Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Was the Big Deal?

My Color Affection is done and blocked, and now I have a confession to make: I'm not sure if I like it.

I bought the pattern years ago when it was really popular and even bought a kit to make it, but it took me long enough to get around to actually knitting it that I think it lost some of its luster for me. Don't get me wrong, it was a fun knit and it's a great big cozy thing for these frigid days of deep winter, but I can't say that this is going to be a shawl I will be wearing all the time. In truth, it makes me a bit dizzy to look at the stripes.

I guess the best I can say is that I've made it and it will get used. I can appreciate the cleverness of the design, but I'm fairly certain I'll never be making another one. I used stash yarn (well, there are some leftovers), so at least I kept with my theme for the year.

It's dark and dreary and I'm already in my jammies, so please forgive my use of Matilda to model (please also forgive the use of flash thanks to said dark):

Pattern: Color Affection by Veera Valimaki
Yarn: Miss Babs Yummy (100% superwash merino) in Peony, Impatiens, and Lilacs (< 1 skein each)
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm) ChiaoGoo Red Lace circs
Started/Completed: December 30, 2014/January 27, 2015

In other news, I have started my first Curl! If you haven't seen Hunter Hammersen's new book, Curls, then you need to go look at it now. These pieces are unusual and versatile and can be knit in any weight of yarn in any amount. I'm going to try to knit all of mine in handspun, and I started the first curl, Caesious, in some fractally spun Fat Cat Knits Polwarth from last year. I'm really enjoying how the colors are slowly transitioning (and trust me, they're better in real light).

Based on how big this piece already is (and how slowly the yarn seems to be getting used up), I have a feeling I'm going to have a pretty sizable curl when I'm done. The pattern is really fun and fast, though obviously as the repeats get larger, the rows are taking longer. I would like to finish this one up before the KAL for the next curl starts in Hunter's group (that will be mid-February), so expect to see more of this WIP in the near future.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's Really Happening

Tonight's the night: I am going to finish my Color Affection. I feel like it's been on the needles for a really long time, but in actuality, it's been less than a month. Still, it will feel great to finally bind off. I'm in the middle of a wrong side row at the moment, and the rest of that row plus the next right side row should get me to the two inches of border I'm supposed to have before binding off.

I'm pretty sure that once this shawl is fully finished and blocked, it's going to be put right into service. The Mister tends to run warm, which means that we keep the thermostat in the house a bit lower than I'd like, so as a result I'm always covering up with blankets or extra layers. This shawl will be great to throw around my shoulders on a chilly evening.

My striped socks are moving along, slowly but surely. I'm just about to the toe on the first one.

They're taking longer than I'm accustomed to for plain stockinette socks, but that's perfectly understandable given that I'm working on smaller needles with a higher stitch count than usual. I'm hoping that the smaller gauge pays off in the end. I much prefer wearing the merino and merino blend socks for wearing, but they just aren't as durable as the socks that were knit with coarser wools blended with nylon. The socks I wore today, for instance, are of the latter type and look like new -- but I just don't like them all that much!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Brown and More Brown

Sometimes spinning projects seem to take forever. Sometimes they just whoosh by and they're done before you know it. My current project is of the latter type. I started spinning this Manx Loaghtan about a week and a half ago, though I didn't make all that much progress on it at first. Then, this weekend, I managed to finish spinning the first bobbin, spin all of the second bobbin, and get started on the third (which I'll work on some more as soon as I post this). It's hard to believe that this is 8 oz. of fiber, but I guess this is what happens when you spin thicker singles.

I thought I'd be sick of brown by now, but I really love this moorit color. It reminds me a little of what my tea looks like with just the right amount of milk in it.

At the rate I'm going, I should be plying by midweek. I will need to get some color on my wheel next, though, and I already know what that will be -- but you will need to wait until next Sunday to see it (and with any luck, it'll actually be started by then).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where I Left Off

It's been a weird week. Remember how Rainbow was sick with that mystery virus last weekend? Well, the Mister and I caught either that or some other bug and ended up spending last Friday at home together in bed (which sounds more exciting than it was). Really that meant I spent most of the day drinking tea, blowing my nose, and binge-watching Luther on Netflix while knitting. Actually, that was what I did for most of the weekend, as whatever it is I had took its time getting out of my system.

I can't show you what I spent the weekend knitting (at least not now), but suffice it to say that it was not my Color Affection as I had planned. I finally got back to it last night, and I now have just three short-row sets left to do before I can start the border. It's gotten to the point that each set takes 20-25 minutes, so very little gets done each night. I'm hoping that this evening I'll be able to finish this section at the very least and release myself from two of the three skeins of yarn that are currently attached to this WIP.

Meanwhile, my striped sock is moving along, slowly but surely. I completed the gusset during my lunch break today, so now is at least the easy part where I just knit without having to think or count until I'm ready to start the toe.

As close as these two projects are to being done, I'm getting twitchy and feel ready to start another project. I really think I need to get a sweater on the needles once the shawl is done, so I'm pondering my options. Part of me thinks I should finally cast on for my Cabletta Cardigan, a pattern I bought in February 2013 and for which I bought three skeins of Miss Babs Yowza at MDSW that year. It will be a lot of knitting, which means it's unlikely I'd finish it in time to actually wear it this winter, but it would clear a lot of yarn out of my stash. The other sweater I keep thinking about is the State Fair Cardigan. I have a sweater quantity of a Cascade wool/alpaca worsted weight (I can't remember the name) that I won as a door prize a couple of years ago that would probably be perfect. Then there's Airflow, for which I bought three skeins of Dream in Color Jilly last summer. You see my dilemma? I might just have to pick one at random at this point. Of course, it's somewhat of a moot point until I actually finish my shawl!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pattern Release: Ravessa Scarf

I hate keeping secrets, but it's so much fun to tell them. So I'm super excited that I can share a secret with you today! Several months ago, I received a commission to create a pattern for Yarnbox, a yarn subscription service. Each shipment includes a knit pattern and a crochet pattern to go along with the yarn, and for January, I'm the knit pattern designer!

The yarn I received for my pattern (which is also the yarn the subscribers will receive) is Feederbrook Farm Entropy DK, a really fun two-ply BFL yarn that's meant to look like a handspun yarn. The colors of the plies change gradually, resulting in knit fabric with colors that slowly shift and change. I used my two skeins to design the Ravessa Scarf, my new pattern out today.

I'm not normally one to knit scarves -- frankly, I get bored about a third of the way through them. However, once I started swatching and came up with this stitch pattern, I was addicted. There's a little bit of everything in this pattern: stockinette, garter, increases, decreases, lace, and cables. There's enough going on that you don't get bored, but it's intuitive enough that, after a repeat or two, you understand how the pattern works and know what's coming next.

This pattern will work with any kind of DK or light worsted yarn -- solid, semisolid, or even a gradient. If you're a spinner, this is a great pattern for your handspun, especially if you've spun a fractal yarn. The length of the scarf is completely customizable, too, so you can use up all the yarn you have.

There are more secrets for me to keep, but I'm excited that this one is out of the bag and I hope you enjoy the pattern!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Speed Spinning

While I was home with a sick Rainbow earlier in the week, I found that I was too anxious about her to knit, but I could manage to spin. As a result, there's been a lot going on and coming off the wheels this week.

I mentioned last week that I'd started spinning my Fat Cat Knits Shetland the previous Friday. I finished spinning up the first bobbin on Sunday, spun up the second on Monday, and plied the whole skein on Tuesday. It was a quick and dirty spin, but I'm still pretty happy with the resulting skein.

I spun each colorway braid separately and then plied them together. Both had wonderful depth of color thanks to the fiber (a "swirl" blend of ecru and black Shetland), and there was enough variety in the dyed colors that the yarn barberpoles pretty much throughout. After washing, the yarn is roughly sportweight and 282.5 yards for my 5 oz. I have no idea what to do with it -- perhaps a hat or some mittens. For now, it's going to marinate in the stash.

Almost as soon as this skein was off the miniSpinner, I pulled out something new. You may remember that a couple of months ago, I received a package from Louet (courtesy of the nice folks over at Stitchcraft Marketing) with some fiber to spin and review. With the frigid weather we've had recently, I've decided I need some new wool mittens, so I thought it would be a perfect use for the 8 oz. of Manx Loaghtan top in the package. I'm spinning it into a three-ply worsted/Aran weight, and I think it'll be great to use for something cabled.

I've spun this breed once before but didn't know much about it, so I pulled out my handy copy of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook to do a little research. This breed is native to the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom and is considered a conservation breed. The sheep have fleeces in a variety of colors (white, gray, and black, for instance), but, as the authors note, "Today brown is by far the dominant color within the breed, an artifact of its near extinction and the breeding preferences of the individuals who brought it back from the brink. The lambs are born black and turn brown within weeks." The fiber can vary in its softness, and its staple length is usually 2.5-5 inches. The authors indicate that it can make a very durable yarn when spun worsted (as I am) and a very bouncy, relatively soft yarn when spun woolen. It's a fiber that's great for knit sweaters and socks or woven fabrics.

The fiber I have is the lovely moorit brown that's the most typical color, and I'm working from combed top. It is beautifully prepped, which means that it drafts effortlessly as I spin. I've not run into any significant VM or neps, which means there's very little stopping while I spin to pull those things out. I'll save a full review for when I'm done with the skein, but I will say that I'm really enjoying it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

More of the Same

I'm in one of those places in my knitting life right now where it feels like I'm stuck in the middle of my projects and can't seem to move very far forward. I'm still working on the same two things: my Color Affection at home and my striped sock at work.

Despite being totally worn out from my cold last night, I did manage to put in a bit of time on the shawl. I have less than two repeats of the short-row section left to do, but the rows are so long now that it takes me a good 15-20 minutes to complete one set of short rows. I know that once I get to the border, the rows are going to take me even longer, but at least by then I'll be working with only one color, so logistically it'll be simpler.

So close to the end, and yet such long rows!
The sock now has a heel and the start of a gusset. It's not exciting knitting, to be honest, but it's good mindless stuff when my brain can't handle anything else.

I am eager to make enough headway on these projects that I feel I can reasonable cast on something new: one of Hunter Hammersen's Curls. If you haven't seen this book yet, you need to. All the patterns in this book have the same rough shape and construction, but they're knit in such a way that you can knit with any weight of yarn and with just about any amount (basically knitting until you run out). Hunter has a knitalong going in her Ravelry group, working through the patterns in order (each pattern KAL goes on for two months, with a new one starting the 15th of each month). I'm going to try to knit all of mine in handspun, mainly as an excuse to use some of it up, but I also think it will work well to maximize my use of sometimes odd yardages -- plus there's no worry about the yarn not falling neatly into traditional weight categories.

We have a three-day weekend coming up, and with this cold (which the Mister seems to have as well), I think it's only right that I spend it resting and knitting. I'm going to try to power through the rest of my Color Affection and perhaps dig through the handspun stash to get skeins lined up for Curls.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

One Big Tangle

It's been an interesting several days. Rainbow came down with a fast-moving virus on Saturday, so I've been sitting around home with her for the past three days. Fortunately, she's back to normal, but I was so worried about her that I didn't eat or sleep much for a while. I think we both needed the past two days at home! In the midst of all the sickness anxiety, I didn't knit much, though I'm planning on rectifying that situation as soon as possible. (I did do a whole lot of spinning, but I'll save that for Sunday.)

The main project, which I'm determined to focus on this week, is my Color Affection. I'm now a little more than halfway through the three-color short row section, which would move along more quickly if I didn't have to untangle my yarn every two rows.

I know I will love it when it's done, but goodness, what a headache!

Meanwhile, I've been working on my sock here and there and am just about ready to start the heel flap:

The colors are not at all accurate in this photo -- it's more of a chocolate brown and greener turquoise. Though I'm fairly certain my yarn will hold out through the toe, I still feel a bit like I'm playing yarn chicken. I keep having to remind myself that this is only a 200-yard skein and that there's another one for the second sock!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Second Half

I have spun almost every day since we got back from vacation; I almost felt like I had to make up for lost time with my wheels. First on the list was the other half of the fiber from my November Fat Cat Knits Mixed Blessings shipment (you may remember that the first half was my last completed skein of 2014). This braid was called Rubato, and it was a mix of blues, yellows, and greens. I've only just skeined it up and it's soaking right now, but here's how it looked all plied on the bobbin:

My bobbins were very evenly done (there was just a bit of leftover singles on one and maybe a foot on another when the first bobbin ran out) and I had a few more wraps on my niddy noddy than I did for the sister skein, so I should have a bit more than 200 yards once it's washed and dried.

I actually finished the third bobbin of singles for this skein on Friday night way before I was ready to stop spinning, so I started spinning up December's shipment on the miniSpinner. If you recall, that shipment was two colors of natural swirl (black and ecru) Shetland:

I grabbed the braid that's more brown/orange/yellow (I think it's Cosmos) and got a good way through it before I stopped spinning for the night.

I decided to take the easy way out of this shipment and spin up each braid separately, then ply them together. I think because of the natural color of the fiber, the colors are going to be much more muted when spun, so I suspect the finished yarn will look fairly brown overall.

Although this particular fiber is very well prepped, I've now determined that I don't really love spinning Shetland. It just doesn't draft as smoothly for me as merino or polwarth, and it doesn't have the same toothiness as something like Jacob. I know there are people who just love Shetland, but I could take it or leave it. Of course, I never mind spinning Ginny's fibers, so I won't complain about this project. Still, it's one spin that I'm more or less hurrying through rather than taking the time to really enjoy the fiber.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Short Rows

After not having touched it since about New Year's Day, I picked up my Color Affection at knit night last night, just in time to start the short rows. Frankly, I think it's a bit of a mistake to refer to this section with anything using the word "short" -- in two hours, I only made it through about two and a half repeats (out of eight total in the section), and these are the shortest of the short rows. This section has three colors, so it's a bit of knitting gymnastics  to keep the colors in the correct order without getting all the strands tangled. By the end of the evening, I had managed to develop a system, but of course that probably got completely messed up as soon as I threw my knitting into my bag. I'll have to deal with more tangles tonight, I'm sure.

I will say that I do like how the three colors are looking together, and I'm excited to have a giant shawl to wrap around my neck a couple of times. With the weather being as cold as it's been the last couple of days, I've seriously contemplated taking a blanket to work with me so I can wrap up for my walk home.

I wore my new socks yesterday, and they did a good job of keeping my feet nice and toasty. I also started the new pair, and they've become my lunchtime knitting (which means that it will probably take me at least a month to get them done, as I'm only managing about an inch per lunch hour).

Looking ahead to the weekend, I'm thinking of casting on a new hat for me. I've been wearing the Koolhaas I knit more than five years ago, and it's starting to show its age. It desperately needs a good washing (if you look on the inside of the brim, you can see makeup all over it). I don't want to risk washing it one night and having it still be damp the next morning, so I think I'll wait to wash until I have a backup. I want something soft and slouchy that I can pull way down over my ears. One of the pattern samples I just made would be perfect, but I like to keep my samples nice and clean, so I may have to knit another one. I'm fairly certain I have a ball of Malabrigo Worsted somewhere in my stash, so there may be some digging tonight.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The First of 2015

After two weeks of sun and warmth, it was a bit of a shock to get back to winter. We had freezing rain Saturday morning and woke up today to more than 2 inches of snow. This is the time of year when my feet are almost always cold, so I'm happy to have a new pair of socks to keep them warm!

These are pretty much a plain vanilla sock. I cast on 70 stitches and did a 3x2 rib for the cuff; the rest is stockinette. I did an eye of partridge heel flap and carried the slip-stitch pattern through the heel turn for some added durability. For the first sock, I cut and reattached the yarn after the heel turn to get the stripes to be neat and tidy, but for the second sock I just went with the colors as they came because I was worried about running short of yarn (and that's also the reason I decided to make the socks fraternal rather than identical in the stripe pattern).

The yarn is Fibernymph Dye Works Bounce, an 80% merino/20% nylon fingering weight, in the colorway Electric Avenue; I bought this skein at Indie Knit & Spin back in November. Because the yarn is on the thin side and a two ply, I decided to go down to US 0/2.0 mm needles for a firmer fabric. Given the way I've been wearing through some of my sock soles, I thought it would be worth the extra effort. I was able to get a gauge of 9 stitches per inch, so the fabric is denser than my usual socks, but that did mean that these took more time than a plain vanilla pair usually takes me (I started them on December 12).

I'm quite happy with these, and it's a good thing, too, because I also bought a set of Lisa's Inversibles at the show. The Inversible sets come with two half-size skeins of sock yarn with two-color stripes. In one skein, color A has wide stripes and color B has thin stripes. In the other skein, color A has thin stripes and color B has thick stripes. I'm planning to knit plain vanilla socks again with my set, because why mess with the pretty striping?

I've been thinking some more about my goals and such for the year, and I think I've come up with my theme: Start with Stash. For this year, unless there is something very specific I need that I don't already have, I'm going to start planning for every project by looking for yarn in my stash first. I'm getting an itch to start a new sweater, and I know that I have at least three sweater lots in my stash already, so there will be no sweater yarn shopping. I especially want to make a concerted effort to use my handspun. There's a lot of sock yarn in there, not to mention a number of skeins that would be great for the Curls knitalong going on at my LYS currently. I am especially eager to work on knitting down the handspun stash (and spinning up a good amount of the fiber stash) because I got an e-mail this morning tell me that after more than two and a half years of waiting, I finally got a spot in the Southern Cross Fibre club. It's a monthly club, so with the Fat Cat Knits club, I may have up to 8 oz. of fiber coming to me in any given month. I'd really like to stay on top of it and not just add more insulation to the house. Maryland Sheep and Wool is coming up in less than four months, and while I'm planning on mainly enjoying the weekend and not buying so much this year, it will be interesting to see how much of a dent I can make in my stash by then.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Together Again

Though knitting is my first love, I must admit that spinning has a special place in my crafting life. There's something very zen about sitting at a wheel, treadling at a regular speed, and drafting out fiber. I find it to be very relaxing and a good way to relieve stress.

I did not take any spinning with me on vacation (in part because I did not want to risk breaking a spindle, and taking a wheel was certainly impractical), and I must say that for all the knitting I got done, I still missed it. So last night I sat down at my Lendrum for about 45 minutes and started the second half of my November Fat Cat Knits club shipment (this colorway is called Rubato, and this is a delightful Polwarth/tussah silk/sparkle blend).

I had to use the flash to get any sense of the colors because it's been gloomy and raining all weekend, but the flash also shows the shimmer in the fiber. I think I may spend a little bit of time with the wheel again tonight, in fact -- we need to get to know each again!

Friday, January 02, 2015

All Good Things Must Come to an End

After two warm, relaxing, blissful weeks, we are packing up and headed home. As much as I would have loved to stay another couple of days, it will take me those two days to get the house and my head back in order to get back to the normal schedule on Monday.

As far as knitting goes, it was a very productive two weeks. Here's what it looks like all packed up and ready to go in the suitcase:

I finished two hats and two cowls and made a good start on my Color Affection. The only yarn that I didn't use was the spare sock yarn, but I knew that it was probably not going to be touched -- still, it's never a bad idea to have some emergency sock yarn on hand.

My Electric Avenue socks are now about 75% complete; I turned the heel on the second sock last night and started the gusset this morning.

These will be coming in my carry-on, so I'll work on them while we wait for our flight and perhaps on the plane. I hope to have a finished pair in the next week to share with you!