Life as a frog

Do you ever go through periods where it seems like everything you cast on ends up wrong?

After a lengthy run of great projects, it seems like I’m in a dry spell. I finished a sweater for my son and immediately cast on the same pattern for my daughter, hoping to finish hers before New Years. However I got to the end of the yoke (yes, the same yoke as featured here… and at the same spot as in the first picture) to find out that I had the wrong number of stitches in two of the sections. So… frogged to resume at a later date.

I figured that maybe having knit quite a few gifts recently it might be time to do something small for myself so that I could reap my own benefit of all this squishy, soft and cozy goodness. I cast on some fingerless mitts and just couldn’t quite make what was on my needles match what the pattern was describing… after repeated tinking that project was frogged as well.

My most recent attempt was a pair of socks… again for me. I’ve been basically living in the two pairs of hand knit socks I made for myself over the past year, and I figured I’d make some new socks for the winter. The pattern is one I’ve had trouble with in the past (red flag number one) but I made some adjustments and it seemed to be going well. I got further along than I ever have in the pattern, I finished the heel and had a lot of trouble with the leg pattern. I tinked it back once… twice… three times, but then I was on a roll. I GOT IT.

And then I went to try it on. Something about the way I did the initial few rows of the leg were too tight, and there was no way I could get that sock over my heel. The idea of tinking it back AGAIN… well, I pulled both socks off the needle and wound the yarn back up into two neat balls.

Now I’m contemplating if I just need a break. Maybe to pick up some cross stitch for a little while. Though Jenni did gift me a lovely skein of super bulky Wool & the Gang…

Trusting the Pattern

Have you ever had the experience of starting a project and getting to a point where the next steps don’t quite make sense? This happened to me recently when I was working the Colorblock Sweater for my son. As I finished the yoke the pattern references that the different stitch markers represent different sections of the sweater… front, back, left and right sleeve. And looking at my round of knitted work I just couldn’t envision it. These are the times that I turn to Ravelry.

The top of a knit sweater in progress
Hmmm… which is the front?

I had researched the pattern before I started. It was my first attempt at a sweater, and being a perfectionist I knew that if I bit off more than I could chew it would turn me off sweaters for a long time (case in point, the five years between my first pair of socks and my second pair of socks.)

I looked over others projects for the pattern. None of the comments said “yeah, great pattern except where it gets totally lost at the end of the yoke!” All of the pictures were of beautiful finished objects, and and given that the pattern is in multiple languages I figured the odds of it having major technical issues is pretty slim. I needed to trust the pattern, and even though I couldn’t envision where I was going, I kept knitting.

Partially completed sweater blocked with wires and pins
An in progress mini-blocking session to help me orient myself.

Spoiler alert – my finished sweater is great, and my trust in the pattern was well founded. I also learned that I am a visual knitter. I love to have diagrams or pictures showing what is happening at transition points.

The completed sweater.

I was also reminded of how important a resource Ravelry is for me, and that given how much I rely  on it, I need to do a much better job of noting and commenting on the patterns I complete. Selecting a smiley face just doesn’t cut it, especially with some of the more complicated patterns I’ve worked.

A Year in Finished Objects

I have a habit of picking a new skill to learn every knitting “season” – which for me starts in September or October. This began about eight or nine years ago. The first year I picked knitting in the round, the second year socks (which were a failure and I gave up). Some years I’ve chosen a specific skill like  cables or lace, and other years I’ve built upon my skill set by working my way through a specific book, such as the year I learned to make toys using Susan B. Anderson’s Itty Bitty Toys, or last year when I worked my way through Two at a Time Toe Up Socks.

It’s fun to look back at a year’s worth of projects, to look back at the project that marked the first time you used a particular skill, to remind yourself of the project that you thought would never end (for me it was the Waiting for Rain shawl, which even had an end date since I was doing it as a KAL, but I frogged and tinked it so many times I felt like I was working on it FOR.EVER.)

What have been some of your favorite projects over the past year?
Tag us on Instagram (@wanderingknots) to share some of your highs (or lows) and why.

 

Here are a few of mine:

So it’s technically not a #FO yet, since I still need to do some seaming and end weaving, but I LOVED making the Colorblock Sweater for my son, and I’ve started the one I’m making for my daughter already. This was my first effort at a sweater, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better first pattern. If you’ve been itching to try a sweater, I highly recommend this pattern, especially if you’re knitting for someone who loves to stash treasures in their pockets (a kangaroo pocket was a requirement for my kids).

I loved working with Shepherd’s Wool for this hat. I was a bit disappointed in the pattern, which ran small even when I sized it up a full repeat. But it is SO gorgeous, it’s definitely a repeat for me.

This was a project I started on a whim, and I am so grateful that I did. I now use this cozy every day, and every morning, as I stumble bleary eyed from my bed to prepare my coffee, seeing this small, useful, every day object makes me smile:

Blocking! (ABL) #knittersofinstagram #blocking #finishing

A photo posted by Wandering Knots (@wanderingknots) on

As far as knitting goes, 2016 may go down in my personal history as the year of socks. I made SO.MANY.SOCKS. And while I finished two pairs for myself, two pairs for my son, one pair for my daughter, and one pair for my husband (which were intended for me, but were too big), I also remember the two pairs I frogged completely. The pair below were made for my son, at his request. I started them in August and finished them in December because he asked for them to go all the way to his knees. And holy moly did that get boring.

The last few stitches of the aforementioned Waiting for Rain Shawl that I made as part of the original KAL.
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On Art & Knowledge & Inheritance

I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the recent loss of my Aunt Teresa (Aunt T) who was a powerful force in our family and in the community of friends whom she considered family.  In part, I’ve delayed because I’m unsure of all the ways I and my family will feel the loss of a matriarch who was so dear to us, but also because I wasn’t quite sure how to connect my feelings about her to a piece for Wandering Knots.

T was a photographer. Although her work has been published and won awards, it was something she did primarily for the love of it. Her father was also a photographer and she first learned the skill from him. Over the years, she shared her knowledge of photography and enthusiasm for the art with her daughter, nieces & nephews, and others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this passing down of skill/craft/art, particularly when it passes along a line of women. The value of this work has varied, but has generally served to provide either monetarily or materially for a family or community. Because of the commercial expense and even lack of availability in of textiles in the preindustrial world, the inherited work of women was often based in fiber – things like quilting, embroidery, lace making, weaving, tailoring, knitting.

Nowadays, we have little to no need to make or mend textiles at home because they are neither scarce nor expensive and so the skills that were once common have begun to die out of our society or to be seen as valueless. In listening to the most recent KnitBritish podcast and this lovely episode of The Moth that Ariel shared with me, I reminded that even though this feels otherwise, there is still and should be value in handwork and in the continuing of craft skills being passed down.

At this point, we’re several generations out from the industrial revolution and many of us no longer have parents or even grandparents with this type of skill to teach us or we may only have a small skill set to sample. One of my grandmothers is a sewer. She taught me the skill as a child and while I can do many of the basics, I’m not proficient and I don’t have a love of it. I’ve learned the knitting skills I have through a mashup of Youtube videos, some books, many friends, and hundreds of mistakes. I wasn’t able to learn it directly from anyone in my life but I hope to be able to pass my knowledge on in the odd bit at a sip & stitch with you wonderful Wandering Knitters, on a camping trips with my cousin, at the beach with my sister and her family, to my day-job knitting circle, and anywhere else I can. I do this, “A of all,” because I want to live in a world where handcraft and maker artistry are valued, and also, because I don’t think their value is limited to production but that it extends into the emotional, physical, and spiritual health or maker and user.

The Reluctant Grinch

It’s December and the Knitmore Gilrs are hosting their annual Grinch-along.

 

The Grinch-Along started December 1st, and this is an instagram and ravelry thread contest. For this contest, work on anything that brings you joy and is not 2016 holiday gift knitting. 

 

 

I’ve never done the Grinch-Along. In fact, I infamously have never knit anything for myself. I do have a dishcloth that I made but it was intended as a gift and I didn’t have enough yarn to make another, so I just kept it because there seemed nothing else to be done with it.

There are several reasons for this knitting-only-as-gift syndrome I’m afflicted with:
It feels to me that after such time and expense (yarn ain’t cheap!) had gone into anything, its making could only be justified if I give it away. Then there’s the self-critical eye that looks at a piece and sees all the mistakes so in a way I was glad to be rid of the projects that reminded me of my imperfect skills. And then because acts of service and gifts are my love languages (giving, not receiving) it brings me tremendous joy and fulfilment to pass on my knits. And on, and on the list could go.

Over the years, I’ve grown as both a knitter and as a person – each helping me decipher the other – and I’ve come to recognise that having and using things made by hand, including my own, is incredibly important to me. So, I intend to make myself some beautifully imperfect hats, socks, dishcloths, sweaters, haps, cowls, and so much more! I’ve got my eye on a good many skeins in my current stash that I intent to use exclusively for myself and I can’t wait to share those WIPs with you!

Classes? Meetups? What do these Wandering Knots *DO* anyway?

We’ve been out here, wandering around for about three months now, and it seemed as good a time as any to reflect on what we’re doing.

When we first envisioned Wandering Knots, we thought of it as a knitting school that did monthly meet ups. What we’ve found over the first few months is that it’s just not going to be that easy. When we sent out our initial interest survey back in July there was a LOT of interest in classes, but as anyone who works with surveys (especially interest surveys) will tell you – there’s a pretty wide gap between what people say they want and what they will actually pay for. So, for the time being, we’re going to hold off on offering more classes.

We’ve had some great turnout for our Sip & Stitch events, and we’ve loved meeting so many knitters and fiber artists. Some who are brand new to it and others who have been knitting for years! Our Silver Spring/ Upper NW meet ups have had better turnout, but we’re not ready to give up on DC yet. We’re working on holding out meet ups in areas that are closer to metro stations or have easier parking.

Do you have feedback for us about our class offerings, our Sip & Stitches, our locations? We would really like to hear from you!

Beginnings and Endings

Helping, that’s what we’ll call it. 🙄 (JG) #knittersofinstagram #kittensofinstagram #coveredinyarn #kittiesonmyknitties

A photo posted by Wandering Knots (@wanderingknots) on

Hey there late fall! I see you’ve brought winter right around the corner with you.

It’s fair to say that the month of November took the wind out of our sails in many ways. While we would like to keep Wandering Knots an a-political place, Jenni and I are not shy about our Progressive beliefs, and the election at the beginning of this month was a pretty significant gut punch to the both of us. We’ve spent the last few weeks catching our breath, looking around, and trying to see where, exactly, we fit in this landscape that, it turns out, is significantly different from what we thought. If I could step outside of my life, I would be fascinated by how deeply I was impacted by the election, in my inability to focus on work, doing all of the day to day things required of running two small businesses. Instead I am coming back to work and trying to decide how to move forward.

Jenni and I have spent the last few weeks carefully considering Wandering Knots, what it is, and what we want it to be. While we would love for it to be a self sustaining entity, we realize that at the moment it is more of a community gathering place. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact there’s everything right with that. Moving forward, we want to lean in hard on our mission of creating a “radically inclusive” space. We’re exploring what that will look like, but it’s definitely going to continue our monthly knitting meet ups, possibly some book groups, increased blogging and social media, and maybe a podcast.

 

In the meantime, we’ve been enjoying the following, and thought you might too:

Tin Can Knits – When knitting can lighten your heart (and a super cute grandpa sweater)

Bristol Ivy’s new collection for Brooklyn Tweed (swoon)

Mother Daughter Knitting Podcasters KnitMoreGirls

 

 

On Natural Fiber Dyeing

When I was in Denver during August, I took a yarn dyeing class at Fancy Tiger Crafts. It was so much fun, and I was THRILLED with the resulting yarn.

I promptly started following yarn dyers on Instagram, and one dyer in particular jumped out at me, Rebecca Desnos, who dyes only with colors she can obtain in nature. If you’ve ever been curious about naturally dyed fabric, she’s an inspiration.

So much of an inspiration that I decided to try it myself. I spent the last weeks of summer collecting dye plants: hibiscus flowers, avocado peels and pits, and crape myrtle flowers. I stored them in an old shoe box, and put out a call to neighbors and family friends for any old, un-used aluminum pots.

Once I had collected my materials, I built a fire in my backyard fire pit, placed the grate, and went to work. It was a beautiful fall day, and I didn’t want to be cooped up in my house with steaming pots when I could be enjoying the outdoors. I slowly simmered the avocados. I cut back my (massive) rosemary bush and experimented with different results based on whether I used distilled water or tap water. I picked willow leaves off the willow tree we planted the year my son was born. On this first day, I didn’t actually end up dyeing any yarn. I put the dye water in mason jars and let it sit. In her book, Desnos warns that natural dyeing is a slow process.

On day two I dyed my avocado, and rosemary yarns, and simmered my hibiscus flowers slooooowly on my stove. I had been warned in my research that if overheated, the hibiscus turn a particularly yucky brown… and after my weeks of preparation I didn’t want to waste my flowers. I left the yarn in the avocado and rosemary dyes overnight, per Desnos’s recommendation to allow 24 hours for the dye to bond with the fiber.


Day three I found that the yarns I had dyed the previous day had obtained more of a tint than a dye. Pretty, but not quite the vibrancy I had been looking for. I hung the two skeins to dry so that I could over-dye them, and proceeded to dye the skein in hibiscus dye. The hibiscus dye was so rich it had the consistency of syrup. I had high hopes, but once again, after a day of soaking my yarn had more of a tint than a dye.


I remain hopeful about the process and the results. I’ll simmer my dyes again, and try another round, and I still have my willow dye, which I’ve left to sit for a week (I think of it as “developing”, like in dark room photography.) I’ll update the blog with my results as I have them!

One of the main reasons I took the original dye class, and one of the reasons I have been playing around with natural dye is to determine whether these would be valuable classes for our Wandering Knots community. One of my favorite things about the natural dye process was that I have a great story to tell. I know where the plants are, one of them has great sentimental value. Acid dye is not as romantic, but certainly yielded quicker, and more dramatic results. So, I’d love to hear from our community, would you like to learn to dye with us?

Who got you hooked?

I’ve been spending the morning listening to knitting podcasts and knitting. I recently discovered the Woolful podcast, and I was thrilled to see that one of her recent episodes featured Susan B. Anderson. Like the Ashley of Woolful, Itty Bitty Toys was one of my first knitting books. And for me, it was the game changer. I so appreciated the thought with which it is put together, each project building on skills from the previous one. As I look back on my ravelry page and my completed projects, I can see very clearly that Itty Bitty Toys was a watershed moment in my knitting. I am so happy that it was my aunt, the one who taught me to knit, who bought me Itty Bitty Toys, as my son happily crawled around Looped in Dupont Circle (and so much thanks to the proprietors of Looped, who didn’t bat an eye, and welcomed my curious crawler with open arms).

Every knitter has a story of how they came to knit, and almost every knitter will tell you about how they do some technique “wrong”, or how they are self taught. And what I so love about knitting is that as true as it is, it’s all alright. It doesn’t matter if you do yarn overs backwards, or don’t tension your yarn the way your instructor does, as long as the way you do it works for you, and you’re happy with the end result.

Yarn Shops

If you’re anything like me, you may feel very strongly about yarn shops. For me, they have to hit the right sweet spot of hip, but not too hip, good variety of price range, and the right kind of colors/ brands.

In my other life, I run a digital strategy business. For the most part this translates into building websites for small businesses, but sometimes I get to do things that are a bit more interesting. One of my most interesting clients was a LYS. I loved the owner of the shop and the vision she had for the shop. During one of our meetings, she told me that one of the things she struggled with was the balance between providing things that she found interesting (fun colors from Hedgehog! workshops with cool designers! Instagram contests!) and things that her existing customer base was interested in (gray shawls! gray scarves! gray sweaters! is that a new shade of gray?!)

As you may have gathered from our Instagram feed during August, I was in Colorado visiting family, and generally avoiding the DC area’s record breaking heat. I was floored by the number of yarn shops that have popped up in Denver since I left a decade ago. I loved going to a yarn dyeing class at Fancy Tiger Crafts (where I was struck by some culture shock as I was 1) offered a beer and 2) told that the most accurate way to measure dye was with a “pot scale”… yup, we’re not in Maryland anymore). Though I wasn’t able to complete an entire passport for Yarn Along the Rockies, I loved stopping in to all the different shops, seeing how they all foster a slightly different feel.

One of the things we’ve tried to be careful of as we build Wandering Knots is that we don’t want to infringe on the awesome work that our local area yarn shops do. We want to foster our local fiber community, not detract from it. If you’re finding Wandering Knots as a brand new knitter we hope you’ll check out Looped (Dupont Circle), Second Story Knits (Downtown Bethesda), Woolwinders (Rockville), Fibre Space (Alexandria) some of the most accessible LYS’s in our area.