Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Defense of Acrylic

Knitters don't give stash away easily. If you are offered something, be it wool, angora, or alpaca, take it. 
That knitter knows you'll need it someday. (This, of course, doesn't apply to acrylic. Run from acrylic.) 
~Rachael Herron, How to Knit a Love Song (also appearing in How to Knit a Heart Back Home)

A haughty disdain for man-made fibers is, sadly, not uncommon among the knitterati. I read snippets like this and cast a glance at the Vanna's Choice and Wool-Ease hats adorning my coat-rack, issuing a silent apology to Lion Brand for momentarily thinking any less of their workhorse acrylics and acrylic blends.

Would I love to never knit from anything but 100% natural fibers ever again? Sure! I'm an Oregonian - sustainability is practically a religion out here, as is supporting small, local businesses. I'm well aware that acrylic yarns are probably not very biodegradable. I'm also aware that shopping at stores like JoAnn and Michael's undermines the local yarn stores. I once had a dream of being an LYS owner myself, even took a business class, until I quickly and rather depressingly realized that boutique retail just can't compete, and most, if not all of these stores are struggling desperately to stay open.

And this is because, #1 on my list in defense of acrylic, WOOL IS EXPENSIVE. And that's just basic sheep's wool. Once you get into the gourmet wools - merino, alpaca, cashmere, and non-wool animal fibers like angora and silk - the prices get prohibitive to anyone but the most sporadic knitter with oodles of disposable income. For someone like me, someone raising a family on one income, someone who knits almost every day, the thought of shelling out $25 a skein is just alarming and impossible. 

What about the non-animal natural fibers? Cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo? These can be somewhat less expensive than animal fibers (not always), but at a serious cost to texture, stretch, and drape. Cotton is heavy. Linen and hemp are stiff. Bamboo is lovely but often has to be blended with something else to keep it strong. None of them are ideal choices for sweaters, scarves, winter hats, or baby blankets. They are mostly relegated to washcloths and other housewares, or spring and summer tank-top and tee-shirt type projects.

The major advantage of plant fibers over wool, it seems, is that they can be worn by pretty much anyone without any skin irritation. Which brings me to #2 on my list: WOOL IS ITCHY. Not for everyone, not even the majority of people, I think, but there are plenty of people who simply cannot have wool touching their skin. It ranges from actual wool allergy (which must suck) to a merely mild sensitivity. My mom, while not allergic, has a severe sensitivity. Even the softest superwash merino or alpaca will make her itch like crazy. Her one exception is cashmere, but can we say, hello, thousand dollar sweater? 

Now, not all acrylics are created equal. I understand that when they first flooded the market in the 70's or thereabouts, they were pretty hideous. They were plasticky, even squeaky. If you have ever worked with squeaky yarn, you know what I'm talking about. It's shudder-inducing. Some major acrylic yarn purveyors have never really improved. Red Heart, I'm looking at you. Red Heart Supersaver is pretty much the cheapest and the most horrible non-novelty yarn you can find. I only recommend Supersaver as yarn you don't mind wasting when you are first learning how to knit.

But these days, there are countless beautiful, soft, springy acrylics and acrylic blends in a wide range of gorgeous colors. They are machine washable. True, they don't block - even with aggressive steaming, you may never get your pieces to lie perfectly flat, but there are things you can look for in a pattern that indicate less of a need for blocking. They are affordable, breathable, warm, versatile, and best of all, they can be worn by almost anyone. I know it's possible to be allergic to pretty much anything, but in my experience, a sensitivity to synthetic fibers is way less common than one to wool, so it's a much safer bet for gift-giving. Lion Brand, widely available at any big box craft store, makes most of my favorites, and I carefully ignore their less desirable offerings - the cascades of abominably tacky novelty yarns. Knit Picks is another great supplier, and although their synthetic pickings are limited to Comfy and Brava, their yarns are consistently high quality and low price, in my experience. Also, they wouldn't touch novelty yarn with a ten foot needle.

Synthetic yarn is not evil. Sometimes, it's your best choice when you consider the project type and recipient. A machine washable baby blanket, a warm cardigan for someone with wool allergies. Just don't make them out of Fun Fur. Please. And if you can, when you can, support your local yarn store!

Oh and by the way, even though the above Rachael Herron quote makes me sad, her books are adorable. She writes cute romances with lots of knitting between the steamy sex scenes. I advise you to check out her works, if you're into that kind of thing. ;)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Silicon Forest Tunic - Now Available!

The Silicon Forest Tunic is now available for sale in my Ravelry Store!

Here's a preview!

I'm so excited! My beta knitters were all incredibly helpful, and their finished sweaters all look amazing. I've made some pretty serious revisions to the wording and chart layouts and I think I've got a really beautiful, polished product on my hands - soon to be in your hands! Knitter hands! So many hands!

I think I'll take a breather before I break my exclamation point key.

PS - I plan to look into how to sell directly from my blog as well, for those not on Ravelry (silly people), but for now I'm out of nap time and have to go rescue my little model from her crib.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Because We Really Needed More Snow

It's Day 2 of Portland Snowpocalypse Fashion Weekend!

Today Chloe and I are sporting our lace berets and I've got on my favorite cowl. OK, it's my only cowl. Honestly, I think cowls are weird.

Chloe's beret is knit from Caron Naturally Caron Spa in Naturally (what a mouthful!) from the pattern Sirle by Suvi Simola. The yarn has been discontinued, which is truly a shame because it's one of my very favorite wool-free DK weight yarns, even if it's a bit splitty. Good thing I still have several partial skeins of it in my stash! This beret is a discarded first attempt at the Christmas hat received by one of my sisters-in-law, and even though the brim is a bit wonky, I love it as much as she loves hers!

My beret is knit from Knit Picks Gloss Fingering in Sea Spray from the pattern #24 Lace Beret by Kate Gagnon Osborn. 

My cowl is knit from Knit Picks Chroma Worsted in Mesa and Knit Picks Bare Comfy Worsted. The Bare (undyed) doesn't seem to be available right now, so here's the dyed version of Comfy Worsted. The pattern is the Herringbone Mosaic Cowl by Elizabeth Elliott, published in the Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2012 issue.

All this snow will probably be washed away in the several days of rain that is scheduled to arrive tomorrow with warmer temperatures, so I'm happy and grateful to have gotten the chance to take my little girl out in the snow and show off so many of our favorite knits! :D

Friday, February 7, 2014


Bust out the knitwear, everyone! It's SNOWING!  In PORTLAND! Imagine that!  Let me take this opportunity to put on a little fashion show for you!

My ushanka is knit from Knit Picks City Tweed HW in Snowshoe (how apropos!) - pattern #7 Cabled Hat by Deborah Newton, appearing in Vogue Knitting Winter 2010/11.

My entrelac scarf is knit from Knit Picks Chroma Worsted in Mesa. Chroma makes the most gorgeous entrelac projects. No specific pattern. I have developed my own method of doing entrelac that uses slip stitch edges and invisible lifted increases for the increase triangles. Perhaps a tutorial for that is in order, too?

Chloe's bonnet is knit from Lion Brand Vanna's Choice in Espresso and Burgundy, and Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Blush Heather. As you know, I test knit this pattern so it's not available yet, but I will link as soon as it is!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Smocking Tutorial

Smocking! It's one of the design features of my upcoming pattern for the chunky billed cap I designed for Tanya, and as it's not a super common technique, and my husband took such lovely close ups of my knitting hands, I'd like to share a tutorial here, just for you.

Smocking is a method of gathering two or more columns of stitches into a slightly pinched bunch, and looks like this --> 

It can be achieved a couple different basic ways. One is to create an elongated extra stitch to lay across the front of your smocked stitches. This stitch is then worked together with the first stitch in the smocked group to keep your stitch count the same. It also results in a slightly slanted smock, since the elongated stitch gets pulled upwards to be put on the needle.

Another method, the one I'll be detailing here and the one used in the Tanya cap at right, uses the working yarn to wrap around your smocked stitches before continuing on with the rest of your row. Because this doesn't create an extra stitch, there's no need to work any decreases before you continue, and the smock is perfectly straight.

In this example, I'm smocking 3 stitches together. First I'll show this using an extra cable needle to separate out my stitches to be smocked, and then I'll show you how to move the stitches back and forth to achieve the same end result if you don't have a cable needle, or just don't feel like digging one out.

Smocking With a Cable Needle

 1. Knit the stitches to be smocked. In this case, there are three. Transfer those stitches from the right needle to a cable needle. Your working yarn should be to the left of your stitches, since they have already been worked for this row.
 2. Bring your yarn to the front and wrap it left-to-right across the front of your stitches. Continue wrapping around the back until you've made a full circle.
3. Wrap the yarn once more so that you have two loops of yarn wrapped around your stitches. Transfer the stitches on the cable needle back onto the right needle and continue on with the rest of your row!

Don't pull too hard on the yarn - you only want the smocked stitches to look a little pinched, not strangled.

Smocking Without a Cable Needle - or, the Back and Forth method

 1. Knit the stitches to be smocked just like in the above method. Then, keeping the working yarn in front, transfer them back to the left needle.
2. Wrap the yarn left-to-right across the front of your stitches and move the yarn to the back.

3. Transfer the stitches back to the right hand needle and bring the yarn to the front. (Sorry, no picture of this, will try to get one.)
 4. Repeat steps 2 for your second loop.
5. And finally, move the stitches back to your right needle again so that you can continue on with the rest of your row.

Again, try to avoid strangling your stitches!