You never forget the first time.

Do you remember the first yarn you stashed? I do; I found a single skein of Paton’s Ballybrae in navy Black Forest Tweed at my (very) local LYS not too long after I first picked up the needles. It was already discontinued in 2003, so with my usual retail obsessiveness I set off on a hunt across the interwebs. After several well-timed requests to knitting swap lists, I have a total of 10 skeins. I always thought I would make Kathy Zimmerman’s The Very Thought of Him or Bonne Marie Burns’ Ribby Cardi with it, because I do like a monochrome tweedy cardigan as much as the next person, but fate intervened.

Fionn ProgressJust a few days ago, knitonepurltoo’s Pattern Review Staff (aka my husband) saw Jennifer Hagan‘s Fionn pullover over my shoulder, liked it and it took about 13 seconds for me to realize I could use my oldest yarn to make my newest sweater. As if that weren’t cool enough already, I’m doing that knitterly thing of using the numbers from the next-smallest size to get the (bigger) size I want. For those who are all “didn’t you just promise to knit from your queue?” I did, but I also thought I’d give myself an exception, just in case, and this looks like it. We are still proceeding with the “buy as little as possible, because you already have four bins of yarn” plan, but unlocking a sweet spot in the stash with the perfect pattern feels like a gift. Don’t you love that?

That alchemy is my favorite thing about knitting – older, less-loved yarn marinating in the stash becomes new, fresh and fascinating when it meets the right pattern. I knit slowly enough that I have plenty of time to change my mind about what I should make with a given skein of yarn, and sometimes waiting pays off, because a combination comes to light that I can’t help but love.

Corriedale fiber, Thunderhead colorway And get ready for “Waiting pays off, part two,” my first skein of handspun yarn (more pictures here). This is approximately 125 yards of 2 ply Corriedale from gwen erin/granolasuit; it took a shockingly long time to finish because I developed a throughly unreasonable fear that I would somehow wreck the yarn in the plying. So the bobbins sat, and I spun a little bit of other things, and then I sat down once more with the Start Spinning video and did it. Yay! The knitonepurltoo spinning wheel pit crew (aka my husband) has already called dibs on this for a hat; it’s going to be hard to wait to cast on until after I can show off the finished skein at spinning guild tomorrow, but I’ll try.

The most wonderful time of the year.

I can say this to you because we’re friends: I love Thanksgiving with the fire of a thousand suns, and Christmas floats my boat, because who doesn’t love a thoughtful gift? But this time? After Christmas and before I return to work, when it’s okay for me to sit in my pajamas and a handknitted sweater looking at knitting on the internet and thinking about spending the day knitting? That might be my favorite time of all.

Noro Striped Scarf, finished I have rallied from baby knitting disasters and am prepared to finish 2009 in a big way, so I have a few things to show you. First up, perhaps my favorite FO of 2009, my Noro Striped Scarf. Tubular cast on, sewn bind off, about 3/4 of two different balls (S245 and S87; details here) of Noro Silk Garden sock yarn gave me a scarf that was 74 inches long. Honestly, I love Noro yarns (so all you haters of Noro can stuff it), but I think making socks out of Noro Silk Garden Sock is a fool’s errand; they would last about 5 minutes, because it’s not exactly a hard-wearing yarn, you know? So a scarf is perfect.

Next up in the “parade of FOs in delicate yarn” is a pair of plain vanilla socks in Handmaiden Casbah, colorway Ruby. I was not Casbah Socks completely swayed by the lure of a merino/cashmere blend, because it’s kind of splitty and slightly tempermental, like it will pill or fuzz if you look at it funny. But these were for my mom, because you do not turn 70 every day, and even though she’s a knitter, she is not a sock knitter. I originally started these as a pair of Wendy Johnson’s Trilobites in Arucania Ranco Multi (or Multy). I was not a happy knitter; this was the last skein of yarn I bought before embarking on 9 months of Cold Sheeping, and it was knitting up suspiciously like kitchen cotton: not soft, not mom-worthy. So I gave it away, and broke my Cold Sheep streak after 290 days (I checked) with Handmaiden Casbah, the yarn equivalent of dating a supermodel. They fit beautifully, and Mom is happy – this is a craft project that’s way better than a macaroni necklace. As an aside, this was the first pair of socks I did two-at-a-time on one needle, and after completing my Nancy Bush mystery socks two-at-a-time on separate needles, I am completely in love with knitting two socks at once – that is perhaps 2009′s biggest discovery: the banishment of second sock syndrome (except for one tiny exception – I’ll definitely take care of that).

Newfoundland Mitt minus Thumb My final project for 2009 might give you a clue as to what 2010 holds: this is the Newfoundland mittens, queued in Ravelry October 7, 2007; one skein of Brown Sheep Shepherd’s Shades and one skein of Noro Kureyon (color 170, still a favorite). I have 280 things in my Ravelry queue, and it’s time to knit some of them up. I mentioned here that I’d like to try 10 new techniques in 2010, including installing a zipper in a knitted garment (#32 in my queue) and thrumming (#4 in my queue, and I have a pile of thrums waiting). I might even finish a pair of baby booties before my littlest cousin’s arrival. So happy new year to you and your needles – here’s to knitting on with confidence in 2010, just like Elizabeth recommends.

The opposite of fun.

What kind of knitter am I? I love challenges, use deadlines as motivators and think knitting for other people is noble and worthy, as long as I also get to knit for myself. Still with me? I also know my eyes are bigger than my stomach, knitting-wise, since it takes me four years to finish a sweater and my Ravelry queue is ten pages and holding – no matter how hard I try to restrain myself, there’s always something new and lovely to knit, there’s always a reason to knit faster, and if I’m not careful, I could get myself into a lot of trouble.

Take, for instance, three weeks ago Saturday.

The scene is my cousin’s wife’s baby shower, to be held three hours from my house in Ohio – I had dutifully started a Baby Surprise Jacket as soon as I had talked myself into baby knitting (“Can I finish a knitted gift? Probably not; I shouldn’t even try…But it would be so cute – and I love Elizabeth Zimmermann, even if I always forget to add the extra N – let’s knit this thing!”) which took a week or so, time I could have spent knitting, but didn’t because I was finishing these Nancy Bush Fox Faces socks (which I love, and are great – Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Select highly recommended). Nancy Bush SKA Mystery Socks, Finished Long story short, the BSJ hit a snag (an inexplicable section of stockinette – how hard is it to knit garter stitch?) and I knew it would not be done in time for the baby shower, thanks to obligations like a job, which seemed to be getting more than full-time by the minute.

As an alternative “gift garnish,” for this kickass diaper bag, I started a pair of Saartje’s booties the Bockstark way two days before the shower. Shower Saturday dawns bright and clear, and my plan is working, but I’m running out of time. Booties are done, except for buttons and button loops. My sainted husband offers to drive me to Michigan for the shower so I can finish the booties. How long could finishing take? I pictured a quick bit of knitting followed by a chatty car ride.

Answer? We may never know, because when it comes to button loops? I suck under pressure. Despite this great video, I made ugly button loops the size of basketball hoops, and in a fit of frustration, with just 20 miles or so to go before arriving at the shower…I cut them off the end of the bootie straps, snipping one of the straps in the process, and causing it to unravel. It was at about this point that I unraveled as well, out of frustration.

New Knitting Rule: If you have to count the car ride to the event as part of the time needed to finish your knitted gift, you’re probably screwed, knitting-wise you should definitely have a backup plan.

I returned home, full of shower cake, and not a little sad that once again I had gotten myself in a knitting pickle. I make my knitting deadlines just often enough that I talk myself into setting them, again and again. But knitting is supposed to be fun, and these two failed projects were the opposite of fun

Noro Striped Scarf, ProgressYou know what’s fun? Deciding on a whim to start a Noro striped scarf, and knitting away, stripe after stripe. I have been monogamous to this thing since October 25 as “failed baby gift” therapy, and you know what? It’s as tall as I am now, more than 5 feet and growing. Apparently, I can knit, I just have trouble knitting to a deadline.

Which, of course, is why I signed up with some knitting friends to participate in the Ravelympics in February. I probably will have forgotten all about this debacle by then. Also, I’m seriously considering stacking the knitting olympics deck by knitting a (quite lovely) sweater on size 15 needles.

Lace and me, we’re BFFs

Lizzy, CompleteWhat’s holding up the show around here is this: I don’t have the beauty shot. You know, you finish a big project and you want to take the perfect picture of you, carefree, (and with great hair) wearing the perfect sweater? In advertising, they call that the beauty shot. Well, I finished Lizzy when it was 90 degrees out, so there was no sweater-wearing any longer than it took to say “yes, it fits.” so this is what I have, for now.

For the first time, I got the sweater I expected based on the measurements I picked – it fits, and the waist shaping I added looks lovely. Plus, I am now a master of the set-in sleeve. I don’t want to tell you how long I spent getting it right, but I did, and it was worth it. As excited as I am about Lizzy’s greatness, it’s taken me a good three weeks to admit it will be awhile before the final FO shot gets taken. You’ll be the first to know when it does.

Pot Pourri Socks, FinishedIn the meantime, I have a consolation prize for you: socks. These are Deb Barnhill’s Pot Pourri Socks from the terrific Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn (you’ll recognize the yarn as the Seacoast Handpainted merino tencel reincarnated from my failed Punctuated Rib socks – which I am totally going to make, Ann Budd, I promise!), knitted on size 1 needles. I’ve read elsewhere that the double-figure 8 row is a pain in the neck, and I can’t lie – it was time consuming, but it works to break up the pooling very nicely.

In the knitting confessions department, this is just my second third pair of lace socks (I always forget about these), and I think I’m finally starting to get lace in a way I had not before. Which is a good thing, because I start the Nancy Bush lacy Mystery Sock for Sock Knitters Anonymous tomorrow…and I’ve wound the yarn for my Flower Basket Shawl, after four long years. Lace and me, we’re BFFs for sure.

The James Brown of sock yarns

Paraphernalia Progress It’s been an eventful month around these parts – work is exceptionally busy which explains why you get last week’s photo of the current sock instead of one taken yesterday, as I approached the toe. As you might have guessed, the sock is Paraphernalia, out of stashed Opal. This is my last ball of Opal in the sock yarn bin, and given that I still have a fair amount of knitting up to do before I reach 20,000 yards in stash, Opal and I will be separated for a good long while.

Can I just say again how much I love it? Opal is the James Brown of sock yarns – the hardest-working yarn in show business. Color, durability, yardage, and value; Opal has it all. Love! If there’s anything reading forums at Ravelry has taught me, it’s that there are a million kinds of sock yarn and an equal number of people who love each one. You can have your Merino/Cashmere/Nylon blend – I’ll take Opal any day.

The only downside? This sock may turn out to fit my mother’s size 7 foot instead of my wee size 6. So I might lose out, and mom will get two pairs, since her Bells and Whistles Socks are next up in the “Finish Me!” parade, sock division.
Lizzy Progress First to be finished will be Lizzy, seen here as last week’s pile of pieces, now a seam and a ruffle away from being a cardigan. I’m as shocked as you are to find that…I like seaming. For a results-oriented person like myself, it’s easy to see the relationship between the time spent learning how to do it well, and the lovely seams that are the product. It also makes me feel like the 14 months I spent with this sweater in progress were worth it because I’ll happily wear it out of the house…when it’s not 90 degrees here.

Tune in next time: will I start the Chicknits Ribby Cardi or Slinky Ribs from Custom Knits? Can I keep from casting on two pairs of socks for the July Socknitters Anonymous challenge? Will my budding crochet skills allow me to start Evelyn Clark’s Flowerbasket Shawl as it was meant to be started? You and I are both dying to find out.

A wheel, and two spindles.

Some of you may have figured out that spinning has snuck into my life on little cat feet. I was seriously worried my brain would get rusty without the chance to learn something new, so for my 39th birthday last May, I gave myself spinning lessons at my LYS. I got it, I practiced, yet I never really got into it – so I figured I would wait to post about spinning until I had a real story to tell, beyond “It’s okay, and I really like A Fine Fleece.”

Then I got a wheel. The story of my Matchless is equal parts “It was a great deal”, “I think the Matchless is the most beautiful wheel ever”, and “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.” I was pretty certain it was crazy to try and spin a sweater’s-worth of yarn for a Fine Fleece pattern any other way than with a wheel, but learning to use the wheel has been hard, in part because I assumed it would be easier.

Wheelspinning feels exactly like when I learned to drive; before I learned the finer points of using hand controls, my driving instructor said he wanted me to try using the brake and accelerator pedals with my feet. Hand controls are simple: pull the lever down to accelerate, push the lever forward to brake. Adding my feet into the mix felt like there was way too much going on at once – and trying to treadle, keep the twist from traveling into the drafting triangle, draft, and allow the single to wind onto the bobbin…well, let’s just say I’ve been getting friendly with my orifice hook (and swearing a lot). I’m ridiculously happy to have the wheel, but the learning curve has been steep.

Camphor and Oak Spindle, top view I realized I needed a plan B – if I wanted to actually learn how to spin (and continue improving), I would have to set a goal. So in March, I wrote down “Finish knitting a pair of handspun socks” on my to-do list with a date of December 31. And when I said “My beginner spindle isn’t really working out for me” Knit One Purl Too’s spindle-crafting expert (aka my husband, the woodworker) made me one. For the curious, the finished spindle is just under an ounce, and this is a Corriedale/alpaca blend courtesy of Etsy – I ordered a whopping 8 ounces, so I’ve had plenty to practice with. I’ve also spun with a nice merino/silk blend from Ashland Bay – but that’s not for socks.

All Spun Up Merino This is. It’s the May spinalong fiber from Kristin at AllSpunUp; I told myself I was going to wait to spin it until I had more practice, but that lasted about 48 hours. Shockingly, this is just a tenth of an ounce (on a 40th birthday present .45 oz Golding Tsunami), so I suspect I’m spinning fine enough to get 2- or 3-ply sock yarn. They won’t be perfect, but I am going to end up loving these socks with the fire of a thousand suns – my brain and my feet will be happy, and if I spend the rest of my life learning to be a better spinner…well, wouldn’t that be fun?

April was the cruelest month

Punctuated Rib AttemptsThings were going so well. And yet, after a bang-up period in March that included two FOs and more than 1,000 yards knitted, I entered some kind of fugue state; just like Groundhog Day, I started the same socks over and over. I was willing the Punctuated Rib socks to work out with every fiber of my being, but yarn choices and stitch counts conspired against me. In the Large size, my chosen yarn behaved beautifully, but the sock was too big. In the Small, I fretted over pooling and flashing, but a sock I feared would be too ugly to look at fit just fine. So I changed yarns, and the dance started all over again. I started these socks a dozen times if I started them once, and in the end, I felt it’s not right to hold a grudge against your knitting. So I moved on – sort of.

Instead of finishing the Oak Ribbed Socks I bragged about almost having finished in my last post, I started another sock two times over, the Crossing Cables sock by Danny Ouelette, which I love, and which is also not working out to my satisfaction. Crossing Cables Comparison My problem is that the photo here is probably the worst photo I could take of the blue sock on the right, and the best possible photo of the green sock on the left – in reality, they’re both “meh” for different reasons, and in danger of becoming one of those projects I myself might look at and say “How could she have chosen that yarn? it doesn’t go with that pattern at all.” [People who knit lace socks with self-striping yarn, I am looking at you - ed.]. I think it’s back to the drawing board for these…

Sea Lettuce Scarf ProgressOn the bright side, I started another long-stashed project recently, Lucy Neatby’s Sea Lettuce Scarf – it’s charming, there’s no pooling or flashing, and though it’s going slowly, I’m enjoying watching it develop rather than dreading what surprise the next turn of the needles might bring. If you’re going to cast on, you might as well have something to show for it.

If loving self-striping sock yarn is wrong…

Jaywalker Socks I am still not buying yarn, but it’s not very blog-worthy to say “once again, nothing new!” I have finished the SuperSecretKnittingProject (which I swear you’ll see the second I get the OK), and my lovely Jaywalkers. Specs: DROPS Fabel 901, a Christmas gift from my cousin. I liked the yarn, and the fit is pretty good – I didn’t run into any “I can’t get this over my ankle” issues. The stitch pattern is the opposite of ribbing (little negative ease, little give), but they’re super-cute and I’m happy. Jaywalker Socks The Fabel also softened up in the wash, so I’m liking it a lot, yarn-choice-wise. First Eye of Partridge heel, and yet another picot hem – I am wondering if I’ll ever get tired of how cute they are.

And just when you thought I had exhausted my fascination with self-striping yarn, I present you with Nancy Bush’s Oak Ribbed Socks from Knitting Vintage Socks, started at the end of March, due to be finished within hours of this writing. This may be the best story of my knitting career: I admit here that this pink and brown yarn almost made me fall off the yarn diet wagon after two and a half months, because as much as I loved the SuperSecretProject, I was ready to be knitting something else. Blogless Melanie sees my post and offers to swap with me – a week later, I have yarn and candy, courtesy of Melanie and Canada Post. Thank you, Melanie! Oak Ribbed Socks in Progress

Two FOs complete means that I have knitted up 1100 yards and have about 4300 yards to go before I reach the magic “20,000 yards remaining in stash” threshold. I already have 3100 yards actively WIPping right now. How did that happen? Doesn’t that seem like a lot? Honestly, it’s probably Lizzy, the Noro sweater with just 3/4 of a front left to knit. It might also be that I had a tiny bout of startits – why finish something old when you can start something new and fresh? I can trace the source of the startitis to Sock Knitters Anonymous. The April challenge to knit an underappreciated pattern (15 or fewer projects in Ravelry on April 1) was irresistible to me: I have not one but two prime sock patterns ready for love in my queue. Look for an appearance shortly from Ann Budd’s Punctuated Rib Socks, found in the splendid Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn. I’d be far enough along to show you something, but I foolishly started the large instead of the small, so there’s been a little ripping and the re-knitting is still in progress. The other sock pattern? So underappreciated, I’ll be the first project…I feel I have to, since I’ve wanted to make them for years (See? I asked Melinda about them in 2004). I’d take a break from self-striping for that.

25,354

Haven’t you always wanted to be one of those cool knitters who ends up as “and friend” in a picture next to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee at the Madrona Fiber Arts Festival? Or with book publishers plying you with free swag? Or as someone with a super-secret knitting project for a shop, or even better, a book?

Secret Project, closeup I am gobsmacked to find myself doing some super-secret knitting See? that’s some RYC Wool Silk DK, right there my friends: 700 yards of Rowan-y goodness, due to be completed mid-March. First project with Rowan yarns, but it won’t be the last – I am believing the hype about how great Rowan yarns are. I can’t wait to tell you more about this – it will be worth the wait, I promise.

Other things are on hold right now: my Jaywalkers, last seen here, await a second heel and foot; the Lizzy cardigan’s last piece awaits waist shaping – but I do have two FOs completed before SecretMania 09 began, both chips off what feels like a huge stash of Classic Elite Lush.

Primordial Hat, Done This is Roxanne Wood’s Primordial Hat – the pattern is a fun mix of garter and ribbing which I thoroughly enjoyed, though I unexpectedly ended up with a huge hat. Huge! I’m guessing that I’ll need to go down 2 maybe 3 needle sizes to make this the proper size for version two, but it will be worth it, because I think it’s a totally fun pattern.

Because my cousin still needed a hat to match her Basketweave Scarf, I cast on right away for Thea Coleman’s Stashy Hat – ahh. Regular readers will know how I am a fan of the broken rib, and the shot of added texture did not disappoint me. I received word yesterday that the hat fits, and we have a little cold weather for my cousin to get some use out of it, so yay.

Stashy HatLet’s be honest here: as soon as I got the hang of the super-secret project and realized I had a lot (a lot!) of knitting to go before I was finished, I wanted to cast on for something new badly enough that it took my breath away. (Noro stripey socks, anyone?). I am resisting, because it’s hard to call RYC Silk Wool a second choice, but I have an ulterior motive.

How am I doing on the “20,000 yards project”? Right now I have (you guessed it) 25,354 yards of yarn stashed away. Last year I knitted about 4100 yards’ worth, but don’t forget, I lost a fair amount of true knitting time to the seaming of the Greensburg afghan. I have swapped, Koigu for Fearless Fibers [see?], and a completed Banff for a sweater’s worth of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool – but I have not purchased. [For the judgey who think I have thrown my first sweater under the bus, consider that the recipient loves it, and while I couldn’t bring myself to frog and reknit it, I can think of three things I could start today with the Silky Wool. Er, after I finish the super-secret knitting. – ed]

The size of my stash concerns me enough that I am seriously considering having someone else make the plain socks I would make for myself. Hey, that’s 400 yards on my feet instead of in a box – I think it’s a win-win. *wink*