Give Me a Little Extra Any Day

A couple weeks ago, I got my hands on this.

ExtraI’ve been fortunate enough to work with almost all the yarns in the Blue Sky Alpacas line-up over the years and I have to say that Extra fits right into this high-quality, luxurious group. A blend of 55% baby alpaca and 45% fine merino, this newest addition to Blue Sky Alpacas’ yarns is clearly perfected by folks who hail from climes that know cold and know how to make the most of it.  We all know there is almost no end to wools out there that keep us toasty in the coldest of winters, but combining alpaca and merino is a sure way to warm up even the chilliest day. Over the years, I’ve learned it isn’t always easy to successfully blend alpaca and merino. I’ve knit some yarns in which the blend has been too stiff or (dare I say it?) scratchy,  but Extra is the complete package. Warm. Soft. Light. Bouncy.  Take these characteristics to the nth degree and you’ve got Extra.

True to form for Blue Sky Alpacas, this yarn has its very own pattern collection to go with it. The Destination Collection is comprised of 6 unique patterns — all classic and wearable and each requiring only a skein or two of yarn thanks to the generous hank size of this yarn. Who could deny the beauty of the Cane Bay Wrap or how incredibly cozy the Tatras Fingerless Mitts would be sitting around the fire this fall?

I chose to work the Fractal Cowl designed by Kirsten Johnstone of Assemblage — a designer I’ve long admired. The Fractal Cowl is rated ‘advanced’ and I think that is very fair. It requires the use of a provisional cast-on as well as a chart and utilizes some cables and twists that lean toward the complex side of things. That being said, the pattern is very clearly written and presented making it accessible to those with some chart reading experience. I  took a few starts to really get going on this cowl — which is about average for me, but once I was on the road… well, I was hooked. It was so much fun!

Most of my stitching took place outdoors while my kids had super soaker wars and that was fine by me!

extra outdoors Extra may be a decidedly cold weather yarn for wearing, but smallish sized projects of The Destination Collection are perfectly suited to knitting in the heat of the summer. Those looking to get a jump on holiday knitting (yes, I just said that in June), might want to take a look at this yarn & collection for luxurious gifts for special loved ones.

fractalIt was almost a shame to come to the end of this project, the i-cord edge just another detail that makes this cowl so beautiful.

In the end, this cowl is definitely as unique as it is cozy.Fractal Cowl

sttich detailAll those intricate twists which were so fun to complete in the knitting, add such a fun understated dynamism.

edge detailI just love little details like this one.

fractal cowl onIt may be a little warm for this cowl on this green, damp 85degree day in the Middle West, but as I said, it was the perfect summer knit and will make a go-to cowl this fall & winter.  Really, is it any surprise that Blue Sky Alpacas is based out of Minnesota? Even after the coldest winter in the history of winter (I may be exaggerating a bit), with this collection and the beautiful, energetic Extra, the folks at Blue Sky Alpacas have made me long for the first snowfall. And that is saying something. Perhaps it’s saying, give me a little Extra any day.

In my sights….

With the end of the big secret class project I’ve been working on the horizon, I have my sights set on casting-on two… or three or four… new projects. Blue Sky Alpacas’ Mitini Mitts are on the list and I thought the image was appropriate for the sentiment today…

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… a little bit bashful and just barely holding back a world of excitement.

One-Seam Shrug

Interweave’s knit.wear is one of my favourite knitting publications. What I love about it is that — to me — it falls somewhere between Interweave Knits and Vogue Knitting in the realm of knitting magazines. Fashion forward, innovative, beautiful, but realistically wearable & relevant for me — a small-town, stay-at-home mom who moonlights as a knitting instructor. Paging through knit.wear is always a treat for me & I dream of knitting and wearing many (if not all) of the designs.

Last summer, I decided to actually take action. Having bought the Spring edition of the magazine the day it arrived at my LYS, I bought the lovely Blue Sky Alpacas Techno required for the One-Seam Shrug by Hana Jason. My plan was to work on it on the way back from a family vacation in South Dakota. That didn’t really happen as — of course — the two other projects slated for completion while on vacation did not exactly fly off the needles as I had anticipated they would. Instead I ended up working on it early September. It is a very quick project, though, so it did not take long — I was only a couple months off in my scheduled completion date…. not so bad, right?

frontIt is a great lightweight sweater to throw on over almost anything. It is warm — to be sure — but the openwork keeps airy so it can be used as a cover-up in the spring & summer months.

backI love the unique lines of the sweater & enjoyed both the ease of knitting and the bit of challenge to get the seam just right.

The Blue Sky Alpacas Techno is a real treat to work with. It is 68% baby alpaca, 10% extra fine merino & 22% silk where — according to the website — the alpaca is actually blown into a mesh tube of silk. It is very easy to work with and just a phenomenal texture to move through your hands — no splitting, light & airy and yet still soft & silky. As I said earlier, the alpaca insures that the finished project is warm, a warmth not even entirely lost with the open stitch pattern of this design.

So there you have it — a nice neutral extra layer with interesting lines that I can use year-round. I call that a win.

For more information and my notes on the project, please see my Ravelry project page.

The Perfect Needles for the Job

After I announced the launch of my little knitalong on January 1st I sifted through my double-pointed needles only to find that I didn’t really have a set that fit the bill for this project. I am a little embarrassed to admit that since beginning teaching and working with my good friend Alisa who owns my local yarn shop, I have been completely and utterly ruined as far as needles go.  I used to cut a lot of corners with my tools and just make do with what I had. When I had to purchase new needles I didn’t select the cheapest option, but I was solidly a middle-of-the-road needle buyer. As I’ve grown as a knitter & had the opportunity to experiment with fancier tools, I have really come to realize & appreciate the value of good quality tools. Beyond this I find that there is a ‘right’ tool for each project — whether it is the way the needles compliment the yarn or the way they handle a pattern, the right needle can make all the difference.

Now for this Christmas balls KAL I wanted a set of needles that I would use throughout the entire year-long project, so they had to be a good length and work well for the project.  My plan was to grab a set of Brittany dpns — while they are seriously the slowest dpns I’ve used, I love their rustic feel. Most wooden or bamboo needles are sanded so smooth that you could mistake them for metal.  Brittany needles actually feel like wood. I love that. I also really appreciate their guarantee  & their comittment to the environment. I like supporting companies that have some soul. With all these things in mind I walked into Firefly Fibers, grabbed a pack of Brittany US2.5 needles, did my usual 45minutes of browsing (even though I am there at least twice per week), and walked my needles (and other goodies) up to the register.

Then Alisa said, “Have you seen these?” and she pulled a little tin from behind the counter.

I recognized it instantly and I knew I was in trouble.

tin

There in front of me sat the Blue Sky Alpacas “Hand-lathed from Dalbergia Rosewood” double-pointed needles.

I turned the tin over in my hands.

backoftin copy

“Made in Vietnam by people who are treated well and fairly.”

Well, I was looking for the perfect set of needles. A set of needles that would make me feel as good as this project each time I set to knitting the month’s installment. And few people have more soul & warmth than the good folks at Spud & Chloe/Blue Sky Alpacas.

needlesThese needles are really beautiful. Lightweight & soft, but smooth as silk — just a really unique material. They felt so good in my hands. I fell in love with this set — it has one needle that is noticeably lighter than the rest. I love this kind of thing — details that give things personality.

Needles to say, I was putty in the presence of this Rosewood glory. I put away the Brittany needles for another day — there will be another project for which they are perfect, I have no doubt. They are lovely in their own way. For this project, though, I had found my needles.

wpid-IMG_20130107_181047.jpgSo far, they have proven to be just that. The tips are perfect for the increasing and decreasing I have been doing on my first Christmas ball. They feel every bit as amazing in my hands as I thought they would. They have just the right amount of grip on my yarn. They are perfect. I am one very spoiled, very happy knitter. I’m so glad these needles will be with me for this year-long journey!

For those knitting along with me, I selected a US2 for this project — the Blue Sky Alpacas Rosewood needles are not available in the US2.5. My gauge is a bit tight on the US2, but for this project I am ok with that – the better the contain the stuffing!

And the winner is…

Many thanks to everyone who visited the new & improved knittingsarah.com  in the past few days. I so appreciate the support and kind words I’ve received. I would also like to thank Firefly Fibers for generously sponsoring the first ever knittingsarah.com giveaway.  Really, hosting a giveaway has been oodles of fun – I hope to do it again soon!

Now you all probably want to cut to the chase, right? Ok, ok. The winner is…. Meghan! Congratulations! Check your email, lucky winner, for a note from me regarding how to claim your prize.

For those who didn’t win, check back soon & often – you never know what fabulous new things are around the bend!

Thank you again!

Tous les Jours

Tous les Jours by Firefly Fibers

Simple openwork transforms this delightfully soft worsted cotton into the perfect everyday accessory. Wear it as an accent piece or just to spoil yourself with a cozy treat.

Note: Pattern includes moebius and non-moebius versions.

To purchase your copy of this pattern on Ravelry, click here.