November 2010

Make a Santa Advent Calendar

If you’re too strapped for time or cash to make a big detailed advent with activities or treats in it this year, don’t worry; you can still do something more creative than a paper chain. (Of course, if you want to do a paper chain, more power to you! In fact, we do that, too—and then we re—glue it together and add it to either our tree or my mom’s gigantic tree each year.) Making a Santa advent is really fun, and I’m excited about this year’s especially because my daughter is five, drawing Santas everywhere, and wants to draw her own Santa face.

Choosing a Knitting Increase

There are a myriad of choices for increasing stitches.  Most beginners learn one or two, and stick with those almost indefinitely, regardless of the results.  I know that I was taught that "M1" meant one particular kind of increase, so I used that increase (kfb) for years. 

But one day I realized that "M1" is really just the pattern's shorthand, and each designer specifies a different stitch.  In other words, it isn't like "PM" which always means "place marker," or "k2tog" which always means "knit 2 stitches together." 

There is a lot of confusion on this point.  At least once a month I see a knitter somewhere (on a forum or in real life) inform other knitters that "M1 means you knit into the front and the back of the stitch," or "M1 means you lift up the bar between stitches and knit into it."  But this just isn't true.  M1 means whatever the designer wants it to mean, so you'd better read that pattern!

Knitting Decreases: Left-Leaning and Right-Leaning

There are an awful lot of decreases you can use.  Which one is best for your project?  It depends on what effect you're trying to achieve.

The easiest decrease is the "k2tog" or "knit 2 together."  You simply knit as you usually would, but you knit through two stitches instead of one.  Just set your needle tip one extra stitch back from the first one, and scoop together those first two stitches on your left needle.  Easy peasy!

Once you have mastered this basic decrease, you may start noticing the way it looks.  There are two basic categories of decrease: left-leaning and right-leaning.

This can be a somewhat difficult concept to grasp, because its effects aren't immediately apparent.  It isn't like a cable, which visibly slants to the left or right.  In large part, you have to just sort of take it on faith that (for instance) an SSK slants to the left, while a K2TOG slants to the right.

Feedsack Cloth

I recently learned about "feed bag cloth," which is something that had been confusing me for years.  I had heard stories along the lines of "we were so poor that my mama made all our dresses out of feed bags." 

The only feed bags I've ever known are made of either brown paper (similar to "kraft paper" or butcher paper) or mylar plastic.  I wrote this off as being one of those silly exaggerations people make sometimes. 

That, or I imagined little kids going to school in big burlap sacks, like the bags that coffee is sold in.  I pictured a hole being cut at the top for the head, and two holes on the sides for the arms.  And the bottom left open, of course, for the little legs to stick out.  Clearly that couldn't be a real thing.

Then I saw this post on the Mason-Dixon Knitting Blog, where Kay talked about a quilt made of feed sack cloth.  And included a picture of the quilt.  Which clearly was not either just a colorful exaggeration, or made of burlap sacks.  In fact, it was pieced together out of pretty squares of printed cloth.

Make a Tree of Thanks and Giving

Every year, our family makes a tree of thanks in November, which we use to chronicle all of the things we are thankful for. Usually I just cut out a large paper tree and give each member of the family a few paper cut-out leaves to write down what they are grateful for. Then, in December, we do something similar, only with a Christmas tree-shaped tree instead, and we put hearts on it depicting all of our acts of giving throughout the month of December.

I’ve decided, however, that it’s kind of silly to make two trees when we could easily do this all on one seasonal tree—and that instead of making paper trees, we could easily employ the discarded branches in our yard, too.

Knitting Socks Top-Down: Pros and Cons

Yesterday I talked about the pros and cons of knitting socks from the toe up.  Today, let's focus on top-down socks.

Top-Down: Pros
Initially, I found it a lot easier to cast on a lot of stitches over two DPNs held together, distribute them across four stitches, and join. 

At least I was somewhat familiar with this procedure from having knit a lot of hats.  By comparison, all the freaky cast-on methods for toe-up socks were a real turn off (until I found My Favorite Easiest Toe-Up Cast On - see previous article for details).

Knitting Socks Toe-Up: Pros and Cons

If you ever want to start a really nasty fight among a bunch of knitters, simply assert a firm opinion on which is the "right" way to knit socks: toe-up or top-down.  Every sock knitter develops their own preference on the matter, but the truth is that there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

As for myself, I started out knitting socks top-down, and knit many pairs that way.  Then I managed to work out a toe-up pattern that I liked, and have knit them this way ever since.  I guess you could say I'm bi-socks-ual.

Toe-Up: Pros
People always say that the good thing about knitting from the toe up is that "you can try it on as you go."  This statement always puzzled me, because it is so clearly untrue.  I even took photos of myself trying on my top-down sock, to prove it!

Crafting Trends: Chartreuse

Chartreuse is everywhere this year!  This vibrant shade of yellow-green is as quirky as it is distinctive.  "Chartreuse the color" is named after "chartreuse the liqueur," an herbal concoction which was first produced by a group of monks in the 1730s.  This spicy-sweet liqueur is one of the signature drinks of New Orleans, and brings to mind Tolouse LeTrec's Paris of the 1800s, can-can girls and all.

"Chartreuse the liqueur" comes in two varieties, green and yellow.  The same is true of "chartreuse the color," which is part of its charm.  Both chartreuse green and chartreuse yellow can be reminiscent of the New Wave 80s, with their eye-searing "pop" of neon color. 

Chartreuse is also a classic color from the 1950s and 1960s - think FiestaWare.  Chartreuse and aqua is one of the signature colors of the 50s and 60s, particularly when mixed together in a paisley print. Amy Butler uses this combination, often with desaturated versions of both, in many of her popular fabric prints.

Yarn: Wraps Per Inch (WPI)

The concept of "wraps per inch" is a handy one to have on hand.  If you are a knitter or crocheter, this isn't the sort of critical knowledge that you encounter early in the learning process.  But it can be tremendously helpful when you need it.

Spinners are all very familiar with WPI.  It is a way to measure yarn which tells you what the yarn's weight is.  If you are spinning your own yarn by hand, you want to measure its WPI so that you know what general thickness you are spinning (fingering, DK, bulky, etc).  This in turn helps you estimate how much of it you have, what sort of needle size you may want to start with, and so forth.

I recently busted out my WPI knowledge in order to tackle a skein of mystery yarn that I unearthed when I was shifting some boxes around.  The ball band was long gone, and although I clearly remembered the manufacturer's make and model, they are no longer making this particular kind of yarn.  And it is old enough, and obscure enough, that I wasn't able to find any historical information for it online.