Reine Cardigan

To go along with my stash challenge, a mini-resolution I have for myself this year is to actually finish my projects. I know, what a revolutionary idea! I have this problem where I LOVE to start new projects, to learn new stitches and techniques, and generally spend a lot of time knitting. But when it comes time to put the finishing touches on, my interest plummets. I just do not find it very fun to weave in ends, seam pieces together, block, or sew on buttons. These things are crucial, though! Blocking is critical for determining the final shape and size and for getting the fabric to lay correctly. Seams and buttons can add a great degree of visual interest, in addition to their obvious functions. So it’s time for me to get over my aversion to finishing.

Today I am happy to report that I have a finished cardigan to share with you. All of the knitting for this piece took place in 2014 – in fact, it has been about a year since I started the project. As usual, I procrastinated the less fun parts, which included sewing on pockets and buttons. But I felt a huge sense of accomplishment yesterday as I sewed on the last button.

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The pattern for this cardigan is Reine by Alexis Winslow, from the Brooklyn Tweed collection Wool People 3. (By the way, have I mentioned how much I love Brooklyn Tweed’s patterns? Always so good.) I was struck by the details of the design – particularly the garter stitch accents on the shoulders, sleeves, and hem, and the double-sided cable that lines the front edge, collar, and pockets. I used a soft lavender alpaca yarn – Galler Yarns Prime Alpaca Heathers.

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Garter stitch accents

I always like to learn new techniques, and this project gave me a few opportunities to do so. First, the double-sided cable was a fun change from the standard cables I’ve been accustomed to, and it’s pretty easy. Rather than knitting all the stitches in the cable section with cable twists every 6th row, you work 1×1 rib with cable twists every 6th row. The ribbing naturally contracts to appear like a normal cable on each side, which makes a great look for edging.

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Double-sided cables and pockets

I learned how to sew on pockets using mattress stitch, which makes the knitting look nearly continuous. For pockets, the seam is a bit obvious because of the extra bulk from the edge of the pocket that gets trapped in the seaming operation. I think I did a pretty good job of making the two pockets symmetric and secure. This was also my first project with full-length arms, so I was pleased that they look pretty good and seem to be the same length (whew!).

The last new technique I learned was sewing buttons on with backing buttons. This one kind of blew my mind. Essentially, if you sew single buttons to a knit piece, they can pull on the fabric and cause it to deform and droop. Backing buttons are tiny buttons that go on the inside of the piece at the same place as the functional buttons. You simultaneously stitch the two buttons on, sandwiching the knit fabric in between. The two buttons hold firmly against each other so the knit fabric doesn’t get pulled at all. It seems to be easiest if the buttons have the same number of holes. I chose decorative pearlescent buttons for the front, and simple two-hole white buttons for the backing. I was really pleased with how this finishing detail turned out – no drooping fabric here!

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Backing buttons

Overall, I am happy with the finished product. There are a couple things I would do differently in the future, though. My row gauge always tends to be a bit different than the pattern calls for, so I have to improvise to get the right size. In this case, the garter ridge details at the top ended up being a little higher up than I would have liked, so I would shift them down. It was hard to tell while knitting. The sleeves are a little tighter than I expected, so I would consider adding a few stitches in the upper arm. And finally, I think I would sew the pockets a little farther out from the center – but I’m not going to rip them out and try again! I will enjoy wearing this soft, beautiful cardigan throughout the spring.

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Loving my new cardigan!

I Made a Light Box!

Ever since I started knitting, I’ve been a little disappointed in the pictures  I take of my work. I spend a lot of time creating my pieces, only to badly photograph them with my iPhone on backgrounds with poor contrast. My photos really don’t do the knitting justice.

I’m currently taking a digital photography class, where I’m learning to use my husband’s Canon DSLR. Knowing some camera basics will definitely make a difference, but one thing I’ve learned in my class is that the composition of the photograph really matters. It’s important to make sure there is adequate contrast between the background surface and the object of interest. Plus, (main rule of photography) it’s all about the lighting!

When I was thinking about how to take better project photos, I got inspired by this great tutorial by Flax & Twine (thanks for the inspiration!). I decided it was time to create my own light box to serve as a nice backdrop for photographing my knitting projects. I basically followed the tutorial, with a couple additions to make the box more stable.

First, I gathered my supplies. (As soon as I got started I realized duct tape was not the right tool for the job, and replaced it with scotch tape.)

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Next, I chopped off the flaps with my utility knife.

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Then I drew some lines on the sides to mark the pieces I was going to remove. I wanted to make cutouts on three sides – top, left, and right. My box was 12″x12″x12″, and I made the lines 1″ from each side.

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After cutting out the first of the squares, I was a bit worried about the edges staying strong enough, so I cut up some little triangles of cardboard (3/4″ on a side) to make a support on each weak edge. I hot glued eight of them onto each edge.

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Here’s what the box looked like with all three sides cut out:

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The next step was to add white poster board to the inside of the box. This is the backdrop for the photos, so it’s important to make sure it is smooth and clean. I cut the poster board a bit narrower than the width of the box and long enough that it could cover the back and the bottom with a smooth curve in between. I secured the edges of the poster board to the box with double stick tape.

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Next, I cut white tissue paper to cover the open sides. I used two layers to start out with. It’s easy to add or remove layers to get the right amount of light into the box.

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At this point, I thought I was done, but I realized there was still a serious structural stability issue. The unsupported strips of cardboard around the front opening were very flexible, and I worried that the box wouldn’t be strong enough. So I decided to shore it up with extra strips of cardboard to prevent them from bending. (Engineering note:  I made sure to cut and orient the stabilizing strips in the direction that would best resist bending.)

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With all the construction finally complete, I had to try it out! I set up a few lamps to illuminate the box. Clearly the room was too dark for good photos, but I got a few decent ones inside the box.

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This is some great yarn I bought from Brooklyn Tweed (and used to make the cowl featured in my blog header).

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And my trusty scissors:

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I’m looking forward to using my snazzy new light box to help make my knitting photos beautiful! I guarantee better photos to come in future project posts.

Beginning Digital Photography

Do you know a photography enthusiast? Someone who insists on spending countless hours of every vacation setting up the perfect shots? Someone who, anytime you snap a quick iPhone photo of him is likely to have a DSLR up to his eye?

This is exactly what my husband is like. I have had to learn to wait patiently when we visit new places while he gets great photos. And they are wonderful! I’m so grateful that he makes sure to create these beautiful images that I’m too impatient to take for myself.

Over the years, I’ve wondered how he does it. Why are the pictures he takes with his camera so much better than the ones I get with my cheap little point-and-shoot? How does he choose the right camera settings for different scenes? He has tried to explain it to me several times, but I could never remember. Why does he like it so much? I finally decided to take a photography class and learn for myself!

This winter, I’m taking Beginning Digital Photography with Marty Rose Springer of Writing with Light Photography. I’m pleased to report that it’s a ton of fun, and after a few weeks I have a pretty good grasp on all the different manual settings of the DSLR. By the way, I would highly recommend taking a class with Marty if you live in the Bay Area. She is a patient and generous teacher who enjoys empowering her students to capture what they see in the world with their cameras.

Last week in class we had a still life workshop where we worked with different camera settings with each scene. In the rest of this post I’ll share some of the photos I took. All photos have been minimally edited in Photoshop Elements 12.

First, here’s a look at how different color modes (“picture effects”) change the way the colors look. I find that it’s easiest to see the difference in the blue spool and the bright yellow spool (middle row, right). I really like how the blue spool is deep and vivid in the lower right picture, especially compared to the almost teal look of the same spool in the lower left picture.

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Next up is exposure compensation. This setting basically increases or decreases the amount of light in the image. This one is pretty fun because the effect is so obvious in the white garlic on the black background. The first image has exposure compensation of -2, the second -1, up to +2 for the last image in the set. Obviously, the last couple images are overexposed and look terrible, but it’s a fun exercise that clearly demonstrates what the setting does. My favorite out of this set is the first one, since the details of the garlic heads are easy to see and the black background is very dark to provide high contrast.

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Another effect that is easy to see is the white balance. Typically this is easy to edit later, but knowing how to set a decent white balance to begin with can make the original pictures look better. Here are several examples of different white balances, some of which look ok and some of which are clearly not right for the lighting of the room. Which kiwi photo do you like the best?

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The depth of field is a key component of any photograph setup. Below is a comparison of two different depth of field (f-stop) settings. The left image has small depth of field (f/5.6) so the ninjas in the back are blurry. The right image has a longer depth of field (f/11), which makes the back ninjas more in focus. Unfortunately I had to use manual focus for these pictures, so neither one is focused as well as I would like, but you get the idea.

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Sometimes playing around with shutter timing is fun. Here’s an example of what you can capture with a long exposure of 5 seconds. The red lines came from a laser pointer!

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Finally, one of my favorite images of the night is this closeup of some peacock feathers. I love how bold the colors are, while the feather bits are wispy and delicate.

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I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the things I’ve been working on with my photography. At the very least, this class is helping me to improve my skills so I can take better pictures of the things I make.  Plus now I’ll have to fight my husband for the camera on vacation!

Past Projects – Wedding Shawl

Happy first day of February! I can’t believe January is already over…I have not done as much knitting as I would have liked! One reason for this is that I have a small injury to my left hand. I don’t think it’s too serious, but there’s a little bit of nerve damage so I’m being really careful and taking it easy while rehabbing. Unfortunately, this means I probably won’t be knitting for at least a few weeks, which really puts a damper on my stash challenge progress for now.

In the meantime, I’ll be writing about some projects I have completed in the past, along with some other crafty things. Today’s post features the lace shawl I knit for my wedding in 2012.

Photo credit Eli Pitta

Photo credit:  Eli Pitta

For this shawl, I tried lace knitting for the first time. Lace knitting  is characterized by intricate designs with holes and shaping, and typically uses small needles and fine thread to create delicate pieces. Unlike a lot of the other projects I do, this one required me to pay very close attention to every stitch. It’s easy to make mistakes in knitting in general, but even more so with lace. Plus it’s harder to correct mistakes when the pattern involves many yarn overs and decreases as lace typically does.

Photo credit:  Eli Pitta

Photo credit: Eli Pitta

The shawl pattern comes from the Interweave Knits Accessories 2011 magazine. (This is a great issue! I have made several items from patterns in it, so it was well worth the $15 it set me back.) The pattern is called Trousseau Wrap and was designed by Miriam L. Felton. The Interweave Accessories issue has several beautiful wedding shawls, but this one really jumped out at me as something I had to make for myself. I love how the points on the ends of the shawl make a bold statement, while the ring pattern in the shawl body is intricate and timeless. For my shawl, I used Lorna’s Laces Helen’s Lace yarn in red for a pop of color.

Photo credit:  Eli Pitta

Photo credit: Eli Pitta

The construction technique for the shawl was new to me. First, one end is knit side-to-side to create the four points. Next, stitches are picked up along the edge and the piece is worked from bottom to top to create the body of the shawl, with stitches held provisionally once the desired length is reached. Stitches are cast on for the second end, which is knit from side to side again. At the end of each WS row, the last stitch is knit together with a held stitch from the body. I thought this was a really cool way to keep the shawl as all one piece, yet allow for the knitting direction to change in the different parts of the shawl.

Photo credit:  Eli Pitta

Photo credit: Eli Pitta

The hardest part of making this shawl was carefully manipulating the fine yarn, particularly because the pattern has many K3tog stitches in every other row. Once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed the detailed work and it was fun to spend my time making something so beautiful. It did take a long time though – I started in April 2012 and finished just a couple days before my wedding at the end of August 2012, so about 4 months! It ended up being just the perfect accessory to wear during my wedding, and I really enjoyed creating something unique and personal for this special occasion.

Inventory #1 – January : I Have a Lot of Yarn!

 

It’s Inventory Time!!! I meant to post this last week, but it was Birthday Week in the Russell household, so I was a little caught up celebrating, eating cake, and turning 30. Which means now I’m old enough that my knitting obsession is socially acceptable, right? Anyhow, when I decided to do this challenge, I knew that I needed to keep track of the process. If I can see how much progress I’m making, I’ll be much more likely to stick with using up my yarn stash. So here it is in all its glory!

My Stash as of January 2015. It’s so big my husband doesn’t have anywhere to sit on the couch.

My stash includes yarns from Bernat, Berroco, Brooklyn Tweed, Caron, Classic Elite, Debbie Bliss, Heather Prime Alpaca, Jamieson’s, Jojoland, Lang, Lily, Lion, Loops & Threads, Lorna’s Laces, tons of Malabrigo, Mirasol, Misti Alpaca, Nashua Handknits, Noro, Plymouth, Red Heart, Twize, and Universal. It includes many full skeins/balls of yarn as well as leftovers from past projects (even some really tiny bits!).

So what are the numbers on this bad boy? Well…it’s a little scary. The total mass of all this yarn is 5000 g, which is just over 11 pounds! This adds up to approximately 11,500 yards of yarn…which is more than Ravelry estimates I have used in my projects over the last five years! That Ravelry number may not be exact, but it accounts for almost 50 projects. So that is a good approximation of how many projects will be needed to use up my stash. Yikes!

How did I calculate all this? I kept track of everything in a Google spreadsheet. For the full skeins that I was lucky enough to still have the labels intact, I just copied down the information from the label, including the mass and yardage. Partial skeins were weighed in my kitchen scale, and I looked up the yardage per mass on Ravelry. There were a few skeins that I had no idea of the manufacturer, so I estimated the yardage per mass based on similar yarns I own.

The trick to using all of this up is going to be finding creative ways to use those half skeins and even smaller bits. My focus in the early going will probably be on the easy parts, those full skeins that I can turn into anything. I mean, I have to build some momentum to get through all this. I am just a bit overwhelmed at how much knitting there is to do!

In summary, here are the numbers for January:

  • 69 different yarns/colorways remaining
  • 5000 g remaining
  • 11,587 yards remaining
  • 0 projects completed in 2015

Do you think I’m crazy for trying to knit through all this yarn in 2015? How much yarn do you have in your stash?

 

Getting Started + Coming Soon

Here it is…my first post! I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for years, but never had an idea that I could write about for more than a single post. I finally hit on one last month when I realized that all my yarn was overflowing my bookshelf. I have spent A LOT of money on nice yarn for my knitting projects over the years. Often I go into a yarn store just to browse and come out with $50 worth of beautiful yarn with no plan for how I’m going to use it. And then the next week I buy more.

This is obviously pretty wasteful, and perhaps even bordering on addiction. And let’s face it:  since my apartment is not that big, I should not be wasting space on yarn I’m not even using. So this year I’m going to do my best to use up all my yarn instead of buying more. To add accountability, I’ll be keeping track of my progress through this blog. I’ll provide regular updates on how much of my stash is left and what projects I’ve been working on, as well as posts on a variety of other topics including book and product reviews, descriptions of projects I made prior to this challenge, sewing, and photography.

My knitting shelf. It doesn’t look that bad, right? Don’t be deceived – there is a lot of yarn lurking in those boxes!

Here are some posts that you can expect to see in the near future:

  • Initial inventory – how much yarn do I really have?
  • How I made a photography lightbox
  • A project I completed in December

I hope you enjoy reading about my projects, and I would love to hear from you in the comments section!

Do you have too much yarn/fabric/other? What are you planning to make this year? Please chime in using the comments section below.