Craft Crew

I captured some moments from my weekly craft night. We had knitters, crocheters, embroiderers and, of course, drinkers! Tonight, we gathered at Terroir, a wine bar in SOMA San Francisco. It had great ambiance though not the best lighting for doing crafterly things. Or photography, for that matter—trying to manually focus was a challenge (as you’ll see in the soft focus of some of the photos). I think it just adds to the mood of the photos though. (^^)


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An Inheritance

I wish I’d known my hubby’s great aunt had been a knitter before she’d gotten ill. By the time I’d truly discovered her knitterly skills, she’d already passed away.

When she’d heard I loved knitting towards the end of her illness, she’d shown me her collection of yarns used to knit hats for the needy. Most were dime-store acrylics in the terrible pinks, yellows and blues recalling the bad yarn memories of my youth. So I looked at her collection with mild interest and our visit continued from there with no further yarn or knitting discussed.

After she passed away, her daughter gifted me a bundle of my great aunt’s handknits (apparently, she’d mentioned my knitting interest to her daughter). Some were wool, some were acrylic but all were detailed and expertly knit apparently without patterns. She’d designed these all herself—just with her old school experience.

I fell in love with one particular sweater she’d knitted. It’s become my go-to sweater on blustery days—like wearing a warm cozy blanket. It’s got subtle details, like the occasional short 2-rows of purl thrown in amidst a sea of stockinette, in a granny-chic silhouette that’s so easy to wear. I regret not learning more about my great-aunt and her knitting while I had the chance but wearing the sweater is a poignant reminder to never let such a thing happen again!


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Waves of Grey Shawl

Weeks of being sick does no good for one’s blogging or knitting projects (amongst other things!). I’m slowly on the mend and bought myself a new toy—a Nikon D600 DSLR. It’s been decades since I really photographed in earnest but photographing digitally with a real camera and lens set-up has sparked my interest again.

So of course I had to take a shot of my latest WIP—the Aranami Shawl by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. It was a pattern that caught my eye in PDX and is an easy, bite-size project. I can finish one of the 45 triangles that make up the shawl in about 30 mins so I feel like I’m making slow but tangible progress.

The cones of yarn I bought from Yarnia have been working beautifully for this pattern—not only do I get the slow changes of color value but I love the play of textures with each change in yarn.


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Chiaogoo Twist vs KnitPicks Options Nickel Plated Interchangeables

When it comes to knitting needles, I’ve been loyal to my KnitPicks Options Interchangeables. But now I’ve discovered my new needle love—ChiaoGoo’s Twist Interchangeable Complete Set.

Just from the size of the case and contents, ChiaoGoo Twist’s compactness makes it much more portable, easier to organize and get to the needles, and just generally feels higher in quality.

Both sets come with needle stoppers and cable keys but ChiaoGoo’s comes with fun stitch markers, a needle gauge and tiny connectors to string multiple cables together for larger projects (KnitPicks sells these separately). I guess for more than double the price of the KnitPicks, these ChiaoGoo extras shouldn’t be considered extras though they also provide 2 extra cables and 3 extra needle sizes (sizes 4, 13 and 15 aren’t included with the KnitPicks needles).

But the main reasons I’m ready to designate the KnitPicks as my backup needles are:
1) needle finish (the slightly matte-r finish on the ChiaoGoo needles (on the right) provides just a bit more grip so yarns don’t slip as easily off the needles). I also love the way the subtle texture on the needles feel while I knit—like the rub of two well-worn sea stones against each other.
And 2) the cable joins are of much better quality. The KnitPicks cables (on the left) have come apart on me, if not all the way then enough to bother me, on almost all my cables (you can see the slight gap at the base of the metal where the plastic cable has come out slightly—this causes the yarn to catch causing undue aggravation). KnitPicks has been great about sending replacement cables but after the third or fourth time, I stopped bothering.

At more than double the price, is the ChiaoGoo Twist set worth it? That depends—I knew I’d be knitting for the rest of my life and if these needles had been available when I bought KnitPicks, I totally would’ve bought up. But if I was a beginner just getting my feet wet and was unsure if I’d be sticking with it, I’d still buy the KnitPicks, especially if cost is an issue. Maybe they’ve fixed their weak cable join problem but at the very least their customer service would provide replacement cables (if you bothered to ask). In either case, you’re getting a good solid set of needles that would conveniently cover a range of projects.

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Knitter’s guide to Portland—the N.W.

My first foray into NW Portland was on NW 23rd Ave. This was, I was assured, where we should go to people watch and window shop. Since my main focus was on yarn stores, I was a bit disappointed to realize there was nothing of that sort here. But plenty of cute clothing and lifestyle stores along with coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

From here, I quickly made my way to Pearl Fiber Arts. Located on 11th Avenue in the Pearl District, I was swooning over the architecture, specifically the ones on 11th Ave and Hoyt. Reminiscent of New England brownstones/row houses, I instantly fell in love with the charming familiarity of these houses (or were they live/work?—I couldn’t tell).

Down one block, the buildings immediately became more commercial where I found Pearl Fiber Arts. This store probably had the least modern feel or flair to it with its non-descript interior. But what it lacked in its environment, it made up for in unique yarns. The owner had a wall with what she called her “souvenir yarns”—yarn dyed or spun by local fiber artists. I bought a skein named Bumblebirch Grove in Mineral, a 4-ply fingering weight mix of superwash merino and bamboo in pretty tones of dusty greens and greys. I was told it was dyed with Kool-Aid/food coloring!

This was also the only place I’ve ever seen yarn meant for size 50 needles (which was also sold here). It would’ve been perfect for knitting an ottoman and the alpaca was so soft! But I didn’t have the luggage room for something like that and made a mental note for the future.

Further north on 11th Ave, by the Willamette River is Dublin Bay Knitting Co. Its spacious and nicely appointed interior, including an area to sit, read or wait, was also chock full of unique yarns—one in particular called Solstice Yarns, was fiber that they dyed and produced. I bought the Lumière Lace in Frost, an unbelievably soft mix of superwash merino, cashmere and nylon, in soft shades of grey.

There was so much more to look at but not enough time. I’d love to go back again one day to leisurely peruse through all the goodies.

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Knitter’s guide to Portland—the S.E.

I didn’t get a chance to spend much time exploring the SE neighborhood because I was too busy at two of its yarn stores: Happy Knits and Yarnia.

Happy Knits looked quite unassuming from the outside. I’m not sure if they were in the middle of a window change but the display made such little impression on me that I don’t recall exactly what it looked like other than that there was one lonely dresser. I almost thought I should check out Yarn Garden down the street but walked in anyway…and was I glad I did!

The store was brightly lit and bigger than expected, with tall ceilings and a wide room that kept going further and further back. It was modern, neat and organized. What I noticed first was the wall of vintage buttons right next to the window—an awesome array of buttons in all kinds of materials (glass, plastic, leather) and colors. The packaging was attractive and crafty—something I’d expect to see from an Etsy shop with singer sewn labels on subtly, Japanese-esque patterned paper.

Next to these were walls full of KnitPicks needles. Then came the cube shelves full of yarn arranged by weight. At the very back of the store was a large room where classes are probably held and where patient husbands could grab a bit of shut-eye on comfy reading chairs while their wives wandered the store for hours. This room also held books and printed patterns for sale.

Oddly enough, I didn’t end up buying either yarn or knitting supplies which were plentiful here. Instead, I bought a mug. I bought two of the same mugs, in fact—one for me and one for my knit sister. Seeing it brought a smile to my face and still does every time I sip my coffee while knitting (or blogging) away.

Further east, closer to the Hawthorne/Belmont area we were told to visit, is Yarnia. This was the one store I HAD to go to while in Portland. With the tagline, “Portland’s only DIY Yarn store!”, I needed to see what DIY yarns even meant.

Situated in a the lower level of a small strip of stores on a quiet street, Yarnia was surprisingly tiny—just one small room with a slight alcove for the machine that turns several strands of chosen “string” into different weights of coned yarn. There were huge cones of yarn but the yarn itself was so thin—more like thread than yarn. They are thin so shoppers can choose several different threads and mix them (up to 6 strands) to achieve the weight and mix of color/material in the custom blend of yarn. And they sell it all by the pound—not by the yard or grams. A frugal knit designer’s heaven!! Here are the cones I ended up making and buying:
I went for a tonal theme in neutral colors and natural materials (superwash merino, wool, alpaca, bamboo, silk, cotton) but they also had colorful, man-made yarns.

The woman who helped me was super patient and knowledgeable, walking me through my options and making suggestions when I wasn’t sure what to do. Here she is threading the yarns onto a cone for me:

Knitting with yarn that has multiple threads that aren’t plied or cabled together in any way can be challenging. I’m knitting up Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Aranami Shawl with the grey cones and it was slow going at first but I’m really liking the end result. I’m not sure if I could order from Yarnia online without seeing and touching the yarns first but I think I’ll have a while before I have to find out—these cones should last me for some time! But if Yarnia was closer, I’d be in big trouble.

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Knitter’s guide to Portland—the S.W.

Every trip to Portland should include Powell’s. The sheer size and breadth of offerings (literary and otherwise) in this one store (though housed in several buildings) is just amazing. It makes me happy to know this bookstore exists and thrives!

The main location for Powell’s is in Downtown Portland in the Southwest section. I’ve never been to another bookstore that stocked such an array of knitting books—it took up one side of an entire row in Powell’s. It was just overwhelming. And the kicker was that they even carried Malabrigo yarns at the end of the row!!

Since a few skeins of Malabrigo weren’t enough for my knitting appetite, I found Knit Purl a hop and a skip away from Powell’s, a few blocks SW on SW Alder (x SW 11th Ave). Once there, I was blown away by the window display.

A fox scarf on a cardboard fox in a winter wonderland at Knit Purl.

A clean, modern design executed with wit and whimsy! Why didn’t more yarn stores have such simple yet impressive displays??
More animal figures in the second window followed by floating balls of yarn for a third, smaller window display.

The inside of the store carried through on the window displays’ promise of a clean, modern interior. Knit Purl wasn’t overstuffed with yarns—it had enough space so my eyes could take in the yarns at a leisurely pace. The yarns were neatly organized against the walls in typical X-divided cube bookshelves, arranged by weight then by brands. They carried a nice assortment of Madelinetosh yarns and other high-end labels (Swans Island and they’re an exclusive retailer of Brooklyn Tweed yarns in Portland). The knit samples there that really caught my eye were by Julie Hoover, a Brooklyn Tweed designer, whose pattern designs were also being sold. The woman who manned the shop was helpful without hovering and browsing was a pleasure—I found a gorgeous colorway (hickory—a muted dark taupe with overtones of gold) of Madelinetosh Tosh sport which will be gifted to a friend for her birthday.

Around Knit Purl, there’s Case Study Coffee on SW 10th Ave (x Yamhill). I washed down a Brown Sugar Apple Pie with a Bourbon Caramel Latte (not overly sweet) there and would do it again if I could. And on SW Alder, between 10th and 11th Aves, I passed by a food truck lot that was filled to the brim with all sorts of cuisine—from Korean to coffee—which I would’ve loved to try had I not spent so much time in Knit Purl!

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Knitter’s guide to Portland—the N.E.

Who knew Portland, Oregon (or PDX as it was referred to everywhere) was a mecca for knitters (and crafters in general)? Aside from a vague idea of what Portland was like (hipster, eco-centric beer & coffee country), I knew nothing of the city other than that I wanted to visit it for its proximity to home (2 hr plane ride with baby D for the first time!) and to see a friend.

Then that friend sent me info on the Rose City Yarn Crawl. What the heck was a yarn crawl, anyway? Yowza—an organized event to lure knitters into all the various yarn stores in the city!

Unfortunately, timing didn’t work out in my favor but I loved the idea and decided to do my own mini yarn crawl. I’d visit yarn stores as a reason to check out the various neighborhoods of Portland! I managed to visit 1-2 stores in each major area of Portland (NE, NW, SE, SW) and every store had a unique flavor.

Coming from the airport, I visited Close Knit on Alberta Street (x 22nd Ave) in the blue-collar hipster NE area of Portland. The first thing I noticed about the store was its window display—it was artful and crafty and so much more attractive than most other yarn stores!
Crafty window display at Close Knits.

On the inside, Close Knits is a cozy little shop with yarns along the walls and on tables marked by a tasteful selection of knit samples on display throughout the space. I wanted to knit almost every pattern that was shown! Dream Stripes Shawlette in a great mix of dark teal and taupe; Les Miserables in a medium dark grey, Nash’s Garter Stitch Baby Sweater from One More Skein: 30 Quick Projects to Knit in a sophisticated, unisex heathered brown color…those are the ones I remember but I wish I took pictures so I could remember what else there might’ve been.

I wanted to visit Close Knits because it was listed as a retailer of ChiaoGoo needles and I was on the hunt for ChiaoGoo’s Twist Interchangeable set. Sadly, they didn’t have the set but the owner was nice enough to let me handle the fixed circular needles she did stock. She was very friendly from the moment I stepped in until I left, offering to order the set for me though I declined. I would’ve gone back for another visit but I didn’t have enough time. Just another reason to go back to Portland!

I’d recommend visiting two eateries while in this neighborhood: Bollywood Theater right down the street from Close Knits (off 21st Ave) for delicious Indian food and the ginger-spiciest chai I’ve ever had (perfect for a cold, damp day) decorated in Indian kitsch.
Kitschy interior of Bollywood Theater
For strong, tasty coffee and delectable breakfast fare with meat and vegetarian versions of their dishes across the board, there’s Radio Room (x 11th Ave). It had a Johnny Cash-cool vibe with cushy, black leatherette booths and a bar room next door to the restaurant. Either of these places would be perfect for a small knitting group—Radio Room’s bar would be awesome for a drink & knit fest.

categories: Knitting    { 2 Comments }

brioche hat from melanie falick’s weekend knitting

“Don’t buy a hat!” I tell my hubby. “I can knit you one up in a day!”
“You sure?” he responds. “It’s just $15—is it worth your time?”
I roll my eyes…”It’ll take me less than a day,” I reply.

I decide that I won’t make any old hat but I’d finally try the Brioche Hat pattern from Melanie Falick’s Weekend Knitting book. I am excited and relishing the idea of learning a new technique!

A few days later, a very perplexed me is knitting and frogging the beginnings of this hat over and over again. I finally figure out the basics of the pattern and get going after the fourth attempt. I am ecstatic. Only a week late, I should be able to finish the hat within a few more days.

I get to the crown decreases and am stymied again. Knit several rows, frog back…try again only to frog back. I google. Nothing clarifies the code I can’t decipher on the page. Other people seem to have the same problem as I do but no one offers a clear solution. Those that have figured it out don’t share the secret formula…frustrating! I do find a brilliant suggestion somewhere—use a lifeline so I can rip back quicker! After the fifth attempt, I lay aside the hat which won’t be ready for my hubby’s trip to the freezing East Coast. In these instances, I find that time away usually helps. At least I wouldn’t be tempted to rip the whole thing apart. I figure I’ll ask for help at my LYS.

Another week later, I visit my LYS. I catch them at a busy moment and they suggest I come back for their knitting ER class for $10. I inwardly want to scream but politely smile, say thanks and leave.

Now I am truly angry that I cannot figure this thing out. I’ve taught myself to knit from books and online tutorials. I’ve been able to do intarsia, fairisle and cables. Why was THIS so hard??? That day, I go back, determined to understand the pattern. I google some more in a pathetic attempt to find something new. And I do! I happen across a short video clip from a designer (Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark) who created a pattern for a brioche sweater in Interweave Knits and in this video, she explains some basics about the brioche rib stitch—that there’s always an unworked slip stitch followed by a pair of stitches (the previous round’s slip stitch and companion yarnover) that is always counted as one stitch.

This sets something off in my brain. I tackle the pattern anew and, lo and behold, I can “read” the stitches and finally understand what the coded instructions are telling me to do!

So, to help anyone else out there who might be searching for an alternative interpretation, here is my translation:

  • Set-up rnd: k1, sl 1, yo -> k1, bring yarn to front and sl 1 as if to purl, then k next st with yarn still in front (thus starting the next repeat) to automatically create yo. Basically, you’re starting the next repeat and ending the previous one in one move.
  • Rnd 1: sl 1, yo, p2tog -> sl 1 as if to purl with yarn in front, yo, p2tog
  • Rnd 2: k2tog, sl 1, yo -> same as set up round except k2tog (always a sl st and its yo companion) for first step, bring yarn to front and sl 1 as if to purl, then k2tog with yarn still in front to create yo at the same time.
  • Crown rnd 1:*note* Something that helped immensely with this row was to use markers at the end of each repeat (I wasn’t using dpns but a long circular needle and doing this helped to confirm the st count within each repeat). This helped to establish a rhythm and catch any mistakes before I started on the next row.
    – [k2tog, sl 1, yo] twice -> k2tog (always a sl st and its yo companion) for first step, bring yarn to front and sl 1 as if to purl, then k2tog for next repeat with yarn still in front to create yo at the same time. Repeat one more time.
    – k2tog, k3tog, sl 1, yo, sl next st and yo together as if to k2tog yb (with yarn in back), sl next st as if to knit yb, return 3 slipped sts to left-hand needle in their new orientation and k3tog tbl (though back of their loops) -> k2tog, k3tog, sl 1 (as if to purl and with yarn in front), sl next 2 sts as if to knit + sl next 1 st as if to knit and bring left needle through these 3 sts on right needle (so that left needle is in front of right needle through the sts) and k3tog through the back loops (while creating yo at the same time because yarn was in front of needles)
    – [k2tog, sl 1, yo] three times -> k2tog (always a sl st and its yo companion) for first step, bring yarn to front and sl 1 as if to purl, then k2tog for next repeat with yarn still in front to create yo at the same time. Repeat two more times
  • Crown rnd 2:*note* This round confused me because it was hard to tell when to consider 2 D sts next to each other as the ones to watch out for (even in the regular repeat, it looks like there are 2 D sts next to each other). But if you keep in mind that the previous rows sl st and it’s accompanying yarnover should be considered as a single stitch, then it becomes easier to see if there’s an extra D st between the sl st and the paired sts.
    – Treat this round as you would Rnd 1 during the set-up. You’ll find  that you’ll get through 2 repeats of [sl 1,  yo, p2tog] as expected. Then  you’ll hit your first 2 D sts together. Sl these two sts as if to purl and that is your sl 1 of the repeat (except now with 2 slipped sts). Go on with the pattern repeat from there [yo, p2tog]. You’ll hit another set of 2 D sts together and again sl these 2 as you would sl 1 and continue the rest of the repeat [yo, p2tog]. Finally,  you’re left with 2 repeats of the regular [s1, yo p2tog] before you hit your first marker placed in during Crown Rnd 1. Repeat 3 more times.
  • Crown rnd 3:*note* Again, it was hard to tell when to consider 2 D sts next to each other as the outliers. Essentially, you’ll get to a D sl st with a yo and find another D st right after. The extra step here is to k1 that D st after the k2tog (of the sl st and its yo).
    – Treat this round as you would Rnd 2 during the set-up. You’ll find  that you’ll get through 2 repeats of [k2tog, sl 1, yo] as expected. Then  you’ll hit your first 2 D sts together with a L yo inbetween the two D sts. With yarn in front (to create the yo from the previous repeat), k2tog [the D sl st and it’s L yo], k the next D st. Bring yarn to front and sl 1 as if to purl and you’ll hit another set of 2 D sts together with a L yo inbetween. Treat the same as before [with yarn in front, k2tog, k1, bring yarn to front and sl 1 as if to purl]. Then finish the next two repeats as you normally would with Rnd 2 before you hit your first marker. Repeat 3 more times.

Once you get comfortable with the above few rounds, the rest is a repeat of the same.

I hope this is helpful for somebody out there! I’ll upload pictures of my finished hat in my next post.

categories: Knitting    { 7 Comments }

eyewear obsession

I am a HUGE fan of Warby Parker and need to share the love. I’ve been a subscriber to their home try-on frames three times now (yes, that’s 5 different frames per home try-on kit for a total of 15 frames tested so far) and have one more kit on the way.

But I took the leap this weekend on frames I discovered, not on their own website but via a blog (perhaps they’re planning on eventually discontinuing these frames?). I wasn’t sure why these particular frames weren’t shown online but they did come up as available when I linked from the blog so I ordered them since it was love at first sight. A modern take on the cat-eye, the Harper frames can be found here.

I ordered them late afternoon Saturday and received them a little over two days later on Tuesday morning (talk about quick fulfillment)! The lenses took a little getting used to (I always find this is the case with a new prescription) and the fit needs a little tweaking (I plan on getting nose pads, typically found on metal frames, installed for my non-existent Asian nose bridge with a local optometrist) but I love how the frames look on me. Go figure! I try on 15 different frames and the one I don’t even bother trying out but order anyway is IT.
Harper frames from Warby Parker

Having had to wear glasses since I was 8 and spend hundreds of dollars on them to update my prescription/look, Warby Parker is a godsend—$125 ($95 for their standard lenses + $30 for their thinner, high-index lens option) for great-looking glasses where I’d typically spend at minimum 4 times more! It’s such a good deal, I’m even considering a second pair as an “accessory”. And for every pair that’s purchased, they donate a pair to someone in need. L-O-V-E.

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