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.
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:
- MJ Yarns Sophistisock in Maldives
- Baah La Jolla in Maldives
- Lorna’s Laces Solemate in Pewter
- Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Ultraviolet
- Zen Yarn Garden Serenity 20 in Jakey
- Koigu KPM in 2405
- Anzula Squishy Fingering/Sock in Aqua
- Madelinetosh BFL Sock in Fathom
- Swans Island Ikat Fingering in Firefly Stonewall
- Mrs. Crosby Satchel in Sunset Regatta
- Dream in Color Smooshy in Tranquil
- 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!