Friday, December 31, 2010

Crochet socks

Picture does not do yarn colors justice.
Remember when I talked about these?  It took me forever to get past the swatch!  As you can see though, they are coming along at a halfway decent clip.  I have already made an alteration tho... front post/back post ribbing looks nice, but it isn't stretchy the way single crochet ribbing is.  I'm looking forward to seeing how these fit.  I have wide ol' duck feet, but dainty little ankles, and had just resigned myself to socks being loose at the ankle, but it's looking like I'll be able to have socks snug all the way up with these.  Also?  The colors in this yarn are way fun.  I'm glad I'm using it for my crochet sock trial, as I don't knit vanilla socks very well (they bore me, frankly).  A complicated stitch pattern would get lost in the pretty colors.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The trigger mittens, they are a success!

Remember I was knitting these for my brother's birthday-come-Christmas present?  I just had to show them off!  They fit him perfectly (well, they are VERY snug, but that's how he wanted them), and most importantly, they are DONE.  Doing these magic loop two at a time was a VERY bad idea, although I may give the technique one more try on some socks.  He has declared them Fonzie gloves.  EHHHH!  :D

Monday, December 27, 2010

In desperate need of organization

On the one hand, this is a good thing -- my design endeavors have outgrown the little bin I dedicated to them back in July.  On the other hand, though, as you can see, My desk is one big explosion of yarn and yarn related paraphernalia.  I believe it to be time for more organizational devices.  Half of the issue, though, is that designing has greater storage requirements than just plain ol' yarning.  I have to save ball bands, have a safe place for samples, keep about a jillionty swatches safe and findable, and keep my contracts and rejection letters straight.  So, readers (there are at least three of you!), tell me if my plan is crazy.  I am going to attempt to find a file cabinet.  The old timey kind that locks.  Hopefully I will be able to locate one with a big file drawer at the bottom, and smaller drawers at the top.  That way I'll have one (heavy, immovable) thing that will organize both my papers and my yarns.  So, crazy?  Do you have a better idea?  Because seriously, what I got ain't working.

My real ideal?  An old timey pharmacist's cabinet.  Hey, I can dream.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas!

Or whatever you may celebrate!  Here's to hoping your holidays are full of family, friends, and most excellent food.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seafoam Cardigan

Another new pattern, just in time for Christmas!  Lightweight and cozy.  This sweet little cardi is worked in one piece from the top down, so there's no annoying seaming to do -- when you're done, you're done!  The simple stitch pattern shows off the fun texture of the yarn.  Includes instructions for altering the number and placement of the buttons.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh fudge!

The holiday season always kicks my butt.  However, as an early Christmas present to my blog readers, I thought I would share my yummy sour cream fudge recipe.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
Optional: 1/4 cup chopped candied cherry and/or 1 cup chopped nuts

Combine all ingredients save vanilla and any optional mix-ins in a heavy two quart sauce pan.  Bring to boil, stirring until sugar disolves.  Boil to 236* (soft ball stage) WITHOUT STIRRING.  Let stand fifteen minutes WITHOUT STIRRING.  Seriously, don't even put a lid on it.  Add vanilla, stir until it begins to loose it's gloss.  Add cherries/nuts/whatever.  (I made a fruitcake batch once.  I was the only one who ate it.)  Pour into buttered pan, cool and cut.

Happy Christmas early, everybody!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Acrylic - it doesn't melt babies

Enjoying her acrylic blankie.
I have never heard so much hate for a fiber as I have for acrylic.  I am going to have to break this down if I want to come out even remotely coherent.  So, the main complaints about acrylic are:
  • it doesn't breathe.
  • it doesn't actually insulate you, it just makes you sweaty. 
  • it melts when it gets hot.
  • it feels like plastic.
  • it is really staticy.
  • it is impossible to block, at all. 
Now, the idea that acrylic doesn't breathe is kind of silly.  It is not like wrapping yourself in plastic wrap, as some have claimed.  Look at any knit fabric -- there are holes!  It just doesn't breathe as well as wool or cotton do.  Which brings me to point two -- acrylic does so insulate you.  Just, again, not as well as wool does.  Acrylic does in fact melt, but only when it is very, VERY hot... if you are hot enough that your acrylic sweater/baby blanket/whatever is melting, you have bigger problems than melty plastic stuff.  The feel of acrylic is a little more involved.  Some of it does indeed feel plasticy.  Some of it is scratchy.  But some wool is scratchy and unpleasant, too, and there are MANY textures of acrylic.  To pick two at random, Bernat Softee Baby is soft enough for premies... Red Heart Super Saver is, shall we say, NOT.  As for the static, it depends, really.  Man made fiber + man made fiber does indeed generate a ton of static.  But it's not going to set off sparks against your cotton sheets.

Blocking acrylic gets it's own paragraph.  You CAN block it.  To do it, you have to get it hot enough that it JUST begins to melt.  I do this by shooting it with jets of steam with my iron.  Blocking acrylic is irrevocable.  Because you are actually changing the structure of the fibers, it will never go back the way wool does.  This can be a good thing (you never have to block it again) or a bad thing (if you screw up, you're stuck with it).

Advantages of acrylic?  It is incredibly easy care.  The only way I've figured out to ruin it by washing is to put it in the "sanitize" cycle on my washing machine, which basically blocked it for me.  Would have been nice if it were a shawl, baby blankets not so much.  Because of this, it's GREAT for baby stuff.  Seriously, babies have gooey stuff coming out from all ends, and it's nice to just be able to throw it in the washing machine and not worry about it.  It is fairly hypoallergenic, as well, and comes in a wide range of textures to suit just about anybody's preference.  But for me, the biggest advantage is it's general indestructibility.  As an example, I have an afghan that was made by my great-grandmother when acrylic was the hot new thing.  It is in PERFECT condition, in spite of years of use followed by years in an attic in California.  Wool would have attracted moths or carpet beetles, or simply succumbed to the temperature extremes, years ago.

So, do I like acrylic as much as I do wool?  Personally, no.  But I will always craft with acrylic and acrylic blends.  The unique properties of the fiber mean that there are some things that are just better made from a nice acrylic.  There are also some things that are just better made from Red Heart Super Saver (seriously, it is FAB for toys).  All yarn has a place!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Knitting

Well, the magazine project is in the mail, out of my hands, and theoretically this would mean that I have more time for all the other things.  Just now, not so much the case.  For the first time ever, I have committed to having a project ready in time to be a Christmas gift.  I will never be doing so again.  Behold, the trigger mittens of doom:
Yes, I am doing them two at a time magic loop, except that I'm using DPNs for the thumb (and probably for the one finger, when I get to that point).  The very fact that these mittens are not currently on FIRE is proof that I do in fact like my brother, they fill me with that much rage.  They are going to be very nice gloves.  But if he has any complaints about them (fairly unlikely, he is quite knitworthy), I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

In design news, it appears that everybody else likes my Evergreen Gloves as much as I do, which makes me extra excited to be working on another fingerless glove pattern.  Hopefully they will go into testing shortly after Christmas.  I'm also waiting with baited breath to see if my Galaxy Socks will be part of the Knitpicks IDP program.  Theoretically I'm taking a break.  Workaholic much.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do you tweet?

For your convenience, I am now on Twitter @marudesigns.  Content will be identical (or nearly identical) to my Facebook page, but for those of you who prefer Twitter, now it will be there as well.

Friday, December 10, 2010


My first knit pattern in awhile!  I just sent the package off to get these (hopefully) listed on Knitpicks, but in the meantime, the pattern is available on Ravelry for $1.99.  The heel flap and toe are in eye of partridge stitch for visual interest and added durability, and the textured lace pattern is fun and easy to memorize.  Worked from the cuff down.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Berocco Weekend

Six balls of Weekend in Cerulean.
Yeah, the days of the snazzy tagline in my review titles may be numbered.  I actually ended up with Weekend as a last second switch out - the yarn I had requested (Berocco Touche) will be discontinued by the time my pattern is released, and it makes little sense to design in a discontinued yarn.  The similarities between the two are actually remarkable.  Both are cable plied, worsted weight, cotton blend yarns that come mostly in warm spring/summer sorts of colors.

Weekend is 75% acrylic and 25% cotton, soft, and very round.  It has very little stretch to it.  The big interesting bit of this yarn is its structure - as I said before, it's cable plied.  That means that the tiny plies were plied together, then those plied pieces were plied into the final yarn.  This makes a yarn that is very durable, very round, and frankly, kind of splitty.  That being said, the texture of it is pretty nice, particularly in a simple pattern like stockinette or garter stitch.  Ironically enough, I don't like cable plied yarns for cables.

Do you have something you want me to review? Needles? Yarn? Notions? Drop me a line! marusempai at gmail dot com. Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Construction again, pardon my dust.

You may have noticed, but between bursts of frantic knitting I'm trying to give the blog a bit of a face lift.  The old way was cute, but it was just a template, and I'd like my blog to have a bit of a more unique look to it.  Hopefully, I will stop moving things about in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


As you may have noticed, I've made a Facebook page, if anyone cares to follow me over there.  If you don't, anything really important will be posted here as well, but I figured it would be convenient to have another venue.

On a related tangent, if things get very quiet around here, it is because I used up my whole post buffer while I was on vacation, and have a LOT of knitting to do if I'm going to meet my next couple of deadlines.  As usual, I need to learn to knit faster!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Evergreen Gloves

I love fingerless gloves!  Braided cables make these interesting to make, but they work up fast... perfect for last minute gifts.  Thick but not too thick, these are nice and warm.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Plymouth Cotton Kisses

Worked up yarn with included buttons.
I can't come up with a good snazzy title for this one.  This is an interesting yarn.  It is made from several plies, two or three of which are smooth-ish and kind of kinky, and one of which is soft and slubby.  I am really into texture (those of you who follow me may have noticed that even my lace work is meant to be textured), so I like working with this yarn.  It works up fairly quickly, and because of the slubbiness, it can be worked at a fairly large gauge without looking holey.  Because of the wildly different texture between the plies, however, it can be quite splitty.  I do not like knitting with it, frankly.  I don't mind a little splittiness in crochet, however, and think it works up really pretty.

This stuff is also a really good deal - each ball comes with three little ducky buttons and two baby sweater patterns (a cardigan and a pullover).  One ball is plenty of yarn to make either of the enclosed patterns, so it's great for emergency baby gifts.

The pattern I'm making with the stuff (it's still top secret, as it's in submission to a magazine) reflects how I think of it, really.  Simple stitch pattern, in crochet, to show off the yarn's texture.  I like it (for crochet), and will certainly use it again.

Do you have something you want me to review? Needles? Yarn? Notions? Drop me a line! marusempai at gmail dot com. Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

So you can hold me to my word...

I have a number of tutorials that I'd like to do, and no time to do them right this second, so I'm at least going to tell you what I have planned, so that I'll be accountable.
  1. Crochet cables.  I am continually surprised by how many people don't know you can cable in crochet!  It is definitely possible, and not that much different from knit cables.
  2. My crazy unvented method for doing short row heels.  I have never seen anybody do a short row quite the way I do, and my way is awesome.  No wraps to pick up (I can never see them anyway), no holes! 
  3. One piece, top down cardigan construction.  I have one pattern published and one in the works that use this technique (both crochet), it is really great that when you're done, you're DONE!  No seaming!  This one will be a bit down the road, because I am currently in the process of adapting the technique to knitting.  I am afraid of steeking and like cardigans, what can I say!
So now you know what I'm going to do.  Not when, necessarily, but what is a good starting place.  Eventually!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

At least to my American readers.  To the rest of you, happy Thursday.  And to all, may it be a lovely day full of family, yarn, and all the nice little things.  And maybe some turkey.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Crochet socks!  This is hilarious but I, who has crocheted all manner of things, had not thought it possible to crochet socks.  It never occurred to me.  Well, maybe bed socks.  Slippers for sure.  But real honest to goodness fits in your shoe socks?  Seriously, go search Ravelry for crochet socks right now.  I can wait.

See?  So, here's my question, my blog minions - have you ever crocheted a sock?  Did you like them?  Did they fit in your shoes/boots?  (Because in all honesty, the reason I'm interested is I need boot socks.)  If not, I am going to try it.  The pattern I have selected is Origami Turkish Socks (because hey, if you're going out of your comfort zone, you may as well go ALL the way!).  I will tell you how it goes... but right now, I have samples to knit, as well as a very, very belated birthday gift for my brother to finish.  To finish on that note, learning to do magic loop on two at a time trigger mittens was a BAD idea.  When I finish them they will stand as a testament to the fact that I do actually like my brother.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Black Water Abbey - it's different, but I like it!

The yarn I'm working with (Haw) and the color cards.
Blackwater Abbey Yarns are distributed from Aurora, CO (local!), and made from new wool by a small mill in Ireland (IRISH!), which meant that I was absolutely required to give them a go.  The first thing you will notice about this yarn is the COLORS.  I realize I talk about color a lot, but you've got to listen to me on this one.  The pictures on the website do this yarn no justice.  We are talking beautiful, rich, heathered shades.  If you think you want to get in on this action, you owe it to yourself to get a color card (which they will very generously send you) before you buy, or go to one of their many trunk shows to see the colors in person.  The most colors are available in worsted weight, a few in sport weight.  Their fingering weight yarn is only available in natural colors.

The second thing you will notice (if you're like me) is that the sport and worsted weight yarns are Z-twist.  Most commercial yarn is S-twist, as this is the configuration that is easiest for right handed knitters to work with.  If you are a left handed knitter or right handed crocheter, however, you will probably be very excited to find Z-twist yarn.  The reason is because in right handed crochet and left handed knitting, S-twist yarn tends to come untwisted on you, making it much more splitty than it would be for a left handed crocheter or right handed knitter.

The part where everybody is going to disagree with me is that this yarn is extraordinarily grabby.  Many would actually call it "scratchy," and there is in fact one review on Ravelry that reads simply "it made my thumbs bleed."  I don't think it's that rough.  But this is not soft yarn.  It's grabbiness, however, can be an advantage -- if you have to frog, it goes as far as you pull, and no more.  If you drop a stitch, it's not going to run too far (unless you pull on it).  It shows cables beautifully.  It also wears like IRON.  So, good for that knit bikini you've had your eye on?  Not so much.  But makes a GREAT sweater.  It does also soften with washing -- I am currently making fingerless gloves with it, and think it is definitely soft enough, plus I won't end up with felted palms.  It is worth noting that the fingering weight is significantly softer than either the sport or worsted weight.

So, summary?  If you are very sensitive to coarse wool, do not buy this yarn.  It and your fingers will not get along well.  If however you appreciate rustic wools, rich colors, and an interesting yarn structure, you will probably like it a lot.  I do!

Do you have something you want me to review? Needles? Yarn? Notions? Drop me a line! marusempai at gmail dot com. Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On vacation!

I'm leaving to go to Utah for Thanksgiving today!  Fortunately for you (all what, two of you?), I have an assortment of prescheduled ramblings for while I'm gone.  The hotel does have internet access, but I won't have much time and need to keep up with my tests in progress!  I think it says something for how much fun I'm having at this designer gig that I forgot I was going on vacation when I was scheduling projects.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Swordtail Shawl

Now available for sale!  My inspiration for this pattern was a picture of a beautiful Thai butterfly, the five barred swordtail.  I used different height stitches within a single fan to create a lovely crisp looking lace.  Crocheted in Crystal Palace Yarns Panda Silk, it takes three balls of the main color and one of the contrast color for the suggested size at gauge, however because it is worked from the center top out, it is easy to change the size to suit your taste.

Old Reliable - Knitpicks Stroll

If I may put my summary first, Knitpicks Stroll has three big strong points:
  • It is inexpensive.
  • It comes in about a billion colors.
  • It is readily available from the Knitpicks website.
The problem most knitters have with it, it seems, is that it is from Knitpicks.  There are few yarnish questions that will raise as much ire from knitters as "do you like Knitpicks yarn."  There are some that figure that buying from Knitpicks is like shooting your local yarn store in the foot.  The way I feel though, is if the (financial, often as not) choice is Knitpicks yarn, big box store yarn, or NO yarn, I will pick the Knitpicks yarn every time.  I have yet to find a better yarn for the price.

Which begs the question of why am I designing in Knitpicks Stroll, specifically, and Knitpicks yarn in general.  The fact of the matter is Stroll is a good, solid workhorse sock yarn.  It is soft enough, durable enough, fairly average fingering weight yarn.  It comes in all my favorite (read: all the) colors.  If you needed something for colorwork for a kid, it's superwash.  It makes very nice socks.  No matter how rich (ha) I get, there will always be a place for Stroll in my stash.  It's not the best sock yarn ever.  But it's a good, serviceable yarn that gets the job done.  It looks good for a great price, is easy to get, and oh yeah, the colors.

Do you have something you want me to review? Needles? Yarn? Notions? Drop me a line! marusempai at gmail dot com. Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Yarn review - Mountain Colors 4/8's Wool

I like working with smaller dyers.  Mountain Colors is fairly local to me (Montana), and small enough that I can be reasonably certain the yarn they sent me was indeed dyed in Montana.  The first thing I have to say about this yarn is THE COLORS!  Most of their colorways are available in all of their yarn bases, so this isn't really specific to the 4/8's Wool, but my goodness their colors are pretty.  I am working with Harmony Mist, and it really is better in person.  The Harmony group of variegateds is my favorite - it has enough variegation to keep things interesting, but not so much that it obscures the stitch-work so much.

4/8's wool is a smooth, plied worsted weight.  It has a nice fluffy texture, and is very stretchy.  As you can see, my project with it is in crochet cables, and it is working as well as or better than I expected it to.  It is nice and soft, without being "pills as I work it and felts if I frog it" soft, and has good stitch definition.  Did I mention it takes frogging well?  I do a lot of frogging when I design, and this stuff has taken it and come back for more.  I suspect this means that it will wear well, although I haven't tested that yet.  (Some day, I am going to pin swatches to the baby's knees to test how yarn wears, but first I need a good way to measure my results.)  Good stuff!

Do you have something you want me to review? Needles? Yarn? Notions? Drop me a line! marusempai at gmail dot com. Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wool, part 3 -- sheep breeds

As I said in my first post, there are lots and LOTS of breeds of sheep.  Today I'm going to talk about some of the most common breeds a knitter or crocheter might encounter, as well as some rarer ones that you're more likely to encounter only if you're a spinner (or in one case, a weaver).

Merino:  Merino is the most common breed of sheep to see on a yarn label.  The reason is fairly obvious - merino sheep produce the softest wool of any breed.  In my experience it is most common in sock yarn.  Merino is also a delight to spin.  One warning, though.  If you like to wash your own fleeces, be prepared for a greasy, greasy mess.  Merino sheep also have the most lanolin of any breed.

Blue Faced Leicester: Also known as BFL (which is good for me, because I can't pronounce Leicester to save me).  Not quite as soft as merino, but has a longer staple (the length of the individual fiber) and isn't as greasy.  Because it isn't quite so fine and has longer fibers BFL is also more durable than merino.  It is often touted as a fairly ideal first fiber for beginning spinners, and is one of my favorites to work with.

Navaho Churro: These are the sheep that the Navaho raised in the Southwest United States.  They are rugged little things, highly resistant to pests, drought, and disease.  They are a double coated breed - they have long guard hairs mixed in with their wool.  Navaho Churro wool is rare in commercial yarn, with the exception of some weaving lines.  The gaurd hair is very coarse, so when both layers are spun together it wears like steel.  When the fleece is dehaired, it is much softer, but still not next to the skin soft.  I have a Navaho Churro fleece that I'm planning on spinning for a sweater for my husband.

Shetland: Shetland sheep come in two styles, double coated and single coated.  In my experience, the single coated variety of fleece is more common, but you're probably not going to encounter it unless you spin.  This is the wool that was around in the same area as the fairly famous Shetland lace, and (understandably) does very well in lace applications.  You have to be careful not to over twist it, however, or it feels like string.  Other than that, it is fairly soft - I'd say maybe a little coarser than BFL.

Peruvian highland wool: I'm seeing this one more and more often.  It refers to a cross between BFL and merino, so far as I can tell, and is softer than BFL and more durable than merino.  I've found it to be something of a mixed bag.  Sometimes it's very soft, sometimes it's not so soft.  It seems to matter very much how it's spun.  If you have your heart set on either very soft or very durable (and not so soft), it's probably best to either touch before you buy or talk to somebody who has experience with a specific yarn.  I've yet to see anything in it I don't like, however.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wool, part 2 -- the texture issue

Soft wool is not always the best for every project.  Sometimes coarse wool (I won't call it scratchy, due to the negative connotation) simply works better.  Some knitters and crocheters don't like working with coarse wool, which is fair enough.  But there are some advantages to NOT choosing the softest wool on the shelf.  Namely, soft wool felts and pills much more easily than coarser wools do.  Felting can sometimes be desirable, and pills can be shaved off, but who wants to shave your sweater's underarm every time you wear it?

The kinds of projects that work better in coarser wool, in my opinion, are items that you don't want to felt that are going to get a lot of heavy wear, but won't be directly next to your skin.  Sweaters are an excellent example.  As a bonus, I've noticed that cables "pop" more in  a slightly coarser wool.  My husband, for example, is incredibly rough on sweaters.  He would DESTROY Malabrigo.  If I were to make him a sweater, I would choose something a little more rustic.  Black Water Abbey's yarns come to mind.

On the other hand, sometimes you NEED the softness.  Socks, for example, need to be pretty soft, as to gloves, scarves, and hats.  Thankfully most of these items also don't receive heavy wear.  The exception of course is socks.  This is why most wool sock yarns are blends of wool and nylon (or, in the old days, silk).  The nylon (or silk) gives much needed reinforcement to the wool, which gives the sock the durability it needs without giving the wearer itchy feet.

Am I going to talk about wool some more?  YES, I'm going to talk about wool some more!  Next time (the final installment) I'll give a brief summary of some of my favorite sheep breeds.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wool, part 1

Wool is going to be impossible to cover in one post, because not all wool is the same.  There are, in fact, eleventy bajillion and one (or something... I can't find a definitive number) different breeds of sheep.  Not all of them are wool sheep -- many are what is called a hair sheep, which are raised exclusively for meat, and do not need to be sheared because they shed their coats in the spring.  The wool sheep all produce different wool.  Some is coarse and scratchy, some is buttery soft, and everything in between!  There are, however, a few things that all wools have in common.

Wool felts.  Soft wools are generally easier to felt than course wools, but under the right conditions, all wools do felt.  The only exception is superwash wool, which has been treated specially to prevent felting.  Even then, though, some superwash wools will felt if conditions are extreme enough.  The recipe for felting: agitation, water, heat, soap.  Basically what happens is the tiny scales on the fiber's surface open up, interlock, then close up again.  Felting shrinks wool severely and makes it denser.  Felting is permanent.

Wool can be dyed with acid dyes.  This means no icky mordants for the home dyer -- you can dye wool by microwaving it in a bowl of Kool-Aid!  This means it takes minimal equipment to set up and try, which is always good in my book.

Wool has memory.  That basically means that whatever position the fibers dry in, they want to stay in, until they get wet again.  This is good for things like ribbing (it will stretch and spring back) and also for lace (when it dries stretched out it will stay stretched out).  Some wools have more memory than others.

Many yarns just say "wool" on the label.  This means that the company has a standard blend of sheep breeds for consistency within the line, but it's impossible to know the exact properties of generic wool without either touching it or more descriptors.  For example, Patons Soy Wool Stripes is ridiculously itchy.  Patons Classic Wool, on the other hand, is fairly soft.  Both are labeled simply as "wool."

As this is becomming quite a long post already, part 2 will come later, and will discuss the relative benefits of soft wool and coarse wool.  Yes, you may sometimes want to use coarse wool!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yarn review time!

Yarn support is the BEST part of being a designer.  It is like Christmas early!  My most recent batch has been Panda Silk from Crystal Palace Yarns.  It is a fingering weight, 52% bamboo, 43% machine washable merino wool, 5% combed silk blend.  Also, I might add, delightful to work with.  This time around, I'm designing a crochet shawl in it:

 It's lovely and soft, and that silk gives it a nice sheen.  I've had no problems with splittiness, either, and it has excellent stitch definition.  Wide range of colors.  Admittedly I selected this yarn myself, specifically for this pattern, so I may be a bit biased, but I love this stuff.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


This is one of the things I do in my spare (hah!) time.

This is the first time in five years I've had the space to set it up!  But what's that?

Yup, high hat stands make a GREAT stand for coned yarns.  I pull the outside end, and it rotates nicely, giving me a smooth, tangle free working yarn.  Score one for clever!  This is some 100% cotton don't know what that I'm using to make bath mats for the kids' bathroom.  Go team cotton!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Everybody needs an editor

My secret sweater has just entered testing, which has gotten me to thinking about the whole design process.  In my pre-yarn life, I started as an editor of translations.  Well, before that I was a translator, but that's fairly irrelevant.  Any editor will tell you, everybody needs an editor.  I gather that a lot of folks think that's just us defending our jobs, but it's not.  See, my brain does not work the way your brain does.  What I may think is perfectly clear may be confusing to you.  I may miss that I misspelled "biology" as "boilogy" even though I reread my draft fifteen times.  And in design, this is, in large part, where pattern testers come in.  Now, testers are not and should not be expected to be tech editors or copy editors, altho they will often catch the same kind of mistakes.  But a test crocheter can tell me if my sweater actually fits a ten year old.  I don't have the time (or yarn!) to make every one of my patterns in every available size, and even if I did, I probably wouldn't have a model to test the sizes on.  I have done so many crochet yokes that they are automatic to me, so sometimes I forget to say in my pattern where, exactly, the fsc bridge should attach... and you bet testers catch crap like that!  So to all my testers, past, present, and future, a hearty thank you... I'm going to do my best to not need you any more, but boy do I appreciate your help!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Speaking of buttons...

Look what I've been up to today.  Carefully, carefully stitching these cute little ducky buttons onto a top secret project.  It is nice to have hands that work again!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

204 MOP buttons

It should be no secret, I suppose, that I really, really like buttons.  Generally speaking, I go for simple, classic buttons, the sort that integrate with the piece without distracting the eye.  But at the same time, I want to be able to say, "hey, that's a pretty button" when I look close.  So when I saw these beautiful mother of pearl buttons on eBay?  Sold.  I am now the proud owner of 102 half inch MOP buttons and 102 one inch MOP buttons.  I've avoided having a button stash this long, but I guess it couldn't last forever.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sweet Violets Cardigan

For finally, my sweater pattern!  Worked in one piece from the top down, the yoke is designed so that the overlap can easily be adjusted to fit a wide range of body types without making the sweater lie funny.  Check it out on Ravelry, my available patterns page, or click through right here!  Available in girls sizes four through ten.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts on fiber: Alpaca

Yup, I got tired of coming up with cute titles for these.  Blame the children... they have been throwing up on me all weekend, and I am exhausted!

Alpaca is currently a very popular fiber.  This is understandable, as alpaca is (generally speaking) delightful to work with.  It is soft and smooth.  If you like natural colors, alpaca can be your friend, as the beasties come in about fifteen kajillion different colors.

The downside of alpaca is it has absolutely no memory.  Seriously, look at South American fashions from back in the day... see any ribbing?  Cables?  Nope, not a chance.  Ribbing done in alpaca just sort of sags out of shape, and doesn't do any of the things ribbing is supposed to do, except maybe look cute.  Even for lace, many knitters complain that 100% alpaca is too saggy to properly show the pattern.  Of course, this isn't necessarily a BAD thing... you just have to figure out how to use it.  One of the easiest ways is to just mix your alpaca with a nice, springy wool, like merino.  That makes you loose some of the unique alpaca qualities though.  My advice is simply to choose your patterns very carefully.  Crochet edgings can lend your work support.  Make something that's supposed to be soft and drapey, and it will work just fine!

The other big deal with alpaca is that it is supposedly hypoallergenic.  This is true, but not the way most people think it is.  Hypoallergenic simply means that something is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than similar substances, not that it's impossible to be allergic to it.  Believe me, you can be allergic to alpaca!  It is simply less common than wool allergies.  In addition, alpaca contains no lanolin, which eliminates lanolin allergies entirely.  So if you're allergic to wool, it is certainly worth a try.  But don't pin all your hopes and dreams on it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ulnar nerve impingement

Most hand crafters have heard of carpel tunnel syndrome, however I have discovered another chronic wrist problem that I think deserves some attention.  You see, the carpel tunnel nerves only control half of your hand -- the thumb, fore finger, and middle finger.  The pinky and ring fingers are controlled by another nerve entirely, the ulnar nerve.  This nerve runs through the elbow along the ulna (one of the bones of the fore arm).

Why am I talking about this?  Because I have it!  And to be effective, you have to treat it differently than if you had CTS.  The main reason for this is because the ulnar nerve is usually pinched off not at the wrist (where you feel it), but in the elbow.  That's why I am typing this from far, far away from my computer, in order to keep my elbow straight.  Immobilizing the wrist can help UNI, but it will not make it all the way better.  My tips:
  • Wear a wrist brace AND elbow brace at night, keeping those joints straight, as long as you have pain.  It's annoying, but it really helps.
  • Ice baths.  I recommend this for carpel tunnel, too.  Fill the sink with cold water, and float some frozen water bottles in it.  Get it as cold as you can!  Then dunk your hand and arm (up to the elbow) in your little ice lake for five seconds.  No more!   Repeat frequently as long as you have pain.
  • Go to this website.  They have a series of exercises that seem to help a lot.
  • Pause often while crafting to rest and stretch your shoulder, elbow, and wrist.
  • Don't be afraid to go to your doctor!  This is the next step for me.  Don't assume that they will just want you to have surgery.  There are a number of therapy options for UNI.  In fact, surgery is seen as an absolute last resort, and is usually only recommended if you have muscular degeneration in the area.
So take care of your hands and arms!  Rest them if they are sore!  Don't end up like me, unable to crochet until my arm feels better!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Silk, glorious silk!

Silk is, without question, one of my very favorite fibers.  Nothing quite says "luxury" like a little silk  Which is funny, given that silk is basically caterpillar spit.  It is made from the cocoons of the silk worm, a little caterpillar that eats mulberry leaves.  It is not a vegan fiber.  The first step in the process of turning cocoons into yarn is dropping them into BOILING WATER!  Needless to say, the little larva isn't coming out of this one alive.  After that, either an end is picked up and the cocoon is unreeled from there (reeled silk), or the cocoon is stretched out over a frame.  If you're a spinner you may recognize this part -- it's where we get silk hankies, caps, and bells.

The biggest misunderstanding about silk, I think, is that everyone thinks of it as an extremely fragile fiber, handle with care.  This is both true and false.  Individual silk fibers are actually incredibly strong, as long as they are dry.  They are just incredibly fine, so they catch on things easily, and shockingly fragile when wet... especially if it's hot water.  That's why they dunk the cocoons in boiling water before they unwind it.  It opens up the fibers and softens them.

What does this mean for us silk users?  Well, silk does have to be washed very carefully, lest it break.  I treat silk like I do fine wool that I'm afraid will felt.  No agitation, no wringing!  The other option is to get it dry cleaned.  Once it dries (flat!), however, silk is pretty durable.  I think that silk blends are great, for example, for a very special baby item that you wouldn't mind hand washing.  My youngest's coming home sweater, for example, is a silk blend.

Pure silk is also very expensive, generally speaking.  There are some exceptions.  If you were to say order your silk from eBay, where there are a number of sellers from overseas who carry 100% silk yarns, you can get a real steal.  That being said, it's difficult to say if it's really silk, or if it's actually rayon.  Of course if you conclusively proved it to be rayon, eBay's fraud department would help you out, but it's difficult to prove one way or the other.  That being said, there are a number of very affordable silk blends.  I'm very fond of Misti Alpaca Pima Cotton and Silk, and of Crystal Palace Yarns Panda silk.  Both give you that sheen and silky hand, without the crazy price tag.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My first knitting injury

I have always been quite pleased in that I seem to have very durable hands.  Hours and hours of yarn work do indeed make them a little sore, but a bit of rest has always made things right again, even when the pain is from using itty bitty needles or hooks.  No more.  I seem to have found my gauge of pain, and it is, surprisingly to me, bulky yarn on US 10 needles.

I don't usually work with bulky yarn, and when I do, it is usually crochet.  But... it is such a cute little bag.  Today, however, I have a serious ache through my left pinky finger and into my wrist, despite having done no yarn work today whatsoever.  Surprise!  A knitting injury!

I have therefor put together a list of tips for craft related hand pain.
  • Try to go back and forth between projects of different gauges.  Different sizes of needles and hooks put strain on our hands in different ways, and by spreading out the stress, you can avoid injury.  It is also helpful to go back and forth between knit and crochet, to mix up the use of your hands and wrists.
  • Loosen up!  Knitting or crocheting tightly places more strain on the muscles and tendons of the hands.  Try wrapping your yarn around fewer fingers to tension it, and try to relax as you're working.  You will naturally loosen your stitching.  You may need to change needles to accommodate your new more relaxed gauge.
  • If you do develop pain, take a rest.  Don't try to push through... that's how injuries happen.
  • If you have persistent soreness, try hot or cold compresses.  Whether heat or cold works for you will depend on the exact nature of your soreness.  Cold works best on inflammation and swelling, and heat works best on tension.  A combination of both may work very well for you.  Experiment and see what helps.
  • Try taking an anti-inflammatory half an hour or so before a long yarn session.  Having the medicine already in your blood stream can prevent inflammation from occurring in the first place... this is however something of a last ditch solution, as pain is how our bodies tell us we are causing damage.  As inconvenient as it is, it is a useful signal.
In summary, the best way to stay out of my position is to take care of your hands.  They do a lot for us crafters, and we are very demanding of them.  Here's to hopefully fast healing, and a long lifetime of pain-free yarning.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cotton -- not just for dish rags

For the first post in my thoughts on fiber series, I'd like to look at cotton.  Cotton tends to get a bad rap.  It is scratchy, it is inelastic, it pills.  Banish the "scratchy" assumption right now.  It is a misconception started because for most of us, the only 100% cotton yarn we encounter on a regular basis is Peaches and Creme or Sugar and Creme.  Don't get me wrong, these are great yarns for kitchen and bathroom items.  They are durable and absorbent, and come in a wide range of attractive colors.  But they are not all cotton can be.  Knitpicks Simply Cotton, for example, is like working with a soft fluffy cloud.  Another factor in the softness of cotton is what kind of cotton it is.  You wouldn't expect all wools to feel the same, and cotton is no different.  My personal favorite for softness is pima cotton.  Soft, soft, soft!  I have also found it to be less pilly than some other cultivars, which is a double bonus.

Which brings me to the other complaint about cotton: it pills.  Unfortunately this is a fact of life when working with very soft fibers.  Because cotton fibers on their own really are soft -- comparable to very fine wool.  The difference with cotton is that those fibers are also very short.  It takes a lot of twist to get all the teeny tiny ends bound tightly into the yarn, and all that twist tends to make the yarn feel hard, like Peaches and Creme.  When it is spun more loosely, the fibers have a tendency to escape a little, forming those irritating little pills.  Of course wool does this too -- a very fine merino, for example, will pill just as much as any cotton yarn.  This is where a sweater shaver comes in handy... most yarns, regardless of fiber content, pill like crazy for a little while, then stop.  Shave off the pills, and it's good to go.

An important thing to remember about cotton is that when you block it, it will GROW.  Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, depending on the stitch and blend.  In my experience, it gains much more length than width, especially if you encourage it to do so.  I like to take advantage of this, personally... it gains a lot of length when washed that first time, so I don't have to work as many rows!

Another common complaint about cotton is that it's inelastic.  This is true!  It's only a downside, though, if you expect cotton to behave like wool.  Yes, ribbing in cotton will stretch out and never go back.  Cotton socks do not stay up well without the addition of elastic.  But cotton lace is virtually self blocking.  Yeah, if you make a big ol' cabled sweater out of cotton, it will grow and stretch and sag under it's own weight.  But it makes great baby clothes, and again... lace that stays blocked.

Another advantage of cotton is how incredibly well it breathes.  It doesn't insulate the way wool does, which makes it fabulous for summer knits.  It does insulate some though, especially some of the fluffier yarns, which makes it great for transitional weather, as well.  My very favorite hand made sweater is in fact a cotton/silk blend.  It is soft and scrummy, and keeps the chill off without overheating me.  The drape of it (it is a lace sweater) is also very flattering, whether I can fit into my skinny pants that day or not!

So in conclusion, cotton is great as long as you don't expect it to behave like wool does.  It won't.  But it has it's own properties that make it a great fiber in its own right, as well as having a lot to bring to blends.  It's not just for dishcloths!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts on fiber

I've noticed that a lot of people tend to have one go to, fail safe fiber.  For most, this is either wool or acrylic.  I've been thinking about that lately, and am slowly coming to the conclusion that it is because, as fiber artists, we simply have too many choices.  I mean, there was a time when you were pretty much limited to your flock, and maybe your neighbor's flock.  No more.  Now you can get alpaca, six kinds of wool, silk, a couple kinds of cotton, acrylic, nylon, a few flavors of rayon... just by going to your local yarn store, or even closer, the internet.  This is a good thing.  But it is difficult to know or predict how each of these fibers will behave, alone or in blends, so we tend to have a go to.

And it is true that a good wool yarn can be made to do just about anything, as can acrylic if you know what you're doing.  But it might not be the best answer.  So I've decided that I'm going to do some posts on fiber types.  Because once you know the basics, it becomes so much easier to get the effect that you want.  Now, it is of course possible to just always get the same yarn (or a comparable blend) as the designer used to make their pattern.  I encourage this, frankly, however it's not always going to be what you want to do.  Sometimes the recommended yarn is unavailable.  Sometimes it's too expensive.  And sometimes you just want a bit of a different effect than the designer got.  All perfectly valid reasons for a substitution... and if you know your fiber, there will be fewer unpleasant surprises along the way.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And now, a review.

Nothing remotely design related today (nothing interesting, anyway), so I thought I'd do a review.  Anybody who knows me in person knows how into metal knitting needles I am.  They are fast.  They do not cause my hands to cramp.  They are shiny, and everybody likes shiny things.  But then I started to do lace.  Yeah, metal needles were NOT cutting it.  So I found these:
 These are the Knitpicks interchangeable Harmony tips.  Now, I did learn to use DPNs on bamboo, and quickly switched to Harmony DPNs.  But they were really more of a stepping stone to metal DPNs, which are now the love of my sock knitting life.  Lace, however, is a different beast entirely.  These needles are nice and smooth, but not so slickery that the teeny, tiny little lace stitches pop off.  And they are pointy.  My favorite part of them, however, is how very light they are.  The difference is quite minimal when using something as tiny as DPNs, but with a circular, it is definitely noticeable.  With these, I feel like I could knit for days, they are so light.

Downside?  There is a bit of a catch to them, right where the metal and wood come together.  I don't find it particularly problematic, but it might drive some knitters round the bend.  I like them.  Will I be buying a set?  No.  I am still a plated nickel girl, really.  But for lace, this is my new go to.

(And yeah that's a swatch under those needles.  No, I'm not telling you what it is.  You'll find out soon enough.)

Do you have something you want me to review?  Needles?  Yarn?  Notions?  Drop me a line!  marusempai at gmail dot com.  Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


More yarn support came today!  This is two balls of Plymouth Cotton Kisses in a fun spring green color:
The best part of designing?  When it goes all wintery, that is my cue to think SPRING!  And ignore the snow and horrible wind.  Well, it's not cold yet, but seriously, it's only a matter of time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My first ever for sale pattern!

The Raspberry Sherbet Footies pattern is live and available for purchase! Find it on Ravelry, or click through the button below.

Upcoming patterns

Not one, but TWO patterns are perilously close to publication. One will be the first in what I hope to be a collection -- Maru's Two Dollar Socks! I'm tired of all the cool sock patterns being five dollars and up, so I'm going to try and fix that. The second is a great crochet sweater pattern. Soft and lacy, perfect for transitional weather! It's not as close to completion, but will be available on Knitpicks fairly soon. Everything after that is still a secret. Some crochet, some knit.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Welcome to Maru Designs, the official blog for the knit and crochet designs of Kim Driggs. Please note that we are still HIGHLY under construction, so please pardon our dust. There should be pattern announcements in the near future though.