FO: Turbo

Last finished project of the year!


In the beginning of November, smack dab in the final rush of packing to move from our apartment to our new house, and just days before the wedding of longtime family friend, Justin had to take a work trip to Bainbridge Island, Washington. Since neither of us had ever been, I tried to find a way to go with him, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I consoled myself with the thought that there would be other opportunities, and that with his packed schedule there probably wouldn’t have been much time for sightseeing anyway.

Or so I thought. My intrepid husband managed to squeeze out an hour or so of free time one evening, and rather than trotting off to the nearest tourist destination he made a beeline to the nearest yarn store, Churchmouse Yarns & Teas, instead. He picked out the store’s Autumn Blend black tea and two skeins of Insouciant Fibers’ alpaca/CVM as souvenirs/early birthday gifts.


Apparently he convinced another employee from his company who was in town for the same work reasons to tag along, and he navigated Churchmouse so deftly that his compatriot assumed he was a native.

I know, right?! My non-knitting husband not only brings me back exotic yarn from his travels, but has spent enough time hanging around in yarn shops that he can fool others into thinking he’s one of us yarn-people. (Is there such a thing as an honorary yarn-person? I think he must be one.) I’m basically the luckiest woman alive. There was obviously a mix-up in the cosmic bookkeeping, but I’m not about to open my mouth and get a taste of my just deserts! 😛

Anyway, I landed on Cailyn Meyer’s Cruiser, a free mitten pattern that I’d favorited ages ago. (For the record, the fact that the designer’s name is eerily similar to mine had nothing to with it.) I’d planned to pair a different yarn with it, but decided that the 100% alpaca I had at the time might not be sturdy enough for mittens. But this alpaca/wool blend? Perfect.


I knit the first mitten in a size small, but even for my tiny hands and short fingers it was too small. The medium turned out just right. I didn’t bother to count rounds on the thumbs, so one thumb is longer than the other. I’d meant to rip it out and fix it before I wove in the ends, but then I forgot. It’s only really noticeable when you hold both mittens up next to each other and it doesn’t affect fit, so I’m not worried about it.


The yarn was a pleasure to work with. It marries the best qualities of wool and alpaca into a wonderfully springy blend with just the right amount of fuzziness. The cables show up clearly but with a bit of a rustic halo about them. I did encounter regular small bits of vegetable matter, but I honestly found this more charming than annoying. It reminds you that this yarn came from real, live sheep–Caitlin, Artie, and Cerrie, to be exact. (Yep, I also share a name with one of the yarn’s wooly providers. Clearly it was meant to be.)

The cable is identical on both mittens, making it intuitive to work and memorize. To me it resembles to the turbo symbol in video games, which gives your go kart/sprite/bandicoot avatar a short burst of speed. This pattern is definitely a speedy knit: I think you could knock it out in a week of evenings or a dedicated weekend. The only reason it took me as long as it did was because I stalled on finishing the thumbs and weaving in the ends in the midst of holiday preparations.

Dashing off a quick and satisfying project right at the end of this year was just the boost I needed to head into the new year with a renewed desire to KNIT ALL THE THINGS. One of my goals for 2016 is to be a more productive knitter, rather than allowing long lapses between projects. Tune in tomorrow for a quick retrospective on 2015 and more goals for 2016!


FO: Zippered DPN Case

Back in 2013, when I was still living in Virginia Beach, my interest in knitting had just started to really take off. I had access to not one but two local yarn stores, and I had just attended my first fiber festival–the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival in Berryville, Virginia, to be precise. A few precious skeins of luxury and hand-dyed yarn had already come into my possession, but my real passion was tools.

I stumbled upon ChiaoGoo RED lace circular needles early on and they quickly became my favorites. At first I kept them in their original plastic wrappers, but it was a pain, and not pretty either. As I continued to accumulate needles, I started scouring Etsy and blogs for a suitable solution, but eventually decided that I would be happier if I made my own, customized for my needs.



Fast forward two years, and my stalwart little roll was practically overflowing with needles. Despite doubling up needles of the same size I was out of pockets, and the DPNs in particular had a nasty habit of wriggling free and diving to the bottom of my knitting bag. It was time for a new solution, preferably one that was more secure.

After spotting a zipped case I liked online, I set to work drafting my own ideal version. Since the finished dimensions weren’t very large, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to pick up a few coordinating fat quarters rather than committing to yardage.


Cheery, no? Sadly, the fabric was printed horribly off-grain, and the strong geometric pattern coupled with rectangular pattern pieces meant that there was no way to hide the misprint. I considered reversing the inside and outside fabrics, but decided that I wouldn’t tolerate it being off-grain just because it was less visible–I would know, dang it! So I headed back to the fabric store, and guess what? I found the exact same paisley print that I had used on my original roll. Crazy, right? If you’re interested, you can still find it here.



There are two components to the design. The inside “folder” consists of two rectangular halves joined by a fabric hinge. The right side features two rows of pockets for needles.


The left side features a single clear zippered pocket for knitting paraphernalia.


The outside consists of a “shell” with a corresponding fabric hinge and a zipper around the other three sides. The zipper is inserted in a fabric gusset to allow enough room for the contents without bulging.

Execution was more difficult than design, as is so often the case. I didn’t account for the thickness of the sandwich of cotton batting and three layers of quilting cotton, which made binding the edges with handmade bias tape a struggle and also made the finished folder larger than planned. But since I’d already sewn up the shell, including doing the mental gymnastics necessary to insert the zipper into the gusset so that it was actually functional, I was not about rip all of that apart, go back to the store to buy even more fabric, and start that part over again. Instead, I painstakingly slipstitched the folder into the shell, manhandling it into place where necessary (mostly the corners). This probably contributed to the way that the gusset and zipper stick out in weird waves, instead of creating a smooth plane perpendicular to the front and back of the case.

Apart from those headaches, the construction involved a minimal amount of hair-pulling. I actually rather liked working with the clear vinyl, although I would recommend against using transparent tape to hold things in place unless you fancy cleaning off the residue later. Better to stick to pinning within the seam allowance and other invisible places, such as within the width of the zipper tape.

Speaking of zippers, I thought it was going to be needlessly complicated and expensive to find a long enough zipper to wrap around the shell, until a found a non-separating bathrobe zipper in a hidden bin at the fabric store. They only came in white, but it was easier than ordering something online. If you’re the enterprising sort, you could probably dye them to match your project.

The only thing I really regret is not interfacing the inside of the front and back of the shell. I recall thinking that if I added interfacing I would have to add another layer of fabric or bias binding somewhere, and I was afraid that that would interfere with the zipper operation. Or something like that. I vainly hoped that the thickness of the inner folder would keep things flat, but everything slumps a little too much for my liking. Maybe one day I’ll work on an improved version of the design, but for now this little case does an admirable job of corralling my ever-expanding DPN collection.


What do you use to hold your needles, DPNs or otherwise? If you made your own, did you follow a pattern/tutorial or did you create your own design?

FO: CustomFit Courant

Have you ever had a project that was so fraught with problems and frustrations that, when it was finally finished, you weren’t sure if you even wanted the thing anymore? This sweater was a little bit lot like that.


The yarn, Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK, was a souvenir from the Purple Purl in Toronto, Ontario. I visited during a day trip while on a longer vacation to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary, and I went in with the explicit purpose of purchasing a sweater quantity. I chose the color because it’s similar to a long-gone favorite sweater (a casualty of threadbare elbows and, eventually, a too-short hem). I specifically bought enough to complete Amy Herzog’s Courant, a pattern similar to another favorite sweater that needs to be retired (it also succumbed to threadbare elbows, as well as shadowy underarm discoloration that won’t wash out).


Just after I returned from that trip, Amy announced the Maker program for CustomFit. CustomFit is a Web-based application that uses your body measurements and your gauge to generate a custom sweater pattern. Anyone can create a CustomFit account for free to store body measurements and gauge information; you only pay when you generate a custom sweater pattern. The Maker program is a subscription option for CustomFit that allows you to pay a small monthly fee to receive sweater credits on predetermined dates throughout the year that can be redeemed for patterns, rather than paying per pattern. The Maker program has basic and premium subscriptions, and both offer significant cost savings over the pay-as-you-go option if you knit more than six sweaters a year.

I’m not that prolific (yet), but I was intrigued by the concept and wanted to support this alternative approach to pattern sales. Plus, I was already preparing to cancel another subscription service that I no longer used, and it coincidentally had the same annual cost, so I decided to trade one subscription for another to get a service that I would actually use without increasing my monthly spending. Win-win.


With Justin’s help I took comprehensive body measurements. I knit a gauge swatch. Because Courant is one of the patterns built into CustomFit, all I had to do was plug my numbers into a simple form and hey presto! I had a perfectly fitting sweater pattern at my fingertips.

In a flurry of excitement I cast on and knit all of the pieces in about ten days, helped along by a four-day weekend and a very understanding husband. Then I blocked and sewed up all of the pieces, and suddenly I realized that this sweater was not going to fit. It was too big all over, but especially in the armholes and bust.

I wept. I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I questioned whether I was the only person in all of knittingdom for whom the magical fitting formula simply did not work. I prophesied a lifetime of ill-fitting hand-knit sweaters and despair.

I…may have overreacted.

But can you blame me? Promised the sublime joy of a perfectly fitting sweater without on-the-fly modifications or frogging, is it any wonder that my hopes went soaring among the rafters? Or that, when this elusive prize failed to materialize, they would come crashing down with such noise?


When I finally pulled myself together, I contacted the CustomFit help desk, where I was connected with none other than Amy herself to discuss my knitting and fitting woes. We determined that the most likely culprit was a combination of a too-small swatch and superwash yarn, which has a tendency to grow under its own weight more than a non-superwash yarn in larger items, with a dash of mis-measuring thrown in. She counseled me to give in to my tight knitting tendencies, as a firmer fabric can counteract superwash stretching shenanigans. She also provided more insight into the different amounts of ease in various parts of my schematic.


Eventually I mustered the energy to frog all of the pieces, de-kink and re-wind the yarn, and knit several new swatches. I generated a fresh pattern at a tighter gauge, provided to me for free courtesy of the lovely folks on the CustomFit team.

It took a lot longer to re-knit the sweater than it did to knit it, partly because of the gauge and partly because I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable toward the project. The bazillion ends created from re-working already-cut yarn certainly didn’t help matters. And if that weren’t enough, I decided that the original cowl-neck wouldn’t work with my yarn (no natural drape), so I redesigned it to have a split that would allow it to lie flat across my shoulders.


I finally completed the sweater at the end of May. When I tried it on, I wasn’t in love. Some of the problems are my own doing. The sleeve cuffs are a little snugger than I’d like, but I narrowed the sleeves compared to the original pattern, and my tubular cast on ironically turned out to be tighter than my normal long-tail cast on even though by all accounts it should be stretchier. I also think the fabric I created is too stiff: while not quite bulletproof, it still lacks some of the flexibility and recovery you would expect from a plied 100% wool yarn.

Some of the problems are, I think, a result of a conflict between my fit preferences and the fit philosophy underlying CustomFit. When I chose a close fit, I imagined it would hug my back curve more closely, and I didn’t anticipate so much excess fabric under the bust. (In case you’re looking at the photo above and thinking that I’m full of lies, I should mention that I’m holding my breath in that picture. No, I don’t know why, although caramels and homemade Chex Mix are delicious easy scapegoats.) I also understood that the purpose of negative ease at the hips is to better anchor the sweater, but when I raise my arms, a healthy sliver of midriff appears.


Basically, I expected a close fit to better conform to my shape, instead of completely hiding what little waist definition I have and making me look like a rectangle. But, since it was too warm to wear anyway, I decided to stuff the entire thing in a drawer and re-evaluate my feelings in colder weather.

I pulled it back out to wear while Christmas tree hunting on the one of the few below-freezing days this month, and I can confirm that it is at least warm. I don’t dislike it quite as much as I did during the first try-on–I’m no longer entertaining the absolutely ridiculous notion of frogging the whole thing a second time to make a different sweater–but it will never be my favorite sweater.


Despite my lukewarm feelings, I’m going to give CustomFit another try. If I can’t find a way to make it work for me, then I can always spend my credits making sweaters for Justin now that CustomFit has options for straight sweaters.

We Bought a House!


While I don’t think anyone online is obliged to explain their silence, I’d like to think that buying our first house is a sufficiently momentous accomplishment to justify a freaking two-month-long absence. Believe me when I say that I’ve spent every single day of that time thinking about all of the things I want to share about the process. I’m glad that I’ve finally slowed down long enough to catch my breath and do some of that.

But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Our house hunt began this past summer. I had made a lateral career move to the same position with another company, and Justin was hired permanently by the company that he had been temping at since February. Both of these job changes came with welcome pay increases, but they moved us to new offices in Cary and Durham, respectively. Although commuting was not entirely out of the question—it’s fairly common around here, and even more so in the area of Virginia that we came from most recently—it was not particularly pleasant for either of us. Combined with the fact that the management of our apartment complex had changed for the worse the prior year and we had new neighbors with serious domestic issues (including two uncontrollable children), we felt it was time to explore owning instead of renting.

Since it was our first time in the real estate market, we chose to work with agent Cindy Leonard. She came highly recommended by a coworker who had worked with her on four different transactions, and we had a very positive experience with her. Not only was she incredibly flexible—and backed up by her business partner Chuck Hinton when she was unavailable—but she also understood our desire for a bit of a fixer-upper that we could shape and learn from. She has a good eye for simple aesthetic problems versus more serious structural ones, and she recommended several of the inspection services that we used, including home inspection and pest inspection companies. She also steered us to a mortgage company that handles non-conventional mortgages, which will become important shortly.

With Justin already working in Durham, it was difficult for both of us to get to properties during the day, so we did most of our viewing online rather than in person. Having a must-have/nice-to-have list was crucial, and we got pretty good at spotting deal-breakers in listing photos. In all, I think we visited about ten houses.


Our breakthrough came when we spied this 1957 ranch selling well below our maximum budget. It was a single-owner home in an aged neighborhood, and the elderly owner had passed away about a year before. Although the home was clearly well built and maintained, it suffered from a not-inconsiderable list of problems due to age and drastically changed building codes. For example, the porch was never properly tied into the foundation, so over time it had pulled away from the house, allowing stormwater to penetrate behind the porch and pool against the foundation, which in turn caused the basement wall to bow inward.

Under ordinary circumstances something like this would have scared us away before stepping foot inside. But I had read an eye-opening article by Faith Durand, Executive Editor of, who introduced the idea of a construction or renovation loan. These loans allow home buyers/homeowners to roll the cost of renovations into their mortgage, increasing the monthly payment but eliminating the need to have a lot of cash on hand (which we didn’t). Discussing the arduous process of obtaining a renovation mortgage is material for a whole post unto itself, but suffice to say that it allowed us to buy a home that needed of a lot of work without the fear of going bankrupt on repairs or living somewhere potentially hazardous. (Speaking of hazardous, the property also had an inactive underground storage tank that needed to be addressed, but that, too, is a post for another day.)

For reasons related to the loan process and the sellers, we weren’t able to close on the house until October 2. Our apartment lease didn’t end until November 16, so the heaviest renovation work was completed before we moved in. But lest you think we arrived to a pristine new house on move-in day, let me assure you that this was not the case—in fact, we’re still tying up loose ends this very week, and we hope to officially close out the formal renovation process at the start of the new year.

Then the real work of making this house a home can begin.

I can’t wait to do it. And I can’t wait to share it all with you.