a head start

Oh, those two dreaded words… Christmas knitting!

Well, this year I’m getting a head start on all my Christmas presents. Several have already been bought, and so far I have managed to resist the urge to give them away immediately (that’s my problem usually, once I have a good gift, I want to see it with the recipient straight away!). Others have been put on lists and are patiently waiting for their turn. And the handmade ones are also in the planning. Actually, one is already done!

Fetchings are a freely available pattern that everyone and their great-great-aunt have already made. And rightly so, as the pattern is straightforward and yields a lovely result. I did make some modifications, but none that others hadn’t made before. You can find lots of good advice about this pattern on Ravelry (though it would also be fine if you just knit it as written). The knitting itself is super fast, as we are talking worsted/aran weight here. Actually, so fast that I did not feel bad at all about ripping out one whole mitt after I had finished it, because it was a bit too big.

The yarn I used, DROPS Nepal, is just a perfect blend of wool and alpaca. Enough wool to give the stitches beautiful definition, enough alpaca to make the material smooth as a baby’s butt. :) I will definitely be using it again.

Now I just have to resist the other urge: to keep these to myself…

What about you? Have you started your Christmas knitting? Remember, the countdown has begun… :)

the Changing My Mind mittens

After reading through my Ravelry notes for these mittens, I could think of no other title for the post. Indeed, in the roughly five months that it took me to completely finish these, I changed my mind many many times about many many things.

One thing remained the same – I loved the pattern from start to finish and can wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s not one for beginners,  I’ll say that much, and it definitely involved both concentration and deliberate effort, but it was also very clear in instructions and enjoyable. I won’t even mention the awesomeness of the finished product.

But back to the changing of mind.

Habits

At first I thought I would lead a knitting diary for this project – noting when I knitted and how much, and when I did not knit and why (thus remembering not only the good knitting times, but also the good reasons for skipping knitting – like hanging out with my friends). However, the diary idea died out with time. I seem to be as bad at keeping knitting diaries as I am at “real-life” diaries. Too bad, because I really enjoy reading the parts when I was still keeping up – it’s a nice snippet of my life.

I also planned to knit 5 rounds each day and finish this quicker. But in the end I gave up on that and simply followed my natural rhythm. I gave myself time, worked on this when it felt right and dropped it when it seemed smarter to take a break.

Needles

I had originally started this project on 3.5mm needles, but promptly decided that this was going to be too loose and changed my mind to 3mm. In retrospect, this was not the best choice, I am really convinced that the colourwork would have looked much nicer at this slightly looser gauge. However this realisation came far too late to consider ripping – there had already been too much work invested and I was not changing my mind again for anything!

I should also add that I had started knitting on double-pointed needles. At some point, I decided to try magic loop instead (I had never tried it with colourwork before), and this completely changed the whole project for me. It became so much faster, so much less fiddly! Yay! I’m never going back!

Lining

But the most changes of mind concerned the lining.  At first I was convinced that the mittens were too snug to be adding a lining as well, so I considered the project finished when I completed the outer mittens. But then I wore them for a week. And started thinking that a little bit of lining would be ok. Just around the wrist, not all the way around the whole mitten. Then I wore them some more. And it occured to me that, since the yarn I had bought for the lining was a laceweight anyway, the thing would be so thin that it would probably fit easily even if I knit the whole inner mitten. Then I picked up my needles. And thought: man it’s going to be difficult figuring out these lining numbers for a laceweight. Why don’t I just try holding it double like that lady whose notes I saw on Ravelry…

And so we came from “No, no lining at all!” to “A full lining in the yarn weight the pattern called for”. :) Luckily, it seems to have been a good change of mind. I’ve been wearing these for a few weeks now and they are just heaven. So much so that I am even regretting a bit all the warm spring weather – as it just makes no sense to wear mittens with four layers of wool when the sun is shining…

One final observation about making a pair of something. Comparing my left and right mitten, the difference is obvious. The stitches are messier on the first one, the floats are tighter, the thumb has a larger hole which is stitched up awkwardly so that it’s a bit tight when I put it on… None of these problems appear on the second mitten. It is very easy to conclude that the first mitten was the one on which I tested things and figured them out as I went along, while on the second one I successfully applied the lessons learned. I wonder if this is simply inevitable – when I make a pair of something, will the two always be slightly miss-matched, the uglier and the prettier twin? Is it just the fate of making two in a row? Well, it’s impossible to make them at the same time! Or should I make three of everything then? One to test things out and practice, then two ‘for real’.

What are your opinions on and experiences with pairs of handmade things?

lining

Sitting among the lines of my rug, knitting a lining…

I spent a lot of time doing just this during the weekend – such a simple pleasure. And good thing I did, because today it snowed in Brussels! But I didn’t complain, because I knew that, very soon, I’ll have the yummiest, toastiest mittens in town – with lining as soft as clouds… :)

second mitten syndrome

Tonight at knit group, one of the ladies who hadn’t attended in a while glanced at my knitting and went: “You’re still knitting those mittens?!” And she was right, though only partially. Yes, the last time she had been there, about two months ago, I was working on my Fiddleheads. But where she was wrong was that I’m not working on them still – I am working on them again. Oh yeah, after I finished the first one, I got me some of that good ol’ second mitten syndrome! Funny how I don’t get that with socks… Well, I better not say that twice! ;)

Anyway, yes, I am working on the second Fiddlehead. And as I navigate the troubled waters of colourwork again, I’d like to say two heartfelt thankyous.

Firstly, to Adrian Bizilia, the designer, for having the brilliance and the foresight to divide the chart into 5×5 squares. It is indescribable how much easier it is to read and follow a chart that is presented like that. So great that it should be made obligatory, by knitterly law, for all charts. Ever.

Secondly, to the several people (both here and in real life) who advised me to try turning my colourwork inside out while I knit. At first the idea baffled me, but since I’ve tried it I haven’t gone back. I am now best friends with my floats and my tension.

And I think there might just be a finished pair of mittens soon. Maybe even in time to wear this winter… :)

mitts for a lady

There’s just no going around it – Ysolda’s Veyla are a brilliant pattern and that’s it. I’ve made them several times by now – they are done quicker than expected, putting them together feels like magic and the finished objects lead the onlookers to ask one question and one question alone: “Can I have a pair too?” You have no idea how many people have asked me to knit them Veylas… I haven’t indulged them all. But some people are extra-knitworthy.

When Maja asked me to knit her a pair, I decided to savour every step of the process.

Over one Saturday morning coffee, I gave her my own pair of Veylas to wear for a while, to check if they fit, and to make sure that the yarn wasn’t making her too itchy. Then she showed me how much longer she wanted them, I made some measurements and we were done for the day.

At first I thought I’d just knit the cuff longer and that’d be it. I knit both lace cuffs. But after trying them on I realized they might be too tight on the bit of the arm where they would sit and changed my strategy. I ripped the bind-off on both cuffs and re-did them as per size L. I then picked up stitches as for size L, knit for about 7cm decreasing a stitch here and there to follow the curve of the arm, and finally, when I got to the stitch count for size S, I continued making the mitts as per pattern for that size until the very end. A detailed description of my mods with stitch and row counts is available on my project page. It might sound a bit fiddly, but I quite enjoyed ripping a bit here and there, calculating and adapting the pattern to give me exactly what I wanted to get.

I had found the perfect buttons even before finishing. Very early on I got the idea that the dark blue mitts would go wonderfully with white pearly buttons. Luckily I found just what I was looking for in a local yarn shop and I couldn’t have been happier.

In the end, because I found out rather suddenly that I would be leaving the country soon, I ended up with a bit of a time crunch for delivering these. I was still sewing in ends and blocking them a few hours before they would be delivered. And so it came to be that I sewed on the buttons while waiting to meet up with Maja on the busy main square of Zagreb in the early July 2011. I must have been a sight! I was so excited!

I got the photos a few months later. They were worth the wait – they reminded me that not only did I enjoy the making, but I also ended up with exactly what I had set out to do – make the most elegant pair of mitts imaginable for the biggest lady I know.

The amazing photos, again, generously, by Matea Lemac.

diary

Well, the computer has had an autopsy and has been pronounced dead-dead. Apparently my hard drive is physically broken. My data is most likely lost, though some people I know might give it a shot to rescue it later on… I did do a backup of all the important stuff fairly recently, so guess what is the main thing I lost? Photos! Not all of them, but a good part. (Boy am I regretting now not uploading any photos of my Amsterdam trip on Facebook…) But in any case, I choose not to dwell on this too much and get on with life. :) And until I figure out when and how to buy a new computer (or how to upload photos onto my work computer ;), I’ll just have to find ways of non-photographic expression.

Which is all to say… that I’ve started a diary! A knitting diary!

So, last Sunday, I finally started my Fiddlehead Mittens. (And when I say “finally”, I mean after a year and a half of having them in my queue and at the top of my wish list, and about 10 months after having bought the yarn). Because I want to actually wear these this winter, and because I find colourwork challenging, I decided to set myself an aim and monitor progress regularly. The aim is to knit 5 rounds each day and to write down my progress each day. In addition, I think it will be quite fun to have the story of the progress from the very beginning to the final product, which I will be able to look at even years later. I don’t get paid for my knitting, but if I write about the process in such detail, if I write down every round I make, it seems to somehow acknowledge the value of the time and effort I put into it. So here goes, my diary of knitting my very own pair of Fiddlehead mittens, first five days!

Sunday, October 9
I didn’t have a project to bring to knit group today. I searched frantically for a new project to start half an hour before leaving home, but rushing it like that didn’t work. So I just did some (long overdue) seaming at the group. But after I came home I was still in the crafting mood and suddenly inspiration hit – I would finally start my Fiddleheads! I did the I-cord cast-on (the I-cord looks decent, but the cast-on stitches are huuuuuge and unelastic, any ways to get around that? Since I’m working with a 3mm needle on DK yarn, going down a few needle sizes is not really an option) and 5 rounds of colourwork. I tried using the thimble I bought recently, but gave up very quickly (I couldn’t find a way to tension the yarn, things were just flying all over the place) and took up my method of two-handed colourwork.

Monday, October 10
15 rounds!

Tuesday, October 11
0 rounds
French class after work, then meeting former colleagues visiting from Croatia, came home at midnight and collapsed into the bed immediately.

Wednesday, October 12
Knit group, did 10 rounds with only messing up a few times and noticing it straight away, I’m quite proud of myself for that (though to be honest it was a very quiet group, only about 5-6 people showed up).

Thursday, October 13
0 rounds
I was really looking forward to some nice stitching after French class, but had forgotten that I had a dinner planned with the flatmates. After a few beers colourwork was no longer an option… But since I did a few more intensive days, I’m still averaging around 5 rounds a day, so I’m on schedule!

So, that’s the beginning. And maybe making it even more public like this will give me an additional incentive… ;) Feel free to join in with diaries of your own projects, I’d love to read about everyone’s everyday knitting habits. :)

good things come to those who wait

I often find myself hoping that my friends believe in that proverb. Well, actually, they often have to believe in it whether they want to or not. Caroline had asked me to knit her a pair of mittens some time in the winter. She pointed me to a pattern she had seen on the blog and liked, told me how she wanted me to tweak it, chose a colour,  sent me her hand measurements promptly. And then, waited.

I did start them quite quickly, my Ravelry page says January 30. But after a while, I hit a block. I find it very hard to explain, though a friend of mine whose both job and hobby include creativity seemed to understand when I tried to express it. It wasn’t that I was scared of the pattern – I had knitted it once before very successfully, and actually in the same exact yarn, so there were no unknowns. The modifications were to be minor. It wasn’t boredom either. This is a very interesting pattern, it’s constantly evolving and you see it become more beautiful with every row.

It was just – a block. I hesitate to use the phrase “creative block” because I’m not sure it’s appropriate to say you are doing something strictly creative (in the sense of inventing something out of thin air – which is my idea of creativity) when you are following a pattern. But that’s what it felt closest to. I just couldn’t pick up the needles. It needed to brew inside me, things needed to click, and I couldn’t do anything about it before that happened. And so Caroline waited.

Unfortunately, this happens to me quite often when it comes to knitting something someone specifically ordered. I am trying to get over it. If knitting were ever to become a profit-making activity for me, I realize this would be the biggest hurdle to get over. In the meantime, my friends wait. And I try not to be too hard on myself, because, in the end, even if I say so myself, good things do come to them.

I was happy to deliver, in the end, a pair of mittens I am extremely pleased with. I made my first Veyla, without any modifications, almost exactly a year ago. I love them dearly (actually I’m wearing them as I type this) and they are one of my most popular knits among Ravelers and friends alike. Making this pair now, out of the very same yarn, it was interesting to see all the things that can happen in a year.

The difference between the newly-completed and the “old” mitts is striking: though the yarn wore really well (there is NO pilling whatsoever despite the frequent wear), the colour has changed slightly, the stitches look somehow “harder” – while they are still perfectly comfortable to wear, there is no trace of fluffiness anymore. I had not noticed any of this until I finished their twins and was struck by the difference.

The progress in my skill was also noticeable. These new stitches are perfectly even (there is something crazy about the amount of pleasure well-executed even-stitched stockinette can afford me), the lace is a bit tidier, the holes around the thumb are noticeably smaller, I knit the body of the mitt using a new approach to magic loop and I exercised a fearless confidence in modifying the pattern – a confidence that is very new to me, and that is making me very proud. (Detailed notes on modifications can be found on my project page.)

And finally, my photos are much nicer than the first time around because now, as is becoming usual, I had generous help with them. I was even joking this time about how professional we must look: one friend was taking photos, looking all serious with her big camera and three different bags dangling around, and another ended up doing “stylist” stuff like giving me advice on how to pose and rolling up my sleeves… :) If we continue this way we’ll soon be walking around town with a lighting technician and heavens know what else… ;) To be serious, it was just the three of us joking around, but we did attract a fair amount of attention from curious passers by and had a good share of giggles. Fun! :) Thank you girls :*

it was about time! giveaway!

Lately I’ve been such a lucky blogger and knitter – winning in giveaways all over the place! Now, I’m not one to scoop up all the sweets and eat them on my own, so I’ve decided to give a bit back. :) Thus, here I am presenting to you the second fridica giveaway :)

The theme this time is designers, and I would like to present to you a very special young designer who has given me her kind permission to give away one of her patterns! Connie Chang Chinchio describes herself as a trained physicist who “works on environmental health science research between sweaters”. Just another piece of evidence that knitters extraordinaire come from every possible occupation and that, regardless what they were originally, knitting does not fail to take over one’s life. :)

My favourite in Connie’s designs are her cardigans, which are invariably simple yet interesting.

The squishy Metro

The intriguing Geodesic

And the feminine Printed Silk

Connie has also designed some wonderful hats and mittens, which brings us back to the giveaway! :) The Cayuga Set is a pattern for matching hat and mittens featuring cute bobbles. It rings very Christmassy to me and I think it would make a wonderful gift for your loved ones or yourself ;) And if you’re not into matching, then you can just make one or the other. The choice is yours – you get the whole set!

So, you can win a pattern for a hat & mittens set and as an extra, I’ll throw in 436 yards of aran weight yarn from my stash! The yarn should be sufficient to make the set, if you like, but of course it’s up to you to use it for whatever you please.

What do you need to do? Comment on this post, and in your comment, leave me a link to your favorite knitwear designer (it can be a website, blog or Ravelry link :) Please keep it to one link because otherwise my spam filter won’t let you through. Feel free, but not obliged, to tell others about the giveaway in any form you like.

It’s one entry per person, and you have until the end of the day on November 29th.

I’ll select the winner by random number draw and announce who it is on November 30th. Oh, and one more thing – I will ship anywhere in the world, so feel free to sign your name even if you are from Tasmania, Zanzibar, Alaska or Siberia!

Let’s take it away… :)