Wednesday, 9 March 2022

12 Months; 7 Projects

Another calendar year has passed (over two months ago, but oh well), which means it's time to do another round up post of my knitting projects, something I have done annually most years since launching this blog. (My 2018 and 2019 round up posts still aren't done, but I do intend to get them done eventually, and meanwhile you can check out all my other annual posts here, or visit my blog Modwardian to read posts about all my knitting and other projects.)

In 2021, I had fourteen projects on my list and I completed just seven of them. But then there were mitigating factors. I spent the first six weeks of 2021 finishing a mammoth project that I then counted as a 2020 project, and in the fall I spent nearly two months on a cross-stitch project, so I actually didn't do so badly from a needlework productivity standpoint given that my actual knitting year was considerably abbreviated. There were also a few projects I put some serious work into but didn't finish. That'll give me a leg up on this year, when again my knitting project list is fourteen items long. I'm hoping to get more of my planned projects done this year, and this hope is bolstered by the fact that, nine days into March 2022, I've finished two projects and have done quite a lot of work on three more. But we'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, let's have a look at the seven projects I did finish last year.       

My first project of 2021 (if we don't count that albatross of an afghan project that took me until February 13th, 2021, that is), was a reknit. Back in 2017, my friend Christine gave me two skeins of yarn she had bought at Pembroke Farm, Prince Edward Island, while she and her family were in P.E.I. on vacation the summer before. I was quick to knit up most of the yarn into a shawl/wrap pattern. But then I found I had knitter's remorse on two counts. One, the shawl, though pretty, was such an awkward shape and length that I didn't like wearing it. Two, I had 60 grams of the Pembroke Farm yarn left over, which was not enough in itself to make anything, and I couldn't seem to find any yarn that coordinated with it -- it's an offbeat shade of old rose. Eventually I decided to take the wrap apart and knit a rectangular scarf that I would like better, and to use a design with a repeating pattern that I could just knit until the yarn was gone. 

I searched Ravelry for a suitable scarf pattern and found the Duo Columns Reversible Scarf, designed by Quenna Lee, as depicted above. It's a nice-looking design, and is available for free. 

Here's the finished scarf, with both its sides on display. I thought this scarf design would look better fringed, and as I had plenty of yarn to work with, I went ahead and did so. When I was getting close to the minimum scarf length I wanted, I stopped knitting and fringed the cast-on edge, cut a second set of fringe lengths and set them aside, and then resumed knitting on the length. I worked until I had just enough to cast off with, then added the pre-cut fringe to the cast-off edge, with the result that I had no yarn at all left over. 

The completed scarf is 82" long, which is much longer than I would normally make a scarf. I usually wear my scarves singly around my neck, with the ends reaching my waist. The ends of this scarf reach to my knees when I wear it a single time around my neck. 


But then this is a scarf that looks best wrapped a few times around the neck anyway. 

I don't particularly like making or wearing big needle knits, but there's no denying that they make for gratifyingly quick and easy projects. It also made me smile to use my 9mm needles. Some years ago I saw them in a Salvation Army thrift store, priced at $1. I knew I didn't have a pair of 9mm straights, and I stood in the store with the needles in my hand for a few minutes, mentally debating buying them. With money so tight, I try never to buy anything unless I am absolutely sure that I will use it. At the time, I'd never used size 9mm needles in 35+ years of knitting, and maybe I never would. But I told myself, "It is just a dollar, you'll never get a better deal, and if you don't buy them and do need 9mm needles at some point, you'll kick yourself because you'll wind up having to pay a lot more." I bought the needles, and then just three months later was gratified to find that a pattern I'd picked out called for a pair of 9mm needles. This project is only the second or third time I've used these needles, but I'm still smugly satisfied that I made the right call that day. 

This project used up the 60 grams I had left over when I knit this yarn up the first time, so I'm going to count this project as resulting in a net stash decrease of 60 grams. 

My grandniece Cauliflower turned 12 in August 2021, and of course such an occasion called for a sweater.

I searched Ravelry for a suitable pattern and found the Daisy Delight sweater pattern and the coordinating hat pattern you see pictured above. They are both Drops designs, and available for free. In March 2021, when the stores in Ontario were briefly open, I went to Romni Wools on Queen Street and bought 450 grams of Drops Karisma in Rose (shade # 80). I had some cream Drops Karisma DK left over from another project that I decided to use for the daisies, and a little Jamieson's of Shetland DK in Leprechaun (shade #259) left over from this project that would do for the daisy centres -- the sweater pattern requires just two rounds of the daisy centre colour, so it wouldn't take much. 

Here's the finished sweater, in a size 11/12. It knitted up in just a few weeks and with no mistakes to speak of. I was reasonably pleased with it.

Here's the hat. It turned out fine too. A matched sweater and cap set is such a cute look on a young girl. 

This photo shows Cauliflower's gift in its entirety. It's not much fun for a kid to get a wool sweater in August, so I threw in a few inexpensive items from the dollar store and thrift shop: a planner pad with stickers, a temporary tattoo kit, and a little owl ring (Cauliflower has a thing for owls). Not too shabby, and I hoped it was cool enough to suit a 12-year-old. It's going to get harder to please Cauliflower from here on in, as she'll be developing her own tastes and becoming more conscious of what's in and cool, and meanwhile her middle-aged great-aunt is becoming increasingly out of touch with what's in and cool.  

I had 25 grams of the new rose yarn left, and used 23 grams of the cream yarn and 2 grams of the green yarn that I had on hand, so I broke even on this project in terms of stash increase/decrease.  

My grandnephew Bug turned 8 in July 2021. In late 2020, when I was planning my projects for this coming year, I searched Ravelry for a suitable sweater pattern for him. I ended up selecting the one depicted above, which is the imaginatively named "Boy's Sweater, No. 7", designed by Gretchen Baum. This pattern was originally published in 1948. It amuses me to think that Bug's great-grandfather (born 1938), grandfather (born 1963), and father (born 1981), could all have worn a sweater made from this pattern without ever looking the least bit out of date. Such is the staying power of classic knitwear design.

The pattern called for a dark green and white colour scheme, but when I was shopping for the yarn in March 2021, I selected 250 grams of a tweedy charcoal (Drops Merino Extra Fine Mix, shade 03, Anthrazit) and 50 grams of a cream (Drops Karisma Uni Colour, shade 01, Off White) for my version. 

Here's the the finished item. I'm pleased with the look of it. It's a handsome sweater for a handsome boy. I used a DK for this project although, according to its Ravelry page, it calls for a sport weight. I think it might actually be intended for fingering. As a result I used considerably more yarn than the pattern called for. Thankfully Romni Wools had the three extra 50g skeins I needed in stock. The knit was also stiffer in its feel than I would have liked, though wet blocking helped somewhat. I can't say I regret my choice of yarn, though, as the resulting sweater turned out a modern size 8/9 (I checked the measurements against another contemporary pattern), rather than the narrower 1948 size 8/9 of the pattern. That should give Bug a little room to grow in, because he's on the small side of average for his age.

 And, because a wool sweater is not an exciting gift for an boy turning eight in July, I added a few dollar store trinkets: a scavenger game that can be played in one's own home, and two Hot Wheels miniature cars. 

This project used 2 grams of cream Drops Karisma that I had left over from another project, and there were 10 grams of cream and 15 grams of charcoal left over from the new yarn that I bought for this project, so that's a net stash increase of 23 grams. 

A few years ago, I decided I wanted a scarf and hat set in green. I have a pair of spring green leather gloves I'd picked up at Winners for $20 years before, and I wanted a set that would coordinate with them. That spring green would also look nice with my dark brown wool coat. 

I say I decided this a few years ago because it took me several years to find just the right shade of green yarn in the DK weight I needed for the pattern I'd picked out. Greens can be tricky to coordinate. If they're the least bit off, they look terrible. I took one of the green gloves with me whenever I went yarn shopping, and struck out many times. Eventually, in the spring of 2021, I found what I wanted: 400 grams of 220 Superwash Merino in Peridot. (220 Superwash Merino is officially listed as a worsted, but it really isn't a worsted -- it's between a DK and a worsted.) The green was several shades darker than the green of the gloves, but the right tone, and the gloves won't be right next to the hat and scarf when I've got them on, so I thought it would do. 

It makes me smile that the yarn shade is called Peridot. I was born in August, and peridot is my birthstone. When I was growing up, I used to hate peridot and wish I'd been born in any other month so that I could have a birthstone I liked, but one day in my early thirties I clued in to the fact that peridot green actually really suits me and goes with my wardrobe's colour palette -- I even had several pieces of spring green clothing in my wardrobe already. Since then I've acquired a little collection of peridot jewelry that I love, and sometimes buy or make additional clothing or accessory items in that colour. And then I ended up working on and completing this peridot-coloured project in August, so it was doubly appropriate.  

For the hat pattern, I chose the Armley Beret, designed by Woolly Wormhead. It's an attractive design, and I thought the little tapering cables around the brim looked like little trees, which would accord well thematically with the green I wanted to use for the yarn. As for the scarf, there was no pattern, but that's never stopped me before when I was making a set. It's generally so easy to improvise a design for a scarf that will go with a hat design.

Here's the finished hat and and scarf. I'm pleased with both. The hat knitted up quickly and without any problems that I recall. 

The one modification I made to the hat pattern was to trim it with a tassel rather than a pom pom, as I'm more of a tassel type. 

And here's the hat and scarf with the gloves. They don't look as though they go very well in this photo, but that's just the lighting -- the combination looks better in person than it does in the photo. Better that than the other way around, I suppose.


As for the scarf, I toyed with the idea of doing repeats of the tapered cable motif for the entire length of the scarf, but that would have meant having to repeatedly adjust the number of stitches and I didn't want the hassle. I wasn't sure it would look all that good anyway. Instead, I worked three continuous lines of the bottom cable, and for the edging I used the 2 x 2 twisted cable that was used on the hat brim. I had a ridiculous amount of trouble getting the edging right, so I'll just write here for my own future reference that when picking up stitches for edging along a cabled knit, picking up *three out of every four loops* gives one just the right number of stitches so that the edging will be neither too full nor too taut to sit right. The scarf is just over 6' long and 7 inches wide. 

Incidentally, I've resolved that this set must be my last new hat and scarf set for some time. Besides this new peridot set, and the reknitted old rose scarf featured above, I have a cream set, an old rose set, a plum set, a variegated set, a brown and orange fair isle set, a mohair tam, and a peacock design wool tam, all of my making, plus some other assorted purchased scarves. All of these items are in excellent condition, and guess what, I only have one head and neck to wear them on. I have hats and scarves to go with every one of my coats and with every possible outfit, and it would be a senseless extravagance for me to spend any more money on others until I've worn out some of the ones I already have. 

I'm sure the crazy knitter part of my brain will try to make a case for yet another set pretty soon (i.e, "I don't have a red set!" or "I found this irresistible pattern that I MUST make!"), but the logical, budget-conscious part of my brain intends to be very stern and a hard sell on the matter. 

I had 10 grams of this peridot yarn left after I completed this project, so that's stash growth of 10 grams.

When it came time to pick a design for my honorary niece Olivia's Christmas sweater, I searched Ravelry for a suitable pattern. I soon narrowed my choices down to two patterns, then decided on the above design, which is I Can Sing a Rainbow, by Jenni Bennett. The other pattern was a classic design, but I thought screw it, I was going with the fun one. The time will come when I'll be making nothing but classic styles for Olivia. At present she's 5 years old, and this is my window for making her cute, whimsical designs because at this age she will relate to them rather than thinking that they're uncool. This pattern also only ran to a size six, so this was my last chance to make it for her. 

As for yarn selection, my first step was to go through my stash of DK yarn and pick out the heart colours. This is a great design for using up a lot of little odds and ends of yarn, as it only takes 10 grams of each colour. I found seven that looked pretty together, and made a yarn sampler that I could take to the store to use as a convenient aid in selecting the main colour for the sweater. I liked the idea of a neutral background colour, and decided I wanted an olive shade. It was a bit hard to find the right olive DK, but in the end I went with Sandnesgarn Alpakka in shade 9554, which is a sort of olive khaki. I bought six skeins, or 300 grams. 

And here's the completed sweater. I'm a little meh on the results. I wasn't thrilled with my arrangement of colours in the heart, but I wasn't going to rip it all out and do it again, either. It will do, and I was confident Olivia and her mother would both like it, which is what matters. (They did.) 

It only took 200 grams of the olive yarn to knit this sweater, and I was able to return 2 skeins for store credit at Romni Wools, and to use that store credit when buying yarn for my 2022 projects in the December sale at Romni. (I always think of whatever extra yarn I've purchased for a current project as a down payment on my next project.) 

Then I had just 10 grams left over of the newly purchased olive yarn, and I used approximately 10 grams of each of the rainbow-coloured stash yarn (or 70 grams), so that's a net stash decrease of -60 grams.   

On my birthday in August 2021, my favourite gift of any that I received was the news that my nephew Luke and his wife were expecting their first child in February 2022. Of course, my immediate response was to start planning what I was going to make for my impending grandniece or grandnephew. By the end of that day I had decided I would make the baby a knitted baby blanket and pair of booties, and also a framed cross-stitch motif with the baby's name on it out of a kit I had on hand. I then selected suitable patterns for both a baby boy and a baby girl, and messaged Luke on Facebook with my congratulations and a request that he let me know what he and his wife were having in advance, as I'd be making something for the baby and would need some lead time. Two months later, he dutifully let me know that they were expecting a boy. 

The pattern you see above is the one I'd selected for a boy, the ABC Baby Blanket, designed by Jenny Williams. It's an attractive, easy, quick knit. It could even be an excellent stash buster if one knitted the squares in different colours, but I wanted a solid colour for my version. 

The yarn I chose was Lion Brand's Wool Ease in the Stillwater shade, which I would describe as a light sea green. It's 20% wool, 80% acrylic, which gives it both the nice feel of wool and makes it easy care and (I hope!) durable, which is just what one wants in a baby blanket.

This project knitted up quickly and without issue. As I worked, I thought back to the baby blanket I had made for Luke when he was born in September 1987, just a month after my fourteenth birthday. In those days I didn't have much access to patterns or yarn. I never even knew Vogue Knitting magazine existed at that point -- that revelation would come when I saw it on the newsstand in a convenience store when my mother and I stopped to get milk one evening in the spring of 1988. The baby blanket that I made for Luke wasn't made according to a pattern at all. I knitted a number of garter stitch squares in baby fingering yarn in white and pastel blue, and sewed them together. I'd never make something so basic now. I don't think I even wove in the ends, and I know the squares weren't properly seamed. I was, after all, only thirteen. But that amateurish baby blanket became Luke's blankie and he was very, very attached to it. Over the next several years blankie became very much the worse for the wear. It was no longer the fresh blue and white it had been when new, but grayish and discoloured, with a number of "you don't even want to know what made that" stains, and it was fraying and raveling in a number of places. It got to the point that it was such a disgusting object that I could never see it without wanting to scream, "KILL IT WITH FIRE," and stuff it in the wood stove at my brother's farmhouse, but Luke clearly didn't care what his beloved blankie looked like. 

Then one mid-winter day when Lukie was four, he took his blanket outdoors with him when he went out to play, left it outside, and didn't realize it was missing until bedtime. Luke became quite agitated and demanded that a search be made for it, but trying to find a grayish blanket after dark on a farm in mid-winter in Southwestern Ontario is an exercise in hopeless futility if I ever heard of one. The blanket could have been anywhere in quite a large, unlit area, there were piles of snow everywhere, and it had snowed that afternoon. My brother tried to take the tough love approach, saying to him sternly at eight o'clock, "No Luke, you took your blanket outside when you shouldn't have and you lost it, and you're just going to have to go to bed without it, and we'll have a look for it tomorrow." This reasoning was apparently lost on Luke, as when ten o'clock arrived he was still screaming. Sympathy, substitutes, bribes, and threats were also of no avail. My brother and his wife were, as my sister-in-law has put it, "out there in the yard with flashlights and shovels like a pair of fools until well past eleven" in a desperate effort to find the blanket, while Luke stood at the storm door, alternately sobbing loudly and repeatedly shrieking, "FIND IT!!!!! FIND IT!!!!!" They couldn't find it, and Luke eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion at about midnight, after he'd been crying and screaming non-stop for four hours straight.  

I have thought of that first baby blanket I ever made and of that incident every time I have knitted a baby blanket since, and hoped I wasn't kickstarting a similar chain of events for the new baby's poor parents. And now I've come full circle, and have knit a baby blanket for Luke's son. I wouldn't wish an evening like that on any parent, but I suppose if it should happen my brother and his wife's reaction will be something along the lines of, "PAYBACK SOMETHING SOMETHING, BOY."   

The finished blanket. It's much nicer than the one I made for Luke, with a better design, better yarn, and better workmanship, and I am pleased with it, but I can't help feeling that perhaps it should have been scarlet or some other eye-catching colour, lest it get left outside at night. I've made the baby a pair of booties too, but in 2022, so those will be included in next year's post. 

I purchased all new yarn for this blanket, and had 55 grams left over, so that's a stash increase of 55 grams. 

Further up in this post, I wrote about the sweater and cap I made for my grandniece Cauliflower for her twelfth birthday. Then at the end of 2021, I impulsively started working on the one for her thirteenth birthday, in August 2022. It just seemed like the most appealing project on my list for the coming year. I have been alternately making a dress for her on her "odd" birthdays and a sweater on her "evens", but the dress I made her for eleventh birthday in 2020 was the last one I am ever likely to sew for her. She's reached the age where she needs her dresses fitted on her, and I can't do that as I so seldom see her, so it's sweaters from now on. My sister-in-law tells me this is just as well, as Cauliflower isn't currently as much into dresses as she was when she was little, and would probably just as soon get sweaters anyway. 

This project plan began with my finding 100 grams of bright blue (left over from a cardigan I made for my father years ago) and 190 grams of Patons Decor in Rose Temptation (left over from a cardigan I made for me in 2018) in my stash, deciding they looked nice together, and looking for a sweater design that would be suitable for them both, with the addition of some new yarn in a coordinating main colour. 

This year I directed my search to adult-size designs, instead of children's patterns, as Cauliflower has recently begun to wear women's size extra small. It didn't take me long to settle on the Vintersol sweater, designed by Jennifer Steingass, which I would be knitting in its smallest size. I already owned a copy of it as I have used the design before to make a sweater for me, so that was a cost-efficient plus. Not that a teenaged girl would want to wear the same style of sweater as her middle-aged great aunt, but again, I seldom see her, and will just have to remember not to wear that particular sweater around her for the next few years. 

For my main colour of yarn, I went to Michaels with a yarn sampler of the two colours I already had, and selected Lion Brand Wool-Ease in their Riverside shade, or as I'd describe it, a rich dark blue. I bought three skeins of yarn a skein at a time with Michael's coupons, which brought the total cost of this project to $16.59. 

The finished sweater. It didn't photograph all that well -- the rose colour looks a little psychedelic -- but I am quite pleased with its actual appearance, and I think Cauliflower will like it too. The design is so effective, and the colours work together well. I'm going to put together a manicure kit for her as well, to accompany the sweater and help Cauliflower embark on her teenage years in style.     

This project used 80 grams of the bright blue yarn and 80 grams of the Patons Decor Rose Temptation from my stash, and left me with 10 grams of the new Lion Brand Wool Ease Riverside, so that's a net stash decrease of 150 grams for this seventh project.   

When I add up all the increases and subtract all the decreases, I find that I have a year-end stash decrease of 182 grams, which isn't bad. My yarn stash resides in four plastic boxes kept under my bed, and while I've been wanting to reduce it to one or two boxes for years, it at least isn't growing, and the boxes are gradually becoming emptier. 

This post has been held up so long not because I didn't have my photos and project information ready -- I had all that done by mid-January -- but because the effort of coming up with some pithy words to sum up the year that has passed and the current one as it's progressing, has felt beyond me. Again and again, throughout late January, February, and so far this month, I would open the draft, read and edit and type a few words at the end, and then close the draft with an exhausted sigh. Our world seems to be a constant and ever-worsening state of crisis, what with the seemingly never-ending pandemic, the looming climate emergency, ever-growing financial disparity, numerous wars and countless terrorist attacks, the rise of right-wing extremism, government incompetence and corruption, misogynistic, homophobic, and racist oppression, and the tide of deliberate misinformation designed to mislead and distract us and to destabilize our society. And then, in my own life, I struggle with chronic fatigue issues, financial difficulties, and extreme isolation. I'm not even making a living, and it makes me feel terrible that I'm not pulling my own weight, let alone doing my part to make the world a better place by lending a hand to others. Even though I try to keep myself on an even keel emotionally by being grateful for what I do have -- so, so many people in this world are far worse off than I am -- and to focus on what I can do rather than what I can't, I often feel helpless, useless, overwhelmed, and afraid of what's to come. 

But... I can knit. Every evening of 2021, whatever happened that day, when my fridge died, when it took 40 days to get a new one, when my microwave died, when my beloved Trilby died one September morning at the age of 15 leaving a small, cat-shaped hole in my heart, when a routine task such as a trip to the grocery store had left me too tired to do another thing that day, when I'd been too low in energy that day to even really get up at all, and when I was in any case always too fried by that hour of the day to do any really taxing mental or physical work, when I realized it had been months since I spent any time with anyone, I would sit up in bed, propped on pillows and knitting or doing other needlework while I watched the news, and then while I watched something more relaxing and enjoyable, such as a murder mystery drama or horror film. My evenings relaxing in bed with my knitting and watching whatever's playing on my laptop often feel like the calm centre of my life. And then too, the things I produced in that time were of some small use: keeping a baby warm, making a child feel extra-loved and special on their birthday, or helping me look and feel more put together. 

Not everyone is so fortunate as to have the physical dexterity to knit, the opportunity to learn how to do so, or the time and the access to yarn, needles, patterns and other technical resources that I have, and while knitting doesn't do a lot to make the world a better place, it is a help in the task of staying calm and carrying on, and that in itself is valuable. So, when I say I count my blessings, my ability to knit is one of them. It's a little thing, but when one is adrift in a stormy sea, sometimes those little things can serve as a flotational device, making a crucial difference in keeping one afloat.

And in these days when everyone is having a hard time, my hope for my readers is that, whatever happened in your lives in 2021, whatever is happening at present, that knitting is a comfort and a pleasure to you as well, helping you cope and making it easier for you to deal with whatever else you have on your plate.  

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.