Archive for January 2011

After all you’ve done for me

January 31, 2011

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Pattern: Noro Striped Scarf by Jared Flood
Yarn: Lion Brand Amazing (53% wool, 47% acrylic), colorways Aurora and Olympia
Needles: U.S. 8 Signature metal straights

Self-striping with long color repeats. It’s a category of yarn identified with Noro — almost in the same way nobody asks for a facial tissue, but asks for a Kleenex. Noro may not have invented the genre, but arguably did perfect it, with a mix of striking color combinations both gently graduated and startlingly non-intuitive.

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And among the patterns designed to take advantage of Noro-type yarn, there’s one that is near-ubiquitous. When I see a Noro clone for sale, my immediate thought is trying it out on a Noro Striped Scarf. Such a simple idea. Two colorways, each with its own mix of slowly changing colors, striped so that they move in tandem. The combinations never repeat. The effect is inimitable. The result is elegant and unique. And the knitting is mesmerizing, as the next color appears under your fingers.

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When I saw a few balls of Lion Brand’s new Noro-type yarn for sale recently, I knew exactly how to try them out. A Noro Striped Scarf calls for one or two balls of two colorways. One colorway needed to be bright, one muted. Size 8 needles make for a relatively loose, unstructured fabric. The yarn is fuzzy, sticking to itself and resisting being undone. People who saw the scarf in progress were drawn to the fluorescent stripes, then to the soft halo on the touchable surface.

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I stopped knitting after six feet. But I didn’t necessarily want to. More colors were waiting in the second ball of each colorway that I had started. I could have made it twice as long. The Noro Striped Scarf could go on forever, exploring the fluid play of moving color against moving color. Treating it as a garment rather than a meditative exercise, though, requires concessions toward practicality. No matter — the next Noro and the next scarf are no doubt right around the corner.

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We are all our hands and holders

January 23, 2011

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Patterns: Striped Fingerless Mitts by Becky Stern and Noro Scarf (two-tone diagonal garter stitch) by Suzanne Pietrzak
Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Sport (100% Peruvian highland wool), colorways Semolina and Cobblestone Heather
Needles: U.S. 3 Harmony wood 24′ circulars (magic loop one-at-a-time) for the mitts, U.S. 5 Signature straights for the scarf

This is the story of a matching set.

My friend Ali e-mailed me after seeing this a few months ago. “Love that yellow,” she said. “Any chance you’d make me a pair of fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm at work — in a yellow like that, striped with charcoal gray maybe? And maybe a matching scarf? I’ll trade you food!”

The quest for the right colors began. Photos flew back and forth over e-mail; opinions were expressed. Ali was drawn to shades with more orange to them, and we settled on Knit Picks Palette in Bittersweet Heather and Golden Heather. And then I began knitting. And they looked like this.

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I e-mailed Ali a picture. “Two words come to mind: Tiger stripes,” I confessed. I opined that this wasn’t what she had in mind. I suggested a move back toward yellow and gray.

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And here we are. Yes, bumblebee stripes do come to mind. Two more words, as it were. But with the gray refusing to trend all the way to black, the insect is suggested rather than imitated. This is boldness without ostentation. Fashion-forward without screaming for attention. There’s a modern elegance. Just like Ali herself.

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I didn’t sweat the small stuff. Moved the thumb off the seam to make them handed, sure. But decided to embrace the natural jog of the stripes, the easy roll of the stockinette. Even the slouchy, casual fit, introduced deliberately after the first try at mitt #1 turned out too snug for my normal hands let alone Ali’s long, tapered ones.

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As for the scarf, all I asked was a slightly more interesting knit — and look — than horizontal two-row stripes. Ali agreed to a scarf knit on the bias, and that was all I needed to hear. For the last two weeks this has been my in-class, in-meeting, in-waiting rooms, carried-all-over-creation knitting.

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Easy but not ordinary. A dash of flair, not a cry for attention. Warm, work-friendly, versatile. The bitter cold and snow of the last week sent Ali back to her e-mail this week, looking for her mitt’s companion. I pushed it to 70 inches, blocked, finished, and completed the set today.

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A more gratified client no knitter could wish for. May these gifts of warm wool and sunlit hues ward off the chill and brighten the dark this winter, and for many winters to come.

Somebody else ’round everyone else

January 13, 2011

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Pattern: Balaclava by Nanette Blanchard
Yarn: Ella Rae Extrafine Heathers (100% merino), colorway Green 25
Needles: U.S. 7 and 8 Harmony wood Options 24″ circulars (magic loop)

Park City, Utah is a very cold place in January. That’s where and when the Sundance Film Festival takes place, which Noel has attended for the past several years. He has a special Sundance wardrobe for the challenge of trudging from theater to hotel to shuttle stop in the frigid weather — gloves and long underwear and ragg socks that he doesn’t wear any other time of the year. Among those accessories is a black cotton balaclava.

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It seems to me that these Wal-Mart versions of rugged mountain outerwear needed replacing. Here I am with the skills and the interest (and the stash) to produce warm woolies instead. But in the flurry of Christmas knitting, I didn’t have time to make a serious scarf, snow-defying gloves, or any of the other items that might have rescued my husband from the frigid winds and the heartbreak of inadequate bargain-bin insulation. So as soon as the presents were wrapped, I looked up a pattern and presented him with yarn options. About five days of easy knitting later, the cotton balaclava was history.

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Here we have the antidote to accessories that cover but do not protect — that get cold when wet, that let the fierce winds through. Here we have the softest, cushiest merino wool, knit up into thick ribbing, comfortable next to the skin, but as hardy in the cold and snow as the best fibers science can produce.

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Noel proved himself an astute judge of yarn. This is the one I would have chosen for myself. His new balaclava isn’t elaborately colored or patterned; it might not draw any more attention than his basic black cotton one. But inside it, he will know the joy of the supremely functional and subversively lovely.

And the best one of the year

January 2, 2011

WordPress.com sent some stats about this blog to me yesterday. Interestingly, my most visited post in 2010 was this 2008 holiday knitting roundup.  Hey, come to think of it, I have a lot of 2010 FO’s that haven’t been blogged because of their secret gift statu.  So here’s this year’s version of that popular post.

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Pattern: Cardiff Cowl by Lion Brand Yarn
Yarn: Knit Picks Capra (85% merino, 15% cashmere), colorway Platinum
Hook: U.S. H/5.0 mm

My first crocheted cowl. I fell hard for this lacy confection in this substantial yet whisper-soft yarn. Had enough left for …

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Pattern: Cafe au Lait Mitts by Paula McKeever
Yarn: Knit Picks Capra (as above)
Needles: U.S. 4 Harmony wood Options 24″ circular needles (one-at-a-time magic loop)

… these cloud-like lattice-pattern mitts, the perfect combination of architectural lines and welcoming warmth. Gifted to my sister-in-law Sherry.

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Pattern: One Row Lace Cowl by milobo
Yarn: Knit Picks Andean Silk (55% alpaca, 23% silk, 22% merino), colorway Bluebell
Hook: U.S. J/5.5 mm

The crochet cowl trend continues. I only used one ball of this favorite yarn of mine for a little zigzag lace neckwarmer, made for my niece Sydney. It seems just her style: feminine but with strong lines and perfect, compact functionality.

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Pattern: Greenery Hat by Lilith Parker
Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Kettle Dyed (discontinued) (100% Peruvian highland wool), colorway Ivy
Needles: U.S. 6 Zephyr acrylic Options 24″ circulars (magic loop)

After all those eyelets and heavenly fibers, I itched for some sculpted cables in firm, sturdy wool. Not only did this hat fully satisfy that urge, but it also made an apt gift for my brother Dwayne, in the forest green of Woodlawn School (where he is founder and principal). I hope it will warm him during chilly cross-country practices for many autumns and winters to come.

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Pattern: Jacques Cousteau Hat by Lalla Pohjanpalo
Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Kettle Dyed (discontinued) (100% Peruvian highland wool), colorway Soot
Needles: U.S. 6 Zephyr acrylic Options 24″ circular needles (magic loop)

Something a bit more traditional for my stepfather-in-law Alex. This very simple hat has a nice depth of color thanks to the semi-solid black/charcoal colorway. The pointy top disappears when it’s pulled firmly onto the head, but adds a touch of whimsy on my smaller-headed model.

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Pattern: Crocheted Mary-Jane Slippers by Calypso Gray
Yarn: Knit Picks Comfy Worsted (75% cotton, 25% acrylic), colorway Honeydew; Lily Sugar’n Creme (100% cotton), colorway Light Blue
Hook: U.S. H/5.0 mm

And finally, these slippers, which I finished on Christmas Eve — the last project I undertook for Christmas 2010. They are for Alex’s mother Ange. Through them I learned how powerful crochet shaping can be. These are made in one piece starting with just five stitches at the toe. I marveled as they emerged from my yarn and hook. I hope Ange finds them both comfortable and comforting.