get 20% off when you enter SPEND20 at checkout.

Spend $30, get 30% off when you enter SPEND30 at checkout.

All offers expire at Midnight MDT on Friday, May 18.

Half Birthday Sale (2)
Click here to visit my Etsy Shop!