Blips in the Matrix

It’s not unusual for me to pack up a knitting project and head to a local caffeine dispensary on Sunday mornings and get a fix and some people watching in.  You see a lot of the same types of people; the college student trying to wrap up a project due on Monday morning, the mother out running errands with kids in tow, the group of friends that obviously stayed out late imbibing adult beverages the night before, the couple heading to or from church, but occasionally some variations pop up.

These blips in the Matrix are the ones that make life interesting.  Knitting has been a conversation starter on more than one occasion with a stranger.

While working away on a class sample for May, a gentleman in a red hoodie (odd for springtime in Georgia) walks by and says it’s nice to see someone making something by hand.  I said thank you, he keeps walking, and I continue my constructive fidgeting.  A few moments later, he’s back with a small rose picked from the bush outside and says “to brighten your day”.  Okay, honestly, for me this is odd, blame it on my extremely large personal space bubble and my natural distrust of people that stand out in a crowd for odd reasons (red hoodie), my hackles are up but I remain polite and say thank you again.

He plops down in the chair across from me and begins to ask questions about the yarns I’m working with, what I’m making, and how long I’ve been knitting.  I answer.  He then spills into his story, I begin to let my guard down a bit, he’s not a threat.  From here out let’s refer to this gentleman as James.

James is homeless, and does what side jobs he can to make money.  He can’t seem to find a “good job” because he had lost all forms of personal ID and can’t seem to find the help to get proper identification again.  All James seems to have in the world is a backpack with some clothes and a few personal grooming items.  He’s a former felon, openly admits to making serious mistakes in his life, and is bound to the state of Georgia, but would rather go to North Carolina.  Most of his crimes sound more like they were committed out of perceived necessity on his part for self-preservation.   He makes it clear that he’s not asking for money, he just wants someone to talk to him for a few minutes and acknowledge he’s a person.  I’ve barely gotten a word into this conversation, he obviously needed to get some things off his chest.

One of the most fascinating things I learned about James in our hour long conversation is that he is absolutely passionate about “rock hunting”.  He has the talent and knowledge to recognize where precious stones and crystals can be found in the area.  I won’t discuss his methods, because I have a hunch some of these rock hunts are on private property or within parks that could lead to more legal woes if he was caught.  I could almost swear at some point he could have attended geology courses somewhere, or possibly have taught them.  He takes his finds and sells them to a few local shops.

We wrapped up our conversation when he realized I had stopped knitting for well over thirty minutes, he felt like he was bothering me at that point.  He wasn’t.   He says bye, thanks me for the conversation and walks out the back door of the coffee house.  A minute later, he passes back through, places a piece of yellow quartz on the table where I was sitting, waves bye and keeps walking.

img_0996I believe everyone is put into your path for a reason.  I’ll admit I’ve been a bit more stressed than normal, and have felt overwhelmed to the point it’s hard to focus for more than a few moments.  I think James was a reminder that despite what happens in life be passionate about something you enjoy and be positive.

That piece of quartz, left quietly on the table, will sit on a shelf near other memories of people that have momentarily walked down my path with me.

Hot Off The Presses Shawl – Finished At Last

eda6bd61-6f1b-409a-b87a-37c99b380923Okie. Finally it’s finished.  There’s a bit of a story behind the name of this project.  When I decided I wanted to teach a mosaic knitting class at the end of March I thought I had found a great, easy pattern to use for the class.  Well, ummm, I started working this pattern up for a shop/class sample and discovered it was busted and was more of a string of suggestions than an actual pattern.  I got to work and started knitting and writing like mad to come up with something my students could learn the technique on.  The draft, (I say draft now, because a student discovered some typos) was finished about two days before the class.

First let me promise to future students, I will never teach a pattern that hasn’t been test knitted at least a half dozen times again.  Things are going fine with this class, but having a couple of typos turn up has really bothered me.  This is not the experience I want my students to have.  Mea culpa.  Mea culpa.

Anyway, all that aside; it’s finished!

img_0968I’m offering this one up for some test knitting if anyone is interested, and I have no intention of selling the pattern, but will be offering it for free since it’s my first design out of the gate.  If you have a couple of 400 yard skeins of fingering weight yarn hanging about yell, I’ll happily respond with the PDF.  After it’s been tested a few more times a final version will be released for download on Ravelry.

This project also featured a yarn I hadn’t had my grubby paws on before.  It was worked up in Feza’s Harvest Sock, an organically dyed superwash merino. I used Rubia (Red) and Oleaster (Off-White).  The two colors are striking together, and the Rubia photographs more red, but is truly a deep rusty red orange.  One of my students is using the Indigo colorway with the Oleaster and it’s amazing.  Working with this yarn is easy with sharp needles, it has a looser twist so blunt needles may split here and there.  Don’t let the feel of the skein fool you if you pick it up, this yarn creates a very soft fabric that would be great next to the skin.

Edit: At the urging of several designer friends I’ve been told this pattern should only be available free on Ravelry for a limited time.  If you are interested in this pattern the download is available here.

Knit your bit! Socks, WWI, and the Next Generation of Knitters

Yesterday, (April 8) a couple of fantastic knitters any myself combined forces to participate in an Family Day event at the Northeast Georgia History Center.   The History Center presented Over There: America Enters World War I, to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of the United States entry into “The Great War” with living history interpretation and hands on activities.

img_0739So what does knitting have to do with WWI?

Quite a lot!  Knitting was more than a hobby during wartime.  It was an act of patriotism!  Thousands if not millions of women and children in Allied countries used their knitting needles as weapons of war.  What were they knitting? Socks.  Lots of socks. Millions of socks, to prevent a horrid condition called trench foot.  Take a moment, and google that, I’ll wait…….okay welcome back, and I’m a little sorry for the images that may be burned into your retinas.  Trench warfare was often wet and muddy, and the boots soldiers wore were not fully waterproof, or leaked like sieves.  Fresh dry socks were needed to keep trench foot at bay.  Knitters not only made socks but sweaters, vests, gloves, balaclavas and scarves, in attempts to keep soldiers warm.

Sock knitting hasn’t changed greatly in 100 years, many of us still use double pointed needles to create them.  More recent methods include knitting them on circular needles.  The patterns needed for soldiers were fairly simple, and had nothing fancy included.  Many of the free, top down patterns with heel flap constructions that you see on Ravelry (knitting heaven for the uninitiated) or how-to knitting sites, are very similar to the patterns used by WWI knitters.  These millions of hand-knit, no frill,  socks were collected by the Red Cross in the US, inspected, fixed by more experienced knitters if necessary, loaded up and sent to the military for issue.

So three brave souls did some research, packed up our socks and goodies from our favorite local yarn store, Yarn Rhapsody, started making historically accurate patterns to work on while at the event, and set up shop at the History Center.

 

I believe the three of us were left amazed by the interest our little tables drew in.  We had set up a bit of yarn on straight needles to show children how to knit a few stitches, the three stations we set up stayed full for the entire event.  One child would finish their row, and the next would sit down, occasionally an adult would make their first attempts.  Some of these children were knitting prodigies from the moment they sat down and learned the mechanics of their first knit stitch.  We had a blast showing the next generation of future knitters that they were capable of learning this craft.  At the end of the day, the three of us packed up, and left exhausted, we had no idea we would be so busy.  I’m hoping to see a few of these children pop up again with needles and yarn in hand.

 

 

Mark Your Calendars – May Classes and KALs

As promised, there’s a bit more notice on what I’m up to, teaching wise.  May scheduling has begun, and June is already being plotted.

All three of these sessions will be at Yarn Rhapsody located at 475 Dawsonville Hwy, Gainesvile, GA 30501.  Please contact the shop 48 hours prior to the first session to reserve your spot.  If at all possible please purchase yarns before the first class day so there is time to wind.

Class: Love Child LoveChild8_medium2
Designed by Barbara Benson and featured in her new book Mosaic and Lace Knits.  This shawl is a combination of mosaic knitting and basic lace work, which would look amazing in lightweight spring yarns. This class is three sessions the first three Saturdays of May,  (5/6, 5/13, 5/20) from 11am – Noon.

Price: $60 (including pattern)
Yarn to be purchased at Yarn Rhapsody.

Skill Level Needed: Adventurous Beginner (if you’ve made a basic shawl before you’ll be fine)

Now moving on to Knit-A-Longs…
If you’ve not done a knit-a-long before they are a much less structured offering.  Sessions are 1 hour, and you work at your own pace.  If you find yourself if in a difficult spot, I’ll be over to help you through it.  Yarn Rhapsody offers six knit-a-long sessions for $30 and will be issued a KAL card to keep track.    If you would like to participate in a KAL but want to use yarn purchased from somewhere other than Yarn Rhapsody, that’s okay too.  The fee changes to $60 for 6 sessions.

koch_anventure3_mediumKAL: Poison Oak
Who’s ready for a bit of stacked knitting?  If you’re looking for a healthy challenge that will end in a heck of a conversation starting scarf when you weave in those last ends this is for you.  Don’t be intimidated, stacked knitting just takes a bit of patience, and a bit of fingering weight yarn.  This KAL will be available for 6 sessions beginning on Saturday, May 6 and continuing weekly through June 10 from 1-2pm.

Skill Level Needed: Advanced (you’re going to think, and count a lot, but you’re going to get through it fine)

KAL: Nine Dwindling Cablesimg_0634
This is an amazing looking beret style hat that reminded me of a dahlia the first time I made it as a gift.  The cable process on this wonder is intriguing, your decreases to shape the hat are hidden within the cables, until they dwindle down to just a few stitches. Make it for spring with lightweight fibers, or go ahead and start preparing for winter and break out the wool, this one is going to be worsted weight and will work up fast.  This KAL will be available for 3 sessions beginning on Saturday, May 6 and continuing weekly through May 20 from 3-4pm.

Skill Level Needed: Adventurous Beginner (you’ve made a hat, you’ve cabled, you’re ready)

Individual Classes:  
If a group setting isn’t your ideal learning environment, or you’re just wanting to pick up knitting needles for the first time I do teach individual lessons on some weekday evenings and on the weekends.  I’m located in Gainesville, GA roughly an hour north of Atlanta.  Please contact me at coffeeandwoolblog@gmail.com for more information.  I promise I won’t spam you with unwanted emails.  

 

Lava and Socks

I don’t know what I had for dinner that kicked the crazy dream portion of my brain into high gear last night but geeeeeeeez. Actually thinking about it a bit more, it’s probably all the pollen I’ve been snorting.  Spring pollen counts in Georgia are legendary, even if I managed to not have seasonal allergy issues, there is no way inhaling that much particulate is good for anyone.

Anyway….
Crazy dream….
This one actually woke me up.
I’m driving home after a couple of errands around town on a hot summer day, and notice while sitting at a red light that it’s getting hotter.  I look over at a drainage ditch and notice lava is streaming through it and down a storm drain.  It doesnt’ even register to me that this is unusual.  I look back up at the red light.  Look back at the lava.  Look back up at the red light and then notice the road ahead is beginning to melt into gelatinous orange and red blob.  Well great, the road to the house is melting.  I’m going to have to take the long way around.  Light turns, and I’m still driving along like nothing is unusual about the road melting.

After making it home, I get into the house, pet the cats, and then sit down on the front porch with a half-done sock, and begin turning the heel while I watch as everything off my little hillside becomes covered with lava.  By the time I finish turning the heel on the sock, my house and a few neighbors are on their own little island, everything beyond that is bright orange and red.  article-0-186BC59400000578-438_964x637

Meanwhile, nothing is wrong, nothing is out of norm, I’m just working on my sock.

It was one of those amazingly vivid dreams, that leaves you sitting on the bed for about 30 minutes wondering what just happened, and if you should just get out of bed and start your day.  Maybe I should get through my workday, and finish the sock I’ve been working on.

 

Save our Soles!

Socks.

Most of us wear them, all of us know what they are.  Depending on the season they keep our feet warm and dry, or cool and dry.  Feet are pretty happy when they are comfy and dry, and with all the abuse they take, they deserve the best.  Right?

A good pair of hand knitted socks is quite possibly one of the best treats for the tootsies.   But why would we knit them when you can easily pick up a pack of six at Wally-World for about the same price as the ball of yarn required to make a single pair? 

COMFORT.  Period. End of conversation.  

Well, not really or this would be the shortest post I’ll ever compose. Comfort is a huge factor though. Hand knit socks are custom made to fit your measurements, this is awesome for folks who find store bought socks too tight or too loose.  After my first pair of socks came off the needles I immediately started knitting another pair and the collection is growing. If I’m wearing store bought socks it’s because the hand knit ones need laundered. 

Quality. Let’s be honest here, socks won’t last forever. You wear them and they take a beating. I can promise that a well made pair of hand knit foot covers will last longer than store bought, and even when they do begin to get a little thin in places they can be fixed with a little darning. 

Style. There are probably hundreds of thousands of sock patterns out there ranging from plain vanilla patterns to complicated cables and lace. Toss in the endless range of yarn choices and the perfect pair of tootsie toasters can be yours. 

Portablility. Socks are quite possibly one of the easiest projects to toss into a bag to keep handy for those situations where you would rather do something besides poke at your smartphone.  

Easy to do. Alright I can see people rolling their eyes here. Socks are actually pretty easy once you get through your first pair. They seem intimidating at first. I knitted for 7 years before attempting my first pair and laughed over the fact it took me so long to try.  Once a newbie knitter has knit, purl, and decreases under their belts, socks are a good project to learn short rows on, opening the door for bigger projects and greater skills later on.  

Seriously, stop being chicken, make socks! 

 

Sticks & Cables: Knitting Needles

When I began knitting a little over 10 years ago, my teacher bought me a set of size 8 Takumi straight bamboo needles, and I’m convinced most of us that have started knitting in the past decade probably started on those needles, others started on aluminum, some on plastic.  Those sticks with capped ends got us through those first projects, and either made us or broke us as knitters.

Then, inevitably we begin to get adventurous and begin to look at projects that require a size other than an 8 and we start buying our own needles, and find that materials and options are endless.  Bamboo, wood, plastic, carbon fiber, straight needles, circular needles, interchangeable sets, double pointed, and on, and on, the options can get a little intimidating.  But we get over it and eventually find the combination of materials and needle type that fit our own knitting styles the best.  Then we all eventually get adventurous again and start find what preferences fit us best depending on what we are actually knitting or to fit yarn preferences.  I’m sure you get the idea by now, we can be a fickle band of people when it comes to the bits of sticks we work with.

Over the years, I’ve been trying to assemble my own master set of workhorse knitting tools, and with the arrival of a surprise gift yesterday think I may have filled the stable, with virtually every size I could need.   Am I saying I will never buy another set of needles again, no, of course not.  I travel now and then, knit on the road, and have a fear of having a favorite set of needles snatched by TSA during pre-flight screening so I will pick up a wooden circular set here and there that won’t crush my spirit if they are taken or lost.  Even though knitting needles are leagal to fly with all it takes is one misinformed or cranky TSA agent to ruin your day.

Picking out needles boils down to personal preference more than anything, but here are a few options to consider if you are on your own mission to build a master set of tools.

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My personal preference has led me to appreciate interchangeable sets, tons of options, plenty of cables, all wrapped up in a cute little package that’s easy to keep all the bits organized.  After switching to circular needles, I use straights once in a very blue moon.

The ChiaoGoo 4″ Twist set is a stellar set for someone that’s getting serious enough about knitting to invest some cold hard cash.  This package comes with a lot of bang for the buck with stainless steel needles ranging from sizes 2-15, a wide range of cable lengths, tightening keys, end stoppers, needle gauge/ruler, and stitch markers, pretty much everything you would need to start any project.  I’ve owned this set for a little over two years, and have put a lot of yardage on it.  The points are sharp, making them great for lace work, or yarns that have a tendency to split.  These are stainless steel, I think they are less slippery than aluminum, but still slippery enough that yarn will move easily for tight knits, and the tink tink of metal hitting metal doesn’t seem to be as loud on steel.  The cables are flexible, and have “no memory” they can stay wound up in the case for months, and will lay flat as soon they are pulled out of the case, so there is no frustration caused by a cable wanting to stay curled or not move freely.   The joins where cables and needles meet are smooth and stay connected well.  It’s a very rare occurrence when I can feel the cable beginning to loosen up from the needle, but always in ample enough time that I can pull out the tightening key and set things right again.  If I could recommend one set of interchangeable circulars for a knitter looking for their first set of interchangeable circulars ChiaGoo Twists are it. 

img_0751

Now on to the newest addition to the knitting arsenal, a surprise gift, and what I fondly call knitting porn because these needles are bee-you-tee-ful, it was love at first sight when I saw them at the local yarn shop.  These are the Lykke interchangeable circulars.  Even though the ChiaGoo set is extremely versatile, wood has a very different feeling to them, as odd as it sounds they feel alive and feel warm.  As soon as I was off  work yesterday I switched out the ChiaGoo set that was in my current project over to the these just to see how they felt, and yep, birds sang, the sun rose, and love happened.  But like I said wood needles are a different monster from metal ones.   This set ranges from sizes 4-17 and comes with cables, tightening keys, and end stoppers.  The cables are a little less flexible than the ChiaGoo cables but it’s barely noticeable.  The joins are the same size from 4-17 which I think is a plus.  There’s a few projects in my queue that alternate rows between two different sizes, I can put both sizes I need on the same cable and not manage two different sets.  Whoo hoo!  This set is made of birch and stained to look like driftwood, they are very smooth but “grippy” stitches aren’t going to slide off this set unless you intend for them to  but the yarn moves on and off of them well.  These are functional pieces of art, which I will use quite often, but they probably won’t be my go-to-set for detailed lace work or on yarns that are likely to split.  These are great and gorgeous, but a set that may not be the best option for a newer knitter.

img_0753And last but not least, double pointed needles make it into the discussion, and this set is the Knitter’s Pride Karbonz.  Personal preference has left me making socks and small toy knits on DPNs instead of circulars.  This set ranges from sizes 0-3 in groups of five for each size.  After snapping a few wood needles or finding flaws that caused snags while working, and loathing metal DPNs (tink scrape tink scrap ughhhh sound) I thought I would give these a shot and went all in on the full set, and didn’t regret it.  The body of these are carbon fiber, the sharp tips are nickel-plated brass.  So you have the benefit of a sharp metal point where you need it, the grip of wood in the body, and Herculean strength.  The size 0s can be used without fear of them snapping like little toothpicks in your hands.  When you break a needle mid-project and drop a bunch of stitches broken needle phobias develop instantly.

No matter what type of needles you prefer, my greatest recommendation is get the best you can get within your budget, like most tools, the better the quality, the longer it will last.  If at all possible please order from your local yarn shop and support your crack yarn dealer!