Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Treats, Not Tricks: Two FREE Patterns!

Happy Halloween!


While I don't have any holiday-appropriate patterns to offer you today, I do have a special treat for those who dare: the folks at Lorna's Laces have graciously allowed me to offer these two patterns I designed for them for free!

Both the Lacy Summer Socks and Snaky Cables Hat patterns can now be downloaded from my Ravelry and Craftsy pattern stores, just in time for holiday gift knitting! Which is great, because there are only 54 days left 'til Christmas (and, if I'm calculating correctly, 37 days left 'til Hanukkah begins)...can you think of anything scarier than that?!

Lacy Summer Socks: Great for any time of year! These socks knit up quick and require only 215 yards to make the pair, which means you can make two pair with each skein of Shepherd Sock or Solemate! Click here to purchase either of these yarns (which are both currently on sale, might I add) from DoodlebugYarn.com; don't forget to enter "HBSBLOG" at checkout to receive $5 off your order of $25 or more. 
Snaky Cables Hat: Easy-to-knit unisex design to keep your loved ones warm this winter! You'll need just one skein of Shepherd Bulky to knit this hat - crochet edging optional!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Nordic Knitting Traditions

I bought Susan Anderson Freed's book, Nordic Knitting Traditions, on a whim a few weeks ago, when I needed to add something to my Amazon cart to get free shipping (of course, when you put in something that would have cost the same amount as shipping the one item you were originally buying, is free shipping really free? That is probably a blog entry for a different day, however!) - it wasn't listed on Ravelry yet and it had just been released earlier this month. It's safe to say I had no expectations going in, I literally just thought "oh, cool, a new colorwork book!" and checked out.

I don't have any dedicated fair isle books, so I can't say I have a frame of reference, but here are the things I really like about this book: first, the graphic design is stellar. It's a beautiful book to flip through. Each chapter's graphics are color-coded, and there are delightful line drawings that appear throughout the book as well. The book assumes you know the basics of knitting and has a small section at the beginning to share stranded knitting tips and tricks. Each chapter begins with the full pattern to make the accessory and a thorough explanation of the construction elements you'll be using in the process, immediately followed with charts and additional instructions for use in the basic pattern. There are even more technique tips at the beginning of each section to help you make successful hats, mittens, gloves and socks.

Nordic Socks
image © Practical Publishing
Many of the motifs are repeated throughout the book. On the one hand, that means you can make coordinating accessories quite easily; on the other hand, it does make it feel like there are fewer than the 25 designs proclaimed on the cover. I do believe in quality over quantity, however, and in that respect this book does deliver. All of the charts are in full color and at a reasonable size for following along; they also include a photo of the knitted swatch for reference. Overall, the information is thoughtfully presented; time will tell if the patterns are well-written, though at first glance they do appear to be quite comprehensive!

If you take the time to read the introduction, you'll learn that the designs are based on tradtional motifs that Susan has transformed, making the original base design almost unrecognizable. You'll also learn that many of the patterns are named after the author's chemotherapy nurses; what Susan doesn't say is that many of the items pictured in the book were knit by the author during her chemotherapy sessions (you'll have to read the "acknowledgments" in the back. Another interesting fact hidden in the back of the book: the designs in this book were inspired by the bird carvings of her late father, Don Anderson. How much would I love to see these original carvings?!

This prompted me to seek out Susan's other work. Turns out she her first book, Colorwork Creations, also features some colorwork stunners (perhaps also based on her late father's carvings?). It's now on my Amazon.com wish list! In my stalking research, I also learned that Susan is semi-local (residing in central Illinois) and has given workshops in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Here's hoping she has a speedy recovery and is up for teaching more classes in-state, because I'd love to sign up!

Click here to purchase Nordic Knitting Traditions on Amazon!

Friday, October 26, 2012

FO Friday: Mushin Cowl & Darn-a-thon Update!

Three days after I started it, the Mushin Cowl was finished - it took me longer to get around to photographing and blogging about it than the actual crocheting! I became completely addicted to this pattern, which was easy to memorize and absolutely perfect for the yarn, Malabrigo Arroyo in Escorias. I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but the Mushin Cowl is available as a free download on Ravelry.

I find it surprising that I'm only the seventh person to make this pattern; it never ceases to amaze me how some patterns catch on and have thousands of WIPs and FOs, while other designs that are just as awesome (sometimes more so) remain in obscurity. It looks likes this pattern came out this year, so there's still time for it to be discovered! If you're new to crochet like me, this is the perfect project to build your skills while making something pretty. I highly recommend giving it a try!


Darn-A-Thon Update: My BMFA Socks that Rock are back in business! There was a small hole on the bottom of the heel on one sock, taking them out of commission. They'd been in the "fix me/ignore me" pile for well over a year, which is a shame because these were one of my favorite pairs of socks to wear.

I think Tyler bought me the yarn for my birthday one year; at the time, I think the Raven Clan series of colorways had just come out. Clearly, murky tones are a favorite of mine, if this blog post is any indication! These socks were knit in 2008 using the Oriel Lace pattern from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks. They were my first-ever successful toe-up socks and I'm really excited have them back in the sock-wearing rotation this season!

Also revived this past weekend was my Tea Leaves Cardigan, which needed new buttons and a nice shave since finishing it in 2010. Now it's good as new!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WIP Wednesday

Even though this week has been busy with work and preparation for VK Live! this weekend, I've still been finding time to knit (is anyone surprised?). I've made considerable progress on my Malabrigo baby blanket. Of course, since it's just an endlessly-repeating pattern, it's not super interesting to see progress shots...unless there is a cute kitty in said photo, right?

I also started a project that has been in my queue for a while now, Marly Bird's Gradient Serendipity Shawl. I'm using the Himalayan Trail I bought from Bijou Basin Ranch at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival back in September, rather than the Lhasa Wilderness used in the pattern. I love the other projects I've made with Lhasa Wilderness - Narwhal Mittens and the Union Long Beanie - but wanted to try something new. Plus, I love the natural brown color, and it's soooo soft.

It's knitting up quite nicely; the cast-on is the hardest part (336 stitches!). Once you work through the first few rows with an easy lace pattern, you switch to garter stitch and work back and forth in short rows. Easy peasy and fun to knit!

Over the weekend, I performed some major sock surgery as part of my Darn-A-Thon efforts. I originally knit these socks for Tyler in 2008; I suppose it's no surprise that, four years later, they're in need of a few repairs. These socks really took a beating - not only were there rather sizable holes in both heels, the toes also had holes and threadbare holes-in-the-making. Rather than repair or reinforce each spot individually, I decided I should just cut off the toes and knit completely new ones, which I am now in the process of doing with some Brown Sheep Wildfoote from my stash. Tyler's favorite socks should be back in the game sometime soon!


Monday, October 22, 2012

VK! Live! Is! Almost! Here!


Palmer House Hilton
...and I am not excited in the slightest. 

Actually, I have very high hopes for this event; my prediction is that it's going to knock their competition out of the water, notably in terms of attendance and accessibility for Chicago knitters. I love going to Stitches Midwest, but I don't love going to Stitches, if you know what I mean. 40 minutes in the car to get to the 'burbs? And I actually live pretty close to Schaumburg, relatively speaking: for folks who live in other Chicago neighborhoods (I am in the Northwest, about 20 minutes from O'Hare), they probably spend at least an hour making the trek, possibly longer! 

For the car-free city mouse, a trip to Schaumburg can pretty much eat up your whole day...and budget...and patience. Driving in Chicago, especially on the highway, isn't exactly the most fun way to spend your time, so it is with much giddy anticipation that I have been counting down the days to the first-ever Vogue Knitting Live! Chicago

They picked a gorgeous venue, the Palmer House Hilton, located in the easily-accessible downtown Chicago loop. A+ to whoever brainstormed that idea and saw it through to fruition! It doesn't matter where you live in the city (or the suburbs for that matter - you can easily take a Metra train into the loop), there is a bus or train line that will get you within blocks of the blessed event. The folks at Loopy will also have a shuttle running between their shop, which will have extended hours, and the Palmer House. Be sure to save some yarn money to spend there, because they've got a great selection!

Merz Apothecary
(On a totally unrelated note, one of my favorite shops that is unique to Chicago is located in the first level of the Palmer House Hilton - so if you're visiting from out of town, be sure to check out the Merz Apothecary, too!)

I will be spending most of the weekend helping one of my clients in their booth, though I have many who will also be attending that I can't wait to say hello to. I've honed my shopping list to the essential (dear lord, I do NOT need more yarn!). I've scheduled a few hours to shop the marketplace and see my friends at the Windy City Knitting Guild booth (hint: you'll want to stop by to say hello, test out some Knitter's Pride needles, and get a coupon for your Green Mountain Spinnery purchase at the show!). I didn't sign up for any classes or events, but here's hoping VK Live comes back next year so I can try those on for size. 

Will you be going to Vogue Knitting Live? Come say hello to me in the Bijou Basin Ranch booth!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Sad Slipper Tale

Not-So-Tiny Slippers, as they were intended.
A few weekends ago, I decided to myself a new pair of slippers, as my store-bought ones were ready to be put out to pasture. I grabbed a skein of Berocco Vintage Chunky from my stash and casto on for Ysolda Teague's Not-So-Tiny Slippers from Whimsical Little Knits 3. After a day of knitting, they were done...but just ever-so-slightly too big for me.

In hindsight, I realized I made two major mistakes:

Mistake #1: Not checking my gauge.
Mistake #2: Continuing to knit even though they seemed too big.

Time for damage control! I tossed them in with my next load of laundry to see if washing and drying them would make a difference - no such luck. Magical laundry elves did not resize my slippers in the laundering process.

I decided the best course of action would be to felt them down to size. While the yarn I used was superwash (and one of my favorites, might I add), I have found that even the heartiest of machine washable yarns cannot withstand being exposed to extreme temperature changes and agitation without felting even a little. I had a tiny glimmer of hope that this would work.

The first felting experiment got me closer to my goal, encouraging me to try again. I didn't have anything left in the laundry hamper, however....so I grabbed a towel and tossed it in with my slippers. Unfortunately for me, I grabbed an unusually pilly towel, which brings me to mistake #3: not putting the slippers in a pillowcase when felting them. This is something I briefly thought of doing, mind, you, but then shook it off before proceeding full-steam ahead. I'd like to think I should know better at this point in my knitting life, but that clearly isn't the case!

At any rate, this is how my slippers came out after this final felting experiment:


Sure, I could use my nifty little sweater shaver and salvage what's left of them, except for one minor detail: THEY STILL DIDN'T FIT. Argh! I think this is a case of operator error mixed with a pinch of the universe not wanting me to have avocado green mary jane slippers. Ok, universe. Message received.

I picked up the pieces and cast on for some new slippers (on I Love Yarn Day, as it happened), using some Chunky Noro I had hiding in my stash. These were also a no-go. Perhaps I misread the directions, but they produced the weirdest non-foot-shaped slippers I've ever seen. Perhaps I'm not meant to knit myself some slippers? I don't want to give up just yet, but it seems the universe is trying to tell me something.

If anyone has a favorite pattern for quick-knitting slippers (preferably in worsted or chunky-weight yarn), I am all ears!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WIP Wednesday

Crocheting those amigurumi pumpkins last week really whetted my appetite for crochet! I decided to take one of the skeins of Arroyo I just ordered from Doodlebug Yarn to make some sort of cowl. I came across this simple, free pattern on Ravelry called the Mushin Cowl by Shireen Nadir. The term "mushin" comes from Martial Arts training and means "without mind." Once I read that in the explanation, I knew this would be the perfect pattern for me to make!

Since I am still really new to crochet, there are sometimes terms I come across that I haven't seen before; in this pattern, it was the slip stitch at the end of each round. First, I wondered - should I have been doing that all along when crocheting amigurumi? Is it just one of those givens that isn't necessarily written into a pattern? I've signed up for Stacey Trock's Woodland Creatures workshop on Craftsy, so perhaps that will shed some light on that subject once I sit down to do the course.

Rather than make an educated guess, however,  I decided to do a quick search on YouTube. Jackpot! I found this helpful video that got me back on track:


Wow, it really is as easy as it sounded! Once I mastered the slip stitch, I crocheted away happily the rest of the weekend and am nearing completion of my first-ever crochet cowl!


As far as my other WIPs go, I am making slow but steady progress on the Malabrigo Rios baby blanket and I've started a top-secret holiday gift that I don't dare mention because the recipient reads my blog. I've also been attempting to make myself some much-needed slippers for this winter (more on that on Friday), so that's been distracting me from my gift-knitting endeavors. Hopefully this weekend I'll get back on track!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Darn-A-Thon

I can prolong the inevitable no longer: I have a ton of hand-knit socks in need of repair. After years of serving me and my husband well, many of our warm winter socks have holes that have relegated them to the "someday I'll fix it" pile. Actually, let's call a spade a spade: it's really the "ignore it" pile.

Mending is my most hated task; I have umpteen socks and even a few sweaters that would be good as new if I would just spend an afternoon or two fixing a few minor holes or missing buttons!

My goal is to spend a few hours of each weekend darning socks and getting my hand-knit sweaters ready for winter wear. If I employ the 'bird by bird' approach, the likelihood of this getting done is much higher than if I were to attempt spending one entire weekend on the project. Hopefully this isn't faulty logic, but it's the best I've got at the moment.

Here's my "going-to-fix-it" pile:


Do you have a lot of hand-knits in need of repair, too? You can join in on the Darn-A-Thon fun - just share your progress by commenting on my blog or posting on my Facebook or Twitter feed! 

Friday, October 12, 2012

FO Friday: Twice as Nice!

Why make something twice? It's generally not in my nature to knit or crochet a pattern over and over again, but lately the familiarity of an easy-to-make design is something I've been craving. I was so delighted with my Fresh Stitches CAL project Jack the Tiny Pumpkin, that I decided to make him a friend:

I had a similar experience with Cookie A's Lateral Socks; there is something about this pattern that I found immensely appealing...plus, I could tote it along wherever I went, sans instructions. For my second pair, I subbed in a speedy short-row garter stitch heel and garter toe. These socks were the perfect project for long (or short) trips on the CTA.
Of course, finishing two projects this week means I get to start some new ones...right?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Instagrammin' It Up

Hooray, it's WIP Wednesday! After a productive weekend of crafting (and instagramming what I've been crafting), I'm excited to share everything I've been working on. As of last night, I began the toe shaping on my second pair of Lateral Socks by Cookie A, which means that these will be off the needles and onto my sock blockers before the weekend kicks off!
I'm also nearly done with all of the monkey bits for the first of many Jerry the Musical Monkey toys! I'll be allocating some time this weekend to sew in ends and assemble Mr. Monkey before I cast on for a buddy. Here are the monkey feet before I finished them on Monday!
I also started and completed my first-ever CAL in a matter of days! Here are my progress shots as I worked on Jack the Tiny Pumpkin by Stacey Trock; I'll be sharing my finished pumpkin this Friday. I might even make a few more this month - it was such a fast and easy pattern to crochet!
Finally, I cast on for a baby blanket with the Malabrigo Rios in Lettuce I ordered recently from Doodlebug Yarn. I'm actually making the pattern up on the fly, and it should be released soon after the blanket comes off the needles. It's a little too soon to make out the stitch pattern, but I'm liking the way it's knitting up so far!



Monday, October 8, 2012

Crochet Lab Review + My First CAL!

Earlier this year, I signed up for Vicki Howell's Crochet Lab class on Craftsy.com, determined to re-learn how to crochet. This was the first class I took on the Craftsy platform, and as you can tell by how often I reference and support Craftsy on this blog, I was impressed!

I would (and have) definitely recommend this class for anyone who wants to learn how to crochet. Vicki is enthusiastic and good at explaining things in a way that is easy to grasp, encouraging folks to find the way that's easiest for them to do rather than insisting that what she is demonstrating is the only correct way to crochet. This is something I find very refreshing about Craftsy courses in general - the instructors are very good about either demonstrating a few ways to accomplish the same thing, or, at the very least, encouraging their students to experiment and do what comes naturally to them.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow; for each technique, there is a close-up of Vicki's hands as she works so that you can see exactly what she is demonstrating. There are nine lessons in all, covering chain making, single crochet, double crochet, and half double crochet techniques. She also covers choosing your materials, demonstrates how to measure gauge, and walks you through one of the course projects (the techie cozy) and making granny squares. The course materials include several patterns and an cheat sheet for basic stitches and pattern reading; of course, if you get stuck, you can always ask a question online for Vicki or your fellow students to answer.

My only constructive criticism are two rather petty notes that have no bearing on the actual content of the course, nor would they affect a normal person's ability to craft: I found myself distracted at times by Vicki's sparkly french manicure and her tendency to talk with her hands when not demonstrating technique. I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep your hands still when being filmed not knitting or crocheting, but for those of us watching at home, the muppet flail can really detract from the lesson at hand...or maybe that's just me!

Click here to sign up for Crochet Lab on Craftsy for $14.99!

I've also decided to do my first-ever CAL* this month - it's happening here on Stacey Trock's Fresh Stitches blog! I thought I'd start with the simplest-looking pattern (bonus: it's free!), Jack the Tiny Pumpkin, since I struggled so much crocheting an R2D2 a while back. There are prizes and lots of other cute patterns to choose from, too, so it should be a fun way to get into the Halloween spirit this month.

Click here to join in the fun!

*Actually, I was going to do Kristin Omdahl's Soldier Love CAL over the summer, which would have been my first, but the fates conspired against me; I still have the yarn and pattern lurking somewhere...I just need to work up to it!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Yarn Treats + A Rambling Treatise on Chicago Mail Delivery

Since I don't have any FO's that I am at liberty to share with the world at large, today's post is at the mercy of the United States Postal Service. In Chicago, that is an especially frightening thought; even before USPS began slashing budgets and cutting jobs, mail delivery in Chicago has been nothing short of terrible. In years past, there have been stories of postal carriers hiding undelivered mail in their houses or storage units, burning mail, and who knows what else, just to avoid delivering it! Long story short, mail delivery in Chicago is hands-down the worst in the nation.

I could regale you with far too many nightmarish stories myself, though I have also had a few positive experiences in my 7 years as a Chicago resident...perhaps to make up for some really ridiculous BS at the hands of Chicago's USPS! My current issue with them is not the speed at which my mail is (or is not) delivered - though that has been a problem at one time or another - but the hour of day when it tends to arrive. With the exception of the occasional blue moon, our mail arrives well after 5 PM on any given day; case in point, the time of this post is about five minutes after my mail was delivered today (no, I'm not the fastest writer ever, I wrote the rest of this blog earlier today in anticipation of severely late mail delivery...this is actually considered a decent hour, these days!).

Mail Goodies from Doodlebug Yarn!
I have actually seen our mail carrier walking around with a headlamp long after the sun has set. On more than one occasion, our mail has arrived between 8 and 9 PM. For someone who works from home, this can be profoundly irritating!The highlight of my day is usually the arrival of a goody of some sort (I do pretty much all of my shopping online) via UPS, Fed-Ex or USPS. So far, UPS and Fed Ex have not let me down. USPS continues to, week in and week out.

At any rate, earlier this week I claimed a Facebook offer from Doodlebug Yarn and ordered myself a few yarny treats! Pretty much all of the yarn in this order is earmarked for some sort of gift knitting, but since I have the pleasure of working with mmmmmmMalabrigo, I still consider it a treat for myself. I also threw in one of my favorite products of all time, a Lavishea lotion bar in Lavender, and some new removable stitch markers since all of mine are so old and brittle, they have all broken with use. Not a bad way to begin October!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

WIP Wednesday

I have only three projects on the needles (one of which is top secret)! In my effort to focus on my holiday gift knitting AND post-holiday knitting for the 2013 babies, four in all, I've been fending off startitis and my natural inclination for selfish knitting. So far, so good, anyway.

I'm nearly to the heel on sock #2 of my second pair of Cookie A's Lateral Socks; this pair I'm knitting with a skein of Valley Yarns Charlemont Kettle Dyed in Dusk. I'm pretty sure I bought this yarn from the Webs booth at Stitches a few years ago (not this past one, as I only walked away from the Market with a few braids of handpainted fiber). I love this sock pattern! It's easy to memorize, and this time I'm doing a garter short-row heel and a garter toe, which you may recognize from the Jelly Beans Socks I recently finished. Those socks knit up so much faster when I didn't have to full with a heel flap, picking up stitches, and gusset shaping. Now I understand the allure of the short-row heel!

I'm also working on Rebecca Danger's Jerry the Musical Monkey. I'll be knitting lots of stuffed toys from now til the end of the year; if any parents-to-be happen to be reading this blog, they have a one in  three chance of seeing something that will ultimately be residing in their nursery (I say 'one in three' because one of my friends is having fraternal twins!).  I'm ok with those odds, which are probably more like one in 20 or 30, since I'm pretty sure they have many other things on their to-do list, and keeping up with the blogosphere is probably not one of them!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday Pinspiration

Happy October! Fall is one of my favorite seasons, with winter being a close second (I know I'm probably in the minority on that one). I've already started bringing out the hand-knits and wearing some of the new socks and cowls I spent the summer knitting whenever I can. It's a great time of year to be a knitter!

There are so many amazing patterns coming out right now that it's going to make it tough to stick to my holiday gift and baby knitting list.  I'm looking pretty good for my holiday knitting, but I have three friends who are expecting - a total of four babies to knit for! It's time to focus, and not let anything bright and shiny distract me.

And yet, my Pinterest account suggests otherwise. I've been coming across such great new patterns and unearthing some previously undiscovered ones along the way, so naturally  my Ravelry queue is threatening to return to eight pages once more. Perhaps the only way I've avoided that inevitability is to pin something instead of queueing it.

As of presstime, I've managed to resist startitis, having still only 3 WIPS on the needles: a super-secret test knit, a pair or socks, and a monkey (more on those last two this Wednesday!). But oh! such things I would knit it I had all the time in the world - I certainly have all the yarn in the world!

Here are a few recent highlights from Pinterest to get your needles moving!

Hats & Mitts to Knit:


Scarves & Cowls:

And my newest board, For the Babies:

There have also been some wonderful tutorials my fellow crafters have shared via their blogs & youtube. I have collected my favorites on my Free Advice board: