Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let it Snow!

I woke up on Saturday morning to discover a winter wonderland had sprung up overnight. It's only a of couple inches, but considering it's a week before Christmas, this snow is long overdue. It wouldn't be Wisconsin if it didn't snow from December through March.

Along with the first snow of the season, I put my bicycle away for the year and checked on the status of my heavy winter gear. My hats, gloves, scarves, and long johns passed muster, but my mittens are in a sorry state. As I wear the mittens over the gloves, it is important that I have a hole-less pair to keep my fingers cozy this winter.

I'm looking forward to knitting myself a new pair after I finished the Christmas knitting. And can I say how challenging it is to write blog posts in December because of said holiday knitting? Quite challenging. There is so much going on but so little to talk about! I'm looking forward to showing off those projects after the holidays, along with, hopefully, a new pair of mittens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Catalog

Between the craziness of end of the semester projects and preparation for the holidays, my craft area exploded this week. I'm a little embarrassed to show you all just how bad it is.

To be fair, it's only this bad because my usual craft storage area was displaced by my early Christmas gift, this lovely piece of furniture:

The main library at my university is retiring the last of its card catalogs and they're all going up for sale at the university surplus shop. I'm lucky to own this little piece of university history, especially because I've wanted a card catalog for a long time. Plus, I now have new storage space for my craft supplies and other items.

So in addition to homework and shopping, I now have to find time to reorganize my craft supplies. And I'm hoping to find some time in there to actually craft! Thank goodness I'll have some days off over the holidays.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Meet the New Coraline

I finished my Coraline sweater over Thanksgiving weekend and I'm extremely pleased with the results. I think it was worth all of the ripping and reknitting, as it's now stylistically akin to some of my very favorite sweaters and much more flattering than the original cardigan version.

The rework wasn't an entirely smooth process; I ended up knitting the hem about 3 times before I got it right. I finally settled on a [K1, P2] rib on needles 2 sizes smaller than what I used for the body. I've never used smaller needles for a hem before, but they made a huge difference in terms of fit and crispness of the rib. I don't think I'll ever go back to knitting sweaters with only one needle size.

Overall, I'm glad I was able to find extra yarn to rework this sweater, especially because the sweater now features my favorite 3/4-length sleeves. Still, I need to be more careful in the future about picking flattering styles to begin with. From here on out, I'd like to avoid the guilt of never wearing a handknit sweater and the hassle of reworking said sweater into a better style.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope all of my American readers had a happy Thanksgiving yesterday! Husband and I are enjoying some time with my family, though I'm not sure what he's enjoying more: the company, the food, or the James Bond marathon on Dad's big TV (I think it's the last one). Personally, I'm happy to have a few days off to catch up on things, such as schoolwork and knitting.

The extra free time has been very beneficial, as my sweater is finished and soaking even as I write this. The state of the sleeves evidences how necessary this soak is; you can clearly tell which stitches were part of the original sweater, which stitches were knit with curly just-frogged yarn, and which stitches were added with smooth yarn. I can't wait to try the sweater on once things smooth out!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hemming and Hawing

I'm getting near the bottom hem of my Coraline sweater, but I haven't made enough progress since my last post to to bother with a new photo. Instead, you're getting a silly photo of my husband and I after his sister's wedding last Saturday. As you can tell from the picture, the wedding was a lot of fun!

I'm hoping to have the body of the sweater done by next week, which means I have to quickly decide on a hem. The original sweater had a [K1, P1] hem, but I'm considering a folded hem or a [K1, P2] hem. Either way, I think the hem needs to be deeper than the one inch it was previously. If you have any thoughts on hems, I would love to hear them!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Coraline Progress

It's a busy week here at the Briney Deep. I've had a couple big assignments due for class and I'm looking forward to being in my sister-in-law's wedding on Saturday. Luckily, I've had something mindless to work on to keep me from getting too stressed.

I've made a lot of progress on the new body of my Coraline sweater, especially because I can knit in stockinette and read for class at the same time. Thank goodness for multitasking or I would never get any knitting done.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Coraline Revisited

I had a serendipitous moment this weekend while I was waiting for a store to open up: I popped into the nearby yarn shop to kill time and stumbled upon the exact type and color of yarn I've been actively trying to find. This fortuitous event means that I can finally modify my Coraline sweater into something that I'll actually wear.

I mentioned in a recent blog post that I need to lengthen this sweater's sleeves, but I've also decided to convert the sweater from a cardigan into a pullover. This style is more flattering for my body-type, which favors a defined waist and an open neckline. As I constructed the sweater from the top-down, both the body-type and sleeve modifications should be fairly easy to execute.

To begin this process, I ripped the body back to just below the arm divide. I'm leaving the yoke split above this point, partly to keep the modifications simple and partly because the plunging neckline will be flattering. From here, I will reknit the body back downward, but this time in the round.

A secondary part of this process will be 'finishing' my frogged yarn to remove the kinks it accumulated while knit up into the sweater. It's a time-consuming step, but I think it will make a difference in the gauge of the final sweater. All told, these modifications will be some work, but I have high hopes for how everything will turn out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baby Play-Book

A few of my knitting friends recently got together to make a baby gift for a mutual friend who is expecting. Our first thought was to make a blanket, as there were 6 of us contributing, but dealing with gauge issues just to give mom another baby blanket seemed like more of a hassle than a blanket was worth. In the end, we settled on creating a soft play-book.

The play book turned out to be a great idea. Everyone made a roughly 8-inch square out of machine-washable yarn of any color using any stitch pattern. The 'pages' were then sewn to a garter stitch 'binding' (with one ridge of garter binding per page) to create the book. And because my friend M could not resist, she added safety eyes and ties to make it look like the 'Monster Book of Monsters' from Harry Potter.

The best part of this project was that the contributed squares were so different. My friend J added pockets to her square and filled them with sea creatures (above). Another friend did an intarsia square. My square was a boring knit-purl design that turned out too big. But in the end, the jumble of colors, sizes, and designs just made this book a better toy.

The mom-to-be loved it. While the baby won't be playing with this book for a little while, I expect that it will amuse someone in the meantime; you're never to old to enjoy a non-lethal copy of 'The Monster Book of Monsters'.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Finishing Handspun

As for many knitted objects, 'finishing' is the final step in creating handspun; finishing sets the twist and gives the yarn a finished look and feel. Since I wrote about the blocking process for handknits a while ago, I thought I should follow up with the process for finishing handspun.

This photo shows a recently handspun skein just after it came off of my spindle. You can tell that my yarn is not very smooth and still wants to twist a bit. This most likely results from residual twist in the yarn, which can be unevenly distributed throughout the skein

The first step in finishing handspun is the same as for finishing handknits: soaking. I fill up my bathroom sink with warm water and a generous squirt of Soak. I immerse my yarn in the water, being careful not to agitate it and thus felt it, and let everything sit for half an hour.

The next step is my favorite part of the cleaning process, which is unfortunately not pictured: thwacking. I do this either by holding one end of the skein and throwing the rest against the side of the tub, or by grabbing the skein at both ends and pulling tightly. Thwacking helps redistribute twist and even out the yarn, so I do it several times while holding the yarn in different places. Then I hang the skein over the tub, unweighted, to air dry.

That is the whole process! You can see from the finished result that the yarn is much smoother than it was at the beginning of this process. As long as you've done a fair job of balancing the twist during plying, this finishing process should smooth out any residual twist in your handspun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Knit One Knit All

My discussion of short-rows and their execution in garter stitch from last week seems to be a natural segue into a review of the new Elizabeth Zimmerman (EZ) book, Knit One Knit All. If you've never read an EZ book, get thee to a library and pick up a copy; Knitting Around and The Opinionated Knitter are my favorites. The focus of this latest EZ book is patterns that maximize knitting and minimize purling. Needless to say, garter stitch takes center stage here.

Not all of the patterns in this book use short rows, but a lot of the more innovative ones do. Patterns like the Ambidextrous Mittens, Sideways Gloves (below), and Brimmed Hat - Panache [Ravelry links] all make use of this technique. EZ is a master of creative construction and these patterns demonstrate the type of outside-of-the-box design that EZ was renowned for.

Beyond accessories, sweater and vest patterns make up the other large portion of this book. Again, you find uniquely constructed knits such as the Mitered Cardigan (below), Suspender Sweater, and New Zealand Pullover [Ravelry links]. The neat thing about a lot of these sweaters is that different parts of the sweater are oriented in different directions (for example, the front panel is vertical garter stitch while the garter stitch in the back panel is horizontal). The best part is that, since these are EZ designs, there will be minimal seaming.

Overall, I would say that this is another excellent EZ book but isn't quite a stranded-on-a-desert-island-with-only-one-knitting-book book like some of her other titles. Still, given the focus nature of the patterns, there is some pretty innovative stuff within these pages; there was a lot of oohing and aahing the first time I flipped through this book. So even if you don't buy this book, you should definitely borrowing a copy from your local library.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Short-row Shuffle

Like a lot of knitters, I was intimidated by the concept of short rows until I did them for the first time and realize that they are not that bad. I've since used them on an Elijah, my Vivian sweater, and my Lightweight Mountains Peaks shawl. They are really not that difficult and are quite helpful in certain situations.

You work short rows by knitting part of a row, anchoring the yarn, then turning the work around and knitting back to the start of the row. This effectively lengthens one side of your knitting more than another, which is useful in a variety of cases. For example, in the case of Elijah, short rows were used to shape the ears; for Vivian, they were used to raise the neckline in the back of the sweater; and in the lace shawl, short rows helped turn the corner of the edging.

The key to short rows in anchoring your working yarn. If you do not anchor, you end up with a little hole where you've basically created a hard edge where there shouldn't be one. You anchor the yarn by doing a wrap and turn (w+t): knit the desired number of stitches, slip the next stitch with yarn in back,bring yarn to front and turn the work (yarn is in back again after turning), slip that stitch again, then knit to the end of the row. Basically, you've wrapped the working yarn around an extra stitch to anchor the yarn to the fabric and avoid creating a hard edge.

The real confusion about short rows comes from what to do with that wrap when you next encounter it. Techknitter gives a nice run down of several options of what to do at this point, so I advise you to head over there for the best explanation. For the purpose of this blog post, I'll highlight what I do with wraps in garter stitch: I simply ignore them. The wraps look like purl bumps and blend seamlessly into the fabric.

If you want to learn short rows for the first time, I advise you to start in garter stitch, so you don't have to worry about hiding the wraps. I recommend making a pair of Garter Stitch Mitts (that's the pair I just finished, above), which is a cute free pattern that uses wrap and turns to do most of the shaping. Once you feel comfortable with the 'wrap and turns', it won't be any problem to tackle other short row methods that hide the wraps in fabrics like stockinette.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rarely Worn Sweaters

I cleaned out my closet a few weeks ago and sent a bunch of clothes I don't wear to the local charity shop. I was very thorough with this process, sorting through my shoes, sweaters, and books as well as my clothing. This lead me to the dilemma of what to do with the handknit sweaters that I never wear.

My pile of rarely worn handknit sweaters is embarrassingly large. While I love all of these knits, their main problem is that they're not very flattering styles for my figure. After consulting with some friends on Ravelry, I've decided that these sweaters should be frogged and reknit into things that I will actually wear and enjoy. While my plans for all this yarn are not yet formed, I do think that my February Lady sweater is destined to become a stylish Beatnik sweater.

In addition to sending some sweaters to the frog pond, I've also set my Coraline sweater aside for some much-needed alterations; I will be lengthening the sleeves and moving the closure to a more flattering location. Thank goodness I knit the sleeves from the top down, so this won't be a terribly difficult process.

I hope to avoid this rarely-worn-sweater problem in the future by being more careful about the sweater patterns I choose to knit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Falling Back in Love

In June, I wrote a blog post about how my desire to knit diminished after I defended my PhD and started a more regular job. At the time, I was happy enough to have time to read for pleasure and generally enjoy life after grad school to worry about my knitting. The ironic thing is that since I started my new grad program at the beginning of September, my desire to knit has gone back up!

Perhaps it's because my time is now much in demand that I force myself to carve out 20 minutes a day for pleasurable things like knitting. Either way, I'm proud to have knocked out this Snapdragon Tam in under two weeks. Even though it's not as slouchy as I would have liked, it at least proves that the knitting mojo has returned!

Also fueling my returned desire to craft is my recent acquisition of a Bosworth spindle. After hearing so many people rave about these spindles, I was not disappointed when I finally spun on one. I'm looking forward to putting a lot of yardage on this spindle to really get a feel for how it performs. I may be busy, but at least there are plenty of exciting things happening on the crafting-to-keep-me-sane front.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wisconsin Sheep & Wool 2011

I made the trip to Wisconsin Sheep & Wool again this year (see last year's post on Sheep & Wool). This festival is such a nice mixture of shopping, catching up with friends, and seeing a variety of sheep, that it always makes for a good time. Additionally, I went to the 'Unwind' afterparty, which boasted over a hundred Ravelry members and their friends. All in all, it was a great trip.

A few of the more interesting things I saw this year included dog whistle trials (above) and sheep judging. The dog trials were very entertaining to watch and I was amazed by how well some of the dog/owner pairs work together to herd a group of sheep. The sheep judging was also interesting, though much more sedate. I particularly enjoyed watching the judging of a 'family' category--a ram, a ewe, and their offspring lamb are judged as a group, with preference given to breeding that shows improvement in the younger sheep as compared to its parents. These are the type of events that I wish were at the Wisconsin State Fair.

I did come home with a very small amount of fiber: 4 oz of Tussah silk. I exercised a lot of restraint because I'm saving my money up to buy a Bosworth spindle. I'm really looking forward to trying this new-to-me fiber type on my brand new spindle.

And finally, I'm leaving you with the requisite silly picture of a sheep. This ram was quite a large gentleman (his head was at the level of my waist) and he had the most wonderful set of horns. We saw a lot of sheep at the festival, but this guy was the most impressive.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Tsumami Kanzashi Follow-Up

I had such a good response from my post about kanzashi that I wanted to update you on some new projects. First of all, let me say that a friend of mine who is familiar with Japanese culture informed me that the proper term for these flowers is 'tsumami'. Apparently kanzashi only refers to the hair ornaments, though it seems to be the term that most western crafters have adopted for these flowers. I will try to use the term tsumami from here on, so as to be correct as possible.

Since I posted last, I've been making more fabric flowers using the templates. I even took the templates to knitting night with friends, which went over well. I don't expect to get tired of these any time soon.

The other thing I've been working on is paper tsumami. This is particularly a way to deal with the junk mail we get every week, particularly those hated Shopper Stoppers. First of all, let me state that the templates do not work well with paper. Instead, I followed the folding instructions laid out in 'Kanzashi in Bloom' to make paper petals.

The only petals that seem to work well in paper are the rounded petals. The other petals are too flat because the paper creases so easily, though the rounded petals need a little manipulation by hand to get the final effect. Still, I really like how the flowers look, especially the small ones. Who would have guessed that these are made from sales fliers?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A New Project

I'm happy to announce that I am undertaking a new venture this fall: I will be starting work on a Masters in Library and Information Studies!

I came to the realization after finishing my PhD in chemistry, that I'd rather be working with chemical information and other chemists than be working in the lab myself. I'm particularly interested in the challenges associated with cataloging and saving research data, which has prompted me to enroll in a library science program so that I can learn all of the standard practices in this field.

While this is a great thing for me in the long-term, I'm not sure of how this will affect my blog in the short-term. So for the next few months, my priority will be to post every other week instead of once a week. I hope to still post at my current once-a-week rate, but I'm giving myself some leeway should the blog need to give way to real life. Thanks for understanding and I am really looking forward to having a great autumn!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Baby Knitting, Episode 2

I'm currently preparing for the next wave of friend's babies. I always like knitting for these new arrivals, in part because I like giving handmade gifts and in part because these knits are usually quick projects. For the last baby-wave, my go-to gift was a hat paired with baby booties but this time I'm having fun with other small baby-friendly patterns.

One of these patterns is Smith by Ysolda Teague. Given how I feel about this designer, it is difficult to part with this toy but I'm sure that the baby (or at least its mother, who is also a knitter) is going to love this little guy. Adding weight to my decision to part with this toy is the fact that it's one of the most baby-friendly toys I've knit; the spikes are knitted securely onto the body and I took care to needle felt on the eyes instead of using buttons, which could be a choking hazard. I suspect that I will be knitting more Smiths for babies in the future.

The other baby pattern I recently knit was the Sourball Bonnet, which is available for free on Ravelry. I made this particular bonnet out of some handspun and I particularly like the way that it looks knit up in feather and fan. The pattern is excellent, but I prefer the Norwegian Sweet Baby Cap pattern because I think it is more gender-neutral.

Between the toy and the bonnet, I am done with baby knitting in the short term, though I think I will keep knitting wee patterns in anticipation of baby wave 3.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fairly Beautiful Beads

I have a special place in my heart for the state fair, having grown up going to the Ohio State Fair every summer. And while I've lived in Wisconsin for the past 6 years, I just made my very first visit to the Wisconsin State Fair. To be honest, I was hoping for more agriculture and displays of blue-ribbon quilts,etc, but at least I got to try one of the famous cream puffs. I got cream overload about 3 bites in so I'm glad I split it with my friend.

While I did not come home with any Sham-wows or a new kitchen knife from the exhibition hall, I did pick up several strands of gemstone beads. Most of the beads were $8 a strand, but we found some really nice strands in a sale bin at 4 for $10. For someone who loves gemstones and has been looking for a sizeable (but not too large) gemstone necklace for a while, this deal was too good to pass up.

The very evening I got home from the fair, I dusted off my beading supplies and proceeded to make the beads into four necklaces. I strung everything onto tiger tail wire and used a crimp bead to secure toggles to the end of each strand. They are fairly simple necklaces, but I think that beauty of the beads speaks for itself.

These necklaces were just what I was looking for, both in terms of bead diameter and strand length. Plus, I have some leftover beads to play with since each necklace took about 1.5 strands. Between my love of gemstones and my love of a good deal, I couldn't be happier with my new jewelry!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Let me introduce you to my latest crafting obesession: kanzashi. Kanzashi is the Japanese art of folding flower petals, an art form which was originally used to create elaborate hairpieces. This technique first came to my attention a few years ago with the publication of Kanzashi in Bloom, but it wasn't until Clover came out with these clever kanzashi-makers (Fabric Depot is running a nice sale on them) that I decided to give the technique a try.

I have only made kanzashi with the Clover templates but they produce nice results and I love that they're dead easy to use. You simply fold the template over a piece of fabric, trim the excess, then run a needle and thread through the template holes in the indicated order (see the templates in action here). You can string together any number of petals on the same thread and when you pull the thread tight and knot the two ends--voila--instant flower! I can easily knock together several of these flowers in one sitting.

I'm looking forward to more experimenting and eventually making kanzashi without the aid of a template. I aspire to someday make kanzashi half as lovely as what is on the 'Gaijin Geisha' page of this website, but in the meantime I'm happy making some simple flowers.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook

I borrowed this gem of a book from my local public library and just had to rave about it to you. It's the type of book that I love the most--a book that is filled with a vast amount of information on a relatively focused topic. In the case of 'The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook', that topic is wool as viewed through the lens of a spinner and knitter/crocheter.

The first thing that struck me about this book is its thoroughness; 'The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook' reviews over 200 types of fiber-producing animals, the vast majority of which are sheep breeds. Not only is there information on common breeds like Merino and Blue-Faced Leicester, but the book is also full of conservation breeds that I've never heard of before, such as Manx Loaghtan and Devon Closewool. A helpful table, below, compares all of these sheep breeds by their fiber softness and even recommends types of projects for each category (ie, scarves for soft wool and carpets for coarse wool).

Beyond the book's breed thoroughness, the written and photographic information about each animal is excellent. The authors describe each breed in terms of geography and what they were bred for, in addition to describing the characteristics and preparation of their fleeces. Sample fibers from every animal described in this book have been hand spun and woven/knit up. The written descriptions are accompanied by a photograph of the animal and photographs of sample fiber. Occasionally, the authors also include an interesting story relating to a particular breed, such as that of Shrek the Sheep (Merino).

What's great about this book is that it's very detailed yet focused for the fiber artist. The authors have struck a nice balance between gaining an understanding of individual breeds and learning about the different properties of their wool. While the authors state that their limited sampling cannot predict the behavior of an entire breed, they provide enough information so that you will generally know what to expect should you encounter fiber from a rare sheep breed.

I can't recommend this book enough to knitters and spinners who want to learn more about the range of animal fibers available to them. It's an interesting read and one that will teach you a lot about wool. I have a feeling that this book will eventually make its way onto my bookshelf as my library's 4-week borrowing period is just not enough time to get to know this wonderful resource.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tour de Fleece Recap

If Tour de Fleece was like its cycling equivalent, then I crashed out of the race in the final week. Luckily, there is no permanent injury, just a case of real life concerns getting in the way of finishing. Still, I'm happy with my final four skeins of yarn and that fact that I tackled a new spinning technique this month! Tour de Fleece is definitely something I will be doing again.

In other news, you may have noticed the new look of my blog header. I found this great how-to via CRAFT and was inspired to update my header imagery. It was very simple to put together--in fact, the hardest part of the whole thing was choosing the photos! It feels good to do a little cleaning up on my blog, even if I'm still getting used to the new look.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The End of an Era

It's been an awesome Harry Potter week for me, mostly because the final Potter movie was released and I thought it was wonderful. Part of my joy in seeing this movie came from dressing up as a Ravenclaw student and having a special Ravenclaw drink at the theater (blueberry italian soda). My first viewing experience was so good that I'm thinking about seeing the movie in the theater again, minus the costume this time.

The other cool Potter thing that made my week was this set of awesome comic recaps. I love them so hard. Because the illustrator can't sell them due to copyright issues, she is offering the images as free downloads with a request for donations. I happily sent her some money and proceeded to make copies of all 8 images to hang on my wall. I'm not sure what my husband's reaction to this plan will be.

It's hard for me to feel sad that the Potter era is over, mostly because I'm still active in the Knit/Crochet House Cup on Ravelry and am looking forward to the launch of Pottermore later this year. Still, it will be interesting to see how much longer Pottermania lasts now that it is not consistently being fueled by new books and movies.