Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Some Pointed Thoughts on Knitting Needles


Two days ago I bought the above "grab bags" of knitting needles from Value Village for a total after tax price of $11.28. It was difficult to see exactly what was in the bags while I was at the store, but I could definitely see several sizes of knitting needles that I knew I didn't own in there, and I felt confident I would at least get my money's worth, even if there was nothing more in the bags that I wanted. I bought the bags, brought them home, tore them open with the enthusiasm of a small child opening presents on Christmas morning, and spent a happy evening upgrading my knitting needle collection. 

First I went through the contents of the two bags looking for anything I didn't have. This search netted me a pair of 3.75 mm straights, a pair of 7 mm straights, a pair of 10 mm straights, a set of four 7 mm DPNS, a 7 mm 30" circular, a pair of rubber needle tip guards, and 2 crochet hooks in sizes 2.5 mm and 9 mm. I also found a set of three wool tapestry needles in assorted sizes. I probably already had at least one needle in each of those sizes, but it never hurts to have a few more of those on hand as they tend to break/get lost, so I put them in the plastic needle case in my work basket. At this point I felt justified in my decision to buy the grab bags. Buying all of these items new would have cost quite a bit more than $11.28. 

I was about to bundle up the rest of the needles and put them in the thrift shop donation bag in the hall closet when I remembered that I had some knitting needles that were missing their end knobs, and what a pain it was to have my stitches falling off them mid-project. Perhaps I could replace those pairs with some same size sets from the grab bags.

I fetched my collection of straight knitting needles from the glass vase in the attic, laid them out in order of size on top of my dresser... and started laughing. Seeing all my straight knitting needle collection as a whole made me realize how very dilapidated they were in a way I'd never quite registered before. I did indeed have several needles with their end knobs missing, and there were others that had the size numbers worn off their knobs. I had one pair of 5 mms that was mismatched, with two different style knobs. Quite a few needles were slightly bent. And I'd never even really noticed, because I was too busy knitting.

I began comparing what I had in my existing set to the needles from the grab bags to see what I could upgrade, and in the end, besides the new tools I added to my collection, I must have replaced seven or eight pairs of straights. I replaced all the needles with missing knobs or that had their numbers worn off them, and the mismatched pair. I replaced one pair of plastic needles with a metal pair in the same size. I also replaced a few pairs of knitting needles that were fine but that were of a different make than the rest of my set with others that were Aeros, so that I would have a more matched set (most of my straights are classic gray metal or plastic Aeros with millimeter sizes marked on the end knobs). Most of the bent needles also got replaced along the way.

By the time I was done, I was extra pleased with my purchase. I bought those grab bags with the idea that I'd been adding new sizes to my needle collection, and while I wouldn't have thought it worthwhile to spend money to upgrade my existing needles, it was such a nice bonus to be able to do that too. My set of straights looked much better for it.

Once I was done all with all my sorting and assessing, I updated my knitting needle catalogue to reflect my new acquisitions. Yes, I have an Excel spreadsheet in which I keep track of what knitting needles I have, as well as a second spreadsheet for my sewing thread catalogue. I know that sounds obsessive, but it is such a convenience to be able to see at a glance whether I have the right size straights, DPNs, or circs for a project instead of having to manually go through all my needles in order to find that out. 

I also thought about my needle collection as a whole. What else did I need/want for it? As you can tell from my screencap of my catalogue, I am some needles short of having a truly complete set, mostly with regards to the very small sizes. I'll probably add the missing sizes over time -- or immediately if I should happen to pick a pattern that requires needles I don't have. I have some crappy quality aluminum DPNs I would like to replace, but will probably wait until I have a chance to get a good deal on the new ones. I would definitely like to make a fabric roll-up case for my DPNs, with a specifically labelled pocket for each size, as at present I keep my DPNs bundled together with an elastic, and it's such a pain to have to sift through them with a needle gauge in order to find the size I want. 

While I was updating my knitting needle catalogue, I added a crochet hook section. I crochet very little, and don't have that many hooks, but now that I had eight different sizes on hand instead of only six, it seemed worth it to document what I have for future ease of reference. 

I definitely don't need to upgrade my circulars. Last December when I was faced with the prospect of spending Christmas alone thanks to the pandemic, was shopping on Amazon to cheer myself up, and found that the ChiaoGoo lace set I'd had in my wish list for several years was listed for the lowest price I had ever seen it at... well, those were perfect storm shopping conditions if I ever experienced any. I blew my budget by buying myself a set of ChiaoGoos. Nine months later it still seems too good to be true that I should be so fortunate to have such a fantastic set of tools, and I've used them even more than I expected to.  

This was my old set of circulars, so you can understand why I was so thrilled to get the ChiaoGoo set. The assorted circulars were all very well, but the interchangeable circ kit was a thrift shop Denise set I got years before for $5, and it was such a piece of shit. I had to keep reminding myself that it was better than nothing, because it barely was. The set was partially incomplete and partially broken when I got it, the yarn used to constantly catch on the joins, and the cords and needles weren't at all reliable about staying connected. They used to come apart mid-round and 50 or more of my stitches would slide off the cord. I'd grit my teeth, painstakingly pick up the dropped stitches, and carry on, only to have the same thing happen again five minutes later. I can feel my blood pressure going up just from thinking about it.

I kept two of the old circular needles as they were sizes not included in my ChiaoGoo set, and the rest of my old circs went to a thrift shop, but I was NOT subjecting some other poor knitter to that Satanic torture device disguised as a circular knitting needle set. The Denise set went in the garbage, and I may have murmured a few words in Latin over its treacherously innocuous-looking blue-flowered vinyl case before I put in the bag so that it wouldn't turn up again unexpectedly somewhere in my house, as in those old urban legends about burned Ouija boards or cursed dolls. 

I'm reminded of a few anecdotes I know about people who think they have to have shiny new tools for whatever activity they're taking up. My father is an award-winning woodworker who has lots of woodworking friends, and he told me a story about a lawyer one of his friends knew who had a woodworking shop in his house that was fully stocked with tens of thousands of dollars' worth of top-of-the-line woodworking tools and equipment, all in pristine condition... as a working woodworking shop never is. That lawyer had never used his woodworking tools, hadn't the first idea of how to use them, and wasn't making any effort to learn. They were only there so he could enjoy showing his fantastic woodworking shop to anyone who visited his house. The great irony of this, of course, is that while he wanted to pose as a woodworker with tools he just looked like... a tool. 

Or there's the time in the late nineties a friend of mine, who had just started to play tennis, bought two new good quality tennis rackets for fifty or sixty dollars each, and after we played a game in which she could barely get the ball across the net (not that I could either), told me she wanted to trade her new rackets in for some special high-end tennis rackets that cost $100+ each.

Then there's another story that my aunt, who is a retired Sears sewing machine sales associate, has told about the time a mother and a daughter came into the store to get a sewing machine for the daughter, who was taking courses in fashion design. They bought a lower end machine, and then came back a few weeks later to return it. The daughter hadn't used it, but she was sure she would use a better machine, so the mother bought her a much more expensive machine with more features. A few weeks later they returned the second machine too, because guess what, the daughter hadn't used the higher end sewing machine either.

The over valuing, and over purchasing, of new, top-of-the-line equipment is the mark of a dilettante, while experts and professionals are generally satisfied to have the tools that they need, and will often improvise with what they have rather than go to the expense of buying very specialized tools they will seldom use. No matter how shiny and new tools are or how exciting it is to buy them, they won't do the work for you, nor are they any substitute for taste, skill, experience, or genuine commitment and interest. When it comes to knitting needles, all that really matters is that they're the right size for your gauge, the right type for whatever project you're making, and not total shit as to quality and/or condition. Nice as it was to upgrade my straight knitting needle collection, and as much as I love my ChiaoGoo set, my improved knitting needle collection won't make me a better knitter or turn out better work than my old ones did; they just look nicer, are a little easier, more pleasurable, and more convenient to use, and offer me some more gauge options. I want to replace my cheap coloured aluminum DPNs with better quality sets because I know they'll eventually break or get bent, but for the time being I can do just as good work with them as I could with the best DPNs on the market. 

Unlike that lawyer with his stage set woodworking shop, my father's woodworking shop isn't a sight to impress anyone. He has a motley collection of tools, many of which are decades old and look it, and the dirtiness and disorder of his workshop is such that it has long posed something of an ongoing threat to his and my mother's marital status. But while he does replace broken tools as needed and occasionally treats himself to some new ones, generally he has what he needs to do the work he wants to do, and he turns out woodwork that's beautiful and original and far more of a real accomplishment than any immaculate display of expensive new tools could ever be. 

Tools are nice, but the actual work that you do -- what you learn, what results you can produce -- ultimately matters so much more.   

Friday, 2 April 2021

Vogue Knitting Winter 2021/2021: A Review


Today we're going to have a look at Vogue Knitting's Winter 2020/2021 issue. Yes, I'm aware that this issue was released months ago. But better late than never, and I have to start somewhere when it comes to catching up on my reviews, etc., so I've decided that, for this first review in a longer interval of time than I can bear to specify, I'll start with the most recent issue from the most widely circulated knitting magazine. 

I can definitely see the pandemic's impact on this issue. The designs are all very low-key, comfy-type styles suitable for home/running errands wear, and the colour palette is neutral/subdued. It makes sense to focus on making things you can wear, of course, but I'd encourage you to select yarn in colours that you love to look at, whether that colour is a bright or warm or low-key one, and that feel good to the touch. Using a yarn you love is a good idea at any time, but little pleasures like that can mean so much when one is having a hard time, and these days everyone's life is somewhere on the "this fucking sucks" spectrum. 

But let's get to the 18 designs in this issue. 

Pattern #01, Bodie. Nice simple cap with an attractive cable device. 

Pattern #02, Cape Neddick. This hooded cape has a "novitiate nun wear" look to me, but it is a practical, wearable piece that can be worn with casual clothes when out and about, and if, before this pandemic is finally over, you should find yourself in a convent, dressed in this cape and with the convent's mother superior warbling "Climb Every Mountain" at you, maybe reconsider whether you need to retreat quite that far from the rest of the world.  

Pattern #03, Montauk. A classic cabled cardigan, with a little bit of innovation in the interlocking diamond cables. 

Pattern #04, Seguin. Classic and luxuriously comfortable-looking scarf. 

Pattern #05, Isabel. Love the unusual and attractive yoke detailing on this sweater -- the Ravelry pattern page for this design says the yoke cables are meant to resemble orchid blossoms. This is one of those designs that are suitable for wearing nearly anywhere, depending on how one styles it. 

Pattern #06, Wind Point. A lovely pullover. The leaf-like cable devices on the front are so eye-catchingly pretty.

Pattern #07, Sankaty. Not a bad cowl. The Latvian braid makes for a fun-looking edging. 

Pattern #08, Acadia.  This one's a little rough and unfinished-looking for my taste, but it's objectively a decent casual piece. I think there are better colourways for this design than this one, which has that "not quite working" look.  

Pattern #09, Stonington. Oooh, very nice-looking, reliable cardigan -- it's the kind of piece one can almost live in. It reminds me a lot of a thrift shop zippered Jacob cardigan I bought for $10 in 2002 and wore very regularly for at least 10 years until it got past mending. I would enjoy picking out the yarn for this one. A neutral colour with glimpses of one's favourite colours might be a good direction to go.


Pattern #10, Quoddy. Strikingly handsome wrap. 

Pattern #11, Columnea. This kind of unstructured, minimalist style is very much not my thing, but I must admit this design is a good example of its kind. It sits well and looks easy to wear. 

Pattern #12, Ixnora. Baggy sleeves, shapeless body... I can't sign off on this one. This is the kind of design only a professional model can carry off without looking frumpy, and that isn't even all that practical for around-home wear, because it will get into everything from your breakfast cereal to your children's art projects to the casserole you're making for supper. 

Pattern #13, Davillia. Nice stitchwork in this one. I'd just raise those dropped shoulders and neaten up the fit a little.

Pattern #14, Zamia. Ah, a pair of knitted booty shorts. Pandemic or no pandemic, Vogue Knitting means to show us it has not lost its sass. I must admit, I actually like these. They have some fun detailing and would be cute and comfortable to wear to bed.  

Pattern #15, Calathea. This is one of those designs that didn't impress me all that favourably at first glance, but that grew on me as I studied the sample photos. The construction is interesting and I liked the curved hem. I am itching to fix those dropped shoulders, though. 

Pattern #16, Pilea. A very pretty and useful layering piece. Love the edging detail, the garter stitch waistband detail, the front tie. Again, I would raise those dropped shoulders. 

Pattern #18, Areca. Not so taken with this one. It has a confused, messy look to it.

Pattern #18, Ficus. Rather a nice, simple little pullover, though I would be inclined to make it standard length and put full-length sleeves on it rather than making it as originally intended, as I don't find the cropped length or 3/4 sleeve comfortable or flattering. Your yarnage may vary, of course.  

Monday, 8 March 2021

The Bathtub Swimming Experiment and Other Pandemic-Era Knitting Fables

When the pandemic hit, the undaunted members of the Ball's Falls Knitting Club agreed they would continue to meet by Zoom. However, the isolation and the closure of their local yarn store had its impact on their knitting projects. Rubetta, for instance, decided to take up speed knitting and allow herself just three hours per project so as to have more time for her new pandemic hobbies: gerbil breeding and writing novels in a language she made up herself.     

Veraminta, meanwhile, ran short of yarn, and had to get creative with the all the throws, cushion covers, and bathmats in the house.

Valma made it one of her pandemic goals to learn to do her hair, and she found braiding such a challenge that she found it necessary to practice braiding at every opportunity.

Mavis went in a more artistic direction with her knitting, and designed a piece that commemorated the most important and fulfilling relationship of her pandemic life.   

Luella found it so difficult to focus during quarantine that, when she got bored with the new dress she had designed, she adapted her plan to have elbow sleeves and fringe from the thighs down. After all, she reminded herself, the really important thing was to have a sense of accomplishment and completion.

Aliviyah decided to prepare for post-pandemic life by knitting herself a new beach ensemble. She was pleased with the resulting look, but she did have concerns about how well it was going to stay on when it got wet given that her bathtub swimming experiment had proved discouraging. 

Janis was so busy with working from home and homeschooling her triplets that she tried to combine her line drawing art projects with her knitting projects so as to have time for both. 

Beverley decided that her pandemic knitting challenge would be to use up her entire yarn stash... in a single project. 

Like Veraminta, Donnelda had a yarn shortage problem, which she dealt with by making embellishments for her existing sweaters out of what scraps she did have on hand. 

Asher decided to channel his pandemic time into launching a new knitting publication. The rest of the Ball's Falls Knitting Club sincerely wished him the best with his new publishing endeavour, but they couldn't imagine where he was going to find content for it. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

12 Months; 7 Projects

Well everyone, here is my round up post of all my knitting projects from 2020. It's late, of course, but not so late as my 2018 and 2019 posts are, given that they, um, haven't been posted yet. But I do still intend to get them done. They are being held up by the fact that I designed some of my knitting projects in both those years and want to get the patterns written up and published before I post about the sample knit. I have a total of six knitting patterns I would like to get ready for publication by the end of 2021, and I have two draft "round up posts" that I can post when the patterns are ready. Meanwhile, I am routinely posting about my individual finished projects on my blog Modwardian if anyone wants a look at what I make.  

Regarding the photo above... usually I choose my nicest detail shot of the year to head these round-up posts, but this year the photo above seemed, if not the most attractive shot, certainly the most fitting for 2020, which as we all know was an absolute dumpster fire of a year for everyone. However, we have grounds to hope things are going to get better in 2021: the process of vaccinating for COVID19 is underway, and there are signs that the political landscape is shifting in response to public demand -- the most notable of which is that the most powerful country in the world has a responsible adult for head of state again. 

My life changed less in 2020 than that of most people. I have chronic fatigue issues and have been struggling financially for many years now, and was already more or less homebound and isolated because I have neither the money nor the energy to go anywhere or do much. Sometimes when I saw or heard complaints about the isolation and practical difficulties occasioned by the pandemic, I would think, "WELL HELLO AND WELCOME TO MY WORLD." Many of the measures I've taken to conserve money and energy worked well for pandemic conditions: I only go grocery shopping once a week and almost never eat out; I deliberately chose a  bang-less hairstyle that grows out well so that I can get away with just having it cut twice a year; I colour my own hair, do my own nails, and tweeze my own eyebrows; I have many online friends and "live online" to a great extent; my hobbies are all things I do at home by myself; I use every scrap of everything and know how to repair and maintain things in order to reduce the number of things I buy, etc. 

Still, the pandemic had its effect on me. I would say I was somewhat less productive than usual this year as my chronic fatigue seemed to get worse, possibly because of the stress of [gestures vaguely at everything] all this. And there was an impact even on my needlework, making it sometimes difficult to get needed supplies, or to give things I made as presents to people, and even on what I made. I made a quilted blanket in 2020 that I think of as my Coronavirus Quilt, and I also sewed 38 face masks: 5 for me, 13 as gifts for family and friends, and 20 for sale. 

But let's take a look at the things I knitted while home alone during 2020. 

In January 2020 my first knitting project of the year was a sweater for my grandnephew Bug's seventh birthday.

Back in the fall of 2019, when I was planning my knitting projects for the coming year, I searched Ravelry for a suitable pattern for Bug's birthday sweater, and found the one you see in the photo above, Seashore Stripes, which is a Drops design. There's something so pleasing about the stripe arrangement and, rarely for me, I decided to make the sweater in the sample colours, or as close as I could get to them. I visited Romni Wools in December and bought yarn for three projects, and one of them was Bug's. I went with Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash in gray, off-white, Navy, Really Red, and Turtle. The colours were all a really good match, except for the green, which is slightly brighter than the grayish green in the sample, but it went well enough with the other colours. The 220 Superwash is a worsted yarn rather than the Aran weight the pattern specifies, but one can correct for that by knitting a design with needles a half size larger than the pattern calls for, in this case a 5 mm rather than a 4.5 mm.

And here's the finished product. It was quite a straightforward knit and I was done in two weeks. The one design change I made was to knit the bottom and cuff ribbing in navy rather than in gray as the in the sample. This saved me money because I was able to get this project done with just one skein of gray (and to subsequently return the other gray skeins I bought for store credit), and I also had less left navy yarn left over. I made a mistake on the sleeve stripes, but I don't care -- it looks just as nice the way I did it. I'm pleased with the result: it's both classic and smart.

At Bug's age, he doesn't care very much about clothes, so I bought him a couple of dollar store items he could play with. He likes to read, prefers non-fiction to fiction, and is interested in science, so I bought him a couple of children's National Geographic books, a toy kaleidoscope, and he also got two new face masks. I'm sure nothing depicted here went over as big as the whoopee cushion I gave him for his fifth birthday, but my niece tells me Bug was happy with his present.

I had a total of 160 grams of newly purchased yarn left over after I finished this project.

This project plan began when I decided I'd like a cotton sweater to go with with my summer weight olive khaki pants and shorts. I liked the idea of a classic Breton striped sweater in olive and a contrasting colour, so I thought I'd make one in that style.

I searched Ravelry for a suitable striped sweater pattern and settled on Nothing But Stripes!, designed by emteedee, which is an interesting contemporary take on the Breton stripe sweater and looked great in all the project photos I looked at. I visited Toronto's Romni Wools store to shop for suitable yarn, and was happy to find yarn that was just what I wanted at a bargain basement price in Romni's actual bargain basement: 200 grams of Schachenmayr Catania Solids in 253 Jade, and 200 grams in shade 414, which doesn't seem to be listed on either Ravelry or the Schachenmayr website, but is a deep olive.

And here's the result, paired with a light khaki skirt I made some years back. The olive khaki pants and shorts I have are darker in tone and will work better with the sweater, but I can't put them on my dressmaker's form.

A sweater that I should have been able to make in under three weeks ended up taking nine for reasons that were my own stupid fault. First I assumed that a size 38 German was equivalent to a size 38 in inches. It so wasn't, and I got as far as the chest before I realized it. I had to rip it all out and start again in a size 42. Then when I was nearly done the body, I realized that the sweater was going to be far too long -- I should have done the math on the stripes. I had to rip back nearly to the beginning that time, and begin the stripe pattern with two rows of the olive instead of just one.

It was around this point that I also realized that I hadn't bought enough yarn to make the larger size. I went back to Romni Wools where I bought two extra 50 gram skeins of the olive and one extra 50 gram skein of Jade -- it was the last skein of the Jade that they had, and I could only hope I was going to have enough yarn.

Then when I was nearly done the first sleeve, I realized it was going to be too short, and I had to rip it out, calculate what the stripe pattern needed to be to make it the right length (I had to add *two* "8 rows of Jade/8 rows of Olive" stripes), and reknit it that way.

Then too, soon after I began work on the first sleeve, I realized I had made a mistake with the increases on the yoke. It had come out too short compared to the measurement on the diagram pattern, and I added an inch which proved to be a mistake, as that last inch was created by the stitches cast on when the body was connected under the armhole. That inch I had added made the yoke too long and the body too short, which in turn made for an awkward-looking fit. At first I couldn't face the idea of ripping out nearly the entire sweater yet again and I thought I could live with it, but after I finished the first sleeve and tried the sweater on, I realized I couldn't. I ripped out the sleeve, and ripped out the body back to the bottom of the yoke, and reknitted it yet again. This time I managed to get it right. You can imagine how many extra ends I had to deal with when it came time to finish the sweater, but I just got on with it and got it done.

I think I essentially knitted this sweater three times over. Fortunately, after all of that, I do quite like the sweater.

And I had just 40 grams of each colour of yarn left, so I had bought the right amount of yarn for my sweater too. As this project was made with new yarn, that's a stash increase of 80 grams.

Project plan number three began when I was making my knitting list in late 2019 and decided to knit my honorary niece Olivia a sweater for her Christmas 2020 present. I'd picked out a really cute pattern that required a DK weight yarn. Then I got 700 grams of the Loops & Threads Meandering Serpentine in dark salmon (pictured above) in my stocking on Christmas Day, 2019. (Santa has, um, large stockings to fill at my parents' place.) I decided I ought to use some of that yarn to make Olivia's sweater rather than buying new yarn -- it suits her colouring -- so I searched for a suitable worsted weight design for it.

I settled on the pattern depicted above, which is the Children's Celtic Braid Top-Down Sweater, designed by Vera Sanon. It's a nice classic piece, and I'm always an easy sell on Celtic-style cables.

Then, because I had loads of the Meandering Serpentine to work with, I selected a hat pattern. Little girls do like their clothes to have matching accessories such as hats and purses. I wasn't too picky about the hat design -- it just had to be a worsted weight tam pattern that was suitable for adapting to match the sweater. I decided on the Little Bird Hat, designed by Brew City Yarns.

And here's the finished sweater. The pattern was a straightforward one and reasonably clearly written, so the knitting proceeded quite smoothly. It's knitted in one piece out of a single colour of yarn, so there was very little finishing to do. After the last project I made, this was a huge relief.

Then I made the hat. Instead of making the band a plain rib as the pattern calls for, I used the twisted rib stitch from the neckband, cuffs, and hem of the sweater. I nixed the stitchwork used in the body of the hat in the design, and just knitted the hat in plain stockinette. Then, because the resulting hat looked a little too plain, I added a tassel to the top.

The sweater and cap together do make for a smart little set. I bought some dollar store things to go with it: a picture book, a  colouring book and box of crayons, a stuffed toy hedgehog, some hair clips, etc. I was unable to see Olivia in person at all in 2020, but I mailed her Christmas present to her, and her mother took pictures of her opening her gift on Christmas day and emailed them to me. There was a photo of Olivia in her little tam that was especially adorable -- she has French background, and looked like a tiny Parisienne off to discuss existentialism and her new train set in some café. 

This project used 240 grams of what I'm going to count as stash yarn, given that I didn't buy it myself. I still had 460 grams of the Meandering Serpentine left, but never fear -- I had a plan to use that up too. 

Those 460 grams of the Meandering Serpentine yarn were more than enough to make a sweater for me. 

I'm not thrilled with the look of the salmon colour of the yarn on me, but I thought it would be wearable if combined with a couple of greens. I had a 100 gram skein of lime green worsted yarn in my stash (which was bought so long ago I no longer know what brand it is), and all I'd have to do was purchase a single skein of olive green worsted. I searched Ravelry for a suitable tri-colour pattern and found the Vintersol design, by Jennifer Steingass, pictured above. It's really lovely. And then I purchased a skein of Red Heart Soft in Dark Leaf. It's an Aran, which wasn't an ideal combination for a worsted, but greens are tricky to coordinate, and that was the only skein Michaels had that was the right tone.

And here's the finished project. I knitted it almost exactly as directed, and just changed the shaping a little bit. The pattern called for the sweater to be wider through the hip section than in the chest area, but since I'm actually smaller through the hips than I am through the chest and don't need that extra width, I made the hip area of the sweater the same width as the chest. I'm still not taken with that salmon yarn, but it won't be right next to my face, and it's certainly a passable-looking sweater that will be fine (and probably nearly indestructible) for around home wear. I had to put an olive twill skirt with the sweater in this photo as I didn't have a skirt that would go with this sweater, but for actual wear I will pair it with the olive khakis I often wear around home in winter. 

This project used up all of the 100 gram lime green I had on hand, all of the olive green skein I bought, and 270 grams of the salmon, so that's a stash decrease of 370 grams. I still have 190 grams of the salmon left to use up. Oh well, I'm sure I can come up with another project plan for that sooner or later. It is, after all, what I am so prone to do.

My next project was a Mother's Day gift. My mother has a thing for all things owl. As she says, "They're wise. And they have big eyes." When planning or buy gifts for her, I try to keep an eye out for useful owl-themed stuff that she would like. Over the years I've given her owl cloth shopping bags, an owl brooch, an owl Christmas tree decoration, an iron owl trivet, an owl tea towel, owl potholders, and a little red owl kitchen timer (you twist the head around to set it). 

When I came across the Oswald Owl cushion cover pattern, designed by Martin Storey, that you see depicted above, I knew it would be just the thing to make for a gift for my mother. It's a relatively simple yet striking design, and it's cute in a polished, adult way.

Here is my version of Oswald Owl. I used Loops & Threads Impeccable in Putty and Walnut Tweed. I was trying to keep it neutral so that my mother could choose where to put it in her house, and while I was making it went through a stage of thinking I'd gone too far on the neutral front, that the colourway looked dull and ugly, but once it was done I found I didn't mind the look of it. 

The pattern says just to seam the cushion together on all four sides, but I think it's worth the extra effort to put zippers in cushion covers -- you can take the cover off the cushion form and wash it. I would have preferred the zipper to be the main colour of the cushion, but I didn't have one that colour and did have a brown one the colour of the contrast yarn in my zipper box, so I went with it. The one I used was actually one I ripped out of a brown hoodie I made and then had to rip out and knit again as a pullover because a section of it felted -- zippers are tough and durable and it's a good frugal and green habit to salvage zippers that are still in good condition from worn-out or damaged items. 

I think the brown zipper looks all right. It doesn't show when the cushion is standing upright anyway, and it will be standing upright most of the time. I used the zipper installation method I came up with in 2018: make two crochet chains out of the yarn, sew them to the zipper, then use the loops of the crochet chain to sew the zipper into the cushion. (There is an illustrated and more detailed explanation of this method in this post.) 

I sewed my own pillow form out of some leftover ivory linen fabric I had on hand. By my calculations, as long as you have remnant fabric on hand to serve as ticking, it's slightly cheaper to make pillow forms than it is to buy them (and it takes less time to make one than it does to shop for one), and one can also make them to exactly the size and plumpness desired. 

This cushion was my Mother's Day present for this year (along with two masks and a tissue case), though it was presented in mid-August. My mother wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the cushion, but she didn't seem to actually dislike it either, and with her, that's a win. My sister warned Mum to keep an eye on this cushion when my niece Peaches or my grandniece Cauliflower are visiting her house, as they love owls too and the pillow might mysteriously vanish around the time of their departure.    

This next project came to be because I wanted a brown-tone hat and scarf set to go with my plain brown winter coat. I thought fair isle would be a nice design direction. I also decided I would make a pair of brown gloves to go with the set. I still have the pair of brown knitted gloves I made in 2014, but I've worn them so much that it would be a good idea to have a second knitted pair that I could leave in my coat pockets rather than constantly transferring the one pair I have between coats. 

I searched Ravelry for a suitable pattern, and found the Pine Creek design, by Mary Henderson, which I loved at first sight. I decided I'd get two shades of brown and a contrast colour to knit it with. Now, what glove pattern should I use? I didn't want to make the gloves in that fair isle pattern too, as my rule is that while wearing two matching knitted pieces is a nice coordinated look, three knitted pieces in the same distinctive pattern are too much of a good thing -- it's too matchy-matchy a look. But I could knit the gloves in the same dark brown yarn so as to make them look like a set, and then the gloves also could be worn separately with all my winter coats.   

After searching for a suitable glove pattern on Ravelry, I settled on the Nisu pattern, designed by Maraka Mari. They are plain without being too plain, and I thought the cabled pattern on the back complemented the fair isle pattern of the Pine Creek set. 

With my patterns selected, it was off to Toronto's Romni Wools to pick out the yarn. I bought three skeins of Mirasol Sulka Nina in Cafe Royale, which is a lovely blend of merino, alpaca, and silk that feels fantastic against the skin, then for my lighter shade of brown and contrast colour, I bought two skeins of  Sandnes Garn Mini Alpakka: one in shade 2652, which is a light brown, and one skein of the same yarn in shade 3508, which is a sort of muted pumpkin.   

As you can imagine, this project was a lot of work, involving as it did not only lightweight yarns and small needles, but also fair isle. But it went smoothly. I don't think I made any mistakes to speak of. My one regret was that I hadn't chosen a lighter shade of brown than the Sandnes Garn Mini Alpakka 2652 -- a higher level of contrast would have made the set much more striking and shown the design to better effect. It's too muted for my liking as is. 

This is the first cowl I have ever made. I get the appeal of a cowl -- they are very practical as they stay in place, which means they are unlikely to get lost, and they provide coverage -- but I prefer the look of a scarf. However, while I did consider turning the cowl design into a scarf design, with this particular project, the cowl was the way to go. The underside of a fair isle scarf wasn't going to look attractive, and I was not interested in knitting a tube fair isle scarf. I was happy with the way the finished cowl sat on me, so that's good.  

Here's the tam. This is such a lovely pattern. The photos didn't show the orange yarn accurately -- it's a sickly golden yellow here.

Once the cowl and tam were complete, it was on to the gloves. 

The gloves gave me serious attitude when I was working on them. Really, glove, who raised you?

The finished gloves, which are handsome and feel wonderful to wear. As well as they turned out, knitting this pair of gloves was a wholesome reminder of why I don't knit gloves more often. They are so finicky and fiddly to make. I do think it is worth doing occasionally, as one does wind up with a perfectly fitted pair of gloves. But I wouldn't want to do it often, or ever make gloves for anyone else, as the intended wearer would have to sit beside me while I worked, and let me try the glove in progress on their hand every five minutes when I'm working on the fingers. 

The completed tam, cowl, and gloves. I can't help regretting my choice of a not-light-enough brown, but otherwise this is a set I am very happy with.

I had 110 grams of yarn left once I completed this project, and as I bought all new yarn for it, that's a 110 gram stash increase. 

And now for the last project I worked on in 2020. It was quite the albatross. 

My sister is what I call "Christmas crazy", meaning she really loves decorating for Christmas and goes all out on it. She also has an especial thing for snowmen-themed stuff. Circa 2018, I got the idea of making her a special Christmas afghan -- something with snowmen on it, if possible. 

I searched the Ravelry database for a suitable Christmas afghan design, and came across the Patons-designed Christmas Eve Afghan pattern depicted above. I thought the happy-looking little snowmen were cute, and that the design had a bit of a country feel to it, which was fortuitous in this case as my sister's tastes lean a little country. The afghan design is basically lap-sized with a finished size of 42" x 48", but I decided I'd enlarge it to what I consider the ideal afghan size, 4' x 6' -- large enough to comfortably cover one ordinary-sized adult, yet not so large as to be unwieldy. This meant knitting 60 blocks instead of 48. I decided I would also make a matching throw pillow.

As to the yarn, it had to be a budget type yarn, because I needed a LOT of yarn for this project (1730 grams by my estimate). I looked in my stash and found some orange worsted yarn for the snowmen's nose, while a partial skein of Loops & Threads Impeccable Tweed in Walnut Tweed (leftover from the owl cushion already mentioned above) would do for the arms and top hat. I bought one skein of Red Heart Super Saver in Soft White for the snowflakes and snowmen, and for the body of the afghan I bought Bernat Super Value in Forest Green. I calculated that I needed 8 skeins of the Bernat Super Value. In January 2020, I began walking up to the Michaels at Toronto's Stockyards shopping centre once a week to buy a skein of yarn using Michaels' coupons, which only apply to one item per customer per day. Or rather, I intended to walk to Michaels once a week; the reality was that some weeks I wouldn't get around to it or I decided I'd rather buy something else at Michaels when I actually got there. As of the end of February 2020 I only had bought the one skein of Soft White and two skeins of the Forest Green. But hey, no rush, there was still lots of time to shop at Michaels before Christmas 2020 and get the rest of the yarn, right?

This blithe assumption turned out to be quite wrong, because of a little complication best known as the COVID19 pandemic. Michaels Ontario had to close in March, and when they reopened a few months later, they had no Bernat Super Value worsted in Forest Green. I waited several more months for them to restock, but it turned out that they'd ceased to stock it at all. By this point, in August, I'd begun working on the afghan and was getting anxious. I searched online, and found that Michaels had some more still in stock in their other stores across Toronto that I could order online and have shipped to my house. I ordered six skeins. Michaels sent me a bag of four skeins and I called them and reported that I was two short of what I ordered. The customer service person arranged for another shipment of two, and then it turned out that I later received the remaining two that I had originally ordered in a separate shipment plus the extra two sent to me because I'd complained of not receiving my full order. I do wish Michaels had added some kind of statement to the packing slip for the four in order to inform me that I would be receiving the extra two under separate cover. But at least now I had no worries about running out of yarn.

Here's the finished afghan. It's a little smaller than I hoped (47" x 68", not counting the fringe), but it will do. I began it sometime in early August, thinking I'd be done in a few months -- I usually can knock off an afghan in one to two months -- only to find that it dragged on for a soul-searing eternity during which I often felt despairingly that I would be working on it forever. It took me over six months to make this afghan and a matching throw pillow -- I took just a week or two off in that time to knit a glove and a half for the tam, cowl and glove set documented above. 

Why did it take so long? The afghan is a time-intensive design, of course, with its detailed little motifs. I did eventually get to the point that I had memorized the cabled and snowmen patterns, which helped some with speed, as I could make a block in an evening without so much as a glance at one of the charts. I was never able to do the same for the snowflake motif, and it took me several evenings to make each one. 

But it still shouldn't have taken me more than three to four months to make the afghan and cushion. I made quite a lot of mistakes. I got a bunch of cable squares made before I realized I'd done them wrong, and I did the same thing with the snowmen squares. I made about six snowflake blocks before I realized they were too wide. I think what happened was that the Red Heart Super Saver was a slightly bigger gauge than the Bernat Super Value. I ripped out all of them and reknitted them four stitches narrower than the pattern called for. They're still a little too wide compared to the cable and snowmen blocks, but it was workable. 

Seaming together the afghan blocks was a job in itself, but once that was done, I did enjoy getting to the point where I could begin working on the garter stitch trim on the four sides, because it meant I could use my brand new ChiaoGoo circular needle set for the first time. I'd wanted a new set for years. Then in early December when I realized I was going to have to spend Christmas alone (after an entire year spent alone) instead of going to my parents' house for a few days as I normally do, I went on Amazon to buy a few modest things to cheer myself up. Then I saw on my wish list that the price of this set was as low as I'd ever seen it, and I went a little mad and ordered one. 

When it arrived I sat down at my kitchen table with it and spent so long poring over its many attributes that my cat got jealous and threw a "PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEE" tantrum. Most of my belongings are handmade or thrifted or even found items that I upcycle, or things my woodworker dad makes for me, and even when I do buy something new it's usually from the dollar store or some other low budget place. I generally have to go with the cheapest option I can live with. And I'm fine with that -- I think I probably get more real enjoyment out of making and contriving and finding deals than I would if I could afford to just go to the mall and buy whatever I wanted.  But I have hardly ever owned anything top of the line in my life, and it was such a thrill to get something that is the best money can buy for once.  

This was my old, partially incomplete and partially broken set of thrift shop Denise circulars and the assorted circulars I owned prior to my ChiaoGoo set's arrival, so you can see why I was so excited. The Denise circs tended to come apart really easily. No matter how careful I tried to be, the needle would come off the line, dropping 50 or 60 stitches. I would groan and painstakingly pick them up again, and then five minutes later the needle would come off the circular line again. I'm amazed I didn't have a rage stroke. I'm going to give the assorted circulars to a friend of mine who has just begun knitting, but I really think the Denise set should go in the garbage. 

Here's a photo of the matching throw cushion. It is 20" x 20". The original plan was to make the cushion out of pieced blocks, just like the afghan, but I decided against going that route because it wasn't going to be possible to make the cushion the size I wanted it, and also because it was a lot of work. So, I adapted the cable pattern and used that for the cushion, knitting the cushion top in one long strip, folding it in half, and then seaming it on two sides and adding a zipper on the remaining open side. It's more neutral than Christmassy, but that means my sister will be able to leave this cushion out all year round if she likes. 

The zipper for the cushion. I used my "two crochet chains sewn on either side of the zipper" technique for this as I did with the owl cushion. I do wish I could have used a zipper in a shade that was closer to the green yarn colour, but between Fabricland only offering curbside pickup shopping these days (which would make if difficult for me to match the colour) and my super tight budget, I decided this olive-coloured zipper that was just sitting in my zipper box would have to do. I made my own pillow form for the cushion. Good thing I'd stocked up on polyfil early in 2020. 

I did not finish this project until February 13th, 2021. Meanwhile, of course, Christmas had long since passed. My sister's birthday is in mid-January, so I gave her the items I'd originally bought for her birthday for her Christmas present (my mother and sister came to my house in Toronto to do a curbside present delivery and pickup on December 23rd), and I told her that I was working on something special for her birthday present, though I was uncertain as to when I'd be able to give it to her. I still don't know when I'll be able to see her again. I could ship it to her, but that would be expensive and I can't bear to take the risk it might get lost in the mail, and also I want to see her reaction when she opens it. 

My sister has what I would categorize as three basic reactions to gifts. If she loves the gift, she'll laugh in a particular, delighted, staccato kind of way ("Haw! Haw! Haw!"). If she likes it, she just seems pleased, and talks about how she'll use it. If she doesn't like it, she is polite but unenthusiastic and unforthcoming. Of course I won't pressure her to like this afghan and cushion or complain if she doesn't, but I'll be watching her carefully when she opens it, and if I get the "politely unenthusiastic" reaction for something I worked six months to make and that is probably the most time intensive knitting project I've ever done, I think I'll die a little on the inside.  

This project used a tiny amount of orange yarn and perhaps 20 grams of the brown tweed I had in my stash. I had 60 grams left of the white, and thanks to the mix-up with the Michaels shipment, I finished this project with two almost untouched skeins of green yarn (I used just a little of one of them when I was finishing up the fringe), so that's a net stash growth of  436 grams. 

This is the first time in years that my stash got bigger instead of shrank -- when I tot up all the additions and subtractions of my seven projects, I find that my stash grew this past year by 176 grams. I blame that Michaels shipping mix-up -- without those two superfluous skeins, I would have had a stash decrease of 218 grams. 

I finished this project on February 13th, 2021, but I'm cheating a little and including it in my 2020 post. After all, I did knit 80% of it in 2020. 

Looking ahead to 2021, I have a list of 14 projects I would like to make. I don't know how many I will get to, especially given that I'm getting a late start on them, but there's nothing on the list that will be as much of a time hog as my sister's Christmas afghan, and I am resolving to take more care with my knitting (i.e., follow the pattern more carefully, do the math in advance to make sure things will work out as I want) so as to make fewer time-wasting mistakes. We'll see how that works out.