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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review + Giveaway: Knit for Baby Sweater from Kraemer Yarns

Baby knits are such a great instant-gratification project, and having a stash of cute baby things comes in handy when someone announces that they're expecting. I was excited to try out this project kit from Kraemer Yarns when they were looking for reviews of their new project kit offerings at patternsbykraemer.com.

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The Knit For Baby Sweater is a t-shaped simple garter stitch garment that is knit flat all in once piece and then seamed. The kit includes a printed pattern on high-quality glossy paper with full color photos, and two skeins of Tatamy DK yarn, a blend of 45% Cotton and 55% Acrylic. I chose a nice gender-neutral color, Rubber Duckie, and they sent me two project kits so that I can give one away to my blog readers - keep reading to find out how you can win this project kit!

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The pattern instructions are easy to follow and keep track of as you work - just count the purl bumps to know how many rows you've worked - and the seaming is quite easy once you're done since there are only two seams to work (each side and sleeve). When I seam garter stitch, I just connect the bumps (or smiles and umbrellas, if you'd rather) - here is a good tutorial to show you how it's done.

I did make one small modification to this sweater to fix a problem I always have when it comes to buttonholes: I single crocheted around each buttonhole with the yarn and a size C crochet hook to fix the loose stitches on each side which would otherwise catch on the button.

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Before: wonky button holes

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After: Reinforced buttonholes!
As luck would have it, I had the perfect buttons in my stash for the closure - check out these cute handmade buttons from Wildflower Button Studio. I used a little bit of white embroidery floss to sew them on before washing the sweater in some wool wash and laying flat to dry.

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This was my first time knitting with this particular yarn, and I'm pleased to report that it was easy on my hands as I knit - cotton and cotton blend yarns can sometimes be a problem for me. I really like the tweedy effect to add a bit of visual interest to the finished project. Each skein has plenty of yardage, and I have enough left over from the second skein to knit a matching hat (I knit the 3 month size of the sweater).

Kraemer Yarns is a family owned textile mill Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Many of their yarns and spun from wool raised in the US, and they use a range of natural fibers to create their unique blends of yarn (read more about their interesting story here). There is a nice range of knitting and crochet pattern kits available at patternsbykraemer.com, so you're sure to find something to inspire your next project!

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As promised, one lucky blog reader will win a Knit for Baby Sweater Kit of their very own! This contest is open to readers worldwide, you just have to sign up for my newsletter via the link below (or enter your email address so that I can confirm your subscription) to be entered in the drawing, and you will also unlock bonus entries. I'll randomly choose 1 lucky winner to announce next Wednesday, May 2 right here on this blog. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sock Knitting Basics & Spring-Tastic Socks Relaunch

This article and pattern originally appeared in Holla Knits, an online magazine produced by my good friend Allyson Dykhuizen. She has graciously allowed me to republish here on my blog now that Holla Knits is no more, and I am super excited to relaunch one of my favorite sock designs, the Spring-tastic Socks, which are now available here in my Ravelry store! This pattern is fun to knit and looks great in both semisolid and variegated yarn. 

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The Spring-tastic Socks are shown here in the Periquito colorway of Manos del Uruguay Alegria Sock.

Sock Knitting Basics

Sock knitting is a pretty vast subject, so this article in no way purports to cover every aspect - but it will help you to tackle your first pair of socks with confidence and give you some ideas for future sock exploration.

First things first: let’s cover the terminology. Below is the basic anatomy of a sock, which you will see referenced throughout most sock knitting patterns.

sock anatomy


Cuff:
Generally, this consists of some sort of ribbing pattern - most commonly k1, p1 or k2, p1. An elastic cast-on or bindoff is recommended. For cuff-down socks, I like the Long-Tail Cast-On (which actually goes by several names - I’ve heard it also called the Turkish cast on and the German Twist Cast-On); for toe-up socks, I prefer using the sewn bindoff.

Leg: This is the easy part, where you begin working the pattern stitch!

Heel: Traditional sock knitting consists of a flap which is worked flat (usually with a slipped stitch for added durability), then short rows to create what is called the heel turn - that’s just a fancy way of saying you’ll be changing the direction of the knitted piece. After working the heel flap and turn, you will begin working in the round once again by picking up stitches along the flat on both sides as you knit around the socks. Sometimes, this process can change where the beginning of the round falls, so be sure to pay extra attention to the instructions, which may indicate that you need to account for this. Other approaches to heel-making include the short row heel, the afterthought heel, the OMG Heel by Megan Williams, the Sweet Tomato Heel by Cat Bordhi, and the Fish Lips Kiss Heel by Sox Therapist.

Gusset: In this section, you will begin decreasing on either side of the foot. If you are working a sock on 4 DPNs, these are the stitches which are on the first and last DPNs of the round (Needles 1 and 4), which hold the heel turn and picked up stitches. They will usually be knit in stockinette stitch; if you are working on magic loop, these are placed on one half of the needle.

Instep: This indicates the top of the foot, where the pattern of the leg is often continued. If you are working on 4 DPNs, there are the stitches on the middle two DPNs (Needles 2 and 3); if you are working on magic loop, these stitches are placed on the opposite half of the needle.

Foot: This indicates the section of the foot where you will be working even in established pattern - that is, stockinette stitch on the bottom of the foot, and the pattern stitch on the top (instep).

Toe: In cuff-down socks, this is where decreases are placed to create a rounded toe and finish the sock; to close the toe securely, grafting with kitchener stitch is recommended. In toe-up socks, this is the start of the whole thing! Judy’s magic cast-on or a knitted tab toe are often how toe-up socks are started; stitches are then increased to work the foot.


More Fun Facts About Socks


Now that you have the vocabulary down, it’s time to talk a little more about the specifics. Socks can be knit toe-up, cuff-down, and even side-to-side on double-pointed needles (DPNs) or on circular needles via magic loop. Lots of folks knit their socks two-at-a-time to avoid what is commonly known as second sock syndrome. They can also be crocheted if you’re so inclined!

Sock knitting is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, and there are some very creative folks in the industry who are dreaming up new and interesting ways of exploring socks. I encourage you to try out each technique for yourself to see if it works for you!

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The Spring-tastic Socks are shown here in the Poppy Field colorway of Knit Picks Stroll Tonal.
The great thing about socks is that they are fairly easy to customize, since you can try them on as you knit. Most sock patterns are written for a given circumference (usually ranging from about 7-9 inches for an adult-sized sock), which can be confusing to beginners. In most cases, this circumference can have you covered for both the leg AND the foot, believe it or not! While there are always exceptions to the rule, the circumference of your leg is roughly the same as the circumference of your foot when measured at the arch - and since most socks are designed with negative ease, the differences between these two measurements is negligible except in the most extreme cases - and if it’s not, you can always add or remove gusset stitches to accommodate for the difference!

Besides having an incredibly useful finished product (especially if you live somewhere with a cold winter), there are lots of compelling reasons to give sock knitting a try. Socks are a portable project that’s perfect for the warmer months since you don’t have to worry about having a hot pile of wool on your lap as you work. Plus, they are affordable to make, since you generally only need a skein or two of fingering weight yarn to make a pair. Many knitters claim that sock yarn doesn’t count as stash, so if you are trying to cold sheep this year - you may have just found your loophole! Finally, they make great gifts to give to that stitch-worthy person on your list.

I hope you are inspired to give sock knitting a try. Be sure to check out my other sock patterns here on Ravelry, too!

Like this post? Pin it! 




SockKnittingBasics

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I Went To YarnCon, And All I Got Was...

My favorite yarn/fiber event took place here in Chicago last weekend - YarnCon! I went with a friend to shop the marketplace for a few hours on Saturday afternoon and managed to make only 1 purchase: 4 skeins of gorgeous hand-dyed yarn from Black Cat Fibers, which I plan to use for another So Faded Sweater:

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R-L: Vamp, Alchemy, Dirt Nap and Quarry

I don't think I've ever knit a sweater twice, but I really like how my first one turned out, and it fits me perfectly (especially now that I put a collar on it - no more Flash Dance sweater!). I still have the pattern with the numbers for my size circled, so I doubt it'll be long til I cast on....never mind that I am also currently working on a Comfort Fade cardi in some OOAK hand-dyed colors of Lhasa Wilderness. 2018 is the Year of the Sweater after all, right?!

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As you can see, the YarnCon marketplace was full of temptation - it took quite a bit of willpower not to bring everything home with me. Thankfully, my recent spring cleaning exercise is still very fresh in my mind, so I was able to avoid a lot of random yarn buying in favor of something project-specific.

Note to self: I should make a list of possible projects I want to make and the yarn I would need for it BEFORE I go to a yarn or fiber festival. For YarnCon, I had no plan, and the only reason I thought to do another So Faded sweater is because I was picking out 3 coordinating skeins of sock yarn, figuring that it would be easy to find a pattern for them after the fact. Then I realized that if I added 1 more skein, that was basically a sweater quantity...and all of the colors were so pretty that I couldn't choose just one, hence another Fade sweater is now in the works!

Randomly: For anyone who is wondering/interested, I am working on some blog posts based on the reader survey from earlier this year (remember that?), and also some new designs for spring! I'm looking forward to sharing all of that with you soon;  most of my free time has been dedicated to my destashing efforts on Ravelry and Etsy, but I do want to shift focus back to the blog this spring. Thanks for hanging with me!


Monday, April 2, 2018

Who Owns Inspiration?

I know I said that I was only going to publish posts on Wednesdays this year, but I decided to swap days this week. Over the weekend, while most folks were celebrating April Fool's Day, Easter, Passover, or something sports ball related, a bit of yarn drama was unfolding on Instagram:


Whoa, Those are some heavy accusations (you can read the full post here). Since the above post, there have been a few instagram comments on this post from the Madelinetosh feed that make similar accusations by other users - who knows how big the brouhaha will get by the time this blog goes live?!

However, who said what an who did what first really isn't my concern here (that's for the named parties above to sort out); what I really want to ask the public at large is this: who owns inspiration, especially when it's sourced from pop culture?

Whether people are inspired by a true love for the movie/comic book/what have you or just want to cash in on a trend is not mine to say, but it seems like there's been no shortage of yarns inspired by the onslaught of comic book movies that have been coming out. For example, my LYS Firefly Fiber Arts is debuting an entire series of yarn colors and patterns based on these fandoms at C2E2 this coming weekend which looks pretty cool. Another indie dyer, Nerd Girl Yarns, has a "Heroes" collection of colorways. Specific to Black Panther, if you type "Black Panther Yarn" into Etsy right now there are approximately 8 other dyers offering colorways inspired by the movie.

I do, however, understand how it feels when you have an idea that is near and dear to your heart and you feel like someone has ripped it off. Several years ago, I had a whale colorwork chart on my business cards that I was handing out at TNNA (the yarn industry trade show). Not long after that show, a yarn company I'd talked to at the show (and had given my card to) came out with a pattern that featured colorwork whales on it. I felt totally ripped off and was pretty annoyed that they didn't at least mention me as their source of their inspiration. But then I was talking to a friend who very kindly pointed out that, while they were indeed similar ideas, it's not like they had taken an exact design of mine and replicated it. I'd put a colorwork chart on my card, did I really expect people not to use it?!? Furthermore, it's not like I owned the patent on whale motifs for all of knitting - let's be real.

Sometimes, when you are very close to something, it's hard to see the bigger picture....and that picture is sometimes that your great idea isn't as original as you thought (see: all of those "Fade" patterns that knitters can't get enough of, myself included).

Lastly, I don't think I can say it better than Seth Godin did:


Sure, it can be a bitter pill to swallow, but sometimes the alternative is even more so.