Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Problems and Solutions

Problem: Need to discourage the cat from getting too fresh with the Christmas tree.


Solution: Discover "Cat Entertainment" videos on YouTube. Here Bucky is watching a 9-minute video of birds and squirrels for the third time in a row. He's about as bad as my little sister at the age of seven and Disney's The Little Mermaid. Bonus: For the first time in nearly two years, I am able to spin on my spinning wheel uninterrupted for more than 45 seconds.


Problem: The thought of all the social activities of the season, and the end-of-the-year responsibilities of our jobs is causing the spouse and I to break out into hives.

Pinnacles Nat'l Monument

Pinnacles Nat'l Monument

Solution: Take three days off right before Thanksgiving to drive to Santa Barbara and go hiking and wine tasting. I didn't question his need to take so many photographs of rocks, and he didn't question my need to visit this one particular yarn shop for this one particular yarn.

Faded Quilt Shelter

No, this isn't all that I bought.

Problem: I decide that all my gift knitting is boring. Too many hats and all.

Solution #1: I cast on for a shawl. Yes, it's for me. No, I don't think it's selfish. What?

Tart Stripe Study Shawl

I then realize that I still have deadlines on many of those holiday gifts, and come up with Solution #2: Decide that maybe I should knit something besides hats for gifts. Wait, isn't there a handy scarf-in-progress? Yeah, let's knit that instead.

Floating Down Scarf and Mitts

I realize that scarves are still pretty boring, and move on to mittens.

Denizens Convertible Mittens

Still bored. Think some more, and come up with Solution #3: I decide that maybe I could sew some gifts instead of knitting them. Yes, this will save time! Resolve to go purchase fabric for said sewing projects.

Pillow Fabric

Realize that spending money on supplies for future handmade gifts is dangerous, as it leads to spending money.

Japanese Cat Fabric

Problem: I don't have enough time to finish all my holiday gift knits.

Solution: Clearly, now is the time to photograph stash and projects, edit and upload photos, update Ravelry, and write a new blog post. Happy procrastination season, everybody!

Friday, December 2, 2011

More Adventures at Verb

Even though I'd successfully finished Angostura, when I saw that Ysolda was returning to the Bay Area to teach a class specifically about her book, I couldn't resist. In fact, I sorta talked two of my knitting friends into taking the class as well (although unfortunately we took it at different times).

Ysolda @ Verb

The rest of the store was packed, because it was also the one-year anniversary of Verb's grand opening. Graceful tall white curtains separated us from most of the madness. I'd brought a bunch of different size needles and a tape measure (just in case), along with my copy of Little Red in the City. I found my seat and set up my stuff.

Ysolda Class @ Verb

The class was mostly about information in the "introductory" portion of the book, and although I'd read through some of it, having a class was definitely helpful! Being able to ask for clarification about what was written in the book, hearing from the author herself about the most important parts (and having her tell you what the most important parts were!), and taking notes the whole time really solidified the information in my brain. I'm also very grateful to have the condensed-version handout that Ysolda made for us.

I'll admit to being a bit of a keener. When Ysolda asked for a volunteer, I immediately raised my hand Hermoine Granger-fashion, before I even knew what she wanted us to volunteer for. Turns out she wanted to do a measuring demonstration about how some of us ladies are a little *ahem* more 3-dimensional in the front than in the back.

I also got a good mental kick in the pants, because I did this thing that my own students do all the time which really bugs me. I haven't really done successful short-row shaping for the bust of a fitted sweater, and I wanted to know the best way to perform the wrap-and-turn. Ysolda gently pointed out that the book outlined three different methods that all effectively produce the same result, with very explicit tutorial-style instructions. Guess I should have read the book a little more carefully before asking my question! I wasn't put off at all, and now I think I need to just knit a wrap-and-turn swatch to get the hang of it. Overall, the class was very good and it was (in my opinion) dead cheap. I would have paid more for this class, and I would have really shelled out for a full-day workshop where we could measure ourselves and actually swatch. I left the class with new sweaters dancing in my head, but also with the knowledge that the holidays were right around the corner.

The only thing that could possibly have distracted me from crazily attempting to knit a sweater while simultaneously embarking on holiday gift knitting is this:

My new sewing machine!

My new sewing machine.

I bought more fabric than yarn during the anniversary sale after the class was over. More adventures to come.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Season of Change

It's the time of year when I start thinking about gift knitting. And sweaters. And warm woolly socks and scarves. The peak of the semester has passed, the holiday season is well underway, the mornings are chilly and we've put the clocks back on standard time.

Midterms are over, which means I have time to get back to knitting. After finishing Angostura, I remembered how much I like having just one knitting project on the needles at any time. But I wanted something quick, so I knit four hats. One-two-three-four, just like that. No photos yet, as they'll all likely end up as gifts. I was intent on finishing these hats, to quickly use up some stash and feel like I was making progress towards the gift list. Before I knew it, my favorite yarn/fabric/fiber store was celebrating their one-year anniversary. I was going to see and hear Clara Parkes, and I had nothing on the needles. I thought about casting on a sock (as would be appropriate), but I had no time. So a scarf it was.

Floating Down Scarf

That turned out to be a good idea, because it was packed at Verb and it was nice to not have a fiddly chart. The yarn was wonderfully soothing (and has continued to be so over this very busy week). It's two different skeins of handspun, one from the ancient depths of the stash and one from last year. The pattern is the good old Noro striped scarf. It was very low-distraction knitting, which I was grateful for during Clara's talk.

Clara Parkes at Verb

As I sit here writing this, I have to marvel that I've never blogged about Clara before. She's one of those people whose work you read, and it feels like you're chatting with a very smart, very old friend (old in the sense that you've known each other for a long time). I bought her first two books, The Knitter's Book of Yarn and The Knitter's Book of Wool during my first forays into spinning and fleece acquisition, respectively. I wanted to know how to construct my yarn so it would behave the way I wanted it to. The yarn book taught me a great deal about cellulose fibers, ply, twist, and density. The wool book sits on my shelf next to Beautiful Sheep, where the two books together provide endless entertainment as I imagine turning animal fluff into warm, cozy sweaters on these crisp evenings.

But the whole reason I learned how to spin was so that I could make my own sock yarn. Handspun socks. I've knit three pairs of socks out of handspun yarn, and I'd call one of them a definite success. The first pair of socks I knit out of handspun were for the husbeast. There, the problem was mostly that I wasn't very good at spinning fine yarn yet. They're more like felted slippers (very tight felted slippers) than socks, and they mostly get worn when it's very cold or on camping trips. The pattern was inspired by the basic sock in Cat Bordhi's first sock book, but with adjustments for gauge differences and a fancy cable running up the side. They're in the shape of socks, and they haven't gotten any holes yet, but they're not really comfortable for everyday wear.

The second pair that I made are awesome by accident. I was trying to get better at spinning yarn for socks, and I came across this amazing rainbow progression-dyed BFL fiber. I'd heard somewhere that BFL (which stands for Blue Faced Leicester, a breed of sheep) is good for socks. Now that I'm reflecting, I probably read it in the Knitter's Book of Wool. I had more than 8 ounces of fiber, and I knew I wanted rainbow socks. I figured out that the best way to do this would be to split the fiber into two long strips and chain-ply the yarn (chain plying is essentially doing a crochet chain where the loops are about as long as you can hold your arms while spinning and tensioning the singles). These socks came out great, the rainbow effect was lovely, but they're still a wee bit on the thick side.

Ironically, the most recent pair of handknit socks I've made are also the ones that have the most holes. Like two each. My handspun was probably not up to the task of being gently scrubbed between my foot and shoe for 8 hours a week. The fiber was super-soft, superwash merino. I'm about 20 pages into the Knitter's Book of Socks, and I now know that I should've spun this with socks in mind to begin with, or knit them at a tighter gauge.

Tea with Clara Parkes @ Verb

Hearing Clara talk about her journey into the land of writing about knitting, what she loves about socks, the surprises she had while writing this most recent book, and her favorite breed of sheep and how she'd spin the wool for socks was a fantastic treat. Plus, we got to see the samples of all the socks from the book (Hello there, Shelter! I feel like we keep bumping into each other at these parties. Maybe we should get a cup of coffee soon, just the two of us... *wink wink, nudge nudge*).

Tea with Clara Parkes @ Verb

At the end of the event, I was excited about socks in a way that I haven't been since 2007, when I signed up for the Blue Moon Fiber Arts Rockin' Sock Club. I'm excited about the science of socks, and the knitting of socks, and the wearing of socks. It's perfect project material for autumn. As soon as I finish the scarf.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Where did October go?

Goodness gracious. It's been awhile since I blogged, and I am DEFINITELY properly ashamed. Hopefully, I'll be able to distract you with photos of the latest knitting FO.

Introducing Angostura:


I adore it. It's the first knitted vest I've made, and Ysolda's instructions didn't lead me wrong. I wore it to work on an evaluation day, because I wanted to look smart and professional and feel confident.

Angostura Back

The cable at the small of my back is still utterly charming.


It's not quite cold enough to wear it with a long-sleeved shirt, but we've had a couple of nippy mornings over the past two weeks (along with some very sunny afternoons). I'm betting this will see a lot more action as the weather continues to cool down.

The best part about this vest is that it's made from swap yarn (Cascade 220 Heathers, for those who are interested). I used a little more than 3 skeins for the vest. Given the tremendous amount of swatching that I did for this project, I'm glad I had a lot of extra yarn. And how there's some left over for a hat!

All of my happiness and swatch madness aside, I still chose the pattern size a teensy bit haphazardly. I really need to sit down (or stand up) and honestly take my measurements, and it's really incredibly difficult to do that when you're excited to cast on for a new project. To combat the startitis, I've signed up for Ysolda's class at Verb next weekend. There are still a few spots left in the Saturday afternoon class, and Ysolda is signing books in between. My goals are to take good measurements, and to learn more about short rows. I partially started with Angostura because it doesn't really need short row shaping, but it's a technique I'll need to get more practice with if I'm going to be really satisfied with my sweaters in the future. Until then, I can daydream about which one to start next!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Swatch Abuse

I really thought that the first item I knit from Little Red in the City would be a Cria cardigan, but I weighed the yarn I was intending to use and now I don't think there's enough there for a Cria. So instead, I decided that the perfect back-to-school project would be a sweater vest. Because nothing says "authority in the classroom" like a knitted vest on top of a crisp white button-down shirt. I dug up some old Cascade 220 in a beautiful heathered teal-blue that reminds me of mallard ducks, and got to swatching for Angostura.


Now, I don't really enjoy swatching. Ysolda waxes poetic about swatching, and how much she loves the experimental and quick nature of swatching as a designer. Reading this paragraph has kind of convinced me that I'll never design a sweater. But I took to heart her suggestion that for a garment like a vest, sweater, or cardigan, it's worth the few hours of swatching to make sure you get the right size at the end. In my mind, it's now very simple: swatching is necessary if I want a realistic idea of my gauge. I cannot will a sweater to fit properly, nor do I have a mystical psychic understanding of how every single yarn will knit up on every single needle size. Also, just because I like the feel of US size 6's does not mean I can knit with that size for every garment.


I was even a very good knitter, and blocked my swatches. I made four (although only three are pictured here), one each on US size 7, 6, 5, and 4. The size 4 swatch was definitely too small, and the size 7 was too large. While I was fretting over whether to use size 5 or 6 needles, I decided I might as well take some photos of the swatches. And this started to happen.

Swatch Abuse

Eventually, it turned ugly. I'd forgotten how much the smell of wet wool (apparently) drives the cat bonkers.

Swatch Abuse

Look familiar?

Cat on Scarf

He kept going for the smallest swatch, eventually giving it the rabbit/disembowel feet kicks.

Swatch Abuse

So, you hear that swatches? I did everything I was supposed to do. I washed you and dried you and measured you. If you lie to me, I'll let him loose. And he has no sense of mercy.

Swatch Abuse

Oh, and I ended up going with the size 5's.

Angostura Progress

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Finishing

First of all, yes, I've started something new. In fact, two somethings new. But I'm saving them (so sneaky!) so that I have something to blog about next week, which is the first week of classes. Stress levels will be high, creativity will likely be low, and I'll need something easy to blog about. In the meantime, I have one more finished item to share:

The pattern for the baby blanket squares (that I previously blogged about here) is finally ready! It's free and up on Ravelry as the Garter Outside-In Mitered Square.

The design process for the square was radically different than what I went through with either of the mitten patterns. It's been like one of those movies that is kinda long, and feels like it has more than one ending. You sit there, and find yourself thinking "Ok, bladder, I know we have business to take care of but just hold on. The credits are coming up any minute now!" And then fifteen minutes and three sweeping crescendos of music later you're feeling a little anxious and bored, and if you're me, guilty about feeling bored because it was really a good movie and you're still enjoying it, but could they just wrap it up already?

The bulk of this pattern was all written in early spring. What I really learned with this pattern is that the layout, presentation, and all those other elements that my brain tends to think of as "extra" are really quite important to the pattern. As in, they must be done before you publish the pattern. Nevertheless, I felt like the technical brainwork involved with this pattern was minimal compared to the mitten patterns, which is why it's up for free.

Finally, I want to thank all the members of Purl Jam and the One-Sock Sunday group who knit squares for the blanket, proofread the pattern, and offered constructive criticism. It turns out a knitalong with about 20 participants is a great way to test-knit a pattern, and you are the best test knitters! Also my thanks to Erica, Marissa, and TK for coming to my rescue with photos. I've definitely learned my lesson there, and will be a more consistent photographer in the future. Happy knitting, everyone!

Monday, August 15, 2011


I might be having a bout with it. Seaming on the mitered square blanket is coming along apace. Four of the six strips are done, which means that I've done more than 2/3 of the seaming. My travel project, the striped Gothsocks, also got finished last night:

Goblin King Gothsocks

These socks were about as simple as possible: 72 stitches on size 1 needles (although I used 0's for the cuff, heels, and toes), 2x2 ribbed cuff, plain stockinette leg and foot, with an simple wedge toe and identical afterthought heel. The Gothsocks yarn is lovely, and I have quite a bit left over. Perhaps some matching fingerless mitts?

Red Birds Quilt

I also finished up the quilt from two posts ago. After I finished the basting, I waffled for a few days over whether to machine quilt or tie this one. I even bought supplies for either option. In the end, I decided to go with the ties. I used 6-strand cotton embroidery thread and put one tie at each corner junction and in the center of each block. Looking at this quilt, I love how the navy blue fabric used for the border and the blocks in the center brings a sense of coherence to the design.

Red Birds Quilt

I'm also very glad I decided to include a strip in the backing. Again with the coherence.

Red Birds Quilt

My favorite elements of this quilt are really summed up in this photo:

Red Birds Quilt

I was pretty careful to sew the bird blocks so that all the birds were facing up, but I missed one. When I first realized I only considered ripping the seam for about 30 seconds. This project had too much momentum. Now, I'm gad I left it the way it is. Every time I see that one bird, I laugh and think of him saying "Herp derp, I'm a bat!" In the original plan, I was going to bind the quilt with the same poppy-red fabric I used in the back, but at the last minute I decided to do the binding in the bird fabric. In the picture above you can see one of the little birds sneaking a peek at us from the binding. I think I ended up with three of these sneaky binding birds. So cute!

So that's the latest FO update for now. But I'm already plotting. The best part about finish-it-up-itis is that after it's made its way though the craft space you get to start new things!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Although I don't think of myself as a needle felter, I can definitely see the stress-relief benefits in the craft. Stabbing wool with pointy sharp needles sounds right up my alley some days when I get off work. I'd tried needle felting out at workshops and craft fairs a few times, and I certainly don't have a problem finding feltable wool around here, but for some reason it never really caught on.

One Christmas my mom got me a needle felting kit, and I made one white owl that now serves as our Christmas tree topper:

Christmas Tree

Still, I remained uninspired until I discovered Jackie Huang, the artist behind Woolbuddy. I can't remember precisely when I first saw his work, but I'm fairly sure it was at Bazaar Bizarre a few years back. Then Urban Fauna started carrying his kits (which you can also buy on the Woolbuddy Etsy shop), and I narrowly missed taking a needle felting class with Jackie.

So when I found out that SF's Museum of Craft and Folk Art was hosting a Woolbuddy event in conjunction with Etsy Craft Bar, I was in. Crafting and beer? Yes, please. I stuffed some non-superwash wool into my bag (admission was discounted if you brought your own materials) and hopped on the bus downtown.

It was a good thing that I left early: the line to get in was pretty long by the time things started. I also quickly decided to pay the full admission price, even though I'd brought my own supplies. The materials we got were the same wool that Jackie uses to make his felted plush animals, and it's really beautiful stuff. The color scheme is definitely one of the defining characteristics of all the woolbuddies. We punched away at the wool over pieces of foam, making more owls. I finished the first one a little early, and started a second one with the wool I'd brought. Here's my two finished woolbuddies:

Woolbuddy Owls

The one on the right was made with the provided materials, and I used my own brown and white wool in the one on the left. You can get a sense of the difference by looking at the back of the owls:

Woolbuddy Owls

The woolbuddy wool felts more firmly when compared with the long-staple wool I happened to grab. Additionally, the wool had little bits of dark orange carded into it, which gives the color a nice depth. The blues also had a little green, and the greens a little blue, and the yellows a little orange, and so on. If I ever wanted to make another one, I would definitely consider purchasing the kit just to get those great colors!

The other thing about all the woolbuddy creations that really gets me is the expressions. Eye position, size, and direction make such a huge difference. I think I did a better job emulating his style in my second owl (the eyes are smaller and the body is more round), even though I like the wings on the first one more. He has that one wing up, which makes me think he's being goofy or saying hello. So I guess he's still a little quirky, which is definitely in keeping with the spirit of all woolbuddies.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What the... I don't even...

Verb Quilting Class Project

I have no idea where this came from!

Verb Quilting Class Project

Honestly, someone else is using the sewing machine. Maybe Starbuck.

Verb quilting class project

What's that? It can't be the cat because he doesn't have opposable thumbs?

Veeb Quilting Class Project

Is there such a thing as sleepsewing? It'd be like sleepwalking, except at the end you have a blanket and it's a miracle that you didn't stab yourself fourteen times with straight pins.

In other words, many thanks to Marisa (who blogs at Quilt Otaku) for teaching me how to line up the seams on a nine-patch block, Peapod Fabric for providing some of the fabric, and Verb for providing the rest and offering the class in the first place.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And endings...

I feel kinda like the cat did two weeks ago. A bit bewildered and a bit ashamed, but knowing full well there isn't anything more to do about the situation.

He wears the cone of shame!

So, the Tour De Fleece ended two days ago. This is what I have finished:

TDF 2011

Four measly bobbins of singles. I didn't find time to ply anything, and I didn't even finish one of the four bags of fiber.

Since starting off with my best intentions, I've also finished my summer classes, got a cold, went to Disneyland, planned a birthday and an anniversary celebration, and taken the cat to the vet twice (once to get a cyst removed, and once for accidentally jumping out the window). To answer your questions: Yes, we have screens on our windows. No, they didn't help. The cat is fine now (see below), although he did split his chin open and I think he chipped a tooth.

Mostly Healed!

Life has gotten in the way, and I wish I could blame my slow TDF performance on all that, but the truth is I've been less than faithful to the spinning wheel.

More Buttercup Bags!

The fabric is from the first shipment of Verb's new club: The Pressed Seam.

Pressed Seam July 2011

I love the club so far, and have taken half of a machine quilting class at Verb so I can avoid little slip-ups that I made on my first quilt in subsequent projects. But lest you start to think I should change the name of this blog to "Starrycraft", which to my mind doesn't flow at all, I do have some actual knitting content! In addition to being distracted from the wheel by sewing, these were far more interesting than brown wool by the last week of the tour:


I finished this one at the annual San Francisco Ravelry Meetup. It's some precious Gothsocks yarn in the "Goblin King" colorway. This yarn was an incredible hassle to get (the Rainy Days and Wooly Dogs shop is almost always sold out), but so worth it. The striping is fantastic, the base yarn is awesome, and the solid black Koigu KPM is a good match for heels and toes if you can't get your hands on a skein of all-black Gothlings yarn. I've got another skein of this yarn, and it might just hop right onto the needles after I finish this pair.

All in all, I only feel a little bad about not doing as much as I hoped to do for TDF. The point of the tour is to challenge yourself and (for a lot of folks) spin more often than they normally do. Could I have spun more? Sure. Did I spin for an above-average amount of time this month because it was TDF? Absolutely. If it hadn't been for the tour, I would have plodded along much more slowly on this project. So although I'm not going to go so far as to say that I've accomplished my goals (I reckon I only have about 1/3 of the yarn I need for a Husbeast sweater), I can still say with confidence that I did well this year.

Hopefully I'll be able to make more reasonable goals one of these years!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I'm excited about starting three new things right now. First, on the spinning front: Yesterday was the first day of the 2011 Tour De Fleece, and although I didn't make a strong start, I have big plans for today and the rest of the tour. Here's my progress from Day #1:

TDF 2011 Day 1 Progress

I spun as much as I could yesterday morning before we had to leave for a wedding. I'm making up my TDF goals as I go along, and I might only get to this one.

Blake Fleece

The husbeast has been hinting that he'd like a sweater. It's a little bit funny because normally he never gets cold, but I think he'll need one if we ever end up on another camping trip like the last one. Since I've got more than 5 pounds of fiber in there, that will be plenty for a large man-sized sweater. Goal #1 is to spin as much of this fleece as I can before going crazy-bored out of my mind. If I have to, I'll sacrifice a bobbin or two for my sanity and spin some Hello Yarn fiber.

The second thing I'm excited about starting is exploring sewing. The quilt, as I hinted earlier, is finished:

Blue Owls Quilt

I hand-stitched the binding to the backside of the quilt during the drive to and from Yellowstone, and finished it up when we got home.

Blue Owls Quilt

It was a fabulous first project, and made me realize that several guidelines that I like to tell beginning knitters hold true for beginning seamstresses as well. A simple pattern executed with beautiful materials and solid tools will be far more pleasing than a project done with cheap tools or materials that you don't love. The simple rectangles were very forgiving when my cutting was less than perfect, and although the quilting lines tend to meander a bit, I can't resist running my hands over the smooth surface and smiling at the tiny owls on the underside of the fabric.

Blue Owls Quilt

We put the finished quilt on the bed immediately, and it hasn't come off since. I can hardly wait to make another one.

The third thing I'm super excited about starting is this:

Little Red in the City

The book arrived on Tuesday, and the yarn was formerly a very ill-fitting cardigan. I've read through about one-third of the introductory material, and I've already learned a great deal. I think the first sweater I'm going to swatch for will be Cria, the short-sleeved version.

What have you all started recently that you're excited about?