Q for You: Does having a yarn stash work?

Q for You: Does having a yarn stash work for you?

Anie and I were talking about this while toiling away at Fringe HQ the other day and she rightly pointed out that it’s an excellent Q for You: Does having a yarn stash ever actually work for anyone?

When I first began knitting, I was earnestly puzzled at how anyone could have a stash. I’d be in a yarn store, still completely overwhelmed trying to figure out what everything meant and how things were organized and so on, and I’d think “How could I possibly buy yarn without knowing what it was going to become? I wouldn’t know how much to buy!” But it wasn’t long before I was acting like a novice gardener at a plant nursery (i.e., a former me) — buying one of everything beautiful just because I had to have it, with no sense of what it might all add up to. By now, between gifts and trades and my own profligacy, I’m in possession of dozens and dozens (and dozens) of single skeins in want of a role to fill.

Sure, sometimes I buy in multiple. But it seems like every time I go to my stash to see if I have something in a certain weight or fiber for a somethingorother that caught my eye, I have one skein where I need two, or three skeins where I need five. I can’t think of the last time I had a project in mind, went to my stash, and found yarn to fulfill that destiny. Every new project requires new yarn, and the stash just grows and grows — all those poor skeins shut away in a closet.

So actually I have two Q’s for You: 1) Does stash work for you — meaning, are you able to shop from your stash instead of running out for new yarn every time you cast on? And 2) What is your favorite one-skein pattern? I’ve just realized I need to put together a collection of perfect single-skein projects (in every weight!) and I’d love to hear your suggestions.


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you cast on?

Organizing my to-knit list

Organizing my to-knit list

I’ve decided to try something new this year — a little thing called planning. Remember when we talked about this? Most of the things I noted in that August 2013 post are still on my wish list! And I’ve been especially itchy lately because there are so many things I want to be knitting and so many yarns in my stash I want to be knitting with, and yet I keep casting on totally other things. Monday night I sat down and made a list of the sweaters I currently think A) I want to knit and B) will contribute to improving my wardrobe situation (as opposed to impromptu knitting projects making matters worse). They are as follows:

1.) I’m thinking about a worsted-weight version of the aforementioned Perkins Cove Pullover by Pam Allen, and am thinking it could be lovely and immensely useful in the navy blue Worsted Twist that my friends at Purl Soho sent me. Definitely a three-season, go-everywhere sweater for me.

2.) There’s a simple top-down sweater in my head that I really want in my closet and that I think would be perfect in Shibui’s Pebble (held double), which I’ve been dying to find the right project for. Would be a workhorse in one of the lighter greys — not sure which one yet. (Swatching with the Abyss I have handy.)

3.) I am absolutely knitting Jared Flood’s Channel cardigan, as noted before, and ordered a skein of O-Wool Balance (organic cotton and wool) to see if that might be the right year-round yarn for it. Thanks so much to Hagen and Vanessa for the recommendation. The skein arrived Monday eve and it’s marvelous — before I’ve even swatched with it, I ordered a sweater’s worth … and then some. If it doesn’t prove to be perfect for Channel (although I think it will), there’s no harm in having a pile of luscious charcoal yarn on hand, am I right?

4.) I also plan to finish my army-green Slade, which will be another wardrobe staple, but since it’s the warmest sweater on the list, knitted in Shibui Merino Alpaca, I’ll chip away at it between now and next winter. Also since it’s stockinette and worked in pieces, it’s easy to squeeze into gaps.

?.) And last but not least, I’m going to sleep-away camp not once but twice this year! (So excited — one trip with my whole family, plus I’m finally going to Squam!!) And I like the idea of knitting a little tee or tank of some sort for that and other purposes. I’m thinking maybe a scaled-down version of Bristol Ivy’s Kit Camisole, or something like the Purl Bee Cap Sleeve Lattice Top or the Riverine Pullover from last summer’s Pom Pom. But I’m probably better off sewing for this scenario, which I need and want to do anyway. So this one’s a maybe. (I’m also working on rounding up the latest great summer patterns since there’s been a flood of them recently. Here’s last year’s roundup if you missed it.)

Them’s the sweaters. There are nine months left in the year, and I have to estimate an average of six to nine weeks per sweater, since I’ve sworn off monogamy. One thing I learned from working on nothing but Trillium for five straight weeks (still ongoing) is that monogamy makes me batty — and a little resentful of whatever it is I’m being faithful to. Plus there are also these items on the list:

• Bob and I have settled on Fort for the first sweater I’ll knit him — I’ve just been waiting to find the right yarn. For him, it absolutely cannot be 100% wool, and ideally it will be washable, but I’m not wild about superwash yarns. After getting that Balance in the mail on Monday, though, we’re both thinking it might be just the ticket and have ordered two more colors to test for him. That’s one more sweater on the list.

• I’m still committed to making some kind of shawl for my mom … just as soon as I can figure out which one!

• There’s another pattern in my head that has to get out — a wrap that I’d love to publish through someone else. I’ve swatched this (right idea; wrong yarn), have extensive notes, and might enlist a sample knitter for it once I swatch with what I think will be the right yarn. But this is a must happen, one way or another. It’s just too good.

And I still want to crochet and weave and macramé and knit footie socks, and allow myself to squeeze in other satisfying little quick-finish projects along the way — to pick up new skills, work with some of the single-skein beauties in my stash, act on whatever new patterns come along that demand to be knitted, etc.

So that’s a whole lot of knitting for the year (nine months), especially if you’re me! I have to be realistic and flexible about this list: If I’m a slave to it, the things on it will feel like obligations instead of desires, which will take the fun out of it. But if I don’t at least write this all down and post it publicly, I’ll get to the end of 2014 with a bunch of random FOs and none of this accomplished. So there you have it.


Q for You: How do you cast on?

Q for You: How do you cast on?

Such a broad question! As much as we all love starting a new project — to the point where some of us (ahem) have cast-on-itis — I think a lot of knitters don’t give much thought to the actual act of casting on. I know I didn’t for the first year I was knitting. I was taught the long-tail cast on, and that seemed to be what all the patterns specified, if they specified anything at all. Then in January of last year, I took a tips-and-tricks class from Josh Bennett in SF and he had a lot to say about cast ons. He talked about whether the first row after long-tail needs to be a right- or wrong-side row (which I had often wondered about) and also about how long-tail leaves you with purl bumps at the bottom of your knitted ribs (which I had never thought to be bothered by, but he’s so right). He showed us how to do long-tail backwards and also the Italian something or other, which is ideal for 1×1 ribbing and which I’ve forgotten in the meantime, having never used it. (There’s always YouTube, right?) But he got me thinking, is the point.

(By the way, I don’t start long-tail with a slip knot. I just make my slingshot, pull down on it with my needle — as pictured — and start casting on stitches. I get really puzzled when I see someone talking about beginning long-tail with a slip knot: what’s the purpose of that?)

Those two Orlane shawls I knitted last year introduced me to the utterly fascinating garter tab cast on for top-down triangular shawls. And reading and knitting so many Brooklyn Tweed patterns, where they’re particularly favored, I’ve also become super curious about tubular cast ons. I did my first one in working on Slade, and it is some kind of beautiful voodoo is all I can tell you.

At VKLive this month, in her steeking class, Ragga Eiriksdottir taught us the German Twisted cast on. (Here’s a video of Lucy Neatby doing it.) Ragga said she liked it better than long-tail for a sweater because it’s just as stretchy but … more durable? I wish I could remember for sure, and I also wish I’d asked her whether it’s her go-to or just her favorite for sweater hems.

The thing that fascinates me about cast ons isn’t just that there are so many ways to get yarn onto the needle, but that there are so many different applications for the different methods. I’m sure lots of people have made a serious study of it, and I wish I had time to do the same. But I think it’s one of those aspects of knitting knowledge that will simply have to develop over the years — as long as I don’t just default to long-tail every single time.

So here’s my Q for You: How do you cast on? The same way no matter what, or do you have different favorites for different fabric or project types?

UPDATE: The replies made me realize there are two long-tail variations I’ve used that are worth noting. The only provisional cast on I know involves using your working yarn and waste yarn and the long-tail method. I loosely tie the two together, rest that on my needle with the waste yarn forward, make my slingshot and start casting on. (The knot does not count as a stitch.) And that amazing Rosa Pomar hat I just finished uses a braided cast on, which is basically the same thing only you start by tying together your two different colors. Cast on one stitch, rotate the yarns clockwise so the next stitch you cast on is with the second color, and repeat — rotate the yarns clockwise and cast on a stitch; rotate the yarns clockwise and cast on a stitch …

And I do use backwards loop or cable cast on for casting on stitches in the middle of a row.


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you knit year round?

Top 2 ways to purl a stitch

Top 2 ways to purl a stitch

Friday was a big learning day for me. I picked up all sorts of random stuff from Ragga Eiriksdottir in the course of learning to steek. (I steeked! And I was in the local paper!) I took another Mary Jane Mucklestone class wherein I learned the Norwegian purl — purling without moving the yarn to the front. Life altering! And then that night in the Marriott lounge, Brooke taught me to knit the Portuguese (ish?) way so I could knit Rosa Pomar’s ridiculously great hat as intended. (Coincidentally, Brooke had learned this from Mary Jane last month, in her Andean knitting class.) And wow, that is the most genius way of knitting EVER.

You knit with the “wrong side” facing — so it’s all done in purl — and the working yarns looped around the back of your neck, one each direction. So instead of working out how to hold two yarns, you hold neither! For tension, you just pull down on the work. And to purl, you insert the right needle into the stitch and use your thumb to pop the appropriate yarn over the needle. Hard to describe but I’m telling you: genius. I only want to knit this way forevermore.


Vogue Knitting Live was good — much smaller than Stitches West, less manic — and once again it was great to see/meet so many of you. (And Laura from the Purl Bee! And Jared Flood!) Anna and I did do a Tag Team Sweater Project photo shoot on Saturday, with none other than Kathy Cadigan as our photographer, and I can’t wait to show you the results on Wednesday. But I’m in the van today headed back to CA and am pretty fried, so please forgive me if I don’t manage to get a post up in between. Blogging on a mobile device still leaves a lot to be desired!


Q for You: Do you knit year-round?

Q for You: Do you knit year-round?

It’s always interesting this time of year — with the sun getting brighter and the days longer — to see blog traffic dipping a little bit as some people’s attention turns elsewhere. I am so spoiled (in this regard) by living in a place where it’s never truly summer that I forget knitting is seasonal for some people. It’s impossible for me to imagine putting knitting out of my mind for even a week, let alone a few months. But then I remember one day where it really was blazing hot (by our standards), and my palms were sweating and I thought the idea of handling wool sounded positively ghastly. So I glimpsed it for a moment, but I also have this idea that people in hot climates have air conditioning (also foreign to me), so does it matter whether it’s hot outside? This may sound really ignorant, but it’s weird and hard, living in a place with no weather, to remember what it’s like elsewhere. So this is my Q for You: Do you knit/crochet all year? If you do, do you work differently, with different fibers? If not, do you switch hobbies to something else? Or are you a person who spends all summer cranking away at your woolly holiday gifts?


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you go to knitting events?

The great closet clean-out, step 1: Emptying the closet

The great closet clean-out

Two weeks ago I did as promised: I pulled every single solitary thing out of my miniature walk-in closet, and I also pulled all of the hidden clothes and shoes out of the auxiliary wardrobe. I stacked everything in categorized piles — which is already a huge improvement over the previous mess — but have avoided trying to analyze what’s there. Yet. And then I cleaned the empty closet! Which is now my favorite room in the house. This past Saturday, I counted:

  • 13 jeans
  • 17 pants
  • 4 sweats/leggings
  • 7 shorts
  • 8 skirts
  • 7 dresses
  • 20 shirts/blouses
  • 38 t-shirts
  • 24-ish tank tops
  • 7 vests
  • 13 jackets (as in blazers)
  • 2 coats

Plus too many (outerwear) jackets to round up and count. And then there are the sweaters:

  • 14 cardigans (not counting the ones on the needles)
  • 18 pullovers (including two turtlenecks)
  • 6 vests/tunics

And, uh:

  • 50 shoes/boots/sandals

This doesn’t include pajamas or exercise clothes, nor socks and underwear. Nor does it include anything in the underbed boxes, which is all basically souvenir clothes. (Favorites from other times I can’t bear to part with, plus the dress I got married in, etc.) I had recently gone through those and narrowed the contents considerably, so I’m leaving well enough alone with all that. For now.

I don’t wear a lot of shorts or t-shirts (you’d never guess that by the count) and essentially never wear skirts or dresses. So there are some very obvious and easy cuts to make right off the bat, and I did make two grocery bags’ worth this weekend. But I’m going to take this whole process very gradually: assessing what’s there, thinking about how I want to be dressing myself, and deciding what is allowed back into the closet vs what goes to Goodwill, consignment, Dress for Success, or the studio rag bin.

I’ve established three rules for the allowing-back-in part of that equation:

1) Everything must fit into the closet, with room to spare. No more clothes in that Ikea wardrobe. And the closet mustn’t be full so that it’s immediately a problem again the next time I buy anything.

2) Putting a thing back in the closet has to be a no-brainer — no talking myself into anything or trying to figure out how I might be able to make use of a thing where it isn’t obvious.

3) Nothing shabby. If there are wardrobe staples that have clearly seen better days (and there are!) then they are to be replaced, not kept. I’m asking myself “If I were to run into someone I haven’t seen in years, would I be pleased or horrified that I had this on?” If the answer is not pleased, the item is not allowed in the closet, no matter how well-loved it may have been.

So I have my work cut out for me, but like I said, I’m just going to take it slow. The mess wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight either. I only wish I had time to really read and ponder Sarai Mitnick’s ongoing Wardrobe Architect series, which is jaw-dropping in its depth and apparent thoroughness. But even dipping into it here and there is giving me a lot to think about.

I’ll have more to say about the sweaters. There are shockingly few I wear given how many of them there are …


Head = spinning

I’m back from Stitches and need a minute to catch my breath, but I wanted to take a second to say thank you to everyone who made this weekend a totally mind-blowing experience, and to my friend Brooke Sinnes for making it possible in the first place. I’m floored by the number of you who came into the booth and took the time to introduce yourselves and tell me that you follow and value the blog in whatever way. I love having faces to go with many of the names I see again and again on blog comments and Fringe Supply orders. Loved hearing your stories about how you’ve tried new things as a result of something I’ve said here. And I’m especially grateful to the woman who told me I’m more attractive in person than I am in my pictures. Geez, how I’ve always hoped that’s true! And to every person who told me my little cabinet of curiosities was their favorite thing in the whole show, I just … well, I’m speechless.

Back to regular programming as soon as I get a little sleep.