Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Crafting is OVER

I didn't knit a single Christmas present this year.

I think this is the first year in maybe 5-6 that I haven't knit for Christmas and I was still a hot, frantic mess on December 23rd. Yup. A big ol' mess. Let me explain a few things about what makes Ashley ASHLEY.

I was an English major in college. This means:
  1. I can drink a lot of coffee.
  2. I haven't read as many Classics as I should have.
  3. I work really well under pressure. Like, really well.
This is why I decided it would be fine to put off most of my Christmas presents until December 20something. Because 2-3 days would be PLENTY of time to etch some glasses and canvas some photos. I could knock each gift out in a few hours and there would be plenty of time for them to dry. Don't these gifts know who I am? The Procrastination Kid, that's who!

Except it didn't go that easily (obviously). Of course the stencil I wanted to etch onto pint classes for Matt's brother would take me over an hour to cut out. Eff you, neverending band name written in old-timey font. Of course the photo I wanted to transfer to canvas would be printed on the wrong type of paper and then, once I reprinted it on the right kind, I would realize that my canvas was an entirely different size. And, after having given up on the canvas/photo nonsense, of course none of the iron-on transfers would work and I would waste another 3 hours on another failure.

I was so glad when Matt picked me up for dinner on Christmas Eve and I didn't have to look at that bottle of mod podge again. Eff you Mod Podge! No, but I'm really, really glad I got the super huge bottle instead of the basic bitch regular sized one. I want to Mod Podge everything...just not at 4pm on Christmas Eve.

In the end, I managed to have presents for everyone. They might not have been exactly what I set out to make, but only one project defeated me. The gift that I was most excited about giving was actually the one that I started months ago, like a wise little lady. And that gift was for Matt's sister's boyfriend, Greg. My very first cross stitch gift that is, uh, mostly done; Penguin and Riddler didn't make the cut this time, but there is always next year.

Batman's Enemies (pattern available on Etsy)
I've bought a few patterns from Wee Little Stitches before, but this is the first one I've actually knit. I love the way they're formatted and they're very beginner friendly. There's a sale on the etsy shop now for 30% off any purchases from now until December 31st! I'm trying to choose my next pattern, but there are so many I want to make. I'm leaning towards the classic movie monsters.

This project was kind of a fail, but I bounced back. Matt's brother just came out with an album with his band and I wanted to make him some etched pint glasses with their band logo on it. I spent over an hour cutting out the stencil I made and it was kind of an epic fail. I had one pint glass left by the end of it, so I ended up using painter's tape to freehand a "P" on the glass and I turned his album cover/band logo into coasters. Tutorial can be found here.

 Matt's sister got some coasters as well (from her instagram account) and some chalkboard martini glasses. These actually turned out really well! I made sure to test them out before I gave them to her and she's crafty too, so I'm hoping she knows how to wash them. No major directions for these, so just buy some chalkboard paint (I used Martha) and dip your glasses into it. I let them dry standing upright on wax paper.

Matt's parents got matching goldendoodle travel/knitting bags. I found the fabric on ebay and the same seller has a ton of different dog options. My mom sewed these for me and they turned out pretty fantastic.

And here is my own homebrew! I brewed it solo, which was pretty tricky and made me appreciate Matt's help even more. It's a Rosemary Oat Pale Ale. I tried it straight out the bucket at bottling time and it was pretty bitter. I accidentally left the rosemary in a day or so too long, but when we tried it last night (one week into bottling), it had mellowed out a whole lot. And it was pretty darn tasty! 

And it's not too often that somebody actually knits for me, so imagine my surprise when Matt greeted me (after 3 weeks of being apart!) with a handknit scarf that he knit me for our anniversary. Most of our nights apart were spent gchatting and watching tv shows together, but Matt told me he was also working on this scarf (and drinking all of the whiskey...) while we chatted. How cool is that?? And it's mostly Alpaca! My man knows the way to my heart. I'm helping him knit a hat now.

Now to plan my 2014 goals. Oh and steek my sweater because that was my *single* knitting goal this year and I haven't even done it yet. Ho hum. One more day for that!

(This reminds me that I still have a few more presents to mail out. Sigh. I'll never be caught up)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Prelude (and a sale!)

I can't believe this year is almost over. It seems like I was just in Philly yesterday, but I moved away SIX months ago. How in the world did that happen? The second half of 2013 has paled in comparison to the first half, but I do believe that things get worse before they get better, so I'm optimistic that 2014 will be better. Hey, y'know what? It will be good.

I've been home for almost a month now (yikes!) and I'm hanging in there. No family members have been murdered and I've managed to reign in feelings of discontent and frustration. At least my klutz of a sister is there for comic relief. Last night I laughed harder than I think I've ever laughed. It's hard being back here, especially with Matt still being in California. He'll be back on Friday (3 weeks apart!) & I'm super anxious to see him again.

I've had a lot of free time the past 6 months (boo, unemployment!), which has been both maddening and freeing. I've sketched up and knit up quite a few original designs and realized that they're all apart of the journey I've been on over the past two years. These design ideas are either inspired by a place I've traveled to or by the yarn I've bought along the way. It will take a lot of time for me to finalize and type up these designs I've come up with, but that's something to focus on in 2014.

Today I'm releasing Prelude, the first pattern I've published in awhile. In releasing this pattern I'm committing myself to seeking inspiration everyday from the things around me. My life won't always be as simple as it is, so I should stop complaining and use this down time more effectively. Because who knows if I'll ever have this lull again?

(Please say no)

Also, as a gift to any blog readers, use code "sweaterweather" to receive 25% off any of my patterns from now until Christmas.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

WIP Wednesday: All of the Gray Sweaters

It would appear that I've become the person who only knits gray sweaters now.

I mean, there are worse things in the world? I could be knitting all black sweaters or no sweaters at all. It's hard enough to get excited about sweater knitting when you live in California, but with the threat of Illinois on the horizon (I leave on Sunday/I'm already bored), I've decided I need to up my sweater game a bit.

I struggle withe gauge a lot when I'm knitting sweaters. I'm a ~*bad*~ knitter and don't really swatch for things like shawls and hats. I've knit enough to be able to look at a pattern gauge vs. which yarn I'm using and know if I need to drop it down a needle or two. And, most of the time, it ends up working out for me. Sweaters are a different story. I've become SO good about swatching and swatching again when I'm about to start a sweater. I even swatch in the round when I'm going to knit a (rare) pullover). Even so, it's been awhile since I knit a well-fitting sweater for myself, which is part of the reason I've knit 3ish sweaters for Matt this year.

Yarn: Patons Classic Merino Worsted
Needles: Hiya Hiya Sharps, size 7

I know, another Jared Flood pattern. Timberline is the first gray sweater in my lineup. I started it awhile back because I was SO stressed out about the prospect of finishing it by December 14th (our anniversary), but it's actually coming together quite quickly. I really LOVE knitting this sweater. Cables are my favorite thing to knit, despite the added time and yarn that go into a cabled item, and I really can't wait to see it all finished up. I love seeing my lovey swaddled in woolen gifts that I made for him.

I showed Matt Brooklyn Tweed Men when it came out a few months ago and he really liked Timberline. I joked that this sweater would be the endgame for him, and he would probably never get it because it was SO involved. I bought the yarn three days later and only work on it when he's not home. This one will be (hopefully) a true surprise for our 7 year anniversary, the wool year. But every year is the wool year for me :) I told him I wanted a sheep as an anniversary present and he rolled his eyes accordingly.

Yarn: Ella Rae Classic Worsted
Needles: Hiya Hiya Sharps, size 8

The second sweater is one for me. I started it a few days ago and powered through 11 inches of body on my first day. It's a basic top down raglan pullover (who am I?) and I'm knitting it at a very loose gauge. I'm loving the way the fabric feels, despite my usual desire for a tight knit sweater. I started this with a goal of finishing the body by the time I leave on Sunday because ZOMG packing panic has officially set in and a sweater is much easier to pack than 5 balls of yarn. Sigh.

The pattern is a basic raglan pattern by Jane Richmond and man oh man am I glad it's a top down pattern. As a curvy lady with an hourglass figure, a lot of sweaters require some modifications to be more flattering. My gauge is slightly off (about 8.5 stitches over 2 inches instead of 9), so I cast on for a sweater two sizes too small in the bust to accommodate some negative ease as well. I'm at the point where I should be decreasing for the waist, so I figured I would try it on for kicks. Yep! Way too big in the waist. If I throw in an extra decrease things should go great :) Almost done with my second ball of yarn. I opted for the colorblock top because I was worried about not having enough yarn (it's leftover from Matt's Brownstone pullover), but it looks like I should be ok.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Something new

Every once in a while it's good to take a break. I've been knitting up a storm lately and while I was home for two weeks, I think I managed to finish 4-5 different projects. Insane, right? I like to joke that I need a new hobby like I need a hole in the head, but I love falling in love with new projects. Some take awhile to grow on me, like cross stitching.

It hasn't gotten any faster, but I finally managed to finish one. I like to imagine a little corner in my (future) handmade home dedicated just to finished samplers. Maybe I'll be over this hobby in a few weeks and maybe I won't.

I also spent a few days dyeing yarn with my pal Christie. It was freezing and lots of fun. This skein was actually from over the weekend, when I set up shop in our little California kitchen. Consider me hooked. We spent two days dyeing yarn at Christie's and when I got home, I promptly ordered 10 more skeins to dye while I'm home for Christmas.  In the meantime, I bought some lower quality 100% wool from Joanns & decided to experiment with different dyeing techniques. The skein above used layered immersions and though the quality of wool isn't what I would like, I'll definitely try to recreate this skein when I get some MCN. Because I'm kind of in love with it. Once I get into the groove of it again I'll make a proper dyeing post.

Oh yeah. And I accidentally made self-striping yarn. How did that happen? I have absolutely no idea. I call this one Ghoul School and it tickles me to death. I'm kind of a sock monster lately, which is another "something new" that I will ride until I hate them all over again :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

There's a First Time for Everything...


I ran out of yarn for my project last night. You remember the Terra I blogged so fondly about just a few days ago? Back when I was fancy and knitting free, I didn't have a single care in the world. I was going to get it done that very night & regain control over some of my sanity, something that just wasn't in the cards.

And then it all came back to me. Sitting in Hidden River Yarns with K Furst & Lisa, figuring out just what exactly I was going to do with all my new yarn. I bought for Juneberry thinking that the yardage for both was similar enough.

Well, it's not.

I have about 12 rows and a bind-off to go. Somewhere, deep in the pits of my ungodly stash back home, there is another skein of this yarn with (potentially) the same dye lot. Cross your fingers I can find it, but, based on the state in which I left my stash before moving, that is so much easier said than done.

Please say a little knitter's pray for me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Gray Day

I'm feeling very overwhelmed by everything I'm making lately. I'm pleased to report that I only have three-fourish knitting WIPs right now, but, unfortunately for me, they are all active and they are all large. I hate the feeling that the end is not in sight and that is exactly how I feel right now. And, while I love gray, it doesn't help that it seems like all of my WIPs are grayish in hue and all my happy FOs of late have been pink and cute. Sigh.
Terra by Jared Flood
The first WIP I'm chugging along on is Terra by Jared Flood. Terra (and it's distant cousin Shaelyn) has as been in my queue since it was first released. My friend Lizzie is getting married in just over a week(!!!) and since it's in Chicago and on a boat, I decided I needed to have a shawl to wear with my bridesmaids dress. I was torn between the beautiful Juneberry Triangle & Terra, but I decided to be realistic about this (I'm also "designing"/improvising her wedding present) and went for Terra. What I love about it is that it's simple enough to wear with jeans, but that pop of lace at the edge means it can be worn to fancier occasions. I just started the lace section last night, so I'm *hoping* I can finish and block it before I head back to Illinois on Saturday.

I bought the yarn (Stonehedge Shepherd's Worsted) while I was in Philly and I love, love, love it. This is my second time using it, but it will be my first actual FO. The other project I'm using it for is lost at home somewhere and was meant to be my Rhinebeck shawl this year, but it will have to wait until next year. I will finish it by then! I will! I'm surprised by how soft and squishy this yarn is. It's borderline ridiculous considering it was only $12.something for 250 yards. Ridic, right? This shawl might be mostly garter, but the sequence is just different enough to keep you interested. 

Timberline by Jared Flood
I've also started Matt's anniversary present (7 is the wool year!), but it's such a big endeavor that I can't really dedicate much time to it right now. The domestic war that I mentioned yesterday doesn't help, but it will pass and (hopefully) I will be excited about this project again. I know that if/when I finish this sweater, it will be the most beautiful thing I've ever knit. The fact that it's not for me isn't a huge issue, because I will get to look at it and feel pride & love whenever Matt wears it. Today was finally a cold day in California (and rain is in the forecast!), so Matt wore his Brownstone to work today. I love how much he loves it. Maybe someday he will get socks, but I feel that might be our sweater curse endgame.

Excuse my half-gone toenail polish
Ok, I shouldn't claim that all of my current WIPs are neverending. I went to a new knitting group last week at the Alamitos Bay Yarn Co Annex. This group was completely new, but the turnout was pretty great, so I'm hopeful it will stick around. The group? Dedicated to knitting socks! I started two pairs while I was there, but quickly shifted my focus to one over the other. These started as just ribbed socks, but when I didn't really know which heel to do, I was delighted to see that there is a simple (and free!) 3x1 ribbed sock pattern on Ravelry (of course there is one!). I knit my last pair of socks in about 4 days, so I guess that's why I'm thinking this pair is neverending. 

The other thing is the yarn. Well. I'm not in love with it. One day, not too long ago, Matt gave me a giftcard and let me go to town on Etsy. I hemed and hawed for hours over which skeins of mystery sock yarn I would buy myself because they had to be perfect. I discovered Purple Goddess Design and knew that I needed to buy all of the yarn a skein from her. I seriously had 8 skeins in my cart and it was crazy hard to narrow it down to one. I finally settled on Pretty Japanese Ladies in Twisted Fingers and...I just don't love it. I'm not ready to write this dyer off on a whole, but I don't think I'll be purchasing that base again. Maybe next time I'll try one of the bases with a little more twist to them.

I've also gotten the cross-stitch bug and oh my god these will take me forever. I decided to design myself a little Heisenberg face to help ease the mourning period of a post-Breaking Bad world. But then I realized that I actually should have used more than one color for him and that his hat/glasses kind of take over the whole design. Long story short is that I ran out of room for his beard and now it looks like some weird Fu Manchu mess. So finishing that guy up is low on my priority totem pole right now, especially since my heart belongs to another.

Yes, that is Winnie Sanderson from Hocus Pocus. What better way to celebrate my FAVORITE Halloween movie of all time? Isn't she adorable? Seriously. I wish I was faster at this because I want this to be done right now. I guess I can enjoy her next year. The pattern is available from Pixel Power Design, but beware! That site just might steal all of your money.

One last gray swatch before I get back to work. Loving this so much.

P.S. it actually IS going to rain. First day storm since I moved to California nearly 3 months ago. Oh, happy day!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Knitting Away: Portland(ia)

Last weekend I went to Portland and got into some serious trouble. Like, seriously.

Portland, this is why we can't be friends.
Portland was never one of the placed I lumped into my "I want to live here without ever visiting here," lists. Seattle was forever the only PNW city on that list and that was mostly because of how overly hyped Portland is. And, let's be real, it's got that crazy hipster level 9000 thing going on and that has greatly deterred me from ever wanting to go to there. Somewhere along the line that changed and, since I live on the West Coast now, why not? My flight was less than $200 and I was there in about an two hours. Times like this makes me want a job & disposable income again. Le sigh.

So yes, this Portland was never on "the list," though the other Portland was. The funny thing with "the list" is that I have since ruled out most of the cities on it in the past two years. (Other) Portland, San Francisco, Boston, in face the only place on the list that I didn't rule out was Seattle. And then I had to go & visit Portland and fall in love a little bit.

I strategically planned our visit over Oregon Flock & Fiber weekend. I'll be in Chicago for the last half of October, so I'll be missing ladies weekend at Rhinebeck. I decided OFFF would be my Autumnal fiber festival for the year, so I booked our trip and the excitement started, but I tried to keep my feet on the ground. This was Portlandia! Don't get too excited.

But it was wonderful! Portland was everything I had hoped for and more. And it rained the whole time!

I left a few hours before Matt did so that I could get the lay of the land & attend a local knitting circle. Public transit was great and it only cost me like $2 bucks to get from the airport to my airbnb (first/great experience) across the river. We ended up staying in the Nob Hill neighborhood and I could have easily spent a few days just exploring the blocks around where we stayed. So many restaurants & even a distillery! It's one of the safer/more expensive areas of Portland, so I'll probably not be living there anytime soon. Though I would love to. 

Like I said, it rained the whole time we were there and I was actually very happy about that. I haven't seen real rain in MONTHS and I'm the kind of person who enjoys opening the windows & curling up during a rainstorm. Out airbnb didn't have a tv, which I was kind of kicking myself over since our trip also coincided with the Breaking Bad finale, but oh well. It was lovely and it gave me a lot of time to read, knit & enjoy the rain. Look at those windows! 

Once I got settled in, I headed to the first stop on my "Ashley Tackles Portland" list: Deschutes brewing! The actual brewery is located in Bend, Oregon, which is several miles away (and on the Bend Ale Trail), so I had to "settle" for the brewpub in the Pearl District. Everything I tasted while there was amazing! Everything they serve in their restaurant uses local ingredients & is made from scratch (I think?). And it's easy to overdo it with your drinks because they have something like 20 beers on taps. I was lucky enough to arrive on the first day of their Fresh Hop Festival, so I nestled into a table and ordered a Fresh Hop Octoberfest with Pear (Washington pears!), goat cheese and hazelnut pizza. That shit was redonk!

Matt & I ate that pizza for the next two meals & I was still ready to go back for more. I powered through another beer (Fresh Hop Pale) and made my way to knitting night down the street at Pearl Fiber Arts, a place not originally on the list. And boy am I glad to have added it! Once I saw the wall of "souvenir yarn"I knew I was in the right place. They carry a lot of Portland area yarns, which is perfect since that's exactly what I wanted. I ended up buying a skein of Bumblebirch Heartwood in the gorgeous Mineral colorway and grabbed the last seat for knitting circle. And everyone was SO nice. It's always hard to just jump in with groups like that, where these people have known eachother for years, but they all made me feel welcome and not at all out of place. I only managed to chat with one or two of the ladies, but everybody made sure to say goodbye as I was leaving...with another skein that had been staring at me since I sat down. 

Being a knitter is hard, you guys.

By then it was time to meet Matt for a late snack at the Whiskey Kitchen down the street. Over 100 whiskeys with an all BBQ menu. We may have gone there twice over the long weekend. Whoops? I had my first Old Fashioned and felt like the fanciest of ladies. Matt had the Fremont whiskey from Washington (like the troll) and I even managed to enjoy it :) All in all we were fans of Southland

This is not an Old Fashioned
The next day was all about me. Matt requested to work remotely for the day, so I took on the city by myself. I decided to cross the river and work my way back to where we were staying. First stop? Happy Knits, the happiest knitting store in the world (ok maybe not, but it was pretty great). And, once again, they were all so nice! I spent like 30 minutes chatting with the girl who worked there and wish I had gotten her Ravelry name. Needless to say I got into some trouble.

Black Trillium, Black Trillium, Sunshine Yarns, Madtosh in "Happiness"
Yeah. They have their own Madelinetosh color. Black Trillium is another local dyer and the colors were so amazing. I could have easily snatched up 10 skeins of each base (here I have one sock & one worsted), but I wanted to pace myself as best I could. Meaning I shouldn't have even gone there, right? Right. While I shopped, the rain continued to come down and luckily for me the next stop was just a few blocks away. 

Oh you know. Just a little bookcase in the middle of nowhere

I hadn't heard of Cascade Brewing until somewhat recently, which isn't terribly surprising since I just started to like Sours within the past year. Cascade Brewing brews primarily sour beers and when I saw the tap list I about lost my mind. Do I order the one with the same name as my cat? The one with blueberries? Blackberries? This one sounds awesome! Then I realized they had a Live Barrel list, so obviously I had to go for one of those. I opted for a glass of the Cherry Vlad, something that I will probably never have the joy of tasting again. Bourbon & Cherry sour. Yummm. I also had what is potentially the best clam chowdah of my life. Better than MAINE CHOWDAH? Possibly. And, again, everyone was so nice.

The rest of the day was spent buying more yarn from a shop with a whole wall of Indie Dyed sock yarns INCLUDING Plucky (Twisted, we cannot be friends), falling in love with the most adorable trash cat who claimed me as his, prime bar seats on a Friday night at Deschutes & dinner at The Gilt Club, where Peter & Nance met Colin the chicken on the first episode of Portlandia. I ordered the chicken & was not impressed. Oh, and another trip to the Whiskey Kitchen.

Colin wasn't in. Once again, they were so nice.
The next day there was, you guessed it, more rain. I know I rag on Matt a lot and, as we are currently embroiled in a domestic war, I should note that he's still pretty great sometimes. Like when he rents a car and drives me to a wool festival in the middle of nowhere, Oregon. And then buys me yarn. Oregon Flock & Fiber Fest was much bigger than I was expecting. I've only been to a few festivals before (Rhinebeck, Maryland Sheep & Wool, Garden State Sheep & Wool), so I know the quality can vary a bit. I was impressed! The turnout was HUGE and though they didn't have crazy big barns like Rhinebeck, they had so many beautiful yarns to choose from. And the animals! 

I was actually pretty excited about getting Matt to go with me. He's never been to a wool festival and, though he doesn't knit, I knew he would love the animals. And he had a great time petting them. Every time I turned around, I would hear a, "Dear come here! Look at this goat! Look at those horns! Aw that one is so cute!" or something of that nature. I'm really glad he got some joy out of going with me. Who doesn't love farm animals? And I'm glad I never have to hide my stash or downplay my crazy around him. 

Portland, you stole my heart and my money. I still had another day and a half (Matt left early), but it was really more of the same. After lunch at the cutest pumpkin patch, I subjected Matt to yarn photos & general nerdery, as we do. We spent the rest of the night exploring 23rd street, starting with Bull Run Distilling (again. So nice) & Beer Flights at Lompoc Tavern and ending with the best gingerbread dessert in all of creation. Red wine soaked gingerbread with pears & vanilla ice cream. Yum. Yum. Yum. Oh and a nap because all that rain & beer? Ashley got tired.

Free tastings during the day. The only one I wasn't sold on was Pacific Rum, but I'm not much of a rum person. We left with a bottle of Aria gin, which is delightful with tonic and lime. The woman working there chatted with us for 20 minutes about what to do with the rest of our time.

Seasonal Tasting at Lompoc, where pints are $3
(Lompoc would be my Cheers if I lived there. They brew their own beers & have $2.50 on Miser Mondays. How sweet is that? And they're all good!)

After my nap I got a second wind (at 10pm), so we wandered down the street to the breakfast joint my airbnb host had told me about. Sure enough, they were out of most of the beers on their menu and some of the desserts. Lucky for me the one that I wanted, that gingerbread mess I described above, was still available. I'm still having dreams about it. No lie. We headed back to our place & passed out for the night. Matt left the next morning and I continued to lose my mind: Stumptown, Powell's (!!!!) & Rogue brewing. It was a peaceful and lovely final day to myself. I'm glad I stayed. 

In summation. Portland, I loved you and your people. We could be friends, maybe, if 1. I had a job & 2. You had less yarn. Someday you could be home. Because I kind of fell in love with you, just a little bit. Even with the rain.

P.S. Knitters, I am glad to "take one for the team" and buy all of the sock yarn to test for you. Expect links & reviews soon since I LOVE socks now. Finished my first pair in Portland & halfway done with my second pair.