Craft · Knitting

Getting past the ugly for beauty’s sake

You won’t always love everything about knitting. Quite often you won’t even love the thing you’re knitting right now, even though you were super excited to get started on it. That’s okay! Learning to tolerate and embrace the less-fun things about life and knitting will help you get a handle on the best things.

Let me give you an example: last year, I designed my own shawl (which will eventually make it to the interwebs). I usually avoid long gradient yarns, which means yarns that are died in long, gradual stripes of colour, but my LYS owner got in some simply fabulous locally dyed stuff from Blue Brick yarns and I snapped some up without thinking about it.

The colours are something special. It starts a rich evening-sky blue and melts into a sea green before finishing on the colour of soft wet sand. I grew up with seaspray hitting my bedroom window, so I’m a creature of the coast. Now I live a few hundred miles from the nearest ocean.

Despite the colourway apparently being something to do with a barn (and chickens?) I see the seaside, because we all see what is most important to us.

Weymouth harbour, Dorset, UK
Weymouth harbour, Dorset, UK. I walked past this scene daily as a young adult.

I’ve lived in Canada for three years, nestled a short way outside of Toronto. I can see the lake from my window where I work, but it doesn’t move right and Lake Ontario often smells like it’s been left out in the damp too long. There are no waves, no sea spray hitting my windows, no crashing against the cliffs. The only time I get homesick is when I think of standing on the beach in my hometown, shin-deep in saltwater, toes tangled in seaweed.

Looking at this gradient, I saw everything I missed about living on the coast. An idea splashed into my mind immediately and I picked up the needles.

Knitting this shawl went in several stages. At first I forgot about the colour and focused only on the knitting, on constructing a shawl for the first time from the inside of my determined brain. It was going well, so as the wingspan grew, so did my fascination with the colours. I ogled. I prompted strangers to admire it. I loved it with all my bitter little heart.

Until I didn’t.

With only the edging to finish, I looked at the shawl, then peered at what was left of the skein. For once I had decided to knit from the centre of the ball, just to shake things up a bit. Usually I prefer the neatness that comes from knitting from the outside, though anyone who knows my chaotic tendencies may find that surprising. It meant the blue/green was in the shawl and the gold/brown was in the skein, and disappointment flooded me. How had I not noticed how drab the colours were? They didn’t pop at all! How did I see my hometown beach in this?

Disheartened but too invested to stop, I continued knitting. I ripped back a few inches because I tried to drown out the colour with a pattern too complex for the original idea. I considered stopping knitting it completely, but then as the yarn moved from bright blue to damp brown, I realised something: I liked it.

The Beach Shawl - Knitter Nerd
A small blurry representation of the colour. The blue makes it pop.

I didn’t (and still don’t) like the gold/brown colour on its own. It’s boring and not at all a shade that would appeal to me outside of a big dollop of mustard. Or cheese. Or actual wet sand on Weymouth beach (softest ever, true facts).

Yet when I held the shawl up, blocked and ready to go, I was glad that I continued. Though the colour itself was unremarkable, the finished piece made me happier than I had been with a creation in a long while. I loved the completed shawl, even if I didn’t love the brown. After all, the individual colours are not the point.

Life is like that too, have you noticed? Sometimes you’re going through such a great time, ambling along with bits of your life falling into a neat little pattern that’s leading you just where you want to be, and then you’ll step in a big fat pile of dog poop and your day is ruined. It’s easy, in situations like that, to forget the overarching gradient of the day/week/millennium and focus only on that one stripe of colour.

Suddenly, a day that had been shining with bright, beautiful colours becomes invisible, taken over by that one brown smear.

The Weymouth Shawl - Knitter Nerd
Image of the shawl blocking. I have not touched it since. Whoops.

This is an unfortunate glitch in the human brain. Spoilers for both life and gradient yarns: nothing is forever. You will clean your shoe and move on from that steaming shitpile, and you will knit past the colour you hate. Don’t stop. If you stop, you’re stuck in that poop for good, and you’ve wasted your day. Would you stop knitting a pair of self-striping socks because you don’t like the individual stripes alone?

What I’m saying here, minus the gratuitous poop comments, is that sometimes you’ve got to ignore the terrible stench on your shoe.

Wait, no. That’s not at all what I’m saying.

I’m saying that if you keep knitting past that colour you don’t love, you’ll end up with a project you do. And even if you don’t, you’ve still completed something with talent and meaning, and your life is richer in experience if not in shawls. Keep knitting past the mustard smear. It’s worth it.

This is a small chunk of something I’ve been writing for a while outside of my blog. I’ve never posted any of it anywhere, so I’d really appreciate hearing what you folks think. Do you want to see longer, more in-depth posts about craft, especially how it relates to self-development and activism? Let me know!

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Craft · Spinning

You spin me right round baby

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I still cannot knit. Yes, I’m frustrated. Yes, all I want is to sit and crack out a few hours of baby blanket. Yet in the meantime I am thoroughly enjoying a few other things.

Most of all? Spinning.

Last year at the Knitter’s Frolic in Toronto I bought a Turkish Spindle. I also bought some fluff, by which I mean alpaca roving. Later that year, I went on vacation via an alpaca farm and bought some very nice roving there, too.

I did nothing with any of it.

This year at the Knitter’s Frolic, I had no desire to look at or purchase yarn. After all, I can’t use it. I’m taking that personally and holding a grudge against yarn in general despite the fact it’s my stupid posture that did the damage, logic has no place in a frustrated knitter’s mind. Since yarn was out of the picture, I bought more fluff.

This time the fluff was 300g of organic superfine merino roving. Folks, it’s like touching a cloud. I had emotions. It’s beautiful and I love it.

When I got home, I picked up some of the roving from Nuevo Norte Alpacas and gave it a go. I watched ten minutes of a fifteen minute YouTube video on what to do and decided I was an expert, and off I went.

It didn’t go too badly! (It also didn’t go well.)

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If you ask me, I’ll tell you it’s art yarn. That’s what anyone with bumpy, uneven yarn says, right?

I’ve tried a few times and even got to plying pretty quickly which was a lot of fun. Then, because now I obviously know everything there is to know (pahahaha) I bought some Malabrigo Nube and spun that, too.

yarns

This is actually going quite well, even if I’m doing it wrong (I am, but I won’t tell you how in case some spinners out there have a heart attack. I won’t be responsible for the carnage.)

20170522_114919It’s mostly even, at least compared to my last attempts. I’m about halfway in which means I can start on the second lot soon and then ply it. I’m loving it, and it’s making me feel like I can eventually start spinning with the cloud of merino.

One day.

In the meantime, a good friend of mine asked me to show her how to use her Turkish spindle. Amy is a very talented knitter and also the reason I have even heard of the Knitter’s Frolic, plus she offered to feed me, so I went over last Sunday morning and brought my spinning. I gave her some bad instructions, mostly on what not to do, and she magically made this.

I think she’s probably an alien.

Do I have any other spinners in my midst? Tell me your secrets! Show me your wares! Don’t look too closely at my pictures for fear of the uneven wonkiness!

Craft · Knitting

Sewing in the ends

It’s the hardest thing to do. Not because it’s a complicated endeavour, but because if you put that finished project down for five damn seconds, it’s impossible to get around to picking it back up within a month.

No? Just me?

I do this all the time. A few months ago I decided to knit my partner a hoody since she wears them a lot and I don’t care about the sweater curse, we’re basically married anyway (we’ve been together nearly seven years, when did this happen, and if living on different continents for some of that time didn’t break us, the sweater curse hasn’t got a chance). I finished it just after Christmas, then decided I was done with it and would give it to her for Valentines, honest.

It’s May. This weekend, mid-concussion and still unable to knit because my tendons hate me, I picked up the hoody. I took ten minutes to sew in the ends, and suddenly I have a completed project on my hands.

She likes it. I’m giving it to her just in time for it to be too warm for her to wear, but no one ever said I was made of logic.Hoody for Nari - Knitter Nerd

It’s currently spread out behind me on my blocking mats, mocking me by taking roughly five bajillion years to dry. I also have to sew on the buttons but I won’t put that off once it’s dry – my partner now knows it exists, so I have to get around to it. Them’s the rules.

(That didn’t work when I made her the Avengers blanket, though… That took about eighteen months to give to her.)

This is clearly something I need to change. I sorted out my basket of random projects the other day and realised roughly 25% of them are about ten minutes from being finished. Do I just not like finishing things? Do I have commitment issues? Or do I just get too easily distracted?

Since my hands aren’t letting me knit at all these days, I may as well take some time to weave in some ends and finish up some older projects. After all, that will make me look super productive with minimal effort. Why yes, I did finish a sweater and a pair of socks and a shawl all in one weekend! (I started that shawl about 4 years ago, but that will go unsaid.)

It turns out knitters are a predictable lot, so I know I’m not the only one to do things like this. Has anyone got any tips for getting past it?

Craft · Crocheting

The Return of the Crochet Bug

Today I have an announcement to make: I’ve stopped knitting. No, I’m not going back to level one, I’ve just remembered that crochet exists. After fighting with an awkwardly written but very pretty pattern (link here) I’ve started a shawl with my hook and some very pretty yarn because, well, crochet is awesome.

Sometimes I forget this. I started out with an intense love for crochet and rarely picked up the needles, preferring to keep a hook on me instead. Slowly I learned that I liked to knit more than I liked to crochet and I turned to that instead, but sometimes I make a trip back down memory lane and here I am, crocheting pretty lace.

Well, um. It’s not so pretty yet, so I can’t really share a picture. This is going to need some intense blocking when it’s done, but at least I understand the pattern now. It made my head hurt a lot when I started.

The yarn I’m using is from Blue Brick Yarns, which is one of my favourite dyers now. The colours are gorgeous. It fades from my favourite shade of blue/green into a grey, and they balance each other out well. It is soft and fun to work with too. A shawl I’m designing is made with this yarn, but that’s currently on time-out because I was knitting it at a time when I needed to stop knitting and return to level one for a while.

I can share a picture of the yarn; this is from my Instagram last Thursday when I bought it. It was destined to be socks, but it said no.

sawks.PNG

Okay. My cat is doing her awkward slow-creep onto my arm to see if I’ll cuddle her, and since she’s damn cute I’m going to go do that. Are any of my fellow knitters bi-craftual? Do you pull out a hook all the time or just for special occasions?

Also if you do crochet and you use Instagram please let me know – I need more hookers, uh I mean crocheters on my feed!

Craft · Knitting

Suddenly, a cardigan appears

Over the last week I have finished a few projects  (on their way to the blocking mat) and frogged one fairly major project (story coming later this week). Since everything on the needles is giving me attitude, I decided to start a project I’ve been excited about for a while.

Plus it was my birthday Sunday. What better excuse to cast on a cardigan?

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I only started this yesterday and it’s already ten inches deep. It’s a welcome break from troublesome projects!

Craft · Knitting

The magical sock pattern

Spoiler: a friend and owner of my local yarn store wrote the pattern I’m speaking about here, so I’m entirely biased on its merits.

That doesn’t mean the pattern isn’t awesome though.

Recently it seems everyone I know is writing amazing patterns and I have to keep knitting them. No, it’s not out of a sense of obligation; I won’t knit something that I don’t like in general, because life’s too short for that. Nope, turns out the talented folks I know write damn good patterns.

Martina Munroe published Camber Twist Socks around the same time as Vickie Hartog published the Grandifolia Shawl (which I’ve finished and you shall see soon). Another friend asked me to knit her some Camber Twists and I began, and as soon as I memorised the pattern I was hooked.

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The yarn I’m using is Cascade Heritage Wave (I would recommend not googling ‘Cascade Wave’ as I just did, as it turns out it is something very different). It’s red plied with shades of grey, and it is SO SQUISHY I have since bought a skein for myself. I’m adapting the pattern to be knee-high socks for a friend, hence the little stitch markers and the odd shape.

See, these are excellent socks. The pattern looks quite plain on the needles but when you put it on it turns magic. My coworkers watched me knit and when I showed them what it would look like stretched around the leg, their minds were blown.

This is why:

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Look how cute that is!

Not only is it cute, but it’s a great idea for a sock stitch. It’s less boring to knit than plain ribbing but will be snug and comfortable against the leg despite that. I have a problem with skinny ankles that means a lot of socks don’t fit well but these would be super versatile for anyone.

And yes, that is my pinky sticking out at the top of the sock.  My legs were too far away.

I know I spoke about knitting for Christmas last week but these are the exception. I have, however, started a pair of fingerless gloves in the same stitch as above. Apparently I dig it enough to have multiple projects on the go with it.

The best thing about Camber Twist? It’s still free until the end of August. Go get it now!

Animals · Craft · Knitting · Yarn

Do you love alpaca yarn too?

If you saw my last post about Nuevo Norte Alpacas and my trip into a little world full of alpaca-based happiness, you will know that I one day intend to keep alpacas.

Why? Well, the first time I felt alpaca yarn my mind was blown. I knew on a vague level that alpacas were a thing, but alpaca turned into my gateway drug into the world of fancy, soft, fluffy, amazing fibre. One small skein of pale blue baby alpaca/silk and I was sold on the world of fibre.

glovet_mediumThat project was one of the early documented ones on the blog, back in December 2011. I had been knitting for about a year and a friend send me the yarn. I found a nice pattern for fingerless mitts, something I’d never needed so badly before I knitted, and spent some of the worst weeks of my life knitting them. I was sick, I was in pain, and I’d had to postpone my year in Canada due to all of the above. (The picture to the side is from when I was bed-bound for a few weeks, and the featured cat is Disney who hated almost everyone but loved me so, so much. Especially when I didn’t move for a while.)

By December I was better and ready to go, but there’s a reason I called them ‘Escapism Mitts’. They gave me the space to enjoy texture and colour and the process of knitting instead of dwelling on the difficulties at the time.

I still have and use the mitts and they still look fabulous.

Since then I would have to say alpaca has remained close to my top spot in terms of my favourite fibre. I knit with wool more often as I knit socks pretty much constantly, but when I have an excuse for alpaca I don’t often resist.

How does that translate into wanting to keep alpacas myself?

My girlfriend and I are animal lovers. We surround ourselves with them, her even more than me (at her work). One day we plan to have a small farm – one they call here a ‘hobby farm’ – and keep a few choice animals. We’ll have alpacas (because I’m deadly serious about it), goats, chickens, horses. Maybe a few cows one day.

I mean, ideally I’d like to have an enormous herd of merino sheep but as I would spend all day running around hugging those giant puffballs, I’ll stick to alpacas.

I mean REALLY.
Just look at this fluffy asshole. – Merino, Glen Orkney, Awatere, Marlborough, New Zealand, CC BY 2.0.

Wait, alpacas are also giant puffballs. Maybe I should reconsider. (I won’t.)

Do you like alpacas? Would you ever like to keep animals for their fibre? If you do already, how do you find it?

 

Animals · Craft · Vacations · Yarn

An Alpaca Surprise

It’s wonderful to get away for a while. In the middle of July we packed up our things into a car that is much smaller than it looks from the outside, like a sort of reverse TARDIS, and drove a few hours along the edge of Lake Ontario with our knees by our chins. It’s been a long time since I went camping and I had no idea what to expect from a Canadian campsite, so I was excited for new experiences (and hopefully raccoons).

As we drove through the gorgeous Southern Ontario countryside my head whipped around when my girlfriend pointed out a field full of alpacas. I noticed the sign ‘gift shop’ and tried to be polite and say we could maybe stop on the way back? If we had time? Except somehow I gave in and we turned around, pulled into the yard, and descended upon the friendliest alpaca farmer I’ve ever met.

We’ll pretend I’ve met more than one.

The farm was Nuevo Norte Alpacas in Colborne, and the owner – I believe her name was Amy – opened up the gift shop just for us. Well, me. My girlfriend and her mum weren’t in it for the fibre.

Nuevo Norte
Nuevo Norte

She showed us down to the gift shop and I told her that one day I wanted to keep alpacas, and she was super helpful. I feel as though I learned more in that half an hour than anything I’ve learned before. She explained the entire philosophy behind how she cares for the alpacas (and she has 80+ so she should know), and that she got into it for the fibre as much as anything else.

I bought two sets of roving and a beautiful grey lopi yarn from their flock, and geeked out about knitting and spinning. On the way back Amy (I think) showed me the wild woad growing on her land which I had never seen in person – only in pictures. She brought us to the pen full of pregnant alpacas or those who had recently given birth, plus some thoroughly adorable crias (babies). I learned that alpacas all poop in the same spot in the field and that crias will stand for a long time in that spot with nothing happening while they’re still nursing. This entertained me more than it should.

1000 Islands 018
I know this isn’t the kind of image you came here to see, but you’re welcome! 😀

Though I cannot get back out there easily for now as I don’t drive, once I do – and have some spare time – I will be going back. My aim to one day keep alpacas is sincere and I think I’ve found a place that would be perfect to learn more.

If you’re ever passing through, check out Nuevo Norte Alpacas. They do tours and workshops and classes, and they have some gorgeous fibre for sale.

Craft

My first crochet projects

Once I figured out how easy crochet was I got a bit excited by it all. I began crocheting All The Things. At the time I was working in a large complex of stores all owned by the same people, and when I was in one of the two stores I worked in most often, I had ample time to crochet under the counter.

Yes, the place closed down around the beginning of 2011 due to how quiet it had become. It was my first full-time job and I enjoyed it well enough, but it was mostly sad to see it go because it had been there my whole life.

Anyway. I had plenty of time to crochet secretly at work and to crochet more as soon as I got home. Not to mention the fortnightly Stitch ‘n’ Bitch where I could take a wild break in routine to, you guessed it, crochet some more. I really enjoyed crocheting and I understood it much better than I understood knitting, so it was my default.

Here are a few of my proudest creations.

blanket

The star blanket for my nephew. That baby is not my nephew, but a small child who passed out at my nephew’s first birthday. I had permission to post it back then, so I assume it stands.

This was my second attempt at the blanket and I was super proud of the results. It’s very simple to do and looks amazing in variegated yarn, and seeing my small baby nephew in it gave me the warm fuzzies.

bloodyhell_medium

Heavily filtered through the glorious iPhone 3g that I loved at the time. You can hardly see the project, what was I thinking? Anyway, this is probably the best thing I made when I was just starting out.

It’s a blood choker. I took the inspiration from a pattern but didn’t like the execution, so I designed it to differ a lot. It was the first time I’d made something that looked exactly how I planned it without following a pattern. Yes, it’s a tad gory, but it made me happy and my Halloween costume for work was badass. (At the time I had shoulder-length hair, and I used most of a can of hairspray to make it stand out in a huge bird’s nest of a mess. I wish I had photos of that.)

choker1

Another moment of pride for me. At the time it felt like I had been crocheting forever, but in fact it had only been about four months. Making this little lacy motif made me super happy even if I never got around to finishing the pattern (a choker called Asphyxiation).

It was crocheted with some thread I bought on a trip to Newcastle upon Tyne to visit a friend. Little did I know that a few short years later I would live there for eighteen months while I waited to get my permanent residency in Canada. Funny how life takes us on such wayward routes.

I don’t crochet much any more, but looking back at my Crafter Origin Story has made me wish I did. I’m in the middle of a complicated knitted shawl right now, but once that’s done I think it’s time to crack out the hooks.

Craft · Knitting · Yarn

A comfy knitted neck-thing

My friend Jen is a good person. She’s the kind of friend who stays in a hotel overnight at the airport so she can meet you off the plane. She’s the kind of person who enjoys treks to yarn stores (hence our visit to Loop when we were in London). She’s the kind of person who deserves a nice knitted gift here and there.

This is, coincidentally, the first knitted object I’ve made that I did entirely in Continental. It was an easy choice. It’s basically a long knitted tube, so I had no purling and no complicated lace. My stitches weren’t as even as they are with English/throwing, but my gauge was consistent and a little blocked got rid of the worst of it.

I might write up this pattern, simple as it is.

A note on the yarn: it is a thing of wonderment. It is called ‘Ayni’ from Amano Yarns and it is a beautiful, fine, luxurious blend of baby alpaca and silk. It’s gentle on the skin and comes in some gorgeous colours. I picked a deep purple for Jen.

I cast on enough to make the size I needed, then knitted for two solid weeks while teaching a new hire class at work. Once it was twice as long as I needed I folded it inside out and kitchener-stitched the whole thing up into a tube.

This was the result.

IPoon 420

And this is what it looks like on the intended recipient as we sat drinking posh drinks in Costa. Oh, how I missed Costa.

IPoon 424

She says it’s going to be great for when she’s watching football as scarves usually fall off. I’m glad it’ll have a practical use, though it looks so great on her that I don’t really mind either way.

It’s lovely to knit something for someone that’s knitworthy, isn’t it?