Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cold Day Comfort in Crochet

It's been a miserable day... cold, rainy (and sometimes snowy) and just plain ick. I've been in and out all day trying to save my corn, which may not work out. Hubby and doggie and I drove out to one of the nurseries to buy some tomato plants, as well as some mint and fennel, just to get our butts off the couch. We were the only ones there. I think the lady running the place thought we were a bit nuts, but hey, at least we've got some back up greenery.

Out came the comfort-food recipes. Blueberry muffins... mmmm....

I've settled in on the couch for most of the day, working away on my crochet project. I've been working steadily on the Lace-Inspired Crochet Top by Valerie Kurita, and have been finding it quite the challenge. Reasons?

1) I'm not following the pattern much. I just started crocheting with the yarn weight and hook size recommended. That's because I hate trying to measure out gauge over a pattern. Elizabeth Zimmerman hated it, and so do I. It's impossible to get an accurate stitch count over something that varies so much. I made the torso by making the first chain as long as I thought would work, and then kept crocheting in pattern until I got something that fit my torso.

2) I decided to make the bust section in rounds, rather than back and forth. That's because I'm not going to make it sleeveless. I'm going to make short, set-in sleeves instead. That said, I think I've made the bust a bit small, so I've separated the front and back and will make extra darts in the sides to accommodate any extra boobage.

Related to that:

3) I'm doing short row bust darts for the first time. I learned about them in knitting, but have never tried it. I'm trying it now in crochet, but it's dang difficult because I did it over a shell-pattern. Not so easy to figure them out.

Regardless of the difficulties, I'm still fairly confident things will work out. I've never made cap sleeves "from scratch" before, so that's bound to be another challenge I'll have to deal with.

The nice thing, though, is that ripping back to fix mistakes is invariably easier in crochet than in knitting. That's because, no matter how many stitches you rip out, you always end up with just one loop. No fussing with two hundred loops that are all trying to unravel themselves like in a knit project. Just one.

It's been so long since I worked on a crochet project that I also forgot how quickly the fabric works up. Each stitch is much taller than the regular knit stitch, so once I finish one row, I have already built up half to three-quarters of an inch of fabric.

Indigirl recently wrote about returning to a crochet project, and she said,

Where crochet goes wrong is when it tries to be knitting.

I tend to agree. Knitters tend to turn their noses up at crochet projects. It tends to be thicker and have less drape than a knit project. I watched Pirate Radio recently, and the lone female in the main cast was portrayed as a weird lesbian who wore horrible acrylic crochet tops all the time, the kind you find hanging in the dark corners of a second-hand shop. It smacks of the hazy, fuzzy days of the seventies, when you crocheted an entire cover for your couch in orange and brown.

But when it's done right, there is just no comparison. The tall, textured stitches showcase yarn in a way that no stockinette, or even lace knitting can do. The complicated loops in a shell or even in a cluster stitch forces the yarn in all sorts of directions, catching the light in all sorts of ways. In single crochet, the fabric is dense and more durable - perfect for making a shoulder bag or baby bag (as I did for a friend of mine a few years ago).

It feels good to be working in a different style for a change. And, while my eyes are straying to some sock yarn from which I will be knitting my mother's birthday present next, I think I'll try to queue up a few more crochet projects for the near future.

At least, that's what I'm saying today. We'll see how I feel about it when I get to the end of this project!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Yarn and the Mountains

We came home last night after a lovely, relaxing weekend in Canmore, AB. I've always liked Canmore. I've always said that it's like Banff, but cheaper. Not only that - I find quite a lot of it is untapped for its lovely paths and walks, lots of nice little restaurants and shops, and a fantastic inn that we've frequented over the years (that takes doggies!).

And well, there's yarn there.

The first time I ever saw Knit & Caboodle was a few years ago, and I'd only started to learn to knit. First thoughts? "Well, I'll never be able to afford any of that yarn anyway." I went down the road to the quilt shop to find beads for the jewelry I was making at the time.

Fast forward to last Saturday. It's a cool, slightly chilly day. There's a street festival going on in Canmore, and we've looked through some of the vendors, and visited the Mut Hut pet store, where doggie always gets treats from the owner, and the Bow Valley SPCA had a lovely old dog there who was looking for a home (yeah, sniff... I coulda taken her home if I could!). We walked back to Knit & Caboodle, and I told my hubby, "I'll be quick!" And in I went. Hubby settled himself in a corner outside, because he's gone through this before.

Now you know, I was pretty quick. For me, anyway. I motored through the store. In truth, I really didn't have anything in mind. I might have bought some yarn to make a shawl for a friend's wedding, but I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for it. I just wanted to see what was new and interesting.

Now, the thing about Knit & Caboodle is that there's this set of shelves near the door that has all the sale stuff. I do love sales, but I often skip the ones in yarn stores because I can never think of what to make out of the stuff sitting there, as it's often only one or two skeins in a colour.

And there they were. Eight skeins of Elsebeth Lavold's Angora at $5.21 each! It seems that it has been discontinued, and these skeins were looking for a home.

And well, I thought I'd take the one slightly darker skein, as well. I'd hate for it to feel left behind. Yarn has feelings, you know.

It helped that it was so cold outside. All I could think of was a nice little wrap or wide scarf to wrap around my shoulders. And that dark green would make a neat little stripe down the middle of it. And it's proof that, if you really know where to look, you can afford the luxury yarns!

The next day, we decided to head into Banff to have a soak in the hot springs before it got too busy.

After that, we headed into town. I had a secret mission: to find Jen By the Fjord Yarn Studio.

I really had absolutely no idea where it was. I have a really bad habit of not researching these things. I figured that, if I found it, I found it.

And I found it.

It's a tiny little studio, where the friendliest lady ever, named Judi, surrounds herself with yarn and friends. I had a nice chat with her, and found out that she used to live in my current town - even owned a shop. I could have sat all day.

But then I remembered I'd told hubby, "I'll be quick!"

I did leave with a beautiful skein of Sundance Sock Yarn from a local dyer who owns Rocky Mountain Dyeworks. Each skein is individually dyed - no dye lots, and for me, no worries. My skein has gorgeous tones of cinnamon, paprika and well... red! Again, it helped that it was so chilly out. I thought it would make another pretty scarf or shawl to wrap around my shoulders in the cooler evenings.

Oh yeah - we did do other things while we were away in Canmore. We ate smokies by the river. We hiked a bit on the trails. We had a gorgeous dinner at Chez Fran├žois, who has been serving delicious meals for 20 years. We relaxed in our beautiful room. We walked along the creek near the inn, and by the Bow River near the town centre. Nothing strenuous. Probably not very exciting for most.

But just right for us.

The only sad thing was that I came home to some corn seedlings I planted out last week that looked like they suffered a bit in the cold evenings we had. And, some of my peas looked like they may have dried out in the window box I planted them in. I did some major work out there, and I hope I've salvaged some of them. The worst part about gardening is the heartbreak. And the mosquitoes.

At least I can find solace in the yarn basket. You'll never see it suffering after frost!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rejoicing in the Handmade

I have to admit, I've been on a bit of a spending spree recently. It started with a treat to myself, then it went to needing to find a replacement pattern for a project that didn't work out, and then I ended up buying a few pattern books and a CD online. Then, an impromptu trip into the nearest shopping mall with a friend from work. A bunch of work for my credit card, and me holding the bill. Sigh. Luckily, I showed some restraint, and I'm not too much out of pocket, but I hate these unplanned purchases. It's a sure way for me to get myself into trouble, which I can't afford.

I do, however, try to support other handicrafters when I'm spending, or at least support my community. I have a trip planned to a local nursery soon to buy some tomato plants, and maybe a couple of cucumber plants. I also try to buy a pattern or two every so often to support knitters and crocheters trying to make a living from their art. It's still money, but I think it's toward a good cause, and I still get the things I want at a fair price. Not cheap. Fair.

Over the years, I have been a big support of Etsy and their sellers. I used to have an Etsy shop a while back, and can appreciate all the work that goes into having an online shop. It's not just a matter of taking a few photos, posting them online and then sitting back and waiting for the orders to roll in. It's about taking great, attractive, professional-looking photos, posting them in a timely fashion, writing a good description, and then driving the traffic to your site by whatever means possible, be it by blogging, purchasing advertising space, making business cards, going to markets and fairs, or networking, networking, networking. And you do that daily, non-stop, especially if you want this to be your livelihood.

One Etsy shop I frequent is Gudonya (pronounced "good-on-ya"), a seller who specializes in handmade vegan soaps, bath and beauty products. They use only top-shelf oils and ingredients, including fragrances and essential oils. I have been a great fan of their Whipped Clean Soap, which now comes in smaller sizes, which means I can try out lots of different sizes at a great price. A couple of strokes across the plastic jar with a bath puff, and you get a thick, luxurious foam that smells wonderful. And, they fill the jars right up to the neck, so they last and last. I can't say I buy it regularly, but when I feel like treating myself, it's a great go-to. Not only that, they also ship to Canada at a decent rate. Bonus!

My recent splurge included two 4 oz jars of Whipped Clean in Spa Fusion (ginger and melon) and Oh So Delicious (apple, grapefruit and oh, lots of other lovely fragrances) and a large 8 oz jar of Citrus Blast (need I say more?). I've already got a jar open for use in the shower.

I've also been on the lookout for a good deodorant, since I've decided to stop using antiperspirant (my current stuff has been irritating my skin a lot, and it's just not natural to not sweat), and I decided to try Gudonya's Super-Duper Stinky No More Vegetable Protein Deodorant Stick. Is that a good name or what? I test-drove it yesterday, and it was great! No irritation, and no funky smells. I think we may have a winner.

I'm so glad to support these small businesses, specializing in handmade goods, especially since I'd love to be in their shoes one day. I figure that, if more people supported them, then it becomes more possible for me to become one of them, simply because the awareness of these small businesses is there. It's not likely they'll ever beat out the big box stores, but they may be able to carve out a big enough niche to make such a business profitable, at least in the the medium term.

And so, I can dream, while helping out my fellow crafters - and smell good while I do! And my credit card? Well... it could be doing worse things than that!

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Mother's Hands

After such an epic knit of literally hundreds of thousands of stitches, I decided to change gears a bit and work on a crochet project for a change. I thought I'd start working on the top I'd mentioned in a previous post - Lace-Inspired Crochet Top by Valerie Kurita. The pattern has been sitting in my basket for literally years, and I thought that it was a good time to give it a try.

I learned to crochet long before I learned to knit. My mother taught me basic stitches when I was a little girl, and I used to spend hours watching her make things, usually blankets or clothes for me. I remember proudly wearing a beautiful white poncho with spring green squares that she made for me to wear on special occasions. I remember watching her hands - one holding the crochet hook like a pencil, the other delicately holding the thread wrapped around her pinky and her forefinger, her thumb and middle finger holding the work as she pushed, pulled, wrapped and drew the hook in and out of the loops. I watched until I knew the movements. It's how I know that my stitches are correct now - I can feel when it's wrong.

Yesterday, as I worked on my project, I looked down at my hands. My friend had recently done my nails so I had some lovely long nails - nails that I normally don't grow long.

And I saw my mother's hands. Fingers with rounded nails, just like hers. Skin, brown from the sun and slightly dry from lots of handiwork. I could have been sitting on her lap, looking down at her project.

How strange that that revelation happened on Mother's Day.

That evening, I called my mother. She thanked me for the orchid arrangement I had sent to my parents' house. And I pictured her hands, still working, cooking, chopping. And I realized that, no matter where I live, or what I do, or how I might try to change myself, she is me. And I am her.

How 'bout that.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Featherweight - Finished!

It's finally finished! My Featherweight Cardigan!

It's been a looooooooooong knit. I started it on March 7 and finished today, May 8. Apart from my very first sweater, I'm pretty sure this is the longest knit I've ever worked on.

There are some neat things about this project. First of all, it's knit in Tanis Fiber Arts Pink Label Laceweight in Mallard - such a lovely combination of colours. I've received compliments on the colour every time anyone saw me working on this project. If you look carefully at the elbows, there is some neat pooling where I changed my decreases on the sleeves. Not intentional, but really cool!

I had also attempted to add some yarn overs in the edging (you might be able to spot them along the bottom), but they just weren't working out, so I didn't bother doing them around the front edge. I'm hoping they're not too distracting.

The edging around the front is a bit droopy, but I'm living with it. I may yet add some loops and use a cufflink-style button to close the front. All in good time.

This is also the first project I've ever steam-blocked. It really helped to stop the edges from rolling. I may yet wet-block it, but I think it looks fine as it is now.

As fun as it was - this thing took forever! I did have plans to make more than one, but I think I'll let this rest for a while and work on something completely different - something with thick yarn and big hooks or needles!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Being a Builder

While sitting in the chiropractor's office waiting for a massage, I sat there, knitting away at my Featherweight Cardigan. The receptionist came up to me and asked, "What are you building?"

Nobody's ever asked me that before about my knitting. It seemed like a strange question at first.

"It's a sweater," I told her.

I lifted it up, showed her the body, sleeves, neckline. She was intrigued by how the fabric was folding around the edges, and I told her that I intended to steam that out.

"Oh, I kind of like the way that looks," she said. That was interesting, too.

"I think you're building something really nice," she said, before she returned to her desk.

I pondered her words after that as I continued my round. Building, huh? I guess I am doing that. I'm making something out of a material that will be something else in the end. And I will inhabit it -kind of. I guess that makes me a builder. Nice.

My massage therapist came in. "Hi, Adriene. I'm ready for you," she said. As I put my knitting back into my bag, she said, "I bet you want to finish that row."

I laughed. Wow, these people sure knew more about me than I thought!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spring Goings-On

It's been a good chunk of time since I've blogged at all, but I thought I'd just write a bit about what's been keeping me busy.

Spring always turns into a busy time for me. I get so excited about my garden, especially my veggies. And, since we've been getting good doses of rain around here, things are looking up!

Thanks to my friend, Sarah, who was with me during the purchase of the Beautiful Towel, I planned to make a big throw pillow out of it. The plans are stalled at the moment, however, because my sewing machine is currently trapped under my leeks.


That brown box there is sitting on top of the table that my sewing machine folds into. And, since the rest of the dining table is being occupied by corn and broccoli, I guess the pillow will have to wait!

The garage sales have started as well. I try not to get too sucked in by these (goodness knows I love a good bargain), but when I saw this old Sunbeam mixer in a box selling for $5, how could I resist?

I have no illusions that I might someday shell out the $300 necessary for a brand new one, but this one works great (tested this morning for the making of the pancakes), bar the interesting smell of motor oil when I fire it up. Still, as long as it doesn't drop bits of itself into my cakes, I'm quite happy to have it!

Speaking of cakes, I finally managed to make a batch of baked doughnuts. The doughnut purists will probably scoff at the idea of a baked doughnut, rather than fried, but I wasn't about to stink up my house with oil and grease, and these worked out fine... eventually.

I had attempted this recipe last week, but managed to kill the yeast before the first rise. This week, with a thermometer at ready, a few alternate techniques and lots and lots of rising time, these babies were made.

I was so excited to eat them, that I was almost drooling as the doughnut entered my mouth. Perfection.

Oh yeah, and I've been knitting, too. My Featherweight Cardi is almost finished. Only one sleeve left to go!