Monday, May 27, 2013

A few free "hidden gems" on Ravelry (free knitting patterns)

A few years ago, I browsed Ravelry's newly added patterns feed on a daily basis. At that time there would be a few pages to skim through, and most were not of much interest to me. However, opening the pages of the patterns that appealed to me ended up being a big time-suck, and heaven forbid I missed a day of browsing -- I would have to catch up the next day, and eventually I realized that if I were going to try to do more productive things in my day, I would have to give up this little hobby.

Now Ravelry has implemented a few features on the patterns homepage that allow me to get a nice little dose of new patterns without spending the time to browse through all of the new patterns. "Your Pattern Highlights" shows a selection of new patterns based on your Ravelry preferences (i.e., favorite designs, designers, patterns "liked" by other users with apparently similar taste, etc.), and "Hot Right Now" showcases the most looked-at patterns recently. The default is to show the top five patterns, but I just discovered that the list can be expanded to show 20. Great!

But occasionally, I still come across patterns that don't appear on either of these lists, usually either by viewing my friends' feed of recently added photos, or by browsing patterns for a particular weight yarn. When I run a pattern search, I usually sort by "most projects," but occasionally I'll sort by "recently added to Ravelry" just so that I'm not looking at all the same patterns all the time.

It was in this way that I came across these few free gems today, while searching for a pattern for these yarns:

Pure cotton ripple yarn, from Taobao seller 幽思品兰香

Shishang silk protein/wool blend from Taobao seller 燕子_时尚坊
All of them went into my queue immediately:

Smoky Earl Grey 
I love the look of these boxy, dropped-sleeve pullovers, in the vein of Tweedy---Stripey. This one is more cropped and in a slightly lighter weight yarn than the latter.

Recto Verso
This is a button-back short-sleeve cardigan in "lacy" garter stitch (basically, a "condo" stitch, where two different needle sizes are used) knit at a very loose gauge. I really love the look of loose-knit garter stitch, especially in a summery yarn, like cotton.

(Actually, even in wool it's good. Witness my Skappelgenseren. And my dumbbells.)
I found the Recto Verso designer has a number of fabulous, simple patterns (more chubby garter stitch!) for free, in French and English -- and this one is not yet on Ravelry (link opens PDF) but I found it on her blog and love it, too (French only but the schematic is pretty clear and with a bit of Google Translate magic I reckon I can figure it out).

Finally, I came across the Web site for Järbo Garn, which seems to be a Swedish yarn company with a similar setup to Drops Yarn in that they release a bunch of patterns every season to accompany their yarns. Unlike Drops patterns, the Jarbo patterns seem to be mostly in Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, with the occasional Finnish, German, or French translation thrown in, but again, Google Translate is pretty powerful, especially with the simpler designs. There is an English-language framework for the site, though, so navigating it is not a problem.

Bonus: When I expanded my "Hot Right Now" list to the top 20, I came across this other free gem, a summery lacey shawl -- I think it'll be perfect for this hot pink ribbon yarn that'll be left over as soon as I finish my Doris Chan Lacy Top Cardigan.
Italian mill end yarn "Earth" from my favorite Taobao shop, 很胖的胖子

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ravelers: Will you vote for my sock, please?

As I mentioned a few days ago, I recently completed a pattern test for a lovely toe-up cabled sock, and now my project photo is in a contest. There's a skein of Malabrigo sock yarn at stake here, so if any of you who are reading this are on Ravelry and want to help that skein become mine ... head over to the Trappings and Trinkets contest thread to show your love. Thanks!

(And yes, there has just been a major earthquake in Sichuan. Everybody in Chengdu seems fine, but we're waiting for more information from the rural areas near the epicenter in Ya'an and, for those of you who are interested, we're keeping track of information here.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

The magic of short DPNs

When I learned to knit in the round, all I had were DPNs. Not just any DPNs, but massive wooden dowels that had been sharpened to a point at either end and only very lightly sanded down. These kinds of needles are usually given away for free with the purchase of a 250g or so cake of chunky acrylic or novelty yarn, sold all over the city but particularly in little shops near universities, as soon as the weather starts to cool off in the autumn. The cakes (and corresponding free needles) are perfect for the occasional knitter who wants to make a scarf -- and as there is an idea in China that if you knit your boyfriend a scarf, you've "caught" him, this activity is particularly popular among female university students.

I'm not a university student, but I was once a new knitter, and these cakes of yarn are affordable, attractive, and much more accessible than the yarn that the "real" knitters buy, which is sold by the pound and more often than not is very fine.

All that is to say, I had amassed a collection of those crude wooden DPNs meant for one-time scarf use because every time I purchased a cake, I got a pair for free. I had all sizes from 7mm to 12mm, and only once did I find a seller who had them in the "small" size of 6mm. I got four of those.

So I was all ready to start knitting in the round. But trying to knit a hat, which is about 20" in circumference, on three splintery wooden needles, each of which measures 14" in length, proved to be too challenging a task.

Eventually I learned about, and acquired, circular needles, in both 32" and 16" lengths, as well as nice, smooth, 25cm/8" (I think) DPNs, both in stainless steel and bamboo.
The bottom half of these sleeves are knit flat, in garter stitch, just the way I like it. But do you see the tops of those sleeves? Short DPNs, to the rescue! To-be-released Bloc Pullover by Kathleen Dames in Applelaine Apple Pie (lavender) and some wonderfully soft alpaca/wool blend mill ends purchased from one my two favorite Taobao shops.
Those met all of my knitting needs for a while, but then I started knitting sweaters, and the sleeves were always a drag, especially toward the wrist, when the tube grew ever smaller.

All that faffing about, sliding stitches from one end of the DPN to the other, or even worse, pulling the length of the cable through while magic looping just wasn't doing it for me. For the most part, I avoided socks, leg warmers, arm warmers -- anything usually knit in a small tube, and especially when those tubes came in pairs.
Thanks to my short DPNs, I am now happily knitting away on socks. But doing the same sock twice is still proving to be a challenge. Left: Hedera by Cookie A in Patons Kroy. Right: Unisox by Nicole Montgomery in Regia Monaco Color.

And then I had a thought -- maybe I just needed some shorter DPNs. For months I searched Taobao for short DPNs. There were tons of DPNs on there, but only "short" (25cm, which I already had, and weren't short enough for my purposes) and "long" (40cm), which I have absolutely no interest in. (I knit Continental style whereas most Chinese knitters seem to knit lever style, and thus the long length can effectively rest between their thumb and forefinger. Interestingly, these super-long DPNs are quite scarce in other parts of the world, and I occasionally see posts on Ravelry asking where they can be found. The answer is China). I saw that the sets of 5" DPNs were available from Chinese sellers all over Ebay, so I redoubled my Taobao searching efforts, trying all the search terms I could think of that might lead me to the prize, but to no avail.

Finally, one day, while I was searching for a silk/wool blend to stripe into my Rondeur sweater, I came across this shop, which carried the 13cm DPNs I'd spent so much time looking for. They also carried circulars in hard-to-find extra-long lengths. Hallelujah! I immediately put in an order for a set of the DPNs. 

While perusing the craft section of a local bookstore, I found this book of top-down sweater patterns. The original is Japanese. I will be getting lots of use out of my DPNs when I knit all those in-the-round sleeves!
 They arrived not too long after, and I've been happily knitting away with them since, as you can see in the above photos. For RMB60 (approx. USD10) for 13 sets of needles, five per set, in sizes 2.25mm through 5mm, I think it was quite a deal. I confess, I'm still lusting after a set of Karbonz for the smaller sizes, though, because I'm terrified these tiny bamboo needles will just snap on me one day as I'm working on a sock. Besides, the Karbonz are beautiful. 

Bonus eye candy: I purchased these Clover "Amure" (I guess that's the "Japanese" version of Amour) hooks at the same time. Between the Addi Click set I bought in February in Germany, my DPNs, and these hooks, I'm clearly in tool-upgrade mode. I do a lot of crocheting in the hot seasons, and I noticed that when I crochet for hours on end, the cheap metal hooks start hurting my hands. I have some inexpensive plastic-handled hooks as well, but the heads are falling out on some. I really wanted the Tulip Etimo Rose limited edition set, but that was more than double the price of the Clover Amours, and I would have to buy the whole set rather than pick and choose the sizes I wanted. Anyway the Amours seemed to have just as good reviews, and they're colorful too (just not pink). Pictured with them is a book of top-down crochet patterns, also originally published in Japanese, found during the same bookstore trip.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More adventures with yarn

I was suddenly compelled to start blogging again, mostly because I want to jabber on about knitting, and I know very few people in real life anymore who want to listen to that. I can tell by the glazed-over expression on most of my friends' eyes that it's time to stop.
Sari silk yarn from Nepal, toted over by a girl I know. She brought huge bags over, and everybody I know who is even remotely interested in yarn has some. It looks pretty, but I still haven't figured out anything to knit with it in the three years I've had it. Maybe it should just stay in a ball, looking pretty.
So here I go, for all of you and none of you. I'm currently in the middle of three test knits -- a lacy pullover in black linen, a cabled toe-up sock (very near completion), and a pair of fingerless mitts (just restarted in this yarn, not this pattern). And since I bound off one sweater that I was testing today, well, that meant casting on two more. In addition to the one I cast on in anticipation of binding off the first. Yes, folks -- I am a three-for-one knitter. That explains why about 30 percent of the projects on my Ravelry profile are WIPs. I reckon I shouldn't mention the shrug and the mesh pullover I cast on a couple weeks ago and have already lost a lot of interest in. I'm blaming the sudden weather change, at least for my lack of interest in that boucle shrug. Oh yeah. And then there's the summer cardigan I'm knitting for the current China Knitters Group KAL. That one should be a quickie, though, and is weather appropriate for at least the next few months.

This is the sweater I finished today -- a simple colorblocked pullover. The gray is an alpaca/wool blend I purchased online from Shanghai, and the lilac (is that the name of this color?) is a souvenir skein of hand-dyed sock yarn I purchased in Toronto last summer.

Next in my queue: Picking up my Plain and Simple Pullover that I started as a KAL with the China Knitters Group on Ravelry two autumns ago. It's in Colourmart merino that I received in a swap from a British knitter, and the yarn is really lovely to work with. However, I'm concerned about my gauge. I started it when I didn't know all that much about gauge, and I believe that yarn is meant to be DK whereas the pattern gauge is 28 st = 4" on light fingering weight yarn. According to my Ravelry notes I was getting gauge, but I'm wondering if the fabric is going to be too stiff. I recall that I washed my swatch, so the bloom characteristic of mill end yarns should be accounted for. I guess I'll have to pull it out of its carefully sealed fake Ziploc and inspect. The other reservation I have with this pattern now, years after casting on, is the sleeves. Cap sleeves really do not do my broad shoulders any favors. So I've been browsing the projects page for this pattern and noticed a project with full sleeves that had been added on by picking up the stitches around the armholes. That might be an option for me, and I might do well to do the sleeves in the gray I was using for the stripes; I have plenty of that.  

Future queue: I'd like to work up something like this Billy B Tank, but probably in not quite as heavy yarn. I would also modify the straps to be thinner and make the whole thing longer -- crop tops are not so flattering on my short torso. I like the loose-gauge look of this pattern as well as the use of several yarns, and the reverse stockinette. Looks like a good way to use up some odds and ends of cotton that I have, perhaps by holding several strands together.