I could totally knit that…

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Ever since I started knitting more regularly, my relationship with store-bought knits has taken a nosedive. We were already having some communication issues, namely their refusal to be loose in areas I need them to be loose and tight in areas I need them to be tight. Now that I have more in my knitting repertoire beyond stockinette and garter stitches, we are no longer on speaking terms.  Whenever I see knits on display, my smug response is, “I could totally knit that.” Mass-produced sweaters seem more flimsy and poorly made. Plus, they’re cold and impersonal. Why buy something I can make myself? I could totally knit a warm, colorful and durable sweater that has the distinction of being made with love. Yes, I could totally knit that and do it better.

This attitude, however, does have a down side.

The truth is, though I have the ability, I don’t necessarily have the time. Now that the weather is colder and V and Little A are forced to venture out hatless or mittenless while awaiting prophesized knits, my DIY, anti-consumerist, mother-earthing ethos is starting to look like stubborn idiocy and misguided cruelty.

I have been promising V a hat for weeks. He walks a good mile from the bus stop to work in the chilly morning hours. But, with my current piles of grading, I have only been able to knit a few rows or inches a night. I had bragged that I could finish this brier toque in two days. Caught up by my over-confidence, he even assured his bus driver, a sweet maternal older lady who pays attention to these things, that he will be warmly dressed soon. And yet, each morning, when she pulls up and he comes running up into the warm belly of the bus, she asks, “When is this hat going to be ready?”

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There’s nothing like the mild disapproval of a bus driver to spur on your knitting. All I can say is that this hat is going to get done. Even if it kills me a little.

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The other day V asked about mittens, but I told him that he was going to have to wait. There’s a queue. My fingers are freezing.

Fiber: Nest Fiber Club, “Fernweh” October 2014 (organic polwarth), worsted spun 2-ply.

Top down handspun

I’ve been trying to figure out how to knit a V-neck cardigan from the top down by reading Barbara Walker’s Knitting From the Top. I wanted to design and knit my own cardigan, but I couldn’t figure out crucial steps in the construction process. While her book is brilliant in presenting the structural formula of top-down knitting, for someone like me who has not done a lot of sweater knitting, it was a bit too abstract; I needed a more detailed step by step explanation. In looking for a simple V-neck cardigan prototype, I found exactly what I was looking for: Audrey’s First Day Sweater designed by Elizabeth Smith. It’s a great pattern to start learning about top down raglan cardigan construction. And what’s even better is that it’s free.

I finished this cardigan in a couple of weeks, despite a very hectic schedule. And it’s thick and warm–just in time for fall!

(This toque, which I spun and knitted in San Antonio, has been getting a lot of use recently. Little A and I both take turns wearing it.)

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The yarn is spun from two 4 oz bumps of  Spunky Eclectic falkland that I had purchased from a Ravelry destash. The yarn is worsted weight and I had a little less than 400 meters so I knew that I couldn’t have long sleeves.

I spun the two bumps slightly differently to give some variety in the color shifts. One bump I split in half cross-wise and spun each half across the top. The other bump is fractally spun. I split it in half cross-wise and spun one half across the top but split the other half into 8 strips lengthwise. You can see the different effects in the two halves of the sweater. The top half, which has thinner band of colors, is knitted using the fractally spun yarn. As with my previously spun sweater, I’m partial to having striping changes.

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Given that this was a top-down sweater, I wanted the sleeves to be knitted with the fractally spun yarn so to match the upper body. Shortly after I knitted the yoke, I decided I had better save the rest of this yarn for the sleeves so I set it aside and then continued knitting the body with the other skein. I then weighed the yarn I had set aside and divided it into two same-sized balls to make sure that my sleeves would be roughly the same length. I knitted the sleeves till I ran out of the fractally spun yarn. If I had initially spun this 8 oz with a plan to make a sweater, I probably would have probably followed this awesome PDF explanation from Gizometer on Ravelry. Though the instructions are for a gradient sweater, I love the breakdown of the ratio between the amount of fiber needed for sleeves and the amount needed for the body. These instructions present the division of fiber and colors with easy to understand diagrams.

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I modified the sweater a bit so that as Little A grows, it can be worn as a bolero. It’s cropped and wider around the chest. I added four extra stitches under each arm.

Spunky Eclectic “Field of Screams” (May 2010 club fiber) waiting to be plied.

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Handspinning Jag

I work in spurts, moving back and forth between intensive knitting and intensive spinning. I’m now in the thick of knitting, but I wanted to share some recent spins that I’m now furiously transforming into sweaters and hats. IMG_4631

IMG_4635This kaleidoscope of pinks, oranges, and purples is from Two If By Hand in “Indian Summer.”  It is a mix of merino, cashmere and nylon, and it is probably one of my favorite color combinations at the moment. It is being turned into a Kina baby sweater right now, and it is gloriously stretchy and strong. While I was plying this into a two-ply, I nearly cut my finger because the yarn was so thin and strong. This would have made decadent socks because of the hard-wearing nylon and the cashmere. This skein is 268 meters.

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IMG_4644Nest Fibers never disappoint. Gorgeous colors and fabulous prep, which make for really enjoyable spinning. This is 2-ply organic polwarth skein is “Fernweh” from the October 2014 installment of the Nest Fiber Club. It is a worsted weight yarn that I’m going to make into a hat for V. He doesn’t get a lot of handspun because I’m usually drawn to colors that he doesn’t feel comfortable sporting up at the Veterans Hospital where he works, and so the moment I saw this fiber in the mail, I knew it was going to be for him. (As an aside, he wants me to state that he has no problems with his masculinity and to let y’all know that he recently wore one of my purple cowls to work. However, he did have to field a lot of questions about “cowls” and what they were.)

IMG_4661These monster skeins are from Blue Moon Fiber Art Sock Sheep to Shoe Kit, a large 8.5 oz bag of super wash merino. I got this kit from the woman who sold me her Matchless on craigslist back in the spring of 2013. I’ve been pretty much working on this ever since! The packaging didn’t state what color way this is, but I think it is “Twinkle Twinkle Little Vampire.” I decided to spin this fiber into a 3-ply but I spun each single so thinly that I was overwhelmed. It hibernated for a long while. Now that I’m finished, it is really satisfying to just grab these skeins and squeeze them!

IMG_4668This largest skein is 555 meters. I ran out of space on my bobbin and had to ply onto another bobbin. The smaller skein of regular 3-ply is 274 meters. I still had quite a bit left over on my two other bobbins (this was before I started weighing my fiber), and so I decided to chain-ply the rest. IMG_4665This resulting chain-ply is 214 meters. I love how different the effects are, and I’m hoping that the beauty of this fiber will help me overcome my dislike of sock knitting.

IMG_4658This last skein is from Three Fates Yarn, which is based out of Salem, OR. I purchased this super wash merino at the Flock and Fiber Festival this past fall though I know that they also sell Three Fates Yarn at Twisted, my favorite yarn store.  I loved the cheerful color combination and was looking for something I could spin to donate to Little A’s school. A lot of the children in her class are learning to knit, and I wanted them to be able to work with fiber that had energy and life. This two-ply is 174 meters.

Knitting for kidlets (the first of many…)

Last year, I didn’t get very far with my Christmas knitting. Two measly handspun hats were all I managed.  I’m again behind, but this time it’s for a good reason: Babies. And tons of them. I don’t know what was going on last fall, but I’m surrounded by little babes right now. And all of them too cute to go through life without handspun.

Work has been intense, and so I’ve been spinning and knitting when I can–spinning during late night episodes of The West Wing on Netflix (yes, I’m not just behind on my Christmas knitting) and knitting while Little A takes swimming lessons. Needless to say, it’s been a slow-going process.  I’m knitting larger sizes so that the little tykes can still fit them by the time I am done. This little cardigan is sized for a twelve-month old.

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I’ve admired this pattern, Kina, for ages. It’s darling and simple, and it is a great pattern to show off colorful handspun yarn. The gathering at the collar give this sweater some visual interest, but it is a very simple top down sweater. There is also the option of making this with long sleeves. I think more designers out there should design for these kinds of colorfully dyed fibers, patterns that allow these handspun yarns to shine through. I’m still on the lookout for more hat patterns for my Christmas knitting that would work well with the barber pole color shifts of my handspun yarn.

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I love how the color transitions turned out. I divided the long strip in half cross-wise and then divided each half into eight thin strips. I did it mainly to speed up my spinning as I only just realized that when I spin across a wide top, it is a much slower process, especially if you’re like me and use the short forward drafting method.

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You can see the effects of these thin strips then plied together, creating thin bands of color that radiate from the collar. The larger bands of pink and green at the body are completely accidental, and I like the slight pattern shift because it keeps the sweater from being too visually busy. There are three little button holes at the top, but I was too excited to share and couldn’t wait for buttons. I think little pearly off-white ones would really look great here but I haven’t had time to shop.

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The superwash merino fiber is dyed by Ceylan of Two If By Hand, and the color is “Relationship Agreement.” I wish I had taken a photo of this fiber before I spun it up. I worried that the colors were a bit too dark for a baby sweater but I think it really turned out well.  This is a two-ply and I managed to get 375 meters out of this 4 oz bump.

Little A has already named this little sweater “Jummit” and she likes to cuddle it as if it were a doll. There is something too adorable for words about teeny sweaters. I am going to have to spin and knit one for Little A so that she can have her own little Jummit.

Roadtrip snapshots

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It is autumn in Portland already, and the trees that line our daily drive to work and back have started deepening into yellows, oranges and reds. We’ve unpacked and settled into the routine of life in the Pacific Northwest. Our time in the Southwest feels far away and long ago.

I began this shawl, designed by Anne Podlesak of Wooly Wonka Fiber, just as we headed off on our three-week road trip home, and it’s become the link that connects our present in Oregon to our past in Texas. I will always think of theses colors as inseparable from the landscape of the Southwest and the places that we visited on our way back.

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Sometimes we rely on images to preserve special moments. Sometimes we preserve memories in other forms.

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Plied at last

In preparation for our move back to Portland, I felt compelled to spin as much fiber as I could. You know, uh, cuz fiber is so heavy.

I didn’t ply my singles, however, because I wanted to let the singles relax a bit before plying them together. So when we got home, I found myself plying like a madwoman. We haven’t completely unpacked yet so I don’t have all my notes on these recent spins. Oh well.

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Nest Fiber Club, “Primavera” in superwash merino. Chain-plied.

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This is Hello Yarn’s “Slither” in BFL/silk. This was spun fractally and loosely plied.

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This is from A Verb for Keeping Warm in “Octotillo.” One piece was superfine merino, and the other was 80% merino/20% silk. We stopped off at this store in Oakland on our way home. Most of it is a two-ply, and the grapey purple is the leftover, which I then chain-plied. More details about our visit to this awesome store later.

Six

IMG_3280 Little A, how did this happen? How did you grow up so quickly before my very eyes? Did I not pay attention carefully enough? How did I let the busy routine of life distract me from seeing what a big girl you’ve become? IMG_3287 IMG_3282 This past weekend, we celebrated Little A’s sixth birthday with some good friends whose son, Little J, was born just one day earlier. They have known each other all their lives, and with the exception of last August when we were in San Antonio, they have also celebrated every birthday together. We stayed in a cabin in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, about an hour and half from Portland in Washington. The cabin, nestled in a lush old growth forest, was once a guard station. There was no electricity and no running water, but no one seemed to notice. IMG_3231 IMG_3234 IMG_3353 IMG_3309 IMG_3262 IMG_3260 On the morning of Little A’s birthday, we went for a walk to a nearby waterfall. Little J’s sister, Little N, worked hard to keep up with the big kids. IMG_3330 IMG_3320 IMG_3321 IMG_3323 It took us about two hours to get to the waterfall, a 1.7 mile hike. There were some whining and grumbling along the way, but also shouts of awe and glee as we came upon gigantic slugs and beetles. IMG_3345 IMG_3372 This trip was not just a reunion but also a homecoming, a return to the landscape and a rhythm of life I missed. I know that this was not the kind of birthday celebration she had become accustomed to attending, as the parties in San Antonio had a lot of bells and whistles and often involved glitter, make overs and party favors. I hope that when Little A thinks back to her sixth birthday, she will remember it as the day she walked through tall and ancient trees to a waterfall, sat on a rock, and enjoyed snacks with her best friends as they took in the marvel around them. IMG_3381     Postscript, written by Little A:    she carried little n  and  when little n  was crying  little a  would   comfort  her   little j and  little a   would  play  with                                           little n   when   she was   sad