Last summer while slogging through Covid quarantine days, Marie Greene and her amazing Olive Knits team organized, on short notice, a fun-filled virtual retreat that was so successful so as to necessitate a sequel. I count myself lucky to have landed a “seat” again this year for Knit Camp at the Coast. For three days, September 16-18, I will join 100s of knitting enthusiasts in 16 unique sessions where we will learn new techniques from a cadre of talented guest instructors. The class itinerary offers an old nemesis – socks, but also an exclusive pattern with a newly designed stitch and yoga breaks to ease muscles feeling the strain of feverish knitting. Plus, although well out of my comfort zone but intriguing will be the workshop offered by Heather Best from sew happy jane – Not Your Average Kool-Aid Dye Party. Who knew, all those decades ago when drinking that sugary summer staple (cherry was my favorite) or slurping ice cube popsicles, that the sweet food dye filling the glass would be perfect for “creating gorgeous custom colors for hand-dyed yarns.” Happy Knitting!
It has been years since I twirled sparklers in the warm dark of a summer night at the lakeshore but I almost wish I had some handy to celebrate the completion of my new Fireworks sweater.
With needles poised at the ready, hordes of knitters cast on as soon as Marie Greene’s latest 4-Day knit-along (KAL) pattern dropped on July 1. Working simultaneously on the same project with 1000s of others, mostly in the U.S. but also scattered worldwide, is a unique experience. And the new Knit Camp app enabled regular progress reports from fellow “Campers” as near as Zumbrota and as far away as Yokosuka, Japan.
Fireworks marked Marie’s fifth annual sweater marathon which she describes as “A celebration of life, friendship, and new beginnings. The unique firework stitches in this design cascade down the yoke like streams of light in the night’s sky.” While I never intended to race to completion in 96 hours, I am proud to report that cast on to bind off took just 33 days. My beautiful Fireworks is off the blocking squares, photographed, the subject of this blog post and now neatly folded away just waiting for our Minnesota weather to cool (which it definitely will!)
Hi-ho, hi-ho, it is off to Sommer Camp I go!
As you can never have too many projects on your needles and I love the idea of joining knitters from around the world, whether brought together for a shared project or to celebrate a creative designer, I just cast on a new shawl for the first day of Sommer Camp with Martina Behm. And, yes, Sommer is spelled correctly as Martina is hosting this six-week event from Germany. In addition to podcasts and prizes, the bi-lingual discussions may also serve to re-draw a few of my long dormant neural pathways as some posts may be written only in German. My goal is to use Google translate as a last resort to verify my translation guesses.
While the rules of Sommer Camp allow for any pattern, I chose a two-toned shawl designed by Martina that she describes as looking a bit like Intarsia but without the worry. Since stash-diving is always a laudable goal, I can check that task off my list as the two contrasting yet complimentary skeins were purchased as souvenirs during pre-pandemic travels; perfect for the project I have dubbed Zwei Farben (two colors).
All the while, work continues on my Fireworks sweater as part of Marie Greene’s 4-Day knit-along (KAL). The top-down, yoked pullover features a new stitch which resembles bursts of light against the night sky on the 4th of July or bright celebrations when the home town baseball team wins a game. The yarn fireworks are anchored by a row of delicate bobbles; a capricious design element that has only now, in retirement, entered my wardrobe.
There is something oh so satisfying when a project is laid out on the blocking squares. And, I can claim double the fun (just like double mint gum) having finished Fiadh, my January-February sweater knit-along (KAL), and my friend’s Halley within just days of each other.
Fiadh is a dense Aran sweater with swirling Celtic cables and funky bobbles designed by Marie Greene and knit using Kelbourne Woolens Lucky Tweed in medium gray with white and black flecks for a very classy look. After some self-psychoanalysis to discover the why behind being stuck on sleeve island, I hunkered down and finished the cabled sleeves, picked up 338 stitches for the ribbed front band, shawl collar, and added the vibrant orange hidden pockets. All just in time for 100 degree days, a very unusual meteorological phenomenon for June in Minnesota.
Designed by Martina Behm, another of my go-to designers, Halley incorporates a lacy zigzag reminiscent of Halley’s Comet, as well as stars and meteorites crisscrossing the night sky. Knit using HiKoo Popcycle, an environmentally conscientious blend of 50% bamboo rayon and 50% polyester from recycled plastic bottles.
Knitting, reading and a bit of writing have been my primary activities during our pandemic lockdown. As we slowly emerge fully vaccinated from home into public spaces my COVID project inventory totals 35 between March 2020 to June 2021 with Halley and Fiadh being projects #34 and #35, respectively. Quite an assortment of productivity including three sweaters, seven hats, seven shawls, two pairs of socks, nine cowls, six pairs of mittens (fingerless included) and one cabled, reversible scarf. Swatching for Fireworks is complete but I am waiting for the pattern release on July 1 before beginning Marie Greene’s fifth annual 4-Day Sweater KAL. And so I find myself in an unusual state of affairs with nothing on my needles. Time for a quick delve into the project queue.
Having become un-Stuck on my January sweater knit-along (KAL) Fiadh, although still not quite finished, I am already gearing up for Marie Greene’s fifth annual 4-Day KAL with Fireworks. My swatches to test gauge are complete and all that is missing is the pattern – which will be released July 1 complete with a celebratory Virtual Cast On Party (with prizes) at 8 am PDT / 10 am CDT for me.
This commitment to a sweater, or any project, sight unseen is highly unusual for me. While my first mystery KAL (where portions of the directions were revealed week by week) actually resulted in a very wearable item, I usually wait days or weeks or even years before joining other KAL knitters just to make sure that the pattern is a good fit with my knitting style and preferences. With great faith in Marie’s classic designs, her well-tested patterns (sometimes by over a 100 test knitters plus technical editing to find every bug) and the cheerleader-like support from the Olive Knit staff and my fellow Knit Campers, I made the plunge and purchased seven skeins of luxurious DK weight, merino yarn hand-dyed by Heather Jane at sew happy jane before the pattern reveal.
While dubbed a 4-Day KAL, pacing can be my own after all, I am the boss of my sweater. There will be those who will slam through but I plan a more sedate summer project spent on the screened porch with ice cold libations close at hand while listening to our new solar fountain bubble. This will be 4-Day number three for me. Foxtrot (2019) took over two months but I greatly reduced my completion time to 22 days for Soundtrack during our COVID lockdown. Who knows what Fireworks will bring?
Among those that acquire ever increasing amounts of yarn, almost as harbingers of some soon-to-occur cataclysmic event in which there ceases to be sheep or wool or yarn, I am on the low-end of the quantity spectrum. This may be due in part to the storage limitations of our small house or the practicality of my Swiss heritage, but I have only once purchased a sweater’s quantity of yarn without a specific pattern or project in mind. And, I offer my Foxtrot (my first 4-Day Knit Along (KAL) with Marie Greene) as exonerating proof that I have since turned an impulse buy of approximately 1,400 yards of blended alpaca, merino, and silk into a very wearable sweater.
Early in my knitting days, most of my purchases were simply experiential. I would visit a yarn store and go home with those skeins that had called out, like a sensory siren, to be touched. The frustration came later when I found the perfect pattern but had an insufficient quantity and could not match the dye lot when I needed to purchase more. I started to take a more strategic approach by identifying a potential project and then buying to the designer’s specifications. There are exceptions – of course – as I always treat myself to a skein of something local when traveling. That is how I came to get advice from Stephen West as I stood somewhat befuddled before a wall of “Made in Holland” color on our jet lagged first day in Amsterdam.
I am intrigued by how designers and dyers market their products especially to online customers. Much of what I know about marketing was not learned in a library school admin class but rather as a fan of Mad Men where Don Draper’s genius took a product (any product), identified an audience, created a demand, and always made his ad agency loads of profit. I can only hope two of my favorite sellers are as successful
- frabjous fibers & Wonderland Yarns offers the De-STITCH-nation Yarn Kit of the Month Club which features an exclusive colorway based on a travel poster from an earlier era, as well as a pattern appropriate for the weight and quantity, a post card replica of the featured destination poster and steamer trunk stickers. Rather than simply commit to a new skein every month (although that would be fun!) I exhibit restraint and limit my purchases to those locations I have visited. Thus far: Amsterdam, Egypt, Germany, London, and Zurich.
- Kristen in Stitches showcases the creative designs of Kristen Ashbaugh-Helmreich. During 2020, her National Park Hat subscription allowed my COVID quarantined brain to remember the beauty of the parks we’ve explored and dream about parks we have yet to visit.
I started the year with only a few projects in my queue knowing my January – February (and now my March – May) focus would be Fiadh, an Aran sweater designed by Marie Greene. I made steady progress on the body, sometimes even falling into the zen-like rhythm of swirling Celtic cables and the occasional well-placed bobble but somehow got stymied and landed on “sleeve island”, a place where I am not usually marooned. But, with Cubs baseball airing on Marquee TV, I am once again progressing steadily — 24 rows last night as the Cubs swept the Mets.
For weeks, Fiadh was my day-time knit. My evening projects necessitated a little less focus although offered enough variations to keep the design interesting but not so complicated so as to make reading subtitles impossible. The Spiced Ginger and Berry Patch shawls are also Marie’s designs and included in her book, Knit Shawls and Wraps in 1 Week. With blocking complete, my Year of Projects list has two additions.
With spring-like temperatures, the need for wool beanies greatly diminishes although, since this is Minnesota, the weather can quickly snap from balmy to blustery. In a December Year of Projects post, I reported the forthcoming Selwyn Beanie was in my project queue. While I waited for the pattern drop from designer Marie Greene, my early winter evening TV knitting was the matching cowl, dubbed Selwyn Petit as it was a smaller (cables only) version of the original Selwyn knit in heather gray. The Petit cowl and beanie uses a vibrant sunflower heather yarn from Kelbourne Woolens. Good for shooing away the winter blues. With cowls and beanies complete, now the challenge is determining the lucky recipients.
I don’t remember ever buying anything with a bobble. My pre-retirement wardrobe was chosen to set a professional tone, nothing frilly. Bobbles, while proportionally smaller, were like pompoms, to be avoided. Even when knitting for others, not a single hat is topped with a fuzzy ball. And yet…I harbored a secret attraction to the funny little nibs of texture.
Two of my three Building Block Shawls included a 12×12 inch square with rows of bobbles framed by lacy yarn overs. Ever since I completed those squares in October 2013, I have wondered what project might lead me back to that bit of whimsy. Visions of earlier eras, although definitely not simpler times; Bletchley Circle heroines in hand knit sweaters with intricate cables and bobbles.
Intended as easy to pack warmth against the chilly Faroe Islands air where, as the travel literature warns, visitors can experience all four seasons with related precipitation on a given day, my Cable Bobble Hat & Cowl nudged me toward the capricious. Enough so that I succumbed to Knit Camp eyecandy and joined the January Workshop KAL (knit-along). As Fiadh (an Irish name meaning wild) grows on my needles, a controlled tangle of cables is being revealed and, yes, bobbles too.
While my Ravelry project page certainly records sweaters, specifically nine before 2020, sweaters were not my go-to knitting project. The amount of work and time required coupled with horror tales of projects gone wrong with elephantine results kept me working on lots of shawls and scarves. Items where gauge and size were less crucial. Then I found Marie Greene and her 4-day sweater challenge. Admittedly, my Foxtrot took over two months to complete but I was so pleased with the results that I selected another of Marie’s patterns, Houghton, to knit a sweater for Mom using a lush English merino-mohair blend. Then, thinking ahead to fall travels (in pre-Covid times) I knit the same cardigan for myself using the same yarn in the same color and even the same buttons. This became the first of my 2020 sweaters. Soundtrack, another 4-day challenge completed in 22-days, was sweater #2.
Now, just off the needles and the blocking squares is Happy Hour. Designed around the pre-Covid memory of outings with friends for happy hour, the sweater includes a colorwork yoke with a 3 PM, 4 PM or 5 PM pattern repeat, as well as a fanciful repeat on each sleeve. I opted for three pattern repeat with a nod to an early toast at the end of the work day.
In this very strange year when daily wear is almost exclusively comfy casual clothes with only an infrequent ZOOM meeting to show off three new sweaters I have transformed 4,397 yards into three sweaters all within 41 weeks. My far flung Knit Camp buddies have offered encouragement and instruction making it all happen, as well as another 18 smaller projects for family, friends, and fundraising service auctions. Happy knitting!