Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Knittin' Around the Christmas Tree

I have this big, lofty goal of knitting an ornament every year. I like the idea of slowly building up a tree full of hand knit ornaments. Even more, I like the idea of my kids and grandkids fighting over the hand knit ornaments after I give up the ghost.

Have I ever actually knit an ornament? No. (I'm not counting the half a snowflake I crocheted one time.)

Do I think about it every year? Yes.

Did I find some really cute patterns that make me wish I actually would do it this year? Oh, yes.

1)      Snowball Buddies - These popped up in the Hot Patterns a couple days ago, and if they don’t make you want to cry with cuteness, I don’t know what will. What is it about turning critters into round balls that increases their rate of adorableness so sharply?
2)      Oatmeal the Snowman - Okay, so it’s too big to be a tree ornament. But since it’s knit with a bulky yarn, I bet if you really wanted to hang it on your tree, you could do it with a fingering weight yarn instead and make it a manageable size. I already have the perfect bulky in my stash, so this is in the Christmas queue for my mom.
3)      Owl Puffs - A couple years ago I sewed an owl garland out of funky, modern red and green fabric. I liked it so much, I left it up after Christmas was over and it might have stayed up forever if it hadn't started falling apart. (Ribbon quality issues.) Anyway, these Owl Puffs are a similar shape, and I love that you could just make one in a holiday color, or you could go crazy and garland your whole house. There are some amazing Christmas Owl Puff examples here! And here! And here! Just remember, there’s no place like home for the hoo-lidays.
4)      Matryoshka Doll Ornament Pattern - I have a thing for Russian nesting dolls. I think I would have to knit at least three. Small, smaller, and smallest.
5)      Stjarna - There are many stars on Ravelry, but this one is particularly beautiful. I love it in the white shown on the main pattern page.
6)      O Christmas Tree - You can knit a tree. To put on your tree! It’s the very definition of meta. This one is six bucks, which prompted me to make an unpleasant face, but then I saw that it comes in an e-book with three other cute ornament patterns and I relaxed. They're all quite cute, but the tree is my favorite (and coincidentally, the most favorited.)
7)      Holiday Mice - I am in love with these mice. They are wearing hats! Clearly this makes them delightful and civilized. I want to knit one, if only to find out what happens If You Give a Mouse a Beret. I hope there is a French accent involved. (On the other hand, if you would rather act out A Christmas Carol than hang them on your tree, I think the Dickensian Mice are just the ticket.)
8)      Cabled Globe Ornament - This one is simple, classic, and I know it would knit quickly in a worsted weight. I believe the pattern calls for it to be stuffed, but I noticed some clever Ravelers have modified the pattern to wrap around a glass ornament. So if you have some really ugly ornaments, you now have the option to cozy them.

I feel like this could be the year!

Have you made a cool ornament for your tree? Do you have cool handmade ornaments that someone else in your family made? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Let the Right Hat In

I had been debating for a few months about what to knit for my new mother-in-law this Christmas. I kept thinking about shawls. I had even queued a few, but not actually started anything. I wanted to knit something she would like, but also... well, to put it bluntly, I wanted to show off a little. Not a Herbert Niebling level of showboating, but something to show that I am a capital K Knitter. I like my MIL, but we haven't known each other that long, and I still feel the need to prove I am going to take good care of her daughter and granddaughter by showing that I know my twisted stitches from my yarn overs. 

If you're reading this and scratching your head, puzzling over how my ability to knit correlates to my ability to be a good wife or mother, you are of course correct. Healthy, sane people do not have to "prove" anything through handknits. Give yourself a cookie, and congratulate yourself on how much less time you've spent in therapy than I have.

Anyway, before I could even cast on, she changed my mind by making a request for a hat "like Lynn's." She asked for it in black. On the one hand, I was excited that she actually expressed interest in something I could provide! On the other, I was groaning inwardly. I generally dislike knitting black things. I mean, you can buy a plain black hat just about anywhere. It wouldn't even be that hard to find a wool one. Where's the joy? Where's my chance to flaunt my feathers like a knitting peacock?  

But, I was ready to roll with it. Who am I to chafe at the demands of my public? If easy, boring hats are what they want, by golly, I will deliver. Besides, I told myself, you have the perfect yarn already stashed. Embrace it! 

I dug the yarn out (Cascade 220 Superwash) and cast on for Susan Anderson's Modern Rib Hat on Monday night during my pre-bed phone chat with my wife. I told her that the holiday knitting had officially commenced.

"I'm really dreading it," I whined. "It's going to be soooooo boring."

"Boring? Why boring?" Lynn asked.

"I mean... it's just a simple, black hat."


"Very simple. It's just ribbing all over."


"You know, like your yellow hat. It's ribbed all over. Stretchy."

"No! She doesn't want a hat like the yellow hat! The purple hat!" 

Come to find out, she didn't mean "Lynn's hat" as in, the hat I actually lovingly made for her right before our first date. She meant "Lynn's hat" as in the purple Koigu Purl Bee Beret, that hat that my wife stole borrowed permanently. 


All I can say is that I'm glad I didn't do more than cast on. I keep having this horrible "what if" fantasy where I excitedly present the hat to her, and she is totally confused about why it looks nothing like the Purl Bee Beret she actually wanted. AWKWARD.

Though the crisis was narrowly averted, my new dilemma became that I didn't have any appropriate yarn in stash. I was forced to forage in the wild. On the way home from Thanksgiving with Lynn's family, we dashed into Fiber Frenzy, a recently opened shop in Berea,KY with high hopes. Luck was with us, and I found a beautiful skein of Cascade Heritage Silk in the right color. I had gone in hoping they might just have plain Cascade Heritage, so finding the silkier variety was kismet. I think it's a good choice for the pattern. The superwash wool means that it will be safe from washing related mishaps, and the silk adds just the right touch of fancy. 

Of course, it is still a boring black hat. But at least it's the boring black hat that she wants.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Strike a Pose

One thing the knitting world (should have) learned from the internet is that the way knitwear is photographed can make or break a pattern. Countless times, I've been uninspired by a picture in a book or magazine, only to be rocked by seeing fresh pictures in the project pages. Unfortunately, sometimes I see a pattern and get interested, only to be frustrated by poor photo decisions. I’m not talking about individual Raveler’s pictures. We can’t all be great picture takers, and Lord knows I have dashed off some really bad finished object pictures in my time. For designers though, especially those who have hopes of breaking into designing as a career, it is a little heartbreaking to see bad pictures.

Designers, I love you! I want to see you get paid for your hard work so that you can support yourself and keep selling me patterns that I am unlikely to ever knit! You don’t need to hire a famous photographer and go on location to the Shetland Islands to effectively hock your designs. You do, however, need to exercise some common sense.

And of course, I have some advice for you:

1)      Limit your artsy, far off, scenery filled photos. If you’ve gone to the trouble to find a beautiful, atmospheric landscape to shoot your item in, I understand the compulsion to take 50,000 beautiful, atmospheric photos to show how much trouble you went to. Resist this urge.

2)      Photographing a sweater? Show the head! Headless mannequins are creepy. So are headless models.

3)      Be careful with crazy poses. In Knitting in Plain English, Maggie Righetti warns of knitting patterns in magazines where the model is standing in some convoluted fashion. If the model is, for instance, holding her arms above her head, she is probably trying to disguise the fact that as knit, the sleeves go down to her knees. Once you know this, it changes the way you look at photographed knitwear. A photo can show so much, but also deceive so much. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having some fun shots. I like to see some movement in the pictures. But, make sure that somewhere in your group of pictures there are some straight up, all natural poses. If all of your pictures show the model doing cartwheels and hanging upside down, I immediately get suspicious. Maybe I’m being paranoid and there’s nothing wrong with the pattern at all… but the onus is on you to show me that.

4)      Don’t put too many pictures on the main project page. It’s supposed to be a small sampling of photographs, not a gallery. Per the Ravelry guidelines for pattern editors on Selecting Pattern Photos, there should only be a maximum of three. (I have to confess, this made me LOL. When have you EVER seen this rule adhered to?) Maybe three is a little stringent, but surely you could pare it down to 5 or 6. The main thing is, show a good assortment of shots. 

5)      MOST IMPORTANTLY - If you have a cool and clever detail in the pattern, show it to me! You can have the most innovative pattern design in the world, but if I can't see it, I have no way of knowing.

Just like how reading more books can make you a better writer, I believe that exposing yourself to more patterns and more pictures can make you a better photographer. Look at the work of some of your favorite designers and see what you like, and what you don't like. Keep an open mind! Better pictures mean happier knitting for everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Malabrigo Part Two: Cardigans to Love

In my last post, I discussed some of the ups and downs of Malabrigo. But now that I'm ready to make some suggestions, I want to focus on the positives. We want sweater patterns that will make this yarn sing. Take advantage of that stitch definition! Accentuate the coziness! Embrace the POP!

1) Hannah Fettig's Rocky Coast Cardigan: I am a fan of both Hannah Fettig and Alana Dakos, so it didn't take me long to snap up Coastal Knits not long after its release. Many of the designs are charming, but this is a favorite. I love the idea of the allover cables for Mal Worsted. It just looks like the perfect thing to curl up in all winter long. It's top down and seamless, so minimal finishing required.

2) Going in a different direction, we have Amy Herzog's Oscillate. You may have heard of Amy from her very informative Fit 2 Flatter series. There's definitely more stockinette here, but lovely cables front and back, and an interesting sleeve detail. Where Rocky Coast is more cozy, I would say Oscillate is more tailored and polished. It's knit in pieces and seamed at the end, so there are pros and cons with that. On the bright side, rows would be shorter and pieces more portable. I think this sweater fits nicely into Tonya's vintage aesthetic.

3) Next, Olga Buraya-Kefelian designs a really interesting yoke in the Ayase Cardigan. There's a fair amount of stockinette at this one too, but I think the cool tiered construction of the yoke makes up for it. Despite the tears, the knitting doesn't look overly complicated. This one made it to the hot patterns today. Side note: I really want to see the detail in the yoke better. Maybe one or two of the pictures of the whole sweater could have been swapped out for some closer shots? Just a thought, designers!

4) Terri Kruse was a designer unknown to me until today, but she’s quite prolific. (Off topic, I am absolutely smitten with her Pigwidgeon sweater. I want one in my size!) For Tonya’s yarn, I really like her newest design, the Hyde Park Cardigan. It has many design elements I am a big sucker for – garter stitch yokes, cables, buttons on the top instead of all the way down, A-line shape. It actually calls for Malabrigo Rios, but I think Merino Worsted would be a fine choice. One major plus to consider is gauge. This sweater is knit at 5 st/inch, which is somewhat more tightly knit than the other patterns I have recommended. Knitting a soft yarn at a firmer gauge is one way to make a more durable fabric and combat the pilling menace. I like that it is reminiscent of the February Lady Sweater, without being too similar.

What do you think? What would you pick? I'm kind of glad I don't have to decide. Good luck, Tonya! 

Malabrigo: The Agony, The Ecstasy

Full circle: Iris wearing the Epitome hat designed by Tonya, made out of the very yarn we are now discussing.

Tonya of The Shizknit is a woman of many talents. She's a fabulous knitting teacher and designer. She has 19 designs on Ravelry right at this moment, my favorite being the Acerola. (Where did she find that adorable model?) She's mom to three boys, including one very new boy. And I bet she still knits more than I do! Amazing!

Tonya writes that she has Malabrigo Worsted in Azul Bolita, which is a jaw dropping shade of blue, that she would like to turn into a sweater. She mentions that she has been thinking of Que Sera or another cardigan, but also that she doesn't want too much stockinette. (I fully empathize.) "However, a primarily stockinette pullover would be okay (though cardi might be more practical for nursing)."

She then adds, "Bonus points for non-complicated but non-boring patterns, like something with an easy to memorize repeat. I do have three kids, after all! Something to showcase the beautiful color and moderately quick to knit. I prefer longer sweaters to cropped ones, but that's easily modified."

Ah, the holy grail of sweaters. Not too boring, but not too complicated. Easy enough to pick up and put back down five hundred times a day while enduring the constant interruptions of small children, but still interesting enough that it doesn't make you want to gouge out your eyes with the nearest size 17 needle.

That's okay, I like a challenge.

First, let's address the yarn. The ubiquitous, beautiful, treacherous Malabrigo Merino Worsted. Like a yarny Siren, it draws you in with its magical colors, its plump roundness, its squishable softness... and then dashes you on the sharp rocks with its pooling, pilling, and felting if you look at it the wrong way. It's currently the fourth most popular yarn on Ravelry by number of projects (80,000+), and is very most popular by star ratings. The Malabrigo Junkies group boasts over 10,000 addicts members- and it's true, if they made cards, I would carry one. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Despite its ongoing popularity, this can be a pretty polarizing yarn. There are those who love it, those who hate it, and those who just don't get what the big deal is. Personally, I have found myself in all three camps at one time or another. It really does seem like a cruel joke that a yarn so bouncy and beautiful is also so prone to cause heartache in finished object. But it's not the yarn's fault, you know. The softer the fiber, the more fragile and apt to pill. Single ply yarns are also more fragile and wear out more quickly than their plied counterparts, especially if they are loosely spun like classic Mal Worsted. There is a lot of scientific blah-bitty-blah about why this is true, but let me sum it up for you:

soft merino + loosely spun single ply  = despair, wailing, and gnashing of teeth

Needless to say, it's not the most straightforward and logical choice for a sweater that is going to experience a lot of friction. But the heart wants what the heart wants! Far be it from me to stand between a knitter and some fat skeins of  yarn begging to be sweaterfied! Just about everything in knitting is a trade-off. If you want soft, you are going to lose some durability. In the end, I think that is okay. But, you should know what you're getting into beforehand so you can make the best decisions for your project. Adjusting expectations is key to knitterly happiness.

I've sworn it off before, more than once. The thing that seems to draw me back in every time is that stitch definition. I am a big time sucker for texture in knitting that really POPS. While plain stockinette in Malabrigo is beautiful, I find myself drawn to more dimensional fabrics. Bring on the seed stitch! When I see a big puffy cable rising out of my knitting like a nice yeast bread dough, I can't stay mad too long.

Interestingly, while I like the Que Sera cardigan Tonya originally mentioned, I wouldn't have naturally paired it with this yarn. I try to avoid combining lacy pattern with single ply yarns. I'm having a devil of a time locating the source of this idea, but I have heard that single ply yarns knit into lace patterns have a tendency to want to collapse on themselves a little and lose stitch definition. I think I read it in Evelyn A. Clark's book, Knitting Lace Triangles, but I can't verify that at the moment. In any case, I personally knit a very large lace shawl out of another single ply Malabrigo yarn, Silky Merino, and while it is definitely still recognizably lacy, it's probably not as crisp as it could be. In a shawl, it's not a huge deal. I pretty much wad it up around my neck when I wear it anyway. But in a sweater? That would be a deal breaker for me. 

So what DO I think is an appropriate sweater for this very special yarn? You'll just have to come back next time and find out. This quasi-knitter is up way past her bedtime. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

About This Blog

The last thing I tried to cast on.

The idea for “Yarn, Vicariously” was born out of a conversation with my good friend, Allison, during which she casually mentioned a ball of yarn she was browsing for possible patterns for. She didn't really ask for my advice, but I couldn't help myself. I was a shark on chum. Forty five minutes later I had sent her a long list of what I felt were her best options for her yarn and yardage. (Curious? Stay tuned, I’m sure it will become blog fodder in the near future.) She at least was gracious enough to act grateful instead of overwhelmed. What are friends for, if not to indulge my yarny pontificating?

While I was searching for patterns for her, and during the ensuing conversation, I realized that if I could do any job, it would probably be exactly this: helping people pair up yarn and projects. Whenever I have that fantasy so many knitters have about working in a yarn store, I’m never helping to fix people’s mistakes (blech! ) or untangling their yarn (double blech!) No, I’m buzzing around the store with them, shoving yarn under their noses, discussing the relative merits of 2 ply versus 3 ply, and expounding on the wonderful qualities of a sensible wool. 

Not to get all braggy, but I spent the last decade of my life absorbing everything I could about yarn and knitting, and I’m passionate about it. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I have a darn good memory for yarns, patterns, designers, and techniques. I have been called the Rain Man of knitting. Mostly by myself, but I'm okay with that. I’m pretty handy with navigating Ravelry too. Now, all this makes me a hit at (knitting) parties, but I’d like to see my skills go to something besides amusing parlor tricks.

Enter the blog. 

It’s not practical for me to work at a real yarn store at this time in my life (and given the wide berth between my fantasies and what I have seen to be reality, I’m not sure I would want to), but there’s nothing stopping me from offering my services virtually. As much as I love giving my friends strongly opinionated, completely unsolicited advice, I think I would even more enjoy giving solicited advice to the public at large. So please, ask me anything (about the yarn or pattern selecting process, that is) and I will do my level best to give you practical suggestions. Or at least, entertaining suggestions. Maybe even both at the same time? You’ll totally be doing me a solid, allowing me to enjoy the knitting world vicariously through your work (hence the catchy title.)

Basically, it’s a way for me to keep a toe in the yarn culture pool, without having to actually swim. Though if I do swim, you’ll be the first to know. Who knows, my fantasy knitting could turn into reality knitting at ANY MOMENT. 

You can always reach me in the comments, at knitvi AT gmail DOT com, or on Ravelry as knitvi. Anything you say can and will be used to help you in a court of blog. Tell your friends!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Me, My Knitting, and How I Got Here

I have a confession to make.

I am starting a blog about knitting, but I am just barely a knitter anymore.

Oh, I still think about knitting plenty. I hang out with knitters. I buy yarn from time to time. I check the Hot Patterns on Ravelry nearly every day. But as far as actually picking up the needles and knitting? Seldom. Rarely. Almost never.

What happened?

I will try, and probably fail, to briefly summarize my crafting life for you. Stop, collaborate, and listen. In 2001, my last year of high school, I was placed in a generic sort of crafts class. The school year prior to that was a difficult one for me, and I think the counselor suggested it as a softball sort of class that any idiot, even me, could succeed in. The first semester we learned to embroider on burlap sacks, batiked with hot wax on fabric, made cardboard looms, and learned to crochet. While I did enjoy the burlap, batik and weaving, it was the crochet that really wedged its way into my heart. The teacher didn't know how to follow a pattern, but I found it wasn't that hard to figure out most of what I wanted to make, and soon I was hooking up a storm. People who love making things will know exactly what I mean when I say it was such a rush. I was addicted and loving it.

Even though crochet was my first love, I found crochet patterns to be incredibly confusing (“You want me to stick my hook WHERE?!?”). Knitting patterns seemed more straightforward in general, so I asked a good friend to teach me while she was home visiting from college one blustery January day in 2002. At her mom’s kitchen table, with the snow flying outside, she showed me the basic knits and purls. She had to go back to school the next day, and of course I forgot almost everything overnight, so left to my own devices I rushed to the craft store and came home with an instructional booklet I was destined to throw across the room in a rage at least 50 times over the next week. But eventually it all clicked and came together and WHOA I was a knitter and it was THE BEST THING EVER. Crochet was my first love, but knitting was where I fell head over heels in love.

Not long after that, I happened across a copy of Stitch and Bitch, bought it because I thought the name was funny, and started learning about the broader knitting culture (and why I might be interested in a non-acrylic yarn). I found my LYS, made friends, discovered really beautiful yarns, and became what the Yarn Harlot would call a "capital K Knitter". 

My knitting life was pretty good. My personal life was more rocky at times. Over the last decade, I've gone from being in a serious relationship to getting pregnant unexpectedly, to being married, to becoming a mom, to getting divorced, to being single and trying to date, to figuring out I really do prefer the company of women, to being in my first serious relationship with a woman, to becoming a mom to her daughter too, to being engaged, to getting married (again!), to buying a house, to settling into my second chance at married life. 

Phew. I'm exhausted just typing it, so don't ask me how I lived through it! 

Knitting got me through some of the roughest patches of those years, and I met some of my very favorite people. I was still knitting steadily during the early months of new relationship, up until about May of 2012. A perfect storm of events came together to blow me off course. Nothing I was working on was really exciting to me, and the weather was getting warm, and I failed to meet a big knitting deadline I had set for myself and felt discouraged, and life was suddenly SO BUSY with the melding of two families who live three hours apart that knitting just sort of fell to the wayside. 

I went from a time in my life when I couldn't imagine going a whole day without knitting to suddenly looking up and realizing that it had been many months in row since I had put needles to yarn. And I didn't even care that much! It may sound ridiculous, but it really bothered me. I had spent so much time identifying as a Knitter that I didn't know how to not be one. I didn't want to lose my place in the culture I had invested so much of my life in. It took a lot of hippy dippy self-talk to feel okay. There's an ebb and a flow to everything. Sometimes you'll knit more, sometimes less. Just because you don't feel like knitting doesn't make you less of a person... it just means you don't feel like knitting. Blah blah blah.

So, long story... well, long story long, but bear with me- that pretty much brings us up to right now. I've been thinking of it as Knitting Purgatory. Actually, a lot of my life is sort of in purgatory right at the moment. Sometimes I wonder/hope that it's just the massive restructuring of my whole life causing an epic case of Knitter's Block and that I haven't really lost anything yet. Regardless, I still like knitting, yarn, knitters and talking about things that are important to knitters. So, a blog that is a bit of a paradox. A knitting blog by a Knitter who doesn't really knit. 

So, you might be saying to yourself, "Self, if she doesn't personally, actively knit on a daily basis, how will she possibly generate enough content to keep up a knitting blog?"

Well, that's where you (and the title of the blog) comes in. But I think I've rambled long enough for one evening. So if you've made it to the end of this post, now you have something to ponder on. I do love a good mystery! I'll be back soon to tell you what I'm up to, and solicit you for help!

You can reach me in the comments, at yarnvi AT gmail DOT com, or on Ravelry as yarnvi. Until next time...