Drachenfels

I really like a lot of Melanie Berg’s work, but her Drachenfels pattern wasn’t on my radar until my friend Abby sent me a link to the kits Craftsy was offering for this pattern. I got completely sucked in by monochromatic color scheme of the “Ice” kit and the super affordable sale price, and ended up making an impulse buy. That’s pretty unusual for me—I tend to do a lot of advanced project planning and spend a lot of time pouring over patterns and trying to figure out exactly what kind of materials I want to use. But maybe I’m developing a new weakness for kits, because Siobhan has me very close to buying this Saudade kit from Ysolda Teague. Regardless, the kit purchase was a good one. I’m so happy with this finished shawl!

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It’s a bit difficult to photograph since it’s pretty big. After blocking, the shawl is ~80” long and 24” deep. I like wearing these larger-sized shawls as scarves during the winter. My campus has some fairly significant climate control issues. They’ve actually just started a major renovation on our largest building that will take about five years to complete and involve special attention to the HVAC system because, as our Dean put it, “buildings shouldn’t have seasons.” Anyway, it’s hard to dress for work when you can be in one classroom that is easily 80 degrees all year long and then have to sit through a meeting in a 55 degree conference room. (I wish this scenario were an exaggeration. It is not.) A generously sized scarf like this lets me wear lighter layers in the rooms that are overheated while providing genuine warmth in the icier corners of the buildings.

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I cast on for this project on my birthday as a fun little treat for myself and have been picking it up over the last few months when I needed some simple garter knitting. All in all, this was a pretty straightforward pattern to knit. The most difficult part of the pattern was actually the first section, which contains the larger bits of black garter stitch with the white patterned sections. The white patterned sections were really easy to work—it was the longer plain garter sections that were a pain.

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I think the big issue was just that the increase pattern in this section didn’t feel very intuitive and the black garter stitch made it pretty difficult to keep track of the various increases and decreases I was working. I had to rip back a couple of times while working the first part of the pattern because my stitch counts were off. Thankfully, things felt much more intuitive and got a lot easier once I got into the striped section in the middle.

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This was the first time that I’ve used one of Craftsy’s exclusive yarns. This kit specifically uses Cloudborn Fibers Highland Sport, which is a basic, workhorse highland wool. It’s a nice yarn—it feels sturdy and springy while knitting and it relaxes and softens a bit during blocking. I’m glad I went with the black, white, and charcoal kit. It should be very wearable with my black- and gray-dominant wardrobe.

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Handmade Christmas Gifts 2016

I ended up making way more gifts this year than I have in a long time. It’s not because I have any desire to foist handmade stuff on everyone on my list or that I think a handmade gift is the best kind of gift. It’s really more that I hate Christmas shopping and I’m not particularly good at gift giving. Frankly, making gifts is kind of nice way to give someone something kind of generic like a hat or a scarf but in a way that feels highly personal. Yes, it’s just a hat, but it’s a hat I knit in my pajamas while I rewatched Battlestar Galactica and drank a beer. Also, that mark right there might be melted chocolate from the fistful of Reese’s Cups I was eating at the same time. How much more personal can we get? Anyway, here’s this year’s gift roundup:

Star Bellied Wallabies

Wonderful Wallaby with star pocket

Pattern: Wonderful Wallaby

Yarn: Plymouth Encore Worsted in Light Gray, Neon Orange, and Neon Blue

Recipients: Our twin toddler nephews

Notes: This is one of my favorite patterns–so cute and wearable. I made the size 2 but added an inch to the length of the body, sleeves, and hood. I also charted out a star to add to the kangaroo pouches, which I knit using intarsia. I love how they turned out!

Modern Classics Christmas Stockings #8 and #9

Modern Classics Stockings

Pattern: Modern Classics Christmas Stockings

Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes in Cloud and Aurora Heather

Recipients: My in-laws

Notes: This is now the eighth and ninth time I’ve knit up this pattern. I mixed the charts from the “Modern” and “Classic” stockings like I’ve done every other time. This is, frankly, not one of my favorite patterns to make but they are at least quick to make. And that’s good, because I’m more or less locked into making these for all future family members on my husband’s side.

Ballydesmond Mitts

Ballydesmond Mitts

Pattern: Ballydesmond

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Sport in Summer Sky Heather (for the blue pair) and Malabrigo Rios in Sandbank for the brown pair

Recipients: The blue pair went to one of Aidan’s co-workers and the Malabrigo mitts were for my sister, Kayla

Notes: This is a great pattern. It comes with instructions for making these in either a sport or a worsted weight yarn. I kind of prefer the way the sport version looks, but the worsted version knits up super fast. Either way–they’re easy and they look great.

Honey Cowl

Honey Cowl

Pattern: Honey Cowl

Yarn: Malabrigo Rios in Aguas

Recipient: My sister, Jenna

Notes: I’ve made this pattern once before for myself, and it’s a very soothing and meditative knit. Sadly, I got about 60% through the cowl before realizing that my skeins were noticeably different from one another so I ended up ripping back and alternating skeins. The final product is definitely worth the extra work, but it put me under a bit more time pressure than I would have liked.

Petal Pouches

petal-pouches

Pattern: Petal Pouch Pattern from Noodlehead

Fabric: various quilting cottons

Recipients: Three of my sisters–Sarah, Grace, and Kayla–and my dad’s girlfriend, Jess

Notes: I was inspired to make these after my youngest sisters visited us this summer. They are both big into sketching and drawing and carried all of their art supplies around in ziploc bags. Maybe that’s just their preference, but I thought these pouches were cute and practical. There are a thousand free zippered pouch patterns available online, but I’m glad I went ahead and bought this one. It’s not just the unique shape that makes it worth the purchase–as a novice bag maker, I feel like I learned some really useful techniques that will make any future pouch-making much easier and give me a nicer result. I really love how these pouches turned out. I even used some of the leftover skull print to make a small version of the pouch for myself.

So that’s Christmas 2016 wrapped and gifted. Now back to making things for me.

Handmade Christmas Gifts 2015

So here’s the run-down of everything I made for Christmas this year. I didn’t make much, which was the right choice given that this was The Year of Stress. I managed to finish everything up by mid-December without any rushed, late night speed-crafting sessions so I’m pleased.

Winterlong

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Recipient: My dad’s girlfriend, Jess

Pattern: Winterlong by Bristol Ivy

Yarn: Patons Classic Wool in Grey Mix

Notes: I still love this pattern as much as the first time I made it and would make it a third time in a heart beat. I decided to make this for Jess while we sat together in the waiting room during my dad’s bypass surgery in October. She is a wonderful person, and I was very grateful to have her there.

Family Stockings for the Newest Additions

Modern Classics Stockings

Recipients: Our twin nephews, Gus and Oliver

Pattern: Modern Classics Stocking

Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes in Hollyberry and White

Notes: This is the sixth and seventh time I’ve made this pattern. I made stockings for me and Aidan about six years ago, and then another set for Aidan’s sister, her wife, and their son a couple of years ago. They had twins in August, and so the new boys needed stockings to match the rest of the family. As I’ve done every time before, I mixed the “classic” and “modern” charts from the pattern. It’s a good thing that these are quick to knit (I think I managed the second one in three days?), because I was not feeling this project, which made for rather joyless obligation knitting.

Ninja PJs

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

Recipients: Our trio of nephews–Rowan, Gus, and Oliver

Pattern: Alex and Anna Winter PJsAlex and Anna Winter PJs

Fabric: Blue Riley Blake “Year of the Ninja” cotton-spandex jersey, plus some black cotton-spandex leftovers for the neckbands and cuffs

Notes: This project was driven entirely by the potential cuteness of getting all three boys in some kind of matching clothes. Rowan is almost five, so getting him on board with matching his baby brothers seemed like a window that could slam shut at any moment. I went with the Winter PJs pattern because it has a huge size range (3 months to a size 12), and because they are similar in style to the PJs Rowan usually wears.

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

Figuring out sizing was a bit tricky. Rowan is such a skinny thing that his waist measurement puts him in the 6 months size. I ended up following the 3T for width (but cutting the elastic shorter than recommended for the 3T) and extending to the 4T for length. The twins’ measurements put them squarely in the 3 months size at Thanksgiving. They are growing fast (as babies do) so I was worried that the 6 mos size would fit them for about a minute, but the next size up was the 12 mos. I improvised a sort of 6-9 months size by using the 6 mos size as a base, adding a little bit of extra length, and then sewing them with a slightly smaller seam allowance.

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

When I was looking for reviews of this pattern, it was hard to find much discussion of the sizing, beyond that they are meant to be close fitting. I haven’t seen the babies in their PJs, but I was surprised at just how close-fitting Rowan’s were, especially since his width-wise measurements put him in the 6 mos size and I made him a 3T in width. It might have just been shocking since he is so skinny that all his clothes are baggy–my father-in-law even asked, “How did you get them to fit so close?”

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

Rowan’s PJs fit him really well right now, but it makes me nervous about the fit on the baby PJs and makes me wish I had washed and dried the fabric twice before cutting. I would also say that the length on Rowan’s pair seems just right for his size. So, to sum it up, these are really cute but you definitely need a jersey with at least 50% stretch and you should just automatically cut one size up–it won’t give you baggy PJs; it will just give you some wiggle room.

So that was the gift scene this year. I don’t think I disappointed anyone terribly by giving them something handmade rather than, say, a Target gift card. The real risk was giving the 4-year-old clothes. But we also gave him a truck that shoots out Hot Wheels, so I think we managed to balance the scales.

Winterlong

I once had a professor describe a poem I wrote as “rollicking good fun.” It is easily the most memorable bit of writing feedback I’ve ever received and is also the best way I can think to describe the Winterlong cowl pattern. It makes for rollicking good knitting fun.

Winterlong Cowl

I actually knit this a few months ago, right at the very end of my dissertation writing when I was feeling completely depleted. I picked this pattern up, even though it was decidedly the wrong season for knitting a heavy cowl, because it was interesting and different. Working through the bold pattern repeats was addictive and satisfying. It was hard to put down and when I came to the end of my yarn, I was trying to figure out who I might need a cowl for Christmas just so I could knit the pattern again.

Winterlong Cowl

The yarn is Patons Classic Wool in Mercury. This particular color appears to have been discontinued, which is disappointing because I had been planning to use it for a sweater. Oh well.

Winterlong Cowl

I feel like I could use another fun knitting project like this. I’ve been feeling bogged down lately, and it’s very tempting to come home in the evening and waste hours doing nothing but looking at crap on the internet. I’ve been forcing myself to put my laptop away and knit in the evenings. Knitting definitely helps me relax and improves my state of mind overall. But I’ve been working on a Featherweight cardigan, which is all stockinette and ribbing so it’s fairly boring. If you’ve got a particularly fun pattern that you’ve made, please share! I need more ideas.

Winterlong Cowl

The Dissertation Socks

Over the past ten or so weeks, I’ve been busting tail to finish up my dissertation. For six of those weeks, Aidan was already in Cincinnati starting his new job, which left me alone in our apartment with nothing but our cats and my writing-related guilt and anxiety. It sucked about as much as you’d imagine. One day when our landlord stopped by to take some pictures of our place, she asked me, “So what do you do to let off steam and relax while you’re doing all this writing? Just drink a lot of beer?” Yes. But also, re-watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and knit socks.

Stack of Handknit Socks

Socks are like my knitting homeplace–they are how I developed so many of my knitting skills early on and they are the thing I come back to when I need an easy, feel-good project. (I have similarly romantic thoughts about Buffy. Season Five is an amazing piece of television, even though I can’t stand Dawn–it’s just beautifully written. And that musical episode in Season 6! Anyway…) I felt myself drawn back to sock knitting when the pressure to finish the diss hit hardest, and then I just kept on knitting tubes and turning heels until the writing was done. All in all, I finished six pairs.

Pair #1: Denim Socks

Denim Ribbed Socks

  • Made for: Me
  • Pattern: A Nice Ribbed Sock from Glenna C.
  • Yarn: Regia 4-ply Terra in Denim (discontinued)

Pair #2: Blue Yonder Socks

Blue Yonder Tonal Socks

  • Made for: Me
  • Pattern: Top-down, boring stockinette
  • Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the Blue Yonder Colorway
  • Notes: I salvaged this yarn from a scarf I made a few years ago but rarely wore. I didn’t really like wearing this bright blue near my face–it suits me better as a cheery pair of socks.

Pair #3: Ringwood Socks

Plum Ringwood Socks

  • Made For: Me
  • Pattern: Gentleman’s Half Hose in Ringwood Pattern from Nancy Bush’s Knitting Vintage Socks
  • Yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy in Lost in Plum
  • Notes: This yarn was also salvaged from a scarf I never wore. I didn’t strictly follow Nancy Bush’s pattern–I really just drew on the 2×2 ribbed cuff and ringwood stitch pattern, but substituted my own cast on numbers and heel and toe shaping.

Pair #4: TMNT Socks

Socks in Stroll Tonal Canopy

  • Made for: Aidan
  • Pattern: Improvised top-down socks in 2×2 ribbing worked over 72 stitches
  • Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in Canopy

Pair #5: Spike Socks

Ribbed Socks in Stroll Tonal Train Station

  • Made for: Aidan
  • Pattern: Improvised top-down socks in 2×2 ribbing worked over 72 stitches
  • Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in Train Station
  • Notes: I love this yarn! I want to order another skein to make myself a pair of socks with. And maybe a second skein for a scarf or cowl?

Pair #6: Drusilla Socks 

Zigzagular Socks in Stroll Tonal Gypsy

  • Made for: Me
  • Pattern: Zigzagular socks
  • Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in Gypsy
  • Notes: It’s nice that this pattern has a few different sizing options, but if you knit these at the recommended pattern gauge it seems like you would end up with sock that has zero ease, which just makes for a baggy sock. My foot circumference is 9″ and I cast on per the instructions for the 9″ size with smaller needles that were giving me 8.5 stitches an inch (pattern gauge is 8 stitches per inch) and it was clear about 4″ in that these were going to be way too wide despite my tighter gauge. I ripped back and cast on again for 68 stitches, which required adjusting the numbers for the rest of the pattern but resulted in a much better fit. I was also pleasantly surprised at how colorfast this yarn was. I was expecting a bowl of pink water when I blocked them, but the yarn didn’t bleed at all.

I’m honestly surprised to say this, but I don’t even feel burnt out on sock knitting at this point. If I had more sock yarn in my stash, I’d probably just keep chugging along. But I’m out of sock yarn and have once again witnessed the final destruction of the Sunnydale Hellmouth, so I’ve switched gears and am now watching Grace and Frankie while I knit up Bristol Ivy’s Winterlong cowl.

Our movers are coming today and it will be almost two weeks before our stuff arrives at our new place. Naturally, I’m bringing about three months’ worth of knitting with me when I drive down with the cats. I’m looking forward to lots of knitting and no writing.

Assorted Finished Things

Silver Socks

When I was working on my MA, sock knitting was kind of THE thing in knitting at the time. (Then it seems like shawls/shawlettes were the big thing and now it’s . . .  Cowls? I’m not sure. Maybe the online presence of knitters has become big enough that there isn’t really a single thing anymore.) Of course, sock knitting is still a thing, and people knit and design lots of sock patterns. But at the time, the knitting world was kind of in the throes of sock mania. At the height of this, I tried a lot of complex, interesting sock patterns. And then, a few years into my PhD, I realized that I most enjoyed knitting and wearing very plain, very boring socks. I make all of Aidan’s socks in 2×2 rib, and all of my socks in stockinette with a simple ribbed cuff. It makes it very easy to start and finish a pair of socks since I don’t need to refer to any patterns or instructions while I’m knitting.

But lately, I’ve been feeling like the cuffs and insteps of my socks are just a bit too tight. So on this pair, I made the heel flap a bit longer to address the tightness around the instep and used a provisional cast-on for the cuff, which I finished with a more stretchy sewn bind off. The fit is definitely better and keeps me from having to cast on extra stitches at the cuff and decrease through the leg, which I don’t want to have to do. But the tubular bind off I used doesn’t look the greatest after it’s worked on the provisional stitches. I used the exact same bind off on my Grandpa Cardigan and it looks great there. I’m wondering if this is because, having used a provisional cast-on, the stitches for the cuff and the bind off are oriented in the opposite direction? I think next time I might try using an Italian Cast On. Actually, next time I might give this basic toe-up pattern a try. We’ll see. These socks are made with Regia 4-Ply Terra in the Silver colorway.

Dog Sweater

Back in November, my sister was having trouble finding a sweater to fit her dog, Mini, and asked me to try making something that might fit better. She sent me a few basic measurements and I used two different tutorials from Sew It Love It to make this–this tutorial helps you draft the pattern for the sweater and this one guides you through actually sewing the sweater up. It took me awhile to find the time to sit down and do the drafting and sewing (or really, it took me awhile to summon up the courage to try drafting something to fit a dog that lives hundreds of miles from me), but once I started working on it, I was able to finish it all up quickly. Sewing the sweater requires a single seam down the center front of the body, and then you attach bands to the neck, legs, and around the torso. I sewed all the seams with a medium zig-zag stitch, and then top stitched around the bands with a wider zigzag to keep them from flipping up. The fabric is just anti-pill fleece from JoAnn’s. I’m pleased with how it turned out and my sister said it fits well. She also said Mini found it unnerving to be photographed from the side, so that’s why she looks a bit unhappy in the first photo.

Bread!

I’ve been making a lot of bread the past two months, and this week I tried Julia Child’s White Sandwich Loaf recipe (found here, via Dinner With Julie) for the first time. This recipe produced the most beautiful loaves of bread I’ve ever made before. It’s a pretty simple recipe—no crazy ingredients and I was able to start it at around 11 am and have the bread finished before dinner. It’s especially simple in comparison to the white sandwich bread recipe that I’ve used previously from The Bread Bible. It rose up nicely and the texture is great—very soft and perfect for sandwiches. It isn’t as flavorful as the recipe from The Bread Bible, which is as delicious as it is involved, but Julia Child’s recipe contains less dairy and less sugar, which in addition to being very straight-foward, makes it a nice everyday bread recipe. I’m definitely going to make this again, but I might try using honey rather than white sugar to see if that makes any difference.

A couple of weeks ago, I also tried this Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour website. (This is a cell phone picture taken at night in my tiny kitchen, so sorry for the poor quality.) This is a sweet bread, with a hint of cinnamon, and the oatmeal gives it a soft but chewy texture. It’s wonderfully fragrant when you bake and toast it. I ate this bread, toasted and smeared with butter, every morning for breakfast until it was gone. The next time I make it, I want to try using some of it for French Toast. This is sweet enough that it’s not the kind of bread I’d use for a sandwich at lunch, but it is very, very good. Plus, it’s a nice way to use up the bag of White Whole Wheat flour that I have in the cupboard but never know what to do with!

In other news, I’ve started reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and last night I got to the part where Jim kills a massive rattle snake with a spade and then drags the thing home to show off to everyone. Just in case you wondering what was keeping me awake at night lately, there you go. It is a truly beautiful book with 1000% too many snakes.

Magine

I finished this project a long time ago—sometime last summer. But I let it sit on a shelf for ten months before I finally got around to blocking the damn thing. To put that into perspective for you, between the moment I bound off the final stitches and the moment I put the scarf into a bath of warm water, I could have created an entire human being.

So what took me so long? Pins. As in, I knew I would need to stretch and pin the lace pattern during blocking and that seemed like enough of a PITA to keep me from getting around to it. So it goes.

The pattern is Magine from Ambah O’Brien, and it’s a shaped scarf  that is widest at the middle and tapers to a point at each end. The pattern has two different sizes, a “small” size that makes a more traditional scarf size and a “large” size that is wider, more along the lines of a wrap. My finished scarf (which probably stretched out a wee bit too much but I was being sort of quick/lazy about blocking) ended up being about 9″ wide at it’s deepest point and about 90″ long. This was a quick and fun pattern to knit (from what I can remember), and my only complaint about it at the time I did the actual knitting was that it wasn’t charted. I find it a lot easier to follow charted lace and cable patterns and it took me awhile to get into the groove of reading the lace pattern as it was written out, line by line. But, wouldn’t you know, in the eternity that has elapsed since I finished this, the pattern has been updated to include charts!

The yarn I used is Dream in Color Smooshy in Lost in Plum. It’s a springy yarn with good stitch definition and great color saturation. I’m always looking for yarn in this particular shade of purple, but I feel like it’s hard to find. I have another scarf made out of Smooshy and it wears really well—it’s comfortable to wear against the skin, but not so soft that it pills up immediately. Unfortunately, this yarn turned out to be really difficult to photograph. The photo below is really the most accurate indication of the color.

Now I’ve finished this scarf at the tail-end of this year’s unusually long scarf season so I probably won’t get to wear this for a few months. Knitting sometimes has it’s own timeline. I also have another scarf that I finished around the same time but haven’t blocked yet. It’s the Windward scarf from Heidi Kirrmaier knit up in a solid light gray. I like the pattern and the yarn is soft, but I’ve realized I don’t want a light gray scarf. It might be different if the yarn were more silver-ish, but it’s not—it has a bit of a warm undertone to it that just doesn’t look good wrapped around my neck. I thought about ripping it out and using the yarn for something else but I like the pattern so I’m thinking of dyeing it. Anyone have any experience over-dyeing something? The yarn is a merino/nylon superwash blend, and I was thinking I might try to dye it blue. I’ll take any tips you’ve got!

Knitting Gray

All of my sewing is currently on hold because I’m in the middle of an epic battle with my sewing machine. Actually, I think we battled (emphasis on the past-tense), and I lost. This loss has been a long-time coming and is the kind of thing that’s inevitable when you buy a really cheap machine from a big box store when you’re 19 and broke and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. I’m in the process of regrouping but I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back at it. Suffice it to say that there’s no way that my January sewing plans will actually be realized by the end of January.

The offending machine, a Brother 2610, which I DO NOT recommend.

The offending machine, a Brother XL-2610, which I DO NOT recommend.

I would like to be able to say that when something goes wrong with one of my projects, I just shake it off and move on. But the truth is that I invest a little too much of my pride in the things that I make so the failures and the missteps kind of sting. I’m also stubborn, and I like to come out on top. So instead of just being an inconvenience, this sewing situation has me feeling a wee bit demoralized. In light of this whole situation, I’m trying to focus on small victories like my two latest knitting projects.

The first is a pair of socks for Aidan, served up just the way he likes them: knit top-down in a 2×2 ribbing. The yarn is KnitPicks Felici Sport (now discontinued) in the Monochrome color way, which will pair nicely with Aidan’s work wardrobe. You can click on the photo to get to my project page on Ravelry.

After I finished Aidan’s socks, I decided to make him a hat in some leftover yarn I had laying around. Aidan’s been asking me to make him a basic beanie for a long time, and I keep making him hats with earflaps and cables and color work. So here it finally is–the basic, no frills beanie knit up in a basic, no-frills charcoal gray.

I used Jared Flood’s Turn a Square pattern as a very loose guide for this pattern. My gauge was significantly different from the pattern, so I came up with my own cast on numbers, using a needle a few sizes smaller for the ribbing. I then used the schematic in the pattern as a guide for how long to make the body of the hat and then followed the pattern’s general method of decreasing for the crown. Because of the way that the crown is shaped, the hat doesn’t lay flat so I blocked it over a balloon.

Aidan seems pleased with both of his new items. (He’s even wearing the beanie as I type this!) Are they simple projects? Sure. But right now I’m taking every little victory I can get.