Inventory #4 – April

During April, I made the most progress of any month so far in this challenge. Not coincidentally, this was also the month that I defended my Ph.D. dissertation – I was doing a lot of knitting to relieve stress! I completed several items, although as you’ll see, most of them were small. That’s kind of what you get when trying to knit through your stash – it’s time to get creative and figure out how to use up small quantities of yarn that aren’t enough for a whole hat/scarf/blanket/etc. The total quantity of yarn I used this month was 360 g, or 7.2% of the original amount.

My first completed item this month was the orange baby blanket I’ve been making steady progress on all year. I made a big push on this blanket during the first couple weeks of April, using up 220 g of yarn. I purchased the orange yarn (along with some reddish pink yarn) three years ago intending to use it for cute table decorations for my wedding…but then I realized that it’s crazy to try to make yarn-based centerpieces mere weeks before your wedding, with so many other details to manage! I already made another heart baby blanket with the other yarn, so I’m thinking it will be fun to use the two blankets for my future children, to remind us of how much fun we had at our wedding.

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Finished blanket just after blocking

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All folded up!

The rest of the items I made this month were all plaited headbands from my forthcoming pattern. I used up a lot of the Malabrigo remnants from past projects, and the result is very colorful. First, I refined the pattern I used for the purple headband featured in last month’s inventory to make three more like it (turquoise, pink, and green). Then I developed a wide version intended to cover the ears and made two of these (orange and yellow). Finally, I modified the original pattern to fit a child’s head (I hope!) in order to use a smaller quantity of yarn (red). The original and child’s patterns take 15-20 g of Malabrigo each, while the wide version takes about 30 g. (The turquoise one didn’t make it into the group picture because I already gave it away to my sister!)

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Wide, regular, and child’s headbands

Overall, I’m happy with my progress this month. If I can maintain this pace for the rest of the year, I’ll be in really good shape for completing the stash challenge in a reasonable amount of time. Back to knitting!

Year-to-Date Statistics
  • 68 different yarns remaining
  • 4305 g remaining (86.1%)
  • 11 projects completed in 2015

Reversible Apron

For our anniversary last year, my husband bought me a beautiful new sewing machine (Singer Quantum Stylist 9960). I was so excited to start whipping up all kinds of clothes on the new machine, except then I realized that I didn’t really know how to sew. I mean, I can fix a hem and hand sew buttons, but the last time I made anything more complicated than that was a little letter Z pillow I sewed in 7th grade. (Letter Z – because I like to sleep…Zzzz…) So anyway, I’m basically a beginner.

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My amazing sewing machine

Fortunately, there was a beginning sewing class offered through the local recreation department during the month of March. I jumped on the opportunity to have someone walk me through a simple sewing project, and this class did not disappoint. Over the course of four sessions, we learned how to read a pattern, lay out and pin the pattern, cut out the pattern pieces, sew plain seams with proper seam allowance, turn narrow strips, design custom-sized pockets, and basic topstitching, all while creating a reversible apron.

The pattern we used in the class is the Simplicity 2691 apron pattern. The apron has a fixed-length neck strap, long waist ties, and one pocket on each side. The pockets and apron front have contrasting top bands.

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Laying out the neck strap

The first step was to lay out and pin the pattern pieces to the fabric. I selected three cotton fabrics for the apron:  green, yellow, and a green/yellow/white/blue multi pattern. This part took a really long time because I found it difficult to make sure the fabric stayed flat and smooth while I pinned the pattern to it. Also I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so that may have had something to do with it.

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Most of the pieces are cut out

Next I cut out all the pieces. I chose to make the main body of the apron in the multi pattern fabric on one side and the green fabric on the other, with yellow contrast on both sides. This part is pretty fun, because the feeling of cutting fabric with a really nice pair of fabric scissors is just satisfying. (Is that just me?) As a side note, I bought my scissors several years ago at Jo-Ann Fabrics with a 50% off coupon, so I splurged on a really nice pair, and it was totally worth it.

The first pieces I sewed were the neck strap and waist ties, which I made of the contrasting yellow fabric. These were pretty simple:  fold in half and sew around one end and the long edge, then turn inside out using a long dowel.

After the ties came the pockets. This was the one place where my teacher encouraged us to ditch the pattern and try making our own pockets. I opted for medium rectangular pockets, where the pattern had smaller pockets with rounded corners (which I assumed would be harder to sew). My pockets were designed to be double-thick, so I simply cut a rectangle of fabric that was the desired width and about twice the desired length.

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Getting ready to attach the pocket band

To sew each pocket, I first attached the pocket band by pinning the right sides together and simply sewing straight across the edge. Then I pressed the seam I just created toward the top of the pocket. I folded the long rectangular pocket piece in half with the right side in, then sewed around the two sides (the bottom was just a fold). Finally, I folded in and pressed the top edges (both front and back) and sewed a topstitch across. The pockets were now double-layered closed rectangles.

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Four finished pockets

The rest of the sewing went pretty fast. I stitched the pockets directly to each apron front with a topstitch around the two sides and the bottom of the pockets. I attached the top apron bands in the same way as the pocket bands. I pinned the two right sides of the apron together, inserting the ties and neck strap into proper position. I carefully sewed all the way around the edges of the main apron pieces, making sure that the ties and neck strap were correctly stitched into place and leaving the top edge open. Then I turned the apron right side out and folded under and pressed the top edges of the apron bands. Finally, I topstitched all the way around the edge of the apron, then did a final press. Here is the finished product:

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I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, especially for being the hardest sewing project I’ve done to date (sorry, Z pillow!) I was a little disappointed with how large the apron turned out, since I followed the size guide on the pattern in choosing which size to make. But it works just fine with the waist straps wrapped around in front like in the pictures. Also, my topstitching could use some serious work. The spacing from the edge is inconsistent and sometimes pretty wavy. Things to work on in my next project! Overall, I am proud that I made a cute, functional apron.

Inventory #3 – March

Although I haven’t been very good about posting this month, I have made some significant progress on my stash challenge! I’m deep in the serious part of writing my dissertation, so it’s been wonderful to spend time knitting in the evenings to relax and rest my mind. This month I completed three projects and put a dent in a fourth larger project. I used up 300 g of yarn on these projects, or 6% of the starting total (5000 g) – not too bad for one month! Now I’m on a pace to finish my stash challenge in about a year and a half, which is far more respectable than last month. So, what did I make in March?

First, I made a multicolored farmer’s market bag from the Hexagonal Market Bag pattern. I used Lily Sugar’n Cream yarn, a nice multipurpose cotton yarn. The bag took 60 g of yellow and 90 g of blue/yellow/white. I modified the pattern ever so slightly in the last step:  instead of using a three-needle bind-off to join the strap to the rim of the bag, I used grafting for ribbing. This technique is pretty similar to standard grafting with kitchener stitch, but instead of working all the stitches in order, you separate the knit and purl stitches onto two needles, work all the knit stitches, turn, and work all the remaining stitches, which now look like knit stitches. I really prefer the look of the grafted join, since it looks identical to the opposite end of the strap. The bag became a gift for my mom.

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Completed project #1

Next, I got to work on using up some of the Malabrigo merino worsted I have left from numerous other projects. I made the Bloom Couture Headband by Melissa Monday with some green Malabrigo. It only took 15 g to make the whole headband, so I’m thinking this is a great way to use up little bits. Plus the awesome colorways that the Malabrigo comes in mean the headbands really add a pop of color!

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Completed project #2

I also made some more progress on the heart baby blanket I showed last month. I used 115 g of Red Heart Classic Soft yarn in orange, finishing off my current ball. Right now the blanket is about 56% finished, so hopefully I’ll have it done by the end of next month.

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In progress and getting bigger!

Finally, I decided I was tired of knitting other people’s designs and it was time to design my own headband. I came up with this plaited headband design, which I’ll write a full pattern post for in the near future (I’m still working out some of the details to make it clear and complete). This headband used 20 g of purple Malabrigo merino worsted. I’m really proud of the way it turned out, and I can’t wait to make more headbands and share the pattern with you all!

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Completed project #3

Year-to-Date Statistics:

  • 69 different yarns remaining
  • 4665 g remaining (93.3%)
  • 4 projects completed in 2015

Juris Mittens and Thoreau Hat

Today’s post features two accessories I made for my husband. The first one is an example of my bad habit of taking a long time to finish a project. In this case, I did all the knitting for the mittens pretty quickly, but didn’t quite have time to purchase and sew on buttons before Christmas, so I gave them to him with the promise “you can pick the buttons!” That turned into months and months of waiting, until we bought two different types of buttons 11 months later. So then he got them for Christmas that year…not! Since there were two choices for the buttons, neither of us could decide which ones to use. It took another ENTIRE year until I finally sewed on the dang buttons, which took all of 20 minutes. So two years later, he actually got to wear his mittens in December 2014. That is epic procrastination, and I’m not proud of it.

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A happy husband

Fortunately, the hat was finished much more quickly. I started it in December 2014 and finished it just a couple weeks later in January. This is probably more a function of hats being easier for me to finish than other items, but I’m hopeful that I’m turning the corner on finishing what I start.

The yarn I chose for these two items is Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran, a wool/angora blend, in a soft blue with bits of white and brown. One ball can easily make a hat, while it took about one and a half balls for the mittens. Both of the patterns come from the Interweave Knits Accessories 2011 magazine, which I’ve mentioned before.

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Juris Mittens

The Juris Mittens, by Alexis Winslow, combine fingerless gloves with a mitten flap in a classic tweed. They are constructed from the cuff up, knitting the fingerless gloves first. Then the mitten flap is made by picking up stitches along the back of the hand, then knitting in the round. The gauge is fairly tight to keep the hands nicely insulated. These mittens were my first project involving individual fingers, and I was pleased that it wasn’t much harder than making a thumb, it just took more time to make them all. I followed the pattern pretty much exactly, and I really liked the results.

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Juris Gloves!

I took a bit more liberty with the Thoreau Hat, by Terri Kruse. This hat begins with twisted 1×1 ribbing, then moves into stockinette with a single detail panel consisting of ribbing and a 3-stitch mock cable. I liked the overall look of the hat, but as I soon as I started working the 3-stitch mock cable, I realized I would prefer to do a real cable. So I made one up – I had never seen a 3-stitch cable before. My method was the following:  sl2 to cable needle and hold in front, K1, sl2 back to left needle from cable needle, sl1 to cable needle and hold in front, K1, K1 from cable needle. This basically resulted in knitting the 3 stitches in reverse order from left to right.

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Thoreau Hat with custom cable

Together, these two accessories are perfect to keep my husband warm throughout the winter. Although the hat wasn’t quite finished in time, he was able to wear the mittens during our trip to London and Paris in December. The combo gloves/mittens were just right to keep his hands warm while taking lots of photos of the cities!

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Inventory #2 – February

This wasn’t a very productive month of knitting. As I mentioned before, I have a minor hand injury which kept me from doing much knitting for a few weeks. But fortunately, it’s on the mend and I was able to knit some during the past week, so I actually have some progress to report!

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First, I whipped up a cabled baby hat using 10g of Bernat Softee Baby yarn on size 5 double pointed needles. The pattern consists of ten simple cables, with the cable crosses for adjacent cables worked on different rows. I have used the pattern several times, because it knits up quick and the cables are fun and easy. With this particular yarn, the hat ended up pretty small. This might be ok for a newborn, but I kind of doubt it would fit after even a couple weeks. Next time, I’d like to make a slightly bigger hat, either by using a different yarn or by modifying the pattern to include more cables and more length before the crown decrease.

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Next, I worked on a baby blanket that I started a while ago, using up 25g of Red Heart Soft yarn. This is the second time I have made one of these blankets, and they’re really cute. I modified the pattern to include several rows of garter stitch in between the heart panels. I like working on this pattern because there are enough differences between rows to keep my interest, but it’s not too challenging so it’s easy to watch TV in the background. And it’s a great way to use up several skeins of yarn – this one has taken 1.2 skeins so far, and will likely use at least 3 skeins in total.

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That’s all I’ve got! So here are the numbers for February:

  • 69 different yarns remaining
  • 4965 g remaining
  • 1 project completed in 2015

At this rate I will finish my stash in late 2017…here’s hoping I can pick up the pace!

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.