Blanket delivered

One more parting snapshot of the Welcome Blanket for good measure (thanks to A for the photo help!).

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I delivered it to the Smart Museum today, in a brown paper bag like someone’s huge knitted lunch. Today was a scorcher in Chicago – the kind of thick, 33 celsius day that sees your fellow passengers wiping beads of sweat off of their brows with a soppy hanky on the subway. I felt more than a little cognitive dissonance as I carried around the blanket version of a rainbow woolly mammoth on this muggy, muggy day, but I was happy to see this project through to its end. I hope that the blanket will give a little bit of joy to whomever receives it.

This project, and the in-progress Knit Together organized by Melissa at knittingthestash, is opening my eyes to the beauty of the communally-made blanket. As the Knit Together and the Welcome Blanket makers are showing, collaboratively-made blankets are meaningful symbols of solidarity, togetherness, and community. They enact the principle of making something bigger out of individual, unique contributions. I love how knitting lends itself so readily to this idea, and am so glad to have been a part of both of these labours of love.

To making blankets together! And to the spirit of welcome!

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Welcome Blanket: Design & Knitting Up

After a little over 3 weeks of here-and-there work, my Welcome Blanket is complete and ready to be wrapped up and sent to the Smart Museum, where the main exhibit is taking place. I’m told that the project has recently broken the 1001 blanket mark, and the plan is for the exhibit to house all the donated blankets in a single room!

I started this Welcome Blanket on August 16th and finished on September 10th, working a square at a time, seaming up and weaving in the numerous ends here and there. I found it easier to stay motivated by going back and forth between knitting, seaming, and weaving-in than to separate like tasks and complete them all in sequence. I chose to knit up the project’s recommended pattern – Come Together by Kat Coyle.

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© Kat Coyle

What’s wonderful about Come Together, as a beginner blanket-project, is its knitter-friendly modular construction. Made up of 16 10″ x 10″ diagonally knit garter-stitch squares, the pattern provides a way of easily producing even fields of colour and allows for endless compositional variations. Knitting squares also means that the blanket feels like a quick knit for being done in small pieces (even if the finishing up is much more slow going).

My favourite part of this project was getting to play around with shape and colour; I discovered that I love to tinker with modular composition and variations (which seems to be something that, say, quilters get to engage in more than knitters?). I’m feeling a little bereft of words this week, so I’ll let the images reveal the process, from designing to finishing up. As you’ll notice, my colour choices changed significantly early on – the product of a compromise, or trying to balance creative vision with, er, the much humbler desire to de-stash and work with the materials I already had at hand. It turns out that big visions and material constraints can and do play nicely after all.

Designing and Tinkering

blanket ideas blankBlanket Idears

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Knitting and Finishing Up

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Me and my FO 

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Now, to wrap it up, pen a warm message to its recipient, and send it on its way.

For more information about the Welcome Blanket Project, see here.

Happy Making, friends!

 

 

Crafting Welcome: The Welcome Blanket Exhibit

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Tucked into a lawn-hemmed corner of the University of Chicago campus, The Smart Museum of Art – the UC’s local exhibition space – is currently HQ for the Welcome Blanket Project. Welcome Blanket is a crowd-sourced project that is sending donated crocheted, knitted, and quilted blankets to new immigrants, migrants, and refugees living in the U.S. Along with the blanket, the program is asking that each crafter enclose a personal message of welcome to their blanket’s recipient. The project imagines and performs a mass-scale welcome through letters and yards and yards of yarn and fabric as a way of creatively resisting current “build a wall” rhetoric.

The gallery blurb on the wall clarifies:

By overlapping art, craft, design, architecture, social activism, political resistance, social media, and civic engagement, Welcome Blanket offers a concrete way to explore abstract ideas. Not only by making the concept of a 2,000-mile border wall tangible through yards of yarn, but also by blurring the spaces between individual stories and collective conversations. It connects a large-scale installation in a museum gallery with small-scale local craft circles with single links between a blanket maker and a new neighbor.

How do we make large-scale civic engagement meaningful, positive, and creative for each individual?

How do we intimately understand international crises?

How do we share our singular stories in an understandable way?

I see value in simple acts of welcome, reception, and inclusion through craft. A simple handmade blanket is not much: it does not change legal frameworks and practices. It does not significantly alter the difficult and precarious economic and social conditions of living for refugees and other newcomers to the U.S. And, it is likely not going to change the opinions of people who are committed to shoring up the borders of the country. But, a blanket gifted in this way sends a meaningful message to the individuals and families whose lives are being affected by the recent shift in policy and public sentiment on immigration in the U.S. I have also learned, through joining a local Welcome Blanket knitting circle, that contributing to the project is a way for people to materially make sense of what’s happening and find voice, agency, and community again in concrete and productive ways. Like others, I think with my hands and must grapple with things when working through bigger questions.

My sense is that simple messages and gestures like these, taken by a critical mass of crafters, can restore a sense of hope.

The Space

Imagine being given the best hug you have ever received from a good friend. This feeling of embrace, warmth, and acceptance permeates the Welcome Blanket exhibition space – you’re surrounded by a collection of handmade gifts whose purpose is to offer a little bit of colour, warmth, and comfort.

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Building a wall of welcome

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In line with the exhibit’s theme, the Welcome Blanket space invites visitor-participation. You’re welcome to sit and knit a while, peruse through a binder of personal welcome-notes written by various blanket-makers, or (if you’re new to knitting or crochet) take a seat and try your own hand at basic blanket square-making. The knitting circle meets weekly in this space, and it has been lots of fun to spend some time stitching at the Smart with other UC knitters, transforming what is usually a ‘private’ and solitary activity into one performed in a public and shared space.

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Knit (and crochet) happens.

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Having found out about the Welcome Blanket Project very recently, I knew that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful act of craftivism, despite never having made a knit-object on this scale before. So, it looks like a foray into blanket-making for me. More on the specific blanket-making process soon!

If you’re heading Chicago-ward in the coming time, the exhibition will be up until December 17th. And if you are interested in donating a blanket yourself to the Welcome Blanket Project, the deadline has just been extended from September 5th to November 4th. So that more people can participate, Welcome Blanket is covering the cost of shipping blankets to the Smart Museum in the US. Learn more at welcomeblanket.org

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Knit Together: Blanket square

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My blanket square for the Knit Together Project, organized by the wonderful Melissa at Knitting the Stash, is done.  I had a lot of fun working on this one.

My square uses a combination of fibres: the main colour is from the Stonehedge Fiber Mill – a farm in East Jordan, Michigan, that has been around for all of 157 years. This worsted weight blend is Stonehedge Fiber’s amazing Shepherd’s Wool Yarn in the Autumn Gold colour way: it is incredibly soft, probably the softest and cushiest blend I’ve ever knit up (more on Shepherd’s Wool Yarn here).  Doubling up strands to work the yarn on size 11 DPNs produced a soft, billowy, marshmallowy square.

The Square Story

I wanted to reflect, through my square, on the kindness and generosity of crafters and makers. The square’s streak of bright blue is taken from the mini-skein of fiber that Melissa sent in the mail, and so includes her kind gesture (thank you, Melissa!). One of my favourite knitting stories on this theme is the children’s book Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett. Have you heard of it? (there is an enthusiastic Youtube reading, if you’re interested). Apart from John Klassen’s fantastic illustrations of a community connected by knitting, I think that Extra Yarn is a beautiful story about the intrinsic gift-nature of knitting – one that, as the story explores, threads people together, and comes from an invisible but inexhaustible source of generosity.

Extra Yarn reminds me of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the modern World (1983) which makes the very similar case that a creative process relies on gift-giving and what he discusses as the logic of “the gift” – things freely given with no set conditions for return or reciprocity. These gifts – whether out-of-the-blue ideas, resources, tools, knowledge, time – are meant to circulate, and often have mysterious or unexpected origins (his reading, for example, of The Shoemaker and the Elves sees the tale as an example of gift-logic at work). the gift coverThe continued circulation of gifts is what enables makers to produce and generate new ideas, making acts of acceptance and giving the heart of creativity. What’s more, Hyde suggests that each artist’s unique contribution adds to and enhances the whole (and so Hyde makes the case that artistic works be treated as social endowments and kept accessible to the public).

The message of Extra Yarn and The Gift seemed to echo the underlying spirit of the Knit Together. I was oddly starting to feel as though I was being reminded, by various sources, of an important message. I have come to see and appreciate how much knitting (and knitters) have given me, and the importance of finding ways to share what I’ve learned.

 

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From Extra Yarn. Copyright 2012 Jon Klassen

DPN Tag (a.k.a. would you like to contribute a square?)

Speaking of sharing and circulating… Part of the Knit Together Project includes co-creating a blanket by circulating shared tools: sets of DPNs.

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Several DPNs are circulating  through a system of tagging; I received these DPNs in the mail and now that I’m done with my square, I’m to tag a few other knitters to participate and find someone to pass the needles along to. In other words, it’s time to set the DPNs free and find them a new home so that the blanket-making can continue.

I thought of the knitting bloggers whose words and works I’ve come to enjoy and learn so much from over the past year. I highly recommend reading these exquisite knitting blogs!

Are you interested and available to join the Knit Together Project?  :

Agnes of Ready to Knit
Karen of Nothing But Knit
Melinda of Knit Potion
Tony of The Yarn Blabber

(I’ll send the single-set of DPNs above to the first tagged person who agrees in the comments)

To the tagged: The idea is to send an 8″ x 8″ blanket square to Melissa (knittingthestash.wordpress.com) who is collecting all the squares. They will be seamed together, and a draw will be held among the square-contributors to receive the blanket FO(s).

The tag to knit a square (and tag another fellow-knitter) is still extended whether or not DPNs are sent directly to you.

Finally, I completely understand if this is a busy time that may not easily lend itself to an extra blanket square. No worries if you choose to decline. 🙂

All the details + the project’s contact e-mail are available on Melissa’s Knit Together Project Page.

Looking forward, friends. And Happy Knitting to you.

 

…and that’s a wrap (or a shawl?)

After about a week’s worth of night-time movie-knitting, the Age of Brass & Steam kerchief shawl is done and ready to be wrapped up and given to its new wearer. Age of Brass & Steam must have been just the right starter shawl for me: now that it’s done, I want to make another shawl, pronto. I’m hooked. This, from a knitter who has not only never knit a shawl, but has never worn one, either (and, to be honest, was a little confused about the difference, say, between shawls, haps, and wraps. If there is a knitter out there who would like to shed a little light, I’m curious).

This is a great beginner pattern: it calls for 3 repeats of a stockinette + garter eyelet section to make a simple kerchief. I decided I wanted a roomier, hug-sized garment, and added an additional 4th repeat. The shawl ends in 3 rows of garter stitch. All in all, making it required ~ 310 yards of worsted weight on a size 7 24″ circular (cast-off using US 9s).

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July 26th: Half way through what ended up being a 45-minute bind off. I have never knit anything on this scale of stitches.

After steam blocking, the shawl measured 58″ across. I love its shape, and am still marveling at how the increases, worked ‘straight’ across on the circulars, popped out this neat isosceles triangle thing. Learning how to do this was not quite as big of a shocker as, say, my first sock heel-turn (unforgettable!) but I have to say, it’s up there in the instant replay of Knitting A-ha! Moments of 2017. The craft never ceases to amaze.

Age of Brass and Steam Shawlshawl FO1

Learnings

I’ll keep my learnings brief; from start to finish, this project was one big lesson. One thing, though: making this shawl has got me thinking about the importance of drape (something I have been neglecting). I’m happy with how this first one turned out, but am wondering what would have happened, drape-wise, if I’d gone up a few needle sizes. I suppose I’ll have to find out later, but am learning to keep things loose and let things flow. In any case, that’s how the shawl falls, I say (I suggest this as the shawl-knitter’s version of “that’s how the cookie crumbles”).

I’m curious: what, in your view, makes for a great shawl, wrap, or hap? Do you have a favourite one that you’ve done several times? What do you love about it? Do tell.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, wherever you happen to be!

Knitting up: Recycled yarn, part III

After winding down, naturally, comes knitting up.

I’ve been working nights, over the past few weeks, on my recycled-yarn sweater, and it is slowly taking shape! After dreaming about tackling a seamless top-down sweater (a construction method I love), I decided to work on a seamed sweater project instead. Having had the fun and excitement of making a top-down baby sweater, I felt like I wanted a new challenge.

I felt a twinge of love at first sight when I laid eyes on Roberta Rosenfeld’s Drape front sweater in the pages of a slightly weathered copy of Vogue Knitting’s Very Easy Sweaters (2013).

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© Vogue Knitting/Rose Callahan

The sweater looked comfortable, versatile and, yes, very, very easy in its all-stockinette composition. If you recall, the back of the sweater was completed a while ago.

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The front of the sweater has since also been knit up, but with one major modification: it won’t be a draping sweater after all! It will be a plain-fitting, non-draping front. Literally, a sweater t-shirt. It’s as simple as tops get. I chose this modification for two reasons:

1. I learned that I did not have enough of the recycled yarn for the drape version, which requires an extra stretch of knitting at the front. Yep.

2. Knitting up using my recycled yarn ended up requiring making many (many) joins. The sweater is basically made up of yarn pieces! This photo may be tantamount to airing out my dirty laundry, but here’s what I mean:

 

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Sweater front (wrong side): a veritable infestation of joins.

The original pattern requires half of the sweater-front to be twisted after being knit up, leaving half of the front ‘inside out’ (with an outfacing garter-stitch side) and the other half in regular stockinette.  The prospect of multiple loose threads from the joins above coming undone and leaving little ends sticking out did not appeal to me. I decided to abandon the dream of that beautiful drape and keep the joins where they belonged: on the inside of the garment!

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Sweater front (right side): I was sad to ditch the drape, but the joins will be contained once woven in.

What’s left, now, is to block the front, then sew the two pieces together. I’m a little jittery about this last step, but I can’t wait to share (and wear) the results. I resolve to love this ‘first sweater,’ regardless of how misshapen it may turn out. In honesty, I already love this future recycled garment with all my heart: I love that this sweater gave me so much time of happy work. It will be that funny sweater I wear that contains all the hours of joy and delight that went into making it. It will be my Happiness Sweater (for this reason, I really hope it fits!). More to come.

Hoping this week finds you enjoying some stitching under the sun!

Knit, write, run, repeat: On slow progress

Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).

I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:

1.  I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.

2.  I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.

When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.

Knitting

I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.

I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.

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Recycled yarn sweater in progress – half the back! (May 15, 2017)
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Completed back of recycled yarn sweater, thumbtack-blocking on a spare sofa (June 1, 2017)

Writing

Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.

Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuff and have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.

On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.

The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.

Running

More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace.  Jogging, I guess.

Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners –  the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).

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Start at the beginning. At the starting line of Chicago’s 40th annual 5K Ridge Run, May 29th.

We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.

It’s an example to live by.


How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?

Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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).

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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…

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

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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.

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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

I 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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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And done.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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January 5th: starting off
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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.

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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.

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