Vickie Cowl

img_4884Please allow me to introduce the first in the series Things I Made While You Were Mad at Me. I call it the Vickie Cowl. I had originally conceived the idea to make a cowl for my dear friend last year. I had planned on giving it to him as a Christmas gift using a gorgeous ombre yarn he had picked out. I ended up using a birthday gift yarn a knitter friend had given me years ago because my swatch made me switch. Though I was reluctant to use a different yarn, the cowl turned out better than I had envisioned.

Originally, I started with a yarn he picked: Lima Colour by Rowan in the color Mongolia which is shades of green that gradually change from grass green to a deep jungle palm green. It’s beautiful. Lima Colour is 84% baby alpaca and 16% Merino wool/nylon blend in a chainette construction. He had picked it out as the kind of green he liked the one time he accompanied me to a yarn shop that was within walking distance of his apartment at the time. When he excused himself outside to escape personal boredom, I bought a couple of skeins to make him a gift.

I wasn’t ready to start working on this former Christmas gift until recently, though. I was getting ready to start the project in early December when things between us took a bad turn, which is the last time I heard from him. I’ve been told to leave it alone, which gives me difficulty. I can’t sit on my hands. I knit with them. I turn fidgeting into productivity. I knit through everything, including my problems. So, what happens when one of my projects becomes part of the problem? I needed to figure out my deal with the pattern, and the yarn so I could carry on. I found my answer in the form of this series.

I decided I wanted to make the cowl, regardless, because it was a good pattern and the ombré yarn would look lovely in cowl form. I was so very excited to work with the yarn that I kind of forgot what fiber I was using. I should have known better. Alpaca is a notoriously slippery fiber and would never make the stitches pop like they did in the magazine sample. I would have stood a chance if the alpaca was an accent fiber to add softness, not the main feature. It needed some coarser fiber to make the stitches stand out. Nothing popped and the pattern got lost in the fuzzy lusciousness of the baby alpaca. I couldn’t let the yarn disgrace itself in this tangled mass of stitches it had become. It deserved better. I kept the pattern, shelved the yarn, and leaped headlong into my worsted yarn bucket for a solution. I resurfaced with a small gamble.

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I pulled out two skeins of Vickie Howell’s yarn Sheepish, a single-ply 70/30 acrylic/wool blend distributed by Caron (now distributed by Bernat), in the color Gunmetal-Ish. It was a birthday gift a friend had given me years ago. I loved the color and, of course, Ms. Howell, but I hadn’t found the right pattern to match the yarn. I finally found it in the Fiddlesticks Cowl. It’s a simple cowl that is knit in-the-round, beginning and ending with an I-chord border, and uses traveling stitches to create a crosshatched design across the fabric. The pattern called for a worsted weight yarn to be knit on size US 5 needles which would result in a relatively stiff fabric. The Sheep-Ish was a gamble because some single-ply yarns like to flatten out. The swatch, however, showed me this yarn was up for the task. The yarn did a very good job keeping its shape, and had good stitch definition. Though it did still flatten out a bit, the traveling stitches were enhanced much better than the original alpaca swatch. When knit up, Sheep-Ish has a pearlescent sheen that is enhanced when caught in the light. That sheen makes the stitches visually pop. I’m rather taken with the effect.

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When I started the project, I was determined to make this specific cowl with that specific yarn (Lima Colour). But, the more I worked on the swatch, the clearer it became that it just wasn’t a good match. I had to give up the idea of what I wanted, face the reality of what was in front of me, and figure out what was best for the pattern, and the yarn. The life lesson is not lost on me.

During this process, I discovered I have a real attachment to the Lima Colour, and I may drive myself a little crazy matching it to a pattern, but that’s a problem for Future Me. I am happy enough to have finally put my birthday gift to good use, and to see the pattern realized so well. I named it the Vickie Cowl as an homage to the yarn (and lady) who came to the cowl’s rescue. It looks nothing like I had imagined but that’s a good thing. I imagined an impossibility. It could never exist. What I have in front of me is better than what I imagined. In reality, it’s probably the most versatile accessory I’ve ever knit. It could go with anything! And, it made good use of my birthday yarn, which is most important. I always try to show my greatest respect to my yarn through pattern matching, and I’ve got myself a winner here.

Katniss Vest

I got a request for a vest like the one Katniss Everdeen wore in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire of the Hunger Games series. I was totally in to the whole idea but I was picky about my pattern. I wanted it to look as much like the movie as possible but I knew it would be difficult since it looked like it was woven rather than knit.

A very exhaustive Ravelry search later, I had a decision to make. I was torn between two patterns: one used applied fishtail braids to achieve the look while the other used some wrapped tubing to achieve a more accurate look around the collar. I’m going to be totally honest and say that a trip to the hardware store is what killed the other pattern for me. I shelled out a whopping $10 for the PANEM Katniss Cowl Wrap by Dahlia in Bloom, which is easily the most expensive single pattern I’ve ever purchased, and consulted on yarn.

I trotted down to the local craft supply store and picked up some Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick Tweed in the set color theme of dark gray or black. I ended up with some charcoal tweed that looks more like a heather black when knit up. I started with three skeins, which quickly expanded into 5 skeins when I read about customization and embellishment.

Once I finally cast on, it was a very quick knit. The vest is knit in two pieces: the cowl and the body. Both are knit flat, seamed or grafted to make it circular, and sewn together to create the vest. Both pieces start small but increases on one side create a drape for the shoulder and under-arm portion. Knit and purled channels are formed through the body and cowl to create a guide for future braid placement. Fishtail braids are created separately and sewn in the purl channels for embellishment. The middle is worked straight, then decreases on the same side as before to create the same effect on the back as the front until the remaining stitches equal the original cast-on. I needed to customize the size to accommodate the body circumference of my recipient, which was not listed in the included sizes for the pattern. Customizing was really easy since it only required adding or subtracting inches to work during the part that loops under the arm. I also added an inch or two to the cowl circumference. There were no instructions to do so but I did it anyhow because it seemed like it needed it.

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The pattern required one fishtail braid, each, to be applied to the purl channels at the top and bottom of the cowl, and the bottom of the body. After that, any extra braid placement is up to personal preference. I took a look at the vest after I got the required braids sewn on and it was basic. Like, it was so basic it came with a pair of leggings and an antioxidant drink calling itself Kate. Truth be told, I didn’t want to add more braids because I hated the process, but the thought of letting Katniss become Kate hit me right in the Strong Female Role Model and I had to fix it. I was supposed to make the braids independently and attach them to the vest, sewing in two knotted ends. Uh-uh. Not happening. I did that for the first three and it was nonsense. I decided to double the length of yarn needed for each braid and fold it in half, with the halfway point anchoring the soon-to-be braid to the purl channel through two or so loops of knit fabric. That left only one end knot to sew in per braid, which is a much nicer way of doing the braids, in my opinion. The braids provided more structure for the cowl to stand up and gave more depth to the body. It looked way more badass than its previous self. Kate took a walk, and Katniss was back.

The Katniss Vest was a fun knit, and I’d gladly do it again for myself or as another gift. The pattern, itself, was easy to follow, and there were a lot of helpful tips and explanations but I still think it was a bit over-priced. I’d consider one of the other patterns that uses a herringbone stitch to make it look woven, though the prudent part of my brain says that I should apply the herringbone to this pattern and see what happens. The braids are yarn-gobbling monsters but they really make the garment, so be sure to buy PLENTY of yarn to allow for experimentation. I had to buy an emergency sixth skein to make and sew on the last braid. All in all, I think it was a very good adaptation of an on-screen garment, and I know it will make its recipient very happy.

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I Am My Own Monster

I started a tank, abandoning all other projects in progress. It was ill-advised and has caused a slight bit more trouble than it might be worth. The tank is a two-tone stripe-y kind of deal but the patterning is reversed from front to back. Cute, right? Totes. However, I wanted to make it in the Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton yarn I already have. Unfortunately, the quantities given told me I’d need more yardage of any given color I have.

I decided to add a third color stripe to make up the difference in yardage. My chosen colors were Teal, Cool Mint, and White. I really wanted to use the Teal and Mint but I only had one Teal whereas I had two of the others. Teal became the accent color that would get me through the end. I worked up the first panel and got half way through the second panel before I decided to experiment. I frogged the active panel and restarted using only the Teal and Cool Mint. If my calculations were right, I’d only need four skeins worth of yardage instead of five. I’d be able to save the White for another project and get away with using the Teal and Cool Mint to get this tank done. I’d have to buy one more skein of Teal to finish the tank but, I’d have to buy one more skein of yarn for the pattern reserved for the White, regardless, so I didn’t feel too bad about adding to my stash. Lots of frogging and math later, I discovered I was right. I scoured my favorite websites (and even gave it a week to see if quantities improved) until I found the right combination of available yarn that would require the least amount of additions to my stash.

What started as a quick side project turned into a perfectionist nightmare. However, during the time I was knitting and frogging, I put the finishing touches on the Katniss Vest. I still have a second sock to finish, a cowl to work, and some brain matter to sew on a hat, not to mention the new tank to finish and at least three other projects in my mind. This tank has been a little reminder that instant gratification isn’t always the way to go. It would have been better if I finished all my WIP’s first.

Hold on, Let Me Cast-on One More Thing

I’ve been hit by Knitting ADD.

A month ago I started a Katniss vest for a friend. I stalled work a little because I didn’t want to sew on the braided decoration. So, I started my first pair of socks for my Husband then started working on the Brain Hat for the Science March. After finishing the cap for the brain hat and one sock, I wanted to reward myself with an easy little cowl. Well, once I started knitting it, I realized the stitch definition of the pattern wasn’t showing up well on the yarn I chose. So, I kept the pattern, switched the yarn, and saved the other yarn for a future project. I was half way through two projects and starting on a third when I took a stroll through the periodicals section of my local craft store and found some tank tops in the Summer 2017 edition of Knitscene. I had to cast-on IMMEDIATELY!

I still have a second sock to finish, yards upon yards of I-chord to knit for my brain hat, the cowl to finish, some extra braiding to attach to the vest, and now a tank top to create. (Yes, I have to create it because it’s my instant gratification project.) I briefly considered doing something with the rejected cowl yarn, then I came to my senses and called it a Frog on my Ravelry queue. Five WIPs are enough for me!

 

 

Hats for the Resistance

I’ve been a bit busy fulfilling orders from friends and family who wanted a hand knit PussyHat. Not one of them is the same, and they all have loving homes.

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Right now, I’m working on a brain hat for the March for Science. Both patterns I downloaded are really loosely based, but free–at least until the march. I’m working on the fingering weight version and I’ve had to remake the hat a few times. I am sure I’ll be able to get it done in time for the march, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do more than one like I had hoped. Only time and my fingers will tell.

Things I Knit While You Were Mad At Me

Knitting has been a great stress reliever for me, ever since college. I’ve knit my way through finals, moving, wedding stress, my parents’ split, the miracle of life, the depression of death, emergency hospital visits, and everything in between. In times of great stress, I break out the needles and work on something complicated. The more complicated the pattern, the more stressed out I am. Indicators include lace patterns, large projects, intricate cabling, charts that require a physical copy and a line-keeper. Other indicators include accruing multiple WIPs, and choosing finer gauge projects. I’ve kept it classy with only one pattern at-a-time, occasionally dipping into a second project here and there. But, every streak must end.

I took a look at my knitting bag and admitted to myself that I’m stressed and it shows. Inside my bag contains Sock 1 of 2, knit with fingering weight yarn in a herringbone pattern; the beginning of a basic hat covered in yarn-gobbling I-chord, made in fingering weight yarn; a large body covering using bulky yarn. This translates into my first pair of socks, a brain hat for science, and a cowled vest inspired by Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games fame. I started the vest for a friend who recently relocated Northerly, where it has actually snowed in June. Then I started the second attempt at my first pair of socks for my Husband because, honestly, I owed him. Then, I remembered the March for Science is coming up and I’ve got to knit my brain hat. I’ve stalled on making the Katniss vest because I have to sew black-on-black fishtail braids on what will become a rolled hem around the body and cowl, each. I need really good light for the sewing, but it’s difficult to find during my free time. The herringbone socks are a design I tried two years ago. I had to frog the previous attempt because the yarn was too thick which yielded a stiff sock that was too big. Complete disaster. This time, I’m working with a mystery yarn that seems like a better match. In this case, thinner is better. The brain hat is going to take its sweet time because it’s my first, and artistic interpretation makes this anyone’s game. It’s kind of a mess in there.

Personally, there is a lot going on. We are in the process of preparing our house to sell, which has taken a lot longer than initially anticipated. One thing after another has prevented us from getting our place up on the market and morale is down amongst the adults. Work has me restless because I’m not sure I want to continue down the career path I’m currently riding. On top of that, a very dear, long-time friend and I are experiencing a rift. We’ve had a series of bad interactions which culminated in our last encounter that ended in strong words of anger and an uncertain future. I know I need to give him the time and space he needs but it’s difficult. Usually, I’m pretty comfortable in my Patience Pants but I’ve been driving myself (and those around me) a little nuts because I’m obsessing over this rift. There’s nothing I can do right now but give it time. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, about fixing it, and where everything went wrong, non-stop. Though it has gotten better, there is a lot of chatter in my mind and I need to quiet it down. Knitting is the best way I can do that.

Typically, I’ll  start a stress-relieving project to distract myself from the problem, place my focus on a detailed project that would require a lot of attention. This time, rather than distract myself, I’ve decided to lean into it a little bit. There are a few projects I had in mind for him, even a new yarn I bought specifically for a project that was supposed to be a Christmas present. Rather than stopping production on all ideas I had for him or reassign the projects and yarn, I’ve decided to continue on making things for him as part of my new series called Things I Made While You Were Mad At Me. It will be an ongoing series filled with the things I had planned on making him. It will be a background project that will act as a therapy for me. The finished pieces might find their way to him, they might find their way to someone else. I haven’t quite decided what to do with everything yet, nor have I cast anything on for the series but I can feel it coming.

The “Sadness” Sweater

The first time I met “Sadness” was not in the movie, Inside Out. It was inside a Disney Store. We took a family excursion for costumes, or something, and I took a detour through the mugs. My Husband has a great mug with sleepy Mickey Mouse lamenting mornings and I wanted something similar. Well, I didn’t find it. Instead, I found a little blue mug that looked like it was set upside-down when, in fact, it was right side up. It had a worried little blue figure on it saying, “One of those days.” I had no idea what the mug referenced (the movie hadn’t come out yet) but I knew it spoke to me and I needed it. When the movie finally came out and I got to see the personality associated with my new favorite mug, I was convinced kismet brought us together.


I love Sadness. She reminds me of myself when I was younger. I cried a lot. Like, a lot. I was painfully shy and would have preferred being lost in the crowd except for the fact that I was taller than every other child in my class, and I have an identical twin sister who preferred a less reserved existence. I can identify, a lot, with Sadness but that doesn’t mean I am sad. My default setting is Happy & Bright.  I like being happy. I like working my own unique magic. I like being the best, most comforting, homecoming kind of hug you’ll ever experience. And I couldn’t be any of that without understanding Sadness. So, to honor my new little blue friend, I decided to make a sweater.

I started with the yarn. I went in search of a light blue yarn that would be a nice homage to Sadness. I hoped for nothing smaller than DK, though worsted would have been preferred. I lucked out when a friend was destashing and I scored nearly two bags (19 skeins) of Thistle by Louisa Harding Yarns in Aqua. It’s an Aran weight yarn made of 60/40 Merino wool/alpaca. It is very soft and fluffy, with a beautiful drape, and slight halo on the fabric. It’s like petting a puppy, it’s so soft. Like, wow.

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Once I had the perfect yarn, I was on the search for the perfect pattern. I created an active search on Ravelry for a knit Aran-weight pullover with a turtleneck. I found a few candidates but the winner was Laura Aylor’s Elliewood. It’s a tunic-style pullover with a full turtleneck, a kangaroo pocket with a lighter weight lining, and thumb holes on the sleeves. It had everything I wanted, and more. It was simplistic with its thick ribbed hems and turtleneck, complimented by a basic stockinette body. The kangaroo pouch was almost a deal breaker because Sadness didn’t have a pouch in the movie. But, I thought it added an element of reality to my homage. What’s the most comfortable item of clothing in my closet? A hoodie. What’s the best feature? The kangaroo pocket. Was I going to let my need for authenticity cloud my judgement? No. The sweater had kangaroo pockets, and BONUS thumb holes in the sleeves. This pattern was presented to me as a neat little gift and I said, “Thanks!”

The sweater is worked from the top down. Saddle shoulders anchor it in place, and I am eternally thankful to Ms. Aylor for this feature. Raglan, a very popular sleeve shape to make on top-down styles, can slide forward or backwards on me, and I was concerned about the large neck opening for the turtleneck. But, the saddle shoulder creates less of a forgiving division between the shoulder and sleeve than the raglan. It’s made by creating a piece of fabric the same width and length as the shoulder, increasing the body stitches on either side of this strip of fabric so the body is joined perpendicular to the shoulder. It’s very fascinating to see. From there, the sleeves grow to the fullest they’re going to be before they get put on waste yarn in favor of finishing the body.

The body is worked in the round until the beginning of the kangaroo pocket when we revisit back-and-forth knitting to create the hole for the pocket lining. During this time, a little shaping in the back is added to allow for some butt curvature while the decreases in the front form the hole where the kangaroo pocket will lay. The kangaroo pocket is worked in two more parts: the outer flap and the inner lining, which grafts to the body in the hole created by the decreases. After finishing the Main Color body work, I switched to the DK yarn I chose for the pocket lining. I picked up all the required stitches along the edges of the pocket and grafted each knit row to the body. When that was done, I attached the top flap to the body using the same principal as a 3-needle bind-off, except the stitches are kept live. It’s a rather genius way of creating a pocket without a whole lot of fuss. I love that the pocket lining is made in a lighter weight yarn because it takes out some of the bulk that could easily accumulate behind the pocket.

I chose to make my pocket lining with a yarn I already had on hand: Lorna’s Laces Honor in the color Ballet. It’s a 70/30 Alpaca/Silk blend in lightly blended shades of pink and blue that form an occasional purple when they meet. I had originally purchased this yarn from a Craftsy sale, and I used it to make a toddler’s hooded sweater a few years ago. The pink, blue, and purple hues of the color reminded me of the other Inside Out travel companion, Bing Bong, and the complimentary alpaca allowed the lining to blend in with the feel of the rest of the sweater. I thought a pocket full of Bing Bong would be the perfect way to brighten up any sad day, and I was right. I love having my pocket full of Bing Bong.

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Everything worked up really quickly after the pocket. The body only had the hem ribbing to finish, while the sleeves were just a simple matter of following some light shaping, and figuring out how long those sleeves were really going to be. I measured my long arms to see where I wanted my sleeves to end and added 1.5″ to the wrist length before starting the thumb holes.

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The final part of the sweater is the turtleneck. Now, this isn’t any regular turtleneck. At the fold-over mark, there is a little split in one of the neck ribs which creates an extra triangle of ribbing that allows the neck to flare out instead of fold straight over and down.

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It gives the illusion of a flouncy cowl neck while still remaining close like a turtleneck. It’s a very nice, decorative feature, especially for anyone who can’t handle that much fabric so close to the neck. It also, gets to be placed at the knitter’s discretion: right, left, wherever, just pick a spot and go for it.  I would definitely knit this sweater as a gift to give, and I would encourage all my friends to buy the pattern and knit it themselves. I am absolutely in love with my new sweater!

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I first conceived the idea of a “Sadness” sweater as something that would make me happy. I had no idea it would have ended up this splendid. There’s always a little give and take that goes along with creative ideal versus practical application and I was expecting a lot more resistance to the eventual masterpiece I have before me. My experience is that things aren’t always so easy. Full disclosure: this has not been a quick process. I bought the yarn a year-and-a-half ago and discovered the pattern a few months before starting the project. I only bought the pattern back in January when I knew I was absolutely ready to start the project–like, within days of casting on. Also, I finished my Sadness Sweater  over a month ago and I’ve only now gotten around to writing about it. I just wasn’t having any of it. I was busy making pink hats for the resistance, and fulfilling the dreams of my children. But, those are different posts.

PussyHat Project

The PussyHat Project is a really beautiful concept that was achieved awesomely. It was conceived by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman as a visual representation for the Women’s March on Washington held January 21, 2017. Simple, right? But, the meaning behind every single aspect of this concept is what makes it special.

Knitting is a slow craft that has been famously identified as a woman’s hobby, which requires time, patience, and care. Pink is a color often associated with femininity. Combining the two creates a visual statement that is unmistakably female. Then, adding a simple, easy design (by Kat Coyle) that creates a quick hat that looks like it has cat ears when worn, and naming it a PussyHat (a play on pussy cat) is badass and reclaims the loaded P word that’s received recent publicity. It was a way to make your voice heard without having to raise it. It was something to make for yourself or others who were attending in your absence. It was a sign that someone cared enough to devote their time to this cause.

Knitters were encouraged to make the hats to wear to the Women’s March on Washington, and sister marches held across the country, across the world. The website provided a mailing address for D.C. hat donations, and included a printable note template to accompany the hat(s). It asked the hat maker to provide name, city/state, a women’s issue important to the maker, and contact information in case the hat wearer wanted to get in touch.

I was a little late in the game to join the PussyHat Project. I took a look at the website about two weeks before the scheduled march and I got to working. I ransacked my stash and found some hot pink worsted cotton by Blue Sky Fibers my mom had given me years ago as part of a different project. The unfortunate non-start of that project became the foundation for my PussyHat. I knit it in between painting my kitchen, going to work, and managing daily life with three kids. I finished with about a week to spare, and I already had a request from a friend for a hat of her own. As I was casting on the second hat, I got a message from another friend who asked for a hat, too. The catch was that she needed it quickly since she was going to the march in D.C. Hat 2 was built overnight and both were delivered in time to be part of history.


I, myself, did not attend any marches, though opportunity was abundant. Instead, I watched coverage streaming from my phone, crying the whole time. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I was absolutely proud to have contributed my part to that sea of pink. In the rush up to January 21, stores were having a hard time keeping any color pink yarn in stock. There had been over 8,000 hats made using Kat Coyle’s PussyHat Project pattern, according to Ravelry. Alternate hat patterns had been created for knit, crochet, and sewing so everyone would be able to make something if they wanted. Marchers were making hats on their way to the event, with more yarn in tow in case someone needed a last-minute hat. Strangers were hugging when they spotted each other in their familiar pink hats. It became a symbol of solidarity.

After the march I still see a need for more PussyHats. I have to make one for myself, and fulfill the requests of two other friends. So far, I’ve been able to use stash yarn, which elates me. I have enough pink yarn in various weights to make a few more hats before I need to buy new yarn. It’ll be easy to find gauge and calculate the stitches I’ll need for each yarn weight. So far, I haven’t knit the same yarn twice, which makes me happy.

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Small things make a big difference.

Craftvent Calendar 2016

A few days before Thanksgiving I found out Jimmy Beans Wool was hosting an MKAL in the form of a Craftvent Calendar. It was going to be the same basic deal as an Advent calendar: one small gift per December day leading up to Christmas. The difference would be that there would be instructions, notions, yarn, and any other materials (except needles) that would create a shawl at the end. I mean COME ON! How was I supposed to say, “No,” to that? I wasn’t. I was meant to say, “YES,” loudly, and with enthusiasm.

There were four kit choices: Frost, Pine, Starry Night, and Holly. Frost was shades of tan and grey; Pine was shades of green and blue; Starry Night was shades of blue and purple; Holly was shades of pink and red. My initial instinct was to pick Holly because–duh, pink. However, I was inclined to pick something outside of my comfort zone. Pine and Starry Night were close contenders but I opted for the Starry Night kit because the colors seemed more calming to me. If I was expected to do this project around the holidays, it would have to be the equivalent to crafting Valium. Honestly, I was on the verge of buying two, but at $150 per kit, I had to remember myself and stick to one. I didn’t hesitate at all (Merry Christmas to me) because I knew they were going to sell out quickly.

I felt good about going into Thanksgiving with my Christmas present lined up. Yes, I usually buy myself some knit-related present before Christmas and tell my Husband he’s off the hook because I took care of myself. It’s been pretty standard since we’ve been outnumbered by children. Anyhow, there was a little drama with my credit card being declined but we got it all sorted out. It took, like, a full day, which kind of freaked me out since the Jimmy Beans Wool Ravelry forum  for the Craftvent Calendar was blowing up with claims that the store had essentially oversold their stock. E-mails had gone out telling customers that the color option they chose wasn’t available…and neither were any others, kinda. I thought I was screwed. But, once they had processed the new number everything was fine. I received my package a day or two into December. They apologized for the tardiness because they were waiting for the beads used in the shawl to be delivered. Beads. Well, that was new. I hadn’t worked with beads before and I was about to be thrown in the middle of a beadwork project.

Let the Craftvent 2016 MKAL begin!

The Craftvent Calendar looks like a very large book from the outside. It opens up to reveal 24 numbered cubbies. Each cubby drawer contains a card with either instructions for the shawl or a fun tip printed on it. Also included: 12 yarns at 50 yds each, stitch markers, a yarn cutter, a JBW project bag, a row counter, a hand lotion bar, double-ended crochet hook, beads, hot cocoa mix, hot cider mix, darning needles in a case, a sample of Soak, and T-pins. Along with each yarn came a paper that gave information on the yarn: company, base, color, content, yardage.

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A link to the full instructions was given on the first day, for anyone inclined to go faster than the calendar’s established cadence. The pattern, itself, was broken into smaller parts and included in most days. The knitting tasks weren’t too much to do daily but there were one or two instances when the repeats seemed endless and I needed a break. But, the end picot edging was broken down into step-by-step instructions that were given daily. There were three steps to the edging so there were three days to learn; a little silly if I were adhering to the daily tasks but kind of genius for anyone who hadn’t ever performed a picot edging before. I did my best to stay on task but I eventually had to download the full pattern on every device I own so I could reference it at any time. Long story short, I didn’t finish until after the New Year but I still finished.

The pattern used for this very fun MKAL was Paper Chains by Rachel Roden, a shawlette that increases every row from the center out, utilizing slipped stitches, increases, eyelets, mesh lace, and color work, with a beaded picot edging. It started by creating the look of the chains through slipped stitches in alternating yarn colors. It worked like a two-row stripe, with a few slipped stitches thrown in to form the chain link. After the first nine colors were introduced, the tenth debuted itself as well as the lace portion of the shawl. This lace piece worked up more like stacked eyelets with one color dedicated per eyelet row, which descended in order back to the first color. The final eyelet row was worked in the tenth color, followed by a new mesh lace portion in Color 11. When that ran out, it was time to start the beaded picot edging on the next RS row.

I’d never worked with beads, but I have worked the picot edging before. Adding beads wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. The beads were hooked onto the loop of the stitch so it looked like the loop was sprouting through the bead, replacing the loop back on the left needle. This technique placed the bead at the very tip of the picot edge when it was bound off. I didn’t end up using the crochet hook included because it was too thick. Instead, I searched through a very comprehensive crochet hook set I received for Christmas 2015. A little trial-and-error brought me to the size 8/1.50MM hook which fit perfectly in the hole of the bead. See, I know HOW to do beads. It’s the practical application that was overlooked.

The yarns were released in the following order:

 

  1. MJ Yarns Sophistisock in Maldives
  2. Baah La Jolla in Maldives
  3. Lorna’s Laces Solemate in Pewter
  4. Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Ultraviolet
  5. Zen Yarn Garden Serenity 20 in Jakey
  6. Koigu KPM in 2405
  7. Anzula Squishy Fingering/Sock in Aqua
  8. Madelinetosh BFL Sock in Fathom
  9. Swans Island Ikat Fingering in Firefly Stonewall
  10. Mrs. Crosby Satchel in Sunset Regatta
  11. Dream in Color Smooshy in Tranquil
  12. Manos Del Uruguay Fino in SF416 Amethyst Earring

I was unfamiliar with only two of the yarn companies: Dream in Color and MJ Yarns. I had at least a passing familiarity with the rest of the companies, if not first-hand experience working with either the yarn given or the company. I’m not going to give a review of all the yarns but I will make a few remarks. My favorite was the Anzula Squishy because it is just too delicious. It’s soft and squishy without too much bounce. It feels very inviting, like I have to buy enough to make an oversized sweater and live in it. Where has this yarn been all my life? Like, I need it now and I’ll pay shipping if I have to.

I was very interested in working with the Blue Faced Leicester by Madelinetosh. I love Madelinetosh because the colors are always beautiful and the applied coloring always knits up to look blended, without obvious pooling, which I love. I know, from what I’ve read, that Blue Faced Leicester is a hearty wool, good for working garments, and is rougher than what I normally choose. I found the texture to be a little coarse but not scratchy, and the fibers laid a beautiful, smooth ply. The texture combined with the fingering weight was actually pleasing. I don’t know how a whole sweater in this would feel close to the skin but I’d be willing to give it a try.

I love the whole idea of this MKAL because it serves as a great introduction to luxury yarns without being too expensive. The $150 price tag was really worth the cost, especially considering Jimmy Beans Wool doesn’t charge shipping for orders over $75. The colors are already picked so there was no matching to do, and all the other materials needed to make the project were neatly packed and included in the kit (save for the needles), with a few other small, fun knitting necessities…like the hot chocolate. And the best part? It was portable. Thanks to the Studio+ Tote bag I gifted myself last year from Slipped Stitch Studios, I was able to carry the whole calendar book thing with me.

It fit just perfectly inside. I kept all my yarns and notions in the cubby drawers and knit directly from the book box inside the tote. I’m sure I would have gone slightly mad had I remained tethered to my home with the big project book, mostly because it would have taken soooo much longer. Though it was considerably bulky and weighted down, I still carried the whole thing with me wherever I could. I’m very much an on-the-go knitter and any project that can’t be easily packed up and transported is dead to me. But, I’m more of a when-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way kinda lady so nothing stays dead for long. Obviously.

I’m very pleased with the outcome of the shawl, but more importantly I’m proud of myself for rising to the challenge. I used to be afraid of MKALs because I was convinced they were all above my skill level. I have since learned none of that is true, and I shouldn’t be modest about my skill level. There was a time when the unexpected bead feature would have sent me running away. There was also a time when an MKAL would have made me squirm. Some time between then and now I’ve learned to face my fears, and that these fears are usually much grander in my imagination than in practice. I’m not saying I knit (or live) fearlessly. There’s plenty of trepidation and doubt. I just do it, regardless.

Here’s to the first FO of 2017!

Hello, 2017

2016 was quite a year. Creatively, it was fantastic. I expanded my comfort zone by joining an MKAL, I learned new techniques, and made things that seemed scary. I even won second place in the LA County Fair DIY Design competition which is something I pleasantly stumbled upon. Personally, 2016 was a bit rough. The first half of the year wasn’t too bad, but over the summer, I lost a beloved younger cousin, and my Grandfather within two months of each other. My Grandfather succumbed to his cancer, but we were afforded the time to take a road trip with the kids to see him one last time before he passed. My cousin, however, was out of left field and it hit the family hard.

We had our first holiday season without two members of our family but it didn’t seem awful. My cousin didn’t pop in at dinner to say, Hi, and help pass out presents before heading off to work, but more family showed up with their babies in tow. And I received my first Christmas card signed only by my Grandmother. It was comforting to see her familiar loopy script on the envelope, and beautifully sad to see just her name signed at the bottom of the card without “Pop” to accompany it, like it had since I could remember.

Yes, 2016 was filled with many downs but also some ups. Babies were born and dear friends were married, my youngest started Kindergarten, and I started mending fences with my sister, Bear. My 2016 was also filled with good intentions and bad outcomes. It made me relearn lessons I thought I had already learned, made me look at them through different eyes to get a better view of things. It guided me to new opportunities, and some times even stopped me before I found out what was at the bottom of the rabbit hole. It was full of heartache and heartbreak, cries of pain and joy and sorrow, soft stolen moments, and loud bombastic ones. At times, it left me on the ground with bloody hands and knees embedded with dirt and rocks. At others, it cradled me in the softest embrace so I knew I was loved. It was a difficult year to navigate.

And so enters 2017, full of the same promise and potential as 2016. Last year didn’t know it would be the shit show it turned out to be. It’s like that anti-drug commercial where the kids spout off their employment aspirations while a shot of a running man slowly reveals a criminal running from a cop, ending with the line, “No one ever says, ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up.'” 2016 didn’t stand up in January and proclaim it was going to be a totally heroin-dependent mess by November. It just kind of turned out that way. There was nothing left to do but wrap 2016 in a blanket and let it vomit until there was nothing left but bile and dry heaves. 2017 has the potential to be the waking morning when nothing hurts. It also has the potential to kick heroin in favor of methadone.

I’m walking into 2017 with the scars from last year, and a few wounds that need to heal, but that doesn’t stop me from being optimistic. Joy and Optimism are my default settings.  It may take some time, but I always bounce back.  The best way I know how to get back to Me is by surrounding myself with good music, good people with good vibes, and knitting.

I fully admit that knitting is my therapy. It calms me down and makes me happy. If I’m stressed, I pick a complicated pattern to occupy my mind, divert the focus. If I’m frustrated, I’ll pick something small for instant gratification; when I have too much going on, I go for a soft focus project–something easy to pick up and put down without much to monitor. Lace is soothing because it uses small repeats which create small goals I can set for myself and accomplish. The daunting task of creating 17″ of fabric doesn’t seem so bad when it’s reduced down to eight or nine repeats of a pattern that’s 12 sts x 8 rows. The creativity causes me to slow my brain a little, think about things differently. I can’t start knitting unless I’m calm because the tension I feel in my body shows up in my work. Some times I don’t even knit. I just carry a project with me and hold it. It all helps.

I don’t know what 2017 has planned for me but I have a few things planned for it. And as I do my best to maneuver the unexpected and achieve the goals I set for myself, I’ll be knitting. I’ll knit some fingerless gloves for a friend because the name of the yarn color reminded me of her. The kids will get their sweaters, my Husband will get some fingerless gloves and socks. Dad will get a vest and I will get my Sadness Sweater. I’ll turn the really expensive (guilt-inducing) yarn I bought on an ill-advised trip to LA into a sweater I never want to take off. I’ll stash down and queue down to my heart’s content. I’ll take the yarn I bought for you and I’ll make you the thing I feel you need, which may not be the thing you requested. I’ll give away half the stuff I create because my goal is not always the end product, though that is a perk. My goal is, and forever will be, the work.

Play on ’17! Let’s see what you’re going to do.