Hitting the century mark

I know it’s not June yet, but it looks like summer here: we hit 100° yesterday, for the first time this year. We’re predicted to hit at least 100° for the next five days, and the next five after that only drop to the upper 90s. It’s about the time of year when everyone hunkers inside during the day, and goes out at night, when it’s still hot, but not blistering. This afternoon I opened our west-facing screen door to let in the local friendly semi-feral, and the metal burned; the cat trotted in and immediately flopped full length on the poured-concrete floor in a puddle of floof.

I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to show the heat in photographs, because 100+° here looks much like 75-100° here: blue skies, clear air, golden light. Maybe the glare is a little brighter, the colors around you a little more bleached, and the world  a little emptier. We’ll see. You may just get a lot more indoor pictures, of cats and crafty projects. But for the moment, have a few pictures of what it looks like here before walking to the mailbox makes the sweat trickle down your neck.

fluffy pink-tipped flower

purple cactus flower

tall pink flowers with dry stalks

cactus bud and agave

poppy and pavement

purple cactus fruit

citrus bush

red-orange flower on green bush

Advertisements

Finished object! Small = cute.

Earlier on here I talked all about how I only knit sweaters, and then I proceeded to show you a bunch of scarves. I have another sweater-heavy post drafted, but in the meantime, here is a sweater for you, if only a wee little sweater for a wee little person.

It’s a gift for some friends of the husband, who just had a baby boy. I’m not really good on baby sizes but I think this will fit the little one at some point along the line, even if not for very long. 

The pattern is garter yoke baby cardi by Jennifer Hoel, which is free and generally easy to understand. I’ll confess I had to look for an online tutorial for the i-cord bind off, but that’s probably me. The yarn is Cascade Ultra Pima Fine, in Chartreuse. The buttons (so adorable!) are from Yum Yum Buttons on etsy. 

The sweater began life as Joji Locatelli’s Garter Stitch Baby Kimono, because the husband adores the little baby kimonos, but that didn’t work out. My gauge was off (I thought that Cascade Pima Ulta Fine was fingering weight, but it’s sport), which messed with the proportions of the neckline increases, and the fabric wasn’t very good, so change in plans.

I can see a lot of problems with this (leaving aside the taken-at-night-poor-light pictures): the fabric has a bunch of uneven patches (I knit this in a lot of short sessions, and I think the picking up/putting down all the time shows), the i-cord bind off is a little too tight (so short), and the corners of the collar and hem aren’t very square. I think the buttons are secure, but the reverse of the button band isn’t the most attractive.

But the shape and size is pretty much right, the yarn is very soft, and I think the raglan increases against the garter yoke look rather tidy and handsome. And it benefits from the universal truth that even the most ordinary object looks many times cuter when you miniaturize it. I hope the new parents will like it.

Welcome to the world, little one.

Reboot

I was traveling for much of this week.

IMG_0179It reminded me what it looks like where water falls from the sky on a regular basis.

IMG_0080

IMG_0099

IMG_0121And I got to see a cat catch a lizard:

IMG_0096And I bought some shoes.

IMG_0108I also brought some knitting with me:

IMG_0075One of the things I love about travel knitting is how guiltless it is. There’s no concern that you should be doing something other than knitting; you’re away from home, you can’t really put a dent in your to-do list or clean the house, and often you’re trapped on public transport anyway. Knitting transforms tedium into pleasure. Four hour layover? Great, lots of time to knit! So I very much appreciate the opportunity I had to knit the above project.

But as the yarn shrank and the knitted fabric grew, I finally had to admit to myself: I just didn’t like it.

I liked (and still like) the pattern, the Harvest Moon Blanket by Aimee Alexander. (All her blankets look lovely.)

And I like the yarn fine – Comfy Worsted Special Reserve Heather by KnitPicks (in Overcast Heather – much lighter than it looks photographed above). I had wanted to use cotton (or in this case, a blend) because it seemed more functional here in the desert, and I have some fingering weight Comfy, and I thought the acrylic in it would be fine, and help keep it a bit stronger and lighter than all cotton. I looked at the project pictures on Ravelry, and thought the cotton ones looked perfectly nice.

But I just didn’t like them put together. In part, that’s because the Comfy Worsted is fluffy, fuzzy, and soft-edged. The stitches don’t get completely lost, but there isn’t the kind of stitch definition that I think would highlight the pattern best. Beyond that, though, I didn’t love the fabric. It was extremely soft, so perfect for a wee baby in that respect. But it was also supremely floppy. And word choice matters here, I think. If I said the fabric was drapey, that would sound fairly positive, but when I say floppy, that doesn’t sound so good. And it’s not so good. I don’t want something stiff, but I would like a little body, a little bounce. I think that would benefit the stitch pattern, too.

And it matters mostly because this is a gift, and I want it to be as nice as I can possibly make it. In part because I really want my friend to love it, and in part because I want to give her something that looks handmade, but not so much homemade.

So back to the drawing board. I’ve ordered new yarn – wool this time (superwash, because I hope for my friend to use this, and making her handwash it seems cruel). And now that I’m back, will start over again.

(And figure out something else to make with floppy cotton yarn.)

New to me yarn: KnitPicks Diadem & 28’s Cousin 53!

I’m sure you are all already familiar with KnitPicks, a lovely lovely company selling all kinds of goodies for knitters and crocheters, including lots of different yarns, at very reasonable prices. In those late-night Ravelry-surfing sessions where I pick out a couple gazillion patterns I’d like to knit, there’s something strangely reassuring about being able to go to the KnitPicks website, price the cost of the various projects, and realize that I could actually afford to knit them. (I almost never buy anything in those late night sessions, but it’s reassuring to know that in the hypothetical distant future when I run out of yarn, affordable options are out there.)

KnitPicks also produces an informative and entertaining podcast series. I haven’t worked my way through all of them by any means (I only stumbled onto podcasts around the beginning of this year, and they have 200+ episodes by now). However, I responded to a call on their blog for comments/stories for their podcast, sent an e-mail, and got my comment included (which is about as close as I’ve ever come to internet fame). The attention would have been reward enough, but in return for my comment they sent me a “charm pack” of yarn – one of their project bags stuffed with sample skeins! It was extremely generous and I’ve been having fun playing with yarns I might never have purchased on my own.

One of those yarns is Diadem. This is a fingering-weight yarn, 50% baby alpaca and 50% mulberry silk. It comes in skeins of 329 yards. And I’ve been intrigued enough by this yarn that it was the first of my freebies that I wound into a ball and cast on, to test it out. (I was too eager actually to make a proper swatch, so you get a finished object instead.)

FullSizeRendersorry, I forgot to take a picture of it in the skein/wound until mostly through the project!

The first thing you notice about this yarn is that it is incredibly soft to the touch. If I could sleep in a bed made only of skeins of this yarn I would be a very happy woman.

It simultaneously has a notable sheen and a subtle but definite halo, which may sound a little contradictory. The halo is very fine and soft, less obtrusive than the kind of halo found in, say, mohair. Perhaps because of that halo, it doesn’t have quite the glossy, almost metallic sheen you can see in polished silks. It’s a dry shiny, not a wet shiny, if that makes any sense. It feels matte rather than slick.

Structurally, it’s a very loosely spun single ply. It reminds me of the way that lopi yarns are described online, as a yarn very close to roving. The end of my cast-on tail seemed to lose its structural integrity quickly and devolve into a vaguely linear piece of fluff.

IMG_1842

Casting on was fine (although I realized that using dark wood needles to knit dark green yarn wasn’t my smartest move). That aside, it was still tough at first to distinguish the individual stitches. There’s so little twist holding the yarn together that the stitches spread out on the needle and the edges aren’t very clearly defined.

The looseness of the spin and the yarn’s inclination to spread makes it very very susceptible to splitting (though it probably doesn’t help that I prefer pointy-tipped needles). I found it helpful to insert the tip of the right-hand needle a bit lower in the stitch, closer to where the stitch emerges from the row below, rather than right up against the left-hand needle, because it can be hard to get the needle under those diffuse, undefined edges. If you do split the yarn, the resulting loops and pulls are pretty conspicuous. If you just catch the very edge, you might end up pulling away a wee piece of halo rather than actually splitting the yarn. It’s a little like what I imagine it would be like to knit with cotton candy.

IMG_1846

The yarn also has very little elasticity, which isn’t surprising given its components. Frankly, that lack of elasticity combined with the blurry stitches made knitting the first couple of rows pretty annoying. I tend to knit more tightly, and for the first couple of rows I had a hard time getting the stitches over and past the join between needle and cable in my circular needles. I had to make a conscious effort to knit loosely (which I don’t normally have to do even in cotton or other non-elastic yarns). Once I did that, things started to move along.

Knitted up, the fabric is extremely soft and fluffy. The halo is more obvious when knitted than in the skein. On the one hand, this halo obscures stitch definition, but on the other, the yarn’s sheen highlights stitch definition, so it’s a little bit of a wash.

IMG_1857

A yarn this soft and fluffy positively begs to be knit into something worn against the skin. I’m not sure it has the body to be an effective sweater, but that may just be my own preferences speaking, as I don’t always find fuzzy halo-ed yarn very flattering on the scale required for a whole sweater. I’m also not convinced this will be very hard-wearing, given how loosely it’s spun and how easily the halo seems to pull away from the fabric. If I were going to try to make a sweater out of this, I’d try smaller needles (I used US size 6 on this project) and make a fairly tight fabric, to try to reduce abrasion and give it a little body. Alpaca and silk also tend to stretch without springing back, so a sweater would be likely to grow, which knitting at a tighter gauge might also counter, at least a little. This also seems to produce the kind of fabric that might benefit from the structure provided by seams, if I were inclined to knit a garment in this.

But obviously if you’re not me you might be interested in knitting something other than a sweater. I don’t think this is going to be hard-wearing in any context, so it’s probably not the right yarn for a workhorse sturdy item you wear every day. In cold weather it would be lovely snuggled around your neck and ears, so I can see this making an excellent cowl (I especially envision one that’s long enough to wrap around twice, knit generously), with a slightly dressy twist from the sheen. However, you’d probably want to avoid a pattern dependent on wool’s inherent springiness and bounciness (for instance, something that relies on cables’ tendency to pull fabric inwards?), because this is fluffy but neither springy nor bouncy. I also think this would make lovely mitts – not so much actual gloves or mittens to wear in nasty weather as fingerless mitts to wear indoors in the winter or air-conditioning. That’s maybe not very practical either, in terms of wear, but they’d be so light and soft and warm, and not require very much yarn, that I think I wouldn’t even care.

Rather than swatch – which would let me give you some information about gauge, though it feels like a thicker fingering to me – I dove straight in to 28’s Cousin 53!. This is a free pattern for (as you have seen) a fingering-weight scarf with a little bit of simple texture from garter stitch ridges, yarnovers, and ribbing. It’s a pretty design and the pattern was clear and straightforward (although I’ll admit I chose it mostly because of the amount of yarn it required – I wanted to use as much of the skein as I could). It makes strategic use of straightforward knit-front-and-back increases to create a close-to-crescent shape without short rows, so would be a good beginning project.

IMG_1847 I wet-blocked (which I always do), and the result is a lovely, drapey, soft fabric that feels like wrapping kittens around your neck.

(So, I mentioned I wanted to get as much out of the skein as I could? I actually ended a couple of rows short of the pattern – and in fact, I ran out of yarn with something like 20 stitches left to bind off. The HORROR. So I hacked my knitting: I have been knitting another sweater from Lindy Chain, another Knit Picks yarn, in Ivy. Ivy is a dark green… pretty much the exact same dark green as Diadem Emerald. I thought, eh, no one will ever notice, and finished binding off with a piece of the Lindy Chain. Which is a cotton-linen blend chainette yarn with a texture about as different from Diadem as you can get, but I figured, for a free scarf I can’t complain. The overexposed pic shows where the patch is, but in ordinary light it’s pretty hard to see.)

IMG_1851 Tl;dr: Soft, luxurious, and snuggly; drapey; inelastic; probably not particularly sturdy; great for next-to-the-skin accessories.

(Thanks again, Knit Picks!)

Yarn clubs, updates, and fear of missing out

I own a lot of yarn.

I mean, there are plenty of people who own more (not even just people who make a living from knitting), but I have plenty. More than I can use in, say, at least a year? A couple of years? Eh, I’m totally guessing, because even the prospect of using up all my yarn makes me hyperventilate.

And I love my yarn. I have plans and goals and backup plans and goals for almost all of it. Sure, I have a few remnants of very early purchases that don’t work for me any more (Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride, I’m looking at you… you’re a lovely economical yarn and I made a hat for charity out of you, but a bulky wool/mohair mix isn’t really where I’m at right now), as well as orphaned leftovers from finished projects. Neither of those categories are going to get used up soon, but if I were put on house arrest and all my assets were seized and I absolutely could not, in any way, ever buy more yarn, they’d keep me going a bit longer.

This is all to say: I do. not. need. more. yarn.

But did that stop me from ordering this a few weeks ago?*

IMG_2214

excuse the overexposure; this seemed to show the color best. I’m still terrible at photographing yarn

 This is Delilah Lace, from Posh Yarn, in the “Every Neighborhood Should Have a Great Lady” colorway (I love Dee’s color names, even though – because? – they rarely have anything to do with a specific color; if you scroll down at the link you get her picture, too). I can’t really tell you anything about it as a yarn yet, because I haven’t wound it or knit with it – all I’ve done is stroke it and ooh and aah over the softness and the gentle sheen and the spectacular color.

I didn’t need any yarn, but it’s 1) purple 2) silk 3) lace – my nemesis. I was powerless. Really.

And, crucially, Posh Yarn operates on a limited-time basis. Once a week the shop opens with a new batch of yarn. There are a number of bases, but they don’t all appear every week (one week may be a lace week, the next a sock week, and so on). The colors are all one-offs, unique and unrepeated. There’s no going back to buy anything later; if you like a color and base, you need to buy it when the update opens up (or perhaps scour Ravelry later in the hopes that someone will sell it to you, but that’s not very reliable).

These kinds of updates are such a great way to suck in knitters like me. I bought the yarn above at the tail end of a Posh update, fueled by that pleasurably frantic feeling of “This yarn is perfect and if I don’t buy it now I will NEVER see it again!!!”

Similarly, yesterday evening I stumbled into the middle of a Plucky Knitter update over on Etsy. If you follow that link you won’t see anything now, because those updates sell out FAST. Those yarns are gorgeous, but I don’t need any yarn (duh), and I can’t really afford to buy a sweater’s worth of yarn from them right now. Nonetheless, I still found myself putting random single worsted skeins in my cart because OMG IT’S A PLUCKY KNITTER UPDATE I ALWAYS MISS THEIR UPDATES PRETTY PRETTY SHINY.

I hesitated long enough that the skeins got bought out from under me, which is good, because I don’t really have any realistic uses for a couple hundred yards of worsted yarn right now, and they would have sat in my stash to be admired but not used, which would be sad. It was a relief to miss out, really.

But it still also felt like missing out.

So then I was scrolling through my e-mail and saw a notice I’d saved for Madelinetosh’s Magnolia Society Yarn Club (you sign up to get three shipments of different yarn bases, for which you choose the general color family, but the specific color within that family will be a surprise, and exclusive to the members of the club). I’d been thinking about signing up, but I hadn’t yet, because (once again) I don’t need more yarn and wasn’t sure exactly what I’d use it for. But when I saw the e-mail tonight I thought, “I know! I’ll buy Madelinetosh yarn instead! That’s a great idea, because I know I love Madelinetosh and I totally deserve to sign up for the yarn club, because I missed out on the Plucky Knitter update!” And I clicked over to the MadTosh page… to find that the signups had closed.

And there was much disappointment.

So here I was, practically lousy with yarn, having convinced myself that I had missed out by not managing to get something I didn’t need (even though I would very much like it. And a trip to Europe. And a pony).

Marketing is an amazing thing. I could take the cost of the Madelinetosh yarn club and buy myself some amazing stuff – including regular issue Madelinetosh that’s available in plenty of online stores, which I would love just as much, and for which I would choose the exact color and amount I want – but that doesn’t hold any appeal at all. Well, buying yarn is always appealing, but there’s no urgency. There is pretty much always going to be some color of MadTosh yarn that I like available somewhere on the internet, and there’s no reason I have to buy any right now, because (say it with me) I don’t need any yarn, and I don’t have the money to just start keep buying more willy nilly.

Call it a “yarn club” or an “update,” though, and make it limited edition of some kind? And I’m all over it – even when all that’s needed for entree to this exclusive group is the cost of admission and being at the keyboard at the right time.

Clearly this works on many more people than just me, or yarn producers wouldn’t do it. Nor is it exactly an obscure or complicated principle that scarcity/exclusivity make something more attractive. But it amuses me how well it works, and how easy it is for sellers to manipulate one’s FOMI (fear of missing out). While FOMI’s usually understood to result from viewing others’ carefully curated/sanitized lives on social media like Facebook, somehow in the consumer context (because it’s not limited to yarn) it endows a physical object with emotional, social significance. It makes me feel not only as if I need and deserve this yarn – despite the fact that it is entirely a frivolous, if beloved, luxury – but also as if purchasing that yarn will make me part of some kind of in-group (for lack of a better term).

Because these kinds of updates are very social experiences. There are Ravelry groups devoted to each of these yarns, to discussing the updates, and to sharing pictures of the yarn, plans for future projects, and photos of finished objects. If you join the Magnolia Club, before each shipment you get to vote on what color it will be, by choosing from a selection of inspiration photos. Even though voting on a very general color family is really not a significant part of the creative process, it makes the members feel involved with that process – much more so than simply plunking down a credit card at a store or online.

To be clear – I’m not criticizing these limited edition updates/yarn clubs. I love them. I love being part of a group of people geeking out over the same pretty, shiny, fuzzy, colorful hanks of string. I love that yarn producers/dyers make the effort to involve their buyers, and are responsive, and have an emotional connection to what they do. The apogee of this is probably Clara Parkes’ Clara Yarn, which is perhaps the most intentional, mindful example of creating a community around the production of a good, about which the producer is incredibly and genuinely passionate, and including consumers in the process in a way that’s thoughtful, educational, and exciting.

I’m also not knocking these practices for being centered around luxuries. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying things you love and will use, if you can afford them. Really, there’s nothing wrong with accumulating great piles of yarn if you love it and can afford it and have space to store it, even if you may not really knit with it for, well, a long time, if ever. People love and collect a lot of different things simply for the sake of having them, and yarn is no worse or better than most collections. (My mom has a beautiful collection of eggcups.)

And “manipulate” isn’t a great word to use here because it implies some kind of sinister purpose, which isn’t what I mean at all. It’s just that it’s the nature of a market economy that people who create things for others to buy must find ways to convince said others that those particular things are worth buying, or go under. This doesn’t preclude producers from also being warm, kind, generous people who are genuinely interested in and supportive of the communities who use their products. In the context of yarn, that has certainly been my experience so far. But they must be businesspeople and marketers, too.

Well. This post has taken a much more philosophical turn than I intended when I started writing, when my intent was really only to say, “Look at my new pretty yarn!” But I continue to be fascinated by the dual nature of crafting communities on the internet – at once commercial and creative, artistic and business-savvy. And it seems to me (as very much the amateur/hobbyist) that there must be quite a bit of pressure on designers/producers of yarn and knitting patterns and other craft items. How to be at once the warm, friendly, maternal/grandmaternal/crafting buddy stand-in that consumers want, to enhance their experience of crafting as something social, that builds community and addresses emotional needs; and at the same time, the businessperson who has to be responsible to a bottom line? Maybe that’s not really a tension for most people in the industry; maybe it would just be a tension for me, and I’m reading too much into things. But it does seem to me that people who buy yarn and yarn patterns have different expectations than people buying, say, glue, or flour, or some other kind of staple.

In any case, I’m still super glad I caught that Posh update.

IMG_2213

Scarves, continued: more recent versions

Talking about scarves and knitting and evolving, here are a couple of more recent scarves, finished in the last three years or so:

IMG_1618

(Just Enough Ruffles by Laura Chau – Malabrigo Silky Merino in Cumparsita)IMG_1808

(22.5 Degrees by Martina Behm in Done Roving Yarn’s Frolicking Feet in Robin Eggs)

I like these scarves much better than the previous ones. Partly that’s because they’re not a decade out of fashion; we’ll see how I feel about them in 2022. But there are a bunch of differences between this and its predecessors.

First, the yarn: To begin, it isn’t fuzzy! And I’m moving away from the super multi-colored yarns, because I’ve come to realize how limiting they can be. Colors that look gorgeous in the skein can look like unicorn barf when knitted; something more moderate may be less overwhelming. I’ve also come to realize that wearing a gazillion different colors at once is a bit busy for my personal style.

Having said that…neither yarn is a solid, and the Done Roving sock yarn (the blue) especially still counts as variegated (I would call the Malabrigo more of a tonal semi-solid). But they’re still moving away from the first two choices.IMG_1809

Ironically, both these scarves would work fine with even more variegated yarns than those I chose here, because the stitch patterns are simple – the one is simple stockinette, and the other is garter. In fact, the garter stitch scarf was designed expressly for multicolored sock yarn. And the plum scarf would look fine in something fuzzy (the blue scarf wouldn’t be bad, but I think the fuzz would obscure the yarnovers down the spine, as well as the looped edges).

IMG_1612And I’m still picking yarn that I think is cool (because of course; why knit with yarn you don’t like?). But I think maybe I’m learning how better to match patterns with yarn, rather than treating them as entirely independent decisions – that, or I’m just getting luckier in my choices.

IMG_1815These scarves continued to add new techniques to my repertoire. The plum scarf is shaped with short rows, which I had to learn, and the ruffled edges are made with knit-front-and-back increases. The blue scarf also uses on increases – knit-front-and-back and yarnovers – as well as the little scallops on the edge, which are formed with sort of mega-increases. None of those things are hard, but I had to learn them. (Which meant teaching myself via videos online, mostly.)

So, my knitting continues to evolve. And I’ve finished enough scarves that they make quite a pretty pile of fabric, lined up next to each other.

IMG_1828