Birthing a New Knitter

The good thing about going to the beach in August is that just about everyone else I work with, it seems, is also on vacation in August, so I don’t miss much. The bad thing about going on vacation in August is that right after I return, we plunge into back-to-school and the busiest time of the year at work, where the fiscal year ends September 30. It seems like one long sprint from vacation to Christmas. Ergo, my absence from the blog.

My extended family meets up at a beach every other year for a family reunion of sorts. We rent houses and condos in the same general area, set up our beach chairs together during the day, and have at least one big potluck dinner. When we arrived this year, one of my cousins wasted no time in asking me to teach her to knit.

Really? I was beyond excited. My family’s attitude about my knitting ranges from mild bemusement to an interest in the finished products, but not in the process itself. This was the first time I’ve had a relative express any interest at all in learning to knit.

The next day, rain set in, so my ever-dutiful husband and I set off in search of yarn. The yarn search turned out to be more of a challenge than I’d expected. One relatively nearby LYS had closed. A big box store had nothing but crappy yarn and needles. (Want a really efficient way to turn off a prospective knitter? Teach her how to knit with crap stuff.) I needed inexpensive but decent yarn and some decent, grabby, bamboo needles.

After a good bit of driving, I found both at an all-purpose craft store. I bought a skein of worsted wool and some bamboo circulars with DPNs to match, as I wasn’t sure whether she’d want to make a cowl or hat as a first project.

Katherine is an avid crocheter and, by happy coincidence, is left-handed, like I am. It didn’t take much to transfer what she already knew about crocheting to knitting using the continental method, and before long at all, she’d cast on stitches for a Triple Seed Stitch cowl  and was off and running:


The next thing I knew, Katherine was nearly inseparable from her knitting:


And the last time I checked, she’s still cranking away on the cowl.

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Airplane Knitting

I maintain a subspecies of travel knitting projects just for airplane travel. All of my travel knitting has to be relatively small and packable, and may vary in complexity. My airplane knitting projects tend to be small, simple, and knit on circular needles.

Lots of knitters knit happily away on socks on airplanes. They’re small and portable, for sure. I’m not much of a sock knitter, so I used to take mitten projects with me on the plane. That is, until I had a near-disaster with one of my DPNs.

I settled into my seat and pulled out my knitting, waiting for the flight to finish boarding. I was chugging away at the mitten when the plane took off, and in between switching needles, I dropped the working needle. It clattered several rows behind me, where a quick-reacting passenger fetched it and passed it forward. The look on the other passengers’ faces was somewhere between pity and reproach. I thanked them profusely and continued knitting, only from that point on, I worried constantly about dropping another needle.

I had no extra needles, and my other knitting projects were in my checked luggage. If I lost a needle, I’d have to re-work the mitten on three needles instead of four, and I didn’t want to find out how that might affect the overall appearance of the finished work.

As I knitted, I thought about the ideal airplane knitting project. Until the point of the almost-lost needle, I never gave much thought to travel knitting. Usually, I packed up whatever small project I had on hand. Sometimes, it was something fiddly that required a big chart, which required using the tray table and a whole lot of concentration. Sometimes, it involved slippery yarn on short, straight needles that enabled fast knitting, but also threatened to slide right off the needles when we hit even a little bit of turbulence. And sometimes, it was an otherwise well-behaved project on DPNs, and I’d just experienced how easily they could escape.

I decided that for my next airplane trip, I needed something knit on circular needles that didn’t require a complicated chart. Something where the pattern was either easily memorized or could be read from an easy, small chart or written pattern. Mostly, that’s translated into cowls or shawlettes.

For my most recent business trip, I took along a skein of hand-dyed alpaca I picked up at the Estes Park Wool Market, and knit it up into Safe Harbor.  Lovely drape, isn’t it?

Safe Harbor draped

This turned out to be ideal airplane knitting. The simple pattern knit up quickly, and I finished the project in the span of two plane trips.

Safe Harbor whole

Safe Harbor detail

I even had time to start a second plane project, this Simple Lace Cowl in Dream in Color Smooshy with Cashmere, colorway Black Parade:

Simple Lace started

We’re heading to the beach soon, so this will be tucked into my carry-on to work on during our flights.

I haven’t dismissed the thought of using DPNs on airplane projects altogether, though. I’ve got another pair of mittens to knit between now and Christmas, so I might just take them along on a future flight. If I do, though, I’ll pack an extra set of DPNs in my carry-on, just in case.


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Lucky Yarn

I should have known. It’s one of those knitterly rules, right up there with the Boyfriend Sweater Curse: If the yarn you choose for a project is some super-special, one-of-a-kind thing, you’ll run short.

I try to keep that truism in mind when I choose my projects. Much of the time, I buy a skein or two of something intriguing, without a specific project in mind, and knit it up months or even years later. I buy the yarn knowing that there’s very little chance I could ever go back and buy more of the same to finish up a project. So, for these yarns, I usually choose projects where I’ll have plenty left over, or where I can end the project when the yarn runs out, such as a scarf or cowl.

I thought I was being conservative with my Cedar Leaf Shawlette. This is a crescent-shaped shawlette with a neat leaf border. I chose it well after I’d purchased three skeins of leafy-green Mountain Mohair by Green Mountain Spinnery.

Green Mtn Balsam

Colorway: Balsam

I figured two skeins of yarn for the shawlette and one for the border, and Bob’s your uncle, I’d have another Christmas project added to the gift pile.

I started knitting. The first skein went more quickly than I’d expected, but with the ever-decreasing short rows, I figured the second skein would be plenty to see me through the body of the shawlette. I knitted and knitted, and my concern for my yarn supply grew as the second working ball diminished.

A few days ago, I was closing in on those final short rows. Decision time came. I could 1) add that final skein, keep knitting, and see where I ended up, or 2) call the LYS where I purchased the yarn and find out if a miracle happened and they still had some left, even though it’s been half a year since I bought my supply, or 3) if 2) failed, order more from the Spinnery, deal with the fact that it wouldn’t be the same dye lot, and consider that the difference in color between the shawlette body and the border as a design factor.

Complicating matters, I’ve got travel coming up. Adding the leaf border is a little more complex than I’d like for airplane knitting, but it makes for good hotel room knitting at the end of the day. I needed a path forward so that I could decide what knitting to pack for my next two trips.

I discounted option 1). If I needed to use a different dye lot, I would at least want the difference to be the same for the entire border. I followed through with 2). I called the yarn store. “Green Mountain Spinnery? Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t carry that yarn any more,” said the yarn store owner. Bummer, I thought. Serves me right for playing fast and loose with yarn requirements. Option 3), here I come, I thought.

“Oh, wait a minute,” continued the owner after a brief pause. “How much do you need? I have one skein left in the clearance bin.”

One skein? She had one skein left? It was exactly what I needed. “I’ll be over in a little bit,” I exclaimed, relieved.

I drove over on a busy Saturday and another miracle happened — I found a parking spot right across the street from the store. The yarn was the same dye lot and was discounted because it was on clearance. “You really should buy a lottery ticket,” the owner remarked as she handed me my yarn. “This has got to be your lucky day.”

Lucky, all right. Buying that extra skein about guarantees that I won’t actually need it. Some lucky person will wind up with a shawlette and matching mitts.

Bryn's shawl 75%

And now, off to pack.


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