Friday, 30 August 2013

Summer 2013 Update: August

It's almost the end of August and we have just arrived back in Regina from our summer in Ontario - besides the Graceful Mandala and changing the name and logo for the shop, what have I been up to this month?


As mentioned in this post, I have been planning for a while now to expand the items in my shop beyond just crochet, to include wire and glass jewelry. So when I was packing for this trip I made sure to grab my wire jewelry tools and supplies. Unfortunately I forgot some of the supplies, so I was limited in what I could create during the trip. I made a few pairs of earrings, and a bracelet. I spent a couple of mornings taking nice photos of the new pieces, and posted the new Etsy items just before I changed my shop name.

Earth Tone Drop Earrings
Earth Tone Dangling Hoop Earrings
Northern Lights Bracelet
Split Prism Rainbow Drop Earrings
Sweetheart Drop Earrings
Sweetheart Dangling Hoop Earrings
Violet Orb Drop Earrings

The jewelry selection still feels pretty sparse and I will definitely want to add some more items now that I am back home, but it's a start for now. I'm also planning to order some coloured stainless steel wire (it's much stronger and more durable than copper), and I may also branch out into silver wire and semi-precious stones. I'm looking forward to working on this more over the next couple of weeks now that we're home in Regina.

Rainbow Converse Booties - A Pattern and a Colour Variation

This month I finally finished writing up my pattern for the Rainbow Converse booties. I was really impressed with Etsy's new instant download system for PDFs when I posted the Golf Club Covers earlier this summer, so I wanted to do the same for my converse booties pattern.

I've actually had the pattern mostly written up for a long time, but I knew there were several tricky parts where a picture would be much more helpful than a written description. So I wanted to include lots of pictures - after fighting with formatting in Word, I ended up with over 30 pictures embedded in the pattern. I also included a text-only version of the pattern for those who might want to print out just one or two pages, or display it on their phone or tablet. It sure took a long time (and quite a few fits of swearing) to get the formatting to work right, but I'm really happy with how it turned out.

Pattern available in my Esty Store now
I have also finally gotten around to making an inverted colour variant of these booties - with the red at the top instead of the bottom. This is usually the way I prefer to see and make rainbows, and I'm really not sure why I made the original booties the opposite way around. Here are the two versions (original on the right, new on the left) - I can't decided which I like better. What do you think? In any case, both versions are available in my shop!

These little guys still need their stars and laces...

Coffee Cup Cozies

At one point during this trip we stopped to get coffee at a local coffee shop, and I noticed that even when using one of those little cardboard bands around my cup, my London Fog (a delicious tea latte made with Earl Grey tea and vanilla, for those of you who haven't tried this magical beverage) was still almost too hot to hold. This got me thinking that a crocheted coffee cup cozy would be much more effective - plus it would be reusable, and stylish!

Later that day at the beach I started a prototype. I started with a chain that I joined into a circle, and did continuous rounds of single crochet (double crochet would have been too loose and wouldn't protect the hands as much I think...), adding a few increases every few rounds to make it slightly wider at the top. This first prototype was about the same height as those cardboard tubes in the store. Later when I went to make the second one, in a different colour, I decided to try making it taller so it would be more comfortable to hold. Here is the comparison of the first two versions:

I asked my Facebook fans about which they liked better and the consensus seemed to be the taller one (as I suspected), so I kept that size for the rest of the colours. I had to pick up a few more types of sock yarn to make a nice selection, plus, I knew I wouldn't have Len's Mill Store once we got back to Regina - I had to take advantage of their selection and prices while I could! Each colour is a slightly different weight and stretchy-ness of course so I had to keep checking each new colour against the finished ones, and testing it out on a trusty Tim's cup.

I also played around a little bit with an adjustable model of the coffee cup cosies, for use on mugs with handles and strangely sized mugs... I will probably come back to this idea later. For now I like this simple one-size-fits-all model. Here are the colour combinations I have made so far, all available in the shop:

All the colours
Blue Moon
Garden Flowers
Light Rainbow
Dark Rainbow
Purple Iris
Green with Envy

Square Blanket Progress

I have continued to work on the knitted square blanket from this post, though it's been out on the back burner during these other projects. I just finished the second piece - doesn't it look nice so far?.

Ah well, it's not for the shop or a gift, it's just for me, so I think it's fine to leave on the back burner for a while. I will probably be more motivated to work on it once it's a bit chillier. I'm sure the ladies at my Saturday stitch group will be happy to see me knitting for once (I'm in the minority as a crocheter) - plus they can help save me when I inevitably mess it up again!

Alpaca Birthday Sweater

Another project that I brought with me this summer is a lovely pattern made in amazing baby Alpaca yarn that my in-laws gave me for my birthday last year (that would be September 2012 for those keeping track). I didn't get a chance to start working on this sweater until Xmas time last year, and it has been a sort of in-between project: something that is easy to pick up at any time, and fits nicely in a small project bag so it's easy to keep with me, but it hasn't gotten any concentrated attention from me to this point.

It's been the same on this trip - I've worked on it from time to time, but I haven't focused on it at all. I put a stitch marker in at the start of this trip, and now, when we've just arrived home, you can see that I've certainly made some progress, but not a lot.

In my defence it is very fine yarn and a 3.00mm hook, all in single crochet, so it does take forever to do each round. I will need to get going on this soon though, if I want to wear it this winter! I promise a more thorough post about this project and pattern when it's closer to completion.

That's it for now, keep crafting!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Summer 2013 Update: July

(Note: this post was written at the end of July, I'm just late posting it...)

Recently I've been catching up on blog posts about projects from the last few months plus a couple of recent posts - but you may be wondering what I've been up to since the school year ended.

Well I sure haven't been idle on the crafting front! Here is a quick update on some of my recent projects, besides the knitting project that I've already posted about.

Once I finished the golf club covers for my Dad, I realized that I was running out of time before our summer road trip to Ontario, so I had to get organized about what to bring with me, and what to finish before I left. Here's some of what I've been working on (besides the knitted blanket which you've already heard about).

"Named in the Light of the Seven" - Bright Rainbow Blanket

Ever since I picked up the bright rainbow yarn in December, I have been wanting to make a bright rainbow baby blanket. So once I was done the massive wedding blanket project, I decided to start work on a baby blanket for some friends in Regina who were expecting in early July. I decided this would be the time for this bright baby blanket, and I also decided to make it a 7-colour rainbow (you know, ROYGBIV like a real rainbow).

I also decided to design the pattern to use the number 7 as much as possible. I'd been considering this kind of design for a while, ever since I'd heard of Christian prayer shawl patterns that used the number 3 over and over (for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and also of Wiccan patterns that also used the number 3, but in this case it was for the 3 aspects of the goddess - maiden, mother and crone. Apparently in both cases the working of the design then becomes a type of prayer or meditation.

I was intrigued by this idea, and wanted to try something in 7s, partly for the 7 principles of Unitarian Universalism, which I belong to. These principles are often equated with the 7 colours of the rainbow - here is a simplified summary of them using ROYGBIV:

R - Respect All People
O - Offer kind and fair treatment to all
Y - Yearn to Accept and Learn About Ourselves and Others
G - Grow by Exploring What is True and Right
B - Believe in our Ideas and Act on Them
I - Insist on Freedom, Justice, and Peace for all People
V - Value our home, Earth, that we share with all living beings

Also, since reading and watching the Game of Thrones series (which I am listening to again on audiobook this summer as I craft), where the mainstream religion has 7 gods (mother, maiden, crone, father, smith, warrior, stranger), the number 7 comes up over and over again, and rainbows are used to represent this faith. Children born to families who worship the Seven are said to be "Named in the light of the Seven". Plus, their peace banners are rainbow-striped - isn't that cool?

So I figured this 7 colour blanket would appeal to Game of Thrones fans and Unitarians alike, plus anyone who likes the scientific accuracy of having all the colours of a real rainbow.

Anyway, enough background...

Usually my zigzag baby blankets are made with 6 stitches on each side of a point, so for this blanket made in 7s, I added a stitch to each section. I also made sure that the bottom edge had 7 points. Usually the width of the stripes on my blankets varies, (I think I have used 5  or 6 rows per stripe in the past for rainbows) so of course I increased that to 7, as well as adding an indigo-coloured yarn.

I actually started this blanket while in Germany for my friend's wedding, but it got set aside during the craziness at the end of the school year. I picked it up again at the end of June and was hoping to get it finished before we left for Ontario for the summer, since our friends' baby would be born in early July.

As soon as I had worked through one set of the 7 colours, I realized that this blanket would have different dimensions than usual. In order to fit in two repeats of the rainbow pattern it would be longer than usual, but the same width.

Wow, you're really helping me take pictures of the blanket Nikko... good thing you're cute!
I didn't get it finished before we left, but I finally completed it in the first week that we were out east, and shipped it back to Regina. I think it turned out pretty well, though next time I would make it wider to make it seem less long and skinny. I can do this while still maintaining the pattern of 7s by counting 7 tops of points (at the purple end), instead of 7 bottom points (the red end) See, if you count in this picture there are 7 points at the red end but only 6 at the purple end - next time I would make it 8 at the red end and 7 at the purple end). The indigo is also a lot darker than the other colours, so I might also look for a shade in a similar yarn that would blend more smoothly.

Sorry for the poor lighting, this was taken inside

Outside, with a Muskoka chair for scale

When I get a picture of the new little guy with this blanket, I will post it here as an edit.

Treehouse Boutique Inventory

This summer I heard of a little shop that just opened in North Bay Ontario, called Treehouse Boutique, that specializes in showcasing work by Canadian artisans.
When I first heard about it through Handmade Saskatchewan in June, I considered getting involved, but I was so busy that I didn't have time to think much about it, beyond "liking" their Facebook page. Then in early July the owner started asking about artists who made things other than jewelry (I guess her store was mostly jewelry at that point), so I contacted her, and right away she seemed very interested. She was intrigued by the laptop cases but since there are so many different sizes of laptops, it seemed impractical. We decided to start with some phone cases, and some baby booties.

When we had this conversation I was visiting some friends who live on Lake Huron, so I didn't have access to my usual craft stores. I tried the cute little local yarn shop in town called Docknits, and I was able to find some nice colours of "superwash" wool sock yarn (for the phone cases), for a reasonable price.

A couple of days later we left for Miami because Deep had an academic conference to attend there, and I was tagging along for the cheap(ish) trip to Florida. I had a great time working on 3 different sizes of phone cases (iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 5, and Blackberry curve) during all the talks, and while out with friends for meals and drinks.
Crochet makes academic talks so much more interesting... 
Crocheting while at a fancy cocktail bar with some friends!
Once back from Miami, I needed to organize all the items to send to Treehouse, and I had to attach tags with item names, codes, and prices. Pricing things was interesting - I needed to increase the prices compared to my Etsy store because due to the consignment model Treehouse uses, the artist (that's me!) gets 55% of the shop price, so in order to cover my materials and shipping costs, and to pay for my time, the shop price has to be higher. Hopefully the increased exposure in the shop will make all this worth it!

I had a hard time finding tags at first (couldn't find anything at Staples, and at Michaels a small package was quite expensive and no choice of paper colour or type). Then I discovered a punch at Michaels that I could use to cut out my own tags out of any paper. It was pricier for the few tags I needed at this point, but I knew that over time it would be cheaper as well as much more flexible.

At this point I had a nice collection of phone cases in the 3 sizes and 4 colour combinations.

I had also just made a set of solid-colour baby booties to add to my Etsy store, so I decided to send those along too.

Here are all the items all ready to go to the shop, just in time for a festival in North Bay at the beginning of August.

Wish me luck and good sales in this new shop :)

Keep crafting!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A Shop by Any Other Name...

Now that I have changed my shop name and posted these new banners and the new logo, I can post this story behind the name and logo change - as well as my tips for others planning the same thing.

Several months ago I decided that I wanted to change the name of my Etsy shop to something more general, since I wanted to expand my products beyond just crochet. In particular, I wanted to add wire jewelry and these glass stones that have pictures or words embedded in them.

I started trying to come up with names that would be both original and meaningfully connected to me. I came up with a few, mostly inspired by my field work with hummingbirds a few years ago. Once I had some ideas, I posted on my Facebook page to see what others thought, and I got a few suggestions (one of my friends added Dream Nest to my original poll, and clearly it took off):

I decided that my friends and family were onto something with Dream Nest and decided to start working on logo ideas - and then I got a full time teaching job! For the next few months it was all I could do to keep up with the few orders that came in, and I even had to put my shop on Holiday mode to keep from being overwhelmed. Once summer rolled around I decided to finally get working on this transition to a new name. I started working on some new items in the wire and glass categories, and returned to thinking about a logo.

Back in January I was thinking about using a photograph or a real wire and yarn nest as the basis for my logo, but the reality of making such a nest was much harder than I had imagined, so now I decided to give in an have a graphic designer make me a proper logo. I searched etsy for a likely designer, and found one (StyleGraphicDesign) who would do all the design work first and then only charge when the logo is ready and the customer is happy with it. All at a reasonable price of about $50.

I described what I wanted:

"I'm thinking of a bird's nest, ideally made to look like it's made with wire (silver or coloured) and yarn with round pieces/balls of glass embedded, if that doesn't look too busy. Not sure if I want a bird to be near the nest or not... maybe. If so, it should be a hummingbird in rusty red with a white breast patch (I used to study rufous hummingbirds) - or the silhouette of a hummingbird is probably easier. "

and over a couple of days of back and forth, I was quite pleased with the logo, and went for it. Here is the finished product - nice huh?

There's always a catch...

If you've been following my blog I'm sure you are well aware that nothing ever goes exactly as planned for me, so of course there was a minor hang-up.... I had forgotten to Google the name before finalizing the logo! (In my defence I really thought I had done this back in January... Now I realize that I had searched for the name on Etsy, but not on the rest of the web!) Turns out that if you google "dream nest" or "the dream nest" you get a bunch of real-estate related hits! I guess that makes sense, now that I think of it, but it hadn't occurred to me before. I also tried "dreamy nest" which came up with something called "dreamy nest designs" - clearly I couldn't use this name without confusing my customers and getting folks lost along the way!

If I had only done this crucial google search before finalizing my logo order, it would have been no big deal, just one more edit in the consultation process. But since it was already finalized, I had to request a change to the finished logo, which cost me another $20 - a stupidity tax I guess!
After some more careful web searching and double checking on Etsy, I decided on Dream Nest Creations, which yields much less confusing search results, and is actually more descriptive. I requested the name change from the graphic designer, and after one more round of drafts and feedback, I finally had the logo I had been looking for! I am actually happier with it than with the original, so I guess it was all for the best. Sure is annoying when life catches up with you and gives you a smack upside the head for being silly though!

Next on my to do list before unveiling the new logo and officially changing the name was to make myself some banners and profile pictures for Etsy and Facebook, and all that good stuff. With such a lovely logo to start with, this should be easy, right?

Back when I made my first Etsy banner, I found this post on the Etsy forums about making an Etsy banner with Powerpoint. This appealed to me because I have actually used Powerpoint for formatting and creating layouts that combine images and text before - this is how most academics make their posters for conferences, which I've done three times now, and I've also used it to make snazzy photo collages as well. That's how I made this first Etsy Banner - looks not too bad for a program almost everyone has, huh?

So I tried to do the same process again for the new banner with the shop name and logo - and I realized that no matter what I did, the text came out looking quite bad - look at how pixellated it is!

Actually... I guess it doesn't look that bad here... but at normal size it does look really pixellated, and that was NOT how I wanted to debut my new shop name! Especially after I had spent so much time finding and downloading new fonts so it would look just right.

After some fighting with GIMP (a piece of image editing software I already have, but as it turns out it is not at all intuitive to use), then some Google searches and finally some discussions with some much more graphic-design-savvy friends, someone (thanks Ryan!) suggested that I try a fairly simple editing software tool called Acorn, which has a 14 day free trial, and is WAY more reasonably priced than Photoshop if I end up deciding to buy it in the end.

I downloaded the software one morning, by the end of the same day I had made several versions of a banner that I am much happier with, as well as a Facebook cover photo, profile picture, and an ad for the Handmade Saskatchewan blog. It is actually really nice to use, and I am loving the results. I'm certainly making the most of my free trial, and I may actually break down and buy it when the trial is up.

My new Etsy banner

My new Facebook profile picture

So, after this whole ordeal, I have the following tips to share with the Etsy/Online Shop community:

1 - Google your shop name! Even if you think you did before, make sure you try it again before you finalize a logo!

2 - Ask a nice graphic designer on Etsy to make you a lovely logo. You should be able to get one for about $50, and try to find someone who will do the design and feedback process before you buy. I used StyleGraphicDesign.

3 - Get some cool original fonts rather than using the basic ones everyone has - it will help you stand out. I recommend Google fonts. Plus I love their new preview sentence that includes all the letters of the alphabet: "Grumpy wizards make toxic brew for the evil Queen and Jack" - isn't that way more fun than the old one about a lazy dog and a fox? Once you've downloaded the fonts you will need to install them to be able to use them -

4 - Ask a couple of helpful friends to give you feedback on the fonts and layout - It's hard to be impartial and to choose between all the different versions you have come up with. My friends' feedback has been invaluable.

5 - Choose your editing program - If you have InDesign or PhotoShop and know how to use them, then by all means, use one of them. For the rest of us, I suggest trying Powerpoint (see the tutorial here - but make sure to read at least the first 3 posts as there is a correction), but if it doesn't produce the results you are looking for (text tends to be blurry or pixellated) then I suggest downloading the free trial of Acorn and see how you like it.

I hope this is helpful to some of you out there.

Keep crafting!

PS: If you haven't seen my new shop name in action, you can visit it now - plus for the next month everything in the shop is 10% off - just use the coupon code NEWNAME1

Graceful Mandala crocheted wall hanging - Free Pattern

The Story of the Graceful Mandala 
(or go straight to the pattern below)

This summer my cousin lost her newborn baby, and I wanted to send her and her family some sort of sympathy gift. I wanted something peaceful and or meditative in feeling, and since this family is very much into Yoga and meditation, I decided to make a Mandala, which is a complex circular design that is sometimes described as "a support for the meditating person."

I looked online for various patterns (searching for things like "lace wall hanging" and "sympathy pattern"), but nothing really matched what I was looking for. I found one or two that seemed like possibilities, but the instructions were very confusing. When I asked my mother in law for help deciphering one of these patterns, she offered me some patterns for lace doilies instead. I tried the one below (intending to make the centre section, not the whole thing), but since I was using colourful sport weight yarn and a 4mm hook, rather than crochet cotton and a tiny hook, these patterns were too floppy and didn't have the right feeling. I was picturing the end result as something that could be used as a small wall hanging, and this pattern was so floppy that it there was no way it would be able to keep its shape while hanging on the wall.

So after a few tries, I gave up on this pattern and all the others, and starting working from scratch. I started with a circle of double crochet and started working outward from there, changing colours and adding spaces and varying the height of stitches to create more intricate patterns, while still maintaining enough structure to help the whole thing keep its shape. I've recorded the pattern I created as I went, and I wanted to post it here for anyone else who may want to create their own crochet Mandala.
Nikko helping by batting around the ball of yarn

Of course, when I was mostly done this project I finally did a google search for "crochet mandala" and found lots of designs (including this whole Pinterest board) - silly me for using the wrong search terms I guess! Ah well, I like the fact that this pattern came to me organically while thinking of my cousin and her loss. I hope it will be the support for meditation that she needs, and a reminder of the little life that was lost too soon.

Here's the finished product:

Graceful Mandala Pattern 
(This mandala was made with Patons Canadiana acrylic yarn)

Ch 3 with first colour (Green)

Rnd 1: (Green) 9 DC into 3rd ch from hook, join with sl, fasten off and weave in ends

Rnd 2: (Blue row 1) join to any dc, ch 5, DC in next st. [Ch 2, DC in next st] repeat around and join to third ch in original set.

Rnd 3: (Blue Row 2) [2 sc into ch 2 sp, 2 sc into dc] repeat around. On sc into last one, and slip st into next st.

Rnd 4: (Purple row 1) without fastening off blue, switch to purple with a chain st. Ch 4 more, then skip 2 and sl into third sc. (Ch 5, skip 2, sl into third sc) repeat around. In the last set, you will have 1 extra sc, so sl into it as usual, then sl into base of first purple ch to complete the round.

Rnd 5: (Purple Row 2) (ch 5, sc into next sl) repeat around

Rnd 6: (Dark blue row 1) - attach to a sc, then 6 ch, and DC into next sc. (4ch then dc into next sc) around to end. Last one, ch 4, then join to 2nd ch in starting chain

Rnd 7: (Dark blue Row 2) 4 sc into space, then sc2tog into that space and the next one. Repeat around and slip into first sc.

Rnd 8: (Dark blue Row 3) ch 1, sc into base of ch, 1 sc in each sc around, but 2 sc into each sc2tog. Slip st to join.

Rnd 9: (Light Blue row 1) join light blue, ch 1, sc, ch 2, DC, ch 2, sc, (sc, ch 2, dc, ch 2, sc) repeat around.

Rnd 10: (Purple row 1) join to any sc at the end of a hump (the first sc of any two sc in a row), and ch 4(counts as 1 dc and 1 ch), then sc into the dc at the top of the hump. (Ch 1, then dc into the first sc of the pair, ch 1, and sc to the DC at the top), repeat around and join with a slip st to the third ch in starting chain.

Rnd 11: (Purple Row 2) Sc in each st and ch 1 space around

Rnd 12: (Red row 1) join to any sc, sc. (Skip 1 st, 5 hdc in the next sc, skip 1 st, sc) - 1 shell made. Repeat shells around. May have to skip 1 extra stitch before starting last shell. Sl to join. Fasten off and weave in ends

Rnd 13: (Purple row 1) join to any sc, ch 3. 2 hdc in same st (sc into BLO of middle stitch in shell, then 5 hdc into both loops of next sc) repeat around.

Rnd 14: (Dark blue row 1) join at the top of a shell. Sc in each dc, and sc2tog over each sc. Repeat around.

Rnd 15: (Light blue row 1) Join into the bottom of a dip. Chain 2, then sc in each of the next 4 st. (Hdc into the next dip, sc into each of next 4 st) repeat around.

Rnd 16: (Green row 1) Join to any st. Sc into every stitch around. Fasten off.

Friday, 2 August 2013

A Detour into Knitting

This summer we drove back to Ontario for most of July and August. Since Deep always drives the whole way on road trips, I knew I would have lots of time for crafting in the car (assuming a certain kitty didn't freak out the whole way...). And of course there were those seven weeks of vacation time in Ontario to plan for, so I had to think carefully about what projects to bring with me. I felt a little like Goldilocks – this project is too big, this one is too small... I needed something that would be just right.

I finally decided to start a really neat knitted (yes, knit, not crochet!) blanket for which I had picked up all the yarn over a year ago.

As you can see, the pattern is for a blanket with concentric squares of 3 different vibrant colours, separated by narrower squares in white. I think it's a really striking pattern. I originally saw it in a big yarn store as one of those free tear-off patterns (from Bernat) posted right on the shelves with the yarn. I admired it a few times, but the yarn they suggested (Bernat Baby Coordinates Chunky) was pretty pricey, (and it was that specific colour combination that really caught my eye, so I didn't want to substitute another yarn) so I decided to wait for a sale and consider it again at that point.

Some weeks later I came across this same yarn at my favourite cheap Ontario yarn store (Len's Mill Store), and it was selling for less than half regular price! I didn't see all the colours I needed, but I figured it would be easy to pick up three of the colours at that point, and then go pick up the last colour (the bright green) at regular price at one of the chain stores. I purchased several skeins (such a great price!) and felt very clever... Until I returned to each of the other yarn stores and could not find the last couple of skeins for this project! Not only was I unable to find the green I was looking for, but all the yarns seemed to have disappeared entirely from the usual stores! And I'm not talking about the yarn being sold out either - just completely gone. Vanished. As if the yarn never existed... and the pattern was gone too!

Suddenly I started wondering if there was a reason the yarn has been so cheap – had the yarn been discontinued while I had all but one colour for this blanket? This was starting to feel suspiciously like the time my bridesmaid dresses were discontinued when 3 of my 4 bridesmaids had bought them - ack! What the heck was I supposed to do now? I decided to take a few deep breaths and be patient and keep my eyes open. Maybe the stores were just rearranging their shelves and the yarn would appear again. Maybe the green yarn would show up at Len's Mill... maybe it would work out somehow. After a couple of weeks of practicing patience, it occurred to me that I should have asked my friends in other cities to look for this missing yarn – maybe it was still stocked in other cities? At this point it was probably too late to try this though...

When I had almost given up hope, I was walking through Zellers (while they were having their clearance sales) and saw both the missing pattern and the missing yarn on an "end cap" display at the end of the aisle. I stopped in my tracks and dug through the display until I found the elusive green yarn! Yay! The blanket wasn't doomed after all! (For the record, the bridesmaid dress situation worked out in the end too.) I was barely able to keep myself from dancing down the aisle in Zellers in joy as I bought the required skeins, plus one extra just to be safe.

Anyway – so over a year ago I finally got the yarn for this blanket, why didn't I start it right away? I had a million things on the go at the time, and then we moved, and then I made the wedding blanket... in short, I didn't get to starting this blanket.

There was also some considerable apprehension because knitting is not really my thing - crochet comes easily to me and is relaxing, whereas knitting tends to make me nervous. I mean, with crochet, if you drop a stitch, it's just one stitch (or maybe two or three) - but the potential for catastrophe with knitting is much higher, as a single dropped stitch can ruin the whole project! Even though this project was almost entirely straight knit stitch (plus a decrease on every other row), it would be the largest knitting project I'd ever done, and so I figured some practice was in order first. For a few months I dedicated one of my little project bags to a set of circular needles, and in my spare time I made a couple of blanket squares with straight knitting to build up my muscle memory and my confidence.

Back to the Present

Ok, so we're finally caught up to this summer. I packed up most of the yarn into this project bag (and the rest into my suitcase, in case I got that far), and we headed across the country. The good thing about this project is that it is made in 4 square pieces (one for each corner) that are stitched together at the end. I figured this would make the project more manageable on the road, as I could pack away each square as I finished it, and it wouldn't grow too large for my project bag or to work on comfortably in the car.

I started off the first morning of our drive with a couple of rows on my practice square to remind my fingers how knitting works, and then I pulled out my pattern and my brand new 6 mm circular knitting needles (courtesy of my local yarn shop in Regina, Golden Willow), and started casting on - turns out my fingers did remember how to do this! Since I'm terrible at remembering to count stitches, I used stitch markers every 20 stitches from each end, and a marker of a different colour for the point where I would need to decrease.  This excessive use of stitch markers later gained me some raised eyebrows from my mother-in-law who is an expert knitter, but what can you do?

So I did my first row, and got to the part in the second row where the pattern says "Sl1, K2tog, psso" - and I realized that I really should have gotten some lessons on this from my knitting friends before I left town! Luckily, this is the digital age, and I had the power of the internet in my hand – so I spent a ridiculously long time looking up instructions and diagrams for a slip stitch (everyone assumes you already know how to do this, I guess). Once I found them, it was easy to find K2tog and psso. Thank you internet! Here is my progress after only a couple of hours. You can see in the top left that the corner is even starting to take shape – yay!

And here is the progress partway through the second day – I successfully changed colours and luckily no major mishaps....

On the third day of the drive something startled me in the middle of a stitch and I jerked my hands, and looked down to find that I had dropped a stitch! And to my horror, it had already run down a couple of rows! I know, experienced knitters say all you have to do is "un-knit" and "re-knit" to fix this, but remember, this was my first real knitting project, and I had no idea what these things mean, let alone how to do them! I tried to stop panicking, after all we would arrive at my in-laws place that evening, so I put my needle caps (or whatever you call those things that stop stitches from slipping off your needles) back on, carefully put the project in the bag, and sent a plea to the knitting gods that it wouldn't get any worse.

That night after dinner, I pulled out the project and asked my mother in law for her help – and she worked magic. I saw this mystical un-knitting process in action (though I still do not claim to understand how it works!), and within a few minutes my project was back in order. A little while later though, I realized that I had made a mistake somewhere a few rounds earlier, because my decrease and straight knit rows were out of whack. Thankfully, she was able to work some even more complex knitting magic that involved pulling back a couple of rows, but then un-knitting a few more just in the middle, and reconstructing the whole pattern where I had gone wrong! (see below).

After a few tries, we had it back in order! At this point I decided that it was past time to try using a "lifeline" – where you thread a piece of scrap yarn through all the stitches in your current row, so that if anything goes wrong, you know you can at least pull back to that point without losing any further stitches. The idea of putting in a lifeline always seems to occur right AFTER a catastrophe, but at least when you're done fixing your mess, you can ensure you won't have to re-do that section again! If you look carefully in the picture below, you can see a piece of yellow yarn sticking out near the top of the green stripe – that's my first life line. Over the next few days I made pretty good progress with this project, until I got distracted by other projects (see my Summer Update post).
Then this project got set aside for a couple of weeks straight, while we flew down to Florida for a conference (obviously I didn't have room for this extra bag on the plane), and then went on a short within-Ontario road trip when we got back to Canada. A couple of days ago I pulled out this project again, only to find that I had made yet another mistake – I had skipped two decreases, because I had been too caught up in conversation the last time I was working on this project! So I spent part of an evening working back 3 or 4 rows to fix the problem myself. Once I was back to where I had started, i figured it was time for a second life line. Here are a couple of shots of the process. I just used a tapestry needle and some scrap yarn (yellow in these pictures), and carefully threaded it through each stitch in the current row.

Ta-da! You can see the two yellow strands on the far left, those are the two completed life lines. In theory I could have taken out the older lifeline once I had the new one in, but this seemed unnecessary.

Once I had the second lifeline in, and the project was back on track, I really started moving. It seemed to be progressing much more quickly – partly because my technique was getting significantly better, but mostly because the rows were getting shorter. Here is a shot of my progress late the next morning, as I sat at the kitchen table listening to my audiobook and with my kitty to keep me company. As you can see, at this point I had already completed a whole new coloured stripe and was almost on to the next one. The way it was working up so quickly, I became determined to finish it that day.

That afternoon it was just too nice outside to stay inside any longer. So I set up a chair in the shade under one of the apple trees in the backyard at my in-laws' place, got my audiobook going again, and got to work in the lovely warm-but-not-too-sticky-for-once afternoon. Here is a shot from where I sat, during a brief period of cloud cover when the shadows weren't too dark for a picture. 

A little while later I got up to get something, and came back to find I had a visitor – Oreo, the extremely friendly cat from next door, had decided to join me under my tree! Doesn't this look like a lovely spot to spend the afternoon?

And *drumroll* later that afternoon I finished the first section of the blanket – here it is! Obviously it needs to be blocked, and there are quite a few ends to weave in, but I'm so proud. I finished my first major knitting project, and I did it without pulling out any of my hair! I did put in a third lifeline, as you can see, but I didn't end up needing any of them, thankfully.

Now I'm about 12 rows into the next section, so I better get back to it! I will post about this project again once I've got all four sections complete, as I start putting it together.

Keep crafting!