Wednesday, November 12, 2014

in progress

Not that you can tell, really, from the photo, but that lumpy pile of spruce-colored knitting is a cowl in progress hanging out by the rosemary plant. The pattern is Tonic Water from babycocktails, and it's one I've been wanting to knit for a while. 

It's not for me, alas, but the recipient is quite deserving and I think she'll like it. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to work on it much because I'm trying to finish up a test knit (another for babycocktails!) and it's quite complicated. These days I want to knit All The Things because winter has arrived early and I've been layering up to bike to work.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

today's thoughts

The most recent episode, "Stash Control", was a refreshing take on what it means to stash. Hannah Fettig's guest was her husband, Abe. He is a software developer who wrote the code for the Stashbot app (I don't have it...yet), and also happens to be a man of many hobbies, hobbies that involve collecting things like stereo equipment and old cameras. It was so interesting to hear the two of them discuss what it means to have a stash, why it's important, what the purpose is, and how to stash in an intelligent way.

Hearing their stories of stashing was so familiar. Man/woman finds hobby, buys supplies for said hobby, acquires lots of stash (be it yarn or photography equipment or home-brew supplies, or whatever it is) really quickly before having a sense of what will truly be useful, then feels guilty about the money spent and storage space required, eventually purges the excess and learns to stash smarter. Is this your story? (How about a show of hands?)

It's certainly true for me. I've been knitting since I was about 8 or 9 years old, but I didn't start stashing yarn until my early twenties when knitting was the new yoga and...well, I've told this story many times. My point is, I'm much wiser than I was 7 or 8 years ago. I'm better at gauging what colors and styles are flattering on me, I'm much more realistic about what gifts I should knit and for who, and I'm stashing much smarter now.

My tastes haven't changed (I never did like novelty yarns much) so much as they have become more refined. I know myself better as a person and as a knitter: I find scarves tedious; I almost always knit plain socks; I love the look of lace shawls but knitting them makes me nuts; I never tire of knitting cables; I wear gray even though I probably shouldn't; I'm a sucker for hats and cowls; I love knitting with wool and wool/alpaca blends; I do not trust superwash wools for reasons both environmental and gauge-related (except for socks); fuzzy yarns annoy me; I do not wear sweaters with 3/4 sleeves or large scoop necks or an asymmetrical shape or wide collars but I love cowl necks and you can never have too many cardigans.

My stash was starting to take up too much space and weigh on my conscience, so I sold a fair amount of yarn that I knew I wouldn't use or enjoy using. It has felt really good to let it go. Once it's gone, I don't miss it. I only regret having spent the money on it in the first place, and the emotional baggage of having it in my house when it should have stayed in the store. I've learned there's no point in buying yarn that I don't really love. If you spend $50 on yarn because it's on sale, you're not really saving any money if you don't end up knitting the yarn, or worse, if you knit it out of obligation instead of enjoyment. Isn't it better to save that $50 for something you know you'll enjoy using? I consider myself a responsible, rational person, but it still took me a long time to learn that lesson. I'm glad to know I'm not alone.

I'm still working on this. I still have too much yarn. I've bought yarn this year, but only for a couple of specific projects that I cast on for right away (well, except for that one skein of Mountain Colors from our vacation in Michigan...) But I'm getting smarter, not only the yarn buying but the projects I make. I don't buy 10 skeins of sock yarn in mid-November actually believing I'll get every pair done by Christmas, nor do I make heavily cabled alpaca scarves for people who live in the deep South (I actually did that once in a moment of very bad judgment; the recipient was very gracious but I'm sure she didn't ever need to use it). I don't make stuff for my kids unless they ask for it.

So that's my story. What about you? Are you smarter about stashing and project management, as it were, than you used to be?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

i am my own test knitter

I've only put a few simple designs up on this blog, and they're all free (scroll down the sidebar here to find them). I'll never be a true designer, and I'm totally okay with that. I don't have it in me to come up with anything original enough to charge money for, or design anything complicated enough for a tech editor or test knitters (like with many sizes or bust shaping). I'm happy to come up with the occasional hat or blanket design and throw those on the internet for anyone who might want to make one. 

Long time readers of Mad Knitting may remember that years ago, when Anya was but a yearling, I published a hat pattern, Transsiberian, named after an indie movie of the same title in which actress Emily Mortimer flees a frightening man on the Transsiberian railroad and runs barefoot across the tundra, all while wearing this really great cabled hat. I wanted one like it, so I decided to design one, and with a spare skein of Lamb's Pride and my cabled stitched dictionary, I did just that.

A handful of people on Ravelry have made this hat, and several noted an error in the crown decreases. Also, since then I've acquired some charting software and a little more pattern-writing savvy. I also lost the original hat (or maybe gave it away because let's face it, Lamb's Pride is itchy stuff…I've moved on in my yarn acquisition tendencies), so about six months ago I sat down and knit another one of these in better yarn (Blackberry Ridge Mill 2-ply, leftover from my Bloody Mary test knit). As my own test knitter, I fixed the decrease problem and charted the pattern. It was surprisingly easy.

I don't know why it took six months to get a photo shoot of this hat. Life happened, I guess, and I'm tired of my junky back yard being the background for every photo shoot I post on this blog. This morning, we took the kids to a nearby park for some fall photos, so as we were leaving the house, I put on this hat with the intention of getting a few good shots in. The light this morning was a little bright; a lot of the pictures have shadows and contrast, but we got a few decent takes and some fun ones in the leaves. 

The hat pattern is still free, and always will be. This is partly because I ripped off the design from a movie, partly because there are approximately a gazillion cabled hat patterns out there already, and partly because I am still figuring out how to navigate the pro/designer part of Ravelry. I consider it a small miracle that I managed to upload the pattern pdf. I have yet to figure out how to add new photos to the design page (help??!!) and when it comes to adding a financial component…forget it. It's not worth the dozen dollars per year I'd make off this design.

A note about the yarn, Blackberry Ridge Mill medium-weight 2-ply. It's wonderful, light and wooly without being itchy and wears very well. My only gripe is that I bought it without thinking about how that medium beige/gray color does nothing for me. Maybe I should toss this hat in the Christmas bucket. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

question for sewists out there

I consider myself to have intermediate sewing skills. I can do most basic things, and I can make a simple tote bag without a pattern. Since getting a new machine last spring, I've managed to make a lot of projects look better but my work still lacks polish. I've put some reference books on hold at the library to have a look through them, but I'm wondering if any Mad Knitting readers out there have any specific recommendations? Amazon reviews only tell you so much, after all.

Here's what I'm waiting to get from the library:

Threads Sewing Guide

Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing

Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing

The Sewing Book: An Encyclopedic Resource of Step-by-Step Techniques

Vogue Sewing

Does anyone out there prefer one of these over the others? Or one not on the list?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

crabby pants

This girl... growing like the proverbial weed.

No longer does she fit into the hand-me-down PJs she got from Daniel last year. He doesn't have any more to hand down at the moment, since he's decided he prefers to sleep in his skivvies, even all winter long. (I fail to understand this, but he doesn't complain about being cold if he has enough blankets, so I guess it's okay.)

In any case, my girl needs some new PJ pants, like, yesterday. I mean that literally because yesterday we froze our tushies off watching a soccer game and finally turned on the heat when we got home. Then at bedtime, Anya didn't have any nice warm pajamas to put on, poor girl. Fortunately, a few weeks ago I anticipated this PJ shortage and we went fabric shopping to pick out some cozy flannel. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to sew any of it up before today.

The fabric is rather cheap flannel from Joanns in this adorable crab print. I love how every once in a while there's a red one. I told Anya if she ever wakes up in a bad mood while she's wearing these, I get to call her "Miss Crabby Pants." She seems okay with that plan.

Anya's grown out of all the "up to size 5" patterns I had stashed away, and I had to find PJ pants in a new range of sizes, so I decided to go with the Sleepover Pajamas pattern from Oliver & S

These patterns cost more than the big brand companies, but I'm telling you they are worth every penny. The instructions are fantastic and the clothes fit. Too often I've bought patterns at the big box craft store on sale for $1 or $2 and then regretted the purchase when the kid pants I make have a 12" crotch and enough room in the butt to fit a grownup. Or the button down blouse I try for myself has way too much room in the bust but a neckline so small I'm choking. I'm done with those junk patterns!

Anyway, the sleepover PJ pattern is pretty basic, but with some nice details. Because Anya is most comfortable sleeping in t-shirts, I didn't make the shirt and just stuck with the pants. 

Now, normally I can whip out a pair of PJ pants in less than an hour. It's the only sewing project I'm reliable with. But this pair was a little more involved. The waistband and cuff are cut from contrasting fabric and sewn on separately; the cuffs make it possible to let down the hem if your kid has a growth spurt two weeks after you finish the pants. I do think the contrasting trim makes the whole garment look a little more polished...or at least it does in theory. I might have sewed the cuff on the wrong way. The topstitching shows and I'm not sure it's supposed to.

Here the cuff is folded up.

I also screwed up when I printed out the pattern and didn't realize it until after I'd cut out the main pieces from the crabby fabric. I printed out over a dozen sheets of paper and cut them apart and put them together to make the pattern pieces (it's tedious but worth the convenience of having it available digitally), traced and cut out the leg pieces, then went to measure the rectangular pieces for the waist and cuffs to cut out with the rotary cutter...and when I saw that the little grid squares on the pattern were not matching up to the marks on my ruler, yes that's when I finally I realized that I didn't have the printer set to 100%. It was set to 94%, just a touch smaller than full size. 

I'm not sure why I manage to screw up even the simplest sewing projects. It's why I don't find much time to sew, in fact, because I know nothing will be quick. Nothing will be simple. And few things turn out the way I want them to first time around. I need vast swaths of time to make mistakes and fix them with time outs in between for all the frustration I'm feeling and vast swaths of time I do not have. Ever.

I'm glad to say this little saga has a happy ending. After slapping my forehead and yelling "WHY CAN'T I EVER HAVE A PROJECT GO RIGHT THE FIRST TIME?!" I held up the pieces I'd cut out already to Anya and saw that they would probably fit just fine. Once I put the pants together (and that did go quickly, even with the extra pieces - at least I didn't make two left legs like that one time...oh never mind...), they fit her just swimmingly. I'd cut out the size 7, figuring extra room is good for a growing kid, and it turns out that size 7 at 94% is just right for her, with a little growing room, even. 

The only weird thing is that the slightly shrunken size made for a waistband that was a little too narrow. Instead of cutting out a new one, I just folded it down more on the inside than the pattern called for, so the elastic casing goes below the red waistband on the right side out. I'm okay with that, but I am going to do better with the next pair.

Meanwhile, Anya is warm and cozy in her new PJs, and hopefully not too crabby.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

cleaning up

It seems in a very short space of time, we've gone from warm, summery days to this:

Leaves are turning color and falling down. It happened practically overnight. Last night I could hear sleet hitting the roof and we have a frost advisory for tonight. Good thing I have picked the last of the tomatoes; I think the rest are toast. 

I spent an hour in the cold, windy drizzle watching Daniel play soccer (they haven't won a game yet, but those kids are having fun anyway), but it was otherwise a good day to stay in and do some much-needed cleaning house. I've been run a little ragged lately, what with adjusting to my work schedule added to my usual responsibilities, and the house has gotten really messy. Not "Hoarders" messy, but bad enough to make me twitchy and unable to relax. Even Stuart noticed and he generally has a higher tolerance for mess and clutter than I do.

After a few hours of cleaning, a lot looks better, but there's still some left to do tomorrow. I got bogged down in the project of cleaning out some of my knitting patterns. You have to understand I've got more patterns than I can possibly knit in my lifetime. I'm fine with that because I also have a fickle mind, and there's no telling what I'll want to pick up and knit next. I'm glad I have all those options right on at my fingertips. 

At the same time, my shelves were stuffed too full and I knew there were some things I liked at one time that I know I'll never make. Like the wide-collared cardigan patterns I downloaded before I realized how dreadful I look in them. And the fancy twisted-stitch sock patterns I printed out when it turns out I hate knitting twisted stitches on sock yarn and tiny needles. And all the adorable knitted dresses and jumpers I meant to make for Anya when she was so little, and the hooded jackets I wanted to make for Daniel before he decided "Sweaters just aren't my style, mom!"

It's fine. My tastes have changed and my children are growing. How they're growing! They're growing up and they're great kids and while I get a little nostalgic for the cuddly toddler years I never want to relive them. It was not an easy time for me. And although there will always be babies of friends and family members I can knit for, it's unnecessary for me to have 50 sweater patterns on hand for newborns when I'm unlikely to knit more than one or two a year.

Beer and pattern sorting. Wild times.

So I went through the patterns and tried to be ruthless. A few books I know I'll never use are headed for the used book store where I might get a few bucks for them. A huge stack of paper went into recycling, and some nicer printed patterns in plastic sleeves are bound for the thrift store. Maybe I ought to save them just in case, but the truth is, I want the stuff I have no use for out of my house. It's overwhelming enough to see what I kept!

I was just as ruthless with my yarn stash over the summer, and I managed to sell a decent amount, though there is plenty left I'd rather see gone.

How did I end up with so much? There were a few years there, I guess, when it was sort of like I thought it was now or never with the yarn and the patterns, like I had to get everything then or I'd miss my chance. In reality, the yarn business and designing world have evolved to be much better. There are more options, and better ones, and I'm better off knitting what I want instead of getting stuck in the past.


Friday, September 26, 2014

testing 1, 2, 3

Five on Friday! TGIF y'all!
Five things being tested this week:

  1. Daniel's reading and math abilities. Now that he's in third grade, the standardized testing starts. It's not all bad, mind you, and we're lucky it doesn't seem to stress him out too much, if at all. But it's just adding to the complexity of life with kids in public school.
  2. My students at my new teaching job. Actually, they're getting their first big test next week, but we've started the review for it already. I have a lot of prep work ahead of me, but I can't say any more.
  3. My patience. I have a lot more balls in the air this year, and it's a good thing, but it means my family has to pitch in a little more on some things at home and...they're still adjusting to that. No further comment.
  4. I'm working on a test knit. Of course I can't share about it yet, but it's time-consuming and I'm a little behind. However, it's tweedy and cabled and just the sort of thing I love to knit, so it's all good.
  5. To that end, my phone. I got a new one (finally). I like it, but there are a few things I'm still getting used to. It has a nice camera, though, look! 

Hopefully artistic but not too revealing snap of my test knit in progress.