I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn


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A new-to-me technique: Two-at-a-time socks

Next week I’ve got a business trip to California, which will involve a good amount of time in airports and airplanes (I live on the east coast, and quite a distance from a major metro airport at that), so I needed a smallish project to take with me that would involve a) minimal/simple pattern repeats, b) easily packable needles and yarn, c) a minimum of additional tools (I do love cables, but have you ever tried to retrieve a dropped cable needle when sitting in an airplane seat?) but also d) enough actual work that I won’t run out of project before I run out airport/airplane time.

Socks are the obvious choice, but socks are sometimes tough for me when it comes to choosing patterns for the yarn I have. Most of my yarn is multicolored, whether variegated, self-striping or speckled. Finding the right pattern to feature the beautiful color in the yarn while also allowing any lace, cable or other interesting stitch elements to come through is a challenge. And I often fear my spindly little double-pointed needles won’t survive all the tossing around when projects are as mobile as they are when I travel. I solved this conundrum for the upcoming trip and even hit the trifecta of great pattern for the yarn I wanted to use, simple yet satisfying pattern that doesn’t need extra tools and cool new-to-me technique to add to my repertoire that allows me to leave the double-pointed needles home.

First, the pattern and the yarn: I’m making the Vintage Fairy Lights socks by Helen Stewart. The pattern calls for yarn “with a bit of sparkle,” so the Mt. Rutsen Studio Yarns Firefly fingering (colorway “Patti’s Holly Bush”) I received in my December yarn-of-the-month club delivery fit the bill perfectly. The thin silver thread that appears here and there among the white, pink, cranberry and blue-grey provides the sparkle, while the pattern that runs for about 25 rounds below the ribbed cuff is meant to mimic bulbs on a string of Christmas lights.

Fairy lights socks 2

I have only ever knitted socks, gloves, mittens and the like on double-pointed needles, but I’ve been curious about the magic-loop method for a number of years. I’ve just never gotten around to trying it. I searched YouTube for videos from which to learn the technique and had to sift through a lot of bad instruction, teases for paid instruction, and poor video quality before I found just the right one for my purposes. But finally I happened upon this video, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it:

First of all, I have mad respect for Therese Inverso, the knitter in this video, who is knitting gloves from the finger tips down. Think about that! It boggles my mind. She also shows two different variations on the two-at-a-time circular technique–one using a single, long circular (magic loop), and one using two shorter circular needles. She covers everything you need to know to be sure you’re keeping your knitting organized and accurate, and she points out the possible pitfalls and how to avoid them. I chose to use the two-needle technique, as I was concerned that with all the jostling around in my project bag while traveling, I’d run the risk of loosing that “dog ear” on the magic loop and messing up my work. I’ve solved the problem of keeping the two needles distinct by using one metal and one bamboo needle (Therese has needles with different-color cords), and, as the yarn came in a single skein, I’m knitting one sock from the center of the cake and one from the outer strand. So far, I’m thrilled with the results, but I’m very curious as to how things will go once I get to the heel flap and have to stop knitting in the round and start up again after picking up the gusset stitches. I’m sure it will work out fine, but that’s the kind of thing I have to actually wrap my hands around, as I’ve no capacity for visualizing without doing.

The initial plan was to just get the project on the needles and knit about five or so rounds into the cuff and then set it aside for the trip next week. But I’ve had so much fun with this new-to-me technique that I’m already 40 rounds in and at the end of the Christmas light pattern. So, to be sure I don’t run out of knitting before the trip is over, I’ll be bringing a backup sock project. This one will be a simple Vanilla Sock pattern, also knit two at a time on two circulars, but using two skeins of this gorgeous Koigu Painter’s Palette Premium Merino:

Koigu

My first-ever socks were made with Koigu, so it’ll be fun to work with that brand again. It doesn’t contain any nylon or other material to help with stretchiness, but I see loads of socks made from this fiber on Ravelry, so I’m sure it will be OK.

I’ll be back in a little over a week, hopefully with some fun reports about Bay Area yarn stores!


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Dental emergencies and brushes with the law–One heck of a week

This past Friday I was finally able to pick up my knitting again after more than a week of letting it idle. The Bare Branches sweater is coming along nicely, with the back and one front panel completed and some good progress on the second front panel. But that means I still have two sleeves, a hood and a good amount of seaming and grafting, so much work still to be done.

Earlier this month, fellow knitting blogger NothingButKnit wrote about her snow day knitting being ruined due to a stomach bug. I know in the past that I’ve also had periods where I felt unwell enough to not even want to knit, but it hadn’t happened in quite some time–until just over a week ago.

Last month I’d experienced some pretty intense pain in the left side of my face, head and neck and assumed it was sinus related. I went to a doctor who felt it might be a muscle spasm. I didn’t have any congestion, so she ruled out sinus infection. The muscle relaxers she prescribed helped, and after taking them for only two nights, I felt great again for a few weeks. But then the pain came back with a vengeance.

I’d had similar pain before that was from my sinuses, but which I’d initially thought was tooth related. Well, this time I thought it was from sinuses and it turned out to be a tooth issue. I spent all of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend on the couch in agony, despite the ibuprofen and muscle relaxers, so that Monday I called the dentist and was able to get an appointment for Tuesday. Turns out I had a large area of decay in one of my molars that was knocking into a nerve, so an emergency root canal (or, at least, the first phase–the one with all the drilling) was done. Yesterday was the first day since all of this started that I was finally feeling like myself again, instead of a drugged up, pain-riddled zombie. It feels good to be among the living again.

But, to make matters worse, a municipal court appearance on a grossly exaggerated traffic violation on Thursday put me back to the sum of $250. The judge gave me the option of admitting to a lesser violation than I was ticketed for (not pulling into the passing lane on the highway to give the officer parked on the shoulder more room) and paying that fine, or going to court and risking the trifecta of a fine, points on my license and increased insurance premiums if I were to lose. I had not felt that I could safely move into the passing lane that night I was issued the ticket, so instead I had slowed as much as I could while passing in the lane adjacent to the officer’s car. But conversations before and since Thursday’s hearing appointment with people who’ve been down this same road informed my decision to suck it up and pay the fine, because it was roundly agreed that there was no way a judge would believe my story over the story of the officer who issued the ticket (his version of my passing speed, the amount of room between me and the cars behind me and other things he told me that night were at best exaggerated and at worst out-and-out lies). Seems this is a common money-making endeavor in my neck of the woods. The word “graft” came up in several conversations. But what’s a girl to do? I have a spotless driving record, hadn’t been pulled over probably since I was a teenager 30 years ago and have very little faith in my ability not to let my mouth get away from me should I find myself in courtroom setting with the unreasonable/dishonest police officer and a judge set on not believing me from the get-go. It’s left a very sour taste in my mouth. Possibly more sour than the one from all that anesthetic and drilling.


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Best-laid plans

Ugh, already making adjustments to the 2018 goals. Making time to write every day is tough when there are errands to do and, let’s be honest, fun to be had with friends and family. How about this, instead of vowing to write every day, I vow to write at least once a week and guarantee that what I write will be at least somewhat entertaining and/or informative? I think that beats struggling to write every day and often having nothing interesting to say, right? I know I’m rationalizing, but it’s my only recourse at this point.


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Traditional crafting

Late this afternoon I spied this book review on the New York Times website. It’s a fantastic writeup of the book Cræft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meanings of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands. The last paragraph made my heart sing:

Langlands, surprisingly unsentimental for someone who made his fame doing historical re-enactments, resists the pull of nostalgia. Yet he makes a persuasive case that the surrender of our lives to machines represents a regression. “Factory manufacture,” he writes, “robs us of a special something: contemplation.” He’s not talking about the big questions of human existence, but of the hundreds of small ones that go into something as simple — or as complex — as building a stone wall: “Which to use? How to work it? Where to strike it?” In the end, this is the case he makes for craeft. At a time where our disconnection from the world around us is not just tragic but downright dangerous, recovering our status as Homo faber, the species that makes things, may be our salvation.

The thought and consideration that goes into both the preparation and execution of creating something with one’s own hands are what make crafting so much fun for me–the excitement of finding some gorgeous wool, bringing it home and then researching the perfect project for it. I even love making the gauge swatch and feeling the satisfaction when I know the size and shape are likely to suit me or the piece’s future owner just right. And like most knitters, I feel an almost rapturous joy in casting on that new project.

I’m in the market for some new books to load onto the Kindle before a trip to California next month, and this may fit the bill. I love that the author not only investigates the activities themselves, but also words associated with these activities (such as pleaching, retting and marling) that have fallen out of use as these activities were set aside for more industrialized practices. I also like that the tone is described as being not over nostalgic. Though I love my hand crafts, I do appreciate the modernizations of strong wool spun in easily manageable gauges and dyed gorgeous hues–all available to me in my local yarn shop or online. What I do hope comes through in the book though, as hinted by the paragraph quoted above, is that these activities bring a value beyond the final product, and recapturing that value and making it a regular part of our lives can be positively rejuvenating.


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Yarn diet fail

The yarn diet is over. I had hoped to use up a lot more of my stash before buying anything new (I haven’t bought any yarn since Rhinebeck in October!), but I knew I was lost when Loop of London posted the photo below to its Facebook feed a few days ago:

Loop London image

The yarn in the photo is by Lichen and Lace, an outfit in New Brunswick, Canada. To me it’s the epitome of warmth–I can practically feel how soft the yarn is, and the color speaks so strongly of spring and rosy outlooks that it probably has the power melt the snow outside, even as the mercury dips below zero.

I didn’t buy this yarn, though I will certainly be looking out for this producer’s product in the near future. Instead I stopped into my local yarn store to say Happy New Year and came out with these:

New yarn 1

I don’t have a lot of purple and rose in my life, so it was time for Louisa Harding and Manos del Uruguay to inject some of these joyful colors into my winter. Don’t know what I’ll do with them, but I’m sure excited to explore the possibilities.

And if that weren’t enough, I also picked up a real impulse buy, and a luxurious one at that:

New yarn 2

This 100% cashmere fun-size bundle from Lux Adorna Knits comes with a chevron cowl pattern as well as more cowl pattern options on the website. Having made a nice warm cowl for a friend’s birthday recently, I thought I’d treat myself to something similar. I love the colors–I hadn’t realized the colorway was called “Big Apple” until I got home, but I found it apt.

Today was also the final delivery of my 12-month yarn of the month club subscription from The Perfect Blend. The only reason I didn’t renew is that I’ve only made four of the 12 projects from the 2017 series so far:

And I know I’ll miss those monthly deliveries–January’s yarn and project are spectacularly gorgeous–but that will be more incentive for me to work through these small pieces throughout the warmer weather months so I can jump back into the club starting in 2019.

Happy knitting everyone!


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The analog nature of crafting

Yesterday I wrote about crafting for a cause, and how the generally supportive, generous nature of crafting communities lends itself so well to charitable efforts. That idea was spurred by the New York Times article I cited that discussed the needs of wildlife rescue organizations for warm coverings for both its animals and care-givers. The other article I read yesterday that really got me thinking was this one about using paper planners or calendars versus digital tools (it’s currently the #9 “most emailed” article on the New York Times website).

I’m very much a proponent of paper planners. I have a beautiful calendar book from Peter Pauper Press (the one with the kitties on the cover, of course) that I always have either next to me on my desk, or in my bag when I’m away from home. I’ve never warmed to digital calendars, like the Google or Outlook tools. I use Outlook for work, as that’s how we plan meetings with colleagues, but every appointment, dinner, movie, vacation, class or concert I plan in my personal life gets logged in the paper calendar. I can easily see my whole week (so I know when I’m overbooking myself), make lots of notes and stay on top of things I need to remember. I even like scratching out things I decide not to do or that need to be rescheduled. The digital calendars have always struck me as cold and judgmental. Moving appointments around is a hassle on my little iPhone screen, and those tiny slots on the calendar don’t tell me all I need to know without tapping the screen numerous time (which often leads to my deleting important entries by accident). I’m sure that judgmental thing is just my neuroses talking, but I’m wondering if there’s more to it than that, and if there’s some correlation to being a crafter.

In other areas of my life, I really don’t mind that technology has infiltrated. I’m writing this blog online on my MacBook Pro. I use Scrivener software for my longer-form writing. It would never occur to me to write on a typewriter or by hand when drafting a novel. I even self-published my first novel as an ebook, and have only fleetingly considered putting out a paper edition. But when it comes to crafting, with very few exceptions, I greatly prefer analog to digital.

Yes, of course, there is Ravelry, which is a wonderful tool for finding patterns, reviewing projects and connecting with other fiber enthusiasts. But, I think it’s the very tactile nature of knitting and crochet, and sewing and quilting for that matter, that makes so many of us a bit technology-averse. I love all the wonderful knitting gadgets, like interchangeable circular needles, Norwegian knitting thimbles, fanciful stitch markers and the like. But when it comes to any sort of digital gadget or tool, like battery-operated row counters, online color work chart tools or sweater pattern generators, I really want no part. And for that matter, I’ve never known anyone to use such things. Quite the opposite really–I find that, the more experienced the craft person, the more he or she is interested in getting into more of the low-tech aspects of the craft, such as the avid knitter taking up spinning, dying or even deciding to raise sheep or alpacas.

So, along with our compassionate side, I find crafters are also much more comfortable with things and activities that may be considered by some to be old-fashioned, outdated or even a bit Luddite in nature. But that’s just another aspect of the community that I find so very appealing.


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Knitting for a good cause

The crafting community is known for providing an open and welcoming environment to all who are interested in joining. I’ve found knitters to be some of the most hospitable and warm people you could ever meet. It wasn’t surprising then when I ran across this New York Times article from Christmas Eve about the need for blankets for orphaned baby elephants in Myanmar and what one particular group is doing to help. The region has been experiencing uncharacteristically cold temperatures. As many of these animals come to the rescue organizations in already compromised conditions due to neglect, abuse or having to fend for themselves without their mothers (most of whom have fallen victim to poachers), the colder temperatures have put them at even greater health risks.

Enter Blankets for Baby Rhinos, founded in 2016 by Sue Brown. The organization coordinates the delivery of hand-knit and hand-crocheted items to wildlife rescue organizations for both the animals and their caretakers. Becoming a donor is easy–simply search for the group on Facebook, request to join the group and, once you’ve been accepted, view their guidelines for crafting and shipping your hand-crafted items.

Many knitters I know are also animal lovers. I’ve tried in the past to carve out weekend time to volunteer at a farm animal rescue organization in the next county, but the 45-minute drive each way and four-hour shift was more than I could could manage with the demands of my household chores and errands and the like. But, as is the case with many of knitting friends, I want to spend a fair chunk of my free time in activities that add meaning to my life (which, let’s be honest, my job does not provide) while somehow also improving the lives of others. This group is ideal in that my efforts will help animals in need while also feeding my desire to knit during every spare moment of every day. If you are an animal lover and a yarn crafter, I highly recommend joining this group and lending your skills to comfort these animals.