It's Hip to Be Square – Sticking With Classic Designs

Some things are “classic” like Bach concertos and other things are likely to go the way of the song that inspired the title of this blog, Huey Lewis and the News and their song, Hip to be Square. I suspect that Bach will be heard more often and long after I’m around, given how long it has been since he was around (he died in 1750).

The upshot? Trends die and classics last. So why not knit things that never go out of style?

Last week I mentioned my grandmother used to, out of boredom, knit the frilliest, most intricate couch throws. And though I know she knit my family dozens of these beautiful showpieces; I cannot tell you where any of these are today–probably hiding out in closets. You don’t see them because they were showpieces and not particularly useful.

I’m lazy, so if I’m going to take the time to knit an afghan, rather than creating a visual piece, I’d rather see it wear out from use. And even better if it looks good too.

My first afghan, knit from yarn in my grandmother’s stash, was a series of stockinette and reverse stockinette squares with a seed stitch border. Since then, I’ve stuck with this very classic “squares” design, varying only the size of the squares, the weight of the yarn and the border. And though the first one is from many years ago, it is warm, washable, reversable and comfortable. And being a basic ivory color, it should also match any possible décor.

Simple Squares Throw in Ivory Acrylic

I’m on the last block of squares of my latest afghan in this series. After which I’m going to try a Purl Soho pattern to do something just a bit different, but not so different it won’t get used.

Shadow Squares Pattern from Purl Soho

I’m definitely happy to be a square when it comes to creating classic, useful household items. What I tend to splurge on is the fiber itself. These two afghans are a wool-silk blend and they are warm, warm, warm. Perfect for these chilly winter months.

These simple contemporary designs which are both easy to make and great for every day use.

This coming weekend I’m heading to the Red Alder Fiber Art Retreat in Tacoma. I’ve missed it every year–until this year–because of work and travel. I’m super excited to hone my double-knitting skills so I can do more reversible items. Hope to see you there!

What would you do if you forgot how to knit?

For most of my life, I’ve been a sweater knitter. I think this is because my grandmother, who taught me to knit, was a prolific knitter of sweaters—30+ a year. She also made afghans, but not as many because she’d get bored. To keep things interesting, she’d choose intricate patterns with bells and baubles. When I think of the ‘lost art of knitting’ it’s these fancy items that come to mind.

What’s amazing is after my grandmother stopped knitting, there was only one work in progress in her stash. She was a finisher, but later in life she became ill with Alzheimer’s and literally forgot how to knit. At some point, she thought if she didn’t have the yarn, she’d be less likely to want to pick up a project. And this would reduce her torment of starting and not knowing how to keep going. Except, of course, for the times she forgot that she’d forgotten how to knit.

This is how I came to ‘inherit’ a huge amount of yarn more than 10 years years before she passed away at 90 years old.

As a knitter, to forget how to weild your craft seems like the ultimate punishment. If it were me, I’d do what she did–find someone to inspire. And boy did she have a lot of inspiration to share! She’d been collecting for years and with every store closing or fire sale, her stash grew and grew until it overwhelmed her house.

As her memory faded, my grandfather reminded her that I was a knitter. So, she called and asked me to drive from Arizona, home to Idaho, to take away her stash. When I arrived, my grandmother told me it “made her sick” to look at it. She kept asking me, “you’ll use it won’t you?” at least a dozen times. “I just don’t want to see it go to waste.” I assured her it wouldn’t, and I meant it.

Then, as now, I am intensely grateful for the gift of her stash which I’ve knit into all kinds of things.

At that time, I would never, at that time, have been able to afford these yarns—not even the synthetics. Overnight, my nonexistent stash bulged with wools, silks, angora, cottons and linens as well. Most of it odds and ends, because she never knit with more than one yarn or color at a time. Since I do, her leftovers work just fine.

In this new year–new decade–in fact, I am challenging myself to put the remaining yarn to the best possible use. There will be difficulties, as many of them have no yardage or care information. It will also be fun figure how I can best use this gift of yarn to its best advantage.

I look forward to sharing!

Wooly Skye

In Broadford on Skye, is The Handknitter Having Fun shop. I often find astounding deals of wool there. This year, since socks were my travel project, as if often the case, socks yarn was top of mind. And for another reason as well—I lost a just finished sock on an Edinburgh tram.

Wooly clouds on the Black Cuillins from the Sligachan Hotel

We time our visits to Skye to coincide with the climbing season. This year we were a week later than usual. I expected it to be warmer than it was two years ago when I brought long-johns and wished for t-shirts. This year the opposite was true. It was cold, rainy and blustery. I on one hike I was wearing almost everything I owned, soaked through and got blown off my feet by a gust of wind.

Reverse view from Loch Scaivaig on a sunnier day

Not to say the trip was a bust—not so! I was there for rest and the weather gave me time for knitting and a bit of shopping. I picked up three beautiful sock skeins and started another pair of socks, having brought two projects for the trip. Here are the three skeins which seem to be color inspired by the location.

Can’t wait to see how the socks turn out. Too bad they take so long to knit!

NOTE TO SELF: hand dyed—don’t use different skeins and expect them to look like the belong together. This said, in spite of cutting the skein in half and caking it in reverse, the Schoppel-Wolle Zauberball® socks I started are variegating in the most peculiar fashion. Even if I make that mistake, it won’t be *this* different.

Even with taking a ball in the middle and caking it opposite, these socks look VERY different from one another

And Then There Was One

I love travel. It’s a good thing, given I travel 33-50% for my work. This means I also like being at home when I have time off.

My husband has a love of Scotland that comes from his youth in the South of England. His father took him to the Isle of Skye when he was fifteen and every year or so, we go back. And for me, it’s all about the hiking and the wool.

The project I brought was a pair of socks using Knitpicks Felici in Stormy Sky (fitting for Scotland). It was a special striped run I’d picked some up at Stitches West last year. And I was so excited to finally use it and hopeful my husband would have a spare pair of socks for hiking.

We used Edinburgh as our basecamp for the trip. We only passed through the city—several times as we came and went from visiting friends and family in Southern England before we headed to Skye. I was just reinforcing a heel when our stop came and I thought I’d safely tucked the sock away, but when we got to the hotel, I was one sock short.

Yes. I did cry. But then I immediately picked up my needles and cast-on another pair.

You gotta get back on that horse and ride it! Am I right?

Back to Square One

I did an Internet search on the topic “Knitting in the Dark”. Among the things I found were:

I, of course, immediately purchased the flashlight. And with good reason.

It so cold was this past winter, I started a “simple squares throw” for my bed–which seemed practical and easy. I chose this pattern not only for it’s simplicity, but also because I had made it previously and loved the look. Lately, I’m so mentally tired from overworking, when I pick up my needles it needs to be restful. IMG_3824

I thought I would be able to knit, not think. Except–that’s an oversimplification. I failed to think of another problem–that not only was I knitting in the dark with a dark yarn, but that sometimes even simple projects aren’t so simple when you are tired.

You know how they say that driving tired can make your reaction time slower–even more than if you’ve been drinking? The same appears to be true with knitting. You lack good judgement and just assume everything will be okay. After all, you tell yourself, “I’ve been knitting forever! Right?”

In this case, I would pull the project out of the bag and just knit whatever direction seemed right. And sometimes I got it wrong. So I created short row holes in the middle of a blanket that needs neither holes or short rows.

Earlier this week in the bright sunny light, I laid it out to survey my progress. I was so proud of how much progress was made on such a big project (it’s about 8′ across). I was about a 1/3 done (up about four squares). That’s when I noticed first one hole, two and then three. At first I tried dropping down 80 rows to an affected stitch and that’s when I realized how unfixable it was–I didn’t find a dropped stitch, I encountered a loop!  :-/

So tear, tear, tear it out I did, some 90 rows on a 8′ wide piece. /sigh!

It took a couple of days of ignoring it for me to come back around and reconsider it a worthy project. And now I’m, well, back to square one.

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I Love Your Sweater!

Ah….

Music to a knitter’s ears.

Especially when you can come back with “I made it!”

Perhaps now is NOT the time to knit that ski sweater I’ve got my eye on. I’ve even knitted the swatch for a Slopes Pullover from the cover of KnitScene Winter 2016. But now, after hearing this sweater compliment when I checked into my hotel in DC, I’m thinking, ‘Why am I knitting a ski sweater and more woolen socks?’ and ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to work on a nice cotton yarn?’

I’d reknit this “Perfect Periwinkle” sweater  by Stefanie Japel in a heartbeat now! Maybe even using a purple yarn like the fuchsia Bernat Panama Worsted Weight cotton I have in my stash.

And maybe I’ll make up my own cardigan pattern to go with it or modify her Off-Rib Cardigan to make it match. 😊

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Stefanie Japel’s Off-Rib Cardigan

How Many Times Do I Have to Knit THIS Sock?

Socks! Socks! Socks! The bane of my knitting existence! How can such a small project be so challenging to a long time knitter? I swear they ARE worse than a poke in the eye with a sharp size 1 knitting needle!

I’ve made a commitment to give this a go for lots of reasons and frankly they ARE an extremely portal project. When you commute (hands free) a long distance to and from work, this is a Must Have feature. And even though they were hard for me, so far I have managed to complete two pairs—one for me and one for my husband. Just 4 little socks in all.

Oddly the first pair went okayish—a top down reasonable simple pattern from KnitPicks Sockacular! I found a bug in the afterthought heel pattern, but quickly sorted that out.

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Just starting out

Then I knit a toe up pair from the same book ones for me I had *crazy* problems. Like a strand crossover on the heel—just for one single stitch. How the heck?!? You might ask. I don’t know! So after finishing—literally casting off—I had to tear it back to the instep. I was so frustrated I knit the other sock to completion (in only 3 tries) before tearing it out the first one just to make sure I wanted to complete the project at all.

And toe up? I cannot cast on a single sock without tearing it out at least five times. top count? 10 tries. I’ve watched different methods on YouTube, read up on it, nothing helps except try, try, try, try some more, try, try again. Each toe is a painful reminder that there has to be an easier way.

On my present pair I’m on the 12th cast on, third heel and the 6th instep of a Basket Rib patterned pair. By now, I’ve surely knit enough fabric to create thigh-high stockings for Boban Marjanović of the Detroit Pistons or hip wader liners for Ryan Pickett of the Green Bay Packers.IMG_5400.JPG

I’m going forward—there is no turning back with the myriad of sock yarns I’ve purchased to quench my husband’s new found hankering for ones made by yours truly. So if you know of the truly EASIEST sock pattern for sock (fingering) yarns. I’m all ears!

Dr. Seuss Capelet Pattern

This pattern is based on my Quickie Caplet pattern. As with that one, it holds multiple yarns together and uses big needles to make it a quick, fun knit. The one pictured above is the Long length. All versions have three “furry” rows, but in the medium length version, they are narrower and the collar is slightly shorter.

Why Dr. Seuss? Well, you can dress it up a bit by bunching it up over a frock and you might resemble Seuss’s character Foona-Lagoona Baboona. If you wear it poncho style over casual clothes or a jacket you’ll fall somewhere between the Dr. Seuss birds the Goo-Goo Goose or a Pelf.

Enjoy!

Downloadable pattern: 2017-dr-suess-caplet

Needles: a 32” circular needle–size 17.

Yarns: 2 skeins Red Heart Super Saver and 3 skeins Red Heart Fur Sure

Gauge: stockinette holding two strands of Red Heart super saver together 7 sts over 4 inches

Fuzzy rounds are created by holding one strand of Fur Sure together with one strand of Super Saver. Plain rounds are created by hold two strands of the Super Saver alone.

Pattern: Medium length (Long length)

Cast on 72 (88) stitches holding one strand fur yarn and one strand worsted plain yarn together. Join yarn to knit in the round, placing a marker.

Continue in the round using a K2P2 rib (all fuzzy rows are ribbed) for 6 (8) rows. Decrease one stitch at marker each row (on fuzzy rows only) to hide reductions.

Row 7 (9) drop Fur Sure and pick up another strand of smooth yarn (two smooth yarn strands held together. Knit in stockinette for 6 (8) more rounds even (do not decrease on smooth/stockinette rows to hide decreases).

Repeat rows 1-12 (1-16)

Row 13 (17) drop one strand of smooth yarn and pick up the furry strand. Rib for 6 (8 rows). Decrease one stitch at the marker each row.

Row 19 (25) Drop furry yarn and holding two smooth yarns together knit in K2P2 rib for 10 (14 rows). Do not reduce.

Row 29 (39) Cast off loosely

© Kristin Tolle. This pattern is freely available and without restriction to all would be capelet makers and Dr. Seuss lovers!

Where’d It Go? or Seller’s Remorse

My stash is prodigious. It’s mine and my grandmothers with a few of my friends’ grandmothers thrown in. There was a time, in the not too distant past, that knitting was a dying art. So when people saw me knitting, I would get given all the spare yarn that hadn’t been used up.

Yarn Collage
Just a fraction of the yarn from my stash

One Fall when I was on sabbatical I took to photographing and cataloguing all of my yarn—at least the small portion of it that remained after I donated most of it to charity—about 75%. But don’t let that fool you, I’ve still got an immense supply which grows every time I go to a knitting event—much faster, I might add, than I can possibly knit it with a very busy full time job that never seems to end at the end of the day.

To second the Ravelry post on January 6th by MaryHeatherB “Tip: 3 Things to do on Ravelry in the New Year”, Tip #1 is to catalogue your yarn on Ravelry. I highly recommend that you go through the exercise. Now I tend to shop at home because I know what I have and in what quantities. And now that you can “slurp” in photos you won’t have the added hassle I had in photographing 200 yarns.

I’ve been knitting things for the women members of my team and trying to pick up a few new skills along the way leveraging free patterns on Ravelry. One didn’t go so well. I attempted to give Aran Cabled Shrug in Kaya Wool by Crystal Palace Yarns a more modern look by switching the ribbing to garter and adding increases to compensate for the lack of give. I love how it came out, but feel it is a bit too misshapen to give away—not to mention way too small for its intended receiver. I’m still trying to work out a closure for it that helps hide the underarm “bump”.

Next I turned to a different project that I ended up falling in love with—a Bias Scarf by Shelby Dyas. It came out so pretty (and heavy) that it hard to part with. I bought some Lion Brand Homeland in Bryce Canyon and paired it with an unidentifiable yarn in my grandma’s stash—a slick, nylon, ribbon yarn in burgundy by Malibu Mark which reminds me a lot of Anne Blatt’s Antique.

That’s when I got the idea to make a shrug from the pattern—a square you can wear. If it were wider it would be perfect and I knew of just the yarn to pair up with a bit more ribbon yarn—but this time of KNOWN origin, Lane Borgosesia Diamante in a variegated black-taupe-white and/or solid black. On the hunt I went and I came up empty. I searched by stash and it was not to be found. Where was it? I sold it!  And no doubt now these two beauties are probably knitted up, possibly together, in some gorgeous creation.

And there was this VERY old Berroco Glace variegated cotton-blend ribbon yarn which barely deviated from white in the palest of pinks and blue. I was purusing Ravelry, as I often do on weekends, and found a great summer top to use it up with, feeling so proud to be shopping in my stash. Firstly, I couldn’t find it in my stash, but I was certain I still had it so I went to my storage rack… Gone! Well, it wasn’t my color, I rationalized. Er, um. *sigh*

I’m happy to have them get used and there was no telling when I would have used them, so it’s for the best, of that I’m certain. What it did get me to do was “rethink” my trade or sale portion of my stash on Ravelry.

Purposeful Purchases–or not!

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Stitches West I go!

I was on the fence about it, but I decided I needed to spend some time with my fellow stitchery folks at Stitches West. Not to mention I am way overdue for some time off from work.

Last year felt a bit solitary, but this year I managed to stay at the conference hotel and run into lots of singles—not unmarried folks—but knitters there on their own. So each night I had dinner with a different crafter from a different part of the country. It was MARVELOUS fun.

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Zauberbal Sock Yarn in Harvest, Stonewash and Heilix Bleche

This year I had plans in place to avoid the purchasing frenzy that happened last year (mostly project bags). So while I waited for the Marketplace to open on Thursday night, a couple of other “singles” and I swapped strategies (over Chardonnay) for keeping ourselves in check. Mine was, don’t buy anything you don’t a project in mind for and no more bags, which for me meant I could buy a few sock yarns—which I did.

A half hour after the market opened we moseyed over and subsequently threw all those strategies to the wind, dashing from aisle to aisle, burdened by purchases. Perhaps abstaining from alcohol before visiting the Marketplace should be next years’ strategy.

The Stitches organizers were far from sympathetic self-proclaiming to be “devils” and querying what was in our bags as we left the market floor. But as we all know those are really in the details of what to knit next!

I have excuses for each purchase. Miss Babs was because of a scarf my neighbor made out of it in my Ridge Heddle Weaving class. The Malabrigio is screaming to be made into a Spiral Staircase Scarf for resale at the resort next door (no restrictions!). Though I have to call “uncle” on the Louisa Harding. That was simply a fabulous price and fills a hole in my stash for light fingering projects.

Next week I’m back to work, but for now I’m hanging out at home dreaming of what to make and filling up my queue on Ravelry!

Happy knitting!