Friday, September 28, 2012

Exciting Times

Guys, I have big news!

You excited?

You should be!

Valley Yarns Berkshire Bulky, colorway Stone Blue
I've started my first ever knitted piece of clothing! Well, I started a couple of sweaters long ago but never got very far. This one is going to be different. I'm ready to commit now. This one is The One, the Mr. Right of garments. The pattern is the Montague Bulky Lace Vest from New England Knits. As you can see, I'm taking it easy on my first foray into sweaterdom: bulky yarn, huge needles, interesting lace, minimal shaping, sleeveless. This avoids many of the possible procrastination pitfalls that would lead to sweater failure for me: too many stitches on the needle, the feeling of no progress being made, too much boring stockinette (for some reason I love garter but hate knitting stockinette), too many pieces to deal with in the end. And I did everything I could to ensure success this time: I swatched, I compared the pattern schematic to a vest I already own to determine size, I started with the largest size and realized it was too big early on and fixed that, and I chose a style I think will be flattering for my body type. I think I can really do this thing!

I'm actually modifying it, too. If you do a search on Ravelry for the larger sizes you will see that the lace panels are very widely spread apart in a most unflattering way with huge expanses of reverse stockinette between them that I just did not find appealing. I liked the way the small size looked, its proportions, so I tried to preserve that in the way I'm knitting it. I added regular stockinette to either side and centered the lace panels better. I don't yet know if this well screw something up for me near the neck, but I looked through the pattern and tried to knit it in my head and didn't see anything major about how the various decreases interacted with the way the patterns lined up.

Here's hoping this sweater and I will live happily ever after! :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Uncommonly Fierce Affection

My color affection shawl is finally done!!! The modifications I made were to knit it with sport weight yarn on size US 7 needles, to do a YO before each RS row in the second and third sections that I later dropped when I came back to it (this prevented a tight edge), and I think I did more short rows than required since the pattern only says to do 9  more sets but doesn't really mention whether all of the stitches should be worked so I just kept going until nearly all of them were done.

4.5 months is actually crazy good turnaround time for me for finishing a shawl, especially one this large. Its final dimensions were 91" wide along top edge and about 21" deep. Honestly, this thing is gigantic. It's almost more of an extremely long/wide scarf or stole than it is a shawl, but whatever you want to call it, it's pretty unique.

I just laid it flat to dry for blocking, I didn't try to pin it out anywhere. It took nearly all of 3 skeins of yarn. I used The Sanguine Gryphon Bugga undyed for the MC, Common Emerald Moth for CC1, and Fierce Snake for CC2. I dig this color combo so much. I actually have another skein of the CC1 and CC2 colorways so I will probably make coordinating colorwork mitts or a hat at some point.

There are lots of different ways to wear this and I'm still trying to figure out my favorite:

We've got the classic over the shoulders look, the newly-invented waving madly like it's a magical voodoo cape pose, the elegantly draped across the front and over one shoulder method, or the funky scarf-style... how to choose?

All told, I enjoyed this pattern and it goes more quickly than expected, but I am certainly glad it's finished. Those edging rows had over 400 stitches in them and took me about 30 minutes to knit each one. But damn, I do love finishing things! Bring on the next WIP, woohoo!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy Wool Week!

It's Wool Week, guys! The Campaign for Wool was begun in 2010 by the Prince of Wales to enhance consumer awareness of wool products. As knitters, we all know that wool is wonderful, but the market had gotten to the point where it cost more to shear the sheep than the wool producer was earning for the fleece. This campaign is mostly about spreading the word about the benefits of wool for clothing, production, and for the environment since it is a truly renewable resource. People all over the world are doing crazy things like parking a flock of sheep in the middle of Manhatten for a week, and I kind of love it.

I've taken "the pledge" to do my part to spread the word about the wonders of wool and so here are a few of the reasons why I love wool:
  •  Wool is a natural insulator, wicks away moisture, can absorb 30% of its weight in water (while cotton can only absorb 15%), and maintains warmth even when wet (which cotton and synthetic fleeces can't do).
  • Wool repels water, mold, mildew, dust mites, and body odor so woolen fabrics stay clean longer.
  • Wool fibers are durable and elastic. They can be bent back on themselves thousands of times more than any other fiber and they hold their shape well in garment form, bouncing back if they become stretched out.
  • Wool is fire retardant, unlike acrylic (derived from petroleum) which melts entirely. Wool self-extinguishes once the flame is removed.
  • Raising sheep requires fewer chemicals released into the environment, unlike growing cotton which "uses more than 25 percent of all the insecticides in the world, and 21 percent of all the herbicides, yet is farmed on only 3 percent of the world’s farmland." Half of those pesticides are "considered “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human carcinogens."
  • Sheep grazing can be used to control invasive plant species in place of costly and environmentally damaging herbicides.
  • Cotton clothing is cheap so people tend to toss out old clothes and buy new ones regularly, which is extremely wasteful. Wool clothing lasts longer and wastes less resources.
  • Wool naturally decomposes, unlike synthetic materials which take hundreds to thousands of years to break down in the environment. 
Many of the factoids I listed came from the Campaign for Wool website as well as from "Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep, and Enough Wool to Save the Planet" by Catherine Friend. The book is an excellent read with lots of interesting insight into the author's transition from city living to raising sheep. It will change the way you look at wool, which I think is a good thing.

Oh! I forgot one other very important reason why I love wool:

It's absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taking Care

I've been so busy taking care of business around Chez Shoelaceswitcher that I've barely had a chance to blog! Day-to-day life things really do add up. Revelation: I thought cleaning and keeping up with the house would be easier with all this time off... but it's not. Turns out when you're home more, you mess the place up more and spend lots of time finding more things that need doing. Boo.

But I have been knitting! In fact, I knit an entire project in two days. I can't show it to you in its entirety because it's the prototype of something I might use for my Malabrigo Quickie featured design in January, but here's a pretty swatch:
Malabrigo Twist, colorways Indiecita and Natural
I'm not counting this one as a finished project yet because I'm not completely happy with it. I'm going to try a few other ideas out first.

Good news, though: I've finally reached the edging of my Color Affection shawl!
Bugga, colorways undyed, common emerald moth, and fierce snake
I was so excited to cut the strands of the main color and  first contrast color. Now it's just... more of the same worked over about 400 stitches for 2 inches! *sarcastic yaaaaay!* But at least now I'm only working with one ball of yarn, I hate untangling my working yarn every few rows. This shawl is at the point where the Fiasco is saying things like "Don't stop, keep knitting!" and "Finish that damn thing already, I wanna see it." Nothing like some motivation!

I've been making strides in sock knitting as well. I'm at the first heel of my Summer Holiday Socks:
The Verdant Gryphon Eidos, colorway Parzival
I've also finally had the chance to re-work and write up most of my Lillypad sock design, starting a second sample in the process:
The Verdant Gryphon Bugga, colorway Yellow Fringe Doris
I edited the stitch counts and made small changes to the picot cuff. I have to knit through to the foot again and work on those charts (damn my incomplete note-taking!) but shortly after that the pattern will be ready for testing and tech editing. Woohoo! Sorry to keep some of you waiting, I promise the pattern will happen!

That's all I've been working on lately. Hopefully I'll have some FOs to share soon. I can't help but fantasize over which long-suffering WIP I want to tackle next. I think it will be my Flamboyan shawl (a.k.a. Beautiful Briny Sea):
SG and Cephalopod Yarn Bugga, colorways Box Jellyfish and Blue Ringed Octopus
I have an unofficial goal of wanting to finish it by Rhinebeck (yes, because it matches my sneakers, and that weirdly makes me happy), along with a hat and another shawl and maybe another shawl. *hysterical laughter* What unattainable goals have you been dreaming about lately?

Year of Projects progress update (7 down, 43 to go):

1. WIPs: 2/10 finished, 1/8 left in progress
2. SIPs: 1/5  finished
3. New Projects: 1/14 finished, 2/13 left in progress
4. New Socks: 2/6 in progress
5. Of My Own Design: 3/16 finished, 2/13 left in progress

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Get Your Learn On

Sadly, I will no longer be able to go to The Verdant Gryphon Open House occurring later this month. The Fiasco gave himself a hernia on his second day of teaching (poor guy) and his surgery has changed our whole schedule around. However, this does mean that he'll be getting better sooner than later, which is the most important thing, and perhaps I'll be able to meet up with my fellow Bugga-lovers some other time.

In the meantime, I'm really starting to look forward to October! Not only is there Rhinebeck, but the weekend before that is Stitches East in Hartford, Connecticut.
I've gone the past couple of years just to visit the impressive market floor, but this year I think I'd like to take a class, as well. There are so many to choose from! If I were wealthy and capable of time traveling, my schedule would look like this:
So many cool things! Socks, shawls, stitches, finishing, sweater fit, embellishments, spinning, weaving, sketching... ahhhhhhhhh overload! I'm leaning towards the Friday AM class with Shannon Okey, author of The Knitgrrl's Guide to Professional Knitwear Design and owner of Cooperative Press, an indie publishing company that puts out lovely knitting books. I'm interested in the class, which discusses how to take what you see in stores and on runways and recreate it in your own knitting designs, but I'd also really just like to meet her. Although learning to weave would be pretty cool, too. Decisions! Anyone going to Stitches?

Also, in truly excellent news, Craftsy members can use a coupon code to get 20% off of Stitches class fees or 50% off market price admission! For those unfamiliar, Craftsy is a craft-related website dedicated to not just knitting but sewing, quilting, cake decorating, jewelry making, paper crafts, you name it. Its biggest draw, in my opinion, are the classes it offers itself. I've signed up for four classes, two of which were free, and two were purchased at half price through various sales and special offers:
That averages out to $10 a class, which is truly a steal. I've only just started the pattern writing class but will be focusing on working through them all now that I have more free time. I definitely recommend checking out the website if you haven't already. I have a pattern store there, too, as well as my design-related projects listed. It's a new-ish site so they are constantly evolving and updating features, but I found that the easiest way to add a project to the site is to go to the pattern page for a design and click the "+Add a finished project" button. For a while you couldn't see which projects were made from which Craftsy patterns, but this seems to have fixed that.

Do you use Craftsy? Just Ravelry? Any other social-media-knitting-related-sites? Do you buy hardcopies of patterns from festivals or yarn stores?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Quick! Quick!

If you've been itching to get your fingers on some of The Verdant Gryphon's new yarn, Mondegreen, the time is now!
Photo from The Verdant Gryphon website.
Remember, this is the lovely 60% BFL wool, 20% silk, 20% camel blend worsted weight yarn that I used for my Beribboned Hat design. (Which is on sale for 10% off on Ravelry for another 2 weeks with the code 'yayseptember', fyi.) It would work just as well for my free Beribboned Wrists pattern, too, which has been going around to various knitters through VG's super fun Nomadic Knitting project. It has nice twist and density from the BFL, a lovely sheen from the silk, and softness from the camel that counteracts some of the wool's potential scratchiness. It's really, truly lovely. Since today is the first day this yarn is available, it will probably sell out quickly, so I'd jump on it if I were you (and not saving for Rhinebeck, sigh).  But fear not, it will be available for the next 6 months and there will be plenty of loveliness to go around.

Is there anything more exciting than lovely, delicious new yarn? Perhaps... I'm pretty psyched that my new kitten Darwin and older cat Calypso are finally getting along:
A tenuous peace.
We can haz friendly relashunz?
I'm quite proud of my kitties, actually. It took a full week but Calypso is tolerating him much better than before. Darwin still needs to learn some limits but he's responding pretty well. Yay for peace!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Finished-Object-Friday #3

Guys, I love Finish-itis!! In the past few days I've finished not one but two long-term WIPs! First, my Fall Shaelyn shawl. I am so pleased with how this shawl came out. The yarn is The Sanguine Gryphon Bugga, colorway Painted Damsel, held double which makes an incredibly lush fabric when knit on size US 10.5 needles.
This has been hibernating forever because I knew I was running short on yarn and would not be able to complete another repeat of the entire chart, but I still had a bunch of yarn to use up, so I wasn't sure how to proceed. I let it sit, and sit, and sit, I wasn't comfortable just winging it. When I picked it up again on Tuesday, I tossed in a lifeline just in case and went at it. This, I think, says a lot about how I've cahnged as a knitter over the past year. Before, the pattern felt like some kind of sacred voodoo magic that I was afraid to mess with. Now I modify at will! I am knitter! Hear me... quietly click my needles?
I ended up working another repeat of the lace section only (not the stockinette), added plain knit stitches as needed to the beginning and middle of the rows so that the lace pattern aligned correctly, and increased 2 sts on the wrong side rows throughout to give it a wider shape. After that I knit two sets of a row of eyelets (*YO, k2tog*) and a garter stitch ridge and bound off using Jenny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, which is fantastic for shawl edges, btw. In retrospect, I would've liked it just as well if I had left out the eyelet rows and knit a bit more garter stitch but no matter. It's done! And I only had 2 grams of yarn left. Love when it works out like that. :)
My second FO is a pair of socks, woooooohoo! Just in time, too, since it's been getting chilly at night. These socks were the May 2011 shipment of the BMFA Rockin' Sock Club. The colorway is Maia, which I adore, and the pattern is Transition Point by Star Athena.
The pattern involves some lovely seed stitch, which I think is underutilized as far as stitches go, and a lot of traveling twisted stitches. It's neat the way everything twists and turns. I modified this one, as well, changing the foot so that the slipped stitches make a 'V' across the top and the rest of the toe is knit in stockinette. It mirrors what happens on the back of the sock and I like the dainty look it gives them.
I can't believe that both of those projects were in progress for over a year. There's no good reason for that kind of dragging out! Except these socks required charts and much fiddling, and fiddly charted socks do not get knit very quickly over here, since socks are my travel project and I hate referring to charts when I'm on the move. (Excuses, excuses...) Now, which long-suffering WIP to conquer next?

Year of Projects progress update (7 down, 43 to go):

1. WIPs: 2/10 finished, 1/8 left in progress
2. SIPs: 1/5  finished
3. New Projects: 1/14 finished, 2/13 left in progress
4. New Socks: 2/6 in progress
5. Of My Own Design: 3/16 finished, 2/13 left in progress


Thursday, September 13, 2012

SS: Brown Merino

Gosh, I've been finished with this fiber for a while, it just took me forever to get around to posting it!

The Grey Gotland fiber turned out wonderfully: it is dense and shiny with an interesting texture, almost silky. I like it very much. I could see spinning it more finely and knitting an elegant lace shawl out of it if I had more. Which I would definitely like, if anybody's buying. Specifically, this fiber right here:

From 2SistersStringWorks Etsy shop
Must save pennies for Rhinebeck. Must save pennies for Rhinebeck. Must save. Pennies. Rhinebeck.

Moving on! Currently on the spindle is the famous, esteemed, irreplaceable Merino wool. (Fun fact: the Fiasco's last name is spelled differently but sounds just like Merino. Coincidence...?)

Photo from Wikipedia.
The Merino family can be traced back to ewes from Spain and rams from the area that is now Morocco being crossbred during the 12th century. During the Middle Ages, Spain cornered the market on wool and outlawed the export of Merino sheep. Eventually the sheep did get around and came to the US in 1809. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, the Merino family is so prized because the fleece is very dense due to the larger numbers of wool follicles in the skin and the wool is very fine, ranging anywhere from 11 to 26 microns. What I found interesting is that there are many varieties within the Merino family and not all Merino wool has the same properties. Also, some varieties were bred to have extra-wrinkly skin since more wrinkles = more surface area = more wool. Crazy, huh?

The Merino I'm spinning is a fantastic soft brown color, called moorit (which means 'reddish-brown'). It is, as might be expected, immensely soft. I love the feel of it between my fingers. There is clearly a good reason why this stuff is so popular. You know that phrase 'it's like buttah'? Well, it is. (Sidenote: I actually hate the feel of butter on my fingers. Who made up that saying anyway?)

You can see how the fiber just flows all soft and pretty-like, can't you? It's spinning up very finely and evenly, too, which is nice.There are things to consider, though, when working with Merino. Firstly, it has a relatively short staple length for wool, between 2-5 inches. This means that you have to pay attention while drafting, it's easy to separate the fibers completely if you pull too much out too quickly without letting the twist grab and secure it. Secondly, whatever yarn you make with it will be prone to pilling. Pilling happens when the ends of the short fibers escape the twist of the yarn during friction and form little balls of wool on the surface of the fabric. Since Merino is very fine with a short staple, it can pill fairly easily if not spun tightly enough. However, many knitters and spinners the world over obviously think the softness and comfort of Merino wool to be worth it, as it is ubiquitous in the fiber world. What's your favorite Merino yarn or fiber source?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The feline relations at Shoelaceswitcher Central are ever-so-slowly progressing. Despite the occasional hiss, I cracked the door open between the worlds of Calypso and Darwin to allow them to see/sniff each other through about an inch of space. After a while of this, Calypso wanted to come out into the room so I scooped up Darwin and invited Calypso to explore. Step-by-glacial-step, she went around the room sniffing things and eyeing me warily. Then she went back into her room and ignored us for a while.When I went in to pet her, though, she smelled Darwin on my hands and hissed at me. However, I still think that's progress, since she wasn't panicking like she was yesterday. This is going to take a while because Calypso is so timid. Darwin, on the other hand, is afraid of absolutely nothing.

Door crack? Big hissing cat? I don't care!
I might be fuzzy but I'm FIERCE!
He is a little bit of a velcro kitten. I've never had a cat that wanted this much attention. He purrs nonstop, to the point where it's weird if I DON'T hear him purring. And he absolutely always wants to be near and/or on me. He is developing a bit of an unpleasant propensity to leap onto my back and claw his way up to my shoulder so he can literally get in my face when I'm busy doing other things like cooking dinner or sitting at the computer. I'm not sure how to fix that, really. (Do you?)

Darwin's favorite place... a.k.a. in my face.
He is a cutie, though, and I suppose there is worse behavior to deal with than wanting love.

As far as knitting goes, I've done less since since I've been off work than I used to do while working, which is crazy. I need to prioritize it more, I think. I've learned that I'm not great at relaxing. Knitting and chilling out during the day is just foreign to me. Also, I'm not sure what's gotten into me lately, but I've really got the urge to finish everything. All the WIPs! Finished! I want them done! I know Start-itis is a real affliction, but I did not know that Finish-itis could be, too. I've (clearly) never had it before. When I have been knitting, I've been working solely on my Color Affection shawl, but I had to stop because I ran out of the undyed Bugga. A wonderful Raveler is sending me some more, though, thankfully. In the meantime, I've dug out this old WIP:

The Sanguine Gryphon Bugga, colorway Painted Damsel
This is the Shaelyn Shawl designed by Leila Raabe that I started last September. I modified the pattern by knitting it with two skeins of Bugga held double and by increasing on the wrong side as well, to make it wider and shallower. I stalled out on knitting this one because I wasn't sure I'd have enough yarn left to do another stockinette section and lace repeat, so I was debating just continuing the lace pattern to make a wider edging. I'm still not sure what I'll do, to be honest, but I think I'll do a bit more stockinette and see how the yardage plays out before deciding. These rows will probably feel pretty short after the Color Affection shawl.

What would you do?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Epic Cuteness

We got our new kitten last night and he is absolutely adorable. :) Internet, meet Darwin:

He is a fluffy, friendly little purr machine. He has settled in quite nicely to his new home but Calypso is Not Happy about this arrangement. We attempted showing Darwin to her while he was still in the carrier and she got all hissy. So we're keeping them separated for now. She is currently hiding under the bed shunning me. Hopefully she'll warm up soon.