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What To Knit With Handspun Yarn?

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It's amazing, right?  You can just feel all of that softness jumping off the page.

This is some 100% angora, naturally produced and undyed yarn, that I ordered from Seidenhase.de.  Seidenhase literally translates as silk bunny, and nothing could be more apt.  This yarn is amazing.

I'm not sure what to knit with it yet (two skeins, approximately 235 meters/257 yards, so enough for some nice fingerless mitts or a hat).  I'll likely hold the two skeins together to even them out, as they are a bit different in gauge, but look to be mostly a dk or light worsted weight.  For now, I'm just going to pet these sweet little skeins and wait for inspiration to hit. If you have any ideas for me, please share them in the comments!

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Rainey DK: A New Elliebelly Yarn In Testing

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It's fun to test out base yarns for dyeing.  Fun, and a little bit frustrating at times.  As a small hand dyer, I rely on an unwieldy assortment of sources for base yarns.  It's a pleasure to work with small producers and mills and there are some fabulous, slightly larger suppliers out there who work with hand dyers, as well.  For me, it's been a one by one process over many years of trying different bases out: dyeing them, knitting with them, seeing how they look after they've been washed and worn.  Different bases have their charms and their detractions, so you need some experience with them to come up with your favorites, the ones that are dye and knit-worthy.

The past year has been fun for me as I've been working with a wonderful group of knitters to experiment with the possibilities for some old favorite yarns and play with some new ones. Not every base succeeds, and among those that do, it's a very personal selection of what works for me and which yarns are best for which purposes.  Those of you who've known me for a while know that I have a near obsession with linen.  It last forever and it gets softer every time you wash it.  It's lovely.  It's been around at least since ancient  Egypt (there are tomb fragments to prove it).  And I like to knit with it, particularly when it's part of a blend that softens its feel — knitting with pure linen can be a bit like knitting with string, although I still adore it in this form.

Loie

This shawl, knit in a new base I've been working with, Rainey DK, showed up late last week.  And I'm enthralled with it. Rainey is spun from 50% Alpaca, 25% Linen and 25% Silk.  It's virtues include the softness of Silk, the strength and beauty of Linen and a fabulous halo from the Alpaca.  It has just the right halo, not a "hair everywhere" kind of thing but enough to be soft and a bit rustic without shedding.  Although I can envision shawls and shrugs for Claire Fraser in the Outlander series knit from this yarn, it makes a lovely, sophisticated shawl for today, as well. Rainey, which I'm dyeing in a fingering weight, along with this DK version, is going to be a fun addition to Elliebelly Yarns.  I can't wait to play with its potential some more, but it's clearly a winner for shawls.

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Sharing My Stash

Need a little knitting eye candy to get you through the week?  I thought I would share some of my new Plucky Knitter stash with y'all.  Yes, I may have overspent at Glamping, and I've bought a bit of additional yarn off of the Plucky Reserve. I had to remind my angel baby husband that while some women buy expensive clothing or get take out for dinner every night, I buy yarn.  He's dubious, though.

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This is some of Plucky's new "Small Batch" speckled yarn on Bello, a fingering weight cashmerino base.

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Snug Worsted is a Plucky base that incorporates Alpaca and is very round and smooth.  This yarn is earmarked to become a pair of hats and is in a color that was available for a limited period of time.  I'm so glad I snagged some!

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This is Plucky's lace weight yarn, Sophisticate.  It has mohair in it and I am deathly allergic to mohair.  But, I rubbed some against my face at Glamping, and then spent part of an evening with some tucked into my shirt against my neck (it was that kind of weekend).  Amazingly, no problems.  A lot of people had claimed they were okay with Sophisticate despite a mohair allergy, but I was skeptical.  I'm so glad it turned out to be true!  This yarn is going to be incorporated into a striped sweater.

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This lovely scummy color is in Plucky's newest base, a bulky version of their rustic spun, worsted weight Scholar, called Cambridge.  This one is destined for cast on later this week for Michele Wang's new today Cambridge Hat pattern.  I admired knit up samples of this hat at Glamping and am going to cast on as soon as I can get my hands on needles in the correct size.

I hope you find something to inspire your own fall knitting here.  When I woke up to cool fall weather in Washington, D.C. Sunday morning, I was ecstatic.  Unfortunately, it's still warm at home in Alabama, but all it took was that one bit of chill air to remind me that winter is coming and it's time for knitter to knit!

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The Blocked Swatch: My Best Skill As A Knitter

After years of knitting projects that came out different sizes than I expected, I converted to swatching and most importantly, to blocking my swatches.  You always need to swatch. Always. Different needles, changes in your personal gauge over time; it all impacts your knitting.  Unless it's a shawl, and you truly don't care about the finished sized, the couple of hours you invest in proper swatching always pay off.

Unblocked swatch

I'm getting ready to knit the new Two Track sweater pattern in The Plucky Knitter's Lodge Worsted, a yarn spun from 60% Merino, 20% Cotton, 10% Silk, 10% Linen/Flax.  It's my first outing with this new yarn, so a swatch was essential.  A local knitting friend loves this blend and I had purchased some on her recommendation.  This meant I was lucky enough to have it on hand when this pattern came out.  The body of the sweater is written for size 8 needles.  I'm a loose knitter, so I swatched with 7's in the shorter area and 6's in the longer portion of the swatch you see above.

This is how I swatch: Cast on the number of stitches the pattern suggests should equal four inches, plus four additional stitches.  Knit for two rows.  On the next row, knit the first two stitches, purl across and then knit the last two stitches.  Next row, knit all stitches.  Repeat these two rows until you have at least the minimum number of rows the gauge swatch suggests will equal four inches in length, ending with a knit row.  Knit all stitches for two more rows.  You're done!  You've created a two-stitch garter stitch border all the way around the edge of your swatch.  This will keep it from rolling in and make it easier to measure.  Now, measure across the stockinette portion of the swatch and see if you've got four inches.

Measuredswatch

And, predictably, I don't.  I've got something between 3.25 and 3.5 inches, on the size 6 portion of the swatch.  The part knit on size 7 needles is closer to 3.5 inches.  So, you might think I should knit on the size 8 needles the pattern calls for.  But, everything changes radically when the swatch is blocked.

Blocked swatch

This swatch was soaked in sudsy water, rolled in a towel to remove excess moisture, and then pinned.  I treated it just how I'll treat the finished garment.  And look at the stitches open up!  With the silk, linen and cotton content in this yarn, it was fairly predictable that it would grow, and it did.  The swatch is still wet, and I need to let it dry and unpin it before taking its final measurements, but I'm guessing the size 6 needles will be just right.

Note: This process works just as well when you need to swatch a lace pattern or a cable.  If you want to swatch with different sized needles in the same swatch like I did, create a garter row (knit two rows back to back) to demarcate the area in between them.  

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A Simple Knit Scarf

One of my favorite fibers to work with is the wool of Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) sheep.  It is a long fiber wool and quite light, so it produces soft yarn with the additional benefit of a pretty sheen, much like wool fiber that is blended with silk.  It produces a strong fabric that is perfect for socks and has long been a staple of British knitters, but it was relatively unknown here 16 years ago.  I first stumbled upon it on a trip (because I visit yarn shops on family vacations.  I just do) and picked some up to use for diaper covers for my daughter.  And I was instantly hooked.  It became one of my favorite fibers to knit with and later, to dye.

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BFL is increasingly well-known to US knitters. Canadian and American raised BFL is spun into yarn along with its counterpart from Great Britain.  Lately, I've been testing different blends and spins of BFL yarns to try and come up with a few favorite yarns.  And, I admit, it's virtually impossible, because I like them all.  This project is the Little Plum Shawlette and it is knit in BFL Sock, a 100% fingering weight yarn, not treated with superwash, that is primarily intended for socks but is versatile enough to work for scarves and other accessories.

Over the years since I first discovered with it, I've knit frequently with Blue Faced Leicester and the results are always pleasing.

BFL Projects

A quick note about the purple scarf pattern.  It was released the month that Prince died and the designer's description of the pattern made it impossible for me to pass up, especially since I had some yarn on hand that I had dyed in my oldie but goodie Purple Rain colorway:

 I have loved Prince since the 1980s and was so sad to learn that he died suddenly. This shawlette has stitches that each commemorate a song by The Artist. I get that this is MAJORLY dorky, but when I was between designs, Michelle from Bo Peep Fine Yarns messaged me suggesting a Prince commemoration. So, when you’re a knitter, you knit, and when you’re a fan, you fangirl (yes, that’s a verb….my 12 year old daughter knows.) So, this is me fan-girling in an utterly mortifying way, no doubt!

This must be made while watching Prince videos or listening to his music. But you knew this, anyway. If there’s any desire for a KAL, let me know…although I’m probably one of only 3 Prince knitting fans!

There are 6 elements that commemorate Prince in this design, from bottom to top:

1 – Purple Rain drops
2 – Diamonds and Pearls
3 – Doves
4 – Doves again because this is my favorite song.
5 ”X’s” for “Kiss”
6 Seed stitch…it works round and round and is a a cool kitty. And I love it.
7. As an afterthought, the shawlette is skinny, just like Prince!

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Adama Cowl

Adama.  I absolutely adore this cowl pattern.  It's been on my "knit it now" list for quite a while.

image from images4-b.ravelrycache.com© Hilary Smith Callis

I cast on last week, after running into my Local Yarn Store (It's called In The Making. It's a good enough shop that if you're coming anywhere even close to Birmingham, Alabama, you should detour for a visit) to pick up a few things.  The pattern is well-written and has a clever design.  But, you're going to have to listen to me whine about it in this post.  Please keep in mind that the whines are all self-inflicted wounds.  The pattern is lovely and I expect to end up with a charming finished object, if I can just get my act together.

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Adama is written for The Plucky Knitters' Scholar, a worsted weight cashmere and merino blend that relaxes after blocking into a smooth, light-weight fabric.  And I had some gorgeous Scholar set aside for this pattern.  But, when I visited my LYS, one of my favorite knitters there was wearing a gorgeous version of Adama, knit in Woolfolk's Får.  Får is a very different yarn from Scholar.  Scholar is a woolen spun yarn, which makes it light and fluffy — it's a web of cashmere with a little merino for balance.  Får is a chainette construction, it looks a bit like a 3D crochet chain, and no matter how hard you pull on it, you would be unable to break it, which is something you can do quite easily with a woolen spun yarn. Får is dense and furry.  It's wonderfully soft and has a pretty halo you don't normally see on a 100% merino yarn.  All of that to say, it's rather a denser knit than the lacey Adama calls for, at least in its in-progress, pre-blocking version.  It took awhile before I could discern the emerging pattern.

Two colors

This yarn is absolutely horrible to have to rip out.  But that shouldn't be a problem, right?  I am, after all, an experienced knitter and this is a simple pattern.  I'm blaming this one on the cough syrup I've been taking at night, but I have ripped rows out of this project, again, and again.  Probably more than everything I knit last year, combined.  This is an easy pattern, and something I would have expected to complete in three or four evenings of knitting. But, the version I saw alternated sections in two different colors and I was so taken with it, I decided to imitate that approach, which is not part of the pattern. On my first try, the row that that looked like the right place to break in the pattern was too late.  Rip.  Second time around, I forgot to switch colors when I got to the proper row.  Rip.  And amazingly, I've forgotten to switch every time I've gotten to a color change, even though I stuck a big purple annotation marker in all of the right places on the pattern.  Definitely the cough syrup.

It's not easy to rip out several rows of knitting in Får.  That is particularly true of the lace rows I've been ripping out.  Even worse, I've been knitting mostly late at night, when the light is poor for a project so dark — the darker of the two greens is very close to black.  So I've been struggling to see the PSSO's and SSKs and get them back on the needle properly, in poor light.  To compound my problem, my other size 7 needles are in use, so I'm using a not pointy, not for knitting lace, pair of Addis, that although a fabulous needle for normal knitting and doable for this project, are horrible for trying to pick apart and unknit stitches.  Like I said, all self-inflicted wounds.

The moral of the project should be, if you're going to use a yarn that isn't quite what the project intended, get yourself the right needles and some decent lighting.  But I'm going to slug this one out because I really want to finish this project.  I'm on the fifth color change out and guess what?  Missed it again.  I'm midway through the rip back — I gave up late last night and I'm going to pull it out in the light of day to make it easier.

Why am I doing this?  The cowl I saw in the shop was so beautiful.  It was warm and fuzzy.  The colors were elegant.  The shape was perfect for a cowl — close fitting for warmth but a striking accessory.  I'm usually a process knitter who enjoys the journey, but here, I'm pure project knitter.  I want the finished object!  So cross your fingers for me.  Hopefully, I won't rip out too much hair while I rip out my stitches and I'll remember the rest of the color changes.  And if you're on the edge about knitting Adama, do.  I'm sorry I waited this long and suspect this won't be the only time I knit it.

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New Yarn: The Plucky Knitter’s Cachet

Cachet is The Plucky Knitter's brand new 100% cashmere yarn.  Although it's listed at an aran weight, it knits up in the worsted range for me, with 18 stitches/26 rows to four inches on size 6 needles.

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It knits up like a dream: a soft cloud of stockinette.  And, the gauge is perfect for some of the patterns in my queue I'm longing to knit the most, including Carol Feller's Portulaca, Thea Coleman's new sweater, Rye, and Mailin and Monte Rosa, both by Isabel Kraemer .  Decisions, decisions.

I'm also going to swatch this yarn a couple of needle sizes down to see what the fabric looks like.  Originally, I planned to knit Alana Dakos Cabled Leaf Pullover in this yarn.  Since its gauge is 20 stitches/26 rows, it seems like that might be doable.

I know it's obvious, after years and years of being a polyamorous knitter who carried a torch for a lot of  different brands of yarn, when I discovered Plucky last year, I fell deeply in love with the wonderful custom spun, hand-dyed yarns they produce.  All of the yarns I've used so far, from Snug Bulky, to Bello Worsted, to Cashmere Sport, to Primo Aran, to Crew, to Scholar, have made me really happy.  Each new project makes me think I've found my favorite yarn of all time.  And truly, they are all my favorites.  I adore this yarn, and the new heavy weight Cachet cashmere is like knitting with a dream.  If you haven't discovered Plucky yet, it's worth the effort.  Although the yarn is sold in an unusual fashion, there is lots of advice for newbies here and a very nice group of helpful knitters on the Ravelry group.  You'll be glad you took the time to figure it out!