Keep knitting all summer long

There are lots of reasons knitters and crocheters slow down on their projects during the summer; but there are just as many, if not more, reasons to continue practicing your craft year-round!

  1. Nothing is worse than abandoning a project and trying to resuming it weeks, months or even years later having no idea where you left off.
  2. Running out of time to complete Christmas presents and other gifts can be frustrating and, let’s be honest, embarrassing.
  3. There are so many boat rides, soccer games, outdoor music events and hours of travel during which your hands could be active instead of idle.
  4. With the prevalence of audio books, there’s no reason you can’t accomplish your projects AND your summer reading simultaneously!
A beautiful triangle shawl with a stockinette base and lovely leaf motif, the Gingko Shoulderette is a lovely and lightweight shawl in Alpaca Silk from Blue Sky Alpacas.

The Gingko Shoulderette by Maggie Magali is a beautiful triangle shawl with a stockinette base and lovely leaf motif, shown in Alpaca Silk from Blue Sky Alpacas.

Of course, not every type of project is summer worthy. What you need is something lightweight, portable, and engaging without being too challenging. Here’s what I like to work on in the summer:

Shawls or wraps

Most shawls and wraps are worked in lightweight yarns to provide a little extra coverage for your shoulders on sunny days and cool nights. Lace designs generally require a needle or hook that is several sizes larger than is normally recommended. This creates an open, airy fabric that drapes well; plus, it helps the project move along a little faster. Choose a pattern with a simple stitch pattern repeat or basic chart to avoid a lot of confusion and constant review of the instructions.

Smocked Fingerless Mitts in Cascade 220Mittens, gloves and hats

Small, portable, with variations ranging from basic to almost baroque in design, mittens and hats are a fun way to practice, at the very least, working in the round, increasing and decreasing. They are also a low-commitment way to practice more advanced skills like cabling, color work, reading charts, and even lace. The best part is that you can use the fruits of your labor as gifts, whether for yourself, a friend or loved one, or a local charitable organization.

These adorable crochet baby booties (design by Bonita Patterns) are especially charming in a self-striping yarn.

These adorable crochet baby booties (design by Bonita Patterns) are especially charming in a self-striping yarn.

Socks

While they may seem intimidating to beginners, socks are a great project to have on the side during the summer. Not only are they extremely portable, but a basic sock only requires your undivided attention at the heels and toes—the rest is a matter of knitting round after round after round, pausing occasionally to gauge the length. Alternate your socks with other projects so you can continue making progress until you have time for the parts that demand more attention.

Ria in Berroco Weekend

A fun shrug with just a touch of beading and cabling, Ria is lightweight, simple and engaging.

No, I’m not crazy. (Well, okay, MAYBE . . . but not about this.) When the weather outside is unbearable for days on end and all I can do is take refuge in an air-conditioned environment, I tackle that for which only the leisure of summer allows time—
garments. For me this typically involves a sweater, but it might also be a coat, tunic or skirt. Usually I have several ideas of projects I’m dying to try, and I choose the one that fits my summer criteria: lightweight, portable, and engaging but easy. The best part of doing this is that I have something ready to wear when the weather finally cools down.

Colorful stripes make this simple shell an ideal layering piece for summer.

Colorful stripes make this simple shell an ideal layering piece for summer.

Seamed garments are ideal because knitting the parts separately prevents the project from becoming unbearably heavy; however, with an extremely lightweight yarn, a seamless design will spare you of all the finishing so you can hopefully wear the garment sooner. After all, the goal is to finish the project so you can wear it, right?

What are you working on this summer? Feel free to comment here or post your photos and ideas to the Yarn Soup Facebook page.

A prosaic ode to knitting

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Stockinette stitch perfectly shows off a beautiful hand-painted yarn, while seed stitch adds panache to lustrous solids.

I frequently welcome browsers into the shop who warn me that they “don’t do this sort of thing,” meaning that they don’t know how to knit or crochet, but they appreciate the results of these crafts and would be willing (but I won’t hold my breath) to buy sweaters and accessories if someone else would make them. I suspect that the cost of covering both materials and the time necessary to complete a garment would render such sentiments null and void—why spend that much when you can buy a factory-made sweater for so much less?

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A timeless sweater coat–perfect for layering!

Why indeed? I find myself having to provide an answer to the question of why I would go through the trouble of investing so much money in yarn and needles, not to mention time in knitting, to create my own clothing and accessories, especially at the risk of something not fitting?

My response, on this Valentine’s Day, is an ode (of sorts) to knitting, my first love among the needle arts.

It was not love at first sight, I’m afraid. You constantly befuddled and confused me by your inconsistencies—that row had 12 stitches, this row has 14, with no explanation for the sudden change. There were giant holes and gaps, both in my knowledge of you and in your self- revelation, such that I felt compelled to set you aside, leave you for years on end.

At a different time in my life, you beckoned me to give “us” another try and convinced me there was more yet to discover, if only I wouldn’t settle for garter stitch. Seed stitch, you whispered, and maybe some ribbing. I promise, I won’t let you down.008

And you didn’t! You kept revealing to me more of your secrets: decreases, increases, shoulder and heel shaping, cables, bobbles, lace and gussets. More! I cried. I must know more!

You taught me the thrill of creating. With great forethought you let me fumble through my failures so that I could learn how to make sense of knitted fabrics and garment construction. Consequently I grew in confidence that no matter how intricate the pattern, challenging the skill, or heinous the mistake, we could get through it—together.

So soft, it's like an alpaca cloud!

So soft, it’s like an alpaca cloud!

You showed me that knitting can be calming—the rhythmic nature of working each stitch in succession is both meditative and cathartic, allowing me to burn off any remaining mental and physical energy from the day. The feel of beautiful yarn running through my fingers provides a tactile comfort similar to a warm beverage on a cold day or a gentle massage to sore muscles.

The benefits of knowing you are both tangible and intangible. A well-executed pattern (or experiment) results in an item I can wear, give as a gift, use in my home or employ to teach and inspire others. The more I knit, the better I become at substituting yarns and adjusting garment patterns to conform to my unique shape, therefore making them “me” in a way that no store-bought item ever could be. This makes me want to knit all the more.

A spectrum of shades leads to endless creative possibilities.

A spectrum of shades leads to endless creative possibilities.

Knitting, you have helped me gain so many intangible benefits. Not only do you help me feel more relaxed, but even when something goes completely haywire, I gain knowledge (“Ah, that’s why gauge is so important”), wisdom (“Starting a project after 10 p.m. is a recipe for disaster”), and grow in the virtues of patience and fortitude. New challenges in knitting stimulate my brain and increase my appreciation for your versatility, creative possibilities, and stunning beauty. With each new project, my love for you grows.

Ah, knitting, I am completely beguiled by you. Will you be mine?

For those in their right mind

Sure, left-handed knitting can get tricky . . . but it's not exactly rocket science.

I’m grateful that we live in an age in which lefties are not relegated to the “sinister” class outright (as the Latin root of the word suggests), but are accepted and appreciated for their unique and creative contributions to human culture. Mark Twain, Leonardo da Vinci, and even celebrity knitter Julia Roberts are among those who have thrived in a “right-handers world,” and left (no pun intended) their own mark.

What I find particularly interesting about lefties is how great the spectrum of left-handedness—what I consider the proclivity toward using one’s left versus right hand—seems to be. For example, as a left-handed person myself, I write and eat and brush my teeth with my left hand; but for nearly everything else, my right hand and side dominate. For others, as I have observed, it only feels right (re: correct) to use the left hand, no matter what the task.

This is part of why knitting can prove so challenging for learners and teachers alike. I should mention, however, that knitting is very awkward for EVERYONE at first—left- or right-handed. It’s not exactly natural to manipulate a strand of yarn while managing two pointy-ended sticks simultaneously toward the unimaginable goal of a sweater, is it? But it can be done—by ANYONE—with clear direction, time, and patience.

In the way of clear direction, I offer below links to some brief but excellent instructional videos on how to knit using your left hand to perform most of the important steps in knitting. For those of you who have tried but struggled to master the steps, presumably because your left hand is more dominant than your right, I hope the alternative motions depicted in these videos will resonate with you and encourage you not to give up.

Knitting Left-Handed: The Basics
Knitting Left-Handed: The Purl Stitch
Knit and Purl Left-Handed Using the Continental Method

These resources are by no means exhaustive, so I am anxious to learn from you—what tips and tricks have you learned to master knitting, either as a lefty or as one who has taught lefties?

 

The Great American Afghan

Knitting an afghan was never on my bucket list of needle crafts. The idea of creating a giant square that my cats would ultimately take over did not seem to me worth the time and expense.

Then I opened a yarn shop and began displaying the Great American Afghan. Everyday a new customer stops in and comments on its grandeur, uniqueness, and beauty. So, having grown weary of saying that no, I did not knit the sample hanging in the shop, I started knitting my own.

At first I knit somewhat reluctantly. Now I can’t get enough! Each square is so unique, and the skills I am learning tackling each one in turn is helping me become a more creative and refined knitter. My favorite aspect is playing with color and trying to match the right color to the right texture. Its like a giant puzzle that I can adjust to suit my purposes!

This is the real value of projects like this–it is so completely customizable that you can draw inspiration from almost anything. For those of you endeavoring to tackle this afghan, I encourage you to try every square, if for no other reason than to learn a new skill. But then be sure to add your own creative touch to the final product, whether that means eliminating or adding squares, playing with color, or experimenting with designing your own. After all, it is this kind of freedom and exploration that is celebrated in the Great American Afghan.

Knitting the Great American Afghan together

Join us once or twice a month to knit the Great American Afghan! We meet regularly to share tips, gain inspiration, and help each other stay motivated throughout the project. Our gatherings are informal, so drop in any time to meet and learn from one another!

While we are each tackling the project at a different pace, the consensus has been to complete squares as a group in the following order:

1. Square #3, Traci Bunkers
2. Square # 13, Nicky Epstein
3. Square #4, Celeste Pinheiro
4. Square #8, Kathy Zimmerman
5. Square #14, Sidna Farley
6. Square #20, Diane Zangl
7. Square #22, Heather Lodinsky
8. Square #21, Sally Mellville
9. Square #10, Wendy Sacks
10. Square #18, Joan Schrouder
11. Square #23, Meg Swansen
12. Square #24, Gene Beugler
13. Square #6, Maureen Egan Emlet
14. Square #5, Jacqueline Jewett
15. Square #2, Paula B. Levy
16. Square #7, Susan Z. Douglas
17. Square #9, Lily Chin
18. Square #16, Julie Hoff-Weisenberger
19. Square #19, Barbara Venishnick
20. Square #25, Nancy Bush
21. Square #11, Melissa Leapman
22. Square #12, Bette Anne Lampers
23. Square #15, Marge Hayes

A Yarn about Love

I had a theology professor in college who said many things I will never forget; but one comment in particular really struck me. He was attempting to explain the meaning behind the story of creation, and his reflection was that “love wants to create.” No strings attached, no expectation of a return—just love pouring itself into the act of creating, because that’s where the energy behind love tends.

I remember asking myself at the time whether what he said was really true. In various situations, relationships, and circumstances since, I have found that love and creativity are almost inextricably linked. If I needed anymore proof, it came in the form of last Saturday’s Charity Knit & Crochet event at Yarn Soup.

The number of people who attended and the many causes discussed tells me that within the heart of the person who creates, whether by knitting, crocheting, or any other craft, is a love that wants to manifest itself somehow. And how thrilled am I when the medium for that expression is yarn!

What this event also proved to me is that there are many people in this world who need such a gift of love. Whether it’s children who need a special toy to engage their sense of play, or families left behind economically who need warm hats, mittens, and blankets to stave off the bitter cold, there is someone out there–and most likely within the Tri-State area—who needs the creative gift you have to give.

This time of year is difficult for many, but it’s also a time when we crafters have more opportunity to indulge our creativity. Christmas gifts have already been given, the weather keeps us indoors more, and we all look for a diversion to keep our spirits up until spring finally arrives.

If you are looking for an opportunity to meet a need, below is a list of some of the causes mentioned on Saturday. I’m also including a link to an article with excellent tips about charity knitting and crocheting, such as checking with an organization first to assess their needs. These projects can be a great way to use up your stash, try a new skill, and meet others with common interests.

And, of course, spread the love that’s burning inside you.

 

Afghans for Afghans
Sends knitted and crocheted afghans and garments to those suffering in Afghanistan.

Grant County Hat Project (Grant County, WI)
Hats for all kids in need in Grant County. Contact Linda at grantcountyhatproject@gmail.com.

Maria House &Teresa Shelter (Dubuque, IA)
Serves the needs of homeless women with or without children.

Mother Bear Project (Minneapolis, MN)
Sends knitted toy bears to children affected by AIDS in Africa.

Project Linus (Bloomington, IL)
Provides blankets to comfort children who are ill, traumatized, or in need.

The Preemie Project (Coralville, IA)
Provides hats, booties, and blankets to comfort premature and critically ill infants.

St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care (Milwaukee)
Sr. Edna creates and sells jewelry from handknitted items to benefit the residents.

Click for Babies—Period of PURPLE Crying Caps (Farmington, UT)
An organization that strives to educate parents about infant crying and prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome.

 

Tips for charity knitting (and crocheting): http://knitting.about.com/od/knittingcharities/qt/charity_howto.htm

For a comprehensive list of charities, you can also check out http://www.interweaveknits.com/community/charities.asp.

 

Ready or not, the holidays are here

I am Lulu the Last Minute when it comes to holiday planning, shopping, and decorating. I have always found the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas to be unbearably busy; but before Thanksgiving, or perhaps a substantial snowfall, I can’t quite pull my Christmas mood together enough to get an early start.

So this year, I’m begging your help to ensure I meet the holidays with as much aplomb as possible. While Yarn Soup will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24, we’ll open on Friday at 9 am instead of 10 to give you early birds a chance to stop in for supplies, gifts, or a much-needed retreat with your needles, hooks, and yarn. Warm apple cider, cookies, and Christmas music are on the day’s menu, as well as some cute (and quick) project ideas.

A friend of Yarn Soup shared a creative idea for mini knitted or crocheted outerwear, and here’s how it turned out (thanks, Mom!):

Dress up your hostess gift with mini knits!

Go to yarnsoupdbq on Ravelry for a sampling of the free patterns I’ve collected to help you get started on these great stash buster mini projects. Then join us on Black Friday for an informal in-store knit-along! You’ll have the chance to browse lots of new yarns and gift ideas, while creating your own personalized “Wish List” that your loved ones can use to find you the perfect gift.

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, and many thanks for your support of Yarn Soup!

A lesson in patience

It all began with a lovely green hank of Cascade 220. Something about that color, Irelande, drew the eye of a quilter who happened to be in the neighborhood. Later she returned with a resolution to begin crocheting again so she could create a dreamy lap blanket with 14 hanks of the beautiful wool. Winding it into balls was the least I could do to help her get started.

Oh, the yarn ball and the winder can be friends!

Winding yarn is a somewhat hypnotic—though rarely relaxing—task. As the winder gyrates with each rotation, the yarn is criss-crossed against itself until layer upon layer forms a squishy “cake” from which you can pull working yarn either from the center or the exterior. The effect is beautiful, allowing you to examine all the color and texture of a particular hank of yarn in one glance. Neglecting to monitor the tension or watch for snags, however, can be disastrous.

In this instance, it was even more disastrous than ever before, with the yarn somehow working itself into the crevices of the winder and I blindly working it into a greater tangle as I desperately tugged at it in an effort not to keep my customer waiting any longer than she already had. Murphy’s Law dictates, of course, that all this should happen just when a rush of other customers and vendors entered the shop, all needing my attention. In the end I had to disassemble and reassemble the winder repeatedly until it could form the same criss-cross pattern as before. The upshot is that now I know exactly how a winder is pieced together to produce such a lovely cake; and so if disaster strikes again, I’ll know better what to do.

Flounce is a yarn that works up beautifully with a bit of patience.

This process reminded me of working a new technique or intricate pattern, or experimenting with a new yarn. Often when I am trying something new, I make more mistakes than progress. I have found that patience and a willingness to disassemble and reassemble yields not only a beautiful finished object, but also knowledge and a truer understanding of how knitting “works.”

This is my encouragement to those of you who are new to the craft or to a particular project skill you have yet to try, whether it is lace, hats, mittens, socks, or full garments. Yes, mistakes are inevitable—but they can also be invaluable.

 

 

 

A grand ol’ opening

One of my great helpers and me!

Can you remember your first day of school? I can’t, actually. I can only remember it as it is depicted in the photos of me on that day. If I were to describe my first day of school, it would be mere speculation, and it would include something about cool, crisp fall air and warm, brilliant sunshine, just because that’s how I imagine such an exciting, nerve-wracking passage into the unknown should be.

Oddly enough, that is also how I would describe my opening day of Yarn Soup, although I will remember that day as long as I live.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Everyone who entered the store came in energized by the brisk temperatures and cheered by the glorious sunlight. There were smiles and laughter, introductions and meetings of old friends. It was spectacular.

Fun for all generations!

It is here that I must acknowledge particularly the patience and selflessness of my entire family in descending on the shop in those final days of preparation. Without your help (and forgiveness of my lack of patience), the grand opening would not have been quite so grand.

Of course, there were mild snafus, as is to be expected; but those of you who came bore with them patiently and with great kindness.

Hey! We love yarn. Maybe we should start knitting?

And that is what I will remember most: the generosity and graciousness of so many who stopped in, introduced themselves, or sent well wishes in honor of this exciting event. My humblest thanks and best wishes to all of you. Stop in again soon!

One more day

One of the exciting features of Yarn Soup’s home is the tall, unbroken windows up front. Just yesterday these windows received a much-needed cleaning, after which I didn’t have the heart to cover them again in paper as a way of maintaining privacy until I can open these doors for business once and for all.

Clean windows make a difference!

Now I’m almost wishing I had done this weeks ago! I love being able to see people peering in or gazing and pointing from across the street. I can tell by their posture that they are curious and are resolving to return again soon when they can actually step inside and look around.

All of this activity and interest serves to remind me of why I am here. It’s easy to forget, amid the last-minute purchases, bookkeeping, cleaning, and labeling that this is not just about business operations. It’s about creating a space where community can happen. A haven where the heart can have its say.

So what can visitors expect when they finally enter Yarn Soup? A lot of yarn in a range of colors; knitting needles and notions; patterns and various books; yarn bowls; an Internet kiosk for exploring the myriad patterns and techniques available online; and a warm, inviting atmosphere. Although I have tried to accommodate your various needs and interests, I realize there are gaps in my product offerings—gaps I intend to fill over time. Your input can help me stock the shelves with the right tools for your craft. I can’t promise you everything, but I can promise to do my best to meet your needs.

One more day. In some ways too little time, in other ways, too much. Looking forward to meeting you at last!

An autumn reverie

I love the beginning of fall. The temperature drops, the sun droops a little lower, and warm sweaters come out of hibernation. To me, fall is a promising time of new beginnings and exciting opportunities, a time for creature comforts and quiet pursuits. What better time to open a yarn shop?

If you are like me, you’re probably already scheming up what projects to tackle as daylight diminishes and cool temperatures nudge you indoors. A sweater for that lovely bamboo merino blend you’ve been dying to try? New mittens? A fuzzy reversible cowl?

The needle crafters I know are extremely generous, which means they are more likely thinking of gifts for loved ones than for themselves. When it comes to homemade gifts, planning ahead can help you ensure enough time to complete the project.

Even if you approach projects more haphazardly, as I do, there are lots of options for quick knitted gifts. Try beaded wire napkin rings or simple hand warmers. Use remnants from your stash to create mini sweaters, hats, or scarves; then turn them into brooches, use them to adorn wrapped gifts, or hang them from your tree.

Tree?! Forget I mentioned it. Today, just revel in fall’s splendor.