Friday, November 22, 2013

Florcitas Cowl

When I was in Uruguay, Joji gave me the most wonderful little present -- two skeins of yarn from the yarn store where she works in Buenos Aires. The store, Milana Hilados, produces a lot of their own yarns, many of which are handspun.

One of the yarns Joji gave me was a skein of Florcitas. This yarn is a thick and thin, super-bulky single, and it worked up quickly into a cowl that has a mix of dropped stitches and single knit rows. I moved each 'flower' down the strand as I worked to try and space them towards the bottom of the cowl.

I actually finished this piece back in May, but this is the first time I have worn it, so I had my mom take some pictures of me at the shop this afternoon! I love how Anthropologie-esque the final project ended up being, and it is oh-so-cozy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


At TNNA last summer, I got to experience the 'other side' -- the angle where instead of being the one bringing things to the show to sell, you're the one buying for an end customer. While I personally found this angle more stressful than working in a booth, it was also a lot of fun to be able to see what everyone was offering and choose what was going to come to our shop.

One of the yarns that really stuck out to us was Titus, which is produced in Leeds by Baa Ram Ewe, and which we currently carry in our yarn store, The Sheep's Stockings. This yarn really spoke to me as a spinner because it was a mixture of some more unusual wools than what we typically see. With a blend of 50% Wensleydale, 30% UK Alpaca and 20% BFL, this yarn has a lot of interesting qualities.

Wensleydale is well known for its sheen and drape. It has mixed love among spinners because the long staple fibers also mean that it can go from being smooth to being coarse very quickly in the wrong hands. It is never really a 'next to skin' soft fiber for me, personally -- I find it a bit itchy. I do love how it takes color, though, and have a little in my personal spinning stash that I someday will make into a pair of lined mittens or a scarf that will go over, not under, garments.

Alpaca is, of course, a fiber that most people have dealt with before. While it isn't specified on the label which type of alpaca (huacaya or suri) was used, I think it's pretty safe to assume that huacaya, being the more common of the two, is likely. This lends the yarn a softness that I normally don't attribute to Wensleydale, along with a slight halo that makes your final garments very light and fluffy. I love how it almost extends the glow of the wool's color.

Blue Faced Leicester, or BFL, is a very common fiber and a favorite among spinners. Soft, fluffy, bouncy and shiny, it takes color well and spins up easily. I am almost sure that this inclusion, combined with the alpaca, is what renders the Titus softness.

Since these three are combined, the final yarn is next-to-skin soft and also has all of the qualities that make people love Wensleydale and Alpaca. Drape, intense color, and sheen create a yarn that could be good for any range of items. I personally made one of the patterns recommended (the Whitlam Cowl), but I could also see this yarn being quite excellent for garments. I for one would love to see an expanded color range next year, perhaps including a lighter gray or mustard yellow. I could very easily imagine this yarn becoming a cozy cardigan that I could reach for most mornings!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Planning some projects

I have been really good about finishing projects lately. My handwarmers for Knit Purl are done -- I'm weaving in the ends and mailing them out tomorrow. I am almost done with two new design prototypes (one for my mom's shop, one for Yarnbox), and I am 3/4 of the way through a commissioned spinning project. In the meantime, there have been so many work projects, and I'm feeling very organized in that area, too. Winter has a way of rejuvenating those of us who knit and crochet. I think it has to do with the idea that there is cold weather ahead, and we need to be prepared for it. Perhaps it's also because we find ourselves indoors a bit more, sitting idly in front of fireplace or television, and we pick up projects that have been on hold.

Of course, I still have a few projects to finish, but I'm already looking ahead to my next ones. I ordered some yarn from the store (I am totally smitten with it, I'll be sure to post when it arrives) for some sweaters -- I've been trying to focus on making things that are very wardrobe-worthy and functional, rather than just a lovely color or a cool new pattern. I want things I can wear and be cozy in, too. I need a simple, plain cardigan, and some tunic pullovers.

I love the collections from Shibui because they are the perfect combination of simplicity and style. Currently on my radar are Trapezoid, a sort of asymmetrical cardigan ; and Veer, a lengthy, tunic-style pullover.

I've been thinking of color combinations for these sweaters lately. What do you think of these?

Trapezoid requires an aran weight body, knit in luxurious Merino Alpaca. This is one of my favorite bases because the yarn is so round, but it knits up so quickly, and is unbelievably soft. It seems to be everyone at the company's favorite, too. The sleeves are knit in a fingering weight -- I will probably knit in Cima double stranded, since the colors are similar to the Merino Alpaca. I know it's boring, but I'm thinking of knitting it in Ivory, so it will go with everything.

The other sweater is Veer, which is from the most recent Form collection. It's double stranded in Silk Cloud and Cima (yes, I know these will be weensy teensy stitches!) I'm thinking of working it up in Clay, because I am absolutely smitten with this color.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekend at the shop

Due to a pretty hectic in-week schedule, I work at my mom's shop, The Sheep's Stockings, mostly on the weekends. Sometimes I'll pop in for an evening class, but I am generally at the store Fridays and Saturdays. These are often our busiest days, but occasionally they're as quiet as the others... where are all the knitters lately? At least when there aren't any customers, you can get a little knitting done!

I thought it might be fun to share some photos of the shop with you today. It's really quite a cozy little place. Right when you come in the door you can see the very large selection of Malabrigo. We carry all sorts of bases, and Malabrigo even sends us some colorways that you can't get anywhere else.

Turn around and you'll face down the long part of the shop. I love the flow here -- we have a lot of yarn in the front and middle and a pretty good sized class space in the back (with a little tea-room behind the wooden divider screen!)

Across from this wall we have even more yarn, and a Ravelry station set up. See the sheep? They're our 'mascots' and all have names reminding you of wool breeds: Cora (short for Corriedale), Delaney, Romney and more.

Keep going back and you'll find our cozy little corner, and perhaps me knitting in one of the chairs near our faux-woodstove. If you're ever in town on a weekend, come join me!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Knitting for Knit Purl

I don't talk about my work a ton on here. I really should, because its mostly knitting related. But it really doesn't feel as interesting as it seems like it would -- I sit at a computer all day, answering emails, designing graphics, writing blog posts and occasionally working on a knitting project.

One of my job titles is 'Freelance Copy Writer' at Knit Purl. Knit Purl is this beautiful yarn store in Portland, Oregon. They really have a vision of what an artisanal craft knitting can be. And I agree with them -- a lot of us work very hard to create objects and garments that show our skills and craftsmanship. We should celebrate that more as knitters by choosing the best quality materials for our work, and appreciating the time we're putting into each and every stitch.

Right now, I'm working on a little sample knit that will be photographed for an upcoming Knit Purl e-card (this is their newsletter, you should totally subscribe if you want to see what I'm up to!) The sample is from a Ravelry pattern, the Featherweight Cashmere Fingerless Gloves by Taiga Hilliard. They're pretty simple, just knit in laceweight with some twisted ribbing details. The yarn here is what's really special. I get to knit these in Shibui Pebble, which is this really neat little yarn. It's tweedy, and the texture of the strand feels a bit like raw silk -- but knit up, the cashmere and merino content really take hold and create these smooth, soft, and delicate stitches.

At least it's working up fast -- since it's due next week back in Portland! Do you have any projects you're working on for someone else? Holiday knitting, perhaps?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Too hip to be square

I am slowly teaching myself to crochet. A large part of my progress was hindered by the fact that, being self-taught, I had thought that a single crochet was actually what is, in the US, referred to as a slip stitch in crochet. In the UK I think things are different, and so perhaps that was the origin of my confusion, but now that I have it sorted out (after a few extremely tight projects), I am chugging merrily along.

Crochet for me is something that I reach for when I just want to be mindlessly doing nothing in front of the television, or while waiting in a doctor's office, especially with my current project -- a granny square blanket. To try and bring a bit of finesse to this blanket, and perhaps increase it's useability, I am making it in a simple palette of gray and white.

My motif is based loosely on this lovely Swiss cross style afghan from the blog Muita Ihania. While hers is a very beautiful riot of color, mine is going to take a more graphic approach and mimic the type of quilt featured on A Merry Mishap's bedroom tour. I love the simple black and white and thought by stash diving I could kill two birds with a single hook, so to speak -- when it's finished I'll have the graphic throw I've been craving and a cozy new afghan.

Originally featured on A Merry Mishap - click through

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sock hop

I've been kind of obsessed with knitting socks lately. Maybe it's because the Iowa weather is starting to cool off drastically -- we've had highs in the 50's lately and lows in the 20's. Or perhaps it's just because winter is approaching, my big projects seem too big (I have a few sweaters that desperately need sleeves), and I just want something small to work on while watching television.

I recently added another book to my sock book collection, Rachel Coopey's CoopKnits Socks. I met Rachel at TNNA this past June, and was really impressed by the socks that she's been designing. I'm telling you, this girl is up there with Cookie A. in sock design prowess. Not to mention, she's British and adorable. And she has lavender hair!

The book is great and completes my current 'trifecta' of sock books, including Clara Parkes' Knitter's Book of Socks and the Interweave Knits Favorite Socks book. I have decided that three books about socks are more than enough socks to knit, and so I am concentrating on knitting mostly socks from these books, although a Ravelry pattern may slip in from time to time.

My current projects are Dawlish, from CoopKnits, and Hickory, from Knitter's BoS. I've been working on Hickory for awhile, and have one sock down and the other on the needles. The yarn I'm using is a custom dyed order from No Two Snowflakes, and it's a soft cream with touches of taupe and peach.

For Dawlish, I am using the neon-bright, Lemon-Lime, Candy Skein 'Yummy' fingering that was sent to me for Yarnbox. We ended up going with her newer sock base, 'Savory', but I still have this skein and another in a pink and blue Bubblegum colorway that will make for fantastic socks. This yarn is pretty twisty when you get going, but the multiple ply and slightly overspun twist should help the socks hold up over time. The cables on this sock are a breeze! I feel like I nearly have them memorized, and the charts are very easy to follow. I did add some arch shaping to the bottom of the socks to accommodate for my high arches. Otherwise I would have had a baggy foot section (and that is just not acceptable!)

I've also been stashing a bit of sock yarn -- next in line after one of these pairs are finished is this Spun Right Round sock yarn, in colorway Goldfish. I love how it even has koi-like speckles mixed in with the hot pink, orange, and cream! I plan on using this yarn to make Darjeeling, a Cat Bordhi sock from the Clara Parkes book that seems to work well with more variegated yarns. It also has a tab toe, which will be new construction for me. I'm very excited!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fiber fanatic

I mentioned in my last post that I am a lucky member of the Hello Yarn Fiber Club. If you are a spinner, you probably know about Adrian's amazing dyed fibers, and how hard they are to get ahold of. I have been a member of the fiber club for almost a year now, but before that I was on the waiting list to get into the club for almost three years.

It was actually a good thing that I had to wait, since when I signed up for the waiting list, I didn't even know how to spin! I taught myself on a drop spindle, then switched to an Ashford Traditional, then purchased a used Kromski Mazurka, on which I currently spin. During that time, I spent a lot of time learning from the amazing Hello Yarn group on Ravelry. This group of people is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about spinning. They can also be amazingly generous, and I was even able to try some Hello Yarn fibers while waiting for my club invitation, by closely monitoring the destash thread.

I was doing some stash inventory recently and took photos of all of my current, unspun, Hello Yarn fibers, and thought I could share here.

1. HY Insect Wings, 2. HY Head Trip, 3. HY Trodden,
 4. HY Spirograph 5. HY Scorch, 6. HY Denizen,
 7. HY Verdant, 8. HY Backwards, 9. HY Ships, Whales & Icebergs,
 10. HY Night Gathers, 11. HY Dormant, 12. HY Dark & Stormy

As you can see, Adrian's work is special because each and every colorway is like a painting. I suppose that's a big reason I love it so much.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tips for smaller stashing

I have to admit that I am not much of a collector. As a child and teenager I did have a brief stint where I collected frog things -- frog necklaces, frog paperweights, frog plushes. But I grew out of it when I realized that when you collect something just for the sake of collecting it, you end up with a lot of junk. It also has a particularly odd side effect. When people find out that you're collecting a particular thing, you just seem to end up with a lot of it, whether or not it's to your personal taste.

As an adult, I prefer clean, neat spaces with minimal tchotchkes. Too many knick-knacks and my mind feels just as cluttered as the shelves I'm looking at. And don't even get me started on the dusting. I quickly put away my collection of frogs when I realized how long it took to dust each and every piece on cleaning day. (Although I can't help but wonder what the Goodwill in my town looked like, all covered in frog paraphernalia after I donated!)

It seems contradictory to be a knitter and a non-collector. As knitters, we often accumulate a stash of yarn that sits on shelves, fills up baskets and totes, and in some cases, even rooms. But do we need to? I personally have a few rules about how (and when) I buy yarn, and it has helped me keep a relatively small stash. This has especially come in handy when moving, especially during the packing and unpacking phases. While I know that everyone has their particular reasons for buying yarn and fiber, I thought I might share a few of my own.

Always have a project in mind. 

I very rarely buy yarn without a project in mind. Whether it's very specific, with a pattern I have been wanting to make awhile, or slightly vague like 'socks', I always know what I want to make with the yarn.

Don't be afraid of a single skein. 

One of the interesting things about working for Yarnbox is that I get to hear a lot of what other knitters like, or don't like, about each shipment. One of my personal favorite puzzlements is one of the most common. If we send out a collection of skeins and they are different colors, inevitably I will get an email in my inbox asking what that person is 'supposed' to do with a single skein of yarn. It always baffles me. Sometimes, a single skein is the best way to satisfy your yarn craving with minimal cost. You can make so many things -- a pair of socks, a hat, mittens, a cowl, handwarmers! Never, ever be afraid of a single skein. This is also a great way to 'taste' yarns that are from new companies and dyers without making a huge space or monetary commitment.

Sweater lots cost more than money. 

I love knitting sweaters. I would, in fact, consider myself a 'garment knitter', even though I really haven't knit that many garments yet. But if there's one thing I am careful about doing, it's buying sweater lots. Sweater lots cost you threefold -- money, time, and space. When buying for a sweater, I carefully try and consider all of the options. Do I think I have more than two existing outfits that will match the finished garment? Does the color integrate into my wardrobe? Does the finished garment match my personal style? I have to admit that I have a few garments that I loved making and loved the yarn for, but I wear less than I should because they don't really fit the rest of my clothes. This is yet another reason that you should have a project in mind!

Free yarn is never a good idea.

Okay, look -- I'm not talking about the skein you've had on your Etsy wishlist that someone gets you for your birthday. I'm talking about the giant bag of yarn that your best friend brings to your house a month after her aunt who knits dies. You know this bag. Every knitter knows this bag. It is always a giant trash bag, or a big rubbermaid tote, full of who-knows-what. Feel free to go through it. Feel free to pull out a few choice skeins (seriously, just a few). But never -- and I repeat, never -- volunteer to take all of it off her hands. Go through it while she's there. Put what you don't want back in the bin, and send it home with her to be donated. I never volunteer to donate it myself because I know it won't happen. I'll tell myself that I can make a blanket with all that acrylic, or that I'll teach local school children how to knit, or that it will be great to give to someone else who knits. But it won't happen. It will sit in my basement/attic/bedroom/car until the end of time, and eventually I will be moving, and frustrated, and I will have to deal with it in a hectic moment.

Limit your club memberships. 

If you like surprises in the mail (and who doesn't), a fiber or yarn club sometimes seems like heaven on earth. You sign up, you get something great in the mail that someone else picks out for you, like a present, and you add it to your stash. But clubs are dangerous! This is why I have a rule -- I am only a member of one type of club at a time. For me, my 'yarn club' is Yarnbox. Obviously this is a bit of a cop out, since I get the boxes for free and I am part of selling them, but that's my restriction on yarn clubs. I am also a member of the Hello Yarn Fiber Club, and that is my 'fiber club'. If you are a member of any club, you know that the yarn adds up fast. More than one club, and you're getting so much in the mail that it's hard to appreciate each surprise for what it is.

Fiber has it's own rules.

For me at least, buying fiber is a little different than buying yarn. First, it isn't already useable in the knitting sense, and it is eternally malleable. So having a project in mind, though handy, is sometimes a little pointless (unless you buy a sweater lot of fiber, in which case you are obviously making a sweater, so please evaluate the third bullet point.) Fiber is one of the few things that I buy because it makes me feel good. If the color, texture, dyer, and fiber all match up into a merry little object of joy, and I have the extra cash in my pocket, I'll purchase. That's why I also try to stick with just a few specific dyers that I love and trust when buying fiber. I know the prep will be right, I know the colors will be true to the pictures, and I know that it will be a pleasant experience during the spinning phase. To keep my spinning stash small, I limit myself space-wise. If the rubbermaid tub is full, no more fiber gets purchased. I am only a member of one club (see bullet point five), and this keeps things small too.

Don't be afraid to re-gift.

Okay, so giving yarn away that you bought as a gift for yourself isn't exactly the same as re-gifting yarn that someone else got you, but it's a great idea. If you have a friend who is a knitter or crocheter, and you're unsure of what to get them for a holiday or birthday gift, go stash diving! If you love it, chances are they will too. Just make sure that whatever you give has been stored well and is still in pristine condition when you wrap it up and hand it over.

Nothing is too precious.

Yarn is, above all, meant to be used. Even if you searched high and low for that Wollmeise, or you scored a bump of sought-after Hello Yarn in a destash, don't put it on a pedestal. Think of the perfect project for that fiber, and get to it! You'll be happier wearing it than petting it, I promise.

Inventory often. 

Go through your stash from time to time (I like to do this every other year) and take photos. Update your Ravelry entries. Make a pile of yarns that you think would make great gift items and assign them patterns. Make another pile of yarns that you think you won't use or that aren't your 'style' anymore, and gift them or make a quick buck destashing. It's like spring cleaning, and it will help keep the yarn you do love in perfect condition, help you root out any potential issues (like the dreaded 'M' word), and re-invigorate your creativity.

Happy stashing! If you have any other tips that you like, please feel free to share them in the comments!