The Humble Beet’s Guide to Summer Knitting

Knitting

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I am here to abolish the false and misguided notion that knitting is exclusively a wintertime activity. This is a horribly erroneous belief that has been propagated through the ages, and likely stems from the idea that knitwear can’t be worn in the summer. This could not be more untrue! Summertime is excellent for knitted lace and sleeveless tops, and there are tons of lightweight fibre options that are amazingly breathable. Plant fibres like cotton, flax, bamboo, and hemp are ideal for summer knits, and nothing beats a nice linen blend on a sweltry summer’s day (take that, Old Testament!)

Here’s my guide to summer knitting so you can happily knit and purl your way through the solstice.

Tulip Tank Top

greytopfront

Pattern: Tulip Tank Top from Purl SoHo

Yarn: Cotton/linen fingering

I knew I had to make this tank as soon as I saw it. Look how weird it is! The way it’s constructed is even weirder. Check out the back:

greytopback

The whole thing is knitted in one piece using short rows (the cast-on row follows bottom edge of the garment from shoulder to shoulder). The cotton/linen yarn I used is super light and breezy and has awesome drape. I do recommend going up a size, though, and using a stretchy cast-off, which I did not do.

Cap Sleeve Lattice Top

Pattern: Cap Sleeve Lattice Top from Purl SoHo

Yarn: Galileo yarn from Knit Picks in lunar and white

lattice

Another favourite from Purl SoHo. This top is made from a merino/bamboo blend and has a three-stitch-repeat lattice pattern on the yolk that offers significant ventilation. I made this a little different than the pattern suggests: I knit it in the round instead of making separate front and back sections and seaming them up the sides, which was a way easier approach. Who wants to knit/purl when you can just knit? Who? (A particularly purl-heavy project gave me tendonitis around Christmas 2013 and I’ve been slightly purl-adverse ever since).

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Pretty!

Amithiste Shawl

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Pattern: Amethiste pattern

Yarn: Lindy Chain yarn from Knit Picks in harbor

My Amethiste shawl! I made one of these for my mother last Christmas in merino wool, but I like this cotton/linen version so much more (sorry momma). My favourite part is its scalloped edge, which is super hard to achieve with silky yarns, even with rigorous blocking. Cotton and linen are more drapey and less stiff and take to blocking extremely well.

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Much like knitting, scarves and scarf-like apparel are totally ideal year-round. Summer nights be chilly!

Knitted Sleepwear

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Pattern: Bra Top; Shorts

Yarn: Cascade 220

Knitted booty shorts, people! I spied these in More Modern Top-Down Knitting by Kristina McGowan, which my library conveniently has a copy of. I hadn’t even considered making below-the-belt knitwear until I met this book, and now my wardrobe includes both these booty shorts and a knitted pencil skirt. Heck yeah.

I hope these projects have inspired you to knit your way though the summer heat!

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The Humble Beet’s Guide to Identifying a Fake Spinning Wheel

Knitting

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Over the winter I learned how to spin fibre into yarn using a drop spindle. Spinning is one of those gloriously tedious activities you can zone out to for hours on end while you unknowingly bust through Netflix’s entire inventory and/or develop chronic, debilitating tendonitis, or at least some pretty calloused fingertips. It’s seriously awesome.

Almost immediately I decided to take my spinning to the next level and buy a wheel. I knew this was the right move for me. I knew it! Knitting runs through my veins! I bleed alpaca fleece and dream about goat-filled meadows at night! Making yarn was about to become a central component of my identity. Barbara: sewer; knitter; spinner; semicolon enthusiast.

A new spinning wheel can cost anywhere from $400 – $1000. Most of them sit around the $800 mark. Pricey, right? Naturally turned to Kijiji, the buy-and-sell underbelly of modern consumerism. I found a seller, arranged a meetup time, and a week later I was on my way to meet a guy named Leon in a racquet club parking garage.

Leon hauled the wheel out of his van and set it on the concrete to give me a quick demo. Push the pedal down like this and the wheel spins like this. No problem! The wheel was missing its drive band, so Leon knocked $20 off the price, loaded it into my car, and my new wheel and I drove off into the sunset.

Another week later I received a drive band in the mail from the fine people at The Fibre Garden and the three pounds of merino and bamboo fibre I ordered from KnitPicks had arrived, so I sourced an instructional video for first time spinners and sat down at my wheel, very eager to get my spin on.

This is roughly the point where my entire world came crashing down on me. As it turned out, what I had was not a spinning wheel, but a spinning wheel-shaped decorative object. These things were apparently popular in the 50s and 60s but have no functionality.

The spinning gods giveth and the spinning gods taketh away, people.

I spent the rest of that afternoon reading about these beguiling pseudo-spinning wheel monstrosities (which will henceforth be referred to as BPSWMs), and learned that they’re actually very common. Like really common. Way, way too common.

So, instead of writing a post about my rousing new life as a spinner, I am writing a helpful little guide so my precious readers can spot BPSWMs in the wild and avoid making my same mistake.

“Made in Canada”

If you are wondering if that super-rustic looking wheel at your local antique shop is the real deal or a BPSWM, take a look at the underside of the bench for a “Made in Canada” stamp. Spinning wheels made in Canada aren’t necessarily BPSWMs, but many BPSWMs that you’ll find in antique shops and on Kijiji/Craigslist were manufactured in this fine land, so keep your eye out for other signs of BPSWMness if you do spot this inscription.

No Orifice

Apparently some wheels are made sans orifice and instead have a hook at the front of the flyer that serves the same purpose as an orifice, but as a general rule, spinning wheels have an orifice. Mine did not. No orifice to feed the fibre through = no yarn for you.

orificeImage source.

No tension adjustment

No tension adjustment means no drive band tension knob on the top of the wheel, or a tension knob that doesn’t raise/lower the mother-of-all. In the case of my particular BPSWM, the tension knob was a loosely attached component that did nothing when adjusted. Nothing at all.

tension adjustmentImage source.

All-in-one flyer and bobbin

The flyer and the bobbin are two pieces that fit together but can be easily separated when you remove them from the wheel. Unless you have a BPSWM on your hands, in which case the flyer and bobbin are likely an all-in-one component that does not separate.
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Too few hooks

My BPSWM had a full row of hooks on its flyer, but my research indicates that a distinct lack of hooks or hooks made of wire is another hallmark of a BPSWM.

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I re-listed the BPSWM on Kijiji and Craiglist, but the only replies I got were from spinners looking for an actual, functioning wheel, not a decorative semblance of a one. Shocking, right? So I was pretty much stuck with a big, awkwardly-shaped imposter that took up way too much space in apartment and mocked me with its cruel, soul-crushing fraudulence every time I walked by it. There was only one thing that could be done.

I had to burn that mother down.

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(I am SOOO sorry about the image quality.)

I won’t lie and say setting a spinning wheel on fire in an ally wasn’t totally worth the $100 I spent on this BPSWM purchase. I’m still a little heartbroken that I’m not the fleece-spinning wheel wizard I hoped I’d be, but I’m planning to buy one of these super cute Ashford Kiwis, so hope is not lost. And hopefully my misfortune will save someone else from the dangers and perils of second-hand spinning wheel ownership.

Wave Blanket (pattern included)

Knitting

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It’s September now. The deal I made with the underworld gods for everlasting summer in exchange for a tiny slice of my soul apparently did not pan out. It’s gonna take me awhile to get over this one.

September brings Labour Day weekend, however, which for me meant heading to London, Ontario, my birthland and home to my beloved procreators (hi ma and pa!). You know what can be found in extreme abundance in their parental dwelling? Crap I’ve made. Including this lovely wave blanket!

Is this really a blanket, though? It’s pretty small. Not quite large enough to actually blanket something… Maybe it’s an afghan? Is that word even used in the context of warm, comfy coverings anymore? Perhaps it is a throw. What in the hell is a throw, though? An extremely unreliable internet source (you know the one) says a throw is intended to cover an individual during periods of rest, and I think that’s what my mother uses it for, so I’m going with that. Check out the sweet, wavy throw I made!

This project was alarmingly easy to make. I’ve always thought of knitted blankets as extremely daunting, life-consuming projects, but this one knitted up super fast and was really fun to make. The most fun part, of course, was picking the colours. Extreme closeup!:

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Just look how wavy it is! The pattern can be found here. This project would be excellent for beginner knitters looking to learn some easy new techniques like yarn overs and k2togs.

On a mostly unrelated note, if any of you glorious readers live in, near, around, or adjacent to Toronto, you should stop by 329 Shaw St this Saturday where some cat-loving companions and myself will be selling clothes, jewellery, cat bowties (!!!), and baked goods to raise money for the Toronto Cat Rescue. This is going to be the event of the decade. Please come visit! Also, here’s a map so you have no excuse for not coming:

Cat bowties, people. You know you want in on this.

Cat Bow Tie (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Cat Bow Tie

Yarn: Any will do. I used DK, but a double strand of fingering yarn would work too

Needle size: 3.75mm (US 5) straight needles

This is the post the Internet has been waiting for. Dashing, chic, and lush with contemporary flare, cat bow ties are the perfect accessory for the modern feline.

In fact, you should probably abandon whatever it is you’re doing right now and start making your beloved felis catus one of these super easy and immoderately stylish bow ties, because the benefits of doing so are innumerable. Cat bow ties are a clever way to use up scrap yarn, they knit up extremely quickly, giving novice knitters an excellent opportunity to hone their knitting skills, and they bequeath your cat an air of acuity and refinement that will do wonders for his self esteem.

My cat Aldous was kind enough to model his bow tie for me, and I think he looks very smart. Here he is, sporting his swanky neck accessory, and posing in front of a Doc Martens shoe box (now cat bed) he recently appropriated:

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So dapper! Aldous also has one in purple, which he swaps with the green bow tie as his mood and current ensemble dictate.

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The nice thing about this kitting pattern is you can use almost any needle size and any kind of yarn (except for itchy wool-based yarns, which might be uncomfortable and a little too hot for your cat). I used 3.75mm needles, but almost any size will do, so long as you adjust the number of stitches so your finished product is still bow tie-sized.

Here’s my cat bow tie pattern so the kitties in your life can be the snazzy, trailblazing fashionistas they’ve secretly always wanted to be:

Bow
Cast on 17 sts.
Knit in K1, P1 (seed stitch) until piece measures 10cm.
Cast off.

Front Band
Cast on 6 sts.
R1: K
R2: P
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until piece measures 5cm.
Cast off.

Neck Band
Cast on 7 sts.
R1: K2, P1, K1, P1, K2
R2: P2, K1, P1, K1, P2
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until piece comfortably fits over your cat’s head (mine ended up being 20cm long).
Cast off.

Now you have three pieces that look something like this:

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To assemble your bow tie, wrap the front band around the centre of the bow, pinching the bow in the middle. Sew the ends of the front band together. Sew the ends of the neck band together. Place the bow where the neck band ends meet and sew into place.

And that’s it! Super simple. The whole bow tie knits up in only a few short hours. Incidentally, this is the same amount of time it takes to power-watch a season of Golden Girls. I’ll let you decide what to do with that information.

Fingerless Mitts (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Fingerless Mitts

Yarn: 50g Cascade 220 Solids from The Purple Purl

Yarn weight: DK / 8 ply

Needle size: 4mm (US 6) straight needles

Mail carriers and dermatillomaniacs rejoice! Finally a winter hand sheath that offers the warmth and comfort of a traditional mitten without the stifling finger confinement.

The morning following the completion of these Fingerless Mitts was a frigid one, so I slipped on my newly knitted mittens in an effort to keep the bottom two thirds of my hands toasty while I brushed ice and snow off my car.

Things went swimmingly until I scraped off a considerable portion of my precious hand flesh on some jagged ice that had formed on the roof of my car. (Unfortunately I didn’t notice how severe the lacerations were until I had started driving to work, vital fluids leaking from my hand wounds onto my beautiful mittens.)

The lesson to be learned here is that fingerless mitts, while rife with aesthetic appeal, are not ideal for all activities, for example those involving sharp things.

Regardless, I was so pleased with this Fingerless Mitts pattern I knitted a second, almost identical pair (but with gold contrast!), cause a girl’s gotta have mitt options.

This Fingerless Mitts pattern knits up very quickly and is super easy to follow. They’re knitted on straight needles, which was a nice change from my usual circular knitting projects, AND they allow for ardent displays of spirit fingers while maintaining the thermal comfort of my lovely metacarpals.

The pattern.

Condo Sweater (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Condo Sweater

A few weeks ago I attended the Old Book and Paper Show where a lovely old man selling vintage fashion magazines slipped an old knitting pattern between the pages of my purchase:

Condo Sweater

I looked at the women on the front and saw they were a paragon of modern beauty. Their feathered hair and liberally applied rouge spoke to me, and I immediately knew their stylish accoutrement belonged in my wardrobe.

A couple of weeks later was the 16th annual Knitter’s Frolic, where I picked up some super soft baby alpaca yarn from The Purple Purl.

This is a baby alpaca:

alpaca

They are so cute! Like, violently cute. Why isn’t this more talked about? Be mine, baby alpaca. You can move into my 1-bedroom apartment and we’ll eat sweet potato burritos and watch documentaries about Belizean cocoa farmers and I’ll brush your soft fur and you’ll keep me warm and we’ll be friends always. Deal?

I started knitting the Condo Sweater pattern with my new baby alpaca yarn, but it didn’t go very well. The stitch it uses didn’t translate well to the yarn I was using and the fit wasn’t quite right, so I started over, changed to seed stitch, and only used the pattern as a guide.

Seed Stitch

And I’m exceedingly happy with the result! It’s super soft, and drapes really nicely. This pattern definitely calls for a good, high quality yarn; regular acrylic would be much too stiff.

Here’s the pattern for my version of the Condo Sweater:

Yarn: 200g Pima Nebla baby alpaca by Diamond Luxury Collection in Willow.

Yarn weight: DK / 8 ply

Needle size: 5mm (US 8) and 10mm (US 15)

Garment sizing: Small: 32-34″ bust; Medium: 36-38″ bust; Large: 40-42″ bust

Front
Using smaller needles, cast on 64 (68, 72) stitches.
Knit in K1, P1 ribbing for 2″.
Decrease 9 stitches evenly on the last row.
Change to larger needles. Knit K1, P1 (seed stitch) until garment measures 19″ from the bottom edge, or desired length. Cast off loosely.

Back
Work same as front.

Sleeves
Sew the front and back pieces together at the shoulder seams, leaving enough room to comfortably pull the garment over your head (sew about 15 stitches together on each shoulder).
With right sides facing and using the smaller needles, pick up and knit 30 (32, 34) stitches along each shoulder edge so you have a total of 60 (64, 68) stitches making up each sleeve edge.
Knit in K1, P1 ribbing for 8 rows, or desired length. Cast off loosely and repeat on other shoulder. Stitch side seams together.

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Honeycomb Socks (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Honeycomb socks

Yarn: 150g Sew’N Knit’N Serge Outlet’s store brand sock yarn

Yarn weight: DK / 8 ply

Needle size: 4.5mm (US 7)

These are my first-ever knitted socks! Correction: first knitted socks that I finished to completion. My first attempt at socks was also my first attempt at Fair Isle knitting, and I picked about the most complicated pattern I could find. It wasn’t a happy experience.

These socks, however, were a pleasure to knit! The pattern is very easy to follow, and the tiny cable knits make a really neat, wavy honeycomb pattern.

stripedsocks

My favourite thing about this pattern: it uses DK weight yarn. DK! Most sock patterns use fingering yarn and incredibly narrow needles, i.e., a guaranteed bout of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Overall, this pattern was really fun to knit. Socks are great because you can shove them in your purse on your way out and knit on the go, as I am often inclined to do.

I did run into a bit of trouble with the heel. In fact, I’ve always had problems with short rows. They always end up looking so sloppy and uneven. I ended up with gaping holes that ran up the sides of the heels where I did the wrap and turns, which I had to sew shut. Why? Why why?

If anyone has any heel-knitting advice you’d like to send my way, please, please do so!

The pattern.