Knitting Challenge

It's always fun to have your kid tell you she wants you to knit her something.  Sometimes, however, it's challenging when your kid is trying to channel early Madonna and has the color preferences of a 6 year old girl.  

I decided that I could make her a scarf.  Scarves can be colorful, scarves do not take that long and, generally, scarves can last more than one year, which is a plus in a kid who seems to need an updated wardrobe about every 15 minutes because she is suddenly taller.

So I took Ms. Z to the yarn store and told her she could pick something out for a scarf.  Initially, it started out that she could pick one color.  By the end of the trip, it became two colors because she couldn't decide between her favorites.  And because I am a sucker for a 6 year old with her own design ideas.

I'm beginning to understand why the Project Runway designers always struggle when they have to design for a client.

So, here is her yarn selection:

You might be thinking Oh, that is just a camera problem.  That yarn cannot possibly be that neon pink.  

Unfortunately, you would be wrong.  That yarn is absolutely that neon pink.  And she wants it paired with that very vibrant purple.  On the plus side, this is fabulous and beautiful superwash merino.  Like butter.

I actually like both of these colors,   That pink paired with some more subtle grey is a knockout.  And I do like a vibrant purple,  Together?  I remain unsure.

Ms. Z, however, knows that she wants both of them, and knows that she wants a scarf knit horizontally with zig zags.  It was this fact that she had such a clear design in her mind that convinced me to buy the yarn.  I want to support and encourage her to play with color and have an artistic vision.  

I am thinking of using Stephen West's Creekbed as a starting point as it gets at the general idea, but have not really figured out how to do the striping.  Fibonacci perhaps?  I have this notion of starting with narrow going to wider with one color while starting wider and going to narrower using the other.    Might have to map it out to get a better idea...

Busy Hands, New Socks

My current job finds me planted in front of my speaker phone or my computer for teleconferences and webinars.  I am easily distracted by my email, my iPad and other things, and to help me pay attention better when I am not sharing the experience with a real person, I have taken to keeping a project in my office that takes little brain activity so I can keep my hands busy and focus on what I am listening to.  This strategy does turn out to work well for me, as long as the project is not complicated.  Somehow keeping my hands out of trouble allows my brain to pay attention better to what I'm listening to.

Here's the first project I've finished:

Nothing magical -- just a pair of socks in some hard-wearing Regia (Ringel 5072) that I have always loved and have had buried in my sock yarn archive since the dawn of my sock knitting adventures..  This is my very standard toe up pattern with a short row heel and K2P2 ribbing.  The only difference between this and my standard socks is that I knit until the ball ran out, so these socks are longer (mid calf) and I had to shape the sock and ribbing to expand towards the top for my calf.   You can't tell easily from the photo, but these socks are actually identical -- or at least as identical as you can get with this yarn.  

The next project is a pair of fingerless mitts in BMFA Silkie since I am always freezing cold in my office.

Achieving the Correct Tension

<general warning... there is no knitting (well, there is a knitting reference) and there are no pictures... this is just me talking about me... proceed at your own risk/interest level>

It's funny to me how sometimes knitting terms overlap with a non-knitting concept in my life.  

In the spring, I went to give blood, only to find that my blood pressure was much higher than it should have been.  Shortly after, I had my very own diagnosis of primary hypertension.  The arrival of my very own chronic condition was not really a surprise to me.  It runs in the family.  I had gestational hypertension when I was pregnant with Z, which is generally considered to be a harbinger of hypertension to come.  I even told people that it was probably just a matter of time.

My rational self understood it, my emotional self did not.  My doctor told me not to worry, it was manageable.  The funny thing is, it wasn't the chronic condition in and of itself that bothered me.  It was the prescriptions he was writing for me and the realization that I was in my mid-40's and starting on a lifetime medication regimen, and multiple meds.

I do not like taking medications.  Particularly not ones that might never go away.  I spent the first couple of months grudgingly taking my meds and just generally being in denial.  

A child, however, is the most amazing thing.  I can look at this small person that I have made and see myself and my spouse and a whole collection of amazing things that she helps me remember seeing when I was small and everything was magical.  My child is 6 and she has so many wonderful things ahead of her.  And I want to see that story unfold and develop as long as I can.

That probably sounds melodramatic. I don't mean it to, at least not in the sense that I think that I'm going to keel over dead from hypertension.  What I mean is that seeing her reminds me that I need to do what I can to be as healthy as I can, no matter how much I don't like some of the mechanisms that keep me healthy.  It also means that instead of grousing about my medications, I needed to look what I could do to limit the need for them.

And for that, I had a very good example:  my dad.  Dad has dealt with the same condition for most of his adult life.  Two of the things that helped him were regular cardiovascular exercise and maintaining a good weight.  The better he did at these two things, the less medication he took. 

So I started to think that maybe if it worked for him, it would work for me.  

Cardio exercise is easier said than done when one of your meds is a beta blocker.  These things are like rate limiters on your heart.  But I decided to get off my elliptical and away from my heart rate monitor and just head outside and go running.  I've tried to do this before, and always fell off the wagon.  But this time, I armed myself (or rather my iPhone) with the Zombies, Run! 5K App, gave myself permission to have more than my fair share of nice workout wear (I actually have a fun workout wear subscription!) and by the time I had my next appointment with my doc, I was running 3-4 times a week, felt a lot better and felt like I had one of the pieces that would help me manage my condition with lifestyle instead of drugs.

My doc agreed and we dumped the beta blocker.

Life got hugely better after that.  The day after I stopped taking the beta blocker, I was like someone had lifted a brick off my chest while I was running and I posted my first 5 mile run of the year.  About a week later, I did a 6 mile jog around Central Park when John and I visited NYC. I hit my first 100 miles and treated myself the new pair of running shoes (it is always about the shoes!) that I promised myself when I reached that milestone. And I was watching my weight tick down gradually.  More than that, I just felt happier (I've since learned that beta blockers can have neurological effects). And a better attitude makes a lot of things better.

With the summer coming to an end, I've logged a little over 200 miles, including one 10K run that I am particularly proud of.   My jeans are a size smaller.  My diet is better (an mostly gluten free), and last week I experienced something that surprised the heck out of me:  I didn't get my regular run in and not only was I bummed about it, I was cranky about it.  I mean seriously cranky, folks!  I was actually in a bad mood about not exercising.  Apparently I have gone from a resolution to a habit.

It appears to me that, just like in knitting, sometimes my personal parameters aren't at the specified gauge.  And then I have to change needles -- or tactics -- to get there.  To, as knitters across the Atlantic would say, get the right tension.  Right now, that tension is still a little tight with the yarn I've got to work with. A little hypertense, as it were.  But I'm hoping as I keep trying new needles, I'm eventually going to get there.  Just like preparing to knit a perfect sweater, I have to work a little bit to achieve the correct personal tension.  And once I get there, I know I'm going to make something beautiful.  Just this time, that project is me.  

On the Case

Here then gone then back again.  There has, at least, been a bit more crafting since my last hiatus.  One of the most fun projects I have done is these:

I decided, after a trip to my mother's quilt store where they sold some lovely pre-put together pillow case kits that I was going to make a pillow case for Ms. Z, and all my nieces and nephews on whatever the next holiday occasion for gift giving was.  These are the first out the door, for my two oldest nieces who just turned 10 and 8.

Whenever I make something for kids, I always prepare for them to be uninterested. After all, just because I made it, and the making made me happy, doesn't make it exciting for them.  I go into it thinking that it's important to see that nice things can be made and that it's fun to be a maker of things, but knowing that the payoff could be decades away -- or that if they like it now, there could come a time when they didn't.  

So it was a pleasant surprise for these two pillow cases to be well received.  They knew what they were and I got a big hug from both after they held them up to show a room of other young women.  Each one came with a tag telling them that it was specially made for them and that if they liked them, next year I would take them shopping to pick out fabrics of their choice for their next pillow case.  I'm hoping they enjoy these cases, because I would love to take both of them (and their younger sister) fabric shopping.  

From the crafting side of the project the "kits" came from the Viking Sewing Center in Ann Arbor, MI -- (313) 761-3094.  I'd like to give them a shout out since they also gave me lots of tips.  That said, pillow cases are super super easy and fast (I made these two in about 3 hours, including the time to work through the pattern with a virus addled brain) and I think even a novice sewer could get nice results.  The pattern itself is called "Dream Catcher" by Sue Drew -- a quick googling didn't turn up any helpful links, but if you buy the "kit" from Viking they will happily give you a copy of the pattern alternatively this pattern is very similar.

The kits themselves were simple -- just the three fabrics cut to the size you need.  After sewing the first pillow case (the pink one) with the horizontal stripes, I'd encourage you, if you go with horizontal stripes, to true up the fabric or buy a wider piece so that you can, so that the stripes run straight instead of at an angle.  I would have done this with the piece I had, but it wasn't really wide enough for me to trim as much as I needed to, so I had to go with what it was.

I'd also recommend that you have a couple of quilters tools at hand: a rotary cutter and a quilters ruler that you can use to straighten up fabric edges.  This helped me a lot.

I'll be making more of these soon.  My small person has made it clear that she needs one and I have a pair for myself that will be both kitschy and fun.  If you're looking for a simple project to introduce you to your sewing machine, pillow cases a lot of fun and leave you with a very functional bedroom accessory or re-usable wrapping paper for another gift.

Compassion Cowl

Pattern:  Compassion Cowl
Yarn: Sundara Aran Silky Merino in Colorway "Compassion"
Needles: 5.0 mm Addi Turbos

Spring feels like the time for green.  It's still a bit chilly in Chicago, so this cowl with it's deep emerald green is rather perfect.  It's been off the needles for some time now (right before St. Patrick's Day) but life has interfered rather mightily with knitting and blogging in the past weeks.

This project is a nice blend of cables and lace.  And though I am always suspicious of things with cable and lace labelled as simple to knit and easy to memorize, this pattern did turn out to be just that.  It didn't take long to knit up at all.

Were I to do it again, I might take out a repeat of the pattern to make it a bit narrower as it's not as close to my neck as I might like it at the top.  

The yarn was lovely to knit with.  I love anything with a little silk and this yarn was no exception.  Definitely fiber and color therapy.  It blocked well and I think the stitch definition is quite good.  The yarn base is a single ply with variable thickness.    The silk makes the green luminous.   

This detail picture is not a good representation of the color (the first two pictures are much better in this respect) but it does show off the cable lace texture.  The lace isn't terribly pronounced, but does help to give the fabric some more give and airy-ness.

My only quibble is that this patter really takes just a little tiny bit more than one skein... so to complete it, you need two.  Which is not the worst thing in the world since it gives me extra for a pair of short mitts... but if you needed to be budget conscious, it would feel like a bit of a waste since the yarn is pretty pricey.    If you were interested in the patter, I would be removing one pattern repeat with let you do it with one skein.

I've had a few folks ask to see my favorite little girl.  So here I give you my Compassion Cowl and my Source of Hope.    

Saltwater Completed

My finished projects haven't been as regular as I would like, but after some dedicated effort on Saltwater and some blocking (for some reason, it is the blocking step that I, well, block on) I have something to share.

Yarn:  Sundara Silky Merino in "The Great Pacific"
Needles: 3.25 mm Addi Turbos

I found this scarf a little hard to style in a way that would provide a sense of it's size and structure.  I think the best way to wear it is backwards with the point in front and the ends wrapped around, but that didn't show much of the detail or sense  of size.

I hope this image is more helpful at describing the shape.  If you imagine two elongated bird wings in flight, I think you have a very good idea of what Saltwater's shape is.  This is definitely something I would put in the scarf category, as, in my hands, it isn't very deep, even at the deepest point.

I liked how the pattern designer created texture with the alternating bands of stockinette.   Easy knitting, but lovely result and it makes the whole scarf fully reversible.

This closeup is to help you see the color variation in the yarn better.  It presents lighter here than it really is (the other pictures are more true to color) but it does show that the yarn does have beautiful depth and variation.  It reads solid, but solid with a lot of depth, especially with the sheen of the silk. 

This pattern was easy to work through and well written -- it's definitely easy knitting and shouldn't present too much difficulty even to a novice knitter.  The only remotely challenging thing is casting on the extra stitches that are used to create the center piece of the scarf after the two end pieces are complete.  And it's hard for me to say enough nice things about the yarn.  I really love this yarn stock, which is 50% merino, 50% silk.  It's also pretty nice to work with. It is a bit splitty, but duller tipped needles (like my Addi Turbos) make that issue much less.

After completing the project, I had about 24 g of the 150 g skein left over, so the pattern was pretty yarn efficient.  When I'm spending a lot on yarn for a project, I appreciate when the designer uses a reasonable amount of it and doesn't leave me with too many left overs.  Clearly with all the oddments of fingering weight yarn I am accumulating, I need to make a scarf that can use up all my bits and bobs in a nice way.

Catkin Progress

I have a number of unfinished projects lurking on the corners of my desks and hidden in baskets around the house.  I thought I would share a few of them as part of the process of convincing myself to bring them to completion.  All of them are worthy and will be lovely, but I seem to have a habit of setting things down when the chart gets too hard to memorize easily.  

So here we have the lovely Catkin by Carina Spencer knit in Madeline Tosh Merino Light in the colors Fathom (blue) and Glazed Pecan.  I've always like yellows and blue together (perhaps this was influenced by growing up close to the University of Michigan), but I like it when the yellows and blues have a little more sophistication.  I spent some time selecting these two colorways.  The yellow is much gold and little brown.  The blue is reminiscent of royal blue or purple with a shot of the electric.

I tried to get a shot of this project that would highlight the lovely needle work in the pecan colored area, but it's just too big for that now.  That area surprised me.  I thought it would be unpleasant to knit because the pattern was big and hard to remember.  But it turned out to be simpler than I thought.  And this yarn is really lovely to knit with, too.  I love the subtle variations in the color that give the knitting extra depth.  What is it about me and single ply yarn?  I love the stuff.  So many of my projects lately are made of single ply.

I imagine Catkin as a Spring and Fall garment.  Light enough for when it's just a little chilly out, so I think I'll make sure I've finished up my winter only warmers before I get back to her.  She sits in one of my dad's hand turned bowls beside my desk, where I can see her clearly and won't forget her, keeping company with a couple of other lost fibery souls.

Saltwater Heart

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While this project is not particularly photogenic (yet!) when laid out on the table, it almost can't avoid taking on the shape of a heart, given the way it is constructed.    Happy Belated Valentine's Day to all!  

This project is Saltwater by Heidi Kirrmaier and was the pattern provided along with the Fingering Silky Merino in colorway "The Great Pacific", both of which were a part of the Sundara Yarn Luxury Yarn club that I participated in last year.  The yarn is beautiful.  Although it looks solid, it has the subtle variation of a dark indigo.  When you knit it, it has depth without screaming "Hello!  I am a variegated yarn!" It is truly a treat to knit with.  I'm using my 3.25 mm nickel plated Addi Turbos (I didn't want pointy tipped needles for this yarn) and it slides along quickly and has nice stitch definition. Someday, I'd love to make a sweater out of this stuff!

The project itself is nice as well (and you can buy the pattern on Ravelry if it interests you).  It's super easy, but has alternating sections of stockinette and reverse stockinette so it is easy to knit while doing something else, but doesn't get crazy boring.  The construction is interesting, too, as you initially knit each half of the scarf separately and then bring them together -- though not with grafting.  The piece is also completely reversible - always a plus for me when it comes to a scarf.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but I am starting into the home stretch for this scarf.  I must say, I like projects where the stitch numbers decrease as you get towards the finish instead of increase.  It feels like running downhill!

Treats for Inspiration

Last year was such a low impact knitting year that it was hard for me to look at my existing stash and justify more yarn.  It was also becoming more and more clear to me that some yarns, even though I love them, don't play nice with my skin.  At the same time, I missed creating and crafting and knew I needed some inspiration.  So I decided that I would allow myself to have some treat yarn, under the condition that it was skin compatible (merinos, silk and good cashmere), truly special and inspirational, and also a small project where the yarn would actually be consumed and not just sit and linger in my stash.

Just about the time I made this decision, Sundara offered her luxury yarn subscription.  Smallish amounts of yarn and a pattern to go with it.   I'd used her fingering silky merino in another pattern and found that I could wear it against my skin without irritation, and since that yarn, it's aran cousin and a sport silky cashmere were the core offerings, I figured I couldn't go wrong.  Small projects, wonderful yarn bases and a dyer that makes some of the most beautiful and sophisticated colorways I've ever seen.   It's hard not to want this yarn in your hands!

Of course, I haven't been as fast on the draw as I would like to be.  There were three projects in the subscription and I'm just about mid-way through the first (Saltwater, which I am working in that beautiful blue yarn you see in the picture).   The other two yarns that came in the subscription are that beautiful deep "autumn leaves" red aran silky merino and the lovely "driftwood" sport silky cashmere that captures my memories of driftwood washed up on Lake Michigan in the summertime perfectly.    

The green yarn is her "Compassion" (also in aran silky merino) -- she released it at a time a few weeks ago when that message really resonated (and still resonates) with me.  The cowl project it goes with may be next since it is February in Chicago and that color will be the perfect complement to me and my hair and February is just one of those months where we all need a little more compassion, I think. At least in the places where it is cold and we have to spend more of our time indoors.

Last, but not least, that beautiful purple lace weight is "Aurora" in "Petunia" from Jill Draper. It's a wool silk blend and it's so soft that I'm optimistic that I'll be able to wear it in the lacy cowl its destined for.  

Even though I haven't knit with all of it yet, this yarn is keeping me company at my desk, sharing it's color and it's beautiful textures with me.  It's been therapeutic in many ways.  And it definitely helped convince me to keep my needles moving.

What yarn or tools inspire you to keep knitting?

Have a Heart

Perler Bead Heart by Ms. Z

I learned about Perler beads from my sister-in-law last weekend.  They are really wonderful, especially if you have a child that needs to work on her fine dexterity. It's crafty goodness that helps with motor skills.

Take one template with tiny pegs on it and one bucket of cylindrical plastic beads.  Give them both to a child and let them create.  Ms. Z just likes to mix all the colors.  When the child is done, cover the project with parchment and iron.  Voila!  You have my plastic heart (although Z would like to give this one to her school art teacher).

This is equally fun for the parent, since I love to play with color and pattern, and it seems to make my child happy when I sit and do it with her.  Finally a fun craft activity that we can do together that isn't messy and isn't hard to clean up.

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