Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking forward

In the thick of all the hat knitting, I used to know exactly how I would spend my time once it was done-- in reality, I'm drifting a bit. Enjoyably so, and I'm trying to savor this more relaxed relationship to my yarn and needles. They've still been pretty busy:

These should have thumbs by midnight!

I heart baby knitting-- and NO this is not for me.

What else do I have in mind, now that I'm not frantically knitting (and posting) hats? I have no plans for another grand, year-long project. Once was perhaps enough... but there's lots (and lots and lots) of other stuff I want to do!

First of all, I'm long overdue to make myself a sweater. For some reason, no yarn or pattern ever grabbed hold of me with any urgency, but that has changed. I fell hard for one yarn in particular-- fuzzy, nubbly Shelter from Brooklyn Tweed-- and a sweater that goes with it. So I'm ready to head for that milestone.

At the same time, my mind is now swimming with design ideas-- they appear as soon as I shut my eyes to go to sleep!-- and I feel that my skills might finally be equal to executing a few of them. I already have a handful of hat patterns to write up-- though, predictably, my samples are now scattered to the four winds. I'm hoping memory-- and my Ravelry notes-- will help me reconstruct them...

I also see myself doing a lot more of this:

This will soon be my second skein of handspun!

Here's my first-- I'm quite proud of it.

What can I say, I really needed a break from all the hats, so I bought a spindle and some fiber at the Common Ground Fair in September. I promised I would wait until my vacation in October before I laid hands on them... I didn't last a day.

I'm a bit more apprehensive about this contraption:

It's only been out of the box once since last Christmas!

But all of the cute dresses and skirts I've been imagining-- to go with my hand-knit sweaters, naturally-- are not going to sew themselves. I'm a near-total novice, but I have dreamed about sewing my own clothes for years. Maybe the hat project has finally given me the guts to go for it...

So, sweaters, design, spinning, sewing... doesn't seem like I'm going to have much time for blogging. It seems natural to for this blog to end with the project that spawned it, but I've been thinking a lot about whether I should-- or want to-- continue writing a blog. I'll spare you the details of my rumination... the short answer is YES I do! I think I would miss reflecting on my projects and the process of making them. So a new blog is in the works-- I don't quite have it up and running yet, but when I do, I'll post the new address here.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some thumbs to make and some ends to weave in before midnight-- and some champagne in the fridge that isn't going to drink itself. A very happy New Year to you all!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Looking Back, Part 2

I love every one of my 52 hats, but I do have some favorites-- the good people of Ravelry have some as well. My top five, according to the number of little favorite hearts*:

5. Marsan Watch Cap-- which now looks nothing like it did in this photo. My brother swears it didn't go in the washing machine-- swears it just got wet while he was shoveling snow. According to my understanding, felting requires heat, moisture, and agitation, so I ask you-- how much agitation can a hat undergo while being worn on one's head?!

4. My original sample for the Chroma Stocking Cap-- by the way, my pattern now has 319 hearts of its own, and 23 projects!

3. Pup Tent. I sort of attribute this to the self-consciously arty photos I took of it... since I tend to fave projects with self-consciously arty photos. But it is a damn good looking hat-- I think Bristol would agree.

2. Caller Herrin'-- also one of my absolute favorites. It's probably the best hat I've made, which I attribute to stupendous design and a superbly-written pattern.

And finally, the number-one favorited hat:

Setesdal Love-- which makes me want to do more colorwork with Quince yarns**-- and reminds me that I need to drag that hat out more often, or else find a more worthy owner for it...

Now, on to my favorites! Apart from the two I seem to wear the most lately-- Caller Herrin' and Simple Pleasures-- these are some others I absolutely love. In no particular order:

1. Pinstripe Slouch Hat-- my own hand-painted yarn made this one extra-special. Its new owner informs me that she loves it too.

2. Baby Viking Hat. Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

3. Blue Beret-- which looks looks adorable on everyone who has tried it on so far, including-- and especially-- its new owner, who graciously let me have it back so I can write up the pattern.

4. Tam C-- I wore this a lot last winter and almost everyone who has seen it loves it. It is hard to properly love all of my hats now that I have so many, and this one is overdue for an outing. Tonight, perhaps?

5. 1840 Nightcap. I had to reboot, but it was worth it-- I just adore this hat. My dad doesn't know quite what it's for, but he did wear it Christmas Eve while we sat around drinking Scotch and listening to Nat King Cole.*** I can think of no better purpose for it.

I could possibly drag out my reflections on this project into another post, but I really feel like I've said enough. I'm proud of my work and my efforts, proud of the results, but I don't want to wallow in it any more than I already have. There is no grand, singular lesson to a year of knitting hats-- my hands and mind are as restless as ever, and maybe I understand a bit better how to keep them busy and happy. They want to move on to new things now-- should you be interested to know about those things, stay tuned for one more post.

One more thing: I've had some very lovely and thoughtful comments on my posts and my hats, and knowing that at least a few people were interested in this project helped me get through periods of low motivation-- so thank you for reading!

*For non-Ravelers, when you add a project or pattern in Ravelry to your favorites, a delightful tiny heart appears next to it-- kind of like a gold star, but cuter. As a habitual overachiever, these thrill me to no end.

**These, maybe?

***Christmas Eve PTO = best Christmas present ever!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A bit of light and color

I'm having a hard time mustering the Christmas spirit this year, for various reasons. Chief among them-- I'm working the whole weekend. The bright side: for the first time ever, we have a real tree

My parents' tree always had white lights, but for as long as I can remember, I have craved the colored kind-- and to my eye, we could probably use one more string:

We also didn't have much in the way of ornaments, but some spray paint, gold twine, and a bag of walnuts fixed that:

I was also lucky enough to draw this guy in the annual knitting group ornament swap:

Courtesy of the lovely and talented Leah

To which I have added my own creation:

My only sweater of 2011!

I may be spending my nights in a fluorescent-lit cave, but each morning and evening I get a few minutes to sit by the tree and soak up some much-needed color and light-- a little hint of the light and color that are getting closer now, if only by a few minutes, each day. And that may be enough.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Looking Back, Part 1

I've started releasing my hats into the wild-- three went in the mail this week, and I've hand-delivered a few more. Sorting through the (huge) pile of hats has started to put the past year in perspective for me. There are some pretty good memories in that pile, and I'd like to share some of my favorites.

One reason for starting this project was to try tons of different yarn-- I'm kind of a reluctant stash-expander, so knitting lots of hats gave me the excuse I was looking for. I used 34 different yarns to make my 52 hats-- some of them were forgettable, some are best forgotten.* These are some of my favorites-- in no particular order:

1. Lion Brand Amazing-- this stuff is so much fun! I'll never get tired of watching the colors change, and I love the fuzzy, cohesive fabric it creates. I still have some leftovers, and this cowl has been hovering in my queue since March...

2. Quince & Co. Chickadee. I tried all the Quince yarns in February, and this one was my favorite. It's dense, springy, and a dream to knit with-- and the Quince colors are like candy. This would make a great all-season cardigan.

3. String Theory Merino DK. I tend to prefer solid and heathered yarns to variegated colors, but String Theory won me over. My husband likes it too-- I'm getting increasingly obvious hints regarding a sweater.

4. Brooklyn Tweed SHELTER-- this yarn may ruin me, in many senses. I have used up almost every inch of the leftovers from Irving and Pup Tent making little sweater ornaments-- and I have eight skeins waiting to become a sweater... for me! Knitting with SHELTER has led me to seek out other woolen-spun yarns-- the velvety texture is addictive.

5. Springtide Farm Cashmere. So, so lovely. I don't own any other cashmere garments to compare it to, but I checked a kitten, and yes, it's softer than that. I'm dreaming of a pair of simple fingerless mitts to match my Simple Pleasures hat.

Before starting this project, I usually improvised my hats-- and they were all of the beanie genre-- so here was also a good excuse to try out lots of different patterns. Here are some of my favorites, again in no particular order:

1. Empire by Kirsten Kapur-- a stocking cap that's not too silly for an adult to wear with dignity. The simple stitch pattern keeps things interesting for the knitter but isn't fussy or precious-looking. I'll definitely be seeking out more of Kirsten's designs.

2. Selbu Modern by Kate Gagnon Osborn. All told, I knit four of Ms. Osborn's designs, and this one was my favorite. I love how the simple stitch motif morphs elegantly into a star shape at the crown.

3. Quest by Laura Nelkin. Very clever, very sharp. This looks so perfect with short hair that I may cave in and make one for myself.

4. Waffel Hat by Anna and Heidi Pickles. This is such a fun hat. The smocked stitch took a long time to knit, but it looks amazing.

5. Turn a Square by Jared Flood. Possibly the perfect hat to knit for a guy-- simple enough to be manly, but the stripes keep it interesting. And it's a good excuse to buy Noro Silk Garden.

Since I'm a nerd, I tend to enjoy the technical side of knitting, and this project was a great way to try out all kinds of new techniques. My favorites happen to all be either cast-ons or bind-offs-- and I think it's incredibly important to give careful consideration to the way a handknit garment begins and ends. So try some of these, will you?

1. Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off. It really, really, really is stretchy, and it looks phenomenal.

2. Emily Ocker's cast-on, which answers the question of how to begin a top-down hat. I haven't tried TECHKnitter's improved version, but I promise I will.

3. Provisional crochet cast-on-- in this version, you chain OVER your knitting needle, eliminating the need to pick up stitches from the chain. This is really the only provisional cast-on that I bother with.

4. Channel Island Cast-on-- stretchy AND decorative. It's a very sweet addition that requires little extra effort. I love how it looks with 1x1 ribbing.

As for my favorite hats-- I'll save that for my next post. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Simple Pleasures

November 30th was the last day of 52 hats, and this is my last hat. I've had this one in mind for almost the entire project-- longer than that, really. I've made a series of fuzzy, white hats since I began knitting, and I was never fully happy with any of them. This time, I had the benefit of a whole year of hat-making-- and wearing-- to help make this one just right:

We went to the sea once again...

I feel so lucky that it's only a short drive-- or walk!

I'm also lucky to have a husband who takes fantastic pictures

Behold the fuzziness!

Project Notes

Yarn: Springtide Farm Cashmere. I can't describe how impossibly soft this yarn is-- I have felt cashmere before, but this is... beyond. And it costs less per ounce than white truffles or beluga caviar, with the added bonus that you don't have to eat it. Though you may want to-- I won't judge.

Pattern: Simple Pleasures from the Purl Bee. This pattern appealed to me because of its simplicity-- it really lets the yarn shine. I modified pretty heavily to get the fit I was looking for, but I think I stayed true to the spirit of the design.

Modifications: I didn't want a super slouchy hat-- and I knew I didn't have enough yarn to make one! I knit only four inches of ribbing and began decreasing when the hat measured 6.5" above the brim. This gave me a total length of 9.5"-- just the right amount of slouch for me. I also did quite a bit of fiddling with the stitch count. I liked the look of the fabric at 5 stitches/inch, so I planned to cast on a few more stitches than called for by the pattern. I also wanted to get the ribbing to fit just right-- cashmere lacks elasticity, so I went down three needle sizes and I cast on enough stitches so that the brim just fits my head when fully stretched. All of this tinkering involved making several swatches, but it was worth the effort-- I didn't want to use up all that lovely yarn on a hat I never wear!

Techniques: Halfway through knitting the ribbing, I noticed that the wrong side-- i.e. the side that would show when the brim was folded-- looked terrible. When I reached the end of the brim, I started knitting in the opposite direction, so that the nice looking side of the ribbing would show. Changing directions like this can leave a hole, so I used the shadow wrap method to conceal the evidence. Next time I do any short rows, I will use it again-- pure genius!

Etc: Though I have made more complicated hats, this one brings together so much of what I've learned in the past year-- and maybe just a small part of why I started this project was to end up, at the end, with one perfect white, fuzzy hat. I'll admit I was a little sad to finish it, even though I love it and it's perfect in every way. My project is over, and I don't think the full impact has hit me yet-- this being the season of deadlines, I have found plenty of uses for my free time. There is still a bit more to say before I call it a wrap, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Caller Herrin'

Three-hundred sixty-four days ago, I started this project-- one-hundred thirty-eight days ago, I started this hat:

Ahoy, there!

A seafaring hat must be photographed at the sea.

These were taken at Reid State Park-- one of my favoritest places.

Photos courtesy, as usual, my enormously talented husband...

... who never passes up the opportunity to catch me acting silly.

Project Notes

Yarn: Harrisville New England Shetland-- first purchased 257 days ago on a knitting field trip to Harrisville, NH. I brought home eight colors that day, to which I added four more back in July. The final color scheme: Loden Blue, Peacock, Woodsmoke, Tundra, Jade, and Pebble. This is great yarn for Fair Isle knitting-- the stitches loft up and cling to one another quite cohesively. I used just a smidge of Malabrigo Lace-- held doubled-- for the hem facing.

Pattern: Caller Herrin' by Kate Davies. I love pretty much everything about this pattern. The charts are beautiful and the instructions impeccable-- and the small motif is easy to memorize and easy to knit. Highly, highly recommended. I am in fact thinking about knitting another one in undyed Shetland wool... which is a clear indication of either devotion or dementia. I also loved reading about Kate's design process-- what an amazing talent!

Modifications: I did a sewn-shut hem rather than the knitted-shut hem called for by the pattern. I will let TECHKnitter explain the difference.

Etc: This hat was a labor of love. The actual knitting only took a few days, but I thought I would never be finished with the FINISHING. Making the Mother of All Swatches also added time to the proceedings, but was well worth it-- I was concerned that I would not be able to attain the same depth and subtlety of color substituting the New England Shetland for the Alice Starmore yarn called for in the pattern, but it ended up working out well. And I'm quite enchanted with the result-- the only thing I might do further is felt it slightly to fit my tiny head better. I could go so far as to say that this is my favorite hat-- which may be why I saved it to post on the final day of my year of hat-making. There is still one more hat to share, but this is really the crowning achievement.

One last look...