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! 

Like this post? Pin it!
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!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Winner + Frogging Failed Fo's

First off, congrats to Laura (aka skiddoo0 on Instagram), who is the winner of last week's Kraemer Yarns project kit giveaway. I'll contact you shortly to arrange the delivery of your prize. Many thanks to everyone who entered this giveaway!

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Frogging Failed FO's

Most of us have a few projects that didn't turn out as planned. Some Finished Objects (FOs) fall out of the rotation in favor of newer, more exciting projects - if you knit or crochet for long enough, it's bound to happen. But there are always those finished projects that fall short of expectations: perhaps the gauge was a bit off, the colors didn't play together as well as you'd hoped, or the yarn subbed in proved to be a poor choice, even though you were certain it was a great choice at the time.

Only recently have I been able to spot those dealbreakers which resulted in an unloved/unused FO before I reach the binding off or finishing stage; earlier in my knitting and crocheting, I would stubbornly plod ahead, certain that something magical would happen along the way to resolve whatever nagging issue had cropped up. Now, I'm more likely to tink back or totally scrap the project if enough red flags are raised (I find that putting a project in time out for a few days or ever a week or two is enough to make the call re: frog or finish).

While that's great progress, I still have a cache of finished projects hidden away because they had flaws that bugged me too much to enjoy using them. Recently, I've been slowly working on reclaiming that yarn so that it can be used in another project.

IMG_2859I won't lie: frogging back a totally finished knit takes patience - a LOT of patience. This step-by-step tutorial on the Knitted Bliss blog will help you with the process. I've been using my Knitter's Pride Ball Winder to complete the initial frogging step, after which I re-skein each reclaimed ball on my swift before washing the ramen-like yarn to relax the strands back into something knittable.


Should Your Frog or Should You FO?

A few questions I ask myself before committing to the full-on frog:
  • When was the last time I wore or used this project? 
  • What bothers me about this project, to the point that I am not enjoying it? 
  • Can this yarn withstand the abrasion of the frogging process? 
  • Will I really make something else with the reclaimed yarn? 
If I'm answering these questions honestly, it's pretty obvious what I should do. Mentally, it's a bummer to undo hours/weeks/months of work, but isn't it just as tragic to never put the resulting project to good use?

What I'm Frogging

Here are some of the projects that have gone on the chopping - er, frogging - block this spring:

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1. Mystery lace shawl (or blanket?) in Malabrigo Sock - this project was a series of unfortunate events, starting with the fact that I simply didn't have enough yarn to actually make the project. Also, a square shawl that is knit from the middle out is clearly not my cup of tea; quite frankly, I'm amazed that I even finished the thing. I am not totally sure when I knit this project - there is no entry for it in my Ravelry notebook - but when I found it, it had some holes in it from what I suspect were dropped stitches I never noticed. It's way too tiny to use for anything but a baby blanket, but I can't imagine anyone with a newborn who would want a kinda-wonky handwash blanket. Riiiiiiip.

2. Pioneer in Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sport - another project from the days in which I was a tiny twentysomething. When I came across this sweater stashed in the bottom of a drawer, it honestly looked child-sized. I can't believe I ever wore this thing and it actually fit! It's a great pattern that I would probably knit again in a size that would actually fit me (although the v-neck could be a little shallower), and I love the perfect dye lot of Pewter that I dyed myself in this yarn. Shepherd Sport is definitely worth frogging and reusing.

3. Honey Cowl in Lorna's Laces Honor - this project was made with some of the very first skeins of Honor, dyed by me in my own personal color palette back when I worked at Lorna's. Although the project turned out well and I love the yarn, I don't think I have worn it more than a handful of times since finishing it in the summer of 2011.

4. Elfe in Grinning Gargoyle Seda Sock - when I finished this five years ago (holy hot dogs!), it fit me perfectly. But as I progressed into my thirties and my metabolism took a nosedive, this sweater became a tiny, ill-fitting top. You know what really accentuates a weight gain? Vertical stripes. Again, this yarn is too pretty not to be worn, so I have reclaimed it for a TBD project.

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5. Design sample that never actually became a design in The Wool Dispensary Useful Irradiant - Honestly, I don't know why I never bothered to write up this pattern and release it, but here we are. I guess I just lost interest? The yarn is from my friend Sam's former hand-dyed yarn company, and I would much rather frog this yarn and use it for something else since I don't have any more of her yarn left in my stash.

6. Lory Shawl in Bijou Basin Ranch Himalayan Trail - I love, love, LOVE this yarn. Yak and merino is divine! It's too wonderful to sit in a bin, and that's just what this project has done ever since I finished it in Fall of 2014. The pattern was supposed to be a wrap, but because I didn't check gauge (shame on me!) and I made my welts larger than the pattern called for, my FO became a sadly narrow scarf.

Not pictured: Openwork Dolman in Bijou Basin Ranch Shangri-La - WTF was I thinking? In what scenario would I ever wear a mesh top like this? Sure, it looked cute on the stick-thin model, but in real life, I found it to be much less flattering. This yarn is serious luxury - 50/50 yak and silk - and too precious to waste. It won't be easy to frog this one since it's seamed, but if I can do so successfully, I will be very happy to reclaim this yarn and find something new to do with it.