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.

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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:

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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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Traveling knitter: J’adore Montreal

I’ve been waiting for a nice sunny day so as to get some bright shots of the lovely yarn I purchased on my Montreal trip last weekend, but April showers have finally gripped the Hudson Valley, and the forecast for the coming week is gloomy indeed, so I’ll just have to settle for rainy day yarn pics.

Luckily we did have some sunny weather while in Quebec, and my family and I made the most of it, strolling the gorgeous Jardin Botanique, taking in the lilacs and ancient bonzai trees:

eating our way through the city, including a stop for the most delicious vegetarian poutine around at the cozy and friendly Comptoir 21:

and of course shopping, starting with my favorite second-hand store ever, Eva B:

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and rounding it off with some gorgeous yarn purchases from two charming stores.

The first was a recommendation from a member of my Swirl knit-along group. At Espace Tricot, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful, and the shop is well-organized and inviting. In the back, a large table was chock-a-block full of lively knitters, working and chatting away. The group lent further positive energy to an already great vibe in the shop. Several staff members offered some background on the various yarns they stock, specifically the more locally made fibers, which was my main interest. What was even more amazing is that they actually recommended I visit another yarn shop in a different neighborhood of Montreal. This kind of cordiality and community is what I’ve come to expect from knitters, but it’s still always a joy to encounter it in such abundance as I did in Montreal. My purchases at Espace Tricot included the yarns below: a set of grey/black shades from SweetGeorgia Yarns (based in Vancouver) for a project I have in mind for a friend, and the earth-tone “stone” colorway from Tanis Fiber Arts (Montreal), which is going to become a lovely airy shawl for me some day (the merino, silk, cashmere blend is heavenly!).

My other purchase from Espace Tricot was a sweater pin for my now-completed Swirl. Finished objects (5 of them!) will be shared in posts later this week and weekend.

The shop recommended by the nice folks at Espace Tricot was La Maison Tricotée. Both shops are easily accessible by public transport – the former by Metro and either bus or walk along Monkland Avenue in the Monkland Village neighborhood, the latter just around the corner from the Laurier Metro station in the Plateau/Mont Royal section (and on the same road as another outpost of Comptoir 21!).

As with Espace Tricot, La Maison Tricotée’s staff was super helpful, knowledgable and welcoming. Both also accommodated my complete lack of French language skills. Though I do dream of someday mastering Québécois French, I’ve not put in the time needed to even get the basics down yet. So, the store tour, the helpful hints, and cashing out were all in English, and delivered with such warmth, I had a hard time pulling myself away. My rather colorful purchases below are single skeins (shawls and socks!) of Riverside Studio in copper & zinc and iris superwash merino (Ottawa), Biscotte Yarns self-striping sock yarn in brown, lime green and beige (Quebec), Hand Maiden Mini Maiden wool and silk blend in the stunning pink, lilac and yellow hues (Nova Scotia), and the only non-Canadian purchase – because I couldn’t resist the bright yellow and speckles – Hedgehog Fibre’s sock yarn in the banana legs colorway (Ireland).

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I’m hoping this fall will bring yet another nice getaway with more new yarn stores to explore. The question now is just where to go!


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Traveling knitter: Some fun UK crafty destinations

Last week at this time I was struggling to stay awake after my flights from London to Philadelphia, and Philly back to Albany. Today, with jet lag a memory, four loads of clean laundry waiting to be folded on the spare bed, and our lilacs not yet ready to burst as these had already in London, I’m finally able to sit down with the laptop to write about some of the vacation highlights.

I hadn’t been to the UK since 2005, and being an almost lifelong Anglophile (my earliest memories are of Beatles tunes coming out of the Hi-Fi), this was practically inexcusable, especially because I hadn’t seen some very good friends who live in Wales and London for a number of years. So, thanks to my Capital One Venture Card points, I managed a pretty inexpensive trip to make good on last year’s promise to reconnect. I started with four nights in Caerphilly, Wales, with a friend I’ve known since my semester abroad in early 1990 at Regent’s College in London’s beautiful Regent’s Park. She even enlisted her mom to join us on our day out sightseeing in the countryside.

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Though this friend is not a knitter, she kindly acquiesced to accompanying me to the National Wool Museum of Wales. When you think of Welsh industry, mining, particularly coal, probably comes to mind first, but sheep farming in Wales dates back to prehistoric times, and Welsh wool is still in high demand today, despite the relatively small number of working wool mills. The museum, now a national heritage site, has free exhibits that include some of the machinery used in the woolen industry’s heyday. And it’s all still operational today.

Videos walk visitors through the wool processing steps, from willowing (on a machine nicknamed “the devil” because of its dangerous, sharp moving parts that had, on occasion, taken operators’ arms off), to carding, spinning and winding (the upper-left image is of the winders – I didn’t see this monster in action, but the videos of its workings were mighty impressive!), and then on to weaving. The Welsh woolen industry was best known for its fabrics and traditional woven blanket and tween patterns. As a knitter, I was fascinated by the processes the wool went through from fleece to fabric. It’s hard to imagine now, in this era of mass production, but also of a return to smaller batch production and focus on local farms, how craftspeople would have reacted to their unique handiwork being coopted by industrial age machinery.

After a whirlwind of activity in Wales that included a thrilling football match in Cardiff, with the hometown Cardiff City team triumphing over Brentford, a concert of ska cover bands at the Cardiff student union, a visit to the Caerphilly Castle, a stroll along the promenade at Cardiff Bay (with a stop to watch the boats moving in an out of the locks at the Barrage), and loads of fun times spent with my friend and her family, I steered my rental car onto the M4 and headed east toward London.

Though the London of my memories from that semester in 1990 and my subsequent stay on a student work permit in early 1992 is long gone, replaced in part by the inevitable gentrification and influx of chain restaurants and shops, I still have a very soft spot in my heart for the city. I stayed in a lovely Airbnb in Brixton – an area considered off limits because of its crime back in the early 90’s – and thoroughly enjoyed the laid-back vibe and quiet nights in my little flat. It was an ideal place to come back to evenings after walking endlessly through the busier parts of the city.

Luckily enough, one of my planned stops to have lunch with an old friend from graduate school landed me in Islington, the home of Loop.

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Loop is everything a local yarn store should be – inviting, friendly, well-stocked, with knowledgeable, helpful staff. The yarns were displayed in a way that made browsing fun, the knitted samples were eye-catching and tempted at every turn to indulge in all the materials needed to recreate those lovely pieces, and, even though clearly a Yank with limited opportunity to return to this cozy store, I was still given a loyalty card, stamped for my day’s purchases and ready to fill in further on my next visit. And shop I did (within reason … I did have to cram everything into a small suitcase for the return trip).

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Two of these gorgeous shades of angora/wool blend yarn are “bespoke colours” of hand-dyed in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, lusciousness (Magical Goose and Soot colorways). I may just make the cowl that was featured as a sample in the shop, or I’m toying with the idea of coming up with my own stranded color work cowl pattern.

My other purchase was a hat kit, expertly marketed in a bouquet of woolen locks:

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What self-respecting knitter could possibly pass this up?! I’m sure, once I have this piece completed, it will bring a smile to my face every time I wear it. Much like the smile I wore after that lunch with an old friend.

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My trip also included some breaks for working on the latest project, the Find Your Fade Shawl, soon to be known as the most colorful item in my wardrobe. Here it is with me on a bench in Queen Anne’s Garden in Regent’s Park (too early for the roses to be in bloom, but nevertheless, one of my favorite spots in London):

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and in its more advanced stage this week after returning home:

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I will put it aside soon to finish the Om Shawl and Swirl sweater, but for now, it’s sort of my link to a really enjoyable vacation and the time I was able to spend with some dear friends.


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Travel knitting, and joining the Fade frenzy

With vacation coming up this week, it’s time to plan for airplane/layover and travel knitting. My original plan had been to bring along a couple of the skeins of the beautiful Hudson Valley-inspired hand-dyed yarn that I’ve been receiving as part of my yarn-of-the-month subscription from The Perfect Blend. But I became concerned about taking my new HiyaHiya interchangeables, as they are metal, and they are fairly sharp. I didn’t have the right sizes in my bamboo circular collection, so I decided to seek out a different project(s) for the trip.

Having just finished my first Andrea Mowry design, the Om Shawl, I think I’m now ready to jump on the Find Your Fade bandwagon and make that my fun vacation project. I had a ball sifting through my sock and fingering-weight yarn, laying the skeins out and deciding what would create the color scheme I wanted. Conveniently, I spent the day in Manhattan yesterday and managed a quick stop in at Knitty City for a couple new colorways. I’m pretty pleased with what I came up with and can’t wait to see what it will look like when it all comes together.

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I’ll be spending a few days in Wales with a wonderful friend, who has actually agreed to take me to the National Wool Museum, even though she is not a knitter. I’ll also have about four days in London, where I plan to swing by Loop, I Knit London, and possibly also the yarn section of Liberty of London. It will be a busy week+, but I can’t wait!