Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Warm hands, warm hearts

This holiday I made a(nother) batch of mittens. 

My paternal Grandmother passed away about 5 years ago, and after her passing I was able to have a few pieces of her wardrobe.  I wasn't sure what I would do with any of the clothing items.  I had taken bits and pieces to incorporate into my youngest daughters' baby quilts, but other than than I wasn't sure.  I did know, however, that in time I would figure it out.

About six weeks ago when Hurricane Sandy hit I started to go through my fleece collection.  My intent was to send materials out east to a friend that was working furiously to help with hand sewn items to keep folks warm after losing their homes.  I realized that I didn't have much of a fleece collection to speak of - and thus ordered her some fleece for her efforts - but I did find a fleece jacket that belonged to my Grandmother tucked inside the pile.  And I started on a project to keep some hands warm closer to home.

The jacket was enough to make mitten backs and I put together my other left overs and upcycled fleeces to make the palm pieces and linings.  

In the end I made 7 pairs of mittens - a pair for each of my Aunts, and one pair for my Mom.  She took the leftover scraps and made holiday ornaments for each of my Uncles' families.

I wrapped up each pair of mittens with a note about the origin of the fleece, and a hope that the mittens would warm both their hearts and hands on a winters' night.

May your own holiday season be filled with love and warmth, memory and hope.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

FO: Red Fiona

I finished this sweet tunic the day before Thanksgiving - and actually sewed on the back button while in the car, on the way to the hike we took on Thanksgiving day.

This top could not be nicer: the fit, patterning and style are just about perfect for a little girl.  But the pattern is all written (no charts), and there's no schematic either.  So the pattern is a bear to follow, but once you settle into the groove it begins to make sense.

Also the sizing is off in my opinion.  The size I knit is labeled in the pattern as 3-6 mos.  Granted I was likely a bit off with my gauge, but not by much.  And while my youngest daughter is on the small side for a 20 mos. old, she isn't THAT small.  So if you endeavor to knit up this pattern go by measurements, not age range.

The yarn, which I've mentioned before, is a fantastic locally sourced alpaca/nylon blend.  It took just about 600 yards to knit this up, which seems like quite a bit of yarn, but the great thing about tunics is that they can be worn for a long time.  These photos are also pre-blocking, and given that it's an alpaca hand knit, it will grow quite a bit once we give it a washing.
The beauty and ease of construction for this top is something that I admire and I'm thinking I may just have to knit another, in a larger size - maybe size it up to an adult?
ps.  Don't mind the crazy wardrobe on my youngest - she gets the leftovers from the other three with regards to clothes/sizing and any hopes for matching outfits have sadly been lost.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

History in my hands

In mid-November I was contacted by a neighbor about making repairs to a few sweaters that she had.  She mentioned that they were a mix of ones she acquired and ones that her Grandmother had knit for her Grandfather before leaving Ireland for the United States.  An old sweater knit in Ireland?!  Could it really be a real fisherman's sweater?  I jumped at the chance.
She dropped them off and I spent the next few weeks getting to know them.  The construction was amazing, and so different on each one.  Two raglan sweaters, one saddle-shoulder, and one yoke cardigan from Iceland to round out the set. 
But that one on the top of the pile?  It stole my heart the moment I set my eyes on it.

I must sound a bit strange, going on and on about a sweater (and one that I just met no less!).  But this sweater!  It was made with patience, focus, talent, love and care.  I didn't find a single mistake in the patterning.  The cables and stitch definition are gorgeous.  It is unbelievable.  And it is old.  You can feel the years gone by when you hold this sweater.  It is substantial, measuring a mens XL/T, and probably weights 4 lbs.  That is a lot of wool folks.


And like all really good love affairs, I came away from my time with this sweater knowing more about myself (this time myself as a knitter).  I realized that I know my way around sweater construction and repair.  I know my way around bind-offs, cast-ons and sizing.  I know a thing or two about wool and I know that I have the confidence to dive into a project - even one that is not my own - and work with it.

Sadly the wool on the older sweaters is starting to deteriorate.  As with all organic materials they begin to break down over time, and I'm not too sure what can be done to slow or halt that process.  I suppose that you could seal the sweater in a display case and not expose it anymore to the elements.  But I don't think that is the life this sweater was made for.  It was made to be worn.  And worn, and worn, and worn.  This sweater was made to go out into the world and soak it up.

I've fixed up the sweaters, given them all a good (gentle, hand) washing and let them dry.  I wound up a few yards of the repair yarns for the owner to take with her.  I am sad to see them go, but it's time that they head home. 

I've grown as a knitter in the past few weeks and I think I have two old souls to thank: one of an Irish gentleman and the other his wife.

Friday, December 7, 2012


It's beginning to feel a lot like the holidays around here.  The weather isn't cooperating - no snow and very mild temperatures - but the kids won't let me forget that Santa's visit is right around the corner.  The tree is trimmed, the decorations are out, cookies are baked (or exchanged) from time-to-time and the gifting has begun.

I had a burst of knitting over the past few months which means that I have a few handmade gifts to give on hand.  I am also making a few ornaments to give as hostess/neighbor gifts, relying heavily on the patterns in A Rainbow of Stitches.  The images are so whimsical and easy, with enough character to make really unique gifts.  I also picked up a copy of Little Stitches from the library this afternoon.  Maybe I'll give embroidery a try?

I haven't hit on a really great idea for handmade gifts for the girls yet.  DH is making four house-shaped shadow boxes for their rooms, which are fantastic (and sorely needed!) - maybe I'll jump in and paint them?  I also think I might take a short-cut this year and have some of their school artwork framed for display in their rooms.

There will be more to share on the gifting front in a few weeks I'm sure.  For now I'll enjoy the sweets and coffee that are in never-ending supply around here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

FO: Shawl


I completed my second SYES shawl, knit up with my handpainted yarn, about a week ago.  Post-blocking it turned into a fantastic size - wide enough for a true shawl, and scrunchy enough to be wrapped as a scarf.  This FO is tucked deep into my knitting chest, waiting for the right recipient.  I have my own SYES that I use often and love.  This one will go to someone else to enjoy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

FO: Circle scarf vs. cowl

I came home from a meeting the other week wearing my most beloved FO in recent memory.  My husband said, "Oh!  You have a circle scarf!"  My reply?  "No, I knit my own cowl."  As the husband of an avid knitter, I would have expected him to incorporate the word cowl into his vocabulary.  Much the way that I throw around words like router or end grain.

So I ask you - it is really called a circle scarf?  Or is that what men call them, while us gals refer to them as cowls?  Or am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?

Either way, it is lovely.  The perfect color (it goes with red, brown, turquoise, black, gray...) and the perfect size.  I bound off at a narrower width then I first expected, but I am so happy with the sizing - and now I have extra yarn to keep for another future project.  Finished measurements are approximately 24 inches in diameter, and 7 inches wide.  The pattern can be found for free here.

FO: Four Hats


Awhile back I was bitten by the hat bug.  I had 100 yds. of clearance-priced bulky wool and wasn't sure what to do with it.  About that same time one of my nieces asked me to knit her something, as in, "Aunt Beth, could you please, please, please knit me something?" and I couldn't resist.  I found the close knit waffle hat pattern and went to town on the first hat.  Then I went to my LYS and purchased two more skeins of locally-dyed bulky super wash yarn and made two more of the same hat. 

About that same time I was re-committing myself to working from my stash and this lovely dark gray/brown tweed was screaming to become a hat.  And the foliage hat was born.  It is not quite as close fitting as I envisioned, and the wool didn't do the cables justice, but it still looks great and goes with about any piece of outerwear you pair with it.
Overall I am really happy with these four hats.  I know that two of them will go to my nieces, but I am not sure of the final destination for the other two yet.

And I love that hats can move so quickly for me now: I can cast-on and complete a hat in two days if I really commit myself.  I never envisioned moving so quickly as a knitter, but I seem to be picking up speed for small projects like these over time.  Hooray!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WIP Wednesday

After a string of too big garments for Daughter #4 (which is a good problem to have), I am determined to make her something that will fit for the winter season.  I cast-on for the beautiful Fiona's Top tunic and am excited to already be half-way done.  It is moving quickly, however the pattern would benefit from a small description of how the garment is knitted and schematic drawing.  I am digging into a small stash of locally-processed alpaca that I purchased last year, and am excited to see it come to life.  It's also one of my favorite fibers to work with - so easy on the fingers and cuddly soft.

The second photo is of a pile of fleece, felted wool, cashmere and other assorted fabrics all working their way into mittens.  There is a surprise buried in that pile too, so I have to wait until the project is finished to share more.  It is going to be a tear-jerker.

And in a search for contrasting yarn for the tunic, I came across this amazing skein of orange sock yarn I had tucked away.  Not sure what it will become yet, but I retrieved Socks from the Toe Up from the library, and might just be brave enough to give a pair a whirl.  I am a top-down sock knitter, but Judy's magic cast-on may win me over yet.

There is still that pair of un-finished handpainted socks, un-finished silk mittens and those wintergreen mittens waiting in the wings.  They have a reputation for being my patient projects.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


First Harvest: Backyard, Colorway: Sugar Maple

Lovely fabric.  And that color!  Check out the story behind this yarn here.
I'm working it into the honey cowl, medium size.  Should be just long enough to wrap twice around my neck, and cozy enough to keep me warm this winter.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

WIP's and Local Yarns

Three of my current WIP's: a vest, mittens and shawl. 
The vest is the 18 mos. sized Milo - one of my truly favorite baby/toddler knits.  There are so many ways to customize it - I went back and forth on whether to include a stranded color pattern (elephants! flowers! polka dots!) but in the end decided on a simple cable.  I hope to have this one off the needles, on on daughter #4, by tonight.
The mittens are a work of art - Wintergreen by Kate Gilbert.  I am making a few modifications to the pattern, however.  Adding a thumb gusset on the side and I'm not twisting the leaf stitches.  I don't think it matters much with such contrasting colors (and makes the knitting go just a hair faster).  They are a labor of love and probably won't be complete for some time.  They are a concentration project - one that I need space and quiet to work on.  It is the second mitten pattern of Kate's that I've knit and I am pleased, yet again, with the intricate design details (first project here).
Last is another Simple Yet Effective Shawl, knit up with my own hand dyed yarn.  I have to confess that I had this shawl in mind when I dyed the yarn so I am excited to see it knit up.  I am happy with the colors/striping and hope that it will find just the right recipient this holiday season.
Note: the colors in the photo are not very true - it has been gray and rainy these past few days.  Perfect for knitting, but sucky for indoor photography.  That vest, while pink, is more a peachy-pink.  And the base color for those mittens is actually a deep purple.  The shawl colors you can see better in this post about yarn dying.
And speaking of WIP's, I just cast-on for a hat last night and owing to the bulky weight of the yarn, am already half-way done.  I am in love with it and will find it hard to part with.  But I know a lucky girl that will get this for a holiday gift (pictured next to it is the yarn to make a matching one for her sister!).  This is a superwash wool, hand-dyed by Liz Avery at The Sow's Ear

Lastly, I am REALLY, REALLY excited because this morning I placed an order for truly local yarn: Finewool Yarn by Five Green Acres.  Mary Jo stewarded this wool from pasture to skein, and has lived the entire process from shearing to cleaning to dying to spinning.  Her First Harvest: Backyard skeins have amazing colorways such as Sugar Maple, Blue Jay and the like.   Check out the yarn for yourself - it has an amazing story.  And Mary Jo?  She's an amazing woman. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Current Photos

It took a long time to get around to photographing this sweater in a half-way decent fashion.  I knit up this sweater over the summer and the temps are just dropping enough that I can reach for it. 

I love the color and details.  It's a great sweater to add to my wardrobe.

I have so many other knitting-related things to share: hand-dyed yarns, hats, vests, colorwork mittens...I will roll out a couple more things this week.  While I haven't been posting as much lately, I sure have been knitting!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

FO: Husband Socks

I finally made a pair of socks for my husband.  He is pretty traditional when it comes to socks - black cotton for work and white athletic for around the house.  I got him two pair of SmartWool socks for the holidays last year and he loved them; I sensed my opportunity to get him into a pair of hand knit socks was close.

Earlier this year I picked up a sale-priced sock yarn sampler from Knit Picks.  I love the colors that came in this now-discontinued pack (it was called 'Earth') and the socks I have knit with their yarn over the years have held up really well.  My husband chose the dark brown wool/nylon and I set out looking for a plain sock pattern.  Something with just enough character (for his taste, but for me to enjoy knitting too).  They turned out smidge big, maybe a quarter-inch all around, but in my experience Knit Picks wool/nylon sock yarn will shrink a bit after washing and drying.

I happened upon the Globe Trotter sock pattern on ravelry.  I really like the pattern - I think the seed stitch rib makes for a sophisticated yet casual looking sock.  The designer also has a matching 'Around the World' sock pattern.  Wouldn't it be fun to knit up a pair of each for an engagement/wedding/anniversary gift for an adventuresome couple?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

WI Sheep and Wool Festival

I was lucky to get a day away this past weekend to attend the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.  I attended the festival last year and enjoyed myself.  A lot.  So this year I expanded on my festival experience by taking a class taught by the very talented Mo Brown (owner of The Cat and the Crow yarn shop in Mount Horeb, WI).

This was another dying class.  And while the basic process was the same as the other class I took in the summer, the techniques we used were very, very different.  This was specifically a sock yarn dying class, and we went from undyed, superwash wool, machine knit sock blanks to skeins of hand dyed yarn.

Some contrasts to the other class include: using syringes instead of brushes to apply the dye, using a microwave instead of steam heat to set the dye, and working with a knit fabric instead of loopy skeins of wool.

I am really happy with the two skeins I brought home - one is an experiment in gradation, going from dark purple to light and back to a dark red-purple again.

The other is (hopefully) full of long color repeats of blue, green, gray, black and orange.

I found the class very inspriational, and was quite taken by the approaches of the other students.  A few treated their sock blanks as canvasses, painting elaborate pictures on them.  What is amazing is that work become hidden once the yarn is wound, and then knit up into a project.  But the artists' intent remains: a secret wish, or hidden message, if you will.  Like a whisper, those 'paintings' were utttered and then will disappear into the wind.

I didn't make any elaborate paintings, but I did find myself fantasizing about hidden messages in a hand knit project.  Don't you think a yarn blank could (literally) be printed with messages about love, peace and joy and knit up into something beautiful?  What about including messages of social justice or protest?  Civil disobedeince as public art!  Craftivism!

I did some browsing after the class, but came home with only one kit - the Pippa and Poppy dresses by the talented ladies at Ewetopia.  They are absolutly adorable!  I've cast on for a first dress, with hopes of completing three more (one for each of my girls) by next spring.  

p.s.  I'm also in love with Ariana and Roaslind and might have to splurge in the new year.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

FO: (Modified) Mitered Mittens


I knit up these mittens quickly during the last days of July.  The pattern, a tried and true Elizabeth Zimmerman from The Knitters Almanac, suggests knitting them in May, when the winter is a fading memory and it's getting too warm to have piles of wool on your lap.  It's good advice.  Before you realize it you have something special to tuck away for when the cold winds blow again.

The pattern itself is simply a paragraph, describing the basics (number of sts. to cast on, approx. length to top of mittens, etc.).  No frills, no row-by-row instructions; your only guide being a leap faith that if you just follow her advice the mittens will turn out well.

I modified the thumb gussets using Kathryn Ivy's instructions and love the way they turned out.

The wool for these mittens is one of the skeins I hand painted in late June.  I am pretty excited to see the skein knit up, and even more excited that there wasn't any weird pooling!  I also think these would be great looking in a yarn with really long color repeats.

The mittens fit well, snug with enough give to be comfortable.  I think I could even squeeze in an upcycled cashmere sweater lining.  Sounds divine, no?

Friday, August 10, 2012

7th Birthday

My twins turn seven today - and they are full into the American Girl doll scene. 

My parents got them the camping tent (it fits two dolls), which got me thinking about the other gifts that fit with the camping/hiking theme.  Since we enjoy camping and hiking as a family, I got each girl a pair of special hiking shorts - the kind with mesh pockets, d-rings and ties.

And then I ventured back into the world of 'sewing for dolls' for a second gift: doll sleeping bags. I kept it relatively simple, with a self-designed pattern for a sleeping bag. 

But it turns out that my sewing machine really IS broken (at first I thought I had just mis-threaded it, but there is certainly something wrong with the bobbin mechanism now) so I couldn't turn them into proper sleeping bags.

As I finished them with more hand stitching then I care to re-count, I decided to call them camping rolls.  And they have been met with more enthusiasm then I could have hoped for (cue the big sigh of relief).  They didn't even realize that I made them at first - a high compliment in my book - and then I showed them photos of them as babies, wrapped in the flannel blankets I used to line the sleeping rolls, and they exclaimed, "SO COOL!"

The rolls are made with a heavy cotton exterior, flannel interior and lined with a layer of cotton batting.  They measure approximately 20 inches long by 12 inches wide.  There isn't any top-stitching (a detail I would have liked to add) and they mostly just fold over the top of the dolls.  The ribbon ties are nice and long so the girls can roll and tie them up themselves.  The pillows are sewn directly into the top seam and fold down, or up, depending on your preference. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Amish Quilt Auction

my bidder number

This past Saturday there was an Amish Quilt Auction in southern Wisconsin, near the communities of Brodhead and Albany.  We are lucky to have relatives that live down that way and we spent part of our weekend at the auction with friends and family.

one of ten racks of quilts and quilt tops for auction

There were hundreds and hundreds of quilts: finished quilts, King-size quilts, antique quilts, pieced quilt tops, baby quilts and everything in between.  And that was just under the quilt tent.  There was another tent devoted to Amish furniture and other goods, as well as a farm equipment auction, food, cold drinks and a horse that made ice cream (by pulling on the hand crank).

under the quilt tent

We had a fantastic time - there were a couple professional auctioneers that kept things lively - and I came home with two quilts. One is a double-wedding ring quilt in very bright colors, and the other is red polka-dots on a tan background. These are bright and modern looking quilts; they are not a good representation of the traditional designs, historic quilts, antique quilts and solid colors that dominated the auction. But they are in keeping with my personal aesthetic. 

double wedding ring quilt, queen size

All the quilts went for good prices and I hope will provide for the kids of the Clearview school, and all the members of local Amish communities, in the coming year.

red ball quilt, full size
And if you are interested to attend in the future you are in luck.  It is an annual event.

detail of double wedding ring quilt

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

FO: Current

Thanks to a much needed gift of a night 'off' from my husband, I curled up in a quiet corner of the house last week and worked furiously on the last sleeve of my sweater.  And by mid-morning the next day I finished it!

And would you believe that last little bit of yarn was the end of my third ball?!  I didn't even have to break into the fourth skein, not even a little.  As I worked on the sleeve I kept rolling over in my head things like, "when will this ball run out?" or "I can't believe that I just might squeak this one out!"  And at the end of my final row, I came to the end of the skein. 

I'm not terribly superstitious, but I am enough to wonder what it might mean when two ends come together in such a perfect way.

The sweater fits beautifully, but I have yet to find buttons, weave in the ends, and decide whether I want to block it.  I might give it a whirl to even out some stitches and give the whole sweater a more polished look, but I sure don't want to lose any of the fit.  It's a great pattern, a lovely sweater and I'm so happy the result.

And not more than 30 minutes after binding off that last sleeve my daughter snapped the photo below of me working on my 'strawberry and pineapple' socks.  Not sure if these are destined for me, or as a gift, but they are fun to work up.  Interestingly, it is one of a few rare photos of me actually knitting.  There's plenty of my work product and process, but not too many action shots (smile). 

More photos of the finished sweater to come...after the last details are sewn up and placed.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Suddenly Socks

globe trotter socks

The weather here is hot.  Not as hot as some other places in the United States, but hot nonetheless.  We are experiencing drought-like conditions and the crops here in Wisconsin are suffering.  And all this heat means that I don't want to knit anything that could make me the least bit hotter.  So the sweater has been set aside for two smaller projects that can be held in my two hands without the discomfort of a pile of wool/silk on my lap.

The globe trotter socks are for my husband - it is the first pair that I have ever knit him.  They have a nice seed stitch rib pattern which I think that are simple enough, but still have a unique look.  He tends to prefer black for work, and white cotton for around the house, so we'll see how he likes these.  The second pair are for me.  Basic Ann Budd top-down socks using my own handpainted yarn! 

Yeah for socks - although it will be quite awhile until I care to wear socks again!

simple rib socks