Yarn Shop Review: WEBS

Yes, it’s true … until last week, I had never been to the famous WEBS, located in Northampton, MA! I know, I know.  It’s only a couple hours away, and I actually head that direction all the time … for family vacations, and for dog agility trials. How is it that I’ve never been there before? For one thing, I guarantee you the Wrath of Bored Children if I scheduled a stop at WEBS halfway to our family vacation destination (Nana and Boppa’s lake house in upstate New York). For another thing, dog agility trials usually take place during business hours — making yarn shop stops difficult. Also, showing up at a yarn shop tired, dirty, and covered with dog hair … not the best plan.

So, there you have it — all my excuses rolled up together.  You can imagine my delight when my friend suggested we visit together! I was thrilled.  She had a business meeting in the area, and asked me along for the ride — and the side trip to WEBS.

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I have heard stories of how overwhelming this Mecca of yarn shops can be, so I made sure to have a list (with photos!) of what projects I would consider buying yarn for.  I also was willing to consider speculative yarn purchases, though it had to be a great deal AND yarn I loved in order to qualify. I’m pleased to say that I refrained from buying off-list, and managed to spend a mere $65 (after WEB’s generous discount — they even let me and my friend combine purchase totals to get the best possible discount).  Details follow, after a quick review.

WEBS is huge — at least four times the floor area of any shop I’ve been to before.  They had many, many gorgeous yarns, including most (all?) of the Madelinetosh yarns, a good selection of Blue Moon Fiber Arts, and several yarns I’ve never seen before.  It was great to be able to feel their own yarn line (Valley Yarns) in person. I peeked into the classroom area (jealous!), and the discount shelves in the back warehouse were impressive to say the least.  There is a whole section devoted to spinning, and a lot of weaving yarns too.  (I successfully bypassed those areas — I don’t need any more hobbies!)

Staff were plentiful, friendly, and helpful.  I was pleased to have my latest FO (a Catkin in Tosh Light, French Grey and Byzantine) recognized and praised. Turns out one of the staff is a Catkin fanatic — what fun!

On to the purchases: I bought some beautiful Madelinetosh Prairie in Turquoise — 840 yards of gorgeous merino laceweight single-ply yarn, enough to make a Mariposa of my very own.  In fact, I’ve already cast on! 🙂

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I’ve had Escargot in my queue for quite a while.  Love the swirl! I’ve had a hard time finding the right colored yarn for this project … so I popped it on the list for the WEBS trip. I’m pleased to say I found Valley Superwash in shades of plummy Mulberry and cheerful Grass green that suited my fancy. I’m sorry to say that I can’t seem to photograph the yarn to reveal true colors — the plum looks more like hot pink in my photos :(. The stock photo from WEBS is a better match.

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Last but not least, I found yarn for a Lavenda Droplet Jumper. I had hoped to find the right fingering-weight solid-colored yarn in WEBS famous back warehouse shelves. Alas, I struck out.  Instead, I settled on some Cascade Fingering in Ruby Red.  The store only had six skeins, in two different dye lots.  But, lucky me, the “other” warehouse had the eight skeins I required, all in one dye lot! Because I was in the store but the skeins were not, WEBS offered to ship them to me for free.  It’s not quite as nice as taking home the yarn, but UPS claims the yarn will be with me soon — getting pretty yarn in the mail is fun too!

 

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Book Review: Cast On, Bind Off (54 Step-by-Step Methods), by Leslie Ann Bestor

My in-laws sent me books for my birthday too! Yay!  This one is especially awesome:

Cast On, Bind Off is small but packed with immediately-useful information.  In fact, it contains all the information I was hoping for when I first paged through The Principles of Knitting.  It contains an exhaustive yet succinct list of 33 cast-ons and 21 bind-offs.  Each method is clearly described in words and pictures. The spiral binding allows the book to lie flat while you copy the excellent photographs.  Best of all, the methods are grouped by purpose: cast-ons are basic, stretchy, decorative, circular, double-sided, multicolor, provisional, tubular, and mobius, while bind-offs are basic, stretchy, decorative, and sewn.  Each individual method has close-up photos of what the results look like, along with bulleted characteristics and “good for” tips.  Some of the trickier methods also have a highlighted “getting it right” section to help knitters avoid the most common mistakes.

The thing that makes this book better than Principles is the awareness of different names for the same method.  While Principles is frighteningly complete, one thing that bothered me was the re-naming of several techniques.  Now, I understand that the re-naming served to distinguish and clarify etc., but if you look for a “long tail cast on” that that book, you won’t find it by that name.  On the flip side, Cast On lists a variety of alternate names for each method, which will help readers find the cast on they’re looking for even if they don’t know it by the most common (or “best”) name.

One thing Cast On does assume is that the knitter works right-handed, and with Western stitch mount (leading leg in front of needle).  Lefties may be best served by viewing the pictures in a mirror, and I’m not sure what to do for the leading-leg-in-back folks.  (Though, they all seem exquisitely aware of stitch mount, and can likely compensate on their own.)

A few things I learned just browsing through the book:

  • the way you hold your left hand during long-tail cast on can be described as “slingshot” and everyone will hold their hand correctly, yay!
  • “my” way of doing the knitted cast-on is a common variation, with exactly the purpose I imagined
  • I don’t actually do Emily Ocker’s cast on for circular items … somewhere along the way, I changed to the “invisible” circular cast on
  • there are all sorts of cool two-color cast-on’s that I’ve never heard of before (I like tri-color braided cast-on best!)

Book Review: The Crafter’s Guide to Taking Great Photos

My mom was kind enough to give me several great books for my birthday.  I’ll be reviewing them here over the next few weeks.

First up: the crafter’s guide to taking great photos: the best techniques for showcasing your handmade creations by Heidi Adnum

The only thing cumbersome about this book is the extra-long title.  Once inside, this slim volume packs tons of useful information and tips into short, readable chapters. I felt confidant skipping the bits I was familiar with already, because each section is clearly labelled.  Throughout the book, I found the photos beautiful and inspiring.  In addition general tips on photographing handmade work, the author devoted nine chapters to specific categories of the handmade, including pottery, jewelry, and (hooray!) knitting and needlecraft.

Each topical chapter gives specific tips for camera settings and tools, solutions to typical challenges in that category, and (my favorite) interviews a crafter from that category. I learned a lot from these “practitioner spotlights,” even those for crafts I’m not currently pursuing.

For me, the biggest gift from this book is the detailed instructions for DIY lightboxes and diffusers.  I’m pretty happy with my camera right now (a Canon Powershot A710, a few years old at least), but every once in a while I wish I didn’t have to wait for good weather to take my knitwear photos.  I’ve also struggled a bit when photographing smaller knit items. The lightbox and diffuser solve both these problems — can’t wait to try them out.

Fantasy Queue: Summer 2012 Interweave Knits

I was casting about for a subject for this week’s Wednesday post, when what should appear but a Rose-Suchak ladder the Summer 2012 issue of Interweave Knits. The lace shawl on the cover is gorgeous, and I know I’ve already favorited a few patterns as they’ve popped up on Ravelry.  If you’re new to the idea of a Fantasy Queue, here’s how it works:  if you had a generous yarn budget and plenty of time to knit, what would YOU make?  Here’s my list from this issue of IK:

The first sweater that caught my eye is in an ad — Fiona Ellis’ Cable and Rib Top, available free from Cascade Yarns. Alas, no link on Ravelry (as of yet), so I can’t easily add it to my (real) queue.  I’ve worked with Ultra Pima before, and I love my Ruched Yoke Tee. Although I’m not a huge fan of reverse stockinette … I might try flipping the piece and knitting left-handed when long stretches of purl present themselves.  That or Portuguese purling will get me through. I think I’d go for a rich pink, like Deep Coral.

I’ve knit a bit of beaded jewelry, and the Endira Necklace definitely looks amazing! The magazine says it’s worked in Louet Euroflax Linen, but the Ravelry page claims Louet Euroflax Paris.  I hope the magazine is right, because Paris is discontinued! I suspect that the linen content is an important structural part of this piece. A quick search online leads me to believe getting this yarn may be a bit of a struggle, and (worse) I may have to buy an entire cone when this necklace only needs 50 yards.  Hmmm. If it came to that, I’d probably choose a warm neutral color like Champagne, so I could make more than one using different colored beads.

Speaking of unusual yarns, the Greta Headband calls for Handmaiden Sea Three, an aran-weight silk/seacell blend. The designer describes it as “sleek and ultrasoft … drapes like a dream.”  Sounds fantastic, and it had better be at $40 per 100-g skein!  I think I’d go with one of the variegated colorways, like Blackberry.

I’m tempted to try the pattern in CEY Sanibel. I can see it working out ok … and I love the varied textures and colors of this yarn. Maybe Pistachio? It’s certainly a friendlier price — just $10 per 50-g skein.  Even if I ended up needing two, that’s half the price of Sea Three.

I am very much looking forward to knitting Susanna IC’s latest lace confection: Summer Blooms Shawl. I have a newfound love of Malabrigo Lace, so I might pick up some of that … or perhaps I’ll use Alpaca Cloud … I have some leftovers in several colorways.  Now that I think it over … I have 2+ hanks in Tidepool Heather, along with coordinating beads, that were meant for a Laminaria — I think I’ll repurpose that yarn for Summer Blooms!

Speaking of sweet little lace projects, I also really, really like the Pianissimo Mitts. I suspect they’d be light on the hands, yet warm. One might accuse me of invoking any excuse to use Madelinetosh.  I already know how beautiful Jade is in Tosh DK (as used in my Evergreen Beanie) — maybe I could make some pretty matching mitts? Or, as the designer suggests, I could use up some leftover bits of laceweight, since even the larger size only requires 225 yards.

I absolutely love the look of the Seaglass Shell.  So dramatic! Lace in the back, plain in the front; that swooping drape of stockinette framing the lace!  If only I had the body to match, I would be bumping all other projects so I could wear this sleeveless top right away. Alas, I can’t realistically go bra-less, and seeing a bra-strap through that lace would spoil everything.  I’ll console myself by speculating that the gorgeous look of the back can only be maintained by near-perfect posture, and would gap horribly in real life. I’m sorry to say all four patterns in the “clay, cotton, wood, & wool” story seem meant for small-chested girls who can leave bras at home without risking injury or exposure.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So there you have it — my favorites from this issue.  Peruse the mag, browse the patterns on rav — what would YOU make?

Sock Yarn Review: Socks That Rock

I have knit a lot of socks.  As in, there are 50 pairs of socks on my project page on Ravelry.  That’s not even counting socks that were ornaments.  A lot of these socks were gifts, but I have kept a couple dozen pairs for myself.  I wear pretty much exclusively hand-knit socks, summer and winter.  I put my socks through a LOT — they are worn in hot, sweaty sneakers at outdoor dog agility trials,  in boots on snow-tubing trips, and nearly every day in my favorite pair of black leather shoes.  About the only abuse they don’t get is being worn alone — even indoors, I usually have slippers on my feet. In the beginning, I took sock yarn at it’s word, and I used to machine wash AND dry all my socks with all the rest of the laundry.  Eventually I decided that my socks had a hard enough life already, so now my socks get medium hand-knit treatment: I machine wash them in a separate load on the “hand wash” setting (cold water, intermittent agitation), and I hang them on the banister to dry.

I’ve noticed that some brands hold up better than others, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts with you, dear reader. This post will be the first in a series of sock-yarn reviews. I will address the aspects of sock yarn that are meaningful to me: beyond the initial pleasure of creating the socks, how do the socks wear?  Propensity to felt, pill, fade, or shrink can ruin a beautiful pair of socks, and I’ve had a few brands become card-board stiff over time. Please allow that this is only my personal, unscientific opinion!  All usual disclaimers apply.

The target this week is one of my favorite brands of sock yarn: Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock Lightweight and Socks That Rock Mediumweight.  For the last few years, I’ve been a member of the BMFA sock club, which ships yarn and two gorgeous full-color patterns every other month.  I adore their base yarn — a tightly spun, springy fiber — and their dyer creates vibrant, gorgeous colorways.  It is a joy to knit with, whether in plain stockinette, lace, or cables. Here are the seven pairs of socks that I’ve knit over the last few years with STR, along with the date I finished the project:

Cascadia (Feb 2010)

Still soft, mild pilling and felting (toe and heel), mild shrinkage, severe fading.

Then:

9655 Cascadia socks9630 Happy Go Lucky Cascadia

Now:

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Secret Garden (April 2010):

Still soft, mild pilling, moderate felting (toe, heel, sole), mild shrinkage, moderate fading.

Then:

9900 BMFA STR March 2010 socks

Now:

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Firecracker Corners (Jan 2011):

Mostly soft, moderate pilling, moderate felting (toe, heel, sole), no shrinkage, moderate fading.

Then:

1339 firecracker socks

Now:

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Jan 2011 RSC Socks (Jan 2011):

Still soft, mild pilling, moderate felting (toe, heel, sole), no shrinkage, severe fading.

Then:
1939 Jan 2011 STR Social Network

Now:
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Mar 2011 STR (May 2011):

Still soft, mild pilling, mild felting (toe, heel), no shrinkage, mild fading. ALSO — I had to darn a hole in the leg already, and another hole has appeared near the cuff. I think this is a fluke for this particular colorway (possibly even just this skein), as I have never had any trouble with holes/breakage with this yarn before or since.

Then:
2357 Electric Kool-Aid Acid Socks

Now:
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Problem:
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July 2011 STR Socks (Oct 2011):

Still soft, mild pilling, mild felting (toe, heel), no shrinkage, mild fading.

Then:
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Now:
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Shoreward Socks (Jan 2012):

Still soft, no pilling, mild felting (toe, heel), no shrinkage, no fading. (These socks have only been worn a handful of times, and likely will fade and pill at least a little bit.)

Then:
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Now:
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Conclusions:

Softness: 5/5

Pilling: 4/5

Felting: 4/5

Shrinking: 4.5/5 (do not wash/dry with regular laundry)

Fading: 3/5 (some colorways fade more than others — red/pink seem particularly vulnerable)

 

 

Average: 4.1/5

I will continue to buy STR yarn. I don’t think it holds up well to regular laundry treatment, despite being “superwash.”  After I switched to gentler laundering, I no longer had a problem with shrinkage.  I expect all my socks to felt a bit at the toes and heel (tennis shoes! summer!), and pilling a bit is also expected.  I have been disappointed with how faded some of the socks became — after all, the gorgeous colorways are a big part of the draw for STR yarn.  I would be hesitant to buy a lot of red/pink yarn from them (although I still love getting it in the sock club!).  I may try a vinegar bath with any future red/pink colorways.

Fantasy Queue: Fall 2011 Interweave Knits

I received my Fall 2011 issue of Interweave Knits over a month ago, and although I read it right away, I’m only just now getting around to making up my fantasy queue.  Let’s make this interactive though — tell me true, dear reader, which pattern would you make from this issue, and out of what yarn?

Things I want to try (from articles and ads):

#1 — Strobilus Pullover (p.31)

Mostly I’m intrigued by the construction on this top — biased lace, knit in the round for the body, then split into shoulders that go up and around. I’m not sure if I could pull it off — big chested and all — but I do really like it, at least in theory.   I’d be sorely tempted to try it in KnitPicks Chroma … I guess after my Zaubershawl, I’m on a color-crazy mood.  Maybe Galapagos, or Fossil? Failing that, I might go with the suggested Classic Eliete Ariosa in gorgeous Balsam.

 

 

 

#2 — Dahlia Cardigan (p.76)

I think I’m in love! What a neat way to include lace in a garment! I love the pattern, the construction, the color — everything. This one made it into my for-real queue, and I’ve been right on the edge of buying yarn for it several times. The main thing that’s held me back is the recommended yarn — Serena is an alpaca/cotton blend, something that’s a bit hard to come by. There’s some shops near-ish that may or may not have it, but no indication of what I might have to pay.  I like to peruse online before showing up in a shop and getting hit hard by sticker shock. Provided I could convince myself that all-alpaca yarn would work, I might go with Knit Picks Andean Treasure in their new Royal Heather colorway.

 

#3 — Wheeled Lace Shawl (p.81)

This looks like it would be a fun lace pattern to knit. The edging is put on after blocking … intriguing! I think it would be extra-dramatic in a bold colorway, like Eggplant Aloft (from Knit Picks).

 

#4 — True North Mittens (p.98)

This mittens just want to be made in Knit Picks new WotA Tweed! Colorwork mittens are fast and easy in worsted-weight yarn, and I love the reindeer. I think I’d follow the “customize it” suggestion and swap plum out for deep red.  My palette choices: Down Heather, Rabbit Heather, and Barn Door Heather.

Fantasy Queue: Summer 2011 Interweave Knits

I received my Summer 2011 issue of Interweave Knits a few weeks ago, and although I read it right away, I’m only just now getting around to making up my fantasy queue.  Let’s make this interactive though — tell me true, dear reader, which pattern would you make from this issue, and out of what yarn?

Things I want to try (from articles and ads):

  • Addi Turbo “Natura” tips — bamboo Addis?  I did not know such a thing existed!
  • Lion Brand “Wool Stainless Steel” fiber — sounds really fun and interesting.
  • Square needles — everyone keeps talking about them, so I must try them.
  • Fern” by Universal Yarns — the “TARDIS” pattern on a pullover, cool!

#1 — Torch Lily Tee (p.36)

I like the collar detail, and tiered columns of lace on this deceptively-simple tee.  I’m also intrigued by the suggested yarn — 100% silk, worsted weight, but tweedy? Heichi sounds really cool.  If I had money to burn, I’d go ahead and get some Heichi in “Fountain.”  More realistically, I think I’d try swatching in Shine Worsted (maybe “Platinum”?) and see if I liked the effect.

#2 — Dockside Cardigan (p.75)

I love the gentle curve of this slip-on cardi.  I know I’d probably die from knitting the lo-o-o-o-ng ribbed edging (twice!), but it would definitely be worth it to have this pretty and useful item in my wardrobe. This begs to be made from KP’s Stroll Tonal sock yarn — I’d  hem and haw and then go with “Thunderhead” (my favorite of the new Tonal colorways).

#3 — Swirl Skirt (p.76)

Let’s pretend for a moment that I could pull off wearing this skirt … it is SO cool.  Such nifty construction: bias! short rows! Cotton yarn and wool yarn in the same project! Cats and dogs, living together!With all that going on, I’d stick with the recommended yarn (and swatch like a crazy person).

#4 — Cumulus Tee (p.78)

This simple tee is designed to show off the amazing leaf edging, and it does its job well.  I’d probably go with Cotlin is “Loden.”