Happy Birthday to Me

I am an expert at celebrating my birthday. I realize that might be a weird thing to say, but it’s true. Some people get all aw-shucks about their birthdays, trying to avoid telling anyone about them or doing anything about them or even thinking about them, but not me. I figure that no matter who you are, a year is a tough thing to live through — and you ought to take a day or three to celebrate yourself for doing so. Above, you see some of the birthday presents I got for myself this year — don’t the colors make an excellent still life? First of all there is a bottle of armagnac, my newest liquor obsession. Every year I buy myself a bottle of particularly nice booze for my birthday, and for the past few years it’s been fancy single-malt scotch, but lately I’ve been head-over-heels for armagnac. It’s like cognac, but from a different region of France, and you can get a great bottle at a much lower price point than you can with cognac. It’s also less sweet than cognac (which is a good thing in my book), and quite possibly more complex — more complex, anyway, than any of the cheap-ass cognac that I’ve ever consumed in my young poor life.

Everything else in this picture — the teeny-tiny skeins of yarn, the lace, the shoelace-looking thing, and the card — are from the April installment of Leethal’s Quick Knits Club, which was another birthday gift to myself. Leethal is a rad designer from Portland who specializes in the colorful, weird, and recycled, and for her Quick Knits Club she sends out tiny 10- and 15-yard hand-dyed skeins of yarn with patterns and other crafty goodies. This month’s theme was “fruits and veggies,” and as a vegetarian that was something I could get behind, so I decided to buy in for just this month. You can get better deals if you want to buy more months at a time, though. Soon enough you’ll see what those little skeins will turn into!

Not pictured, but also very important birthday-wise is that I finished revisions on the latest chapter of my dissertation just a few days ago. I couldn’t possibly deal with it hanging over my head this week, and it was a week overdue anyway, so I sucked it up and got ‘er done. Woo! And to celebrate the joyous occasion of my birth, this evening my band will be playing a houseparty at our friend Tia’s place. I told you: I am an expert.

So what have I been knitting, you ask?

A cardigan, I say! Specifically, an Audrey in Unst. This pattern represents a couple of firsts for me. It’s my first Twist Collective pattern, though I’ve been a great admirer of their magazine since its inception a year or two ago. It’s also my first Gudrun Johnson pattern, though I’ve been a fan of her designs and her blog for awhile now too. The pattern is beautifully written, and as you can perhaps tell from the picture above the construction of this sweater is totally genius. It’s knit from the bottom up in one piece; no seaming! I hate seaming more and more in my old age. 😉 This is also the first time I’ve ever worked with 100% Blue-Faced Leicester wool, and it’s totally fantastic. The yarn is Blue Moon Fiber Arts BFL Sport, though tragically Blue Moon is currently out of stock of the base yarn and doesn’t know when they’re getting any more — I must have gotten the last couple of skeins! Like most knitters, I had been sort of phobic of anything but merino when it comes to wool, but this is extremely soft and seems quite durable, while also having a bit of shine and halo to it. Really, I couldn’t be happier. The sweater is more black and less gray than it appears below, but this close-up should give you some insight into the texture:

I’ve also been playing around with some Hedgehog Fibers cashmere laceweight yarn in the Sour Cherry colorway. (Beata posts small lots every week or so, so check back if you find her shop woefully empty.) I know, I know, I just finished a red scarf, but this dye job was too delicious to pass up:

You see what I mean?! Plus it’s cashmere so it’s soooooo soft. My first thought was that I’d try to knit it up using Anne Hanson’s Butternut Scarf pattern, figuring that since this yarn is highly variegated (moreso than it looks in that shot up there; it goes all the way down to white and up to black in places) it needed a dirt-simple lace pattern because otherwise they would compete with each other. However, I wasn’t terribly pleased with the result:

Anne’s pattern is lovely as usual, and I definitely plan to use it in the future, but I really didn’t like the way that the horizontal stripes of color were cutting across the vertical lines of the lace. I needed something that was going to mix up the colors more, and I may have found a winner in Nicole Hindes’ (free!) Strangling Vine pattern:

In both of the above pictures, the yarn looks more pink than it really is, I swear — the color is closest in the picture of the skein. But here you can see those horizontal lines turned into curves that work with rather than against the stitch pattern, and I’m pretty happy with it. The only problem is that the back of the Strangling Vine scarf really looks like crap. As a lace knitter, I’ve made my peace with the idea that my scarves will not always be reversible, but this is kind of out of control. (Sadly, I don’t have a picture to show you.) I’m focusing most of my attention on the cardigan right now, and will make a final decision about this scarf later. In the meantime, though, does anybody out there have a pattern suggestion for a highly-variegated laceweight yarn??

Stashbusting in Style

I’ve finished my Fernfrost scarf at long last! I started it way back at the beginning of December, but between then and now I’ve also knit an entirely different lace scarf, an enormous red blanket, a pair of socks, a fearsome octopus, and I’ve designed and knit a bewilderingly popular dog sweater. So you can’t say my needles haven’t been busy! In the background of all of these variously urgent projects, Fernfrost chugged along on days when I needed a break from more boring knitting and on days when I was waiting for yarn for the Next Big Thing. The chart was complicated but logical, and while I never quite memorized it, I definitely got better at following it and remembering it in pieces if not in its entirety. Also, I am now an effing MASTER of ktbl and ptbl; I will never complain about those stitches again because I can now do them almost as quickly as regular knits and purls. All in all, I’d say this was a bit of a challenge but definitely fun throughout. By the end, I was genuinely surprised at how quickly I was able to get through the 32-row (!) chart.

Ultimately, the only thing I was less than satisfied with was my yarn choice. Knitting this was kind of a feat of strength, so in retrospect I wish I’d picked something nicer than Knitpicks Shimmer to do it in. It’s not a bad yarn, but the pattern was written for cashmere and the alpaca/silk blend of the Shimmer doesn’t have the plumpness to bring out the texture of the stitch pattern in quite the way I would have liked. But as you can see in this picture, the finished product is light and drapey, which is nice in its own right. As the title of this post suggests, I chose this yarn mostly because I’d had it on hand for a long time and felt like I needed to use it — I ordered it awhile ago when I did the Knitpicks calculus and realized that adding a $7 skein of yarn to my purchase would give me free shipping, which was almost a winning deal.

I don’t have any pictures of the scarf actually on me because Pat’s out of town for the next few days. I had to do this photoshoot myself this afternoon, which involved conscripting various parts of the landscaping around my apartment as well as lots of maneuvering to get the right combination of angles of light and “playful” breezes. But I’m pretty pleased with how the above pictures came out, and none of my neighbors called the men in white coats to come take away the crazy lady squatting next to the railing and examining the red scarf she put there while muttering prayers to the wind gods. And look at how lovely spring has made all the bushes in my apartment complex! The whole thing is full of these bushes that are just green and leafy for most of the year, but they burst into flower like this in the spring and suddenly it’s like I live in Care-a-Lot. (You know, the cloud kingdom where the Care Bears live?)

Here’s a blocking shot for good measure:

Despite the general crappiness of the lighting here, this is actually the most accurate shot color-wise. The colorway (Sherry) is more burgundy than cherry-red; the late-afternoon sun is deluding you in those earlier pictures.

So in case you were wondering, I’ve backed away slowly from that laceweight cardigan and have recently cast on something much more sane and much more practical. But you’ll have to wait until next time to see it, because I’m getting hungry and it’s just about dinnertime!

I Can Fly Twice as High

My NaCroMo Freeform Crochet-Along piece is all done, and I am kind of sad that it’s over. But look at how awesome this thing is! It was a great experience; I learned tons of new stitches, I cut my teeth on freeform crochet, and I made a bunch of new crocheting friends! I even got to be designer-for-a-day on the 30th; the red lattice border on the lower right side was the piece that I designed. Hopefully, now that I’ve got the concept and the confidence, I’ll be able to make some freeform pieces of my own with the added bonus of being in total control of my creative decisions at all times, rather than having to figure out where to put somebody’s damned four-leaf-clover. If you’d like to see the crazy range of how people’s freeforms turned out, you can check out our Flickr group, or if you’re on Ravelry, I highly encourage you to view the majesty of the finished freeforms discussion thread. I’ll have more to post here soon on my new and hopefully less ill-advised knitting adventures, so stay tuned!