2016: Just… don’t suck.

2015 was hard. When I say “hard,” I don’t mean “things just didn’t go as planned.” I mean it knocked the wind out of me (and many people I know and love). Dementors sucked joy from my life. It kicked my butt in a million ways, large and small.

I implore you, 2016: don’t suck like 2015.

That being said, we’re not even a week into this year, and I’m sitting here blogging at midnight because I’m waiting for the sixth load of laundry today to finish in the dryer.

Sixth. Yes. That’s right.

Because Kidlette and I both discovered we had head lice yesterday, and that meant resisting the immediate temptation to shave our heads and doing the rational/right thing and washing everything as hot as possible, drying it as hot as possible for at least twenty minutes, and then 6 hours of intense grooming that is rivaled only by what I’ve seen in nature documentaries on primates. Kidlette went to bed at 2 AM. The Engineer had to muddle his way through helping me with the delousing process, and we finally got to bed at 4:30 AM. (2.0, true to form, demanded that we all wake up at 8 AM. It was a long day in this house.)

On the up side, though, being up this late means I got a few e-mails sent, got a new knitting pattern halfway to a decent draft, dredged up my blog password from where it was hiding in my brain, and now, I’m going to indulge in some actual reading for entertainment while I wait for the seventh load of laundry to finish in the washer. Just eight more to go later today.

Catch you around here again soon.

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Needles where my hands are

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In thinking about yesterday’s post, I looked at it again and thought, “You know, I should really put my needles where my hands are* and do a quick post on a project undergoing what I think most knitters today would consider to be blocking.” I’m also seriously interested in hearing from people who side with the piece at Skeinoblog that I referenced yesterday, because I think we’re undergoing a generational shift in terminology, and the language geek in me finds that to be fascinating. Comments are open whenever you’re ready!

I’ll be working on a post over the next couple of days (because I still have a thumb to put on the mitten I’ll be posting about, and work to do/go to, and at least one sick kiddo).

*Like “putting my money where my mouth is,” except for knitters. I don’t know. I’m writing before having consumed an entire cup of coffee so I can get this posted before the sick kiddo is fully awake.

No, you SHOULD totally block your finished pieces

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It’s been A Summer, you guys. The kind of summer that I hope to never see again in my life, because it was busy in all the wrong ways. Now that there’s a hint of crispness to the air, the wasps have given up their territory to the spiders (if you have not been to a home in the Pacific Northwest in September, it is terrifying for arachnophobes), the days are getting shorter, and I hope to have some time to actually run/design/write/knit again.

So let’s get it going with a bang, shall we? I recently came across a link to an article titled “5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Block Your Finished Pieces.” Here it is, if you want to read it before proceeding. (Disclaimer: I made a version of this response as a direct comment to the piece, just under a different WordPress ID I use when I’m not posting here.)

Spoiler: I really, really don’t agree with it. To start with, the author of the piece cites fifty years of knitting experience – and that’s all – as the reason for his* ability to speak with authority on this topic. Okay. Red flag. There’s a huge pool of technical information on blocking out there, and absolutely none of it is cited in the article, either to support or refute his views. Sometimes experience on its own IS a great resource – like when advising knitters on the best patterns/sizes to choose for baby gifts and why. But when you’re arguing technical information – and on such a sweeping scale as saying “don’t block!” on a commercial site – then I expect you to provide me with actual documentation.

books with blocking info

These are blocking resources from my personal library. Most are easily available through public libraries.

So the author proceeds to list out his points of contention with blocking. I have issues with every single one of them. (His points are paraphrased in quotation marks below.)

  1. “Blocking won’t fix mistakes like missed decreases and mistakes in the chart/stitch pattern.” …that’s not even a rational argument. Poor execution of a pattern or technique is never going to be fixed by blocking. Apples to oranges.
  2. “Blocking can damage your work.” If you choose a technique that’s incorrect for your fiber/FO, yes, you’re right. But in this day and age, there’s EXTENSIVE reference material out there – and very easy to find, both in-print and online – about how to block different fibers/projects.
  3. “You lose the natural fluff and character of the fiber through blocking.” Nope. See above point.
  4. “If you knit it too short, blocking won’t fix it.” If you’re talking anything over 3/4″/3 cm? Yep. I’ll concede that point. If you’re talking under that, though, depending on the fiber and project, it may be possible. Revisit point 2.
  5. “Blocking only lasts until the next time you wash it.” Yes…? I’m… not supposed to ever wash my FOs, then? I’m confused.

The author proceeds to then say that blocking lace is okay, at which point I realized that he uses the blanket term of “blocking” to mean “HARD blocking” (pins, wires, measuring tape, etc.). He reinforces that by describing how he did finishing work on a shawl that his company markets – washed it in the machine on delicate cycle (it’s made in a superwash yarn), spun the excess water out, put it in the dryer on low for three minutes, then gently laid it out flat in the sun and pulled it into shape. By any modern, currently accepted definition – uh, that’s blocking. Easy and simple? Yep. But blocking all the same.

Blocking gets a bad rap in the fiber arts community, and I have to say, after five years’ experience working in a local yarn shop, it’s the number-one thing that scares new knitters. “Now I have to BLOCK it? WHAT? Oh crap! I heard that’s supposed to be scary!” Nope. Don’t sweat it. It’s going to be fine. Here’s a quick guide to blocking:

  • That hat? Toss it in the sink for a soak, get the excess water out (I like a salad spinner for my small objects), and lay it flat to dry. Over an air vent or in the sun makes it go more quickly.
  • Sweaters? Same thing, except take a look at the schematics and tug it into shape/to measurements. Otherwise it’s not going to fit like in the pictures. If there’s a lace/cable panel? Maybe see about pinning out that section.
  • Lace and cable-bedecked wraps and shawls? Yeah, you’re gonna want to hard-block those puppies.

See also: this post by the Yarn Harlot.

Is it an argument of semantics, ultimately? Yes and no. But please, let’s get on the same basic page and not scare away any more new knitters/crocheters.

*The article is signed by “Bjorn,” which is – from my understanding and inquiry – almost exclusively a given name for males. I’ll obviously edit the article if this is not true in this circumstance – I couldn’t find any further information on the company’s blog or website. 

Coming up for air

As usual, it’s been busy. Blogging consistently and meaningfully with two small kids is a challenge – obviously too much of a challenge to maintain over the past few months! There have been some personal and family challenges of all sizes, the house goes through intermittent periods of “cleaner than usual”, “sliding towards chaos,” and “you know what, I’m keepin’ it real, y’all.”

As of this writing, we have not been clobbered by The Huge Insane Earthquake that hit the news cycle last week. Yay! (People from back home in the Midwest ask me how I can deal with that looming over my head, and I shrug. I’ll take a periodic major threat over the seasonal certainty of tornadoes and hurricanes; tornado season took my anxiety to levels that approached a near-constant panic attack anytime it got overcast.) But yes, we’re prepping our emergency kits and evacuation/family reunification plans this summer. It’ll hit when it hits, and even if we never use those kits or plans, better to have them than not.

I really hope that I’ll be able to get back in the blogging saddle on a regular basis soon. School starts in about six weeks, so that will go a long way towards helping that goal happen.

Anyway, just checking in to say hello, let you know I’m not dead yet, and tell you that things are in limbo for just a little longer.

Spring break

It’s spring break. It’s crazy-mama time with both kids home. Go grab Message in the Static for free, from now until Friday evening at 5:45 PST. It’s on me.

My birthday was last week – The Engineer took the day off work, and we headed up to Bellingham, WA for a day out. Mundane but out of the ordinary, which is pretty much what I’ll settle for at this point. We ate lunch at a real restaurant and had dessert, made a trip to the giant indie bookstore, checked out the running store, visited the yarn shops, and I got a pair of awesome new shoes for TNNA in May and extraordinary coffee from a little place around the corner from one of the yarn shops.

Also for my birthday, I splurged and ordered a pattern booklet from Iceland. The LYS had it very briefly last year, but it was before my newly-discovered love for Icelandic wool/yarn, so I wasn’t totally disappointed to not score a copy at that time. That changed. The shipping ($16) was almost as expensive as the pattern booklet ($21.75), but there are 41 sweaters in this booklet, and I’ve got 16 of them in my queue. So it was a worthwhile investment – not all of them are on Ravelry, and even if they were, the average pattern price is $6/pattern.

One of the necessary evils of Spring Break, though, is grocery shopping and Costco with both kids, so I will continue with a review of Óveður (Storm) during naptime this afternoon or later this week. Wish me luck, readers.

Released! Message in the Static

I’m proud to announce the release of my new pattern, Message in the Static. It went live on Tuesday, March 31, so I’m a bit behind here on the blog.

Message in the Static, size Medium

Here she is. Size M, back view.

Message in the Static Hat, size Large

…and in size Large.

Both sizes are included in the pattern, which is available for $3 (USD) on Ravelry or via your LYS in-store Ravelry purchase. Check out the official pattern page on Ravelry.

It’s a pattern that was written specifically for a thick/thin yarn from Dale of Norway/Dale Garn called Condor, but you could sub in Berroco Mojo, Plymouth Yarns Haciendo, or even some of that thick/thin handspun that you make so well when you start spinning and then can never recover once you get the whole spinning thing down pat. Any way you slice it, if you’re working at gauge, you’ll need 100 yards/93 meters of the bulky-weight/thick-and-thin yarn and 65 yards/59 meters of a solid or mostly-solid worsted-weight yarn for the hem.

The reason for the pattern name? The LYSO for whom I work challenged me to find a one-skein pattern that would use less than one skein of Condor. I didn’t like anything I found through a Ravelry search of pre-existing patterns, so I came up with this one – and it turns out that if you work Condor at a gauge that’s slightly tighter than what the ball band calls for, these zigzags of color and texture emerge from the marl. So it’s a sort of message in the static, if you will.

I’m working on a pair of mitts that will coordinate with this; the Medium takes about half of a ball of Condor, so you can either make another hat – or make the yet-to-be published mitts – and feel really good about having used an entire ball of a fantastic yarn.

Whoosh

Last week got away from me before I could make my second blog entry – I started drafting one, went to take pictures, and then I looked at my planner and it’s Tuesday night of the next week already.

Part of the blur is coming from pattern writing, part of it is coming from living with a teething toddler, and part of it is coming from – embarassingly – the fact that crochet seems to put me to sleep. Let’s tackle that in reverse order.

I’m working on an afghan for the Harry Potter Knitting/Crochet House Cup on Ravelry (rah, rah, Ravenclaw!), and it’s the lovely and simple Vintage Crocheted Throw and Afghan from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas. I’ve been cruising along with it for the better part of three months now, and, um, I’m falling asleep after roughly every row and a half. Usually with an audiobook or video running, to add insult to injury. Considering it’s “due” in a week, I’m trying my darndest to overcome that slight and unfortunate mental association that I’ve apparently created between crochet and drowsiness.

As far as the toddler goes? Nothing out of the ordinary, as far as I can tell. But it seems particularly cruel for him to have discovered the ability to slide out of bed and run to the kitchen before I have had my first cup of coffee and/or allergy meds. I usually confuse him with one of the cats before realizing that the cats do not tackle me around the knees.

And then there’s pattern writing. I’ve been working on one for a few weeks and am trying desperately to get it written well, quickly, and in accordance with the advice I’m getting from Kate Atherley’s fantastic new publication, Pattern Writing for Knit Designers. “Quickly” is taking a back seat to the other two, which is for the better, but MAN. I’m anxious to release this thing out into the world. I think it’ll be done by this weekend, but there’s lots of deep breathing and remembering that slow and steady wins the race. In the meantime, I leave you with alpacas from the pattern’s photo shoot.

Oh, NOW they're interested. Thanks, alpacas.

Tap Day Tuesday… on Wednesday

On a whim today, I picked up the six-year-old from school and we went up to Mount Vernon, WA, to visit WildFibers. (WildFibers is one of our fantastic LYS in the Puget Sound area.) The LYSO had sent out an e-mail late last week about two special visitors to the shop – the ladies of Spincycle Yarns and Alana Dakos of Never Not Knitting.

Well. Due to rain, I wasn’t going to get out and garden, so I picked up the six-year-old from school and off we went.

First off, Spincycle. You kind of have to love a company whose logo is a pirate sheep. I’ve admired their Dyed in the Wool DK-weight for a while – my LYS carries it, and it’s just lovely – but I wanted to do something with a bit less of a wild color combo. I ran into Debauchery, their laceweight 100% BFL wool. Mmmmm. It’s amazing. They have several lines, and the price point is definitely above most LYS “comfort zone” prices, but for something that’s dyed in the wool and milled less than 10 miles from our house, it’s not unreasonable.

Secondly, Never Not Knitting. I’ve admired her patterns for a long time, so it was great to meet Alana in person. She signed my copy of Botanical Knits and we chatted for a few minutes – she’s delightful! (I was really irritated to not be able to make the class she taught on designing.) One of my goals this year is to rotate more fibery podcasts into my mix of listening material, and I need to add hers to my list. I think I’m going to start off by casting on her Sprig Cloche. Spring is arriving here in the PNW, and I could use a cute hat for working my shifts at the LYS.

And finally, you’ve seen the new Knitty, right? Lots of intriguing stuff in there. I’m particularly attracted to the Crane Hill Tank by Miriam Felton, the Mia tank by Jennifer Wood, and the Geek socks by Wei S. Leong.

The weeks that make me wonder

This has been one of those weeks.

Too little sleep, too much sugar, too much and too little laundry at the same time, and too many allergens. Result: no real forward progress on any of my projects (either designing or currently in-process pieces), cranky mama, cranky kids, dirty house.*

However! We have a meal plan and food for that meal plan because I went to both Costco and the regular grocery store. Laundry is slowly getting done and folded. While at Costco, I bought some organizational stuff that should help me track projects more visibly (read: not in a drawer, where I inevitably forget them). Three out of four garden areas have been attacked with the branch cutters, which means fewer salmonberries and terrible blackberries this year.** I got the week’s urgent volunteer task done for school. And tomorrow is Pi Day, which means cheesecake and spaghetti pie and shepherd’s pie for all.

I wanted to take a picture of where several of my projects are currently languishing in lovely unfinished states, and where one of them is shining brilliantly in its freshly finished state, but that will have to wait until I don’t have a screaming baby on hand. I hold out hope for tomorrow.

*I’m not a fantastic housekeeper in good weeks. But there is yogurt in weird places, and it’s mixed with unidentifiable substances. On the carpet. That’s problematic. 

**“Terrible blackberries? What sort of crazy ARE you?”, you might be asking. Come visit a residence in the Pacific Northwest. You’ll find out in pretty short order that having fewer blackberries, especially fewer terrible blackberries, is a common problem for many residential properties. 

Tap Day Tuesday

(I did my undergraduate work at Mizzou. Mizzou has a tradition of recognizing students in various walks of study/life by making them members of special groups at Tap Day. I’m borrowing the term to do shout-outs on Tuesdays.)

When people ask me why I knit – because clearly it’s not economical or quick (don’t get me started) – a large part of my answer is “the community.” We’re lucky to be in a time that allows us to have knitting groups that we can physically visit and attend, as well as groups on Ravelry/Facebook/Twitter/blogging circles that may be composed of people we have yet to meet in real life.

I would never have become a prolific knitter or even considered designing if it hadn’t been for the helpful, kind, and supportive folks at my former LYS. I’ve had many a project saved by those same people – moth-chewed yarnovers mended, tinking of backwards cables, and plain old reassurance that, yes, everyone hates garter stitch and lace prior to blocking. Big sisters and aunts that I never had.

When we moved out to the Pacific Northwest, the LYS was one of my first destinations (after the grocery store, the rental office, and the beach, roughly in that order). They’ve been supportive in very different ways, most notably pushing me to get out into the fabulously diverse knitting and fiber arts community that seems to be everywhere out here.

On that note, I offer an appreciation for both of my LYS communities today. My former local knitters extraordinares – as of last night, AKA The Badass Knitters’ League – talked me out of that sheer panic that comes as you finish a massive shawl… and discover that you have 10 grams to complete 2 rows and a stretchy bind-off. (Solution: lifeline that sucker, knit like you just don’t care, and if you can’t finish the bind-off, rip back and bind it off two rows early.) The 10 grams got me through, and I finished the bind-off with just under 5 feet of yarn to spare. Booyah.

My current LYSO has been open to several crazy ideas, and as soon as I finish making the dreaded grocery list for the week, I’m going to go strike up a conversation with our local indie bookstore to see if they’re mutually open to a crazy idea for this summer. (I should probably worry, since the bookstore employees now know me by name. First and last.) Small-town life can be awesome.