Friday, December 31, 2010

The Marsan Watchcap

2010 is almost a finished object, and it was a big year for me in many ways, so I can't resist doing a brief post-mortem before I tell you all about hat 4:
  • In January (and February... let's be honest) I knit my first ever adult sweater for my dear husband. We have been together since 1996(!) and we finally put a ring on it October 3, 2009. Both sweater and marriage are a smashing success so far.
  • Meanwhile, we were house-hunting. In March, we found the tiny cottage of our dreams, and now we can walk to the beach, three ice cream stands, a lovely bakery, and... a yarn store! After closing April 15th, we spent a good portion of the summer painting over the garish color choices of the previous owner.
  • In May and July, the first babies were born into our social circle. Babies are always exciting for a knitter-- I personally supplied each of them with a blanket and sweater. Unfortunately, weaving in hundreds of cotton yarn ends dealt a serious blow to my knitting mojo. The upshot: I can now duplicate-stitch in my sleep.
  • I turned 30 with all the requisite existential upheaval.
  • Having decided I needed to get my knitting and general creative mojo back, I started this blog. In November I finished up all my existing WIPs, and December 1st I started knitting 52 hats. Despite some initial reluctance to put myself out there, I really love being part of an online knitting community and I'm thrilled to have regular readers!
Okay, without further ado, here is hat 4:

The recipient and I are not getting along very well at the moment, but I'm going to try to keep interpersonal drama out of this blog.* Anyway, it looks great on him, it matches his jacket, and he seems to like it. We both remarked, to our mutual delight, on its resemblance to the hats worn by Team Zissou. So at least we can agree on something.

Project Notes

Yarn: Osprey by Quince and Co. I had been dying to try this new line, which I am lucky to have available at my LYS in Portland, and it does not disappoint. Osprey is a three-ply bulky weight and it is rambunctiously bouncy and springy. I'm a fairly loose knitter, so I started with a size 7 needle. Wrong move-- this yarn begs to be knit on fat needles, and the size 7s were just cramping its style. This is why I ended up knitting from both ends of the ball in last week's WIP Wednesday post. Once I went up to a size 9, it was very dreamy to work with. I plan to use this yarn again-- it's a good compromise of soft and durable, it comes in 37 mouth-watering colors, and the price is surprisingly affordable for 100% wool. A single skein was more than enough for a man's hat with a very wide turned-up brim.

Pattern: The Marsan Watchcap by Staceyjoy Elkin-- another popular pattern on Ravelry. Word on the street is it runs small, but I seem to have avoided that issue by choosing a bulky weight yarn instead of the worsted called for by the pattern. I really love the pattern created by the decreases-- so many ribbed hats poop out rather unattractively at the end. I had to fiddle with the decreases in order to maintain the twisted ribs... more below.

Techniques: To grasp this pattern, you need to understand the concept of stitch orientation. I won't go into gory details here, but suffice it to say that each individual stitch has a front leg and a back leg. Knitting as I know it mostly involves pulling loops through the front leg of each stitch-- there are many, many other ways of knitting, and that's about as far as I want to open that can of worms. If you pull your loop through the back leg of the stitch, you create a twist in that stitch. In this pattern, you knit into the back leg of every knit stitch, creating a twisted rib with a sculptural look. To return to the decreases... the pattern calls for a left-leaning SSK decrease. Worked the usual way, this does not twist the stitches... so I fiddled. When I came to a decrease that consumed a purl stitch, I slipped the knit stitch purlwise, slipped the purl stitch knitwise, and then proceeded to knit them together like a normal SSK. This twists the knit stitch, but not the purl stitch. When I came to a decrease that consumed a knit stitch, instead of doing SSK, I knit both stitches together through the back loops. This still creates a left-leaning decrease, but at the same time, twists both stitches. And that's about enough knitting pedantry for one post, don't you agree? I should probably come up with some kind of disclaimer...

The Bottom Line: I squeezed this hat in to my December line-up, and it makes an excellent last-minute knit. I'm pleased with the result. It's pretty much the ideal man hat... alright, I'll admit it, I was nearly bored to tears before I got to the decreases. Unlike stockinette, ribbing requires more than minimal attention, but-- for me, at least-- doesn't offer anything rewarding enough to compensate. Give me some colorwork, or lace, or cables any day.

I'm on track to finish hat 5 before the end of 2010. It's exciting to be starting a new year with a grand knitting project already underway. I'll lay out my January hat lineup-- and other hopes for 2011-- in my next post. Happy New Year to everyone!

*I do, however, reserve the right to wallow in purely personal drama-- consider yourselves warned.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Full disclosure: I'm writing this on Tuesday. Tonight I work my third night in a row, and starting tomorrow I'm on vacation-- and I plan to make good use of it by sleeping alllllllllllll day. So I figured out how to trick blogger into publishing this tomorrow-- but I would never, never try to trick my fellow knitters.

I started this Christmas day:

I'm completely, utterly loving this pattern... and I seem to be developing a bit of a self-striping yarn fixation. I just can't help myself-- it's almost criminal how easy and fun this is to make compared to how complicated it looks.

The only tiny caveat:

This is all that's left of the main color. I planned this project to use the leftovers of my first ever adult sweater and I think it's going to be a nail-biter. Fortunately, I have an ace in the hole:

Those are the swatches from said sweater. I am just ruthless enough to unravel one of these-- I was really only saving them in case I ever needed to patch the sweater. Full disclosure: I have a bit of a thrift problem. My stash-- and it's a bit of a stretch to call it that-- is almost exclusively made up of left-over yarn and I fully intend to use up every last bit of it... someday.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Love

I am not normally what anyone would call a mellow person, and the holidays render me even less so. At my worst, I alternate between a manic flurry of increasingly futile activity and exhausted, misanthropic crabbing. This year, I believe I managed to channel my energies into a fairly grand knitting agenda, and thus avoided becoming a pissy little party pooper. The result: I really, really enjoyed the day, more so than I have in an awfully long time.

First off, my nephew liked his hat!

There was absolutely no arm-twisting-- he just put the darn thing on.

What a ham!

My brother loved his hat, which I finished at approximately 11:30 Friday night. He didn't even mind that I repossessed it for blocking:

Tami-- I think you have the answer to your question right here :)

I think Santa may have delivered this to the wrong house, but I'm not giving it back:

Martha-approved, no less. I haven't used one of these since middle school!

Some other highlights:
  • Sloshing hot spaghetti and meatballs all over the backseat of our car and finding it hysterically funny, somehow.
  • Gaping at my husband's suddenly huge and teen-aged cousins. Seriously, what are their parents feeding them? Perhaps I wouldn't be so shocked if I saw them more than once a year...
  • Being fooled by my 95lb grandmother-in-law into taking home her unwanted Christmas ornaments during the family Yankee Swap-- that woman does not miss a trick.
  • Having an impromptu Beatles sing-a-long-- courtesy of an unexpected but awesome gift from my brother-- with my husband while I cast on the next installment (#5!!) of 52 hats.*
By 10PM, I was writing gleefully mushy emails to all of my friends like a modern-day reformed Scrooge. They're probably wondering if someone hijacked my Yahoo account. Question is, will all this holiday cheer survive a three-night stretch at work... in charge? I wonder.

Happy Boxing Day!

*This one's going to be a beaut-- stay tuned for pictures Wednesday!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Amazing Voyage Cap

I officially completed hat 3 for 52 hats on Monday! While I wouldn't exactly call it an original design, it's at least a somewhat original mash-up. This really got my creative mojo working, and now I have at least a half-dozen other design ideas that I hope to bring to life-- and share!-- in the course of this project. So without further ado:

This is for my nephew. He's seven and LOVES bright colors. At first I was only going to use one color of self-striping yarn, but the colors seemed too dull on their own. It's certainly not a new idea to alternate two colors of self-striping yarn (see the famous Noro Striped Scarf from Brooklyn Tweed), but I had never seen it done in a stocking hat.

Two photo hat close-up! There is no way I could have planned this!

I like the result, and it was SO much fun to make. I have loads of yarn left, so I'll probably make a few more-- I'm planning to write this up as a free pattern, but I think it needs some tweaking first.

Project Notes

Yarn: Amazing by Lion Brand. It seems I'm not alone in loving this yarn-- all the craft stores in my area are out of stock! Ravelry lists is as Aran weight, but I think it knits up well at a worsted or light-worsted gauge. One word of caution: it's SUPER fuzzy and tends to mat together as you work with it. This makes the knitting just a tiny bit slower than usual, and might drive you bonkers if you have to tink back multiple times.

Pattern: l o o s e l y based on the Voyageur Cap by Tina Shaddox. I started modifying from the very first row, and I've lost track of all the changes I made! I had never knit a stocking hat before, so I was unsure of how to shape the top. This pattern was a great place to start. Ideally, I would like the hat to be quite a bit longer because more length = more awesome stripiness. As I said, I'm going to continue tweaking.

Techniques: In my WIP Wednesday post last week, I talked about some of the techniques I used for this hat. Making stripes in the round can be irritating if you're a perfectionist... not that there's anything wrong with that. There are many methods for jogless stripes (check out this awesome tutorial at TECHknitting). I thought I was using Meg Swansen's method (tutorial here), but it turns out I was doing it wrong! The stripes ended up pretty close to jogless anyway. I used this method to carry the yarn between color changes, and I used Kitchener stitch to close the top of the hat-- totally not called for by the pattern, but satisfying nonetheless.

The Bottom Line: I love this-- I know I say this every week, but this time I REALLY mean it! I love to knit, but I really enjoyed the hell out of making this. The mesmerizing color changes and the soft fuzziness of the yarn were truly delightful. If my nephew enjoys wearing it even a tiny fraction as much as I enjoyed knitting it, I will consider it a blazing success.

I'm off to knit the last few rows of hat 4 and to check out what progress the other elves are making at Tami's blog. Here's hoping all of your Christmas WIPs will become FOs by tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I'm trying to come up with a good explanation for this:

Making a swatch seemed a bit mad at this late stage of the game, but, apparently, knitting the small size hat from one end of the ball and the larger size from the other makes perfect sense. If one of these doesn't get done by Saturday, my brother will be getting some lovely head bands for Christmas.

There must be someone out there doing something equally outrageous... right?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Focus, people, focus!

It's getting down to the wire here, people. Yesterday I made my final gift purchases-- woo-hoo!!-- but that still leaves:
  • Presents to wrap
  • Presents to mail
  • Presents to finish... and one more to START! Eeks!
The 52 hats project is only complicating matters. If I were content merely to collect patterns, pair them with appropriate yarns, and knit each one exactly as written... but I am not. I have hat design ideas dancing in my head like so many visions of sugarplums. This may eventually benefit readers of this blog, but it is doing nothing at the moment to help me concentrate!

I'll break it down for y'all, photo-essay style:

These need to go in the mail!

These need a bath!

This needs to QUICKLY become a hat!

... and this needs to be put away. Far, far away!

It also wouldn't kill me to make that bed... Sunday, maybe?

Friday, December 17, 2010

We Call Them Pirates

As of 9AM today, the second installment of 52 hats is 100% finished! I'm a bit behind my personal deadline, but a whole week ahead of the BIG day. We had nice, bright light in the morning today, but I was home alone. If this blog ever acquires a blooper reel, I will put up some of the pictures I tried to take of myself wearing this. My pride is still a bit wounded at the moment.

A hat is a tricky thing to photograph without a head in it. Especially one that refuses to lie flat. I'm seriously looking into head mannequins. Is that creepy?

My husband graciously volunteered to model when he got home from work. As to whether I made any threat to his safety or the integrity of his limbs, I plead the fifth.

I finished the fun part of making this over a week ago and dragged my heels a bit on the finish work. The hemmed band looks pretty neat though, right?

128 tiny live stitches, painstakingly tacked down-- my eyeballs are still throbbing

Project Notes

Yarn: KnitPicks Telemark (and a smidge of KnitPicks Palette for the hem). There are two great things about this yarn: the price and the color selection. I used slightly less than a skein of each color, so this cost less than $5. While it is neither soft nor luxurious, and it's a tiny bit splitty, I'm pretty sure this is going to wear like iron. The recipient, a famous destroyer of knitwear, will have his work cut out for him.

Pattern: We Call Them Pirates by Adrian Bizilia. I have some history with this pattern-- version 1.0 was my Christmas gift in 2006 to my (now) brother-in-law. It was my first ever colorwork project. I didn't even know it was called colorwork back then, nor did I know how to hold my yarn properly. That it came out at all well is a testament to the genius of this pattern.

Techniques: Many. How about a list?
  • Stranded colorwork-- I could probably write a whole post about the techniques that fall under this broad category-- and maybe I should-- but to be brief, I hold both colors in my left hand and try like gangbusters to keep the floats loose. I am not entirely thrilled with my uneven tension, but we all need room for improvement.
  • Provisional cast on-- This is my all-time favorite method-- chaining directly over your knitting needle is infinitely easier than trying to knit up stitches into the back of a chain. Ask me how I know.
  • Stitched-in hem-- TECHknitter has an amazing series of tutorials on edges-- if you have never visited her site, it is EXTREMELY helpful. I didn't use her method exactly, but I bow before her. Some knitters recommend using thinner yarn or fewer stitches or both to avoid the dreaded hem flare. I used thinner yarn, but I didn't bother decreasing the number of stitches. This made it a bit more straightforward when it came to tacking down the live stitches to the inside of the hat. Again, I could write a whole post about this, and that would be silly since TECHknitter already did it.
  • Chart reading-- not exactly a technique, but a skill needed for following the pattern. I am a very visual person and I happen to love charted patterns.
  • Blocking-- absolutely essential for getting this hat-- and any stranded colorwork project-- looking its best. I pretty much wet block everything, but I did attempt to steam-block the hem before I stitched it in place. My iron, it turns out, does not have a steam function. I resorted to a spray bottle. Now that it's finished, I may wet block it again. I have a whole week, after all!
The Bottom Line: I had loads of fun making this hat. I was actually kind of excited when I heard my brother-in-law had lost the original. He wore the s#%t out of it, and it's nice to know that version 2.0 will be equally well-loved. So often finished objects do not attract quite as much appreciation from their recipients as befits the hours of hard work that went into making them. This is perhaps not the best sentiment to motivate myself-- or anyone else-- to finish those piles of Christmas WIPs...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I'm working on today

The WIPs are beginning to pile up around here. I better finish some before they start having babies. First up: hat 3 for 52 hats!

This one is based on the Voyageur Cap-- I was basically looking for any free pattern for a stocking hat that I could adapt, but this one is pretty good. I am using two colors of Amazing yarn by Lion Brand... so from now on, this shall be know as the Amazing Voyage hat. Feel free to say that in a ridiculous French accent.

The stripes are mesmerizing-- I probably could make 49 more hats just like this and be well entertained. The only catch:

My color changes are only semi-jogless. After the first row of each color change, I'm knitting the first stitch of second row through both the first stitch of the new color and the stitch below it-- I believe this is Meg Swansen's jogless stripe method. As you can see, it's kinda working for me.

In other news, carrying the unused color along the backside of the fabric is working FABULOUSLY. It eliminates the little holes that would otherwise appear at each color change-- and theoretically it saves me weaving in yarn ends at every color change. In reality there's no way I would have broken my yarn that many times. Here's a tutorial that helped me figure it out.

We Call Them Pirates v2.0 is all but finished. It just needs to dry a bit so I can stitch in the hem-- yay. Finally, this snuck into my knitting basket a couple of days ago...

I am so soft and squishy, you cannot resist me

That's right, it's not a hat. Is there a problem with that? Look, I started running out of ideas for non-handmade Christmas gifts, and I had some Malabrigo languishing in my stash. One cannot allow Malabrigo to languish, especially such a lovely color of Malabrigo. I'm going to try to ignore the fact that I need to make two of these, preferably before Saturday... tralalalala.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sick Day

I work nights, and usually sleep well during the day-- unless something is on my mind. Yesterday, that something was the brutal, heart-aching shift I had Saturday night. I slept a fitful three or four hours, and while I was not sleeping, I was thinking of a patient who had just barely survived the night, thanks to some aggressive-- and pretty gruesome-- interventions. I desperately wanted to jump out of bed rested and ready to join the battle again-- or, more likely, to provide comfort to her and her family as she laid down her struggle-- but my body refused to cooperate. I very reluctantly called work to tell them I wouldn't be coming in.

I'm working on another hat right now-- big surprise, I know-- that absolutely enchants me. It's a simple pattern, but I'm working it in a new way. When I crawled back into bed last night, I brought it with me, and working the simple stitches in beautiful colors soothed my mind and heart. I have written before about how knitting sustains me through difficult times, and I think it is the act of creating something beautiful, watching it unfold one row at a time, that does it. With this hat, I have been working very slowly, taking time to admire the interplay of the colors. It helped me to settle the sadness and hurt I feel for my patient, and my desire to be there caring for her. I now remember a moment from Saturday night when she was fighting to breathe, and we were waiting for the respiratory therapist to arrive. White Christmas was on TV, and I found it hard not to watch as I stood there next to her bed, fretting. She hadn't been lucid much, but I gradually realized that she was watching too, and smiling-- for a moment, she was aware of something beyond her pain and fear. We were both lost, for a moment, in the music and dancing on screen.

It's difficult to write about this, though writing never comes easily for me. It would be simpler to throw up a picture or two of my latest project, add a few lines of explanation, and be done with it. I have at my fingertips access to so many pretty things and I sometimes physically crave beauty-- to create it, to experience it-- as if it were water or air. To go deeper into the murky, troubling areas of my life, and to shed light on them is insanely hard. I am so uncertain of success-- or even noble failure-- but I have to try.

I'm not sure where-- or if-- this fits into a knitting blog, but if you have taken the time to read, I thank you. I have been so grateful for the many kind comments on my last post-- and more than that, I really love having so many beautiful places to visit each day (via the magic of the internets). Sometimes it seems like there is too much beauty in the world for one lifetime, but really there can never be enough.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Today I unveil the first installment of the 52 hats project...

... and make my debut as a model. I decided to take advantage of the simultaneous availability of some lovely morning light and my husband, the photo alchemist. Mine was the only free head around-- though I did make this for a fellow redhead. Note to self: wear more green.

Project Notes

Yarn: Berroco Cuzco, a bulky-weight alpaca/wool blend. I have worked with its cousin Ultra Alpaca before and I just love the fantastic heathered colors in this line. This is Peat Mix. I knit it to the pattern gauge of 5 stitches/inch, and I suspect it might be happier at a gauge of 3-4. Having spent a good deal of time with Ultra Alpaca, I also suspect that this will grow some and drape a bit better after washing. I used almost exactly one skein. Let me illustrate:

These are the tails before I wove them in. I love having practically no leftovers! And there is something a tiny bit thrilling about coming so close to disaster. Though running out of yarn would have made necessary another trip to Purl Diva...

Pattern: Felicity by Wanett Clyde. I can see why this pattern is so popular on Ravelry-- it's hip, quick, easy, and free. I love the pleated top and the slight slouchiness-- I hope the recipient feels the same. It's also versatile-- if you roll the brim, you can wear it as a beanie. I cast on 10 more stitches than the pattern calls for-- as written, it yields a 14" unstretched circumference, and I thought that was a bit too tight. Other than that, no modifications. Thanks, Wanett!

Techniques: Long tail cast-on-- someday I will figure out how to measure the yarn so I end up with an appropriate length tail-- and lifted M1 increase. Oh, and it's knit in the round-- though I can't really imagine making a hat any other way. Sideways, maybe, but otherwise a seamed hat just makes no sense to me.

The Bottom Line: This was an excellent project to start my hat-a-thon. You could make a pile of these for last-minute holiday gifts or as stash-busters. I'm planning to make one for myself at some point.

One down, 51 to go!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shiver Me Timbers

Are pirates still cool, or are they corny again? Not that it matters. I will probably be making versions of this hat every few years for the rest of my life-- my brother-in-law is hard on knitwear.

The first time I made this-- four years ago-- I didn't yet know how to hold my yarn. Now I can't imagine how I managed to finish it. This one I started Monday night, during the much-hyped Patriots-Jets game. I could probably sit through public executions if I had some knitting with me. Perhaps that explains Madame Defarge.

Believe it or not, this is my only WIP at the moment!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oh for the love

127 stitches is not the same as 128-- and this is my attempt to illustrate:

That strand of white yarn is exactly what I wanted to see!

Seems as though I have a lot to learn about my camera. Specifically how to get it to focus. It was a birthday gift from my husband, the photo alchemist, an excellent photographer and a very good teacher. I am an impatient and stubborn pupil. After five months of ownership, I still haven't read the manual, and I chase him out of the room when I am editing photos, lest he attempt to fill my brain with sensible information.

For some reason, he still tries-- and I do have my teachable moments. For example, he helped me turn this:

Into this:

Because it's supposed to look more like this:

WTF camera?

Someday, maybe I will drop my "I need to do EVERYTHING by MYSELF because I'm a BIG GIRL" attitude and then he will have no peace-- or time to work on his own projects. Either that or I will overcome my fear of his big, scary camera with its seemingly infinite menus and options. Then I will become INVINCIBLE!

52 Hats Project Updates:
  • Felicity is finished! Ahead of schedule! I'm trying to work out a format for presenting each completed hat, hopefully by Friday...
  • Pirates is underway! Ahead of schedule! Pictures tomorrow.
  • This may be utterly foolish, but I have decided to add another hat to the December roster. Mainly because I am running out of ideas for Christmas gifts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Now with 100% more Alpacas!

I made some new friends yesterday. May I introduce them to you?

Liza Mae-- clearly the queen of this operation, if not the world.

She has a real name, but I forgot it. I'm such a bad friend. I have been calling her Tina, and now I can't stop saying "Eat your ham, Tina!" Which is wrong.


... annnnd his sister Clementine.

Clementine is quite photogenic. I shall try not to hold it against her.

Interesting fact: alpacas hum. They do this, according to the Wikipedia entry on alpacas-- thumping good read, by the way-- to reassure each other. As if they could get any more adorable.

Another interesting fact: your non-knitting friends will go quite willingly to fiber-related events if there are cute animals involved. And once there, they will save you from financial ruin:

Laceweight Suri. Hand dyed. From Little Gidding Farm. $32/skein. Sigh.

My Saturday also included a trip to KnitWit, where I petted some of the new Quince & Co. yarn. Lovely stuff. I somehow walked away with only the size 7 DPNs I needed to finish Felicity. I have no idea where all this willpower is coming from.

Now I'm off to finish/take pictures of Felicity. One hat down, 51 to go.

P.S. Thanks Shannon, Sara, and Amanda for your comments on my last post! I'm going to try not to let all this attention go to my head...

Friday, December 3, 2010


I don't have any Christmas lights up yet, but I think this makes a rather nice decoration:

The ends are out of focus because it's SEVEN FEET LONG. No wonder it took me a year and a half to finish this. Between casting on and casting off, I got married and bought a house-- so I guess this scarf marks my transition from pretend adulthood to the real thing. One difference: my yarn budget. Dropping $40 on a project is no longer such a casual affair.

This is Alpaca With a Twist Fino-- double stranded. Since I am now a real grownup, I find it intensely gratifying that there is enough left over to make something else.

Oh yeah, these things are done too. Blocking worked some infinitesimal magic on the fabric that is pretty much impossible to make out in this picture. I still can't figure out how to photograph mittens. And I'm not sure if my deck is supposed to be that color.

I officially started my moniker project yesterday. That's right, 52 Hats is up and running with Felicity here:

I'm glad I started with something quick and easy-- it's way too early to succumb to the feeling that I am biting off more than I can chew.

Finally, can I just share how ridiculously excited I was to get comments on my last post? Yes, I am that vain. Thanks Paula and Stacey!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 1

I think I may have mentioned yesterday that I am in the middle of a three night stretch at work. When I selected December 1 as the start of all this hat knitting I have yet to do, it did occur to me-- for a moment-- that it was insane to think I would actually start anything today. Since I'm trying not to be both insane and stubborn, I have decided to start the first hat tomorrow. Yet I am taking the time to update my blog.

Leaving that aside, I have a very important question to ask of anyone that happens to read this: does a swatch count as a WIP?

I'm not even supposed to be working on this now, but is occupying two of my 16" circs. Quite useful for hats, those 16" circs.