Norne fingerless mitts

We may be heading towards summer, but this didn’t stop me from casting on a pair of Mette Lea’s Norne fingerless mitts for a very dear friend last April. Knit on size 2 DPNs, these mitts are full of delightful details: braided cables along the front, broken-ribbed palms (k2 p2 rows alternate with a row of knit stitches), a stockinette thumb-gusset, and a garter-stitch ‘stripe’ down the side of the thumb for subtle interest. At 6.5 stitches to the inch, the mitts knit up snug and, I think, are pretty sleek. This pattern has made me a fingerless mitten lover.

I used Knitpicks’ Galileo in the Dragonfly colourway. 2 50g skeins were more than enough. Galileo is a Merino-bamboo blend that surprised me with its smoothness and lustre – great for getting those cables to pop and catch light.

It's never the wrong season to make fingerless mitts. (Norne by Mette Lea) #knitting #knittersofinstagram

A post shared by S C Yeung (@scyeung_knits) on

The knitting in progress above benefited from the newly returned April sunshine.

By mid-month, the mitts were finished and wet-blocked:

norne 4norne 5.jpg

Learnings

Blocking ribbing + cables:  one effect of wet-blocking, I noticed, is that ribbing tends to flatten out a little bit (I used almost no pins, and no pressure). For an already-snug glove, a little extra wiggle-room from the flattened ribbing was OK, but I’ve made a note to tread very lightly when blocking ribbing in the future.

norne 3.jpg
Pre-blocked (left) the broken-ribbing is ‘ribbier’ and more dimensional. After wet-blocking and very minimal pinning (right) the ribbing has flattened out.

I found that wet-blocking, strangely, had the opposite effect on the cables. The braided cables evened out and came to life after their soak. I was a bit concerned that the blocking would texturally blur them out, so I was really happy to see the opposite effect. Norne mitts were the perfect project for learning about wet-blocking different textures.

norne 6

Tension:  just as I “can’t step into the same river twice,” neither, it seems, can I knit the same fingerless mitten twice (at least not with my current skills!). The first mitten ended up a bit tighter than the second one. The tension difference isn’t visually apparent, but one feels it when the mitts go on.

I followed the pattern pretty closely on both mitts – stitch-wise, they’re identical. I do remember, though, being much more cautious and careful when working the first mitt, then relaxing and loosening my grip on the second one, having eased into a familiarity with the pattern and cables. Apparently, the knitting registered all of those shifts in learning, concentration, and relaxation. The lesson, it seems, is that in knitting, we are also swatching ourselves!


All the signs of summer are returning to my little corner of the city: the neighbourhood lawn mowers are revving, the iced cappuccino dog walkers are out and about, and one hears the slow invasion of flip flop sandals and night-time wind chimes through open windows again.

I look forward to taking my needles outdoors, and can think of nothing better than mixing up a batch of sangria, soaking in some rays, and spending some quality time with friends and the knitting fairies.

Wishing you many happy hours of making this week!

park knitting.png

Crafter’s time warp

The word ‘pastime’ is no coincidence. I’ve been reflecting, recently, on how creative activities seem to devour the time, sometimes voraciously. I am hoping to rein in the times where I’ve crafted myself into several hours-long states of self-forgetfulness; these zones of suspension are creatively desirable, and are calming in their own way, but (alas) lives aren’t entirely made on trance states. In and around the making, there are bills to pay, dogs to walk, taxes to be done, dishes to clear.

Here is a little doodle of that moment of coming up and out of a knitting session. It’s been a few hours, and someone has just reminded me – oblivious – of the time. SCN_0014.jpg

In the real world, the glasses will have slipped much farther down my nose, granny-style. As crafters out there know all too well, maker-time tends to escape the dictates of clock-time. That well-intentioned injunction to work for only “15 more minutes” goes unheeded as the knitting grows and grows and takes on a momentum all of its own (if only I could harness this energy when it’s time for the laundry).

What is your view? Do you regulate or schedule your inner crafter, set times when making is “off-limits” or, on the other hand, allow it days where it has free rein? How do you find the balance between clock-time and maker-time?

My posts have been more doodles and drawings as of late – something about Spring’s arrival has back-burnered the warm woolies and stirred up some hibernating drawing energies. I hope to have more knitting news in the next little bit…like a few new FOs!

A happy Wednesday to you.

 

 

Knit Together

I have reflected elsewhere on this blog (exactly when already escapes me!) on my sense that knitting is a medium of love. Like other creative activities, knitting renders tangible those important intangibles. Knit objects have, for me, become quite powerful material tokens of care, community, love, comfort, the pure glee of being alive (and the desire to share and communicate a little bit of that glee).

On that note, I recently drew this hypothetical picture of Andrew and I. It’s quite anatomically correct: witness Andrew’s curvy programmer’s back and my forward-leaning neck from the hours spent crafting, reading, and writing (I really must fix that neck). While he is not a knitter (!), I like to think that we’re two creative partners in crime.

knit together w name

 

Sweater-recycling DIY (bonus Ikea stool hack)

I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.

After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.

As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!

Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…

1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams

I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).

On the ‘wrong’ side of the stockinette, the seam looks like two rows of braids. I picked out and cut the thread holding them together.
The seam appears like a ‘ladder’ strung between the sweater’s pieces.

After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.

Front (neck line removed) and sleeves…

This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.

2. Finding a pulling point

I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!

I love the ramen noodle look of un-knit yarn.

3. Frogging it!

This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.

I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!

Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging  wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)

The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:

So many joins… forgive the messy background.

By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!

Frogged front, back, and 2 sleeves.

At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.

There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!

Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.

 

 

Starting small: the parts of a top-down sweater

Lately, my sweater-knitting reservations have been less about whether I am capable of knitting myself a sweater, but are more about scale – how to manage and complete all the parts of a big, human-sized project. It occurred to me that if I scaled down and knit a small human sized project, the task of knitting a big one, and learning about its make-up, could become more approachable. And, it did. Small is beautiful.

I decided to knit a baby sweater, My gift to you, by Taiga Hilliard Designs. I liked the pattern’s raglan construction, and I thought that the off-set buttoned front-closure was fun and unique. Also, the sweater is worked top-down – a method of sweater-knitting I’d eventually like to try on a sweater for myself.

I started this project knowing very little about top-down sweater construction. To consolidate what I learn, it helps me to document the process in pictures so as not to forget the next time ’round.

The top-down cardigan knit-cycle

gfy sweater collage

1. This cardigan starts with the collar (on smaller needles) and the yoke, worked back and forth. A series of increases create raglan ‘seams’ across the shoulders, and an 8-stitch section creates a button-band at the front of the cardigan. I like to think of the garment as in its ‘caterpillar’ stage.

2. I think of the next step as similar to biological cell differentiation: stitches are differentiated into types. Some stitches will grow into functional sleeves, others will constitute the body of the sweater. Sleeve-stitches are held on waste yarn and asked to sit tight.

3. Working and casting off the body is the next stage. The project is now looking very much like a garment. I kept my double-pointed needles close at hand for the next step…

4. After completing the body, the sleeves are taken off the waste yarn and are worked individually on double-pointed needles. The sweater grows its wings, er, I mean, sleeves!

Without knowing what to expect, I watched the project transform in my hands into a full garment with shape, texture, depth and dimension. This was amazing. Getting to watch these kinds of slow transformations on the needles is why I come back to knitting again and again (I feel similarly about knitting cables).

A-blockin’ we will go…

I am reforming my habit of neglecting blocking. After weaving in the sweater’s ends and sewing up the gaps which had formed under the arm-holes, I knew it was time to buckle down, soak the knit, grab those pins and….let time work its magic. It was worth it. Blocking is like hitting the reset button; the wonky neckline and bottom-edge curling on the unblocked sweater (top) were smoothed out by being pinned into shape (below).

gfy sweater 9.jpg
The gloomy blue lighting of the ‘before’ shot was entirely unintentional; consider it part of the before/after effect.

Finishing touches

I decided to wait until after blocking to add the buttons. I spent quite a while in the button aisle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. A set of pink, pearlescent square buttons popped into view and spoke to me. A little embroidery floss helped secure them…

IMG_3200.JPG

…and this wee garment was ready to go. A sweater is born!

gfy sweater 95.JPG

To Learn: Next steps

On the next project, I’d like to learn a little more about how to get more polished button-holes, and also how to avoid the underarm-gaps which occur when switching from the body to the sleeves. Sewing up these gaps is a fine tactic, but I’m aware that there are ways to pick up stitches to avoid those holes. Even farther on the horizon would be to get my colour work skills in shape and try a top-down Icelandic lopapeysa pullover with a stranded yoke (swoon). I tell myself I’ll hazard a colour work project when I improve my skills, but of course, stranded knitting is as stranded knitting does. One doesn’t improve without the hands-on practice. All in due time, dear lopapeysa.

Until then, to tiny sweaters.

baby-goats-knit-sweaters-sunflower-farm-11
Source: facebook.com/sunflowerfarmcreamery/

Do you remember your first sweater?  What moved you to choose that pattern or design? 

The itch to stitch: Top Gun Embroidered caps

top-gun-movie-posterI don’t often see the words “Top Gun” and “embroidered” in the same sentence. The combination brings to mind a cut-throat needlework academy – a place where high-flying crafting hopefuls train their way to the top, and break all the rules doing it. But, I digress. This week, I finished the embroidered knit project I had been working on for February.

The Task

The beau’s cousin, J, recently asked if I could knit him and his best friend a pair of matching caps. Children of the 80s, J and his pal are both big fans of the 1986 film Top Gun. I admit: what I know about the plot comes very second-hand. I haven’t redressed my lack of knowledge by watching it, but in the film “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) are fierce aviation-school rivals who develop a loyal wingmen friendship by the end. They also happen to be J and his pal’s favourite on-screen buddies. The knitting request was simple: could I knit 2 caps – an “Iceman” and “Maverick” hat for J and his pal, respectively? Knowing little about Top Gun fandom myself, I liked the idea of making something in the name of friendship while trying some new knitting techniques.

The Caps 

I chose to knit the Scraptastic hat pattern, using size 3 needles and two strands of fingering weight held together. At my gauge (slightly looser than the pattern), Medium turned out good, though a tad roomier than I expected. I knit the subsequent hat in Small for a closer fit.

embroidery 8.jpg

The Graph

Given full creative hat-design leeway, I thought that using the movie logo would be 80s nostalgic while channeling a little bit of the irony of a knit-embroidery tribute to a movie about tough-guy fighter pilots. On the gender politics front, I see no necessary contradiction between ‘masculinity’ and needlework (ah, this is a big topic, with distinctions between men’s and women’s work, and their value, at the heart of debates about gender in the US. I’ll point out the inadequacy of my treatment here, and save that for another time. The gender of knitting is something I think a lot about, as a knitter…).

I used Stitch Fiddle to graph my design out. It allows you to enter your gauge (over 4″/10 cm) to render a grid that reflects your particular tension for making colour work charts. Stockinette stitches tend to be a little wider than they are tall. Because of this, using square-box graph paper to plan a design may result in a slightly skewed final project. Programs like Stitch Fiddle allow for a better idea of what the finished design will actually look like. It’s simple to use; rows and columns are added and deleted with a mouse click. It’s like Excel for your DIY colourwork, embroidery, and cross-stitch projects. All I have to say is “yes!” to this indispensable online tool, and others like it.

Top Gun logo.jpg

ICEMAN - colourwork chart 2.jpg

maverick-chart

The Embroidery

Just a single strand of fingering weight and some duplicate stitching was enough to do the trick. I eased into embroidering slowly, working on the hats during free moments during the day. I tend to find my stitching stride best at night, after dinner. The fluid motions of embroidery, and the vigilance to tension, develop a finger-tip attentiveness to the materials quite different from knitting. In contrast to the hardy, elastic, and structured fabric of knitting, embroidered things feel a bit more fragile and precarious to me – until they’re done, my m.o. is to handle with care.

duplicate-stitch-composite

Less exciting was weaving in all the ends. I learned late in the game to use a single long strand to embroider multiple letters, rather than cutting my strand after each character.

Also, I personally find it best to work the duplicate stitch from the bottom to top, starting at the base of a letter, then working up and across. It’s just a little neater that way, I find.

Finally, the Top Gun hats

On the way…

embroidery-5

And done.

embroidery 3.jpg

embroidery-4

All in all, this was a fun project. It’s hard not to see blank stockinette surfaces as a canvas for some stitchery waiting to happen. It was a surprise for the knitting to unexpectedly serve as a gateway to embroidery.

To embroidering, and matching hats…and friends!

needles

 

WIP: Embroidered hats

I hope you are having a great week.

I received a request, a while ago, for a knitting commission of sorts: a request for 2 personalized ‘name’ hats, due at the end of February. I said yes (always excited to take on a new creative challenge).

But, readers, I have never knit such a thing – I have never put text on a garment. As I watched tutorial after tutorial for intarsia and stranded knitting over the last few days, I wondered if I could deliver the promised goods. Beyond mastering stranded/intarsia techniques (no simple feat), there was the question of designing a colour chart, finding a way to work it into a hat pattern that didn’t initially include one, while making sure to observe the proportions of the letters, the positioning of the name on the hat, etc. I couldn’t conceive of how to pull this off.. I was all question marks – a big long “uhhhhh……??”

Eureka!: Embroidery

A ray of light came through the clouds. I discovered the Duplicate stitch (a.k.a. Swiss darning). Often used on knits for lettering and monograms, the duplicate stitch is a nifty over-embroidery technique. One simply follows ‘on top’ and around each v-shaped stockinette stitch with a contrast strand, as below.

duplicate stitch composite.png

Embroidery must have been invented so that human beings could cultivate awe and develop their powers of contemplation. That’s my theory, at least. I love embroidery – looking at it, following out the details with my eye, running my fingers over the stitches. It’s just delightful. When it comes to doing the actual embroidering, however, I’m an absolute newbie.

After some experimenting with different fibers and thicknesses for this project, I decided to embroider the names on the hats using a single strand of fingering weight (as above). This does not offer perfect stitch coverage, but neither does it bend the knitting out of shape the way doubled thread did (making the stitches look tense and stressed). I was on my way.

cutmypic (2).png
Another use for gauge swatches: home for letter-y experiments.

The Hats

The 2 requested hats are for a ski trip. I chose Jane Tanner’s Scraptastic Hat – a simple, close-fitting beanie that hopefully won’t fly off on the slopes. Meant to be worked using sock yarn remnants, the pattern specifies US 2 needles, at a gauge of 7 sts to the inch. Using two strands of superfine/fingering yarn held together, I used my US 3 needles (6 sts/inch). I sized down in the pattern (Large to Medium, for ex.) to compensate for producing a slightly bigger garment than the gauge intends. The finished hat did end up on the roomier side, but is still wearable.

cutmypic-1

cutmypic (3).png
One hat done, one to go.

I look forward to posting the hats as I continue to work on them. I can only hope the embroidery muses will help get my skills up to snuff in time. I’ve got my needles crossed. More on this project soon.

Happy weekend, friends.

First finished objects of 2017

It always feels great to come to the end of a knitting project. That feeling is amplified when completing coincides with the new year – it sets the year off on the right foot and is a sign of more knits to come, I think. In that spirit, two recent FOs:

Cartridge belt ribbed scarf

I completed the purple cartridge-belt ribbed scarf and shipped it to its new home. It was happily received in the first week of January. I declare it my first finished object of 2017!

At 60” in length, it is the longest scarf I’ve ever knit. The worsted Paton’s Classic wool was a joy to work with, yielding lustrous, light-catching bright purple fabric with nice stitch definition.

cartridge-belt-fo-3

Before sending it off, I couldn’t resist attaching a handmade materials- and care-label. Adding a little drawing to my knit is the veritable cherry on top of the knitting sundae – a continuation of the handmade love in another form (also, the thought of yarn made from purple sheep was too delightful to pass up).

cartridge-belt-fo

 

Knit Helmet

My second finished object of the new year is a ‘knit helmet’a gift for my father completed on January 9th. With Canadian winters being what they are, knitting something like this for him has long been on my bucket-list. Worked in the round in 2 x 2 rib, this project knit up quicker than I expected as I took to my size 7 circulars on streetcar and subway commutes across the city. The ‘slit’ for the face is worked by casting off a number of stitches mid-round, completing the round, then using the backwards loop cast on to work a new set of stitches directly above the ones that were cast off, introducing a gap. The new stitches are then worked in-pattern.

knit-helmet
January 5th: starting off
knit helmet 2.JPG
January 9th: wrapping up the crown decreases

The yarn – Cascade 220 Heathers – was purchased at the The Purple Purl (1162 Queen St. E) in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. I still remember my first visit to the store two Thursdays ago. With that night’s temperatures dipping down to -16 C, I bundled up, took the eastbound 501 streetcar to Queen and Jones, and walked into this small, purple-painted yarn shop. Stepping in, I was immediately flooded by fields of colour and softness which worked an instant thawing effect.  A knitting table sat in the center of the space where the shop’s knitting and crochet workshops are also held. While perusing some superwash merino hanks, I overheard a seasoned knitter speaking heatedly with staff about finding the absolute right yarn for the sweater she was planning while another employee, donning a baby blue hand-knit cap, wound hanks into cakes on a wooden umbrella swift. Another shopper soon entered the store and said that, while her stash was already voluminous, she couldn’t resist coming in “just to look. I always need to have a look.” The man standing at the register carefully worked a fine, marled grey sock on DPNs, and I was comforted by hearing the question come up repeatedly in the surrounding chit chat: What are you making? – that earnest invitation to some knitter’s shop-talk. With the temperatures steadily dropping outside, I was thoroughly warmed by this cozy yarn haven in Toronto’s east end.

But I digress. Back to the helmet. I chose this pattern for its versatility. The helmet is wonderfully dual purpose and incredibly practical: it can be worn as is, as a balaclava, or can be conveniently rolled up into a beanie. This flexibility makes this knit ideal for multi-weather wear. I just love this thing.

knit-helmet-7knit-helmet-6

This pattern is taken from The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) website (but is also on Ravelry) as part of the SCI’s Christmas at Sea program. A New York-based organization for maritime workers – “North America’s largest mariners’ service agency” – the SCI makes available a list of maritime garment knitting projects which interested knitters can donate, along with a personal holiday greeting. Donated garments and greetings are collected year round, and are sent to maritime workers stationed away from their families during the holidays. For more maritime patterns, or to donate to the Christmas at Sea program, visit here.

My wi-fi access has been spotty as of late, but I look forward to catching up and reading (with relish!) about your wonderful comings and goings, dear bloggers. In the meantime, wishing you a very happy Monday from Toronto’s Harbourfront.

harbourfront 1.JPG

Super Easy Crib blanket

I hope you are having a splendid week, and are finding some restful down-time.

Last year, I completed my first ‘big’ knit for a friend who is expecting a baby girl this year – the Super Easy Crib Blanket by the folks at Purl Soho. I simply adored these blankets the moment I saw them – so many whimsical and fun colour combos. I decided to try my hand at colour-coordinating and knitting one myself. I can think of nothing nicer than being wrapped up in something warm and bright on a cold winter day – Purl Soho’s creative intuition in designing this simple but lively nursery staple is spot on.

I wanted the crib/stroller blanket to measure around 30″ square. With some garter stitch swatching, I found that, using a 29″ size 11 (US) circular needle and a super bulky wool-blend, I could produce a blanket width of 30″ by casting on 72 stitches. Each of the 7 bands of colour is 4.5″ high, yielding a final length of 31.5″.

With these magic numbers, I took to my needles last October. I wanted to do a jazzy .GIF for you of the blanket growing larger with each stripe, but I lack the technical skills. 🙂 You can watch it grow below.

baby-blanket-1
Early October 2016: starting out

baby-blanket-2-2

baby-blanket-3

IMG_2656.JPG
On the home-stretch, with unwoven ends. Those last 3 bands are channeling my love of neapolitan ice cream. Sock monkey has been my cheerleader and knitting muse throughout.
baby-blanket-5
Very last stitch cast off…

blanket 7.JPG

Blanket statements (a.k.a. Learnings)

1) It was interesting to discover that circular needles have non-circular uses. Not having to carry the weight of a large project on straight needles (letting the project lie in your lap) = an easier time on wrists and shoulders. I pretty much knit all things on circulars these days – they are incredibly portable.

2) Pattern-wise, this was a straightforward garter-stitch knit all the way through. Being loosed from a complicated pattern meant that I paid more attention to the qualities of the yarn. Yarn weight and composition aside, I found that different colours produce different knit-feel – white strangely felt the ‘softest’; pink activated my taste receptors (it reminded me of bubble gum and cotton candy); and the energizing red seemed to jet-propel my fingers right across the stitches. I can’t wait to make the next blanket and experiment with more colours.

Wishing you happy trails on your creative projects this week, big and small.

blanket-8

needles

 

Knitting Panda backstory: Card-drawing DIY in 4 steps

I hope you enjoyed a very Happy Christmas. Bitten hard by the making-bug earlier this month, I decided to try my hand at designing my own holiday greeting cards using the Knitting Panda art work I posted just a few days ago.panda-card1-edit-4

Have you ever wanted to draw or design your very own greeting to share with friends and family? If you’re interested, here was my process – a DIY drawing tale in 4 steps, for the curious:

1. Collect and Design. The fun part of this stage is playing around and ‘collecting’ inspiration – ideas, images, and so on, for drawing. I tried to think of the pictures, colours, and themes that might tickle my imagination.

dissident-bear
This hippie bear was drawn at 5. You can tell he means business.

Bears have always been one of my favourite things to draw. I can’t explain why but from the time I took pencil to paper, human-like bears populated my pictures. I grew up in the era of the Berenstein Bears, Care Bears, Paddington, and gummi bears, so this bear-love is probably a product of the 80s.

As you may have also read in past posts, I like to think that the essence of my recent knitting practice lies in expressing care and generosity – towards myself and others – in ordinary ways. Knitting, for me, is a modality of loving; in its form, it can convey the idea that the fabric of life is stitched and held together by the acts of love and generosity we share.

So…. a knitting bear it was. However, I still needed some concrete pictures to make the leap from idea to image. A Google search of “bear knitting” unfortunately gave no direct results. But, when I found the photo below in a 2011 Daily Mail article on how pandas digest bamboo, I knew I had found the reference image I was looking for. To my eyes, this ambidextrous panda was clearly a knitter (and a happy one, at that):

happy holidays 1.jpg

2. Draw. If you’re a drawing amateur, like me, this step is likely to be riven through with all kinds of worries about whether the drawing ‘looks good’ (maybe along with internalized standards about whether it looks ‘real’ or not). When this hits me, I like to think of why children draw, the way they draw, and how I drew as a child: often and copiously, mostly un-selfconsciously, in order to share and tell stories, and out of the simple pleasure of moving messes of lines and colours around. I suspect that the desire to recapture this pleasure is behind the recent interest in adult colouring books (which I haven’t tried yet). When I was 6, my parents also gave me those smelly Mr. Sketch markers. Remember those? These added ‘smell’ to the already long list of reasons to draw.

The true drawing gateway drug.

So, I tried to back-burner my preoccupation with the end product, drew (copying the reference image, but adapting it a little), water-coloured, and inked. It was fun to see Knitting Panda take shape. I’m glad s/he got drawn.

The gist of step 2 is appreciating that your way of drawing and seeing are unique and cannot be produced by anyone else – “that might be a good thing”, you jest, but it can also be an adventure to discover and develop your style and way of seeing things through the materials, colours and subjects that feel right.

3. Copy. I had to outsource this step of the DIY. I scanned my water-colour image, and sent it to the local business-supply store/copier’s. Surprisingly, my batch of greeting cards (single-sided 5 X 7″ matte prints) were ready to take home that very day at little over 50 ¢ per card. The copies aren’t perfect (the colour is less saturated than the original), but they did their job of spreading holiday cheer. There are many copying alternatives; I went with the simplest and most affordable (short of printing them at home).

holiday panda 7.png

4. Share. Off the little pandas went, into the mail slots and taped to presents, (bear)ing their glad tidings. If this panda brings a smile or two, then I’m happy.


There’s nothing like the glee of seeing your design go from daydream, to doodle, to hot-off-the-press copies. I’m excited to try this again for the next occasion.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Happy Holidays!

It looks like Christmas is just around the corner. This one really crept up on me (it always does, but I’m usually a little better prepared!). We are leaving today to spend the weekend south of Chicago with A’s relatives. I’m, of course, bringing my latest work-in-progress with me – a purple cartridge belt ribbed scarf for my friend, R.J. Yep. Still working on it (but past the halfway point now). I’m looking forward to catching up with A’s family and getting some more rows on that scarf.

In the meantime,
panda card1 edit 4.jpg

Whatever your plans, Knitting Panda and I hope that the next days find you warm, stuffed with treats, and in the presence of your very nearest and dearest.

Season’s Greetings and Merry Christmas!character-8

 

P.S.: I am working on a little backstory post about ‘Knitting Panda’ in the coming days. Stay tuned, and stay warm!

 

Simple ribbed cap

The thread of knitting puts you back in touch with who you are…[Knitting] makes life more livable. It makes you happy to be in your own company.  

– Kaffe Fassett

Knitting and other forms of hand-crafting are, to me, apprenticeships in living well – they’re tutors in patience, (self-)care, focus, commitment, reciprocity, and pleasurable flow. Sharing knitting with others shares a little bit of these good things. Double the happiness if you happen to be knitting or crafting something special for yourself this week (’tis the season!).

That said, my holiday knits recently included a new hat for a very good friend, my partner’s cousin, J. This project was a good lesson in knitting for others. When he first requested ‘a hat,’ I did what perhaps most enthusiastic knitters would do: I took to Ravelry to feed my eyes with ideas. Maybe I’d try an interesting stitch pattern, or cables, or helix stripes, or (gasp!) stranded colour work… In the end, J preferred something far more simple: a classic monochrome ribbed cap.

So, I found a simple pattern, adapted the number of stitches to my gauge, cast on, ribbed (7.25″ from the edge) and resolved to navigate my way through the crown decreases on my own. As luck would have it, the Red Heart ribbed hat pattern calls for the exact number of stitches I was working with (112). Good old reliable Red Heart saved my crown from becoming a knotty knit-experiment gone bad. The capricious knit gods were smiling upon me that day.

The finished cap, worked in k2 p2 ribbing – a winter staple.

ribbed beanie.JPG

Snowy days are the cap’s new habitat.

ribbed-beanie-3

I’ve noticed that J and my partner are regularly wearing their handmade caps. It brings me so much delight to see my handiwork doing its job out in the world (and this winter is really putting my fledgling skills to the test with Chicago’s recorded temperatures colder than Mars yesterday). Seeing people wear your knits is incredibly reinforcing, in an almost Pavlovian way; it’s a happy sequel to the days or weeks (or months) it takes to move a project off the needles. There must be a German compound word to describe the specific happiness that comes with knitting for others: if Schadenfreude is the pleasure derived at another’s misfortune, then perhaps Strickenfreude (?) might be the happiness that comes with another’s knitting-gain.

Ribbed cap learnings

2 things in particular struck me about this project:

1. Measure.  This was my first hat made to measure. While my first 2 beanies took a more ‘one size fits all’ approach, it helped to have a head circumference measurement when making this more close-fitting, cuff-less cap. In tandem with swatching (revealing a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch using worsted weight yarn and size 7 circulars), I knew that the final hat ought to be around 19″ for the wearer, allowing for the rib to stretch about 4″. To find the number of stitches I needed, I did the following (I write this to jog my memory): 

6 / 1 = χ / 19   (or 6 stitches per inch = χ stitches to 19″)

Solving for χ yielded a count of 114 stitches. I rounded down to 112 (only certain even numbers preserve the alternating k2 p2 pattern when joining in the round).

It was a longer wait to cast on, but I think this prep paid off, and it taught me to how to adapt a pattern to work with the materials I have on hand. I’ll be swatching, measuring, and doing the math much more carefully from here on.

2. Do ‘simple’ well.  In my zeal to build my skill set, I was forgetting an important all-around principle: learning to do simple things well. Simple often gets conflated with easy, and easy is often overlooked or de-valued. The unexpected challenges of completing this seemingly simple knit taught me that attention and care go into making simple things look easy. At my skill level, I’m resolving to refine my handiwork and focus a bit more on doing simple well.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’re finding a little bit of calm, warmth, and downtime in the midst of the holiday rush.

needles

 

On the needles: Cartridge Belt Ribbed Scarf

I hope you are having a good week. Winter here in the Midwest has started off on a very cold note, but thank goodness for the sun. It’s been a very sunny week, and I suspect the ample sunlight is the only reason we are taking winter – the sudden and low subzero temps, the icy sidewalks, the  wind, and dealing with all of the above while de-snowing the car or waiting for a bus at 7 am – in what seems to be good stride.

Ok. Among my holiday WIPs this week is a scarf for a dear friend. This is a holiday but also a Thank You gift to someone who has helped me quite a bit over the years with my work and studies – a thank you that is long overdue. The scarf is worked in what is now my new favourite rib stitch: the cartridge belt rib. I first discovered this stitch while perusing Purl Soho’s No-Purl Ribbed Scarf. I was intrigued by the idea of a rib that didn’t require any purls! Beyond being simple, other advantages of this rib: it’s entirely reversible, lays down flat, and produces a lovely elongated stitch and dense (warm) fabric.

rj-scarf-2
The rib evokes the cylindrical bumps of a cartridge belt but, I imagine, is much cozier to wear around the neck in winter.

Working this stitch requires a multiple of 4 + 3 stitches. The rib is a 2-row repeat, worked as follows:

Row 1: knit 3, *[slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 3]; repeat from * to end of row

Row 2: knit 1, *[slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 3]; repeat from * to last 2 stitches, slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 1

rj-scarf-3
Slipping 1 (purlwise) with yarn in front makes the ‘hollow’ of the rib without purling.

I’ve been making headway on the scarf – a few inches here and there, and I should hit around 60″ before long (scarf-length preferences are subjective, but for a scarf like this, I’d like it to be long enough to at least go ‘once around’ and still hang midway down the torso). The stitch pattern is quick to memorize; the scarf shows you the way as you make it. The ‘knit 3, slip 1′ repeat is also easily set to 4/4 time, if you think of knitting in that way (I often do). I’m finding it much funner to do my flat knits on circular needles. I’m not sure why. Something about their flexibility and portability makes it exciting to get my needles and go. I feel like I can take ’em anywhere.

rj-scarf-1

rj scarf 4.JPG

I love making (and wearing) scarves, and I love the idea of wrapping a dear friend in a little bit of woolly warmth on a cold day – like gifting a warm hug.

A Big Thanks goes to luciddays.wordpress.com/ for the beautiful fabric photographed here.

I look forward to catching up on your crafty projects and holiday happenings. What are you excited to be doing/working on this week?

needles

 

Knitty Kitty

If you have poked around this blog, you’ll notice that I love to draw and invent characters – whether for comics, cartoons, doodles, portraits, etc. I realized that I could connect this aspect of drawing with my knitting by making toys! When I came across a simple but cute pattern for a “Sleepy Kitten” in DK’s Baby Knits Made Easy (2013) a while ago, I knew I had to give it a go.

The pattern calls for the kitten to be knit on Size 3 needles, its back and front worked flat and seamed together. Since this was not a garment, I took the gauge guidelines lightly and went ahead and used bigger needles which gave me a much larger kitten than I expected. You’ll see that my embroidering skills need some work – where the original pattern looks more ‘adorable calm,’ I seemed to have channeled ‘surly sleeper.’ Perhaps this is the character my hands had in mind. 🙂

img_2563

img_2565
Doubled-up embroidery floss. I think I’ll use yarn next time.

Given the kitten’s surliness, I thought this kitty would benefit from something cozy. I decided to add my own flourish to the pattern: a hand woven red blanket-scarf, the second project ever made on my DIY frame loom.

img_2560
A first experiment in weaving using identical fibers for warp and weft.
img_2567
A variegated craft yarn, found in the beau’s bag-of-miscellaneous-craft-supplies. Surprisingly self-striping.

img_2562

I look forward to making more kittens for the big and little sleepers who may need some sleep inspiration.

Enjoy your Thursday, and sweet dreams to you.   Zzzzzzz…

needles

Book Review: Knitting for Good

I just finished Betsy Greer’s Knitting for Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change, Stitch by Stitch (2008, Trumpeter Books) and wanted to share some thoughts. Having discovered the ‘personal’ benefits of a regular craft practice over the past month, I was compelled to seek out writing on how to connect these benefits to broader questions and issues (as previous movements have taught, the personal is political).

Each chapter is written in an autobiographical voice, including testimonies from other knitters. Each chapter also includes a pattern for various ethical knitting projects. While the book is mainly about knitting, I think that its main principles apply across the crafting spectrum. Specifically, Greer re-iterates the importance of sharing creativity during personally and politically trying times. She identifies creativity as a human need:

Beyond providing people with basic needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter, creativity is the most important thing we can pass on to those in need. Being able to embrace your own creativity is a step away from hope. (129)

I thought long about why I felt this to be true.

I realized that creativity is not merely a step away from hope – it is an enactment of hope. Crafting and creating enact the courage, conviction, and confidence (however shaky) in our own transformative agencies – the belief that something beautiful, good, and true can be crafted from raw materials and shared, whether these materials are our most beloved craft media or are, for instance, our social relations, or the difficult circumstances that we are often thrown into and have no choice to confront. In the various forms they take, I try to see struggles as raw material for fashioning – in the least – some understanding and compassion. I only have to remember the times when this agency felt foreclosed to really appreciate that creativity is a profound enactment of freedom and hope.

For Greer, this kind of creative engagement stems from self-knowledge – discovering what is within our own physical, financial, emotional, etc. capacities to give, and giving from that place. The key point that I think Greer articulates is that there is no standard for giving and no standard giver – the meeting point between someone’s resources and an existing need in the world will differ from person to person:

The key to working towards the greater good is knowing what to give and when to give it….Once we know what we can give, our power lies in that sphere. If we’re lucky, that sphere will become larger, expanding our capacity to want and need to work toward making the world a better place.

What resources and talents can you share to make a few people’s lives a little better? Although writing a check is a good thing, what if you either don’t believe in throwing money at a problem or don’t really have much money to throw around? Consider the basic needs we all have…Create items that address those needs. (129)

Her concrete suggestions include knitting protest banners; using knit/crafted pieces to share and express our perspectives; donating handmade items, or their proceeds, to global and local charities we stand behind; and starting local craft groups for exchanging ideas and mutual support. These are all great ideas that are compelling me to think (and craft) bigger.

For now, I would like to hold the idea in mind that creating is an ethical beginning in its own right: it enacts a desire for the better – a vision of the good – in concrete material ways while producing, cultivating, and also sustaining the person who creates. It’s a sustenance that gives me enough stability to reflect deeply on where I can take further action, and gives me enough joy to buoy me through, allowing me to pursue my course of action in the face of doubt and skepticism (both others’ and my own). Creating can also generate hopeful, joyful, and even comic symbols (words, objects, images, sounds, icons, amulets) that remind us of our strength, humour, and resilience – the stuff of longevity.

This hopeful creativity, I’m learning, can be a very effective antidote to fear and its by-products. Art and craft are one way of engaging with difference that does not reproduce the fearful politics of recrimination that we see emerging around the world today. Similarly, this book reminds me that taking a critical stance on social inequalities (a lot of recent talk has focused on ‘calling out’ and refusing to normalize forms of discrimination) is not mutually exclusive to cultivating joy and exuberance in our everyday lives. I sometimes suspect that cultivating and sharing creative exuberance (love this word) can be a powerful form of lived critique, and may have as great an impact on our communities as more direct forms of protest. I write this with an awareness that different forms of mobilization have their importance, but I think this message is at the heart of Knitting for Good, and I continue to reflect on it.

Wishing you creative peace & pleasure in the week ahead!