it's what i do

Knitting patterns and blog ramblings about knitting and sewing. ... and gardening, and cooking. Basically all the makes. There's a lot of strange knowledge in my brain that I'm hoping can do some good out in the world.


Unpatterns are available on Patternfish!

on the needles

• Big Grey Thing

• Lots of Turkish Bed Socks in BMFA Socks that Rock

in my ears
  • The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
    The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
    by Louise Penny
  • A Rule Against Murder: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
    A Rule Against Murder: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
    by Louise Penny
under my nose
  • The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
    The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
    by Daniel J. Levitin
fueled by
go find it!
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it's the little things

I don't know if it's the spring weather or what, but I find I'm making time to fix those little annoyances around the house that had been bugging me for ages - yet I just didn't get off my duff to take the few minutes to make them better.

Case in point: my needle stash labeling system. I keep my needles in a little sheet-music drawer stand my mom gave me - and the little paper labels I made years ago for the needle sizes keep flicking off from where they were taped down. Grab a needle, replace a label. Grr.

Like any other card-carrying member of the OverOrganized Club (that should be a thing, shouldn't it?), I own a labelmaker. I own a labelmaker with a keyboard, for kripes' sake. That stays plugged in permanently (in case of those sudden labeling emergencies).

So this morning, hey presto Eureka and lo, we went from this –

to this!

And in the Department of Redundancy Department, each needle size has its needles contained in a LABELED zip bag. I couldn't trust the little buggers not to roll around in the drawers and commingle like freshman at a college dorm mixer.

Power to the Labelmaker, People!

How do you store your needles? Do you have the same problem corraling them as I do? (Or maybe you don't have the crazy deep needle stash I do -ahem-...?)


on swatching: size matters

[Repost from a new thread over in my Ravelry group]

(Fountain pen for scale.)

Every once in a while, a newbie knitter would bring to my teaching table a swatch made up of just a few stiches - a wee, postage-stamp-sized slip of a thing. “The pattern said I needed a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch, so I cast on 6 stitches!” Fair enough - that’s an easy assumption to make as a brand-new knitter. Knit up 6 stitches, and if it’s not 1 inch, you’re off… Right?

Welllll, no. And what I’m about to say applies to just-slightly-larger-but-still-not-big-enough swatches as well: if you aren’t working long enough rows, you aren’t really creating the kind of fabric you’ll make in a larger garment. PLUS, you won’t be able to count accurately.

A sweater-sized project will likely have a hundred or more stitches across a row - long enough for you to get into a good rhythm, get moving at a good clip, maybe even space out a little bit. That different rhythm can impact how loosely or tightly you knit! So the longer you can make your rows in your swatch, the more accurately it will reflect how you’ll knit in a sweater.

A slightly more experienced knitter might cast on the # of sts in 4”/10cm called out on the pattern. So, 24 stitches in 4” for the same gauge as the newbie above. That’s better, but still no cigar, and here’s why: your edge stitches always curl in just a little bit, which sucks away a bit of the measurement… And you don’t have a larger bit of fabric within which to measure, which means you might lose that half-a-stitch that would otherwise creep into your 4”/10cm measurement across - and a half a stitch in 4” means 5 stitches in 40” around a sweater, which could be an inch or more off. Might not sound like much, but believe me - it’s the difference between your sweater fitting beautifully or not. Between your fabric being just the right density, or being too stiff or too loose. Those half stitches matter! And the way you’re going to be able to see that is by knitting a swatch that is larger than 4”/10cm across.

So if your gauge says 24 sts = 4”/10cm, CAST ON MORE THAN THAT. Doesn’t really matter how many more, as long as it’s materially more. In this case, 4 more stitches would be a bare minimum. I’d be more likely to cast on 32 or 36 or 40 for a swatch at this gauge. Be generous with yourself - those longer rows are more pleasurable to knit, anyway.

And while you’re at it, make sure your swatch is also tall enough - row gauge matters too! Sometimes different needle sizes will generate a bigger difference in row gauge than stitch gauge. And a too-tight row gauge means you’re eating up yarn faster than the pattern calls for, so you might run out before you’re done…! Or it might mean your fabric is too dense. So check your row gauge as well; at the very least, it’s a good indicator that you’re on the right track, fabric-wise. I try to go until my swatch is nearly square, or until I’ve done about 10 rows more than the row gauge on the pattern over 4”/10cm.

This is the first in a series of posts in praise of swatching, and how to make it really work for you. More in the coming weeks!


on slowing down

We're a few days into #slowfashionoctober, a conversation/movement instigated by Karen Templer over at Fringe Association as a means for us to dive into what 'slowing down' our fashion or clothing consumption might mean to all of us.

It's a many-sided topic: some folks are getting into the environmental and human consequences of 'fast fashion'; others are getting into the nitty-gritty of making more of their wardrobe... There are so many ways to enjoy the notion of 'slowing down' our wardrobes.

Week One of "Slotober" this year is dedicated to Introductions, so here's mine. I'm Karen, a maker of sweaters for years and years who's just branching out in the wild and wonderful world of sewing (making garments in days rather than months! Yippee!). I call myself a 'creative minimalist,' with all the rhetorical tension that implies. I love being inspired to make things (especially things to wear), but I aspire to a capsule wardrobe of just the right things. I have a yarn stash and a fabric stash, and never enough time to make all the things that I'm inspired to start.

So for me, it seems fitting that my version of Slow Fashion October become about SLOWING MYSELF DOWN.

Boyhood and I had planned to take a major cross-country trip starting this week, heading East to Rhinebeck. Yet the closer we got to our departure date, the more agitated we both seemed to get. Boy confessed to feeling ungrounded as well as sad about leaving his workshop with all his creative tools (unlike me, his creative outlet isn't portable!).


We sat with that feeling, tossed around a few 'what if?'s, and cancelled our trip. We're staying home and creating a generative, healthy, creative staycation space for ourselves, complete with a round of nearly #whole30, walks every day, and a focus on maximum creative time. We're thrilled.

Perfect timing for Slotober, right? I was immediately filled with a desire to DO.ALL.THE.THINGS!, running around making lists of epic proportions. And then I stopped.

Hey waitaminute: there's the word S-L-O-W in there. Maybe that might apply to *how* I'm working this month?

The best way for me to slow down this month is to really allow myself the luxury of focusing on one project at a time. Yup, Project Monogamy. I've been notoriously skittish with projects, working on as many as five at a time, due to deadlines and work constraints for the last few years. This is a perfect opportunity to just settle in and meditate over a project. Helpful that the project in question is the gorgeous cardigan White Pine by the fantabulous Amy Christoffers - a cabled bit of loveliness that requires good, solid attention lest a twist go the wrong way when you're not looking.

So no binge-watching "NCIS" this month; no flitting off to work "just a few rows" on this or that other project with its siren song... Just me, a little soothing ambient background music, and The Pines of Rhinebeck. Until it's done.

Knitting is supposed to be meditation, right? It's that thing we imagine sinking into with complete flow after a hard workday... it's what we dream about when the kids are melting down before dinner, or when we're stuck in traffic... "If only I could be quietly sitting on the couch, enjoying the yarn moving through my fingers and the satisfying click of the needles..."

So why not be there with it? Let's slow down and just knit together this month. You know what project I'll be bringing...!


on ruthlessness

I'm a sorter by nature. Give me a bunch of random bits and a little chunk of time, and I'll happily put them into distinct piles. Add that to my growing tendency toward minimalism and you have all the ingredients for a great wardrobe purge!

The notion of 'capsule wardrobes' fascinates me - if you really, really knew yourself well and put an eagle eye on what you love to wear, could you get down to a core set of clothes that served all your needs?

I love my 'batterie de cuisine', the set of pots & pans I've had for over two decades. I have just the right pot for all the things I like to cook, and despite my father's occasional plea "I found this great set of pans on sale at Macy's! Are you sure you don't need anything?", I haven't budged off of that set or felt the need to change anything.

So the notion of a 'batterie de garderobe' is something I've been edging towards for months. And now that Courtney Carver has put out the start date for the Fall 2016 edition of #project333, I'm all in!

Boyhood's away from home for his work week, so I've had carte blanche to turn the house upside down with piles of clothes. Perfect timing - let the games begin!

In the past, I've sorted and filed away clothes into empty suitcases (great use of space, IMHO); I've sorted them by season/off-season, by color stories... you name it. But this time, the goal is to only have so many clothes that they all fit in my half of the teeny wardrobe in our bedroom or in the upstairs storage closet. (That's about 5 linear feet of hanging space - not a ton!)

So out came the suitcases and the underbed storage bins... and I basically KonMari'd my way through all my clothes in under 3 hours. If I wasn't feeling the love for a piece, I gave myself a reason why - my new sorting piles: "too small" "too schlumpy", "uncomfortable, sadly", "too casual"/"too formal", "too bright" (my wardrobe's headed in a more neutral direction these days), "a past life", and "more Mom's taste than mine" (since I luck into her hand-me-downs sometimes):


These categories somehow magically gave me an extra boost, a bit of rationale for why I don't gravitate towards these pieces enough that they end up in the rotation. And those rationales made it enough for me to steel myself and get ruthless - ruthless enough to cut 1/4 of my wardrobe today!

I'm now down to a more manageable (yes, still First-World, but better) level:

•120 +/- pieces of clothing
• 35 pairs of shoes
• 15 handbags

(Those who know and love me would see that ratio of shoes to clothes as perfectly logical for me; the # of handbags, on the other hand, is probably lower than most of you suspect!)

And I have over 50 items leaving the building. I'm taking the Eileen Fisher pieces back to the store for their "Green Eileen" initiative (they re-sell them after lovingly cleaning and restoring them; the proceeds from the resale go to women's and children's charities). The others have gone into a big ol' suitcase, ready for a "Naked Lady Party"! (Down boys: it's an evening where you invite your friends over with a bottle of champagne and have them try on and take home whatever they want. Come in your best underwear!)

Next step was to lay out the 33 items I'll be using for my Fall #project333:

4 pairs of shoes; 5 pairs of pants; 2 skirts; 2 dresses... and 8 of the 33 items are me-mades!

Boyhood and I are hitting the road on a huge, cross-country road trip right as this Project 333 begins - so perfect timing to put it in action! We'll be sharing one rolly suitcase, so I imagine I won't even be taking all 33 items with me...

But more on that soon!


for the love of analogue: managing projects

I do love my digital tools and apps for their flexibility and their ability to manage all sorts of ideas without taking up physical space in my compact world.

... But there's also the immediacy of the written word, the chance to write something down so you can see it and rembember it - which is where my analogue systems come into (literally) play!

As a creative person who can easily be overwhelmed by ideas and inspiration, I love using my analogue systems to manage the projects I've begun or want to begin. If, like many knitters, you have a rash of 'UFOs' (UnFinished Objects) lingering on the needles, here's a tip about how I'm managing mine that might be helpful for some of you.

A while ago, I took an inventory of my UFOs (and took a moment to put them all up on my Ravelry projects page - another great digital tool!). The Ravelry side of things leaves me with a place to put my hands on notes ("where are my 3.5mm 24" Addi Rocket needles again?"), but it doesn't give me any sense of priority or (god forbid) urgency about finishing them. Some day, I'd like to be UFO free, working on current projects in a manageable way - but how to get there?

Enter the analogue system. In your face, flexible - helpful in getting 'em DONE.

This is the monthly page in my Get to Work Book - where I can glance and see appointments, birthdays, events, etc. But it's also hosting a little fleet of Post-Its at the bottom of the page, each one representing a kind of project I've dedicated to work on this month.

I color-coded the little Post-Its based on the kind of project: UFOs are traditional yellow; sewing projects are green; gifts are orange. (Spoiler alert! Bro, you're getting socks. But you knew that. Bro always gets socks, because he loves them so.) Not shown on this page: new projects I want to complete for my wardrobe of handmades for Fall - those are starting in the queue next month.

When I was doing my (sobering) UFO inventory and adding them to Ravelry, I also wrote down one per Post-It and gathered them at my desk. I did the same for the gifts I'd like to give folks for the remaining birthdays in the year and the holidays, as well as future sewing projects for the Fall wardrobe. That's a lot of Post-Its!

Then I flipped through my planner monthly pages and started distributing projects - which ones could I best complete in which month? The aim was to get all the gift knitting done by November, saving a few last gifts for local family for December (since they won't need to be shipped); dedicating a few perfect projects for my two vacations/trips coming up in August and October (pairing a project to a trip - that's an art form, and a blog post in and of itself, eh?); and planning some sewing here and there to suit the season.

Once I was done, I got a monthly set of projects like you see above: a little UFO finishing, a little sewing, a little gift knitting to store away. And what I'm left with is a sense of satisfaction and control - if I can stick to what I've planned, I know I'm making progress on my goals, getting the right things done. And in any given week, I won't have to ask myself 'what's my priority?' If I'm inspired to sew, I can check and see what's on the docket. Grabbing a project for a car trip? Look at my gift list and see if there's a sock or two I can finish.

Should keep me on track, I think!

The other great thing about the Post-Its is that they're moveable and removeable - as I finish items (like the yellow 'skirt' Post-It pictured above), I can remove it from the planner and either move something up in its place, or move on to one of the other projects (in this case, the remainder of the month will be spent on the Simple Tee UFO). Done and done!