Wrapping Up a Decade (aka Where Have I Been?!)

Greetings to you all, and here’s hoping that you’re still here and didn’t give up on me! πŸ™‚ I will try to make up for my VERY long absence with the story of my very eventful year. I did not intend to let 8+ months go by without posting, and in fact, when I did last post, I hadn’t a clue yet as to all the craziness this year would bring. If you follow me on Instagram, then you already have a number of clues as to all the change in my life, but even so, you may still find the full story entertaining.

The long and short of it is that we moved from Los Angeles to a 5-acre property in Tennessee. I haven’t had such a crazy year since 11 years ago when we moved to CA from Ohio (and that was a story too, but we’ll save it for another time). As those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile know, I am a CA girl at heart. Nothing speaks to my soul like the ocean… except for yarn of course! You can imagine the emotions and difficulty of making such a life-changing, drastic decision!

If you’re wondering why, you’re in good company. I think many of our family and friends found it surprising since we were there for so long, and happily so. But simply put, CA changed quite a bit in the time we were there, and still is changing. Unfortunately, the changes are not for the better. The biggest problem is the insane real estate, which in turn causes the quality of living to go down. An example is the house we were renting for 10 years, which was listed on Zillow for $400k when we moved in, and barely a decade later, is now up to $800k. Our landlord did not make improvements during those 10 years other than to deal with emergencies. But aside from painting the walls and getting rid of the carpet that was there before we even moved in, to my knowledge, she was not planning on doing much else before putting it back on the market for $1000 more per month than what we were paying. (To be fair, I want to say that I am NOT insulting my landlord, as she was actually a very good one! This is just the sad reality of LA real estate.)

On a personal note, we also found it increasingly difficult to be across the country from our families. Flying is expensive, stressful and just plain inconvenient! My sisters and I planned a surprise birthday party for my mom’s 70th birthday in January (feel free to wish her a happy birthday even in August). πŸ™‚ Due to cancelled flights and delays, even with an extra day between when we left Burbank and her party, we barely made it. When we originally moved to CA, we had planned to come back east once a year to see our families, but because of conflicting schedules and the large expense, this often did not happen.

There are also the issues that have made the news about conditions in LA, such as typhus in the LA courthouse. Whenever my husband and I discussed long-term future plans, we could never quite see ourselves staying in LA forever. It was becoming increasingly apparent that our time there was played out, and that there were so many things we wanted to do that just can’t be done in the cramped big city. As much as we absolutely loved living there, we realized we are happiest being surrounded by nature and practicing mindful living. We came to the conclusion that we would have a better future elsewhere.

Which brings us to Tennessee. I’m not sure how most people think of Tennessee, but my sister has lived here for a long time, so to me, it is a place of family and beautiful forests and mountains. We didn’t want to move anywhere too far north because we are definitely NOT cold-weather people, but we wanted to live somewhere within driving distance of our families. We also wanted to buy a house with a significant amount of land because we knew part of our desired change was to have animals and to grow some of our own food.

And so began our search for the right property. We came as a family in February to view houses, and we did indeed find our dream house. It was the right price, and everything we thought we wanted. But having done cross-country moves a number of times in my life now, I am here to tell you that no matter how smooth things seem to be going, moving is a beast and will never go according to plan, no matter how well you try to prepare yourself. In our case, because of timing, we chose to do a 60 day close, and set about packing and preparing for the big moving day. The mortgage people and our real estate agent periodically checked in with us to let us know we were moving ahead and all was well. Paperwork was being signed, and our anticipation of closing day was increasing with every week.

But 3 weeks before closing, as we were Konmari-ing our house for the 100th time, our realtor called us with the worst news you can ever hear when you’re buying a house: we might lose it. The current owners had committed fraud, and had a $50,000 lien on the house, which they had failed to mention on any of the paperwork. And so for two nerve-wracking weeks, we checked in with our agent daily to see if they had found a way to clear the title of the house. And for those two weeks, there was almost no communication from the seller’s agent and we had no idea if we should keep packing or how to formulate a backup plan.

If WE broke contract, the sellers would keep the earnest money we had put toward the house, which felt grossly unfair, given that they were the criminals, and we had done nothing wrong. But if we didn’t somehow get out of the contract, then we would lose more money waiting around and paying for the flight and hotel to show up at closing. Ultimately, the two real estate agents managed to convince them to sign documents of mutual cancellation. We lost the $1000 we had spent on home inspections, radon tests, etc., and our right to sue them in the future, but we were free to go find another house and we were entitled to get our earnest money back.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how we found another house, but the important part of this story is that everything turned out better in the end. Sometimes there is more than one dream house for you my friends, and the second one is even better! The first house was a beautiful brick home and had everything we could have wanted in the house itself. But to live the life we were envisioning, we would have had to buy fencing for the entire property, build a barn, and plant trees. The thought of building it all from just grass into what we wanted was appealing in a way. But when it fell through and we came across the property that is now our home, we realized what a huge value it is to already have what we need. Trees take many years to grow, and our current property is full of them. There is a barn just the right size, a separate work cabin, and pastures that are already fenced and gated. And in addition to all those benefits, the interest rates went down by a few points during the time all of the issues I described were happening. In the end, I am very grateful things worked out the way they did because we got much more for the money, and the property we ended up buying was ready to go for our new life.

And what is our new life? My Instagram followers already have a pretty good idea, but for those of you who haven’t seen my posts, the fact that we need a barn may have clued you in. πŸ™‚ We bought five lambs less than a month after our closing, and so as you might imagine, our life in Tennessee is quite different from what it was in LA. (In fact, I’ve taken to calling myself a shepherdess because that’s what I am, and it does sound nice, doesn’t it?!) Some days, given where we were living and where we are now, it is still hard to believe our new life, but on the other hand, given our long-standing love for animals, it’s not so surprising.

You all should know enough about me by now to know that YES, they are wool sheep! (Would a knitter/crocheter want any other kind??) But the details are that they are a mix of Bluefaced leicester, Shetland and Cotswold. We have three ewes and two rams, and in a future post, I’ll introduce you to them by name, with photos. They are all siblings, so the rams are wethered, but I do hope at some point to breed the ewes because who wouldn’t want to have baby lambs running around? In addition to the sheep, we are raising 5 chicks – each a different breed. We also hatched Guinea fowl, and the day we saw them come out of the eggs was one of the most fun days of the summer.

As you might imagine, there is so much I am not including in this post, such as our weeklong drive from Los Angeles to Nashville, with our rescue cats and dog in tow. We drove through five states I had never seen, and every day was new scenery. Moving has so many moving parts, and timing is everything! By the time the truck arrived to load our stuff, and we drove those 2,000+ miles, and made it through closing day, it felt as though we’d had to align every grain of sand on the beach into the proper order just to be able to call this house ours. And as much as I miss being able to take my kids to the beach every week during the summer, I’m excited about our future here.

Over the course of this summer, I have already had visits from both of my sisters and met my 2 1/2 year-old nephew for the first time. My husband was able to drive to see his entire family. I drove to Columbus with my kids to celebrate a dear friend’s 80th birthday on a June Saturday, and his wedding the very next day. I not only learned what predator-proof fencing is, I learned to put it up. (And those of you who already raise animals and don’t even think about these things – it’s OK, you may laugh!) Soon our sheep will need to be sheared, and then the wool will need to be processed before it can be spun, so I still have much learning left to do.

I am still designing patterns, and I have a few almost ready for release. I am also still working on my book of slip-stitch patterns which was started over 3 years ago. I am seeing the technique more and more, but I remember fellow knitters in LA seeing me working on these patterns and remarking how they hadn’t seen the stitches I was doing, so that tells you how long these designs have been in the works! If I’m being honest, pattern writing is extremely difficult, and I just couldn’t concentrate on it this year. I very carefully packed my WIP’s and notes, and brought them with me on our journey because I wasn’t taking any chances on the movers losing them. I hope you will enjoy seeing new work from me, and that you won’t mind too terribly if this blog changes a bit to include posts about my hands-on education in sheep-tending and fiber processing.

I hope you all are having a good year, regardless of whether it includes major life change or is life as usual. Thanks for reading my story – I know this post is quite long. Photos of sheep and other treats coming your way soon! And if anyone is in the house-hunting process, please don’t let my story scare you. Our realtor told us that in his decades of experience with house closings, this is the first time he had ever seen this happen. I wouldn’t want to deal with it again, but it really did turn out for the best, and I wouldn’t trade where we are now!

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Finished: Antonio’s Blanket

Louver panes baby blanket size

There are so many things I love about living in LA. But I miss my sisters and family terribly, especially at the holidays. I have two nephews I haven’t yet had a chance to meet, although I hope to put that right very soon. πŸ™‚

One of my great joys in life is to pick something to make when my sisters have a baby. As you might know from reading my blog for awhile, I have a preference for making baby blankets.

 

Louver Panes blanket

My choice for my newest nephew Antonio is a fun one. I went with a mix of blues with black trim, and resized this pattern into a baby blanket.

Louver Panes baby blanket

I am very wary of making blankets that have squares to seam together at the end. I once made a mitered square blanket that, no joke, took me longer to seam together and weave in ends than it did to knit the squares. The only reason I saw 100’s through to the end was because most of the squares are picked up and knit, no seaming, so it wasn’t quite so bad.

But back to this one, the seaming was very simple, and the squares themselves are big enough that it was actually fun putting it together sort of like a puzzle. I will not make a blanket with tiny mitered squares again, but I wouldn’t mind doing a full size version of this one for our home.

Louver Panes baby blanket

My Best Knitting Discovery

As a designer, I think I probably do more swatching (and ripping out), than the average knitter. Part of figuring out a design is to experiment, and I accept this as part of the job. Deborah Newton is a big proponent of swatching for fun and says this is the most important stage of her design process.

I am not sure how yarn companies decide what needle size to suggest on their ball bands, but it often functions as a starting point for me. If I’m starting a new project, and I’m not sure what needle size I want to use, I start swatching with the suggested needle size and then go up or down based on what fabric that makes and what kind of fabric I’m trying to achieve.

Recently, I did a bunch of swatching with different yarns, and I started noticing a pattern. I realized that no matter the thickness of the yarn or the fiber type, every single swatch came out much more drapey when I went up a needle size or two from what is on the ball band. And I realized almost every knitted piece I’ve been most happy with has always been using a bigger needle size than what is on the ball band.

These two swatches are done in chunky yarn with the same number of stitches. One is knit on size 11’s, and the other on size 17, and you can see the difference in drape. I liked what I was getting on the 11’s until I did the one on 17’s. Now the swatch done on 11’s feels and looks very stiff to me.

Again, both swatches have the same number of stitches, just different sizes. This is a sport weight yarn done on size 6 and size 8. Again, I am happier with the drape of the swatch done on the larger size.

You get the idea – same number of stitches, this is double stranded done on sizes 7 and 11. This one surprised me – I really loved the first swatch done on smaller needles, and was considering just going with that. But when I did the second swatch, I realized what a difference in drape there was, and if I were to make a sweater out of this, I would definitely go with the larger needles.

This would be the best tip I could offer fellow knitters: don’t be afraid to go up a needle size or more to get the best possible drape in your fabric. In all of these swatches, and usually in most of the projects I’m happiest with, the best drape has come from using needles at least 1 or 2 sizes larger than what is recommended on the ball band of the yarn. If you can spare the time, even if you like the swatch results, try it on larger needles and compare your swatches because you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

Facing Down an Old WIP

Louisa Harding Amitola, Herringbone Lace WrapThis project is probably one of the oldest WIPs I had sitting in the back of my closet. I started it 4 or 5 years ago, and knitted far with it. As in, it calls for 3 skeins of yarn, and I knitted through 2 before I quit working on it.

Louisa Harding Amitola, Herringbone Lace Wrap

This was one of those projects where I loved the pattern, loved the yarn, and because I loved them both so much, I wanted perfection. I’m sure you know what is coming. I made a mistake pretty early on, but didn’t notice it until I had knit several more inches. I pushed myself to just live with a mistake. Then I made more mistakes, and the whole thing just started to annoy me by the time I started the second skein.

Louisa Harding Amitola, Herringbone Lace Wrap

By the time I was finishing that skein, I was majorly irritated with myself and wishing I had just frogged it when I noticed the first mistake. But of course, being 2/3 done with it, at this point, I REALLY didn’t want to frog it, so I did what most of us do in such situations and decided to just shelve it for awhile.

Louisa Harding Amitola, Herringbone Lace Wrap

You know how it is, we always think if we put it aside for awhile, our mistakes will disappear by magic, or at least not bother us so much when we pull it back out after awhile. It turns out in this instance “awhile” was 4+ years, and when I pulled it back out over the summer, the mistakes were still there and glaringly obvious.

Louisa Harding Amitola, Herringbone Lace Wrap

Of course, there are two ways this can go when you’re in this situation: you can frog the whole thing and start over or you can frog it and repurpose the yarn for a different project. It really comes down to how passionate you feel about the pattern at hand. I decided to do the first because from the start, I loved THIS yarn with THIS pattern.

Louisa Harding Amitola, Herringbone Lace Wrap

I am happy to say that when a project has had such a long timeout, it is much less painful to just frog the whole thing and pretend you’re starting something brand new, which you almost are. When I picked it up again, I had all the excitement and drive that comes with starting a new project, and I made the most of it. The bonus to restarting is that it does go much faster the second time around. I knit the entire wrap in the course of a few months, mistake-free, and I am very happy with the results, which you can see in these photos. I hope you enjoyed reading about the process, and that you’ll be encouraged to face whatever projects have been hiding in your closet for the same reasons. It really won’t be as bad as you think! πŸ™‚

Pattern
Yarn: Louisa Harding Amitola

Short Row Slices

I love the shawl shape!

Awhile ago, I mentioned I am working my way through a book about short rows. This shawl is the next project from the book, and was a very fun and fairly quick knit. I chose to do it in cotton, but you could use any worsted-weight yarn you wish.

Closeup of the design details

I love how the pattern uses the short rows as a design element, and because of this, you don’t need to pick up and hide your wraps.

Back view
The shape allows for nice wrap and drape

I am thinking it would be fun to do this pattern again in a variegated or gradient yarn, but I am also very happy with the solid tomato red. Fall is not particularly cool in Los Angeles, but this color is very fall-ish while the cotton makes a cooler shawl than wool would have.

I also really love the jagged edge of this shawl – great shape when you wear it wrapped around yourself!

Missing You All – Updates, a Stash-Buster FO and General Catchup

stash buster blanket

I have been thinking I am long past due to catch up and create a post, but I just looked at the date of my last post, and wow, it’s been even longer than I thought! I hope you all had a great summer, and that it feels good to be starting fall and hopefully some new fall projects.

Mine was a summer of finishing projects, evaluating, prioritizing, and focusing on health. By the end of last school year, I was feeling unusually exhausted and drained. I was having crazy insomnia, and finding it hard to focus, with a sense of being completely scattered and frazzled ALL the time. A friend suggested I should look into adrenaline fatigue because my symptoms fit the bill. The more I read about it, the more I identified with everything people say about it. The fix is actually not that complicated – much of the solution lies in getting proper nutrition at regular intervals, getting regular exercise, keeping a routine, and getting proper rest.

As we all know, taking care of yourself requires time, and none of us ever have enough time. I decided that if I was really going to follow through on practicing my good health habits, then I would also have to prioritize everything else in life and let some things go, and say no to anything that would require me compromising good health habits.

I am happy to say that I focused on healthy eating, exercise and maintaining a good routine, and so with no pills or supplements or any such “extras”, I feel myself again. I wanted to share so you’d know why I’ve been MIA, but also to encourage anyone else who may be feeling that way to never feel guilty about slowing the pace to take care of yourself, and to start saying no if you are feeling overbooked to that point.

So, on to the fun stuff. πŸ™‚ I am happy to say I finished a number of projects that have been languishing, unfinished, in the back of my knitting closet for too many years. The first is a yarn scraps throw I made for my living room couch.

It is adapted fromΒ this pattern, from Kristin Nicholas’s book Crafting a Colorful Home. I absolutely LOVE that book, and I hope one day my house is some version of what you see in that book.

As you can see, I had certain yarns I was trying to use up, so my version is much more color-coordinated that the one in the book. I actually love both ways of doing it, and I loved this pattern. It really is a great stash-buster, and you can pick it up and set it down as you have scraps become available. The photo above is what the back of the blanket looks like. There is no tedious weaving in of ends, and she tells you in the pattern how to tie off the ends.

If you do a larger mix of colors like Kristin shows in the book, you can knit them in whatever order you want. However, if you are doing a more limited color palette like I did, I recommend at least one high-contrast color to help break up the colors that are close together if you want to maintain the striped feel of the blanket. As for the pattern itself, you can just Netflix binge to your heart’s content. It is mostly knitting, with occasional purl rows, because each stripe is 3 rows. You need circulars because you will be moving the stitches to one end or the other when you start a new color. It doesn’t get too bulky because you knit strips of stripes, and then mattress-stitch the strips together when you’re done.

More FO’s coming soon. Happy fall to you all!

A Bonus for Charity Knitting

As any of my regular readers know, my charity crafting of choice is for Alice’s Embrace, because I have a personal connection to the cause. But this month, there is a little extra reward for getting current projects done and mailed in:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAlicesEmbrace%2Fposts%2F2110073139021990&width=500

I thought I’d share since I just finished these two blankets, and if you need a little extra boost to get some things finished and mailed in to them, this is the perfect time. The contest ends June 30.