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Summer Slump, Part 2

Over a month ago I discussed the summer slump in my crafty projects. Not much has changed since then, but I’ve finished two more throw pillows for my sister, and have worked my way through most of that stash of cotton yarn.

(I’ve made seven more since this photo, and as you can tell from the dishcloth on the left, I’m at the point where I’m running out of one ball of yarn and finishing with another. Adding a multi-tone yarn to a coordinating solid helps you avoid having a “right” and “wrong” since to the dishcloth.)

I’ve also crocheted so many more hexagons for a summer bedspread that I have that pattern committed to memory, too. I think I have roughly 60 hexagons completed, which probably won’t even form one quarter of the future bedspread.

I really love the way the latest two throw pillows turned out, too. I especially love the texture on the larger pillow. 

My plan for now is to use up all of the yarn as quickly as possible (leaving any small remnants to piece all of those hexagons together whenever I have enough for a whole bedspread), and knock out a few more pillows for my sister.

Once the cotton yarn has been used up, I have a new knitting project I can’t wait to get started on, but I want to wait until there aren’t any more 85-90-degree days in the forecast. It’s a larger project, so I  had to get a longer set of size 11 circular knitting needles. Luckily, those were on sale when I bought the yarn.

It’s no secret that the new project is another baby blanket for my cousin and her husband, who are expecting their second child in early 2019. And don’t read anything into the color of the yarn. It’s not blue, it’s actually a vivid turquoise-y aqua. I chose that color because I saw a lot of aqua and turquoise on my cousin’s Pinterest page.

With the Autumnal Equinox just a few weeks away, it’s good to know I’ll have a challenging new project to work on when knitting season kicks in. It will involve a bit of intarsia, which means changing colors without stranding the yarn. It results in a cleaner reverse side, but you have to watch how you twist the yarn so you don’t create gaping holes.

I’ll probably post an update or two on the baby blanket as it progresses, but I don’t want to show the exact pattern. That will be the surprise for my cousin and her husband. Instead of “What’s Paula knitting?” they’ll have to wonder, “What will the baby blanket Paula’s working on look like when it’s done?”

After all, a knitter can’t reveal all of her secrets.

What types of creative projects do you look forward to when seasons change? Or do you refuse to let hot or cold temperatures stop you from your hobbies?

 

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Summer Slump

Ah, summer. My least-favorite season. (Sorry, summer lovers, but sweating while standing still is not my idea of fun.)

My desire to knit and crochet anything more than cotton dishcloths is virtually non-existant in hot weather. And remember the knitting machine a friend gave me? I still haven’t read the books that came with it. One detail I gleaned from a quick glance at the books is that the knitting machine needs to be clamped to a strong table.

The only option here would be the heavy-duty formica-topped drop-leaf table Grandma bought when she moved from her house to an apartment. But that’s where the sewing machine is currently set up for making throw pillow covers for my sister. I’ve even left the ironing board up since the loud squeak it makes each time it’s set up or taken down freaks out Doggie Sadie.

Perspectives can be deceiving. This pillow is a whopping 27″ x 27″.

The sad part? I’ve only made two pillows so far. The first cover I made was for a huge 27″ pillow form. It was very frustrating because my sewing machine kept jamming. I thought I’d loaded the bobbin wrong. Nope. The machine was threaded properly, too. Then I realized the thread was too thick for the needle. I switched to a standard weight thread and all was well.

My sister bought two large pieces of that particular remnant, so I had more than enough to make a removable cover: a square front, and two rectangular pieces that overlap a few inches in the back.

This pillow is 12″ x 18″.

The second pillow is striped, and I wanted the stripes to run horizontally. While I had enough fabric to make it removable, I knew the reverse side would look really bad if I couldn’t align the stripes perfectly….so this cover isn’t removable.

The pillow form is machine washable, so if my sister washes the entire thing and the fabric shrinks or looks wrinkled, I can always make another cover.

A big reason I consider sewing a summer project: The only air conditioner in the house is in the dining room. (It’s an addition. The original house has large, beautiful casement windows that open like doors, but the addition has ugly canopy windows, so I had a canopy window removed and a window unit built in. And yes, I saved the old window in case anyone ever wants to put it back in.)

Once I finish some more pillows I’ll put the sewing machine away and start reading the knitting machine books. Then I’ll try setting up the knitting machine. From what I’ve learned so far, it will probably need a sponge bar, and I’ll also have to see what types of yarn I can use in it.

In the meantime, a friend who makes hats for the homeless gave me a grocery bag full of brand new cotton yarn. She couldn’t use the cotton yarn for winter hats, but knew I like working with cotton yarn in the summer.

In the last week I knitted eight classic dishcloths (with another already on the needles) and crocheted several Paddlewheel Hexagons for what I hope will one day be a summer bedspread.

All that and I’ve barely made a dent in the new yarn supply.

My siblings both got creative this summer too. My brother did a woodworking project,

and my sister did an art project. I’ve asked if they’d do guest posts about their projects, and neither said no. But it will probably boil down to if either of them remembered to take photos while making their projects.

What summer crafts have you been working on? 

Leftover Yarn to the Rescue

I often say my dog, Sadie, has never seen a throw pillow she didn’t want to eviscerate. That’s not quite accurate. There are a couple she’s left alone, one being this Impromptu Pillow I made several years ago.

When I realized I had a couple of 10″ pillow forms and the two skeins of yarn Guest Dog Stanley got into a few months back, I decided to make a tiny version of the Impromptu Pillow. The 10″ pillows are small enough they could be dog toys (especially for my giant furry nephew, Duke—a Redbone Coonhound and Great Pyrenees mix), but since the Impromptu Pillows have  crocheted edges, I knew I could make it look larger but adding a couple more rounds of edging.

I designed the original pillows to be made with super bulky yarn, so I had to adjust the gauge, using the gauge information from the yarn label that Stanley didn’t shred to determine how many stitches I needed to make to make a square to fit the 10″ pillow form.

Since this particular yarn says 20 rows of 14 stitches knitted on US 10 needles averages a 10cm square, I used a ruler that has inches and centimeters to figure out how many centimeters I wanted the square to be. Gauge can vary a lot by knitter, so I first tried 28 stitches, but that ran a bit small. Then I tried 30. That was still a bit small, and I also remembered that seed stitch works easiest with an odd number of stitches—because each row starts with and ends with a knit stitch there’s really no pattern to remember other than Knit 1, Purl 1.

Thirty-five was the magic number for me. After a couple of false starts, It was finally time to start knitting.

 

The color is off in this, since it was taken at night under artificial light.

I didn’t count rows, I just eyeballed the size of the first square, and used it as my guide for the second square.

You’d think knitting panels for a smaller pillow would take less time, but I was using smaller needles and a thinner yarn. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it got a bit monotonous. There’s a reason I love thick yarn and big needles: The work goes a lot faster.

I made sure to finish each square with an odd row, so the cast-on tail would be at the lower right and the cast-off tail on the upper left.

Then the assembly began:

I positioned the pieces around the pillow form and used the tails to secure the corners.

After securing all four corners, I used stitch markers to mark the approximate center of each side.

Starting at a corner, I joined matching yarn—you could use a contrasting color if you like—and used a simple single crochet to join the first two edges. If you don’t crochet, or want a more modern, streamlined look, you can always skip the edging and sew the edges together with matching yarn and a blunt, large-eyed needle. But remember, my goal here was to make a 10″ pillow look larger.

I used 24 stitches to close each side of the pillow, and for the corners I did 1 single crochet, 1 double crochet, 1 single crochet all in one stitch to form a square corner.

I improvised the edging, but sketched out a few options, with each dash representing a single crochet stitch. (I am not fluent in crochet charting symbols, so I did what made sense to me.) The first row was basically a repeat of 1 single crochet, skip one space, chain 1, 1 single crochet (starting each round with a chain 1  in place of the first single crochet, and ending each round with a slip stitch joining to it for the final stitch).

 

The final round I did—starting and ending like the previous round—was essentially a repeat of chain four, 1 single crochet in the chain 1 space, and the corners were chain 2, 1 triple crochet (into the double crochet stitch of the previous round), chain 2 which ended with a single crochet which leads right back to repeated stitch pattern.

I think the final result looks pretty nice. A little bit of a lacy flourish, but not too ostentatious. Here it is sitting next to the 16″ Impromptu Pillow shown above. That pillow only has one row of edging because I was nearly out of yarn. That super bulky yarn also doesn’t really allow the lacy details of the crocheted edging to show through. So I guess there are advantages to using smaller needles and thinner yarn. Sometimes.

Anyone want to guess how long it will take Sadie to attack this new pillow?

 

 

Knitting With Pets (aka Making the Cropped Thumbhole Sweater)

For some reason, a lot of people in my family (including me) like sleeves with thumbholes. When Sadie was a puppy, her razor-sharp puppy teeth ripped holes into the sleeves of a couple of my tops, but instead of turning them into dust rags or quilt fodder I stretched the tiny holes into thumbholes.

But no one loves thumbhole sleeves as much as my sister does. When she found this pattern for Camexia Design’s Cropped Thumbhole Sweater, she asked if I could make it for her. The pattern looked fairly simple, and I love working dropped stitches, so she ordered the same King Cole Big Value Chunky yarn mentioned in the pattern and had it sent to me. She chose the color “Caramel”—ostensibly to match her dog, Stanley.

My furry nephew (and frequent guest dog), Stanley.

The yarn happened to arrive on the first day of Stanley’s latest doggie vacation here with Sadie. I wanted to read through the pattern before casting on, so I put the yarn into a project bag and set it beside my knitting chair. The next morning I found this spread across the living room floor:

Someone had a party with two skeins of yarn. Luckily my sister bought five skeins, just in case I needed to make a different size.

While I didn’t witness the mayhem, Sadie is used to yarn and knitting projects—finished and in progress—so she’s pretty blasé about it all. When I get new yarn, Sadie takes one look and is like, “More yarn? Boring!” Stanley, on the other hand, happily sniffed the yarn after it arrived, and an hour or so later I caught him on the chair curled up with an intact skein of yarn. In the middle of the night he ran into the living room to bark at things several times. Given the evidence and Sadie’s total disinterest in yarn, I think it’s clear who the culprit was.

The good news is I only needed three skeins to make my sister’s cropped thumbhole sweater, so I didn’t have to detangle the massive pile of yarn to finish the project. (That said, when I finally did untangle it, it took a couple hours.)

This sweater is designed to have the bumpier purl side of the stockinette stitches showing, but my sister preferred  it with the smoother knit side showing. Either way, it was a fun knit and looks really cute on her. In fact, she loved it so much she asked me to make a second one in a heathery charcoal grey.

The first finished sweater

I only came across two stumbling blocks when making the first sweater. One I didn’t notice until I’d finished it:

  • I think there should be yarn overs BEFORE purling the first stitch of the yarn over rounds or you won’t have loops to drop on the first stitch of what I call the “purl drop” rounds; knitted as written, there’s a vertical column of tighter-looking stitches running down the middle of the back (or front, since it works either way; see photo above) of the sweater. My sister has long hair, so if her hair is down she can put that side in the back, but if she wears her hair up she can throw on a couple of longer necklaces to divert attention.
  • Try as I might I couldn’t figure out the special cast-off method described in the pattern. I contacted the creator via Instagram and Ravelry, and she gave me a link to a video that shows a similar technique. She said it was included with the pattern, but I didn’t see a URL for it on the printout I was using. Once I saw a few seconds of the video it made perfect sense. You’ve got to love a responsive designer who answers your questions!

Now that the second sweater is on the needles (isn’t the heather gray gorgeous?), here are a couple photos of those super fun double purl drop rows.

With a double yarn over before each stitch, you effectively triple the number of stitches on your working needle

Ignore the needle in back—I was holding it up to show that the yarn overs are slightly slanted; purling into the front of the first stitch and letting the two yarn overs drop is what forms the open dropped stitches

Like magic, those dropped yarn overs become long, airy stitches

If you have a big gap under the arms when you finish, just thread a little leftover yarn through a wide-eye darning needle and close it with a few quick stitches. Simple.

I hope my sister likes the charcoal version as much as the caramel one!

Entering The Machine Age

Ruk is a good friend of my sister. Ruk is a long-time knitter (I got my go-to sock pattern from her several years ago). She’s also very generous. A couple months ago, Ruk asked if I might like her old knitting machine.

Yes, please—and thank you!

I had no idea what kind it was, but I thought it would be fun to try.

My sister brought it over yesterday. This morning I looked it over—it appears to be in great condition (even the original Styrofoam pieces that secure a couple of parts were intact!)—and noted the brand and model number: Studio 155.

Looking from one end of the knitting machine to the other.

A peek into the accessories box.

The heart of the knitting machine.

As soon as I posted that information on Ravelry’s Machine Knitting group fellow knitters replied saying it’s a wonderful workhorse of a machine and offering links to information about machine knitting and tips about what to do before trying to use it. The most important thing being I need to check, and possibly replace, the sponge bar. I didn’t know what that was, but again, they provided me with links and information.

My sister said Ruk found another thing that goes with the machine, so I’ll get that later on. In the meantime I’ll read the owner’s manual (which I was able to download thanks to another link from my new friends in the Ravelry group) and a two-volume set of books Ruk also gave me, Bible for Machine Knitting.

Thank you for this wonderful gift, Ruk. I hope I can learn how to use it well enough to make some exciting new handmade projects. (To me, hand knit still means something it made one stitch at a time on handheld knitting needles.)

 

 

My Year-Long Yarn De-stash Challenge: How Did I Do?

Precisely one year ago I announced my pledge not to buy any new yarn (unless it was for a special project for someone else) until my yarn stash was gone or the calendar said 2018.

The funny thing? I didn’t miss buying yarn that much. Or at least not as much as I thought I would.

This is what my yarn stash looked like one year ago:

This is what it looks like today:

And that includes remnants of new yarn I purchased to make one pair of socks, a baby blanket, four chemo hats, and four scarves!

How did I burn through so much yarn that it now fits into two under-the-bed storage cases?

  • Gave a bunch of yarn to a friend who was making hats for the homeless
  • Made two P-hats upon request
  • Knitted wool mittens
  • Knocked out a stack of cotton dishcloths
  • Used scrap yarn to knit a Santa hat for a sock monkey

But hands down, the best stash-buster of all was the Sediment Scrap Blanket.

Not only did the quintuple-stranded blanket rapidly eat through an incalculable yardage of yarn, it resulted in a lovely, thick, and warm blanket which has been getting a lot of use during the recent (and seemingly endless) arctic blast we’re experiencing.

The challenge taught me that it’s important to save yarn labels or find a way to note what types of yarn you have in your stash. Knowing which yarns are wool is important if you want to make something that’s washable, if you want to felt something, or if you’re making an item for someone who’s allergic to wool or other fibers.

Now that I’m free to buy more yarn without any restrictions, I think I’ll keep wheedling down my yarn stash. It’s been a fun challenge, and I’d encourage other yarn addicts to give it a try.

What craft-related resolutions did you make last year—or for the new year?

Best Stash-busting Knitting Project Ever

I confess: Working on a lot of little projects barely put a dent in the yarn stash I pledged to use up over the course of 2017.

Fortunately I spotted the Katie Rose Pryal’s Sediment Scraps Blanket on Ravelry. Because you’re working five—count ’em five—stands of yarn at a time, this project really burns though a yarn stash. It also makes for a really thick, warm blanket.

Working five strands of yarn at the same time results in fabric that’s roughly half an inch thick.

The pattern works up much like the classic dishcloths I made over the summer (using up nearly all of my cotton yarn), but it seems even faster because it’s on large needles. This is what I had after a just couple of hours of knitting:

For reference, the footstool the project is on is about 32″ wide.

The Sediment Scraps Blanket pattern is really fun to knit. I got excited whenever a strand of yarn ran out and needed to be replaced.

I tried to balance the colors a bit, so there wouldn’t be too much of any single color in one area, but sometimes the yarn had a mind of its own.

This is a pattern that really showcases the basic garter stitch. Despite being worked on the bias, it’s also straightforward enough for a beginning knitter to tackle it if they know how to work simple increases and decreases.

It’s hard to believe, but about mid-way through I was worried that if I made my blanket too long I might run out of yarn.

This “aerial shot” doesn’t get the entire finished blanket into the frame.

The final result is a thick, heavy, warm blanket that’s about 50″ by 60″—a perfect size for settling in to watch TV on a cold evening.

Those bumps are my knees, all warm and cozy under the new blanket.

Not only does this pattern use up a lot of random yarn scraps, it holds memories of each project those bits and bobs of yarn came from. A really cool thing happens when so many different colors combine into a single object: the new item can blend in with pretty much any color scheme.

Did it use all of my yarn stash? Not quite. But most of what’s left now fits into two under-the-bed storage cases, so it made a huge dent.

After the holidays I think I’ll try to make a coordinating throw pillow to use up the rest of my stash.

 

How Will You Celebrate I Love Yarn Day?

If you ask me, every day is I love Yarn Day, but this year Saturday, October 14 is the official date.

What’s not to love about yarn? It comes in every color – or “colorway” in yarn-y parlance – you can imagine, and in hundreds of fiber combinations, textures, and thicknesses. Best of all, with a few knots and loops, you can turn long strings of yarn into beautiful and useful items.

Heck, you can even tie odd bits of scrap yarns together can make something cool!

You don’t need to know how to use knitting needles or crochet hooks (or Tunisian crochet hooks!) to use yarn. You can:

  • make pom-poms
  • finger knit
  • use a knitting loom
  • use a weaving loom
  • arm knit
  • coil and glue yarn into designs or objects
  • tie bundles or packages
  • hook rugs, like this one….

A mystery piece of yarny goodness made by someone on my mom’s side of the family proves I’m not the first yarn lover in the family.

Do you have any family treasures that were made from yarn? What are some of your favorite ways to work with yarn?

 

Knitting for a Reason

I’m sticking to my resolution to burn off as much yarn from my yarn stash as possible this year, but it’s good that I included a loophole allowing me to buy yarn to make something for someone else.

For once I didn’t want to buy yarn, but I did.

Why?

It’s for making chemo hats.

I searched Ravelry for tips on knitting chemo hats and quickly learned you need a soft, lightweight yarn because the hats are often worn indoors—preferably a cotton blend so it’s both breathable and washable. Another tip was to avoid heavily textured patterns, because the texture might irritate sensitive scalps.

Of the yarns that were highly recommended, I decided to try Knit Picks’ Comfy Sport, a super soft sport-weight yarn that’s 75% Pima Cotton and 25% Acrylic. When I saw it was only $2.99 per 136-yard skein (most hat patterns need a little more yarn than that, but even two skeins is under $6 per hat) I bought several colors, because who wants to wear the same hat day in and day out?

When the yarn arrived, the color that drew my attention was Planetarium, a rich blue. I immediately started the Relax Man! slouchy hat, which can be worn a couple of different ways. I had to learn the German twisted cast-on method; it’s a long-tail cast on, and I hate those. I never seem to have enough “tail” to get it right the first time.

Before I finished the first hat, my sister asked if I could make one for someone she knows who was just starting chemo, too. So I ordered more of the same yarn in a girly color named Zinnia.

I was wondering where to attach one of these cool new labels. For a while I thought about centering it in the ribbing, but quickly realized it might get in the way if the recipient wants to fold the brim up and wear it as a cap instead of a slouchy hat.

As of now, the future recipient of this hat still has his hair, so hopefully he won’t need it for a while. I just hope it can help keep him a little more comfortable while going through chemo.

 

 

Back to Basics

A really long time ago—longer than I can remember—a family friend gave me four hand-knit cotton dishcloths she’d picked up at a craft fair. Pink. Dark blue. Light blue. Yellow. I used some for dishes, others for cleaning. The dark blue one was the first to go. I spilled bleach on it and that weakened the fibers, and after a while it just fell apart.

I’ve knitted and crocheted several dishcloths over the years, using fancy stitches and complex patterns, but there’s something about the simple garter stitch of the old dishcloths that I love.

The last three of the old dishcloths lasted until a couple weeks ago. Tiny holes got progressively larger with each use until they unraveled in the laundry.

The dishcloth on the needles looks smaller because cotton dishcloths stretch out with use.

Luckily, patterns for these basic dishcloths can be found all over the internet. This is the pattern I used. (Be sure to read the introduction to the pattern, too. It’s a lovely story.)

The pattern—which works up quickly—is easy to memorize. You start with four stitches and add a stitch with each row, then decrease one stitch with each row to complete the square. The classic eyelet-like border comes from simple yarn overs.

While the pattern says it takes one ball of cotton yarn per dishcloth, other patterns I’ve made take a little less than a full ball, which makes this a fun way to keep my stash burning resolution.

Some of the partial skeins had enough yarn to make an entire dishcloth, but a few others fell slightly short, so I finished those off with complimentary colors.

The light orange is all from one skein, the lighter bit near the middle results from the varied colors in the yarn itself.

It’s almost ridiculous how addictive this is. Without even trying I’m averaging one dishcloth per day. The funny thing? I like the mismatched dishcloths more than the single-skein ones.

Small projects like these cotton dishcloths make for great, portable, summer knitting projects.

What, if anything, do you like to knit (or crochet) in the summer?

 

Mika Doyle

Writer, Journalist, Poet

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