Entering the world of the hat

Posted October 20, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: Knitting

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This is the story of two hats.



Pattern: The Vermonter by Abi Gregorio
Yarn: Araucania Tolten (100% wool), colorway 4
Needles: U.S. 11 36″ Harmony wood Options circulars (magic-loop)

It all started with Thick Yarn Thunderdome. In an effort to reduce my stash, which covers an entire wall of our bedroom without counting the 55-gallon tub of leftovers and assorted skeins that don’t fit in the wall unit, I joined a Ravelry group last year and challenged myself to acquire yarn at a negative rate. Periodic competitions and goals, posted by the enthusiastic moderators of the group, motivated me to use what I had instead of always buying more.


So almost as soon as the October challenge (use worsted-weight or heavier) was announced, I was eagerly digging through those bins to find possibilities. On the weekend before my fiftieth birthday, I took a stray skein of this beautiful wool (the only one of its colorway I found at Tuesday Morning back in the heady non-stash-down days of spring 2014) and cast on for a delicious bulky hat. Two hours later, I had made a hat. Where there never was a hat.



Pattern: Three-Spiral Hat by Elizabeth Zimmermann, from The Opinionated Knitter
Yarn: Universal Ferris Wool (70% wool, 30% acrylic), colorway 802 Cream
Needles: U.S. 11 Harmony wood Options 36″ circular needle (magic-loop)

I might have gotten a little excited after producing the first hat. More digging in the Tuesday Morning bulky bin, a little deeper this time (summer 2013), combined with the vague idea that it would be fun to knit along with EZ for a bit, et voila. Another hat in another few hours.


I need not add to the millions of words spilled on our culture’s knitblogs about Elizabeth Zimmermann. Suffice it to say that sharing her mindspace with needles in hand is a heady experience. How does she see what she sees? How does she communicate it so intimately?


The next day we put on our hats for a Sunday walk. One day, two hats. From yarn to headwarmer to pom-pom to sculpted soft-serve swirls. Just in case you had forgotten that knitting is magic.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back

Posted July 9, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: Knitting, Uncategorized

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Pattern: Pembrokeshire Pathways (rav link) by Brenda Dayne
Yarn: Knit Picks Essential (75% wool, 25% nylon), colorway Turtle Multi
Needle: U.S. 1 (2.25mm) nickel Options fixed 40″ circulars (two-at-at-time magic loop)

I’ve made my mother a couple of shawls and a warm, neck-hugging cowl for her trip to Scotland. But I think what she would really appreciate is a pair of socks. She’s always relaxing on the balcony with a book and a beverage, putting her feet up, and those feet would be even happier if they were protected from the sea breezes and A/C drafts by cozy, beautiful, delightful handknit socks.

But I have never made socks for anyone other than myself. I am at a loss as to how to begin. I know when to start the heel or the toe on socks I make because I try them on. Socks that come out too loose or too tight, too short or too long, are socks that are worse than useless. Instead of reminding you of the glorious, life-affirming luxury of a handknit sock, they remind you of compromise and failure and mediocrity and how cheap a 10-pack of socks is at Wal-Mart and at least those would fit, by God.

I was determined to overcome my fears and knit a sock for someone other than myself. For my mom! I chose a yarn that my dad, who does the laundry these days I think, could throw into a washer and dryer and not ruin. chose a pattern that was ribbed so it would fit even if my size calculations (based on Dad telling me that Mom wears a size 6 1/2 shoe) were off. It was all going great, until the toe. I started the toe earlier than I would have for myself, at 7 inches of foot length, going for a sock about 9 1/8″ or 9 3/16″ long, which is about 5/16″ to 3/8″ shorter than I would make a sock for myself. Unfortunately it turned out to fit me perfectly. The round toe seemed to just keep going. Normally one makes a toe about 2″ long; this one was 2.5″. When it became clear it was running long I eliminated a couple of rows, but it was too late.

See how perfect they are for my size 8 1/2 feet, my 9.5″ long feet? Maybe they would still work for Mom, I thought, and sent them off — partly as an exercise in letting go, in not getting too attached. I kind of loved these socks. They fit me so well. The cables-and-lace pattern was beautiful, the colors perfectly complementing it. I wanted to keep them. But I had made them for mom. Maybe they would magically fit. In my heart I knew better; Dad reported they were about a half inch too long. That means I will get them back, which makes me happy. But it also means that I have to start over thinking about socks for Mom. And as hard as it was to get over that hump of socks-not-for-me the first time, failure on the initial attempt is not making it any easier.

All you can do is cast on again. And again.

Don’t believe me just watch

Posted June 24, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: Knitting

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Pattern: Minami by Emily Nora O’Neill
Yarn: Robin Turner Back to Basics Prima Pima Cotton (100% cotton)
Needles: U.S. 5 & 6 Harmony wood Options 40″ circulars

FOMO. It stands for Fear of Missing Out. When this acronym started to achieve wide usage, I understood, for the first time, something about what drives my decision-making. As they said on Arrested Development, “then at least you’ll have it.

I’m spending 2015 trying to “stash down,” use yarn I’ve got rather than buying more. And a lot of yarn that I’ve got I bought because of FOMO. Especially Tuesday Morning yarn. If it’s a nice fiber and not some crazy novelty texture, I’ll snap it up at Tuesday Morning. It feels like a “find” because the selection is essentially random and unpredictable. Better get it “just so you’ll have it, because then at least you’ll have it.”

Then it sits in my stash for two years, like this DK-weight dark green cotton. (Two years is actually a pretty short time, for me. When I first got it out to use it I could have sworn it was only one year, because I still had it mentally filed as a recent acquisition.) The color is not calibrated to inspire me … doesn’t feel springy or summery. Earlier this year I moved it to the “for sale or trade” section of my stash on Ravelry and threw it in the “sell or give away” basket in my physical stash storage.

When I got the email from Berroco with this free pattern, though, I immediately went looking to see if I had any yarn that would work for it. And suddenly this useless yarn acquired a shape in my mind, the shape of this lace tank.

I modified the pattern to work it in the round, rather than in front and back pieces; that meant eliminating four stitches (the ones that would have been eaten up by seaming) and adding a purl column on each side for a faux seam. It also meant working this lace pattern on the right side only, which wouldn’t usually be a problem since wrong side rows are usually just purling back; knit across instead, same thing. Except this lace pattern is what they call “lace knitting” which means it’s got decreases and increases on every row, including the wrong side. So I had to figure out what decreases to use to get the same look working them from the right side. A couple of times I dropped a stitch in the lace, a scary thing when every row is patterned, but in both cases it was in the very regular lace border, not that meandering central part, and I laddered it back up like a champ.


Best of all was the photo shoot. It fit perfectly. And that’s even more special than usual, because this fit was on my new 30-pounds-lighter frame. I’ve been sticking to a calorie budget (using MyFitnessPal) since December 12, 2014, and only have 5 pounds left to go to my goal. I went out last week and bought new clothes for the first time in a couple of years because my pants were all falling off of me. I didn’t take any deliberate “before” pictures, and although I can easily see the difference, I don’t think it’s all that dramatic to the casual observer; I carry my weight, I suppose, by just being slightly thicker everywhere, so it’s like I’ve been whittled down all around. But maybe you can see it. Here’s before:

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And after:

I’ll write more about the reducing process over on the other blog sometime soon. Here it’s all about the handknits. Just look at this thing. Yarn acquired for no good reason (really, for a very bad one), redeemed. My favorite kind of knitting story.

Let’s run away and don’t ever look back

Posted February 2, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: yarn

Tags: , , , ,


Saturday was a blank canvas. Noel away at a film festival, Archer away at a Quiz Bowl tournament, Cady Gray happily engaged in her own activities. I got out my crock pots and the 14 balls of yarn that were stored with them — yarn with beautiful fibers but disappointing colors. Yarn that wasn’t quite a blank canvas, but still invited scribbling.

I started with a plan, and took some photos to keep it in mind. This pale pink color of silk/merino blend, called “Blush,” I thought I’d overdye in red and orange.


Hm. Not what I was expecting the red dye to do — it’s a purplish rust. But the orange, now, that was orange. Maybe all orange from here on out.



Ah yes. Much better.


You know, there’s nothing really wrong with these 100% merino balls in this shade of blue. It’s just … not the kind of blue that lights my fire. It’s kind of a safe blue. A boring blue. I thought I might try to deepen it with blue and purple overdyeing.


Just what I had in mind.


When I dropped the dye tablets for the third skein, they were all blue — no purple. Identifying these Easter egg dyes from the tablet appearance is a terribly inexact science — red, blue, and purple can look very much alike. Huh. I think I’ll run with it.


But just to swing the pendulum the other way before I’m done, let me use all red on one of these blue skeins, see what happens. I thought I hated this when it first came out, but now it’s growing on me.


For these last four balls of even paler peach — barely-tinted, really) — silk-merino blend, in a bulky weight this time, I thought I’d try to mix the dyes a little more, get some blended green out of yellow and blue.


Uh-huh, kinda like that. There were several places that were the original color after the first dyeing, so I overdyed these with an additional coat of yellow.


For the one second from left, the original blue in the blend was the PAAS “teal” shade, and I added an overwash of “denim” at the end. And in the weird sage-shades one on the far left, the blue was PAAS “denim” color throughout, resulting in a much more muted green that was toned down even further by the final wash in blue.


If you asked which group looks more like yarn I’d be attracted to on the shelf or in an online photo, it’s definitely the blue group.


But these Creamsicle skeins, even though they’re far from something I’d reach for when buying yarn, are the ones that intrigue me the most. I keep thinking about how I might use them. They present a challenge — a lovely challenge.

Call me at the station, the lines are open

Posted January 16, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: Knitting

Tags: , , ,


Pattern: 198 yds. of Heaven by Christy Verity (rav link)
Yarn: Ella Rae Lace Merino Worsted (100% merino), overdyed
Needle: U.S. 7 Knit Picks Sunstruck wood 26″ circulars (worked flat)

One of my favorite things about knitting, at a certain level of competence, is that you can create things that would command luxury prices in a boutique — but in actuality can’t be bought anywhere, at any price.


Here’s an example. This started with a poor orphan skein of yarn at Tuesday Morning that had lost its label . Sight and touch made it obvious that it was a bouncy merino, and I initially pegged it as Fibernatura Yummy, a sportweight I had bought at the store before, with a similar twist. But careful examination showed it was heavier, and a colorway not found in that yarn. My curiosity piqued, I searched stash photos on Ravelry until I determined its true name and nature.


Then into the dye pot it went, with my favorite Easter egg colors — spring green, denim blue, and teal — dumped directly from the dye cups that had held eggs the day before. Pure alchemy. You be the judge.


It sat in my stash, a reminder every time I caught sight of it of its priceless singularity, until the moment I decided to make my mother a lace scarf for Christmas. That moment came one week before she was set to visit. I had a deadline.


With a day to spare — a day needed for blocking, at that, so really right at the nick of time — my version of this popular pattern came off the needles. There are 5523 other scarves like it on Ravelry. But this one is mine, the utterly unique and unrepeatable combination of serendipity, experimentation, and technique.


Gorgeous, if I do say so myself. Anyone who appreciates beauty would crave it, even with three or four figures on the price tag. But it’s not for sale. It’s for Mom.

I’ll show you the ropes, kid

Posted January 12, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: Knitting

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Pattern: Purl Ridge Scarf by Stephen West
Yarn: Debbie Macomber Blossom Street Collection Fleur de Lys (90% merino, 10% cashmere), colorway 405 (overdyed)
Needles: U.S. 8 Harmony wood Options 26″ circular needles

Some projects take the long way home. This one started with a find at Tuesday Morning — yarn of a beautiful fiber, but an ugly color.


That’s … brown. Not really the rich, autumnal brown that sometimes draws me in. Kind of pink-undertone brown. Not even just drab — really actively off-putting. Hard to photograph, probably. Uninspiring, to say the least. I couldn’t imagine an entire garment in that color. But the single-ply yarn was beautifully soft. I knew I could turn it into something better.


Here are the five balls I bought (all they had, of course), skeined up and overdyed with 2 red PAAS Easter egg dye tablets dissolved in a tbsp of white vinegar and 6 oz. of water, kettled in a crockpot on low for half an hour. Much better — a shade of bright brick red with the original brown shade showing through in places. Now, what to make?

I settled on this scarf, long in my queue, awaiting just this kind of semi-solid colorway to show off its depth of texture. I made the whole thing, dear reader, from one laboriously engineered hemmed edge to the other. I worked on it, off and on, for four months. And then I unraveled it, the whole thing, cutting the yarn where I had spit-spliced it (or just wherever it refused to stop sticking together, as is the nature of single-ply yarn so often. I just had to face facts. It wasn’t what I had hoped. It was kind of stiff and flat, not soft, lofty, and textured. The hems I tried didn’t work out at all. This yarn was too beautiful for such a fate. Back to the drawing board.


Ah yes. That’s better. Simple hits of garter-ridge texture on a smooth stockinette background. Soft, flexible, inviting. All the color shows through with no fuss. Why didn’t I do this the first time? I gave it to my sister-in-law for Christmas, thrilled that it had turned out so perfectly.


CG kept making exaggerated faces as she modeled this scarf, then bursting into laughter. I kind of love this shot — she’s in motion, blurred and ecstatic, but the scarf is in crisp focus. Finally that beautiful fiber has found its purpose.

Make the pop go rock

Posted January 6, 2015 by donnadb
Categories: Knitting

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Pattern: Insta-Hat by Lee Meredith
Yarn: The Twisted Purl Merino Merino Wool Tencil Thread
Needles: U.S. 10.5 Harmony wood Options 24″ circular needle, magic loop style

New year. New start.

Lee Meredith is a designer known for her quirky sense of style. She’s especially associated with the oversize zig-zag — a texture or color pattern that veers first one way, then another, over the course of a hat or cowl or glove. After Christmas, she began posting daily clues on Instagram for a hat pattern in bulky yarn. Done with holiday knitting, done with book writing, done with 2014, and committed to a “stashdown” in the new year, I was primed for something exactly like this.


It only took five days, maybe a half-hour a day, and that includes the day I spent doing clue #3 wrong and ripping it out. Then, the pom-pom. Out came my beloved jumbo Clover pom-pom maker, truly one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Look at that big fluffy thing. The thick parts of the yarn just spread out in an irresistible texture. It’s glorious.


I have a cube in my massive yarn-storage Expedit for single skeins — leftover balls from bigger projects, or just orphans I picked up here and there. When you buy yarn at craft fair stalls from local producers, sometimes one skein is all there is of any single thing. That’s the way it was with this thick-and-thin, thread-to-roving skein spun by Cyndi Minister. I bought it five years earlier, at my church’s Christmas market. I’m pretty sure my five-year-old daughter, whom I would teach to knit within weeks of that purchase, had something to do with the selection.


And here’s that girl, now age ten, plopping on a just-finished hat for a holiday walk. New year. New start. But keep the precious things from before close by, and watch them transform.


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