Category Archives: Projects

But what about Matt?

Ok, ok. So what am I doing now?

Well, I’m currently officially unemployed, but as a dear friend and fellow entrepreneur commented to me recently, entrepreneurs are never unemployed. Thankfully, I’ve found that to be true.

I’m working on a major “saw-sharpening” project that will hopefully pay off in a marketable skill in the near future, and as it comes along, I’ll be excited to share it with you. Yes, it’s knitting-related, and yes, it’s a logical fit. But I’m a beginner, and I—like the vast majority of the people I’ve worked with over the years—don’t care to share my fumbling first steps with the world. Yet. At some point if I’m very, very lucky, it will be something I can share entirely, and oh, that would be fun for a whole huge lot of people. But I’ll stop teasing.

Something I am at liberty to share is a by-product of recently downsizing to more affordable accommodations. I’ve had to unpack, resort, and reevaluate all of my stash and unfinished projects.

Now, if you’re the kind of knitter that I was prior to opening a yarn shop, you probably have at least a room dedicated to your stash and projects. You’ve likely got stitch markers in every upholstered piece of furniture in your home and possibly some in your pet’s bed. It happens. You have a kit that’s literally within an arm’s length at least most of the day every day. Now imagine that same person had access to one of the largest inventories of independent-market yarns in the country for a few years.

When you’ve regained consciousness after the aneurism that thought caused, let’s just say that I was conservative. My collection was limited largely to yarns that I truly loved and were one-of-a-kind opportunities (frequently as products were being discontinued) and projects that I either taught as a class or had planned for either classes or my own patterns. Luckily for me, I suppose, I’m also notoriously non-project-monogamous, so I have a lot of projects on the needles. Some will most assuredly be finished, and some most assuredly will never be. But that also means I have yet more yarn to incorporate into stash.

In the coming days, I’ll share some of the treasures that I’ve unearthed and that I’m going to be using in projects moving forward. But since I haven’t yet gotten much of anything in enough semblance of order to want flash photography involved, I’ll just offer yet another tease.

For one thing, any visitors to my home in the last year or so would know about the three-and-a-half foot tall Collins glass of various shades of Koigu KPPPM that I kept at the corner of the kitchen and living room. I’m a collector. What can I say? I love that yarn, and I absolutely love their dyeing. I’ve been an addict for years, and I expect there are quite a few folks out there still sporting Charlotte’s Web Shawls for which I put together colorways in the early days of ThreadBear. My God, we must have been shipping those things a dozen a day at the height of the craze if not more. I definitely recall many afternoons standing in the post office with tub upon tub of small double-fist-sized envelopes going to every corner of the globe (except Antarctica—I suppose if you haven’t knit it before you get there, you’re kind of screwed).

There’s a similarly tall blown glass vase full of various shades of Mission Falls 1824 Wool. I’ve always loved that original Mags Kandis palette, and of course, this is old enough product to have seen her tenure. In any case, I’ve got a project in mind for that whole vase, and it’s going to be amazing.

There’s a bag of multiple shades of Jamieson’s Spindrift and Jamieson & Smith 2-Ply Jumper Weight in appropriate shades for an old Alice Starmore Fair Isle pattern that I’ve wanted to knit since before the shop ever got rolling. I’ve got the pattern around here somewhere, but that will also have to be unearthed.

I’ve got sweater quantities of Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool (my favorite all-purpose worsted-weight wool on the U. S. market until it no longer was), Blue Sky Alpacas Suri Merino and Alpaca Silk, Classic Elite Bazic, and even a fine-gauge red cashmere that I’m still deciding on a final use for. I’ve blown the dust off The High Helen Sweater, my decadent and damned-near-unearthly Pyramid Sweater, and my Colour-Your-Own Philosopher’s Wool sweater.

And sock yarn? Sweet Jesus, I’ve got sock yarn. It doesn’t hurt that I worked as a sales rep for some of the fastest-selling sock yarns (at the time) in the country for several years, but I already had an extensive collection. And that doesn’t even count the Koigu, and yes, if you want a truly luxurious experience, make yourself a pair of Koigu socks. No, they don’t have an iota of nylon in them, and they’ll wear through like butter if you stomp around in them. But they’re like sex on your feet while you’re sitting on the sofa or really getting dressed. Seriously.

But enough for now. I’ll have the camera up and running before much longer. And I’ll have to toss in some gratuitously cute dog pics for those of you who know my penchant. I may have lost my own beloved mutt, but my roommate is the proud papa of four—count ‘em, four—adult Chihuahuas.  Life is never boring.

News from the back office

Believe it or not, I do still exist! And not only do I exist, I’ve actually been doing things. I know. It’s mystifying.

Ok. I’ve been doing lots of work on a new website for ThreadBear to be announced soon with lots of new features and LOTS more product. Of course, I’ll get more details to you as soon as we’re in a position to make things public.

My mom did wind up having surgery for the cancer that I mentioned in a recent (stop laughing… it’s still on the screen at the time of this writing) post. She did not, however, require chemo this time, so BONUS! Go Moma! She’s since been to a seafood festival in Panama City Beach FL, an anniversary party in Brenham TX, and… Oh, wait. That’s not happened yet! She will be going to ThreadBear Fiber Arts Studio in Lansing MI in a couple of weeks to visit yours truly! WOOT! Yeah, that’s a good one.

She’s finished the baby blanket that we decided on for the new baby that’s due in October. My niece does appear to be having some issues with the pregnancy, but everything seems to be under control. For my own part, I finished a baby jacket from my own handspun yarn for the new addition, and I’m working on a jacket for my great nephew who just turned three. I can’t make something for the baby without giving him something! Good Lord! I can’t start sibling rivalry right off the bat. I’ll have pics tomorrow.

As for today, I’ve just finished getting photos up of Rob’s hand-dyed sock treasures at the main site.

What else? I guess you’ll just have to stop back by to see. Me? I’m headed home for some much needed R&R. Later!

What’s up

My mom’s had another cancer issue. It is being resolved as quickly and as effectively as medical science allows, but it’s still a pisser. She’s tough, my sweet Southern Moma, but I worry about her. And I try not to get her involved with drama here. That winds up meaning calling less, though, and she’ll string me up by the short hairs if I call her any less. Like I said, my sweet Southern Moma can be tough. So we stay in touch.

I haven’t given her the good news, though. I think we have a very strong candidate for the new great grandbaby’s knitting project. Kathy came up with it, and I think it’s great. Unfortunately, it’s at the shop, and I’m at home. So, that will have to be revisited.

For today, though, I’m home at the dining room table with Busby baking into the carpet at the screen out to the deck. There’s light traffic on Oakland, and the mowers have been out in the park across the river. A young woman’s walking a chocolate lab up the Riverwalk path, and a jogger in State shorts coming the other way has slowed to a walk with his jersey over his head catching his breath.

I’m forty, now. We had a party and everything. I was delighted by the black balloons particularly once I realized that I was still nearly if not the youngest person in the room. Since, I’ve had a stomach virus, picked up a taste for Gatorade G2 Strawberry-Kiwi, picked up smoking again briefly (don’t comment… my mother’s already been all over it), and am now still kind of trying to put a diet back together. Not a Diet, mind you, but a diet. A food plan. A sustenance plan with room for delight.

I like food, and I miss cooking. I just recently uncovered a copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I’m hoping for great things, but a decent meal every once in a while would be satisfactory. In the meantime, I’m glad it’s summer. Produce looks fantastic at the local shops. Even my favorite Asian market appears to have some fresh seasonal offerings. I haven’t a clue what several of them are, but maybe I’ll get a chance to find out. Maybe not.

I’ve been working on getting a new ThreadBear website up and running over the last several months, and we’re hoping to get that open to the public soon. Of course, given the time of year, we’ve been meeting with sales reps from various yarn, pattern, and accessory companies in anticipation of the fall season and the TNNA Market in June. That’s always entertaining. I’m sure this year won’t disappoint. I’m most intrigued by the idea of getting to see what’s new coming down the pike. That’s this show for most yarn shop owners. There’s a fashion show the night before the Market opens, and vendors from all over show you when they’ve got. It’s very cool… and very tempting. We try to shop there primarily for chocolate jimmies to put on top of what we’ve already ordered with sales reps. It’s easier to browse if we’re not pressed for getting our fall orders in, and it’s helped us find some of the more interesting products that have graced the shelves at ThreadBear. Personally, I can’t wait.

For today, though, I’m going to finish up K1CToo and Rowan and see what else remains to get online at the new site.

A mission from Mother Mary

Yes, my mother is Mary, and I’ve received my orders. My niece is preggers with number two, and Maw-maw is hoping for a girl to knit for. I can understand that. For the time being, though, she’s looking for a textured baby blanket. She wants heirloom quality, and it needs to make sense for a baby being born in a Georgia autumn. A light-weight wool is great, but it needs to be baby-soft, too.

Anyone have any ideas?

Good morning

Sunrise over the Grand River in Lansing's Old Town neighborhood
Sunrise over the Grand River in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood

My view from the sofa is of the sun rising over the Grand River in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood. K. D. Lang is crooning Save Me on XM Radio, and I’ve got a nice, hot café mocha with a shot of orange syrup sitting beside me. Rob and the dogs are still sleeping peacefully upstairs, but I just got in from running Franklin Habit to the train station after another wonderful visit. He was at ThreadBear over the weekend teaching Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Tomten Jacket and signing copies of his book of cartoons and essays, It Itches, but it’s always just nice to have him here. Watching him go is a bit like saying goodbye to family.

Obviously, with Franklin here, the shop was a delightful madhouse all weekend, so I only got as much knitting time as was left over at the end of our long days, but I’m almost up to the cap on sleeve two of the barn coat. If there’s time this morning, I may finish that off and have a new coat by the end of the day.

I’ve also got some photos for you. Those will have to come later in the day, but I have shots from the weekend with Franklin as well as the shots of the living room that I promised my Mom at the end of last week. I haven’t forgotten her projects, either. It’s off to work on this end, folks. Have a great week!

My cozy little morning nook
My cozy little morning nook

Sleeve two of my barn coat
Sleeve two of my barn coat

A visit from the Bourgeois… -es

Ann & Eugene Bourgeois are coming in this evening for a workshop, and Rob and I are looking forward to having a nice dinner with them at Taste of Thai, a wonderful local restaurant. The Bourgeois… -es are always a delight to have around, and I, for one, and really grateful to have the time to actually relax with them a bit. Frequently, they’ve been in Lansing when Rob and I have been so utterly swamped that even during the times when we were supposed to be relaxing, we really weren’t.

Of course, tonight is also my typical Wednesday night in that the ThreadBear newsletter will also need to go out, but someone (them, I suspect) was smart enough to suggest dinner before their workshop. We’ll be off to dinner, come back, they’ll teach while we get our work done, and at the end of the evening, we’re not scrambling—hungry—to figure out who is still open. And which, of those is actually going to be good food for everyone? Much smarter. Sounds like Ann to me. I like her.

I like Eugene, too. He’s a genuinely nice guy who also happens to be very bright, funny, and conversationally astute. He alone can keep the table entertained for hours. Hmmph. Maybe having dinner beforehand wasn’t the best choice. It does, however, make the most sense for them. I feel fortunate to have guests here; it’s just that I’m greedy enough to want to get my work done and spend more time talking with all of the fun and interesting who come through Lansing.

Coat progress
I’m six rows or less from the top of sleeve one, and I can actually see the finish line. I want to install one sleeve immediately to make sure that it fits, so you may get to see that as early as tomorrow.

Sock progress
Nowhere. I’ve not picked it up since the last pic here.

Morgan progress
Ditto.

Other knitting
I did swatch with Classic Elite Cotton Bam Boo a couple of weeks ago, and I’d been carrying the swatch around on my addi Click needles in my bag since. Today, I showed three staff members to Magic Loop. I had no idea they didn’t know prior, or I’d have show them then. Anyway, the swatch and different needles are now on the Cotton Bam Boo shelf for anyone interested in trying out the yarn or Magic Loop technique.

Other projects
I got a call from my mom this afternoon, and I’m to show her photos of my new living room furniture arrangement and pick out three new projects for her. The photos are taken (oh, I’ll show you, too, if you promise not to make fun of my lived-in—by dog and bear—living room), and the projects include:

  • her second time around on Fetching from Knitty. Her first go-round was using Needful Extra Stampato, but she had help on her thumbs. She was here for me to do the first, but she shipped the second one to me to do. This time, I intend to walk her through the process here,
  • the Shape-It Scarf from Sally Melville’s The Knit Stitch, and
  • a cabled scarf.

These shouldn’t be too challenging for her, but usually, she’s here in Lansing visiting when she starts new projects. Since ThreadBear’s a fifteen hour drive from her home in LaGrange, Georgia, we thought this way might be more cost effective.

All for me, head to toe

I have three projects currently on the needles just for me: a hat, a coat, and a pair of socks. Our friend and ThreadBear instructor, LynnH, declared January Selfish Knitting Month, and I was all for it.

Trekking 315 socks

Trekking 315 socks in progress
Trekking 315 socks in progress

I’m knitting a pair of socks for myself out of a colorway of Zitron Trekking that I fell in love with some time ago. It was one of those skeins that caught my attention a couple of times several months apart, but every time I saw it, I was excited anew. Finally, I took a skein out of stock, and I recently cast on.

I almost always knit socks on US0 needles using magic loop, and this time, I used a figure eight cast on. Assuming that I would wind up with eighty stitches, I should have cast on about twenty-six, but apparently, I wasn’t thinking and cast on twenty-two. I have a slightly more pointed toe than I generally find comfortable, but I didn’t care to rip it and reknit. It’s wool, it stretches well enough, and so far, I’m happy with my results.

I want to use a short-row heel for this pair, and I really liked the way I was working the wraps into the fabric. As is too frequently the case, I hadn’t measured, and finished the heel only to realize that the foot was about an inch too long. I worked another US0 into the fabric about an inch before the heel and ripped back Tuesday evening watching NatGeo.

Zitron Trekking in shade 315
Zitron Trekking in shade 315

Barn coat

Full view of my barn coat
Full view of my barn coat

I’m also playing design-as-you-knit with a barn coat for myself. It’s a basic cardigan with set-in sleeves and a shawl collar. Yes, the fronts are wider than the back. A good reason for that would be that I happen to have more front than back, so I made the panels accordingly. The true reason is that my gauge was off on the back, and I widened the fronts under the arms to make up the difference. The lower edge is cuffed; I used a flexible but sturdy cast on (I used the same cable cast on that I almost always use unless I have specific reason not to), knit about one-and-a-half inches of stockinette, worked a row of reverse-stockinette to create a folding line, and started the body of the fabric at that point.

For the armholes, I bound off about sixty percent of the difference between the width of my body and the width of my shoulders. To get rid of the rest of that difference, I worked a full-fashioned decrease every other row until I was down to shoulder width.

Collar detail of my barn coat
Collar detail of my barn coat

At the same time on the front center, I worked a low-visibility lifted increase just inside the reverse stockinette fold-over collar area every fourth row to give me just a little extra fabric in the shawl. I’d love to claim some sort of amazing planning, but as it happened, I got the last of the collar stitches increased at about the same time I hit my desired shoulder width. Ta-dah! I cast on the sleeves last night.

Fabric detail of my barn coat
Fabric detail of my barn coat

The fabric itself is very dense and all hair fiber. I wanted something warm enough to wear during very cold weather for long walks. As I mentioned earlier, I made a composite yarn of a strand each of Cascade 220, Reynolds Whiskey, and Needful Super Alpaca. I had originally added a strand of Needful Feeling, but the silk content was too shiny and just didn’t come together in the fabric. Thanks to Marcia Bailey for helping me take measurements and choose fibers and colors. Much appreciated.

The three yarns in the composite
The three yarns in the composite: Cascade 220 in a dark eggplant heather, Reynolds Whiskey in a muted algae green, and Needful Super Alpaca in a rich cocoa powder brown

Morgan hat

Morgan from Fall 2008 Knitty in progress
Morgan from Fall 2008 Knitty in progress in Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran Tweed

Finally, my third current project (and frankly, the least immediate of the three at the moment… I need that coat), is Morgan from the Fall 2008 issue of Knitty. I’m working this pattern in Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran Tweed. The original was designed in lighter weight yarn knit at a nineteen-over-four , but I was after a firm fabric, so I went with a yarn that would normally be recommended for that gauge. More than anything, though, I just love the Silkroad line, and I really love that green.

Dog whispering myself

Do you ever have those moments when you realize that you’ve been so busy that you’ve forgotten your larger goals? I had one of those moments Tuesday. I was taking a day off and working around the house, and an episode of The Dog Whisperer caught my attention. Canine crusader, Cesar Millan, was helping a beautiful chocolate lab, blind since birth, let go of mealtime angst and an adorable shepherd-corgi mix detoxify interaction with other dogs.

It wasn’t that this was a particularly intense or unusual set of challenges for our intrepid people trainer, but it struck me that both dogs were—as is so often the case—caught up so much in the instant that they couldn’t relax without the help of the people that shared their lives. As soon as the immediate anxiety cycle was broken, these otherwise loving animals were able to step back into their otherwise healthy roles.

I realized that I’ve got some fairly nasty triggers that need a healthy dose of PSSSHT! While I’d love to have Cesar Millan around to help me work through those, I suspect that the fantasy is far more entertaining than having a straight, married dog psychologist following me around and hissing at me in stressful moments would actually be. But the basic idea is a good one. When I start locking down on the Sturm und Drang of life as a small business owner, I need to PSSSHT! myself. I suspect it may scare the PSSSHT! out of a couple of people around me before I get the hang of handling it internally, but it ought to be entertaining if nothing else.

What’s on my needles
So, for the time being, let’s catch up on knitting. I’m currently working on three active projects. I use the term active projects, because I’ve got tons of things on the needles that are on hold for one reason or another, and we’ll just have to get to those over the course of time.

The one genuinely big project that has my attention is a winter coat for myself. It’s fah-reezing in Michigan at the moment, and while I have an adequate jacket, I’ve been wanting a nice handknit barn coat for years. I’m following the frankly ill-advised tack of designing as I go, but the idea is simple. It’s a basic cardigan with set-in sleeves and a shawl collar. I got a hand taking my measurements, knit a gauge swatch, and cast on. From there, it’s been miles of stockinette and many, many more before we rest.

The fabric, as I said, is just stockinette, so I’m jazzing up the visual texture by blending three strands of basic wool in much lighter weights to create a rather bulky yarn. It’s one strand each of Cascade 200 in a dark eggplant heather, Reynolds Whiskey in an algae green heather, and Needful Super Alpaca in a rich chocolate brown. I’ll have to post photos later since Rob’s got the camera with him at the shop today, and I’m working from the house. In any case, I’ve finished the back and left front, and I’m currently up to the collar/shoulder area on the right front.

On the needles

Cookie A teaching at ThreadBear
Cookie A teaching at ThreadBear

We had a great visit with Cookie A last weekend. Her classes appeared to go well from the outside, but we had genuinely glowing reviews from the folks in the chairs. From my own perspective, it was wonderful to actually get to spend a little time with her. We’ve met several times at busy industry events where one seldom has more than a few minutes to get what you need, make a little small talk, and move on, but this was the first time we had a real conversation. I hope she had fun. For myself, I was charmed.

One of the things that we discussed was her great regard for Cat Bordhi’s Visionary Retreat for prospective authors. Cat had suggested the retreat to me over sushi during her visit to ThreadBear in August, and while I was certainly intrigued, I’d back-burnered the idea in the face of the heavy-duty workload that I’ve set for myself at ThreadBear over the year or so. Cookie’s obvious reverence for the experience, though, gave me the incentive to pull that idea back onto high flame. No, I won’t be headed to the island this year, but I’m definitely blowing the dust off the designs and concept.

Along those lines, I’m pleased to say that I’ve finished the School Days Pullover pattern that I wrote for the CAYSC Back-to-School Shop Hop that ThreadBear participated in at the beginning of September. We’re in the process of culling the e-mails from the backs of everyone’s passports, and they should be sent out next week. I’ve already got a couple of people knitting from the pattern already, so if any problems crop up, I’ll be sure to let you know here.

Since this is supposedly a knitting blog, I suppose you might like to see what I’m working on.

Tubularly-knit sock in progress
Totally Tubular Sock Construction in Opal

Tubularly-knit sock in progress
Totally Tubular Sock Construction detail

This is a model for a class that I’ve just scheduled called Totally Tubular Sock Construction. The idea came to me as Rob and I were packing to go to Long Beach this January for a trade show. Since Rob and I tend to be squeeze in pretty tight on planes, I thought a very compact project that didn’t require a lot of thought would be ideal. I also had a beautiful skein of Colinette Jitterbug that everyone had told me wouldn’t make a pair of socks in my size. So, I cast on the number of stitches that I’d normally use to make socks for myself, and just started knitting. I didn’t worry about cuffs, heels, or toes. I just knit.

Over the course of the trip and trade show, I had a very simple project that I quite literally was able to walk the trade show floor working on. I had tons of people within the industry—designers, vendors, and other shop owners—ask me what I was doing, and when I explained, it was as if I’d told them the sky was falling. “Why go to all that trouble?” they asked.

Well there are a few reasons not the least of which is that I don’t own a pair of my own hand-knit socks. I own several individual socks, and I have no compunction about wearing any two of them. I’ve had more than one person genuinely delighted to see my mismatched hand-knit socks, and frankly, I enjoy the silliness of it. But I really would like to have pairs. And I do suffer from Second Sock Syndrome. If I’ve already knit one sock in that yarn, casting on a second one sounds like the soul of boredom.

This way, I only cast on once, and by the time I’m done with the original tube, I have all of the basic fabric for both socks, and all I have to do is the fidgety bits that are really the most fun for me, anyway. Where’s the downside of that? Yes, I wind up picking up stitches, but if you’ve ever worked an afterthought heel, you can work an afterthought toe and cuff. It’s not hard work, and it doesn’t require a lot of brain power. Yes, in the pair that I’m currently working on, I did start off with a cuff, because I hadn’t intended to make this pair tubularly, but as it happened, it became convenient to do so. I also added some calf shaping, but the essentials are there. As for the Jitterbug socks? Well, I had more than enough of the Jitterbug for the body of both socks, and decided to use another technique to jazz up the cuffs, heels, and toes, but that’s for another post.

Chris Bylsma's Symphony Jacket
Detail of Chris Bylsma’s Symphony Jacket in autumnals

Chris Bylsma's Symphony Jacket
Working ball of yarn(s) from Symphony Jacket

Also on the needles, is Chris Bylsma’s Symphony Jacket. I saw this garment on Chris, and I was immediately smitten. I love blending yarns anyway, and this project is the perfect canvas. The basic idea is picking a palette of yarns in various colors, textures, and fibers that suit the project and chopping them into bits and tying them back together. It sounds a bit crazy, but the results… well, judge for yourself.

Chris Bylsma's Symphony Jacket
Progress on Chris Bylsma’s Symphony Jacket in autumnals

And finally, I’m knitting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Tomten Jacket as inspired by Franklin Habit. Franklin’s coming to ThreadBear in January to teach the class and for a book signing for It Itches, a collection of his knitting-related cartoons. I’m loving the project, and I’m having a lot of fun watching the Jojoland Rhythm migrate through colors.

Elizabeth Zimmerman's Tomten Jacket
Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Tomten Jacket in Jojoland Rhythm

Elizabeth Zimmerman's Tomten Jacket
Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Tomten Jacket in Jojoland Rhythm

I’m so excited

No, I’m not a Pointer Sister. Tonight is the second night of my Fair Isle Techniques class, and I’ve got a new teacher’s pet. Carol came in yesterday to show me her progress, and she’s already at the neck steek.


Carol’s ThreadyBear.


Carol’s ThreadyBear (detail).

MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! I love it when folks get addicted to this stuff. I enjoy it so much, and it’s just really, really cool when one of my class participants gets that kind of rush to see what comes next the way I do.

Also, I wanted you to see my Colinette AbFab Throw in progress. I’m working on this for both our Domino Group and the Afghan Rebels Group that meet here at the shop.


Absolutely Fabulous Throw Kit. Diamonds pattern. Versace colorway.

Much love, folks.
-Matt.