Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Knitter's Resources for Social Distancing in 2020 (or, What to Knit During a Pandemic)

It wasn't my intention to go cold sheep in 2020, but I'm nearly through March and still haven't purchased a single skein of yarn. This was true before the global pandemic took hold, and now here we are in the midst of event cancellations, school closures, shelter in home orders, and the ridiculousness of a toilet paper shortage that has all become the new normal. My favorite yarn event of the year, YarnCon, has been canceled, and I'm hunkered down for the foreseeable future while we try to flatten the curve here in Chicago.


Everything seems to be hanging on by a thread right now. We're all scared and nervous and unsure of what's to come - and all we can do it wait it out and hope that once we get through to the other side, we can all pick up the pieces and start putting our lives back together.

The good news is that most people are pulling together and finding ways to support one another in a way I don't think I've ever witnessed before, from checking in on neighbors to buying groceries for those who aren't able to risk leaving their house, to sharing skills and resources as we all navigate these unusual waters.

In the yarn world, people are making a point to support their local yarns stores and indie makers, especially those who have lost revenue due to the cancellations of shows and fiber festivals. I've seen lots of great posts talking about buying gift cards to support makers and yarn shops right now, and I've even seen a few indie dyers close up their shops and tell folks to support other makers who depend on selling yarn to make ends meet.

I've personally seen an uptick in sales in my Etsy shop, which is greatly appreciated at a time like this (or any time, let's face it!). And for those of you who aren't able to support the community financially right now, don't feel bad - there are still ways to help out! Just spreading the word about your favorite makers and yarn shops is a huge help, and as you work through your stash, you can participate in virtual events like meetups or craft-alongs. Just remember to support these folks when you need to replenish your stash later on! :-)

To that end, I want to do my part and share some of the creative ways fiber folks are supporting the community as we all try to flatten the curve by staying home:
I'd love to keep adding to this list - please feel free to comment with a link to something cool that you have seen this month!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

On Substituting Yarns

Hey there, it's been a while since my last post. I'm still trying to get my blogging mojo back (and TBH, my everything mojo). I will try to keep sharing posts whenever I have something interesting to share, but I don't anticipate any sort of regularity going forward. I strongly recommend signing up to get new blog posts delivered via email (there's a link on the right-hand sidebar) or following me via Bloglovin to stay up-to-date. I also share whatever I'm working with here on Instagram, if you like to see works in progress.

Ok, now that that's out of the way....substituting yarns is another much-requested topic from my reader survey a few years ago. It's one I think about a lot, because it's rare when I use the actual yarn called for in a pattern, much less the color, and I have seen a lot of really great blog posts covering this topic in recent years (I link to my favorites at the end of this post).

Here's what I've learned over the years, mostly via trial and error:

Gauge: Correct gauge is critical, otherwise there's no way your finished piece will turn out well. While this is most important for something that needs to fit a specific way (i.e. a sweater or other garment), gauge is also important for other projects. I know that a lot of accessory patterns say that gauge is not critical, but if you have too much of a difference between the stated gauge and your own, you could end up with comically tiny (or large) finished projects that will end up in the frog or donate pile.

Last but not least, if you are substituting yarn in a sweater or garment pattern, keep in mind that your gauge swatch may lie. Even if you wash it, there's really no way to replicate the weight that a full garment has when it's completely waterlogged from a full wet block - and that can majorly distort your finished garment in a way that your swatch could never predict. In fact, I had that happen recently with a test knit in which I subbed in some yarn from my stash (the now-discontinued Louet Gems) and the sleeves grew to a length that would have better suited a gorilla. While it was wet, I was able to reshape the sweater to reduce the unexpected gain in length, but that did result in sleeves that were wider than I was planning on. And they were still a bit long (I had to fold up the cuffs). So, lesson learned.
Fiber Content: Not all fibers behave the same! There are so many variables at play here, too: how a fiber is spun, how much of another kind of fiber is blended in, the inherent properties of the fiber(s) themselves....all of these factors have a direct impact on how your finished project will drape and display stitch patterns. For example, substituting a linen yarn in for a silk yarn will lead dramatically different results. And if you've ever tried to sub in a wool yarn for a cotton yarn (or vice verse) you know that they will stretch (or not) in totally different ways.

Yarn Weight: At times, the stated weight of the yarn can seem arbitrary. I've worked with skeins that were labeled "fingering weight" which were clearly lace weight, and vice versa. The line between fingering and sport weight can be murky. DK/Aran/Worsted weight apparently mean different things to different people. At this point, I'm inclined to ignore the stated yarn weight entirely in favor of measuring it myself with one of my favorite new tools: the WPI Gauge from Nancy's Knit Knacks. All you have to do is softly wrap your yarn around the tool and count the number of wraps in the one-inch increment. Apparently, being able to turn the tool as your wrap (instead of keeping the tool static and wrapping the yarn around by hand) produces more accurate results.

Needless to say, if your yarn is mislabeled, you are in for some surprises. And even if you somehow achieved the stated gauge, your fabric is going to be a lot more dense if your yarn weight is heavier than what the design calls for, or airier if the reverse is true. Sometimes, this can be desirable; other times, a disaster!

Yardage: Especially for a design that requires multiple skeins of yarn, don't forget to compare yardage to make sure you don't run out. Simply going by weight or the number of skeins listed is a  sure-fire way to lose at yarn chicken. And if you are using a hand-dyed yarn or something that comes in a limited dye lot, do yourself a favor and get a safety skein. Getting 1 more skein than you actually think you need (or maybe even 2!) is never a bad idea. Plus, if you don't break into it, you can always use it to make a matching hat or cowl, list it for sale on Ravelry, or you might even be able to exchange it for a different color at the shop where you purchased it (many dyers and yarn stores will happily exchange unused, pristine skeins of yarn, but of course you should ask about the return/exchange policy ahead of time so you are not taken by surprise!).

Yarn Color: Variegated and speckled yarns are so pretty in the skein, but they can be challenging to work with. A pattern with a complex stitch pattern that is shown in a solid or semisolid colorway was probably designed that way for a reason: the details will get lost in a more complex variegated color. Case in point, I knit this gorgeous hat with a variegated skein of yarn that I simply couldn't resist - and the stitch pattern is completely lost (if you don't believe me, click here to see the hat knit in a non-variegated colorway!).



You can learn more about yarn substitution on these blog posts:
https://www.masondixonknitting.com/substituting-thinking-about-yarn/
https://welfordpurls.com/2020/01/14/mini-series-substituting-handspun-in-knitting-patterns/
https://www.10rowsaday.com/substitute-yarn

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

New Favorite Knitting Tools

Confession time: I have a fondness for clever gadgets, especially when they relate to crafting. And let's not even talk about the ridiculous amounts of needles, hooks, and other tools I have....because today I'm going to share a few of the latest knitting tools I've tried out recently!

A few months back, I spotted something intriguing in the Indie Untangled newsletter called End Minders. They are colorful little pieces of 3D printed PLA (it's a plant-based non-toxic material that looks like plastic) in the shape of bunnies, and the idea is that you could wrap your yarn ends around them so that they don't get tangled with your working yarn in a project. They were invented by Michelle of Crafty Flutterby Creations, and when I explored her shop a little more I noticed that she had some in the shape of sheep. Of course I had to give them a try!


I have used them on pretty much every project ever since. They really do keep my cast on yarn out of the way, plus they look super cute! In fact, I like them so much that I bought a few more sets for some of my knitting friends.

Another current obsession is progress keepers, which are essentially a removable stitch marker that you can use a couple of ways: first, as the name would imply, you can clip it onto a row of your knitting or crochet project so that you can see how much you've worked since the marker was attached. That's a nice function for anyone that needs a little self-gratification on a never-ending project, but also handy for any time you need to measure from a point that isn't your cast-on edge. My other favorite use is to clip one onto the right side of the fabric so that I don't get RS/WS confusion (that happens to me way too often).

A lot of progress keepers are made with fun charms, and I recently discovered that it's super easy to make your own with just a few basic jewelry making supplies! I made some holiday themed progress keepers to give as gifts over the holidays:


Of course, I kept the snowflake for myself!


When it comes to knitting needles, I'm a sucker for interchangeable sets, and Santa was very good to me this year - a SmartStix Holiday Gift Set was under my tree! If you haven't seen these needles before, they have one-inch markings on both the needle itself, as well as the cords. This allows you to measure your progress on the fly, sans tape measure, but it also can be used to gauge WPI of a mystery yarn (just wrap it around the needle over a 1-inch marking and count the wraps). I wasn't sure how much I would need to use the needles to as a measuring tape in my day-to-day life, but it turns out that I have been saved by it on more than one occasion.

Now, the needles are already pretty cool, but the packaging is also worthy of note! The needle tips come in a soft velvet roll, which is nestled inside a really cool little case that's made with faux vegan leather and ethically sourced wood. There is a matching zipper pouch for the cords and accessories, and an attachable strap if you'd like to wear it as a purse. Personally, I think it's fun to use it as a little toolkit, and at the moment I'm keeping my WIP in it (at least, until it's too big to fit inside - I'm knitting a sweater!).


Last but not least, I was gifted a custom-made needle organization case over the holidays, and it's pretty darn spectacular. I wish I remembered who made it (oops), but isn't it cool? The fabric has all of my favorite things on it (cats, tea, knitting) and it has my Etsy Shop/Blog Name on the front:


Then it opens to reveal all sort of compartments for needles and notions, including a folding case that is removable:


I've chosen to store some of my interchangeable tips inside of the folding case, which I think might be intended for DPNs. But since I really like my Della Q DPN Roll, I thought I would try storing some interchangeable tips in it, and it seems to work just fine for this purpose!


Did you get any fun crafting tools for the holidays? I'd love to hear suggestions for gadgets I should try out!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Only Handmade Gift I Made for Christmas

When I first started knitting, I made everyone in my family scarves for Christmas one year - that would be between 10-12 scarves by my count. Each one had a different stitch pattern, some of which were beyond my skill level at the time, but somehow I got them done in time. I definitely sweated it, but managed to meet the deadline with minimal drama, if memory serves.

Over the years, I have knit a lot of gifts for people, but the numbers have been steadily declining for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it's stressful to do! Besides worrying about making the deadline, you also have to worry about it fitting, or being something that they'll end up liking/using. I've found that my idea of what people will like and enjoy can differ from reality, so I've taken to offering up a bin of finished handknits and letting folks take what they want. Their selections almost always surprise me.

So, fast forward to this year. I wasn't planning to make any gifts, but then The Madalorian came out, introducing an adorable character that looks like a baby Yoda. Naturally, several knit and crochet patterns to make The Child followed suit, and I couldn't resist this one for a Baby Yoda-inspired ornament to put in Tyler's stocking. It turned out a little bigger than I was imagining (and I even used worsted weight yarn instead of the bulky weight the pattern calls for), but it turned out well and was simple enough to whip up in a few afternoons while Tyler was away at work.


He loved it - it even might have been his favorite gift this year!

Monday, December 23, 2019

2019, I Won't Miss You!

I'm guessing I'm not alone in this sentiment; seems like it's been a rough year for a lot of people I know. On a personal level, this year just flat-out sucked. Obviously, I lost my mojo for regular blogging, but beyond that I lost my last remaining grandparent at the end of the summer, followed by my beloved cat Tilly, one week before my birthday.

Can you even remember back to January of this year when I boldly declared my 2019 Make Nine? I nearly forgot, til I saw someone post an update of their progress on Instagram...so I went back to my original post and realized I only made 2 of the 9 projects I'd planned. Oops.

It was just that kind of year. I ended up finishing more things that I thought I would overall - I'd set my Ravelry challenge to 30 FO's for 2019 after making only 40 of 50 in 2018. Ironically, I surpassed 30 projects by early fall of this year, so I reset the goal to 40, and am currently at 44 projects for this year (hopefully I can eke out 1 or 2 more before 2020 arrives).

I have mixed feelings about the new year and new decade to come. I hope 2020 is better than 2019, both for myself and the rest of the world, which currently still seems to be in dumpster fire mode.

At this point, I doubt there will be any hard and fast resolutions for 2020, at least when it comes to crafting. But I will try to blog a little more frequently (and try to be less of a sad sack), even if it's just to share what I've been making. If you are still interested in keeping up with me, you can subscribe here to have new posts emailed to you.

Also, I am having a little sale in my Etsy shop this week, everything is 20% off, no coupon code needed. If you had your eye on some yarns or even ready-made items, now it the time to buy (plus all US orders ship free). The only catch is that everything will ship out on 12/28 once I'm back home.


Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday (whatever you celebrate), and a joyous new year!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In Memoriam: Yarn Inspector Tilly

On Sunday, November 10 we said goodbye to one of our cats, Tilly. She was 17 years old and from the same litter as our other cat, Robin. We got them when we were living in Portland, OR, and they've been through a lot ever since then, moving from Portland to Kansas City for a brief stop before moving to Chicago 14 years ago.


If you follow me on Instagram, you were frequently treated to Tilly's antics - she was always in the thick of things, and had the energy of a kitten until fairly recently, when old age must have finally caught up. Ironically, she was shy around strangers and would almost always hide when people came over to our house. Working from home, I appreciated having another critter to talk to throughout the day (she was VERY talkative!).


We had a Saturday morning ritual: she would snuggle in the spot between me and the arm of the couch, and I would knit, drink tea, watch anime, and pet her every now and again as we both eased into the day. Tilly was my chief yarn and fiber inspector, and she was always nearby to supervise, no matter what I happened to be doing. Consequently I have a ton of photos of her with fiber, yarn and WIPs. I can't think of a better way to honor the memory of one of my best furry friends than sharing some of the highlights from her many years of service as the resident yarn (and fiber) inspector.

She appreciated brioche knitting...

...and had a clear preference for cashmere.

She was also a fan of crochet!

I can haz this So Faded shawl?

Hand dyed yarn = sweet kitty dreams

All about the crocheted ottoman.

I never got a chance to finish her favorite toy - she helped herself from the WIP pile.
Clearly this handwoven scarf is the proper place to play with it!

Just helping this scarf dry faster....
When your cat is the same size as your yarn....

Spent 2 years knitting a cat blanket....no regrets.

She loved to knead freshly-carded batts.

Yet another knitted pillow claimed for Tilly. This one's out of handspun yarn!


Is this comfortable?


"Helping" during the Tour de Fleece.

Keeping those batts safe.

Were you trying to weave?

Saturday morning yawnzzz
Sometimes she would reach out and touch my hand while I was knitting.
It was a very cute/effective way to get me to pet her!
In her final days, she liked to lay my desk, so I made a little bed where she could hang out and nap if she wanted to.
She spent a lot of time up here and got lots of pets.

Rest in peace my sweet little Tillygirl - and thanks for all the memories. We miss you!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Recently(ish) Off The Needles

Since my last post about WIPs/FOs back in September, I've finished a surprising amount of projects (at least, for me - I'm a really slow knitter!). I know it's not a Wednesday when I would usually share a blog post, but I just couldn't wait any longer to show off these finished projects!


Purl Thief Shawl by Kalurah Hudson
This is my freshest FO, and it's been a bit of a slow burner: I started this shawl on the Amtrak train down to Kansas City at the end of August, and it's been my "on the go" project ever since. Considering I don't leave the house a whole lot, that means I've bene working on it off and on ever since casting on, so finishing it is a huge win! The yarn is a gradient yarn cake from Zen Yarn Garden that I picked up at Stitches Midwest earlier this year, and I basically just knit the pattern repeats til I ran out of yarn! It's a really simple pattern, but I still managed to mess it up time and time again, necessitating a bit of frogging (for me, it seems like the simplest patterns are really the hardest sometimes). Overall, it was a soothing project and I'm happy with how it turned out.

Wraptitude Shawl by Megan Williams
Here's another slow-burning shawl knit with green yarn....I started this project at the beginning of June but didn't finish it til the middle of September for a variety of reasons - first and foremost, I lost at yarn chicken, and had to order another skein from Knit Circus before I could finish. Secondly, it quickly became a stay-at-home project, so it didn't get worked on as much as other projects I had on the needles. The "styling loop" intrigues me and I find that the easiest way to use it if slipping one arm through the loop to secure one end of the shawl, and then wrapping the other end around my shoulders as you can see in the photo above. I'm not sure that I would knit another shawl with this styling feature, but it's an interesting concept and I'm glad I gave it a try.


Scrappy Pillow for the Scrappy Pillow Make-Along
This was a fun way to use up leftover bits of sock yarn, including some of the minis that I also sell here on Etsy. Our couch is in danger of being overrun with handknit/crocheted/woven pillows, so this one may ultimately find a new home. There is also a crocheted version included in the same pattern that I'll have to make at some point!


Triangle Puff Hat by Cynthia Shavers in Miss Babs Yowza
Look, something that isn't green!! I test crocheted this hat and it was my first time using Yowza. The yarn is fabulous, and even stood up to repeated frogging. I loved how the colorway worked up, and the stitch pattern was easy to master & memorize. There is also a matching cowl for those who dare, and you can make the set with just 1 skein because Yowza (as the name would imply) has a  lot of yardage.


July Hat by Courtney Kelley
I needed a travel project and wanted to destash some Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride that was lurking in my stash, and I love all of the free patterns that Kelbourne Woolens has been releasing as part of their ongoing Year of Hats series. I'm planning to donate this somewhere, either to an organization like Wool Aid or someplace that is collecting warm items for refugees coming to the US who aren't used to super-cold winters. Or, I might keep it for next year's #hatnothate campaign, since they just announced they'll be doing it again....


Thermal Hat by Me
This is the yarn (and faux fur rabbit pom) I bought from Yarn Social when I was in Kansas City for my grandfather's funeral. I couldn't find a pattern that spoke to me, so I just grabbed a stitch dictionary and chose something that I thought would work with the variegated yarn, a simple thermal stitch. I still have about a half a skein left, so I might find a darker contrast yarn to knit a two-color hat that might look better on my head - as much as I love how this turned out, I truly can't wear anything with yellow (especially of the highlighter variety) so close to my face. Oops!