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.