Everyone Needs Some Snowflings

I live in north central Wisconsin and winters here are C O L D. We’re talking crazy subzero temps for days on end sprinkled into temps that rarely spike above freezing. We start to cool off in October or November and things kind of bottom out in December through mid-February and then slowly start to warm up into Spring. If you want to spend any time outside for these 6 months, you become an outerwear connoisseur. And that, my friend is what I am. I’m not complaining, to be sure. It definitely jives with my love of spinning and knitting wool!

Over the last few years, I’ve made Tanis Lavallee’s (Tanis of Tanis Fiber Arts for those who weren’t aware) Snowfling Mitts twice. They are stranded mitts that include a lining and they are WARM. I can’t attest to what they’d be like in the far polar reaches, but where I live they are perfect. I have some nice leather and shearling mittens that are super warm, but I actually prefer my wool because it breaths better so my hands don’t overheat like they can in the leather mittens.

I decided a few weeks back to make another pair. Toward the end of last year I picked up a couple of the Tanis Fiber Arts Mitten Kits to make another pair for both myself and my daughter. The TFA yarns are dreamy to work with and I really love how well they wear. In addition to the kits, I picked up a skein of Fig & Sand in Purewash DK — I knew I wanted these to be the outer colors. When I couldn’t decide about a lining that would go well, I emailed Tanis and asked for some help. As always, she was very gracious and shared a few options she thought would work well. I picked Seabreeze from her list and added a skein of Purple Label Cashmere sock for the lining because — yeah — cashmere lining is the best.

After our very cold cabin week, I cast-on for this custom color pair.

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I do make two modifications to this pattern and both have to do with the lining. The first is that when I go to make the picot edge, I pick up my stitches and tack the cast-on row down to make the picot edge at the same time. I’m positive it doesn’t look quite as nice as if I would stitch the edge down and then pick up those stitches, but it saves a boatload of time for me, so it’s a trade-off I will happily make.

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I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure if there’s a “right” way to knit the linings. I tend to knit them inside out — you know, the way you shouldn’t knit your socks, until I get close to the final decreases…

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I don’t like knitting around the outer part of the mitt and this works fine, so I go with it. The other modification I make is that I use a kitchener stitch to finish the top of the lining. Personally, I just like how the finish feels better.

The stranded outer looked pretty rough before I blocked them and I was a little worried I’d choked on my stitches a bit too much, but after a nice soak with wool wash and a glug of vinegar to be sure no colors got any funny ideas about bleeding… I am pleased to say they are…

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Just lovely.

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I adore the subtle variations in the Fig (the purple color). I think it gives a wonderful depth and motion to the snowflakes.

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The chevron cuff … I always love that, too.

But perhaps my favorite detail is…

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The little snowflake on the thumbs.

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The palm side is not as flashy, but it has a wonderful rhythm that rounds out the mittens so nicely.

And let’s not forget…

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That pop of color!

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All in all, another raving success! These mittens just never disappoint!

The question now remains — do I use the kits I bought as I’d intended… for Ricochet Mitts? Or do I just knit two more pairs of Snowflings?! Decisions, decisions!

Missing: Handspun, Handknit Mitten

Usually when I get to my daughter’s classroom after school she is packed, zipped, and ready to go. Yesterday I was quite surprised to find her flustered with her stuff spread across her table and her coat half on.  The fluster turned to distress when she realized she could not locate one of her beloved rainbow mittens that I made for her last month. After taking them off to play in the sandbox at lunch, she forgot to take them back inside with her & one went missing. We are holding out hope that it re-materializes. 20131023-180819.jpgIn the meantime, if you see one of these lying about, please let me know!

Really, I am not too broken up. This is what happens when people wear handknits, especially kids. But my daughter really loved these special mittens that she watched go through each step — from fiber to yarn to mittens. Hope was not much comfort to my girl though I’m afraid and she asked if I could make her another set… for the next morning. Being light on super bulky in my stash, I explained that this was not likely. Instead, we ran out to the craft shop in town & got her a set mitten clips so that there would be no more taking mittens off and losing them. All mittens would forever be attached to this child & this promise allowed her to calm down a bit. Then we came home & picked yarn out for the next set. I had some Malabrigo Worsted in Intenso which contained enough pink to be acceptable. You would think someone who just lost a handspun, handknit mitten wouldn’t have a ton of leverage to be picky about color choices, but you’d be surprised what this kid gets away with in that respect. in any case, last night over coffee & conversation with a good friend, I began.

20131023-175253.jpgChoosing the aran weight yarn allowed me to try out Maize by tincanknits. Maize comes from The Simple Collection which is actually a completely free learn-to-knit program from Tin Can Knits. It includes 8 free patterns — start with a simple scarf and baby blanket, then graduate to a hat & cowl, then try a set of socks & mittens, and finally a simple sweater. All are modern, all are really classic designs, and I think all are worked in worsted or aran weight yarn. Not only are they free and supported by tutorials & PDF handouts (some are still in the works), but they are sized from “newborn to grandpa.” It. Is. Awesome. I printed out Maize & so far I am really impressed with the layout, the design & the ease of use. I will keep you updated on how these emergency mittens come along, of course, but already I can send a family classic in the making.

Of course, a knitting date doesn’t stop with just the yarn. My knitting friend just had a birthday, so for a gift I set her loose in my fiber stash to select a braid for me to custom spin for her. She chose a bea-uty.

20131023-175322.jpg Magnolia in Organic Polwarth & Silk from Cloudlover.

I have promised to be good about documenting all the steps for her so she can see the evolution of this project, so you will get to follow along, too!

First, however, the emergency mittens.

Oh, and this.

20131023-175307.jpgFor those keeping track, I am about 2/3 through picking up the collar stitches. From here all that remains in to finish the collar, add some ribbon & snaps and it will be complete.  So close!

I’m going to get back to work, because since I began writing we saw our first snowflakes of the season. The time is nigh for these handknits to be ready to use.

Oh, and don’t forget.

off handIf you see one of these laying about, send it my way. I know a little girl who would love to find it. Her mum would kind of like to see it at the end of her girl’s mitten clips, too.

In Review: The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns

The first chills of autumn found their way to our neighborhood over the last week. With them have come cries of distress from my girl whose hands were freezing each morning as we walked to school. No, that’s not right. They weren’t freezing, they were FREEZING — spoken as only a true knitter’s child who has never known the discomfort of cold hands or head. Partly to get her stop complaining and partly because it’s what I do, I promised to knit up some mittens for her. She could pick the yarn & help me design them and I would ensure that her hands would not be cold on the way to school again. She accepted the plan of action & muddled through the chilly morning yesterday.

After school yesterday over her snack, I gave her some yarn options. She emphatically selected a skein of Greenwood Fiber Works Handspun.

image_medium3I selected this braid of fiber last year on my birthday from Susan’s Fiber Shop…

image_medium2And spun it up during the Tour de Fleece this summer into a skein of bulky/super bulky, Navajo-plied loveliness. My daughter has loved it since it was on the wheel, so it’s only fitting that she get it.

Rather than sifting through Ravelry for a pattern that fits my needs, I grabbed my favourite book for this situation: The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs by Ann Budd. Here’s how it works:

1) Flip to the chapter on what type of item you want to knit (i.e. mittens, gloves, hats, tams, scarves, socks, vests, basic sweaters — yes, they are all in this book!).

2) Select the size you want to knit, preferably using the measurements of the person for whom you are knitting.

3) Knit a swatch with your chosen yarn.

4) Read through the basic design elements included at the end of the chapter & decide which — if any — you’d like to use, or continue on with the basic no-frills pattern.

5) Follow the instructions for your designated gauge & size, incorporating any design elements you desire.

6) Enjoy your simple, custom garments & accessories.

 

Now I know there are probably some of you out there who this scares to death. ‘Work without a pattern? Uh-uh, no way!,’  but I promise that as long as you take a few moments to understand the layout of the book it is really very simple. It’s as basic as understanding how to check gauge & read a chart (not a lace chart, they call it a ‘chart’ but it’s just an excel-like spreadsheet). Oh, wait. You don’t know how to do that?  There is an excellent explanation on how to knit a swatch and read it on page 6  complete with a great illustration. There is also an in-depth explanation of how to interpret the charts within the book — they are pretty straight-forward to begin with, but just in case the author walks you through it. Perfect! Really, this is do-able for all knitters with basic skills.

There are many books from this publisher & author as well as many other series that are specifically written as a kind of blank canvas for design. Frankly, it can be overwhelming for most knitters, especially those who aren’t particularly fond of math. The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs is a great place to start though. I love that it includes the most basic accessories and presents basic design so simply. As a spinner, I especially love that I don’t necessarily have to have slap a label on my handspun — super bulky, bulky, worsted, etc — it doesn’t matter here. What matters is that I knit a swatch at the density I wanted for these mittens and it was 3 stitches per inch. Voila. With Ann Budd as my guide, I cast-on and was off.

Because I knew I would be tight on yarn & I was free-styling a bit, I knit these mittens 2-at-a-time. This means that they will definitely match and I don’t have to make notes as I go if I don’t want to. No stressful attempts at re-creation on mitten #2 because it is already done — that is my kind of approach for this kind of project! In the interest of full disclosure, the mitten pattern did not go down to the 3stitches per inch for gauge that I needed, but there was enough information there for me to easily make adjustments (and really, trust me when I say I am not a math whiz so this is do-able for most with enough patience). Because I am a new spinner I found that my yarn was actually a bit heavier on one end of the skein — the joys of handspun! — so I ended up adding a couple extra rows to the body of the lighter weight mitten before decreasing so that I would have the hand length I needed. When all was said & done, I finished my girl’s mittens last night and she awoke this morning to her brand new mittens.

Disclaimer on following photos: Now when I asked her to get dressed for school today, I also mentioned that I wanted her to pose for photos with her mittens for me. What she came out wearing was a hot pink tuille skirt, Hello Kitty t-shirt, neon striped knee socks, and completely different color family striped fleece pullover. And fuzzy ugg-type slipper shoes. Not exactly my dream for showing off these mittens, but she was adamant and I was not interested in a fight over the matter. We compromised and rolled up her sleeves a bit for the photos.

on kneeThey are sweet & colorful and soooooo my girl!

close-up on kneeI will say that at 3stitches per inch, getting the thumbs to look normal was a bit of a challenge, but I managed.

off handOverall, I am so very happy with the results of these basic mittens — the ease & speed with which I was able to knit them up, the fit, the colors — they are just perfect for my girl. Most importantly though, she loves them & her hands are warm. She wore them from the moment she woke up until she walked into school. I believe the above photo and a bathroom break or two were the only moments they weren’t on. She even refused to take them off for teeth brushing! I think I am safe to declare mission accomplished here.

If you are looking for this kind of basic no-fuss patterns that you can easily customize or maybe just looking to dip your toes in the waters of design or maybe you are a spinner who is having trouble knitting with your handspun, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs. It is guaranteed to fit the bill & be loads of fun to use!