The Power of the Purse [Project]

I try to keep a small knitting project in my purse. A purse project means that even when my lace is languishing and my sweater is sulking, I have a small project, at least, that I’ll make progress on when I have a few moments here and there as I’m on the go.

Last weekend, I looked at my calendar for the upcoming week, realized I had several good knitting opportunities brewing, and decided I needed to cast on a new purse project. I went on a stash dive and came up with this:

Keyhole Scarf yarn

It’s handspun, hand-painted yarn in an alpaca-bamboo blend that I picked up at the most recent alpaca festival. I decided to make a keyhole scarflette  as a variation on my usual go-to accessory project, the venerable cowl.

Although the scarf is easy, I took care of the fiddly parts over the weekend, knitting up until the straightaway:

Keyhole Scarf begun


On Monday, I had a doctor’s appointment. The doctor — shock — was running very late, so I made a lot of progress on the scarf, and was only slightly perturbed that my lunch was postponed by her tardiness:

Keyhole Monday

On Tuesday, I had a little time to knit during lunch:

Keyhole Tuesday


On Wednesday, I took advantage of my son’s orthodontist appointment to knit a little more:

Keyhole Wednesday

I took Thursday off from my project to run to the yarn store at lunch (absence excused).

Over the weekend, I sat down between canning and freezing some of the last of my summer produce to finish the scarf and then block it:

Keyhole finished

So, that’s a project finished in a week, knit up in otherwise wasted time. I’d like to feed my leftover yarn to the next person who says, “Gee, I wish I had time to knit.” But I suppose that I’ll just show them my scarf.

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When an Almost-Finished Project Isn’t

I always like coming down to the finish line on a knitting project, particularly one that’s been with me a long while. I usually bribe myself with the promise of casting on a new, shiny thing whenever I manage to finish a project or two. This past winter, I started some colorwork mittens, “November” from Kerin Dimeler-Laurence’s Winter Woodland Mittens collection.  These are my third foray into colorwork knitting.

Just about every project I knit teaches me something, whether I expect it to or not. I’ve selected the colorwork projects I’ve done to teach me new skills in colorwork knitting. The very first colorwork project I knit was Spillyjane Knits’ pink flamingo mittens:

Flamingo back


This project taught me that colorwork is fun and can be all-engrossing, which can be a very good thing if I need to get my mind off of stressful thoughts, like work matters. For this first project, I held both yarns in my left hand. I thought that learning to hold one strand in each hand would be better if ever wanted to knit something larger, so I went on to knit these mittens:

Charoite Mittens - both

When I learned to knit two-handed, I first knit a good-sized stockinette swatch in the English style, which I found very awkward and foreign, but I stuck to it. Having developed some muscle memory with regard to that unfamiliar way of holding yarn helped me when I incorporated both styles of knitting together.

For the November mittens, I’d also learn how to capture floats in both the main and contrast colors, and practice trying to keep an even tension across areas without much color change.

Over the past year, I’ve picked this project up and put it down numerous times. After finishing the first mitten, I decided I’d try to go full steam ahead on the second one so that they’d be ready for wear this winter. I cast on and cranked through the mitten over several weeks, leaving the thumb for this weekend.

I wasn’t looking forward to doing the thumb. Even on a plain mitten, I find the thumbs fiddly. For this one, there were three color changes, so it was terribly fiddly. And once that was done, I knew I was facing weaving in, like, 37,000 ends, tightening up loose stitches where color changes took place, and possibly duplicate stitching the elk calf and cow’s legs where they kind of receded due to a variation in gauge. So, a lot of work lay ahead, even after the thumb was knit up.

I pulled out the left mitten to see what needed to be done to it. I had pulled all the stray ends to the wrong side, but I didn’t weave anything in, so I knew I had a lot of weaving in to do. I looked at the two mittens. And then I realized I’d done the cuffs completely differently.

November cuff closeup

For the first mitten, I’d followed the pattern, doing a K2, P2 rib on size 1 needles, 56 stitches, increasing to 60 for the pattern and changing to size 2’s. For the second, I’d done my standard K1, P1 rib on the size 2’s. Crap!

It’s not even a rookie mistake. A rookie would have read the pattern. Or, failing that, a rookie would have pulled out the first mitten and looked at it before casting on the second. As it was, that first mitten was right there all along, in my project bag, sitting right there with the second mitten, and I never, ever pulled it out to look at it while knitting up the second.

I weighed my options. I thought about just burying the things in my knitting basket. I imagined a future grandchild visiting years from now, getting bored, and going through my basket. “Grandma, what’s this?” he might ask.

“Gosh, child,” I might reply. “That’s an antique mitten from 20 years ago. That’s the way they did them back then. The mismatched cuffs helps you tell left from right.”

Maybe not. I really couldn’t deep-six these. I’d spent way, way too many hours on them. For my own mental health, I needed a wearable project out of all that work.

The mistake wasn’t charming enough to keep. Charming is when the math in my pattern repeats doesn’t quite work. Charming can look homey and quaint. Completely mismatched ribbing doesn’t.

The mistake wasn’t minor enough to ignore. Every single project I’ve ever knitted contains mistakes. The ones I’ve let live are hard to notice — incorrect stitches in unnoticeable places. But this? I couldn’t just tuck those cuffs in under jackets forever. They would certainly get noticed.

The mistake couldn’t be a design factor, either. A design factor happens when I make exactly the same mistake in, say, a lace pattern, doing it every single repeat. That’s not a mistake — it’s a novel feature, by golly.

No, I was going to have to rip out the entire cuff and knit it from the mitten down. All three freaking inches of it. Then, do a fiddly sewn bind-off to keep the cuff from binding too much. Gee, add that to the mitten to-do list.  There was no way, no how, that this mitten was going to be finished this weekend.

I picked up the stitches for the thumb, grumping to myself about the ribbing. How on Earth could I not have noticed my error? For all my years of knitting, it never ceases to amaze me the ways in which I can screw up. Like, RTF pattern, for heaven’s sake.

So, instead of putting the thumb in and starting to weave in ends, I had to spend the rest of the afternoon conducting surgery on the mitten. I picked up all 56 stitches at the top of the ribbing with my size 1’s. Stopping first to take a deep breath and eat a piece of dark chocolate, I cut off the ribbing, ending about two stitches below my needles, figuring I’d overcast the rough edge during the finishing process. Then, I began the tedious process of re-knitting the ribbing.

I’m back on the straight and narrow now, a little irked at myself for creating a needless delay in finishing (and consequent delay in casting on something else). But hey, this project has taught me more than I expected. RTF directions, even for the second mitten.


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Hanging With Camelids

My husband and I were having our lunch on a day when I was working from home and he was off, swapping sections of the newspaper back and forth. “Are you going to this?” he asked, pointing to a small ad in the paper. From across the table, it looked like one of those Christmas ads with a silhouette of a camel on it.

“Going to what?” I asked back. My plans for the weekend included some food preservation and other autumn-readiness tasks, but for once, I wasn’t completely booked.

“This alpaca thing. It’s right over at the fairgounds this weekend,” he replied, passing the newspaper over to me.

Alpaca thing? Gee, just when I thought I knew about all the wooly, fibery festivals within decent driving distance, there was another one. This weekend, and right here, practically in my own back yard. And I wasn’t so overly scheduled that I couldn’t go.

I’m interested in alpacas. I’m also interested in sheep and other animals that provide fiber for yarn. I enjoy meeting the folks who raise them and seeing the animals. When I went to the Estes Park Wool Market, I saw alpacas, llamas, rabbits, as well as sheep. I bought a skein of divine alpaca yarn in the alpaca barn at Estes Park, and had already knit it up and placed it on the Finished Objects shelf in my sewing room, ready for Christmas gift-giving. I was more than ready for additional skeins.

So, a little coordination and checking of schedules, and I’d made room to check out the alpacas at Alpacas on the Rocks  for a half-day on the weekend.

I saw lots of cute alpacas:

back to back alpaca best alpaca photo three alpaca two alpaca

I also attended a seminar that went through the steps from alpaca fleece to yarn:

skirting demo spinning demo

I talked to lots of friendly and enthusiastic alpaca ranchers, and learned a lot about what it takes to produce a fine-quality fleece. I also bought some skeins to knit up:



That’s a skein of hand-painted, handspun that will become a cowl:

Tall Grass Alpaca

Two skeins of a variegated blue:

Goosebumps Alpaca


And a skein of lovely dark green that is most likely to become a cowl, as well:

Rivendale teal - label

You know it’s authentic when the skein sports a photo of the alpaca that produced the yarn.

Just to make sure I don’t miss this fun festival next year, I signed up to receive a reminder card before next year’s event.

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