Category Archives: notes

Everything but the Yarn

One of the things I love about knitting is that, once you’ve collected some needles in different sizes and a handful of notions, you can direct your time and money towards yarn.  But I’d been spending too much time over the past few years re-gluing the cables of my KnitPicks interchangeable needle set, and ordered some HiyaHiyas (Sharps, sizes 2-8) as a Christmas present.  They have been lovely to work with — perfectly smooth joins, which rotate! Not to mention adorable little knitting-panda needle stops:

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On top of that, the little Hello Kitty pouch that I’ve been using to store my notions since the very early 2000s was bursting at the seams.  (Which still probably makes it one of the longest-lasting items ever purchased from a Sanrio store.)  Most retailers sell big zippered pouches or tin pencil cases for storing knitting miscellanea, but I don’t like having my stuff all jumbled together and accidentally pulling out a snarled handful of stitch markers and tangled embroidery floss when all I want is a pair of scissors.  So, I got this cosmetics travel pouch at Target:

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… which has two sections.  The front one opens up wide, and holds big, frequently-accessed items like scissors, pen, and a small ruler:

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The back section doesn’t open very wide at all, which is perfect for someone like me who has a horror of showering the most crumby crevices of her couch with safety pins.  There’s a few little pockets on the inside which I use for a tape measure, lip balm, and hand lotion:

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… and then tins to organize all of the small stuff:

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As an organized person who organizes things, you can only imagine what a frisson of satisfaction this gives me.  (Also, I officially have enough stitch markers to survive the apocalypse.)

A few weeks ago I had to unravel almost an entire sweater, thanks to an overinflated faith in my own gauge and being too lazy to try things on as I make them.  This left me with a football-sized ball of yarn to wrangle.  I’ve never used a yarn bowl or yarn organizer before, but this recent article over at Techknitting does a great job of breaking down all of the options and reasons why you might want something to prevent your yarn from rolling all over the floor, the couch, and your cat(s).  So, I went to Target again, and ended up with this three-piece set of vintagey Pyrex bowls:

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… which have pretty lousy reviews on Amazon as, y’know, vessels for food prep, and my set from Target didn’t even come with the advertised lids.  But they’re perfect for taming yarn, and have three sizes to choose from.

Check back in another decade or so to see how I’m arranging my knitting notions for 2026!

Extra Yarn

We picked Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn up at the library a little while ago, and it was an immediate favorite with Theo without my even needing to push it on him as part of my subtle yarn-based knitterly agenda.  In it, the heroine’s box of yarn is so prolific that she begins knitting sweaters for things that don’t even need sweaters.

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I wouldn’t say that Bunhilda here didn’t need a sweater, but I had a ball of Extra Yarn that had been sitting in my stash for years, defying all practical plans to get rid of it.  Too little to make a toddler-sized vest.  The wrong fiber composition for mittens or a small hat, and not something I’d want to use for colorwork.  But, as Theo bopped around the craft room the other day, turning test quilt squares that I had lying around on the carpet into vests and blankets for his stuffed animals, I had an idea.

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And so, a custom-knit bunny sweater was made.  It was quite a fun project, since I’m pretty familiar with basic raglan sweater construction, but Bunhilda’s proportions meant making some counterintuitive choices in order to fit her rather unusual shape.  (“What do you mean, I need to make eight decreases every single round for the yoke shaping?  … Right.  Bunny.”)

IMG_6050Mostly, the adults of this house find Bunhilda’s new sweater to be adorable.  But Theo doesn’t mind it, either.
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The Mysterious Case of the Shrinking Sweater

I recently rediscovered some lighter-weight handknits that I’d hermetically sealed in gallon-sized bags away from hungry moths and hairy cats, and tucked away so far out of view as to entirely forget that they’d ever existed.

My enthusiasm was tempered when I discovered that my Dallas Hoodie’s fit had changed over the intervening three years from “shrunken” to “girl, that fit you like two sizes ago, let’s be realistic about the realities of the postpartum body.”  Sunrise, sunset; I’m something of a process knitter, though, so I’m only a bit sorry that I didn’t have a chance to get more wear out of it.

2011:

2014:

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(Pete: “I made sure to include your butt.”  Me: “Thanks, dude.”)

Not heinous, I guess, but far more snug (especially around the upper arms and armpits) than I want a wool sweater to fit in summer, in Texas.

Just before tossing the sweater into craft-room purgatory, however, I noticed something.  Let’s take a look at that sleeve length, today:

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And let’s take a look at that sleeve length back in 2011:

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Hormones are weird!  Bodies change!  Aging happens!  But it’s really rare for them to make an adult’s arms grow 2+ inches!

My hypothesis is that, in their neatly-folded, somewhat-compressed state, the sweaters in storage relaxed and contracted from their original blocked dimensions.  I had the opportunity to wear a number of my worsted- weight handknits this winter, too, many of which I found a lot snugger than I remember them being.

Obviously, I’ll re-block this guy, but now I’m thinking that maybe I should be aiming more to knit things a size or two too large, so they’ll contract down to the perfect size and require no further maintenance?  Who wants to spend 10 minutes on the occasional maintenance of an item that it took hundreds of hours to craft!

Things To Do In Your Hotel Room When You’re Bored

Pete and I were in Dallas for a couple of days last week to try and find a place to move ourselves, our cats, and our stuff into next month.  As always with such trips, it was a mixed bag: the price is right and there were plenty of options, but (as every realtor told us) the rental market seems to be unprecedentedly swift in the Metroplex.  So, we were left in limbo on Friday with a ranked list of satisfactory places, a folder full of lease applications, and nothing to do but hurry up and wait as credit checks were run and we were meticulously compared to mysterious (and, one can’t help but hope, gravely flawed) Other Applicants.

Uncertainty and tedium are two things that I don’t do well with.  So, after a quick trip to a lunchtime vegetarian Chinese buffet (!) and $5 at Hobby Lobby later, we returned to our hotel room with a small bag of embroidery floss and proceeded to work on these:

As long as you can procure a safety pin and a pair of scissors, friendship bracelets are a surprisingly great travel craft: portable, relatively fast, airplane-friendly, instantly wearable upon completion, and can give you an excuse to channel-surf and become surprisingly absorbed in shows like Unlikely Animal Friends I and II and a quite self-explanatory Cocaine Sub Hunt.  For example.

Snow Day 2: Lady Grey and Buttonhole Drama

One of the things I like most about this whole Crazy Winter of Crazy Snow that we’re having here in the US is the photography that it inspires from those living in less typically wintry climes.  It’s a patio table!  With three inches of snow on it!  It’s a lawn, with tufts of grass sticking up through snow!  It’s a car, with snow on it!

Of course, I’m as guilty of “look!  It’s snow on things!” photography as everybody else, so I’ll include this photo of my neighbor’s car.  She’s been clearing the snow off the top of it as it falls, but I’m pretty sure that she’s not planning on using it until our town’s winter on-street parking ban is over, or spring hits — whichever comes first.

I’ve also been using our snow days for further slow progress on my Lady Grey coat.  I finished pad-stitching the lapels — the layer of stitching that makes your lapels flop open at the right place — which was not nearly as arduous of a process as people make it sound.  I mean, I knit things.  Making a couple hundred stitches in something is not the last word in tediousness for me.  I used a drumstick under the roll line while I worked (thanks, Guitar Hero World Tour!) and used my dinky-but-bright IKEA sewing light to the utmost.  Turns out that using black thread on dark gray interfacing is maybe not the best idea for the eyes, but hey, the lapel flops nicely.

I think I spoke last time about how reluctant I’d been to cut into this big hunk of nice wool, but it is really fantastic stuff.  I’d assumed that it would be bulky and awkward to handle, but it presses instantly and obediently, stays put when I want it to stay put, and sews like a dream.

I’m going to baste the sleeves in next and assess the fit.  So far, the shell is unexpectedly loose, even over a sweater — you can see how big it around the shoulders on the dressform.  But I’ve still got to add shoulder pads, a lining, and (of course) the arms, and those might change the fit dramatically.  If it really is the kind of baggy that a belt won’t fix, I can undo the topstitching and take in some seams, but I don’t think it’s that bad.  We’ll see.

I also made bound buttonholes per the tutorial, which were really fun and surprisingly easy.  I think that finding some black silk organza made the process much easier — it presses readily and crisply. Here’s the practice buttonhole (which I sewed with red thread):

One important thing that I’ve learned from my modest sewing experience is that buttonholes are forever.  Once you cut them, you can’t take them back, and I don’t have any leftover wool to re-cut the front in case of a mess-up.  And there are a lot of easy errors to make, like:

  • Interfacing and sewing them on the wrong side of the fabric
  • Placing them slightly too close to the fabric edge and having them eaten by the seam allowance
  • Installing them in a wobbly line
  • Not having them parallel to each other
  • Sewing them slightly too far from the edge of the fabric, and thus having a flap of excess jacket sticking up and getting caught on things

… and then there’s the very real threat of doing the actual buttonholes badly.  But I really like the bound method linked above — it looks pretty professional, and you can adjust and realign your work as you go (so, for example, I could fix the slight wonkiness on the one edge of my practice buttonhole).  Still, you’d better believe that I cut out the buttonholes on my jacket carefully.

… but can you spot the one thing I forgot to check for?

That’s right: I put the buttonholes on the wrong side of the front piece.  This is not a fatal error, and I’ve got a plan for how to sew on the buttons to compensate.  But still!  Constant vigilance!

I made myself feel better about the mistake by answering my husband’s request for a picture of our cats with a top hat and Pince-nez Photoshopped onto them. The simple things, you know.

Lady Grey, Part 1: Or, What To Do During a Christmas Blizzard

I mentioned in my last post that Christmas, in these parts, is largely reserved for being lazy and pursuing our own selfish interests.

This year, we were aided in that goal by Sunday night’s snowstorm.  We’ve had virtually no snow so far this winter, which has (perhaps unfairly) only increased my impression of New England winters not being nearly as harsh as they’re talked up to be.  So I was definitely not upset to have an extra blizzard-given craft day appended to my holiday weekend, and spent much of it watching my neighbors dig out their driveways and walkways.  This being not nearly as cold of a place as Canada or the upper Midwest, though, the plowed roads were already thawing out under the sun the next day. Why, when I was a child, it snowed uphill!  Both ways!

My big project of the moment is the Lady Grey coat, which I’ve had my eye on for some time.  Then a good portion of the crafty internet made one as part of a sew-along.  I’m not typically one who requires a lot of hand-holding, and I’d already purchased some tailoring books and materials in anticipation of forging out on my own, but I figured it’d be an opportune time to tackle a fairly larger project.  I’ve had a few yards of nice-quality — really nice quality — wool that my mom bought for me in Montreal kicking around for some time now, and it seemed like the LG coat would be a good reason to hack boldly into it.

After a muslin or two, of course.

Here are my fitting notes, to add to the wealth of groupthinky knowledge that is the internet.  (Please note that these none-too-flattering photos were taken a month or so ago, immediately following a trip to the gym.  Also, I’ve left on a sweatshirt and a t-shirt, because even though I’m not going to be wearing a coat with below-the-elbow sleeves in the depth of winter, it is likely that I’ll be wearing it over a couple of layers.)

After this muslin, I ended up taking a huge chunk out of the floppy lapel, lowering the armholes a good 3/4″ on both the body and the sleeves, tapering the peplum slightly on most of the pieces, and enlarging the sleeve cap slightly.  After some tinkering, I left the sleeves alone, because I wasn’t doing much good, and I can always take them in later if I need to.  This particular muslin comes from an old bedsheet that I moved from Montreal for this express purpose: I love nothing better than being able to scribble directly on my draft garment with various colors of ballpoint pen.

Also, this is the part where I brag about cutting out the revised pattern.  One of my husband’s particular talents is the ability to fit things neatly into a given space: he’s incredibly useful when it comes to packing boxes, for example, and we’ve never had anything broken in any of our Pete-packed moves.  So, I gave him my steam-treated, pre-shrunk length of wool, a brief lesson on the meaning of pattern markings like “cut on fold,” and had him go to town.

In the end, he was able to fit all of the shell pieces on a 2 1/3-yard length of wool, when the pattern calls for more than 4.  Boo-yah.  Do not try this at home.

Next up: lots and lots of tailoring, and a cautionary tale about buttonhole-related overconfidence.

Useful links, other than the sew-along:

Sometimes I Learn Things

I’m responding to Nat’s excellent question in its own post, partially to give myself some room to ruminate and partially for future reference. I am by no means a knitting expert — there are a lot of techniques I just don’t care to learn, and I’m pretty blissfully ignorant about designing — but, gosh, I’ve been knitting for eight or nine years now, and I’ve learned some things and developed some opinions since then.  I’m still learning how to sew (and that is a craft with a million techniques and nuances out there to discover, I tell you what) but, at this point, I learn more from random blog entries and forum posts than I do from cracking open my Reader’s Digest Guide while sitting in an easy chair.  So along those lines, some knitting-related thoughts.

When so many patterns have been made with countless different yarns, and when every yarn has what seems like equal numbers of lovers and haters, what is one to do? Especially when one is still learning and other than “cannot work with mohair,” doesn’t have much firsthand experience with fibers?

Heh, “cannot work with mohair” is something I learned for myself the hard way.  Fiber preferences and tolerances are entirely a matter of trial and error, and work in mysterious fashions.  I find alpaca incredibly soft and warm, except for some varieties, which turn sneakily prickly on my neck after half an hour.  I find most varieties of wool to be extremely scratchy, except when it’s winter and my skin is apparently too chilly to complain.  I find cotton soothing and soft, except I’m working on two projects with it now and it’s just killing my wrists.

That said, I picked up a copy of The Knitter’s Guide to Yarn from the library a few years ago and thought it was stellar — not only does it give you an exhaustive rundown of different types of fibers, but helps you understand and predict how they’ll behave in different garments, and when combined in different ways.  (Yeah, I should pick up a copy for myself.)  It also gave me necessary confidence in understanding yarn substitutions — for example, not only looking at the recommended gauge, needle size, and fiber content of a similar yarn, but also eyeballing the yards per gram.

So, both experience and vague understanding are my guides here.  Oh, and price.  Just to narrow the field, I shop a lot at Elann, Knitpicks, and a couple of vendors that sell Cascade 220 & Eco Wool, then comb through the reviews at Ravelry on whatever yarns have caught my eye.  (For example, I recently bought some Knitpicks Palette to make some mittens because it’s super-cheap and comes in a huge array of colors; the reviews tell me that it pills a lot, though, so I know that it wouldn’t be a good choice for a sweater or something less tightly knit.)

Ravelry is an incredible resource. In fact, it has SO much information that I’m still trying to figure out how to keep from being completely overwhelmed by it all.

I tend to use Ravelry more as a reference, and not something that I just comb through aimlessly (except when I’m bored).  For example, I had my eye on Vivian for a couple of months before I decided to make it, and in the intervening time I read through the reviews and looked at the photos that people were posting of their own sweaters.  I figured that, since I don’t have a hard time following charts, I’d be fine with the instructions given that I spent some time sifting through them first; I also used photos and comments to guide my decision about what size to make (and to size up the arms, which were apparently very tight.  Conversely, I’ve been wanting to make the Petal Halter — even have the yarn for it and everything — but the reviews have totally scared me away.  If the seaming and sizing and just about everything about it are going to make me want to rip out my hair, it’s not worth it.

I do also tend to browse through the most popular patterns in certain categories when I’m in the mood, too.  That’s how I found Owls, which is so stinkin’ cute I can’t stand it, and Vinterblomster Mittens (ditto).  And seeing projects on Real People is invaluable; I mean, you can never guarantee how your project will turn out, but noticing that something looks like an ill-fitting sack on everyone with my body type is a pretty good thing to know.

A few other miscellaneous helps:

  • The tutorials at TECHknitter, which are clear and often quite ingenious.  (I just started using her technique for joining items knit in the round, and wondered where it’s been all my life.)
  • Math.  These days, I end up resizing just about everything, and it’s oh-so-liberating knowing how to make my gauge work for my project.  What’s more, it’s really not hard: if I know the number of stitches I’m getting per inch, and look at the number of stitches that make up the circumference of the sweater, it’s pretty easy to figure out how large a certain size will actually turn out to be.

In sum, I guess my thesis is: the internet is awesome because it means that you can grok the knowledge of thousands, and not have to figure everything out for yourself.