Knitting, crafting, cooking, and motherhood… trying to do it all!

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A few weeks ago, I was approached by a local photographer.  She offered an exchange of services.  If I helped her create some newborn baby props (hats, bows, etc.) for her studio, she would offer me a photo credit toward a newborn photo session.  I agreed and took a break from the knitting to crochet some items for her.  One of the pixie hats is knit, along with the strand of the bow.  Two of my sons agreed to “model” the pink pixie hat.  All the rest of the items are crocheted, so I thought I’d share some pictures.   I can’t wait to see them appear on some babies in her studio! These are only a few of the items, so you may see another post in the future!ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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I created a sweater a couple weeks ago (click here to see the post), but I knew I could do better.  I searched ravelry for more newborn sweaters, and came across a pattern that was sized from 3 mos. to 3T.  I figured that would be a good sizing option because it would make it slightly larger than the newborn sweater I had already created and I would be able to knit a larger size for my toddler if I wanted.  This Bigger Bitty Cabled Cardigan pattern was slightly more complicated than the last sweater I made, but still looked easy enough for me to handle.

The greatest thing I learned from making this sweater was the meaning of the term “raglan.”  I had heard the word used before, but had no clear understanding of what it was.  Raglan refers to the way the sleeves are attached in a diagonal from the collar to the armpit.  There are other ways of attaching sleeves, but this style is referred to as “raglan.”  The cool thing is that you actually begin making the sleeves when you start the pattern.  Using KFB stitches as directed, you create the diagonal which will later be the beginning of your sleeves. As you can see in the picture below, this was all knit in one piece.  There are stitch markers holding the stitches which will later be knit in the round to become the sleeves.

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Another cool thing about this pattern was that it included buttonholes.  The other pattern I made suggested sewing on buttons and squeezing them through the stitches.  Had I known how easy it was to make a buttonhole, I would have just made some of my own.  Instead, I left the blue sweater without buttons.  I did make a small mistake on the second buttonhole from the top, but it is still functional.  I did not realize that YO (yarn over) and K2tog (knit two together) could be combined.  I realized my mistake (although I’m not sure how I did the top hole correctly) and fixed it on the rest of the holes.

I have not yet posted on blocking, which is apparently a very important part of the sweater-making process.  I have blocked both the blue and the green baby sweaters, but do not have finished pictures to post.  I will mention that both sweaters look even better now that they are blocked.  Instead of more posts, I am 39 weeks pregnant and I am focusing on the upcoming arrival of Christian Joseph, my fourth baby boy.  Hopefully in the next week or two I will have some adorable photos to share of my new little guy wearing all of his hand-knit apparel!

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Thus far this blog has been about knitting, but tonight I’m going to share a cooking experience.  Cooking has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember (as soon as I learned to write I was writing out my own recipes), but during these last weeks of pregnancy it has been difficult to deal with food (nausea, heartburn, exhaustion, etc.).  Tonight was an exception.  I had used an amazon Christmas gift card to purchase a fondue pot in the hopes of having some fun family dinners.  While it was a bit of work, the excitement surrounding this special dinner had all of my boys helping with enthusiasm to prepare the meal.

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At this point, I have to give a little soapbox speech… Cook with your kids!!!  My boys have been joining in the cooking process since they were toddlers.  From the very beginning, I stress food safety.  I no longer have to remind them to wash their hands before dealing with food, or to not touch their nose or mouth while cooking.  They have been using paring knives since preschool and know how to properly handle a knife and cutting board.  Why involve kids in the cooking process?  It is a tremendous learning opportunity as well as a great bonding experience.  Not only do they learn proper food handling, but they learn math skills (e.g. we need three eggs and we already put in one, how many more do we need?), reading skills (e.g. what does the recipe call for?), and physical skills (chopping, mixing, blending, etc.).  The number one reason to cook with your kids, in my opinion, is that they are more likely to eat what they have helped prepare.  My oldest son Roman, who typically hates tomatoes, makes a homemade caprese salad completely independently and gobbles up the tomatoes.  He has even prepared it to take to school for lunch.  They may not like everything they make, but I guarantee your kids are more likely to at least try it if they had a hand in the prep work.  Anyway, back to fondue night…

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The fondue pot arrived on my doorstep this afternoon, so when my husband came home from work I made a quick run to the grocery store to gather supplies.  The boys were ready to jump in when I returned, so I set up each one with a knife, cutting board, and a demonstration of what cuts to make.  Justin (my husband) helped cut the bread, and even Jonathan (my toddler) helped grate the cheese in the food processor.

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It was great having everyone in the kitchen working toward a common goal.  Each boy loved talking about his cooking job and sharing stories about his day, not to mention feeding bits of food to their little brother as he ran through the kitchen excitedly.  We sat down to an amazing meal, one that was almost as much fun to cook as it was to eat!  Jonathan even got his own private dipping area in the middle of his plate.  We’ll definitely be fondue-ing it again!

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For anyone interested, here’s the link to the recipe we used: http://southernfood.about.com/od/fonduerecipes/r/blbb562.htm

 

 

 

 

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I finished the blue ribbed hat, but wanted something a little cuter for my new little guy, and also wanted to challenge myself with stripes.  I had learned through one of the YouTube videos I watched that you had to do something special to create stripes while knitting in the round.  I did not remember the technique, but did remember that it wasn’t too complicated.  I found a pattern through ravelry that had some of the basic shaping of the hat I wanted, but it used a needle size that I didn’t have and I wanted to make changes to the pattern anyway.

I used my previous knowledge of hat making (from both knit and crochet– I have crocheted over 100 hats in the past couple years) and the ideas in the ravelry pattern to design my own knit hat pattern.  I once again utilized the Magic Loop, which has become one of my favorite knitting techniques.  I also utilized YouTube videos to create jogless stripes on this little boy’s hat.  While I can’t explain how to do a jogless stripe, I can tell you that it’s not hard.  In fact, the hardest part is remembering to do it when you start the second row of a new color.  This pattern also used PSSO, which is a techinque involving Passing Slipped Stitch(es) Over a knit stitch.  I slipped the stitches purlwise, but learned in subsequent hats that it worked better to slip them knitwise.  The PSSO technique can be seen in the raised stitches in the picture below.

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The pattern I created ended up with an adorable little star pattern on the top.  I made some adjustments to my own pattern, and in the next few weeks created hats for two different friends’ baby showers.  One couple is Jamaican, so I used the colors of the Jamaican flag.  The other couple are both professors at Indiana University, so I used the IU Hoosier colors of crimson and cream.  Once again, I need to write up my version of the pattern because I plan to use this for many baby showers to come!

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After creating the jogless stripes of the baby hat and creating my own newborn hat pattern, I decided to try it with socks.  I had already made a few adjustments to the baby sock pattern I had previously used, but now I wanted to change it completely and make it my own.  I still used the worsted weight yarn and the size four DPNs, but now I wanted to continue the ribbed pattern all the way down the heel and use my newly-learned skill to add jogless stripes and colored toes to the socks.  It took a little bit of work to figure out the right number of rows/stitches to achieve what I wanted, but I was SO happy with the results.

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As you can see, one of the colored toes ended up longer than the other, and there are a few other minor differences.  This is because I was more focused on improving my own pattern rather than making them identical.  I love the green and blue cotton yarns, and look forward to mixing and matching these socks with the blue baby sweater and the two different baby hats.  Now to make another baby sweater in the green…

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Okay, I didn’t actually knit socks for a giant, but with the size of my feet, I might as well have.  I wear a women’s size 11 shoe… a size that’s hard to find in most stores.  Needless to say, the “one size fits all” socks they sell do not fit me very well at all.  Even if they go on my foot, they tend to get holes in the toes before the end of the season due to being stretched too thin.  These reasons of course played into my decision to knit myself a pair of socks, but the main reason was that I felt it would be a tremendous achievement if I could actually do it.  I would use tiny knitting needles (size 1.5) and sock weight yarn, which is very thin.  If I could complete an entire project with these materials and have a pair of socks that actually fit my feet, I would consider that quite the accomplishment.

I scoured the patterns on ravelry, and finally found one that listed an XL women’s pattern along with a lovely design.  Click here to see Sarah Ronchetti’s Basket Weave Rib Socks pattern.  After I had decided upon a pattern, I went to the yarn store in town to pick up some specialty sock yarn.  If I was going to devote the time to this project, I wanted to invest in quality yarn.  I found a great wool/silk blend that combined varying shades of blue and green.  I debated whether or not this would make the socks too “busy” (since they already used the basket weave pattern), but after consulting with the lady at the yarn store, I decided it would work fine.  I also invested in a pair of high-quality circular knitting needles, the addi lace knitting needles (size 1.5), so I could make the socks by using the Magic Loop method.  Once again, I felt it was worth the investment in the project to buy something that would be easy to use for a challenging project.

I began creating the first sock and realized immediately this was no small task.  The first inch of ribbing used about a thousand stitches, and that was only the beginning!  Once I got into the pattern, I was frequently confused about where I was and what row I was doing.  It’s not a very complicated pattern, but I was so new to knitting and the stitches were so small that I found it to be quite a challenge.  Here is a close up of the pattern as it began to unfold:

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Because I had created the worsted weight newborn socks, I had some experience with knitting the parts of the sock, which proved to be very helpful.  I did not experience any difficulties while creating the heel, turning the heel, or knitting the gusset.  I grew to have a love/hate relationship with the socks.  While I absolutely HATED how long it seemed to take, I absolutely LOVED the pattern that emerged from the tiny little stitches.  While in the process of knitting the first sock, I took several breaks to work on other projects.  Thus, the entire sock probably took about 10 days-2 weeks.  When I finished it, I seriously considered alternatives to finishing the pair (could I start a one sock trend? match it with another sock I already owned? cut off my other foot?).  I took a week off and then decided I actually missed using those tiny needles and experiencing the beauty that unfolded from the creation of those little stitches.  I decided to power through and finish the pair.

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The second sock I created had a slightly different pattern due to the variegated yarn.  I enjoyed watching the new pattern emerge and I found that things went more quickly with the second sock as I had a better handle on the pattern.  Certainly not quick, but at least faster than before!  These are, without a doubt, the most expensive, time-intensive socks I have ever owned.  They fit nicely, though, and they’re both soft and warm.  I love to look at them and friends who have knit socks promise that they will last a long time.  And, after the exhausting (but rewarding) experience, I’m actually considering making another pair!

To complete a “going home from the hospital” ensemble for my newborn, I wanted to make a knit hat to match the sweater and socks.  For my last baby born (Jonathan), I had brought along an adorable crocheted hat for him to wear instead of the standard pink and blue striped hat they put on the babies (see pic below with Adrian holding Jonathan).  One of the nurses commented that, “these hats that Grandma makes are cute, but they’re just not warm enough for these new babies,” and promptly switched out my handmade creation for the hospital hat.  At the time, I was too worried about the fact that I was letting my baby’s head freeze to be offended.  This time, however, I decided to come to the hospital with a snug little KNIT hat.  Hopefully it’s acceptable to the nursing staff!

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I kept the same worsted weight cotton yarn and found a perfectly simple newborn hat pattern through ravelry.  The Little Boy Blue Ribbed Baby Hat was just what I wanted.  I could use the same blue yarn as I had used for the hat and sweater and by being created with lots of ribbing, it would be warm, stretchy, and comfortable.  Because you never know how big the baby’s head will be, it’s important for the hat to be very stretchy and the extended length could easily be folded into any size brim.

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The one problem with this pattern was that it called for size 7 needles.  I had size 8 and didn’t want to invest in the 7s, so I did some math and adjusted the pattern.  I basically just reduced the pattern by 12 stitches and skipped “Rnd 11” in the pattern.  I started this pattern using the DPNs.  While these are perfectly fine for knitting a newborn hat, the pointy needles kept poking my big, pregnant belly.  I watched a YouTube video on the Magic Loop method, and I was sold!  (Side note: I have found that VeryPinkKnits makes some consistently easy to follow YouTube tutorials.)  The Magic Loop method allows you to knit in the round without filling up the entire circular needle.  In fact, you start with very large circular needles (32″ or greater) and then shift the stitches back and forth along the needles.  This was a much more comfortable method for small-circumference knitting, and learning how to do it helped me in many future projects.

The project went rather quickly, and I ended up with an adorable (and very versatile) WARM hat for my newborn son!

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After tackling the sweater, my next ambition was to create some socks.  Socks were another knitting creation that had me baffled.  I can knit my own socks?  Like, to wear?  There are whole sections of yarn stores devoted to “sock yarn” and dozens of patterns on ravelry and other sites devoted to socks.  Nevertheless, I was intimidated by the idea of creating my own.

I decided to start small, as with all of my preceding projects.  I wanted to create a pair of newborn socks for the baby.  I was pickier than that, though.  I did not want to use the special (and expensive) “sock yarn.”  I wanted to use the same worsted weight cotton yarn that I had used for the newborn sweater.  After all, I wanted it to match perfectly.

I did some pattern searching and came up with this pattern for Simply Sweet Socks.  This pattern allowed me to make newborn socks while still using the worsted weight yarn.  Unlike other patterns that tried to simplify newborn socks, this one still required the heel flap, turning the heel, and knitting the gusset.  All of these terms were things that I knew were important for knitting adult socks, but they were all new to me.  I wanted these newborn socks to be an “intro to sock-making” on a small scale, though, so I wanted to learn how to do each of those steps.  The pattern also called for size 4 double pointed needles (DPNs), so this would be my first real attempt to work with DPNs.

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The pattern called for using four DPNs (with 6 stitches on each needle), although once I understood what I was doing I reduced the number to three (with 8 stitches on each needle).  I had previously watched a video of someone using DPNs, and I knew it was important to pull the stitches tight between the needles, otherwise I would end up with a ladder effect.  The DPNs worked fine, with one exception… they kept poking at my big pregnant belly!  Reducing the number of DPNs from 4 to 3 was helpful, but I still was not a fan of using these.

Knitting the heel flap and turning the heel were both easily accomplished, but I had to watch a YouTube video on how to pick up the gusset.  It wasn’t hard, but it is not easily explained.  I highly recommend watching a video to help you through the first time.  Here is a picture of the sock in progress, after I had picked up the gusset stitches:

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The rest of the knitting went smoothly, although I noticed a few changes I would like to make to the pattern.  One was the way the heel looked.  Because of the slipped stitches, the heel was reinforced, but didn’t look as smooth as it would if I had run the ribbing all the way down.  I decided that if I created my own sock pattern (foreshadowing!), I would continue the ribbing.

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Another change I did make to the pattern was to finish off the toe with a kitchener stitch.  I had watched a video of someone making socks, and noticed the nice finish they made by “grafting” the toe (aka using the “kitchener stitch”).  Because this is how adult socks are finished, this is how I wanted to finish my newborn socks.  The original pattern calls for a “star toe” by threading the yarn through the remaining stitches and pulling them tightly to a point.

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Once I was to this point (see pic above), I shifted the stitches evenly onto two needles and lined them up to create the top and bottom of the sock.  I then followed the YouTube video instructions (just search for “kitchener stitch”) and created a beautifully grafted edge.Image

The first sock was a bit of a learning experience, but the second one went very smoothly.  I love that they were quick to make and that they match the handmade sweater perfectly.  Next up: a hat to complete the set!

My goal for the year is to knit a sweater for myself.  I was not ready to jump into such a large endeavor, so I started looking up newborn sweaters.  I figured I would start small… if I could create a newborn sweater, there’s a chance that I might be able to create one for myself one day in the future.  I searched ravelry for an easy newborn sweater, and found one that was knit in one piece using worsted weight yarn.  This sounded like a good option, so I went with it!    Unfortunately, it was linked through ravelry, but it was actually from a book.  The good news was that my library had a digital copy in stock and I was able to borrow it for free on my phone, found and downloaded in minutes.  (Side note: if you have the technology, I highly recommend borrowing library books through digital media!)  You can click here to link to the pattern I found on ravelry, or you can find it in the book More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, by Joelle Hoverson.

Using the same circular needles I used on the hat, I was able to knit the sweater.  Although it is not done in the round, the circular needles provide lots of space to create larger projects.  Then you can simply switch back and forth between the needles as if it were knit using straight needles.  Knowing this, I have almost completely converted to circular needles!

Next decision: what yarn to use?  I found some great yarn at Hobby Lobby that is 100% cotton (“I Love this Cotton!” in blue).  The downfall to using cotton for a sweater is that it is not as springy as a wool yarn or mixed yarn (according to the lovely lady at the yarn store).  This makes sense and is good information for when I create a larger sweater.  For a newborn, though, I don’t think the yarn needs to be as springy and it’s hard to beat the soft feel of cotton while holding that sweet little one.

The project began at the bottom of the back of the sweater and utilized the seed stitch.  I had never done a seed stitch before, but it is created simply by alternating knit/purl stitches.  Instead of lining them up like you do to make ribbing, you stagger them.  Once again, if you don’t know how to do it, look on YouTube.  That site has revolutionized crafting!

It was SO exciting when a sweater shape started to form! Here it is with the back of the sweater completed. (Note: the wavy shape along the back is a result of it being held on the curved wire of the circular needles.  It would not lie completely flat while attached. Also, I realize the lighting is bad, so you get a better idea of the actual sweater color in the final pictures.)

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You’ll also notice in the picture that I got to use stitch markers for the first time (and understand what they were for).  Stitch markers slide onto your needle according to the pattern directions (typically indicated as “pm” or “place marker”) and you slide them onto each new needle as you stitch.  As you work, the markers define the changes in the pattern.  For example, you can see in the picture that the seed stitch was worked along the cuff  to create a pattern at the end of the sleeve.  Then the stitching went back to stockinette before reaching the stitch marker at the top of the garment, indicating that I should switch to seed stitch along the collar of the sweater.  The two remaining place markers work the same way to keep the garment symmetrical.

This project was a challenge, but it gave me a good understanding about a lot of techniques used in making a sweater.  It did not turn out perfectly, but, hey, I had only been knitting for a couple of weeks!  The biggest problem was that the stitches did not line up perfectly, so it caused some bumps during the seaming and prevent the front of the sweater from lining up just right.  Because of this, I am still debating whether or not to add buttons.  The pattern did not call for button holes, but says that the stitches have enough room to fit small buttons.  I have my doubts about this, mostly because my husband has a hard time lining up buttons on a baby when there are actual holes that match up.  That, and I kind of like it button-free.

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I hope to knit a few more small sweaters before I attempt to put the work into making one for myself.  With boys ranging in ages from newborn to age 7 1/2, I figure I have plenty of “models” for creating garments.  I want the sweater for myself to look GOOD, and not look like some kind of craft project… my boys aren’t as picky!

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Along with the blue cotton yarn, I purchased some coordinating green yarn.  I’ve been using them to create mix-and-match separates, which I plan to blog about.  Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming:

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Knitting in the Round

My first project knit in the round:

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On a trip to the local yarn store, I talked to some more experienced knitters to find out more about needle sizes and circular needles.  According to this woman, circular needles were the way to go.  They can be used for knitting in the round, but can also be used for large knitting projects, going back and forth as if using straight needles.

My first set of circular needles came from Hobby Lobby.  I bought a 16″ length with needles that screwed onto the cord.  I have since decided that I would rather spend the extra money to get quality circular needles that remain attached.  The needles I bought tended to unscrew while I was knitting, which was very frustrating and would have been terrible if I dropped all those stitches due to a needle malfunction.

So… I wanted to make a hat for myself that involved knitting in the round.  I searched the internet very carefully, knowing that I wanted to make a hat with cables.  This was when I first discovered the pattern searches on ravelry.com.  If you are a knitter or crocheter, you HAVE to sign up for this website!  It allows you to search for patterns (free or for a small fee) with as many search criteria as you can imagine.  You can limit searches by free/paid, knit/crochet, VERY specific items, yarn weight, needle size, and SO much more.

I found a free hat pattern (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/declans-hat) that had some unique cabling I could adjust to my size.  While all the “models” were male, I figured I would add some extra ribbing to allow me to fold up the brim and I could even add a pompom to the top if I wanted to make it a little more feminine.  The ribbing made it so stretchy that it would fit a bigger head, so I figured the extra allowance would be good for my first adult hat project.  The pattern called for a size 6 needle, but I had a size 8.  Because this pattern is so versatile, I figured I could swing it by following the pattern for an adult medium.  Of course, I had to try on the brim to be sure it wasn’t ridiculously huge:

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The pattern was great and I got to practice reading a knitting diagram with this pattern.  I also got to practice holding cable stitches to both the front and back (which wasn’t hard, but took a little bit of practice).  The trickiest part was when the rows started decreasing and I realized it was not going to stay on the circular needles.  The light bulb went off in my head– THIS is why people say you will need double pointed needles (DPNs) on a hat project!

Bad news.  It was 10:30 at night (kids are asleep, making 9-12:30 at night the best time for me to knit), and I did not have DPNs.  Nor did I have experience with DPNs.  Hmmm…. I understood the concept of how they would work.  I had read the section on them in my “Learning Knitting” manual and had watched a video or two on YouTube to see them in action.  The best solution would be to wait until the next day when I could run to the store and buy some DPNs, but I am NOT a patient person and I was determined to finish that night.

What happened next is tough to blog about because I’m still kind of baffled as to how I did it, but I managed to complete the hat.  I pulled out my size 8 straight needles and pulled the stoppers off the end.  Then, through a complicated method of knitting with one end of a needle and then sliding them onto another needle so the point was facing the opposite direction, I managed to decrease the stitches correctly and come up with a finished hat.  The good news out of all this– when I finally used DPNs on another project, they were a piece of cake after this creative but unconventional experience!

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I love my new hat and I love how it matches my handmade fingerless mittens!  As you can see, my toddler loves it, too!

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Fair Isle Knitting

Along with the book mentioned in the previous post, I picked up another of Melissa Leapman’s books from the library, entitled Mastering Color Knitting.

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This book goes beyond the basics of working with multiple colors, using various colors within the same row (also known as “stranded knitting” or “Fair Isle knitting”).  I read through all the information, realizing that this was a much more advanced technique.  Reading about how to do this was not very helpful, so I began watching YouTube videos.  I watched about five different videos, observing amateur videographers and professional bloggers alike to see exactly how they managed multiple strands.

Basically, what I observed was that everyone has his or her own technique.  Some do it while holding two colors in the same hand, while others do it by holding one color in their left hand and the other color in their right.  I found a pretty Fair Isle snowflake pattern in a scarf book (with a great diagram to follow the colors) and decided to try it out.  Once again, I only created a swatch, but this is what I created:

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Over the course of creating that swatch, I tried the various methods of stranded knitting that I had observed in the video.  I tried to become comfortable with one method, but couldn’t get a good feel for it.  

I decided that, while I am capable of stranded knitting, I do not want to try it again until I am a much more experienced (and faster) knitter.  I think it would also be worth practicing the English method of “throwing” the yarn with my right hand.  I currently use the Continental method of holding the yarn with my left hand, but if I was able to utilize both techniques I would have an easier time doing stranded knitting with two hands.

Instead of focusing on multiple colors, I want to focus on honing my basic knitting techniques.  Next up… circular needles!