October 11, 2014

A Study in Color and Tension: Fall

Fall brings brisk days and a need for toasty hands!
Hello, all! Well it has been a wonderful fall here in the Great Northwest. Everyone has enjoyed some extended time outside lately. The sun has been out and Mother Nature has not exactly turned the thermostat down yet. Today seems to be taking a little turn, though, which makes people like me (Native Northwesterners not accustomed to any kind of heat and who feel more comfort in the cooler, grayer weather) have hope.

And anyway, don't we all have a butt-load of knitting to do? (Yes. I am using that word.)

My class in Lyle, Washington went well. Like last year, lots of folks wandering about at the NW
Jo in Green Giant Ski Hat
Homesteading Fair, but only a couple wanted to sit outside in the lovely Eastern Washington air under a tent for an all-day knitting class. It was still a blast and the day was sunny but, out in the east, windy and crisp. Perfect. Plus, I got to spend some time with Jo, my oldest daughter. 

The hat for that class is now on Ravelry in my pattern store, in case you are interested in a super chunky hat for winter. Plus, Jo discovered that if you accidentally make it a size (or two) too small, it becomes a beanie instead of a ski hat!

Thumb + acorn = cute!
As for my current situation, I am still madly studying for the Master Knitter's program and pinning away on that board. My focus has been on tension. Tension tension TENSION!!

I have been intensely (no exaggeration....you guys know me by now and my obsessive ways....) focusing on tension. I am trying to be keenly aware of my hands and how I am knitting. And I am trying to use some more difficult knitting methods that actually mess with your knitting tension to fix mine.  

Namely: stranded colorwork. I am proud to say that in the year, I have gone from bumpy, lumpy colors and pictures in my knitting and mittens that would not go over my hand past their ribbing to smoother colors and flatter surfaces. How? 

First, I do a ton of reading to go along with all my knitting. After all, who would write a research paper without the facts? Knitting a project is no exception and there are tons of resources! Purl Soho's pinterest board and blog, Knitting Daily's site  (I have the most incurable girl crush on Eunny Jang. Won't even give the new girl a chance.), and even some classes on Craftsy. These are just a few. Get help when you need it!

What I am learning in all of this is that -- write this down (I had to, but that is because I have a terrible memory. You may not have to.)-- ALL OF THE KNITTING SKILLS GO TOGETHER. That is, they all play off each other, and each new skill is useful to the next--and to the last. I will even say that if you think you have a problem with a skill that seems insurmountable, try the next harder skill and see if going back to the earlier problem doesn't make that old toughy seem just that much easier.

I have loved all this learning so much, that I want to pass it on. To that end, I will be actually teaching a class specifically on stranded knitting in the round at my fabulous local yarn shop, Urban Wolves Fibre
My fav pumpkin coffee cup!!!

You can come visit me on October 25th from 10am till 4pm for fun, stranding and mayhem. Fun mayhem. The shops owners Christine and Michael are super folks and offer coffee (good coffee in case you are picky and wondering) and oftentimes they even have snacks. We will have a roarin' silly good time in the wool strands. Promise. 

I have a pattern in testing right now for the class, and it is called Fall Colors Fingerless Mitts. Really, it is an experiment of mine and of owner Christine's. We wanted to see what would happen if we tried to use all of the yarn in 3 skeins of Rowan Pure Wool Worsted. I came up with 3 styles of fingerless mitts in a fall leaf motif, 2 are a bit more intermediate in skill level and one has a nifty acorn that stretches across the thumb gusset, for those who want more of a challenge in their stranded colorwork. 

Come and visit! Especially if you are having a tricky time with stranded tension. I am creating a notebook for students chock full of advice and resources, along with some nifty photography. 

As for my "thought for the week" on the master knitter's study, let's do a concept instead. 

I read an article a while back that went something like this (me paraphrasing from memory): 

Having trouble with your tension? Gauge uneven? Ask yourself: do you knit while enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee in the a.m.? Follow that with knitting on the commute by train? Knit with kids in the background at night in haste before bed?

If you don't want your knitting tension to tell the story of your day, get a grip. Realize when you are knitting tensely and why. Conversely, when are you mellow and relaxed in your knitting? Adjust accordingly. Knowing the problem is half the battle.

September 12, 2014

Green Giant Strikes Again!

 Like last year at this time, I will be teaching a knitting class on September 20th at the NW Homesteading Fair. This is my second year doing this and I am really looking forward to it!

Last year, I taught an all day class on toe-up sock knitting and this year I have developed a different class altogether. I thought that since time is always limited, and since Christmas is going to soon (if not already) be on the minds of many knitters, it might be nice to do a project class for something easy (yet interesting!) and quick to knit. 

Introducing another pattern in the Green Giant series: the Green Giant Cabled Ski Hat. Knit up in super bulky weight yarn, it will work up in no time. There is a single cable on one side of the hat (great for those interested in starting up some mad cabling skills) and an optional pom pom. 

You may come to the class at the NW Homesteading Fair, which is free, to receive a copy of the Green Giant hat pattern, or if you do not live even remotely close to Lyle, Washington (and frankly, who does?!) and would never be able to make the class without the use of your personal private jet (I know you don't want to use up the gas....it is getting expensive!), you may simply use the coupon code: GGCSH in my Ravelry store until September 15th to receive a free copy, just for reading this
Jo says, "I'll check YOU at the NW
Homesteading Fair."
blog post!

This will run simultaneously with the Fall Woods Cowl promotion, which will end the same day. Heck! Let's just keep the fun rolling!!

And speaking of fun....

And a BIG thank you to all of you who purchased my Fall Woods Quilt Squares Hooded Cowl pattern! I would love to see project photos and hear your feedback! Please feel free to message me on Ravelry: my user name is janelleserio. 

September 10, 2014

A New Knitting Shop? Time to Strike!

It is about TIME!!! Those of us who live in Vancouver, Washington may be just over the bridge from Portland, Oregon (and admittedly a quick 9 miles for me), but sometimes you just want your own LYS!!

Me and two sweater quantities of yarn!
Urban Wolves Fibre Arts is the first of two very local yarn shops to open in Vancouver this month. Owners Michael and Christine Arrington are doing all of us a huge favor by providing a cozy, new space, complete with some stylish and cushy chairs, a large meeting table, and incredible natural light coming from the wall of windows that frame two walls of the shop. In addition to the ambiance and helpful customer service from Michael and Christine, there is also coffee and tea and a large flat screen TV on one wall--one can only imagine the likes of Jane Austen or anything Colin Firth coming out of that for countless hours of knitted bliss.

A unique feature of this store is the dyeing center. It's worth a look! They hope people will come in to buy the raw yarns/dyes they have in the shop and feel free to do it there, thus saving the trouble, stain potential and smells at home. ( I personally really love those smells, but I digress....)

2 yarns for 2 sweaters! Martin Storey's Dale's Aran and
Kathy Zimmerman's Plaits and Links cardigan! One for me,
one for my son.
Urban Wolves is carrying yarns like Manos Del Uruguay, Rown, Madelinetosh, Tahki and Sweet
Gerogia sock, just to name a few. There are plans for more yarns, supplies and classes in the works, too. They already have knit nights and mornings set up, see details

Their official opening was on September 8th and I have the distinct honor of being the "biggest basket of the day." What can I say? I had been waiting for this!

You may be wondering, "Wait! You said two yarn shops!" Yes! Blizzard Yarn and Fiber is open here as well! I will be visiting them very soon!! :)

September 4, 2014

Fall Woods Quilt Squares: Hooded Cowl -- New Pattern Giveaway!

It's a substantial name, but it is a substantial piece, too!  Knitted in super bulky weight yarn, my newest pattern, Fall Woods Quilt Squares: Hooded Cowl, is thick n' rich. If you enjoy a hearty blanket cocooning you as you lay in a hand-hewn pine framed bed at your personal ski lodge in front of the large stone fireplace where a kettle hangs over the flames threatening to squeal with delight at any moment to announce the readiness of your tea, this pattern is for you.

This hooded cowl was designed to lay flat on the chest, so it can easily fit on the inside of a winter coat, or even on the outside of a slimmer fitting one.

The sample shown uses just a bit less than three skeins of Lion Brand Thick & Quick Yarn in Rust. Other yarn ideas include, but are not limited to,Malabrigo Rasta or Rowan Big Wool, Manos del Uruguay Franca... the list goes on and on.

But no matter how much or little your yarn budget may allow, the low yardage and quickness of this knit are sure to delight. Gift giving for Christmas? This hooded cowl would qualify as a moderately quick knit, taking approximately 6-8 hours to make, according to my fabulous testers.

If you pop on over to my Ravelry Store right now and use the coupon code: FWQS upon check-out of this pattern, you can have it for free. That's right: absolutely free.

Imagine: your very own piece of fantasy ski lodge cozy for free. Oh, and one more thing ... there's a rumor going around that this hooded little number may double as chain mail. I hear it may have actually saved a woman's life during a sword battle.

I can't back that story up, but it doesn't mean it isn't true.

Enjoy from now till September 15th.

September 3, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop! Tag! I'm it.

My incredibly intelligent friend with the curious mind and infectious giggle named Heidi, who also happens to write an inspiring blog of her own (DIY-- check it out!) has invited me to the hop. The Blog Hop, that is! To explain, I am going to re-blog Cora's Quilts definition in her August 20th post:

What is the Around the World Blog Hop?

There's a super fun linky party, of sorts, going around blog land called the Around the World Blog Hop!  I was invited to join by Cheryl, the Texas Quilting Gal - a new blogging pal I've really enjoyed getting to know over the past few months.  In turn, I'm inviting some friends to join in sharing their responses.  Next Wednesday, Shauna at Shauna's World, Heidi at DIY and Live to Tell, and Rene (Hi Mom!) at Quilting Nona will be answering the same questions about their creative processes.  

Just about to enter the magical land of Disney!

I received this wonderful invitation while on vacation with my family in Anaheim, California at Disneyland a week or so ago. I was having a world of trouble with my smart phone--I couldn't even get it to navigate from the airport to the hotel, but I did manage to get this exciting message! (After I got home, I took my phone to the Verizon store to see if it was broken and the young man at the counter gently let me know that my two-year-old phone was a dinosaur ... but I digress from a potential middle-aged story about patheticism. And yes, I just made that word up. I'm entitled. I'm middle-aged.)

So I am joining! Here we go!

About me

Okay, so you poor guys always have to hear tons and tons (and tons) about me, all the time. I am a blabberer, even on my own blog. In fact, my whole life can be outlined in blabbering:

  • Talked early and to the chagrin of my parents, who wished they could turn me off.
  • Spent most of my grade school career in the hall in time-out for talking out of turn.
  • Sub-story: 2nd grade teacher moved me from the girls table to the boys, hoping to curb my talking, but only increased it; thus the transition to the start of a long hall-dwelling career. You know the "bad egg," Maisy, in the movie Uncle Buck? That's me.
  • In junior high, distracted and impressed kids at my table by showing them my "double-jointed elbow." More hall dwelling.
  • My high school career included speech team (stand up comedy was my area, and I even won a few tournaments,  if you can believe that) and class time was punctuated by outbursts with certain best friends (you know who you are). We knew each other too well; so well, in fact, that we could execute private jokes from far across the room after being placed at very separate desks. 
  • Had a 12-year career as a fitness instructor and loved it; loved most of all the fact that I got to wear a mic headset in front of a group of 10-80 participants and only I was heard. 
  • Went to college (finally) at 31 years old to be a dental hygienist. This career has been the most enabling of all for me. While my hands are actually in my patient's mouth, I get to talk for an hour straight. I must say here that while I usually win in these situations, it is good to remember that there is always someone better than you are in any skill and I am occasionally beaten in the blabbering department by patients who can accomplish speaking over me, even though the circumstances should be to my best advantage. 
Now I am working on knitwear design and teaching knitting to spread the cozy, the love and the joy it has brought to my life. To read the story of how knitting came into my life, click here. It has everything to do with a little German lady and a church Christmas bazaar. Knitting as a career is truly the end game for my retirement and I work at it all the time. I figure if I stand in front of a class, my blabbing can be continued into oblivion. I believe me, I want to enter into oblivion while knitting or talking about it.

What are you working on?

Right now, I am working on some socks. Big surprise, I know, but I do love them so. I have a mental bucket list of things I want to knit and these are on the list. They are called, simply, Knee Socks, from Ann Budd's book Getting Started Knitting Socks. They are on page 128. I love this book in its simplicity and I go to it again and again. I can't wait to wear these! Fall is on its way!!!!!

In addition to knitting, I am also working on some patterns. I am revamping some oldies (really, firsties who desperately need facelifts) and writing some new ones. My goal has become to read or make another's pattern, take away something I have learned (e.g., a technique) and try it myself in an original way. I will be posting about these new additions in future posts this week.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

These types of soul searching questions always stump me. The first thought that pops into my head is this: I don't know what I am doing ... and everyone else does. I must admit that I have felt pretty good at writing (that may come from the constant verbal practice that blabbering brings) but writing knitting patterns, that's another matter. 

I was so excited when I started knitting. The sights, sounds (even the smells) and endless possibilities in the world of knitting! I wanted it all and I wanted it right now. This included the actual skill of knitting and all the hundreds of techniques and styles therein, group joining, event attending, garment design, pattern writing, blogging ... there have been more than a few times I have put the cart before the horse. And, while I don't expect my excitement to die down anytime soon (it has, after all, been nearly 6 years), I do believe that I have learned to control my urges to go too, too many steps ahead of myself. 

While some of my initial tries in pattern writing were total, stupid flops (Fountains of Portland was un-knittable at first), I really like my latest few and feel they are more in line with what I had in mind when I first thought I wanted to try designing patterns.

Since I don't have a large body of work yet, let me share what I hope to be. For starters, the name of my design studio will be "earthtogs," and my tagline is "cozy knitwear designs for people living on earth." Those words mean it all for me.

I love practical knitwear that fits well and is timeless and classic. I want to create designs that are not going out of style any time soon, for it takes too long to knit something to justify wearing it for only a year or even two. I love rustic earthiness: tweed and heather fibers; cables and fairisles; and houndstooth, glen or tartan plaids are favorites of mine. 

I also have a playful and mischievous streak and love the idea of expressing things like my love of microbiology or 80's video games in knitwear.  Being a lover of things random and tangential, unusual and quirky ideas will surely find their way into my repertoire. After all, this is art and anything goes ... sometimes.

In some ways, I do not wish to be different from others in my genre. Why reinvent the wheel? When we have such wonderful examples such as Ann Budd, Hunter Hammersen, Wendy Johnson, Alice Starmore (have such a girl crush on that Scottish lass) and EZ, it is my opinion that we should learn from them, not necessarily make a conscious attempt to be more original. That comes naturally in one's individual expression and interpretation of those solid ideas.

As for writing, I adore Erma Bombeck and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, for who could not adore them? I will just say that I hope to aspire even part of the way to their great writing. That would be reward enough for me, to reach even half-way. 

Why do you write/create what you do?

I suppose I have leaked the answer to this question into my last answers a bit. Why do I knit and then write about knitting? Photograph my knitting? Catalogue it? Smell it? 

Because I can't help myself. Since that fateful day with Mona Polanski, my own personal Yoda, I will never ever be the same. And I don't care why. 

It just feels so good. 

How does your writing/creative process work?

Well, sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, it usually is in an off moment. I was looking (again--it
I will photograph anything knit-worthy... even my bff Tina
with suggestively dangerous dpn's. And aren't they?
relaxes me) at one of my stitch dictionaries recently and came across one stitch pattern in particular. Suddenly, my mind was flooded with ideas for cowls, mitts, hats, sweaters (which to pick? pullover or cardi?), all containing a single stitch pattern. My problems usually lie in good ideas vs. skills not-yet-learned. But the drive to see the end product seems to be winning lately. Maybe I'm making some progress.

For me, and so many others, I think, photography is the same way. For example, you might be incidentally outside on the front porch and suddenly the light is perfect and your child, who has been playing in the yard, is suddenly more beautiful than ever in that moment and suddenly you must--you absolutely must--get the camera. As it relates to knitting photography, I think I am learning when those rare light moments are more likely to occur (and where) and I try to use them accordingly.

As for writing, it is one of those things you sometimes need to be in the right frame of mind for. Taking a walk/run or being alone with my thoughts helps that.  Sometimes I return from a walk and am practically pushing my family out of the way, "Move! I have to write it down!" I mean a blog story, but they are like, "What.....?" They usually shrug. I am pretty impulsive and they are used to it. 

I think.

As for the blogs that inspire me, I would put at the top of the list The Sampler Girl's blog by Tanya. She is a cross-stitch designer, a lover of Jane Austen, a mom of two boys and she lives near a former home of mine in Virginia. Her blog makes you feel homey and cozy. Once I open it up, I always want to stay. 

My lovely Jo. I LOVE to take her photo!
My second blog tag goes to Hunter Hammersen, knitwear designer and blogger extraordinaire. Her books, the series starting with The Knitter's Curiosity Cabinet, draw me in. I love the themes, the art, the imagery and the writing--the fabulous writing.  In other words, you may buy her books for the patterns, but you will keep buying them for the writing. She seems like a gal I would to hang out with--I might be agape and staring at her, but before the restraining order came, it would be fun.

My third blog tag goes Jona Giammalva, sewist and designer whom I worship. She is not only a sewing designer who has a popular blog and has written a great book called The Essential A-line, she is also a personal friend. She attended high school with my husband and now lives in Arizona with all her five kids and hubby. I feel close to celebrity whenever she is around.

I am adding a 4th blog tag for my daughter, Jo Winner, because I couldn't choose only three. And not just because she is my kid. A new blogger and is only 26 years old, Jo has always been described by those who know her as an "old soul," and she is an artist through and through. She has been creating her whole life and has inspired me over and over again with her fearlessness to take on new adventures. Her blog is called Pilates for the People. Check it out.

August 10, 2014

Whovian Mittens: A Lesson in Size, Gauge and Blocking (plus a little tutorial)

The thin, white lines on the edge were lost a
bit in my first pair. These look much better.
Hello, all! In our previous episode, there were Whovian Mittens on my needles. Well, now they are on the hands of a very surprised (and happy) recipient.

My friend's nephew was delighted and surprised to get them--he "didn't know they were going to be so cool." And I ask you, what hand-knitted original design (or semi-original) is NOT cool? Made just for you?! C'mon!

When my friend asked me to knit a copy my own pair, I saw an opportunity to play with the pattern, and see if I could make it better/different/more functional, etc. I also wanted to try the stranded colorwork again and see if I fix some of the too-tight tension problems I was having before. My recipient also had much bigger hands than me. 

I needed to make some changes.

I began by switching needles. My original gauge on my first pair was 10 sts/inch but simply switching from a US1/2.25mm to a US2/2.75 (only .5mm!) made a huge difference. The new tension was only 8 stitches to the inch. This, in turn, created a large change in the scale for the chart. I had to make the "bigger" sized chart "smaller" to make it work and fit--pattern and person. So I removed columns and rounds here and there and cleaned it up.

In addition to these changes, I needed to further improve my knitting tension. I needed more help than just loosening my "grip," so to speak with the new gauge. With my first pair, I had problems with some of the stitches around the needle transitions being way too tight and thus hiding
Using the "star toe" concept from sock knitting,
I added a "vortex" thumb just for fun.
some of the narrower colors in the finished fabric.

Through some reading for my Master Knitters research, I serendipitously found this very helpful tip in the Big Book of Knitting by Katarina Buss:

To keep your tension even when knitting in the round, knit the last few stitches leading up to the next needle a bit loosely. Knit the first few stitches of the next needle a bit more snugly. (paraphrased by me)

This worked like a charm. 

I also decided to make a learning experience out of this for my blocking studies. To stretch colorwork, I noticed that I had great blocking success with my Rassilon knitted Tam (a free pattern on Ravelry) when I put the huge called-for dinner plate inside. It was scary as it was my first time, but wow did it even out the strands! My solution for blocking my mittens was to cut out large, mitten shaped cardboard forms and wrap them in plastic. 

So...here is a picture tutorial of my ideas for stranded mitten blocking:

Trace your mittens but cut widely around the edges a bit to stretch your fabric.

I just used an old Amazon Box. I have like 2,000 of them.

I recorded my details in my River Song journal.

Wrap your forms in plastic so they don't get wet. That would definitely
put a damper on your blocking :)

Upon trying them in, I realized that the thumbs were okay without the forms
and they didn't really fit anyway. I cut off the thumb parts and it worked just

I am in the process of refining the pattern for these, to be made available to all Whovian friends (and to those who know and love one of us and also happen to knit). They will be a free pattern in my Ravelry shop, probably by early September. 

Happy Knitting, everyone, and remember to get your cozy on, in spite of the summer heat. Cozy is always a state of mind.


June 28, 2014

I am not an expert: lessons in steam

Heat and steam relax the fabric, NOT
pressure. Barely hover over the fabric
with the steam (iron or steamer). 
I used to work at Fred Meyer, a local retail chain here on the west coast of the U.S. My department was apparel, specifically women's RTW--you know, "ready-to-wear." This job consisted mostly of picking up after shoppers: hanging things back up in the dressing rooms; cleaning up kid food spills off the sales floor; tidying the sales rounders; and re-folding (and re-folding and re-folding...and re-fold.....you get the idea) all the shirts, etc. on tables. It was pretty much like being at home with my 6 kids. 40 hours a week.

Except on freight days. I left behind the dirty diapers in the fitting rooms and angry customers at the return counter and headed to the stockroom. There, we had new ladies' clothing, hot off the press, as it were. Boxes and boxes of it. We'd hang it up and then use the elegant, slender, magical floor steamer to make it all lovely. It was a quiet respite from the retail craziness, standing in the quiet stockroom with racks and racks of new smelling fabrics, ready to be smoothed, soothed, by our steamer.

It was a slow, relaxing process, almost hypnotic as the steady steam rose silently, warmly to the high, open ceilings of the large room. It was like a spa for clothes. And once they were dressed and pressed and beautified for the public, the spell was broken and we would once again dive back into the world of merchandising and customer service.

Since right now, my Master Knitter's Level I research centers around blocking and care of hand knits, I decided to try out steam as a blocking tool. I have been reading quite a bit about it and as you might imagine, the reading flooded my memory with those good feelings I experienced with it at the store.

Through the magic of internet searching, I did find out that one can purchase one of those floor steamers online. But they come at a cost and my Rowenta iron just had to do for now.

As I began, there was steam rising, to be sure, lots of it. But no clouds parted and no angels sang and I did not feel hypnotized in my very small upstairs laundry room while steaming the once very wrinkled up, unblocked skirt of my newest test knit for Gabrielle Danskknit, Spin Round and Round Tunic Dress.

I was nervous.

The left shoulder got pretty stretched
And apparently I should have been because, true to my nature, I forgot something. Something I intuitively knew, but left behind while driven to distraction about lengthening and smoothing the skirt on the dress: if you hang a garment on a hanger, and pour tons of hot steam on it, there is a pretty good chance the rest of the garment will get steamed too. Not just the intended parts, eg. the skirt.

To make matters worse, I knitted the dress to be quite long. Amy Rose wanted it "to look like Elsa from Frozen." So the skirt made the whole thing pretty heavy, especially when wet. Combine that fact with the slowly dampening shoulder "straps" and voila....recipe for a dress that is way too big.

Once  I noticed what was happening on one of the shoulders as I worked around the skirt, I stopped immediately and hung the dress over the rack at the waistline instead of on a hanger from the shoulders. This removed the tension on the yoke. I should have started out in this position, or used a blocking board to steam only the skirt.

I later ended up washing the whole thing in warm water in a lingerie bag to get some of the
Amy Rose loves her dress
spring back. I reshaped it wet and re-blocked the top.

I learned at least two things this week: it is true that blocking--at least to some degree--indeed makes some things permanent. (Even after washing, my skirt was still nice and smooth) But it is also true that you can get some of the original spring, size and shape back in some cases.

While I made a pretty big error, it was not irreparable, and Amy can certainly wear the dress, which is adorable. (I even threaded some ribbon through the waistband for extra femininity) It is just a bit big in the armpits now, and she just will have to wear a lacy cotton slip underneath it till next winter. Then she can wear a sweater over it, just like Elsa.

Unless she grows. And we all know that's going to happen. Then she can wear a sweater for fun, not to cover her armpits.

I have added a new board to my Pinterest just for info on the things I am learning or plan to learn. There are lots of links to blocking, steaming, and what have you. Hopefully it can help someone else out, too.

What's on my needles now? Another pair of Dr. Who mittens for a friend's son. Hopefully I will remember all the steps this time and not get caught up in the granular minutia.

Random Fact of the Week: 

Rayon fiber is not synthetic. Well, it's man-made, but men make it from cotton lint and wood chips. Really?! I think MacGyver invented that one.

Amy thinks we should bring fancy hats back. I agree. You UK folks already do
this very well. We are jealous of your hats. 

June 19, 2014

Spaz knitting will get you nowhere.

Wadded up, a sad--and expensive--
kidlin shawl

I'm admittedly a total spaz. And my knitting style is no exception to that rule. I'm in a hurry all the time (which makes me prone to making mistakes), I don't like extra steps (I have historically been really, really bad at blocking and caring for some of my hand knits) and I am basically a goober.

One of the things that I must do in the Master Knitter's Program is undo this lifestyle. I must now confess my sins and repent of my wicked deeds. This post is part I of II posts (who knows...I may need III. And a trip to confession...) about how it is a bad idea to live your knitting life this way.

Today, I am undoing an evil. I am going back in time and finally blocking a lace shawl that I knitted late in the first year of my knitting life, which makes the shawl about 5 years old.

This would-be, lovely Monica shawl by designer Trudy Van
I now know that Eucalan Wash is my friend.
Stralen has been tossed in a pile, folded, yet crammed, in drawers (at least they are cedar) for all this time. This is pathetic, considering it took me between eight and nine weeks to finish it as a newish knitter. That's no way to treat what feels practically like one of your first children.

I did try to block it back then but I lacked the tools and know-how to do it and I lacked to patience to find out which tools and know-how were needed. So, I made it sort of wet and laid it out in a dark hall by the upstairs bedrooms. I didn't know anything about stretching out lace or pinning properly, I just let it sit there and dry. It was....just okay. It was still a bit fluffy and, when I wore it, it quickly went back to its scrunched up self.

No more pins in the house!
So, yesterday I washed it in Eucalan and lukewarm water for the recommended ten minutes. Then I carefully rinsed it so as not to stretch it in the same laundry sink. I did not twist, wring, pull or otherwise distort the shawl. I squeezed the water out against the side of the sink and then lifted it out with both hands, transferring it carefully to a large, very absorbent towel. I rolled it up in said towel and, like Elizabeth Zimmerman says you can, I jumped on it. Then I let Amy Rose jump on it.

It was fun and the water was pretty well out of it after that. Just a little left, enough for proper blocking.

The shawl turns out to be bigger than I used to think it was (I know, duh.) and took up nearly the entire length of the dining room table, which is no small feat. It used all of my T-pins and then two more boxes of rust proof sewing pins and both of my sets of blocking mats.

I carefully, dutifully, put the pins in at about one inch intervals, squared my corners straightened
stretched out--FINALLY!
and re-straightened my edges. Then I patiently forced myself to wait overnight to check for dryness.

Once off the blocking pads, I now get it why people are tempted to take photos of shawls in trees. Flowing, soft and pretty against a green background, my purple shawl has finally come to life.

One of those silly tree/shawl poses

For more information on blocking, here are just a few resources that I found helpful:

1. The Principles of Knitting, June Hemmons Hiatt
2. Vogue Ultimate Knitting Book
3. Knitty  on blocking (they have several stories on that topic)
4. Knitting Tips&Tricks by Lily Chin

Finally! It lays flat. Whew!
Indices are really helpful for topics like this. Check out the back of the book first!

June 16, 2014

I am not an expert: Level I

Hello, all!

My husband and two of the kids on Father's Day
This past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind around our house. Of course, today was Father's Day and I sincerely hope all you fab dads out there had a great and relaxing day full of attentive pampering. At our house, we also have one daughter heading to high school, which means her 8th grade awards ceremony is this week and a 5-year-old who had a pre-school graduation this past week. Adorable beyond words.

Amy Rose at Pre-School graduation. She's a "school-ager
now, mom."
In other news, on June 11th, I turned 45, which means I plan to pretend to be Molly Shannon's 
SNL character for the next five years and go around saying, "I like to kick! And strrrrrreeeeetch, and KICK!" while kicking in the air and stretching in inappropriate postures whenever I feel like it. It's my prerogative and I have to use it or lose it since 50 is only five years away and I intend to act like a dork forEVER!

In honor of my own personal aging, and in addition to my chronic silliness disease (I think I picked it up from touching the floor and not washing my hands after visiting the Ministry of Silly Walks...), I am doing something exciting, something newish...something terrifying.

I signed up for and am already studying madly for The Master Knitter's Program through The National Knitting Guild Association.

I don't know how ready I am for this, but I do know that I do my best learning through structure, especially when I can combine group brainstorming with going off on my own and pondering/analyzing what I have heard. This is the best possible combination for me to move forward, challenging myself as a knitter.

For the group piece, I will be joining the Tigard, Oregon knitting guild (they are thought to be the hard core folks around Portland and I hear there are several people going through the program there) and I have already joined the Ravelry group for Master Knitter students.

For the thinking on my own piece, I am apparently in luck since I went through that earlier period of what seemed like an incurable urge to purchase all sorts of knitting literature (to my husband's chagrin at the time). It turns out, according to the Master Knitter's reading list, I have already accumulated some good study materials.

I have purchased the large, required binder, 250 page protectors and another wave of reading material from the Master Knitter bibliography (mostly on the history of knitting--I can't believe I didn't have them all). Finally, I have also collected over the past few years what will now be some very helpful classes on Craftsy.

I am armed and ready. And I will be using the blog as a journal (as it should be, right?) for my learning experiences.

I will be posting weekly (or more often maybe, depending on how frustrated or excited I get...I'm pretty excitable.) with my progress, what's on my needles, something new I have researched and learned, where you can find certain helpful resources, etc. You may notice that there are a few new blogs under "blogs I love" to the right margin---> Each time I find a new one for learning, I will add it.

I also want to start a random fact of the week addition to the blog.

Let's start that now.

Random Fact of the Week:

Both wool and silk are very poor conductors of heat. This means that your body heat will be trapped inside the fabrics produced by either one of these fibers, sweaters and stockings alike. Your fancy silk thigh highs may not stand alone as winter wear in International Falls, Minnesota, but they may be hotter it more ways than you think.

Now....let's get knitting!

June 7, 2014

Sneak Knitting: The Art of Artful, Productive Trickery

“When you get your paycheck, just cash it first, spend what you want, and then give the money to your husband. That way he’ll never miss any of it.”

This was some unsolicited advice given to me once by a very good friend of mine. It was well-meant, almost entirely a joke--almost--and very revealing of her personality; words like creative, intelligent and mischievous come to mind.

She has an incredible way about her that enables her to accomplish absolutely everything. She works full time, bakes and cooks for her family of four, is very involved with church events, keeps an astonishingly beautiful garden, knits, sews and always has time for her friends. She never misses a step.

It truly is as though she has a time machine in her basement, which I am sure she has carved out beneath her two-story house with a spoon in her spare time (the use of the spoon increases the challenge while saving money on renovation). I am also sure that this fantasy basement is well-decorated.

Sometimes, as I mentioned above, my friend (don’t worry, Joanie, I won’t throw you under the bus by mentioning your name…oops.) drops little pearls of wisdom to us lesser beings. She speaks of methods to eek out money and time through creative thinking and stellar time management. Here is one important example for our purposes today.

Joanie is a great reader. She is voracious in appetite and unsurpassed in speed. Enjoying all sorts of novels, she somehow finds time to finish several each month on top of everything else. Just yesterday she shared with me that she has just finished Jane Eyre (we are reading that one “together” and I am on chapter 20 out of 38) plus two more books. Seriously?

How is this possible?

Sneak reading.

That’s what she calls it. She speaks of sneaking a peek at her story du jour while cooking, while at her kids’ sporting events, and while in the bathroom. Sort of.

She says she locks herself in the bathroom under the guise of actually using it, when in reality she is secretly reading as fast as she can, striving for the completion of more stories in increasingly less time with the same vigor a marathon runner might employ while striving for a faster racing time. (Joanie also runs marathons, but I digress…)

When her husband knocks on the door, she finally comes out of her den of iniquitous deceit. Never before he knocks, but when, and only when, he begins to wonder where she is, does she emerge. This affords her up to several minutes—even 30 to 40—of sprint reading. It is in this way she completes book after book while us mere mortals lag behind.

How does this apply to knitting, you may ask? Or, more likely, you already see where this is going.

Yes, we can consider using this same principle—in theory at first, at least—to complete more knitting projects in less time. Just think of the possibilities for problem solving.

Take your family and friends, for example. Did they line up to “order” projects once they learned you were knitting? As though you could just whip out a sweater for them in an afternoon or an afghan for their Auntie Mavis in just a few days? Perhaps they even attempted to compensate you for your time, saying, “Well, I would pay you, of course,” not realizing the extensive hours a large bedspread or aran sweater would require; even $50 plus materials might only work out to pennies an hour, depending on the project. (Of course, you probably did them for free, because that’s what we seem to do!)

How about the upcoming Sock Summit? A lot of the classes have prerequisites or requirements for preparation in advance. I know that I certainly have a fair share of homework: I need to make several types of heels and toes and knit up several swatches of my choosing from stitch dictionaries before my class. First problem for me of course, will be the choosing of anything—that alone might take me a week or two.

Solution for these problems and more? Let’s explore this idea of “Sneak Knitting.”

As I see it, the foundations of this concept require a Rosie the Riveter approach: We Can DO It!!  A can-do attitude is the basis for any success in Sneak Knitting. You must believe that the idea will work, that you have the creativity, cunning and ingenuity to pull it off. You need to be driven (aren’t you already? You’re a knitter), a little crazy and willing to work hard.

Second, consider your own life situation in order to find Sneak Knitting times. Take me, for example, I work four days a week, have a home with four children still living in it, a husband, too many hobbies (as we have already established), and minimal time to myself most of the time.

In order to write the blog entry for today, I have experimented a bit for myself over the past few weeks. Here are my findings.

I have committed Sneak Knitting while:

  • Gardening

  • Giving the baby a bath (I’m sort of alone—just sit on the toilet or floor, voila!)

  • Cooking (waiting for biscuits? How about a sock on the side?)

  • Mowing the grass (mower noise definitely makes folks believe you are working)

  • Writing this blog, or Sneak Blogging (see days with extra typo’s)

  • At work—need a break? How about knitting instead of/in conjunction with eating? Or try Joanie’s bathroom trick.

  • Watching a guy flick with your husband (he will look at the TV, you check out your cables)

  • At the movies (easy—it’s dark. Knit by Braille will be another lesson)

  • While at Starbucks (Duh. But your coffee gets cold—be careful!!)

  • Painting my daughter’s room (everyone just thought I was slow)

More experimental ones that haven’t been successful for me (or anyone) yet could include:

  • While running or walking

  • While driving

  • While applying makeup

  • While applying makeup and driving

  • While having a fight with your spouse (not recommended)

  • While breastfeeding twins (I have not had the pleasure, but it sounds okay)

  • While skiing, playing volleyball or soccer or other sports—may be a bad idea. Have a whole team of soccer playing knitters? You might get Vlad Dracul’s Forest of the Impaled. Pretty quiet game.

The point of all of this is that with a little creativity and a little Lucille Ball-esque mischief, you can potentially accomplish a lot of work.

Here is my most recent Sneak Knitting project:

It started out small. But after giving Amy a few baths and checking out a few guy movies....

The scarf is calling "Starry Evening" and can be found at http://www.theknittingbee.com/ under the spring 2010 newletter or in free patterns. I used Berroco "Seduce" (oh, la la!) for this one and added some beads that I found on clearance at the fabric store during a Sneak Shopping trip. 

The project is half way done, now. Just need a few doctor's appointments or trips to the park and before I know it, I can move on to those homework heels!

Give Sneak Knitting a shot! Be safe, be sure and know that "You Can DO It!"