End of the Year Rituals

Here we are in that odd week between Christmas and New Years Day.

Yes, folks, it’s time for one of those posts that isn’t craft related.

I’m on vacation this week. I’m not going anywhere exotic, I’ve made it back home from my holiday visit to the family, I’m in full blown reboot mode. I think most of us can honestly admit that this is the week where we have the highest hopes for the upcoming year. Many of us are making resolutions to break habits and better ourselves, others of us have thrown that tradition to the wind. It seems everyone has a tradition of some sort, or a tradition not to have a tradition.

I’m a goal setting person. I will sit down on December 31st with pen and paper in hand and crank out what I would like to accomplish in the year ahead. Do I hit those lofty goals? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, taking into account that the fates will deal cards I didn’t plan on.

I will reflect on what happened in the past year, and determine what I could have done better, and what did I learn from it. Overall it’s a positive reflection. There’s no harping on failures or dark spots for too long.

I’m also a cleaner. This ritual begins tomorrow morning as soon as the last drop of coffee is sipped and will continue until I can’t move a paper towel, if need be, it will go into the next day. Every surface in my house will be dusted and cleaned with the appropriate solvent. Every fabric that isn’t laundered on a regular basis that can fit into the washer and dryer will make a journey there. The floors will be hand scrubbed, the hardwoods re-introduced to Murphy’s Oil Soap. Laundry will be put into appropriate drawers, bedding will be changed wether in needs it or not, clutter addressed, if you can think of it, it’s probably happening. After all of that I’ll stand in the shower until there’s no hot water left.

Call me an odd duck, but nothing brings me greater peace of mind than going into a new year with a clean home and a clear mind.

What do you do to prepare for the new year?

January Class Schedule

Update 12/22/2017: After a request from my November sock class students, I’ve rearranged the class schedule a bit.  They hijacked the Vanilla Sock class and required that I  move it to Wednesday.  Okay, maybe it was more of a polite request, but I couldn’t say no.  There have also been a couple of minor tweaks to look at and the addition of a Bring Your Own Project evening. 

A new year is knocking at the door and after a month off from a full class schedule it’s time to get 2018 off to a strong start. Winter is just really getting going here in Northeast Georgia so the focus this month is to keep warm, by either making warm things to wear, or avoiding the cold by staying in to knit.

All classes and knitalongs will be at Yarn Rhapsody in Gainesville, GA. You can sign up by calling 770-536-3130, or by dropping in. All yarn, supplies, and patterns should be purchased through the shop.

Beginning this month, I am rolling out monthly mini-courses featuring techniques that can be learned quickly and are commonly used in other projects. These are great for beginners or refreshers for the more experienced.

Cast On/Bind Off Mini-Course:  In an hour and half, you’ll learn three basic cast ons and three different bind offs that can be applied to future projects.  All you need is a bit of worsted weight yarn and size 7 or 8 needles.  This mini-course will be offered twice this month, so choose the day that best fits your schedule.
You will be learning a crochet cast on with a standard bind off, a cable cast on with an i-cord bind off, and a German twisted cast on with a stretchy bind off.
Dates: Saturday, January 6 – 10:30am – Noon
Saturday, January 20 – 10:30am – Noon
Price: $30
Skill Level: Rookie

Crochet: In the Beginning – Mini Course: If you’ve never picked up a crochet hook and don’t know where to start, this is for you.  I’ll cover beginning chains, single crochet, and double crochet in one hour, opening the door to some of your first projects.  Bring worsted weight yarn and a size G or H hook. Much like the knitting mini course choose the date that best fits your schedule.
Dates: Saturday, January 13 – 10:30am – 11:30am
Saturday, January January 27 – 10:30am – 11:30am
Price: $20
Skill Level: 
 Rookie

Bring Your Own Project Night: If you’ve had a project that you’re a little nervous about a certain section, need encouragement from other knitters, or just need an excuse to get away from the house for an hour mid-week this is for you.  You are welcome to bring any project to work on  in a *knitalong* style environment.  I will be there to help you through the little things.
Dates: Wednesday, January 17, 31 and February 14 – 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Price: $30
Skill Level: 
All Welcome!

Pieces of EightFingerless gloves are one of the world’s best inventions.  Your hands stay toasty but you can still use your fingers to poke at your smartphone. Ha! The unique construction of the Pieces of Eight Mitts will be a fun challenge for experienced knitters.   You will need to be familiar with basic increases and decreases, stitch pickup, knitting in the round, and grafting.  This *Knitalong* will be three sessions.  You will need 220-yards of fingering weight yarn (self striping or variegated yarns are recommended) and size 2.5 or 3 needles.  You will need double pointed needles AND circulars with at least a 16″ cable.
Dates: Saturday, January 6, 20 and February 3 – Noon – 1:00pm
Price: $30
Skill Level: 
Virtuoso

CopenhagenI’m going to admit that I’ve been eyeballing this pattern since it was released, and saw a finished one attending SAFF a little while back.  The photos available through Ravelry do not do this one justice.  Copenhagen Calling is a beautiful cowl featuring two color stranded knitting and lace.  This *Knitalong* will be three sessions.  Knowledge of stranded color work, and basic lace work is needed. You will need 275-yards of color 1 and 360-yards of color 2 and size 6 and 7 circular needles with 32″ cables.
Dates: Saturday, January 6, 20 and February 3 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Price: $30
Skill Level: 
Apprentice

Vanilla SocksYou have asked, and I’m delivering.  In a follow up to November’s toe-up sock class, it’s time to do a cuff-down sock. These Vanilla Socks will fit that bill.  All you need is a ball of sock yarn and size 1.5 or 2 needles.  This would be a great opportunity to learn how to use Double Pointed Needles but if you are more comfortable with magic loop, the choice is yours.  This *Class* will be three sessions.
Dates: Wednesday , January 10, 24 and February 7 -6:00pm-7:00pm
Price: $60
Skill Level: 
Beginner

Steel TealIt’s time for a big, beautiful, juicy, lace project.  This one is knit in DK, which means it’s a great piece to wear through the winter and into spring.  Steel Teal features cable and lace work  in a large Faroese shaped shawl. This *Knitalong* will be six sessions.  You will need 900 yards of DK weight yarn, and size 6 needles with at least a 32″ cable.
Dates: Saturday, January 6, 13, 20 – February 3, 10, 17 – 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Price: $60
Skill Level: 
Virtuoso 

FavorkiIf you’re going to wear a hat it should be one that looks amazing.  The Favorki Hat is a beautiful combination of cables with a bit of slouch.  You will need 241-yards of worsted weight yarn, and size 4 and 6 needles with 16″ cables.  This *Knitalong* will be three sessions.
Dates: Saturday, January 6, 20, and February 3 – 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Price: $30
Skill Level: 
Apprentice

Little KindessThere are days that seem a little rough.  It’s time to spread a smile by knitting up and gifting a Little Kindness Monster for a friend, or maybe a random stranger.  This little guy uses up a bit of fingering weight yarn, and size 3 needles.  He’s a simple little guy and a good choice for a first knitted toy or just fun for those that have knitted a few critters.  This *Knitalong* will be three sessions.
Dates: Saturday, January 13, 27 and February 10 – Noon – 1:00pm
Price: $30
Skill Level: 
Apprentice

And last but not least, there’s one more offering for January…

Reyna3_small2Reyna is a fantastic one ball and done project that will use that skein of hand dyed, crazy colored, or variegated fingering weight yarn and size 4 needles with at least a 32″ cable.  This *Knitalong* will be three sessions.
Dates: Saturday, January 13, 27 and February 10 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Price: $30
Skill Level: 
Apprentice

There’s a little bit of everyone this month, and as always I look forward to seeing you in class or working away in a knitalong.

As a quick reminder:
Knitalongs: Are offerings in which you knit at your own pace and have knowledge of all or most of the techniques used in the project.  I’ll be there to help you out if you get stuck at any point.

Classes: Are offerings where you will learn specific techniques to complete a project and will recieve dedicated attention and a helping hand to get you through if needed.

Side Note: I mentioned in my last post that I have a bit in store for 2018.  There’s somethings bubbling behind the scenes and that includes everything from more informative blog posts, interviews, reviews, and I’m getting on the knit design horse for real (I’m calling him Bucky). If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a Patron!  Your patronage will provide funds needed for hosting fees, supplies, travel expenses to fiber related events, and other needs.  With patronage this blog will begin to grow and evolve into the fiber arts related education and entertainment site I’ve envisioned it to be.  Become a patron by visiting my spot at Patreon.  You can become a Patron with as little as $1 a month, and any amount is deeply appreciated.  

2018 – Changes for Coffee & Wool

Coffee & Wool is about to have its first birthday, and I’m sitting here thinking that jeez this year has gone by quickly. In this past year, I’ve knitted more than I’ve ever knitted, started teaching classes and in general have learned more about the fiber arts. In case you haven’t noticed I love it. Also in this past year I’ve been encouraged by like-minded friends to do more and over the past few weeks I’ve started to come up with a game plan to turn this little hobby page into something greater.

That’s where 2018 comes in.

I’ve heard it said a few times that the fiber arts community is dying, that its practitioners are aging, and fewer people are interested in learning how to knit, crochet, weave, or manipulate fiber in general. That is simply untrue, the fiber arts community is strong, albeit a little quiet. Beginning in 2018, I want the voice I provide to the fiber arts community to go from a 2 to a 10. There will be more informative posts, more tutorials, and eventually video (someone has to get over her camera fear first).

No matter what, I’m turning up the volume, but I’m going to ask for your help. I’m asking for your patronage. Small monthly donations can go a long way towards helping me promote this page, purchase supplies, and travel to fiber festivals and fiber producing farms for content. If you would like to help me expand Coffee and Wool please visit my Patreon Page. As Coffee and Wool grows not only will you be supporting a fiber artist and the community you’ll get exclusive content and updates in the future.

Hand Knitted Socks Demystified

I’m in the middle of teaching a sock class this month, so it’s a good time to bring up socks.

There seem to be two projects that scare the living beejeebus out of knitters; sweaters and socks until they conquer their first ones. It’s understandable, they look a little intimidating at first, never mind the fact there are literally hundreds of thousands of patterns for each out there, and for socks there are at least 12 different types of heel construction and just as many toe shapes. No wonder why even some very experienced knitters won’t go near socks.

Here’s the official pep talk. Can you do a knit stitch? Yes. Can you do a k2tog? Yes. Can you do an SSK? Yes. Then guess what? You can knit socks!

It’s time to suck it up, pick out a ball of sock yarn and needles and get over it. Your feet will thank you!

All socks have the same parts, although there is some variation in construction. There is the cuff; usually made with a few inches of 2×2 ribbing. The leg; the tube portion that travels down the leg to the ankle. The heel; this is where the leg turns 90 degrees to accommodate your heel and ankle. The foot; the tube that goes from ankle to roughly the middle of the ball of your foot. Lastly, there’s the toe; where stitches are decreased to accommodate those odd little nubby bits that are at the end of your foot.

Most socks are constructed one of two ways, you either start at the toe of the sock and work your way up to the cuff (toe up), or the exact opposite direction, cuff to toe (top down). This is another one of those personal preference choices. I use both but prefer toe up. Top down usually comes into play when I’m using specific yarns that have some sort of matching technology. Yes, there are totally sock yarns out there that will help you make matching socks faster if that’s your cup of tea.

Socks can be knitted using circular needles by using the magic loop method, or by using double pointed needles (DPNs). I encourage people to try using both needle types to see what works best for you. Make your first pair using one needle type, then yes, start a second pair using the other. Personally, I dislike magic loop and love double pointed needles, but it’s different for every knitter.

Most needle size recommendations will range from 0 – 2 for typical sock weight patterns. If you decide you love sock knitting, you’ll likely find a needle size that works the best for you and stick with it for most basic sock patterns.

Your yarn choice for your first pair of socks is important! As tempting as it is to pick up a $3-5 ball off the shelf at the local chain craft store, I’m going to beg you not to. Many of these brands are splitty, or have a higher than needed acrylic/nylon/other unnatural fiber content making them slick and harder to knit, not something I would recommend for a first sock. I recommend a high Superwash wool (washer dryer friendly) content 70% or better. I can hear a few people mumbling now. Doesn’t she hate non-natural fibers? For the most part yes, I hate plastics in my yarns but there are exceptions to be made, it’s either a very pretty yarn, or it’s for socks. A bit of nylon, polymide, plastic by any other name, will make your socks more durable. My all time favorite sock yarns are made by Regia, their blends make great wool socks that I wear year round. Other recommendations include, Cascade Heritage and Happy Feet, Zauberball, Berroco Comfort Sock, and any of the Supersocke 4 ply yarns. Color can make a huge difference. Think lighter colors for your first pair, you’ll want to clearly see every stitch.

You have your yarn, picked your needles…moving forward.

Measurements!

Break out that measuring tape, you are about to get up close and personal with your tootsies. The two most important measurements you will need are the width and length of your foot.

For length, you will need to start of the center, back of your heel and pull the tape to the end of your big toe. If you have flat feet that spread forward when you stand, stand on your measuring tape to get this measurement, you might need an extra pair of hands to help line this up.

For width, you will wrap the tape around the widest point at the ball of your foot. Same applies here, if your feet spread quite a bit when standing, stand on your tape and wrap it around.

Some patterns may have you take ankle and calf measurements if they have very long legs, don’t use these patterns for your first time. The point is to learn the basics and then get into the fancier stuff later on.

Now what?

It’s time to cast on!

These are my go-to simple patterns for newbie sock people.

Whirlsie’s Vanilla Socks – top down construction with very clear directions and three size options.

Appalachian Socks aka Purly Bottoms – toe up construction, once again very clear directions and three size options. Plus there’s the added benefit of having the stockinette portion at the bottom of the sock up against the skin of your foot, it makes already comfy socks that much more divine.

There’s also a very simple pattern generator at the Sock Knitter’s Notebook that will spit out simple directions for you. You’ll need a gauge swatch in your yarn with your preferred needles size beforehand.

There you have it, enough basic sock discussion to get you going. Socks are one of my favorite things to knit, after you get a few under your belt, you’ll find they are easy to travel with and with the exception of turning the heel, are easy knits. If you are still a little nervous about striking out on your own, I’ll be offering basic sock classes a bit more often in the new year. If you’re not in my neck of the woods talk to the staff at your Local Yarn Shop, there should be someone to help you get started or can schedule class time for you.

Just remember one thing, they are socks, don’t stress over them

It’s Not Called Black Thursday

It’s Thanksgiving. I just made it back home from a day spent with close friends. It was a great day filled with conversation, laughs, and of course a huge table full of food, because that is what most of us think when we thing about Thanksgiving Day. Right?

I’m starting to wonder.

On my way home, I drive by several big box retailers, three electronics stores, and one of the exits to get to the Mall of Georgia. Traffic is questionable, people are being impatient, and the parking lots for every one of these places is packed. It seems that the “Black Friday Doorbusters” begin earlier and earlier on Thursday.

You would think we could curb our consumer tendencies for at least one day a year and stay home with those that we love, but apparently we can’t. On my way home, my heart sank, there are many people I would love to sit down with for a Thanksgiving meal like I had this evening, but it’s not possible be it distance, or death separating us. Some of my best memories of friends and family have been over holiday meals. But now, many are cutting those chances to spend time with friends and family short, to save a few bucks on the latest gadget or do-dad.

Think about it, are those few dollars for a bit of manufactured plastic really worth the sacrifice of time with friends and family? Will that device you just battled your way into the store for even be functional within a year, or will it be out of date? In ten years will that gift you got that huge deal on even be remembered? Just a little something to think about this holiday season.

Blocking: A Necessary Evil

You’ve finally cast off a project that has taken ages to complete. You hold it up, and it looks, well, kinda blah. It sorta looks like the photos from the pattern but, it isn’t, quite right, even though you followed the pattern to the letter.

Well…

That’s where blocking comes in.

It’s like making gauge swatches and weaving in ends, no one really enjoys it, but if you want your handiwork to look amazing it just has to be done. So what is blocking? Blocking uses moisture to align all your stitches correctly, and the case of lace knitting, opens up all of those yarn overs.

I’ve had a small pile of finished work that need to be blocked, and an older piece that needed to be re-blocked after some cleaning (coffee soaks into wool pretty quickly, just saying). So I thought it was a good time do do a little tutorial on wet blocking. Yes, folks there are several ways to block but wet blocking seems to be the most universal.

First things first, you need to find a large, flat space away from the family pets and small children. In my case, I use my bedroom floor and shut the door. You can block on carpet, cardboard boxes, I’ve used my own bed to block large pieces, but the easiest thing is to pick up a few of those puzzle piece children’s play mats. You’ll be pinning your knit work, so the play mat surface holds pins well and since they are plastic, moisture won’t bother it at all.

For wet blocking you will need to soak your finished project. So grab an appropriate sized bowl, fill it with water, and a bit of specialty detergent. I prefer Soak, it smells great and it seems to get things a little cleaner. Eucalan has it’s own benefits but surprisingly I’m not a huge fan of the smell of wet wool and Eucalan seems to amplify that smell. These detergents condition the fibers and gently clean while soaking your project. There are a few other options out there, so find whatever you like the most. Just look for detergents that don’t require rinsing. Okay, so why are we getting everything wet? Natural fibers can stretch quite a bit more while wet, and as the fibers dry while in a stretched state, they will lock into that position. After drowning everything for about 15 minutes you’re ready for the next step.

After your items have finished their bath, it’s time to start getting them dry. You’ll need to squeeze all the water you can out of your work by hand. Whatever you do, DON’T WRING IT. Wringing can do some irreparable damage, so squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze some more. To get out additional water, lay your project flat on a towel, roll it up and either stand or kneel on it. Your project should feel damp to the touch when you’re finished.

Now to the fun part. Besides your flat surface you’re going to need quilting or T-pins at a minimum to pin your project into the its final shape. If you’re an avid knitter, one of the best investments you can make is in blocking wires. These are just simple metal wires that you can weave into the flat edges of your work to guarantee a straight line on your finished projects. For this tutorial I’m using both quilting pins and wires. My wires have taken a beating over the years and have gotten bent here and there when I was first learning how to do this myself. I was bad for over stretching on yarn weights that were a little too heavy for the wires. They still work fine. I’ve used three wires to define the flat edges of this cowl, and used pins to shape the points at the top edge. I only needed to stretch this project enough to open up all the lace work. In some projects, blocking will require you to stretch to certain dimensions or shapes. This cowl is actually the project that is being re-blocked after the coffee incident. Re-blocking does need to happen from time time after an item has been cleaned, or if an item looses its shape over time and use.

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There are also another handy tool out there for larger pieces. Knit Blockers are several pins mounted into a flat plastic handle. They let you cover a large area quickly and evenly, used with wires, they are a time saver as well.

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Now that everything is blocked out the way I want it. What’s next? Nothing. Well for a while anyway. You just go find something else to do for a few hours, because these projects will need to be bone dry before you do anything else. You can speed things up a bit by blocking in a warm room with good airflow. Good airflow = big ol’ box fan. Don’t go overboard and try to use a hair dryer or a space heater to speed things up, bad things could happen, like shrinkage. Once everything is good and dry, remove your pins, pull out your wires, and you should see significant improvement in how your project looks. With lace, the improvement can be downright dramatic. Weave in your ends and call it a day. Your item is ready to go!

SEX at SAFF

That title got your attention didn’t it?

For anyone about to go into vapor lock, no, there were no shenanigans like that today. SEX in knitting jargon is a Stash Enhancement Experience. Let’s be honest, there’s a large portion of knitters and crocheters that fall deep into the nerd and geek spectrum and we get a kick out of acronyms that raise eyebrows.

SAFF, yep another acronym, is the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, and it’s held in Fletcher, NC every year.

I’ve had fiber friends talk about if for a few years now, but I finally was able to make the adventure up today. Yarn Rhapsody (the local yarn store in my neck of the woods) arranged a charter bus to ferry about 30 of us up for a day trip. After a crazy work week this was an absolutely brilliant idea, because the last thing I wanted to do was drive about 6 hours round trip today. Big Bear Cafe (another local Gainesville, GA place) provided us with breakfast biscuits and a brown bag lunch for the trip too. Side note: If you come to Gainesville, first you need to stop at Yarn Rhapsody. Second, you must eat at Big Bear.

Alright. So after 3 hours, and wrapping up a project on the way. The bus pulls into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center and drops us off at the main building. Then it was off to the races. After walking into the main building and pulling my jaw up off the floor, exploring began. There was fiber vendor on top of fiber vendor through the whole building. Need roving? It was there. Need bison or yak blend yarns? They had you covered.   Need project ideas? Samples galore! Virtually every type of animal fiber was available, AND then there was another building, also spilling over with more vendors. I was on a mission to find yarns that were likely to be hard to find in yarn shops, gorgeous hand spun or brilliant independent dyers for my stash enhancement experience. An attack plan was formed, walk through all the interesting booths, and then go back to the ones I loved the most, and make decisions from there. Impulse buys would have had the budget blown in seconds.

After the first walk through, several of us wandered over to the livestock barns. As much as I wanted to cram a pygmy angora goat into a bag and run with it, I realized this plan wasn’t entirely feasible and the bus driver probably would have been really pissed if I put it on bus. Despite my heavy use of animal fiber, I’m still amazed at how many animals produce beautiful wool or hair that we use, and then amazed a second time when I see how many different varieties of these animals exist.

Sheep and goats had their heads and ears scratched, bunnies were petted and then decisions had to be made. Budgets had to be stuck to. I’m on an alpaca kick lately. It’s soft, it’s warm, it’s squishy! I found two huge and lovely skeins from Taylored Fibers for what felt like was a steal. I huge shawl is in the future. Being a Harry Potter dork, I replaced a good project bag that went AWOL a couple of months ago, and I was more than happy with my haul. Then out of the blue, after disembarking the bus and heading to my car, I was ambushed by a friend who handed me a bag with more gorgeous yarn, including a Game of Thrones themed mini-color set and a pattern to boot. (Since she may read this blog, I’m saying thank you for a third time!)

So what’s the overall take away from SAFF?

SAFF is a three day fair. I know people that leave Thursday evening, and will stay the entire weekend. I know people that like today, go up for a day. I’m going to firmly stay in the one day is enough camp. As much as I love supplying my knitting habit with amazing materials, multiple days may be overkill for most. With good planning, you can visit the entire site, and not feel rushed. I’m sure the Fletcher Chamber of Commerce will not give me a thumbs up for that assessment, by the size of the crowd SAFF does bring in a lot of money locally. Don’t get me wrong though, you can certainly make a weekend of it, Fletcher isn’t far from Asheville, and there seems to be plenty of good food, activities, and shopping within the area if that’s how you enjoy spending a weekend. It’s also fall, and it seems this festival hits autumn leaf change at just about peek, so there’s plenty of leaf peeping that can be done too. Some of us just need a quick change in scenery, this fair and the area is a good fit for that.

Will I be back next year? Of course it’s on the calendar, and it looks like Yarn Rhapsody may turn this bus adventure into a yearly event.

Did any of you folks reading this go? Leave me a comment, tell me your assessment of SAFF and what you added to your stash this weekend.