Rose Lace Progress

Lace roses on the anniversary shawl

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

This is a progress shot I took of the shawl on Tuesday. I have made a lot of progress since then, but have been too busy knitting to take another picture of it. Now I have gotten to the end of the second skein of yarn, so I need to stop and wind the third skein into a ball before I can knit further on the leaves. Wish me luck. I wind balls of yarn by hand, and with two young cats plus a preschooler and an active 10 month old it’s always an adventure.

At this point my biggest challenge will be to keep from getting caught up in the feeling of being so close to finishing, and ending up hurting my hands or wrists in my enthusiasm to complete this section. These rounds are deceptively long, and I’m dealing with a fair bit of drag from the number of stitches and the growing weight of the shawl so it takes more wrist strength to knit than it did at the beginning. Still, it’s nice to be at a point where progress is readily visible. For today my goal is to get the next skein of yarn wound into a ball and start charting out options for edgings.

In my Pi Shawl endeavors I have been far surpassed by Kelley who completed a half-Pi shawl on US size 1 needles (in two months!) which she wore as her wedding veil. Even as a half circle shawl, hers used more yardage than mine will use when its complete. That’s a ton of knitting and its gorgeous. Go check out the pictures on her blog here.  Further specs are here if you want to know more about how she did it.

Thrifty Knitting Notions and Strategic Splurging

My needle storage solution

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

Last week I found a great circular and double-pointed needle organizer–this simple accordion file from Target. Mine is bill envelope sized, but you could use a larger accordion file if you have more needles (or needles with less flexible cables). This envelope-sized accordion file would also be great if you have a large collection of double-pointed needles to keep track of. This little accordion file cost about $5, which I thought was a great bargain, especially considering how pricey organizers made specifically for knitting needles can be.

I am a thrifty knitter. I can’t help it. In my devout Baptist home growing up thriftiness was next to godliness. Mom used to tell us that if she had had another son she would have named him “Clearance”. Then in my early marriage when I first taught myself to knit, I was literally choosing between money for yarn to make warm baby things for my daughter and money for groceries. I continue to hunt bargains for fun and profit (and because we are still paying off my husband’s graduate loans). I use coilless safety pins for stitch markers, get free patterns off the Internet, and buy most of my yarn from KnitPicks. I love a bargain.

However, there are times when I can be penny wise and pound foolish. I have learned the hard way that scratchy acrylic is never a bargain, and I’m not fond of dishcloth cotton. I sometimes spend too much time working out my own version of a pattern when I would have been much better off to simply buy the pattern already written out by someone else. There are times when spending a little more can mean saving time or frustration or just enjoying the process of knitting a lot more. I have learned that it’s better buy the right needles for the job, even if it means ripping out what I have already done and waiting for the correct needles to come in the mail before starting over again. Some yarn works better on wood or bamboo needles, and it’s far better not to be fighting with the yarn on the wrong needles through the thousands of stitches that make up even a small project. I now take the time to swatch before a big project partly for the sake of making sure the needles I’m planning to use are really going to work well with the yarn and stitch pattern. Sometimes a pointier tip or a smoother join or a needle with just the right amount of “grab” can make all the difference. I have two sets of interchangeable needles that I bought hoping to avoid having to buy any more circulars with different cable lengths, but I have found I hardly ever use them except when I’m knitting a small project with an odd sized needle (generally something over size 10).

There are times when splurging can be really worthwhile. Sometimes I really crave a luxurious fiber or subtle, sophisticated colors. Here are my strategies for maximizing my own splurges. For handpaints, Etsy has a wide variety for really reasonable prices, and I feel good knowing I’m supporting someone’s artistic endeavors. Lighter weights of yarn (anything from lace weight to sport weight) allow me to get a lot of yardage per ounce, which means a lot more knitting for my money. I often knit these light weight yarns on surprisingly large needles (US 6 through 10), which also maximizes the amount of knitting I get from my precious skeins. Lace patterns are great for stretching yarn a really long way, and also for making projects wearable through multiple seasons. If you live in a warmer climate and wish you could get more wear out of your knitting, try knitting lace. A lace shawl or shrug over a camisole works great in even really warm summer weather, and looks more sophisticated than a tank top. The same lace shawl can be great for layering over a turtleneck or a coat in cooler weather. I also try to find a pattern which will really maximize the qualities of the yarn. Super-soft yarns are great for things that will be worn against the skin. I like to use beautifully colored yarns where they will show, rather than hiding them in handknit socks worn under my jeans. Handpaints need different patterns to show them off properly than solids do. Fuzzy yarns work with some patterns, others are better for smooth yarns. It’s worth it to me to try different patterns until I hit on something that I really love. I generally keep my special yarn purchases to myself, rather than using them to make gifts. Most of my loved ones will not know the difference between expensive cashmere and KnitPicks merino, so you can guess which I am more likely to use when I knit for them. I once overheard another knitter fuming in a yarn shop after having spent an obscene amount of money on handpainted cashmere yarn for a scarf she gave to her sister-in-law. She was horrified to find out that the sister-in-law hadn’t really liked the colors, and had given the scarf away to a charity shop. So, use your splurge yarn in the way that you will get the most joy out of it. Another lesson from this is to only give handmade gifts to people who you know will appreciate the time and creativity that goes into them. Some people are much happier with a gift card for Barnes & Noble.

So, what about you? What are your best thrifty knitting tips? What are your favorite knitting splurges?

My favorite rainy day hat and scarf

My favorite rainy day hat and scarf

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

Those early fall rains are beginning to show up around the country. My solution is this hat and scarf. Both are from free online patterns and both used just one skein of yarn. The beret is made from a Lion Brand free pattern with one ball of KnitPicks Wool of the Andes. This means it cost about $2 to make. I love the rain but hate the feeling of dripping on the top of my head. The beret is cute and does the job without being too warm for use during spring and early fall. Felted worsted weight wool is great for keeping out the wet when you’re not looking for a ton of extra warmth. The scarf is made from one skein of Mountain Colors Weaver’s Wool Quarters which I got from my local yarn store, using Lisa Baumer’s Multi-directional Diagonal Scarf pattern (also available in PDF form here). I made mine fairly narrow, and use it to add just a touch of extra warmth when it’s breezy and wet but too warm for a wider or thicker scarf. This is not by any means the best picture of the scarf– you can see it’s charms with variegated and self-striping yarns here and here. It is a really fun pattern to knit, and is customizable for whatever length and width suits you.

Sock Progress

Sock Progress

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

I have made some progress on the purple tweed sock. The leg is now almost finished. For some reason, the knitting two stitches together on the tiny needles is especially tiring for my hands, so I just do a few rounds at a time. Also, we were away over the weekend, and I had very little time for knitting.

My parents’ anniversary shawl was stalled for several days when I reached the increase from 288 to 570 stitches while I counted and recounted to make sure the stitches were divided correctly for the rose lace section. I didn’t anticipate how formidable a task it would be to count all those tiny white stitches squished onto the 29″ needle. Every so often my concentration would fail and I would just have to put it on hold for a bit until I could regain my focus. I think the round just following the increase to 570 stitches took me 4 days all together, because I was checking and double checking to make sure the counts were correct. It felt like being caught in a knitting blizzard, an endless flurry of tiny white stitches. The shawl is finally coming along again, helped by five rounds of simple stockinette which went by quickly, but it’s not at a good point for photographing. When I get a bit further into the roses I’ll post another progress picture.

I’m really grateful to Knitting Pattern Central for all the new traffic I’ve been getting. I want to say again that if you have questions or comments about a pattern, and certainly if you find an error, I would love to hear from you. My e-mail is fireflowerknitsATgmailDOTcom. I would also really appreciate seeing photos of anything anyone makes based on one of the patterns.

Tilting at Windmills Baby Blanket Pattern

Tilting at Windmills Baby Blanket

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

This is a rough pattern for a fun baby blanket knitted in multidirectional garter stitch. I knitted the prototype as a gift for my baby nephew last spring.

Materials: 5 6oz skeins Caron Simply Soft in Lt. Country Blue, Country Blue, Dk. Country Blue, Sage, and Dk. Sage. (I used an unknown worsted acrylic in a deep green, but Dk. Sage will work nicely).

Notions: Size 9 (5.5mm) circular needles, at least 29″ long, blunt tapestry needle

Gauge: 16 sts x 32 rows = 4″ (10cm) in garter stitch (knit every row)

Finished Size: Approximately 34″ x 34″ (I didn’t measure the finished prototype.)

Section 1:
Using Dk. Sage and long-tail cast-on cast on 60 stitches.
Knit 23 rows. Break yarn. Knit 24 rows (12 garter ridges) with Sage and break yarn. Knit 24 rows with Lt. Country Blue and break yarn. Knit 24 rows with Country Blue and break yarn. Knit 24 rows with Dk. Country Blue and break yarn. Do not bind off.

Section 2 and subsequent sections:
Using Dk. Sage cast on 60 additional stitches on the needle which is still holding the stitches from Section 1. Knit in 12-ridge stripes as in Section 1, but ssk the last stitch of the first row with the adjacent stitch from Section 1. At the end of each alternate row ssk the last stitch of the row with the adjacent stitch from the previous section. What you are doing is joining the second section to the first as you are knitting the second.

Continue like this, knitting each section onto the previous one, until you have completed all four sections. On Section 4, stop one row short on the final 12-ridge stripe. Do not bind off.

(Note: If you do not want to graft live stitches you can bind off at this point and whipstitch a careful seam between the cast-off and the adjacent edge of section 1.)

Now you will join the live stitches of section 4 to the edge of section 1. Break yarn leaving a length about 50″ long (three times as long as the width of the live stitches plus some extra for weaving in ends later). Thread the end of yarn through a blunt tapestry needle, and graft the stitches to the adjacent garter ridges. Go through the first live stitch as if to purl, go through first the purl bump on the edge of section 1, then go back through the first live stitch as if to knit and drop the first stitch off the needle. Then go through the second stitch as if to purl, through the next purl bump at the edge of section 1, and back through the second live stitch as if to knit and drop it off the needle. Continue all the way to the end, keeping tension even, not too tight and not too loose, matching every live stitch to the adjacent garter ridge.

I wish I was a diagramming wizard, as a diagram would make this much clearer. It’s really fairly straightforward once you get into the rhythm.

The edging is slightly modified from the Sawtooth Edging from Nicky Epstein’s Knitted Embelishments.

Knitted-on Edging:
Using Dk Country Blue Cast on 6 stitches.
Row 1: K3, yo, k3–7 stitches
Rows 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10: knit to end of row, pick up and knit one stitch from edge of blanket. (match up each edging ridge to a garter-ridge purl bump at the edge of the blanket or to one cast-on stitch).
Row 3: Ssk, k2, yo, k4–8 stitches
Row 5: Ssk, k2, yo, k5–9 stitches
Row 7: Ssk, k2, yo, k6–10 stitches
Row 9: Ssk, k2, yo, k7–11 stitches
Row 11: Ssk, k2, yo, k8–12 stitches
Row 12: BO 6 sts, k 5–6 stitches

Repeat rows 1-12 working around the edge of the blanket. To turn corners, just knit 6 extra edging rows at each corner, picking up and knitting the last stitch from the same edge stitch (or just to either side of it) 3 times. I just eyeball the corners and sort it out as I go. When you reach the point where you started, graft the live stitches to the cast-on edge, just as you did with the stitches from section 4, only this time, you are grafting into the cast on. If you are more comfortable you can just bind off and whipstitch the bind-off to the cast-on.

Weave in ends.

Thoughts on colors: You could easily do this in more or fewer colors (4 or 6 colors would probably work best). 4 colors would need 15-ridge stripes, 6 colors would need 10-ridge stripes. For girls, you could use pinks and purples or pinks and yellows. For a gender-neutral version, try yellows and greens.

Whew! Writing this out seems way more involved than the actual knitting was. I am just learning to write patterns for my designs. Hopefully this makes sense. Please e-mail me at fireflowerknitsATgmailDOTcom with any questions or comments. Also, if anyone actually knits this, I would love to see pictures of work in progress or finished results.

Beginning of Purple Tweed Sock

Beginning of Purple Tweed Sock

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

So, the knitting. I did decide to cast on something new. Here you can see the results. Just the first few inches of a sock. I have tried several new things on this sock. First, believe it or not, this is my very first top down sock. I have always knit socks toe-up with short-row heels and toes, and I have knit a total of five pairs of socks in my knitting career. So, I have set out to learn some new things. I cast on with a twisted German cast-on, which I figured out from this video. The twisted German cast-on is a variation of the long tail cast on which is supposed to be stretchier and thus better for socks and mittens. So far as I can tell at this point, it is fairly stretchy, but the first few rounds were quite fiddly on the teeny tiny needles. I had serious doubts about the proposition while holding my breath on those first few rounds, but now it is growing on me. I am knitting on 7″ Clover bamboo needles in size 0. They are tiny and bendy, but much to my relief, they are not really sharp enough to puncture me. I had a traumatic experience once with a size 11 steel crochet hook (1.1mm) , and I am wary of being punctured. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time of this incident (and removed that tiny steel hook from my knee) is even more wary and does not like to be near me if I am working with small hooks or needles. It is not surprising that I am not a fan of super-sharp tips on small knitting needles.

I like the yarn, so far, I think. It is KnitPicks Essential Tweed in Plum. It is a soft superwash merino blend, and the fabric on my 2mm needles seems just right for socks. These socks are going to take a long time, I think, but I don’t mind terribly. I am using a pretty stitch pattern called Corded Rib from Charlene Schurch’s Sensational Knitted Socks. The pattern is a bit fiddly, requiring decreases and yarn overs on alternate rounds, but the effect is worth while, and in a four row repeat I do feel the progress more than in a standard 2×2 rib.

I am still working on the shawl, though at the moment I need to wind another of the 440 yard hanks into a ball. This requires finding time when my 10 month old son is sleeping or occupied with his papa, or disaster will likely ensue. The little guy is into everything and he loves to pull on my yarn and knitting. In fact, I have just now finished sorting out my stitches on the sock after he pulled one of the needles right out. I think things are sorted out anyway, I may yet have to make some small fixes on the next round. I can just see him getting the hank of yarn in a disastrous tangle while I am trying to wind it. I don’t have a swift or ball winder. I generally wind by hand using a kitchen chair to hold the hank. It works fairly well, but is slow. I may do the winding tonight after sending Bear and the kiddos out on a walk to pick up some odds and ends from our local grocery store.

Alternating between the shawl and the sock seems to work fairly well to alleviate the tedium of working the long rounds of the shawl, but the sock is not so compelling as to totally lure me away from shawl knitting. In fact, knitting the shawl on 5.5 mm circular needles is a pleasant break from the 2mm dpns for the sock. We’ll just have to see how it all turns out. I do have a lingering doubt about my ability to persevere through two socks knit on these tiny needles. My goal is to get through it for at least one pair, try out a gusset heel and a kitchener stitched toe, and then decide from there whether I prefer smaller or somewhat larger needles, toe-up or top-down, gusset or short-row heel.

I have accumulated quite a collection of links to detailed technical information for different sock-knitting techniques. I have a fantasy of eventually trying every method ever thought up for knitting socks, and then coming up with my very own perfect sock pattern template. At the very least, my explorations should put a bit of variety into my sock knitting. I love my few pairs of handknitted socks. They are especially nice to have in the Oregon winters when my husband loves to be out in the wet and cold. Wool socks are warm even when wet. My current favorites are made from red Philosopher’s Wool I got from Web*sters, knitted in a simple ribbed pattern on size 3 (3.25mm) birch dpns. They seem to be nearly indestructible, they are amazingly warm, and they keep out the wet very nicely. They will need to be darned before the cold season this year, as I didn’t think to reinforce the heels at the time I knitted them, and they are getting a bit thin where my heel rubs them against my the inside of my Doc Martens. My winter shoes of choice are Doc Marten Twinstrap Mary Janes, and while sturdy and charming, they are hard on socks. All of my other boot socks are thoroughly fuzzed and pilled where the straps of the Mary Janes rub against the top of my feet when I walk. The Philosopher’s Wool seems to stand up much better. I don’t think these socks will be visiting the inside of my Docs though, they are really designed to go with my dressier black Merrell Mary Janes which are a bit closer fitting and much softer leather than my Docs.

Shawl Progress

Shawl Progress

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

I frogged back to the 288 stitch increase and reknit the floral mesh lace after aligning the repeats so they matched up better with the fountain lace from the 144 stitch section. Here you can see the floral mesh lace. I really love this lace pattern, and I think it will coordinate nicely with the rose lace motif I put together earlier. Really, frogging and re-knitting was not as much of an ordeal as I expected. I am so much happier with how it looks after fixing it. Now it’s just a matter of knitting and knitting and knitting. I have to pace myself so I can avoid a repetitive stress injury. The centered double decreases in this lace pattern can be especially hard on my hands. I try to pick it up and knit a little a few times throughout the day, rather than knitting in one long slog. Also, if I start to feel sore I stop and take a good long break. That helps.

I’m thinking of starting a new project for variety, and so I have something more interesting to blog. I’m going to be putting together some more free pattern offerings from time to time, so if there’s something you are particularly looking for and can’t find, leave me a comment and I may be willing to oblige you. Also, I may be able to point you to an existing pattern, as I keep up with pretty much all the free patterns available on the ‘Net via Knitting Pattern Central and Crochet Pattern Central. I really enjoy design, so I’m interested in people’s input on what they’re interested in working on at the moment. For me working with some guidelines helps to channel my creativity. Also, if I’m going to put together a pattern, it’s nice to know that someone actually wants to knit it.

Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

One-Skein Wonders

One-Skein Wonders

Originally uploaded by fireflowerknits

This book was a bargain I got in the KnitPicks Summer Book Sale (which is still going on if you would like to get 40% off some knitting book you’ve been eyeing for a while). I like the concept of a book full of one-skein patterns, and the fact that there are 101 of them in this one small book appeals to my thrifty side. There are a lot of useful patterns in here. Among these are couple of one skein baby sweater patterns, an assortment of hats, scarves, and bags. It also includes some patterns I doubt I will ever use, like the coffee mitt on page 125 and the ice scraper mitt on page 83. Still, there are a good selection of simple patterns for instant gratification knitting or last minute gifts. For me, it largely satisfies the constant question lurking in the back of my mind, “how do I squeeze every last inch out of this ball of yarn?” “how far can I get with just this one skein?” I will probably use it frequently just as a jumping off point, referencing it to be sure that I can accomplish my intended knitting goal with just the odd ball of yarn I have on hand. There are some pretty nice shawl patterns in the book, though some of them stretch the limits of the one skein concept. I’m not sure it counts as one skein if it has over 1000 yards. However, the Schaefer Andrea silk called for in the Floral Mesh Shawl pattern looks lovely, so I don’t mind the exception. There are some interesting sock patterns for heavier weight yarns. I would have liked to see one or two lacy ankle sock patterns that call for just 50g of regular sock yarn, as it would be nice to find a pretty pattern for using with just one ball of Koigu or another special sock yarn. On the whole, it’s a nice addition to my knitting library and I’m looking forward to trying some of the patterns when I finish up the Anniversary Shawl.