Yesterday I hurriedly left the office because it was starting to snow, and while the forecast was only for a little accumulation that can really cause rush-hour troubles here in northern Virginia. (You’d think we’d learn, but no.) Any excuse to hurry home and knit is a good one, right? The snow turned out to be nothing much, but I decided that a good soup was in order for dinner anyway… partially because hearty soup is so pleasant on a cold night, but mostly because soup is practically effortless and leaves more time for knitting!

So I chopped up some veggies and meat, tossed it all into the pot, set it to simmer, and settled in for the evening. I’m so pleased about how this hat is coming out that I fell into that “just one more round!” mentality and stayed up past my bedtime. But look how far I got! I measured it up against an existing hat that fits perfectly, and it looks as if the new one is also going to be just right for my head after it’s washed and blocked. The overall height may need to be adjusted, so I’ll put in a lifeline before I start the next motif.

I’m hoping to have it done soon, and then I’ll refine the chart if necessary and knit another hat in the larger size to test that out, and then I can work on typing up and laying out the actual pattern, and can you tell I’m just a little bit excited about this one?

Anyway, here’s my non-recipe recipe for the soup I made. It was pretty much just thrown together from what was already in the fridge and pantry, but it came out absolutely delicious:

Spicy Split Pea Soup

Ingredients

2 cups dry split peas (I used yellow pigeon peas)
8 cups stock (veggie, chicken, beef, bouillion cubes & water, whatever)
8 ounces spinach, roughly chopped
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, cubed
12 ounces ham, cubed (optional)
spices to taste:
kosher salt
black pepper, coarsely ground
red pepper flakes
cayenne pepper
Jamaican curry powder
vegemite or a couple of anchovies (optional, for flavour)

Directions

Easy enough: Put everything in the pot. (If you put the liquid in last, there will be less splashing.) Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about two hours, stirring occasionally. Soup will continue to thicken after it cools, and may need additional liquid when reheated.

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To bring 2016 to a creative finish, I knit this quick floppy hat for a friend. She ordered the yarn and had it sent to me, and I knit it up in a few days. It’s amazing how fast knitting goes when one doesn’t have to spend eight hours in a cubicle away from the project, isn’t it? The yarn is Cascade 220 in a surprisingly sedate gray (I’d expected her to choose a bright pink), and the pattern is the Basic Hat Formula that I keep using because it just works. The hat got a soak in some expensive hair conditioner and dried on the boot-and-glove warmer, and though it’s still a bit stiff now, it will get more floppy the more it’s worn.

Michael also finished his own floppy hat (same pattern as above, same Cascade 220, but in a muted heathery blue). Of course that means that his lost hat will turn up at any moment, as is the way of lost hats.

After the hat, I think his fingers must have been itching for something to do, because he pulled out the sock yarn and half-a-sock he’d started knitting almost a decade ago. It had a few problems, primarily that it was going to be too large (blame me for that one; I’m the one who suggested the stitch count) so we frogged it, wound it into a skein, and left it to soak. He got started on a new sock with the second ball of yarn while I recharted sections of the still-nameless colourwork hat design.

By the end of the long weekend he’d finished the ribbed cuff and was moving on to the stockinette leg of the sock. He says he’s doing this so that he’ll have something to keep him occupied when we fly out west in a few weeks (snowboarding trip, woo!) but I’m starting to think he enjoys the process enough to keep going even when we’re not on an airplane.

Meanwhile, with the house to myself again, I’ll have the quiet I need so that I can concentrate on getting each of those four colours into the right place. I adjusted the chart to see if I could avoid a nasty jog at the start of each round, and I *think* it’s going to work, but only actually knitting the hat will prove my theory. More pictures should be coming later this week, when it actually looks like something!

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This is the official end of 2016 tallying-up post!


Incoming fibre in 2016:
Split half of an eight-pound MDSW fleece with Caroline

4 pounds, not accounting for weight lost to the washing and carding process

2016MDSW_with_fleece

Outgoing fibre in 2016:
6 ounces of Ashland Bay Merino Tussah became 353 yards of two-ply yarn
4 ounces of Sheepish Creations Merino/Bamboo/Nylon became 348 yards of two-ply yarn

10 ounces / 701 yards

20160710_wheel-and-tour


Incoming yarn in 2016:
1 ball Sugar ‘n Cream to make Michael a new washcloth (150)
1 ball Red Heart Buttercup to make a stuffed sheep (63)
1 skein Valley Yarns Huntington for white toes on the Tiger socks (218)
1 skein Cascade 220 for Karlin’s hat (220)

4 balls / 651 yards

tiger_sock

Outgoing yarn in 2016:
1 skein Cascade 220 for Karlin’s hat (220)
half a ball of Red Heart Soft, so my SIL can learn to crochet (128)
Leftover Jacob handspun for Dave’s Sheep (50)
Leftover Andean Treasure for Dave’s Sheep (25)
Half a ball of Red Heart Buttercup for Dave’s Sheep (30)
1 ball Sugar ‘n Cream to make Michael a new washcloth (150)
1 ball Opal Rainforest, for the Tiger Tiger socks (465)
2 balls Loops & Threads Impeccable for the Such a Square afghan (192 each)
1 ball handspun Fiber Optics yarn for the Gradient Hat (152)

7 balls / 1412 yards


The Year in Crafting:
I feel really good about my projects this year! I got a lot done, and more yarn out than in. (Can’t say the same about fibre, but hey, I bought half a fleece…) Everything I did this year is all together on a 2016 Projects page.

Favourite project:

Without a doubt, the Wee Sheepie.

20161018_sheep

Plans for Next Year:
More knitting! :D

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On April 4, this blog will be TEN YEARS OLD. Ten! Can you believe it? As my grandma used to say, “Who’d’a thunk it?” (And, as I’ve heard elsewhere, “how much could there possibly be to write about knitting?!” Quite a bit, as it turns out.) I’d like to release a new pattern to celebrate this significant “blogiversary,” but obviously that means starting now so that it has a chance of being ready for release in a few months.

I knew I wanted the hat to be stranded colourwork using four colours of yarn, which is outside the realm of my usual knitting – but a special anniversary calls for a special design! So I opened up Excel and started slapping colours into cells. Then there was a lot of rearranging, cutting-and-pasting, scowling, adjusting, centering, shifting, and re-adjusting. Eventually I had something I liked, so I retrieved the yarn I wanted to use (Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool) and some US size 4/3.5mm needles, and started knitting a swatch.

I knit several inches of stockinette to get a feel for the yarn, and then decided to swatch one of the motifs I’d charted. Unwisely, I failed to record the colourways and dye lots when I bought the yarn a few years ago, but the colours are a rich brown, cherry red, pale blue, and creamy white. It doesn’t quite matter, as I’m writing the pattern in two different sizes that will work with four different gauge tensions, so knitters will be able to pick the yarn they like best. This is the colour combination I like for myself, but I’ll offer a few other combination ideas in the final pattern.

Yep, I think that’s going to work just fine. The back side of the swatch is nifty-looking, too.

Once I’d measured and taken pictures, I unraveled the yarn and wound each colour back onto its respective ball. The swatch is pretty, but ultimately useless – and I might need that yarn before I’m done with the hat!

The hardest part of designing a pattern isn’t the charting, the writing, or the test-knitting… it’s coming up with a good name. “Four-Colour Hat” is all right for a working title, I guess, but it won’t do for the long term. Suggestions are welcome, of course! (Just not “Blogiversary Hat”. That would be silly.)

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After ripping back my failed attempt at a sock heel flap, I wound up the loose pile of yarn to keep it from tangling, waited for a quiet moment, and got to work on re-knitting the work I’d torn out. (My camera didn’t appreciate that the ‘quiet moment’ was also a dark one, so this photo’s a bit grainy. Oops!)

When the heel was turned, the gusset stitches picked up, a few rounds knit, that extra little ball was all gone, and I was pulling from the main ball of yarn again, I knew I’d gotten caught up. As a side note: I’ve turned lots of heels, but it still seems like a magic trick to make a three-dimensional pocket in an otherwise flat piece of fabric. I’m fascinated every time I do it.

Instead of following the pattern exactly, I slipped the first stitch of every row in the heel flap to make a much smoother edge. Not only does it look much nicer, but it’ll be far more comfortable to wear. As annoyed as I was to have to redo the work, I’m a better knitter for making (and correcting) errors – whether the error was mine, or part of the pattern as written. I won’t make that mistake again, for certain.

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In addition to the fibre arts, I have a second hobby that I enjoy just as much in a completely different way: calligraphy and lettering. I’m a graphic designer in my day job, and I’ve always had a love of letterforms and swirly, swooshy lines. Earlier this year I started an instagram account so I could easily share that art. Here are some of my favourite pieces:

Fancy lettering with lots of flourishes and detail…

White gel pen on black cardstock…

I love you more than anything. . . . #gelpen #inkthusiasm

A photo posted by inkthusiasm (@inkthusiasm) on

A stylized letter B that I did for the annual “Inktober” challenge (to make a new ink drawing each day of the month)…

And colouring pages, that I sometimes colour in myself.

“You could sell these!” people said, so I dusted off my Etsy shop and started to edit my profile there. And then… well, friends, I don’t want to make this blog political at all (I have my personal Facebook for that sort of thing. Bleagh.) so I’ll just leave it at this: then the US Presidential election happened, and I have some serious concerns about our future. Doing something small is better than doing nothing at all, so I started uploading pieces to the shop with the following promise:

**ALL PROCEEDS** from Inkthusiasm sales through January 20, 2017 will be donated to the ACLU, the SPLC, and Planned Parenthood. Every single dollar I make will be sent along. (So far there are only two dollars in that pot, but you gotta start somewhere.) There are some desktop wallpapers, printable art pieces for your walls, and I’ll be working on adding more colouring pages next.

If you like my lettering work, please follow me on Instagram and enjoy! And with that, I’ll get back to the usual irregularly-scheduled blogposts about fibre arts. :)

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I mentioned in my last post that I knit the heel flap and turn of the textured sock. Well. About that… The pattern instructions were to knit the heel flap in pattern, so I did. It didn’t mention that the first row of flap should be a wrong side row, so when I got to the heel turn and the pattern said to purl the first row, I was confused for a moment. But hey, whatever, I just knit a heel from the outside. No problem. (I’ve always started my heel flaps on the outside of the sock, but there’s nothing wrong with starting them from the inside. Either way works just fine.)

The pattern also didn’t say anything about slipping the first stitch of each heel flap row, and that sent up a number of red flags. But, trusting the pattern, I knit on. I turned the heel and picked up stitches for the gusset, and I started to have a bad feeling about the edge of the heel flap. No one else’s project notes mentioned a problem, so I decided to knit a few rounds of sock foot and see what was what.

It looks fine on the outside, with the new gusset stitches snugged up against the heel flap:

20161204_textured_heel_outside

But on the inside, there’s a nasty ridge of stitches. It might not look too bad in the photo, but in person it is, and it would be a really uncomfortable line down the sides of the sock if I left it like this.

20161204_textured_heel_inside_fail

The right thing to do is rip back and knit it again, with slipped stitches this time. I should have known better. Trust the pattern, but also trust your gut when it tells you that something’s going to come out wrong. It’s a minor setback, but still… Hrmph.

knits_angrily

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Apparently, Michael can’t find his Oversized Hat. It’s not in the closet, not stuffed into the sleeve or pocket of a winter coat, not in the snowboarding bag, and not in any other logical place for a hat to be. Intead of asking me to knit a new one for him, he asked me for advice with making his own replacement. As we were driving right past WEBS on our way to Stratton on Saturday afternoon, we stopped there and he picked out a skein of Cascade 220 in a light heathery gray-ish blue, like the colour of perfectly worn-in jeans.

I showed him how to use the swift and ball-winder in the store:

20161126_20161126_michael-winding

After we’d had dinner and checked into our hotel, I showed him how to do my favourite cast-on for socks and hats, the stretchy one with slip-knots (video instruction on YouTube):

20161126_michael-knitting1

With only a quick reminder of how to knit and purl, he was ribbing away (on the other side of the room, because the light was slightly better there).

20161126_michael-knitting2

By Sunday evening he was more than halfway through the ribbed part of the hat. I’ve assured him that it will go much faster once he’s on the stockinette portion! And of course, completing the new hat will be the magic that makes the old hat re-appear.

Meanwhile, I knit the heel flap and turn of the textured sock, stopping just before picking up the stitches for the gusset. There should be pictures of that progress later this week, and I’ll also tell you about the charity fundraising project that’s been taking my time away from knitting. Stay tuned!

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Although summer did its best to hang on long past its usual farewell, autumn is finally beginning to take hold. We had our first frost warning of the season this week. I gave in and turned the heat on (just at night, though) and put the electric blanket back on the bed… then I remembered that I’d been crocheting an afghan, and brought it out of hibernation. Here are the first four squares I made… three years ago. Ooops.

First Four Squares

I’ve been working in strips that are 12 squares long, and I have three of those completed already. The finished blanket will have 14 to 16 strips in total, depending on how long it gets once I put it all together. The slowest part of the process is making the chain for each new square, so I thought I’d try making a strip or two of six double-sized squares. The last few rows are satisfyingly quick, with so few stitches to work.

20161023_crochet-square

Some of my friends are gently encouraging me to sign up for National Novel Writing Month, but I think I might dedicate November to this blanket instead. There’s little chance of actually finishing in only 30 days (not with 140 squares left to go, no way!) but if I focus, I could make some significant progress. Maybe I could even have it done before next summer…?

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The pattern for Sheep Etu suggests first pinning the stuffed feet to the body of the sheep to get the right balance before sewing them on. I didn’t bother doing that, since Wee Sheepie is going to ride in the car and won’t need to stand up on its own – and I saved myself the effort, as none of the feet ended up exactly where I thought they would go, anyway. Perhaps my sewing-together skills could use some improvement, but the feet were so tiny and awkward, and moved around a bit as I worked.

Anyway, once I’d crocheted the fluff on, it didn’t much matter…

20161018_sheep

I started at the top of Wee Sheepie’s back with just single crochet, but it wasn’t fluffy enough, so I soon switched to mostly double crochet – “mostly” because I added in some extra stitches here and there, as needed, to round out the sheep’s shape. The Buttercup yarn is really tricky to work with! I dropped the hook a few times and had a hard time picking up a loop, as the floofy fibres completely obscure the stitches. But without too much cursing, I worked my way around and around until Wee Sheepie was no longer naked.

There’s enough Buttercup left over for a second sheep. The first one is so cute, I’m more than a little tempted to make another!

Taking a good picture of a fluffy white sheep is another challenge altogether. It’s much cuter in person than most of my photos showed! So instead of more sheep shots, here’s a picture of Sparkplug, the cargoyle I mentioned on Monday, which inspired my brother to request a sheep in the first place.

20161018_cargoyle

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