Hello, hello again! You’ll be happy to know that some projects have finally made their way from limbo into the real world (and then into my “war chest” for next year).

First up, lot 365 – Cap or hat, texture:

The pattern is Ilkley Moor, by Ann Kingstone. I knit it from Malabrigo Sock, in Cote d’Azure. I was worried that the color would be too dark to show the pattern, but thankfully that didn’t turn out to be a problem. I selected the pattern as it ticked several boxes – lightweight yarn, multiple, complex cables, and honestly, a stunning finished project. Super fun to knit too.

Texture was the name of the game over the last several weeks, as the next project is for Lot 358 – Mittens, texture:

These were another fun pattern – Gallus, by Kristin Kapur. These were also knit from Malabrigo Sock (I might have a problem), in Botticelli Red. They’re definitely a nicer color in person, more of a garnet red than what you see in the above picture.

That’s all for now! Next time I’ll show you a finished Lot 377, or maybe my progress on Lots 359, 369, or 378.

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Sorry About That

Didn’t realize last week that the truck labelled “Pathology Exam” would flatten me so thoroughly. Honestly though, I also took advantage of the out studying for the exam gave me because I’d run into a little problem. Up till now, I’ve been leading you through the State Fair lots in numerical order – blankets, shawls, mittens. It made for a fairly easy structure to follow. However, starting with the next set, there was going to be a problem.

Lots 360 – 362 Scarves, sorted by yarn weight: I don’t have much planned for these yet. It’s a reasonable set of categories that I may save for next spring/summer, when I’m looking for a few more projects to round out my entries. At the moment, I have nothing to show you – no pictures of already completed projects, nothing in progress, not even a pile of yarn.

Lot 363, Gloves: I definitely have plans for this lot and all I’ll say it that it involves cables, colorwork, laceweight yarn and US 0000 needles. That’s, er, actually why I can’t show you anything at the moment – I don’t own any US 0000 needles.

Anyway, so on and so forth. All I have are plans and balls of yarn, no pretty pictures. Why? Well, school. Also, Lots 377 and 378.

Lot 377 – Adult sweater, texture pullover

Let me first say that I have no expectation of gaining my coveted blue ribbon in any of the sweater categories. I’ve seen the winners in these categories and I’m not quite there yet in terms of embellishment and/or finishing technique. However, I committed to making these sweater before I conceived of this mad plan, so they may as well get their day in the sun next summer.

This is the Staghorn Aran pattern, by Janet Szabo. I’m making it for my dad, who’s been intermittently asking for a sweater for about five years now. It’s knit from Cascade 220, one of my favorite worsted yarns, if only for the fact that it comes in a billion different colors. This sweater is also officially the biggest I’ve ever knit – previously, I’d only made sweaters for myself, babies, and one friend who’s approximately the same size as me.

It’s going well. Try not to laugh when I tell you that I hope to have it done by the end of the month.

Lot 378 – Adult sweater, texture cardigan

Since I was making an Aran for my dad, I realized that I’d never made one for myself, despite drooling over them for years. First I had to get over a love affair with Alice Starmore’s St Brigid pattern (nothing like an extra five years of experience to help you realize that won’t like knitting or wearing something) and then I had to find something perfect.

Obviously, perfection is hard to find, so I’m using a sort of choose-your-own-adventure pattern that has notes for converting to a cardigan and selecting your own cables: FLAK by Janet Szabo. One of the cables is from the St Patrick sweater in  A Fine Fleece by Lisa Lloyd and another actually was pulled from Alice Starmore’s Aran Knitting.

I hope to be done with this one by the end of November.

Now, I bet some of you are shaking your heads over these deadlines. Mauri, you’re thinking, the fair is next year! NEXT year! I know it’s sweater weather, but there’s no need…

Actually, these two are entered in a competition based on Ravelry that finishes up on November 30th. But don’t worry! I’ve carefully calculated how much I need to work on each one each day, that really helps me. I just need to knit 8 rows a day on the Staghorn until October 21, and then switch to 30 rows a day on the sleeves of my cardigan for the remaining ten days of the month. No sweat.

(Pay no heed to the fact that this ignores when I’m going to fit in time to do the collar on the Staghorn. And that before I begin the sleeve decreases, 30 rows a day means about 3000 stitches a day.)

Coming up…uh, probably slightly more complete sweaters, maybe with the finished versions of the mittens I showed you earlier.

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Hand in Hand – Lots 357-359

It’s time for one of my favorite categories – mittens!

It’s also the first time I get to show you something in progress for the fair, a 100% knit between the end of the 2015 fair and the start of the 2016 fair item. Actually, at this rate, it’s going to be a “100% knit in the first week of October” item. I may have gotten a little obsessed with these mittens.

These are the Gallus mittens, a pattern by Kirsten Kapur. I’m knitting them from Malabrigo Sock, one of my favorite fingering weight yarns…just not for socks. The yarn is a little thin and there is zero nylon content to slow wear and tear. However, it comes in beautiful colors for mittens and hats, and is relatively cheap. The color for these is Botticelli Red. As noted by others on Ravelry, this pattern produces a fairly long skinny mitten. That’s fine by me, I have long skinny hands. Others may wish to remove a few rows from the hand chart and/or add a few purl stitches to the side to widen these.

These mittens will be my entry for Lot 358 – Mittens, texture. There are two other lots just for mittens, 357 and 359, for Mittens, plain and Mittens, color pattern.

“Color pattern” (specifically defined by the fair as “two or more colors per row”) I understand. I have eleven pairs of stranded mittens under my belt, I got this. There are nine patterns in my queue that I’m considering. Well, make that eight, one of them includes an unmentionable word as part of the pattern. I’m leaning towards one that uses four different colors of yarn that I hope to start this December.

However. “Plain” continues to elude me. As defined by the fair, plain knitting includes “stocking stitch, reverse stocking stitch or overall garter stitch trimmed with ribbing or garter stitch. May include color stripes.” Hmm…I can easily think of patterns and designs that would fulfill these criteria, but how to make them state fair worthy? As I mentioned a few posts ago, I was unable to track down pictures of the winners in any of the plain categories this year.

After carefully combing Ravelry, I DID manage to find one winner from a couple of years ago – a pair of simply striped mittens with deceptively difficult thumbs. It’s a starting place at least.

Next time there might be a few more categories than usual – I haven’t really nailed down scarves, you see…

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Shawl we? Lots 353-356

(All links in this post go to Ravelry, which you will need a free account to view.)

After my last post, some of you may have been wondering – “Alright, if she’s not going to knit something for all 47 categories, how many things IS she going to knit?”

Honestly, I’m not sure. I have plans, some of them quite specific. I also have a job, and classes, and those are quite specific in their demands as well. At the moment, looking at what I’ve already decided I’m thinking…more than 10, less than 30? I’m eyeing the sock and sweater categories in particular – these will vary widely with the time I have available.

However, I am helped along, one more, by the fair’s “completed in the three years prior” rule. That means that I can also submit a few projects knit this past year or while I was in Japan. There’s one in particular that deserves a second chance.

This is my Cats Day shawl. The pattern is by Hazel Carter, and I knit it from Knit Picks Shadow (Oregon Coast Heather). Honestly, it was a pain in the tush to knit. It used a construction that I now recognize as standard, but was unfamiliar at the time – the middle section is knit flat, back and forth. Stitches are picked up around the edge and the large border is knit in the round. Finally the edging is knit on, worked back and forth – imagine a Sisyphean cast-off where you are required to go 14 steps forward and then take 13 steps back.

I did love the finished project and entered it this year in the fair in Lot 356 – Stole (rectangle); light wt yarn, 16 in. or more in width.

…just one little problem. I was thinking like this – “Rectangle, as opposed to a circular or triangular shawl” (both common shapes) and “Squares are special rectangles.”

The judges did not agree. They were nice about it – they tried to move it to the correct category, which wasn’t possible since I already had something entered there. Instead, they urged me to resubmit it next year. Which is exactly what I’m going to do.

The remaining lots for shawls are broken down by yarn weight (16 in or less is a scarf):

353 – Shawl or stole; hvy wt yarn, 16 in. or more in width

354 – Shawl or stole; med wt yarn, 16 in. or more in width

355 – Shawl; light wt yarn, 16 in. or more in width

Heavy weight yarn is worsted weight to bulky, medium is sport to DK, and lightweight is shetland to fingering. I’m leaving the heavy weight option alone for now – it’ll be a good category if I get to next July and have some spare time. For light weight, I am still weighing my options.

However, I have a shawl in sport weight that I knit last year around Christmas that will do nicely for the medium weight category.

This is a Swallowtail Shawl, pattern by Evelyn Carter. I’ve knit a Swallowtail Shawl in one form or another every year since 2008, but I’d always done them in lace or fingering weight yarn. Last year, I wanted to see what a heavier weight shawl would feel like. This one took 396 meters of Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light (Potting Soil Mix), which funnily enough is one meter more than the amount of yarn in three skeins of Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light. I ended up subbing in a small amount of Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine, which I happened to have in the same colorway.

So that is it for the shawl categories! Next time, it’s all about the mitten lots.

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Begin at the Beginning – Lots 349-352

…or at least, to begin at the beginning and continue until I came to the end was my intention. To start at the first hand knitting lot number and continue from there, as it were. To wit, “349 – Lap robe, min. size 1444-2699 sq. in.” This is the category that I entered the blanket into for 2015, and the one I won second prize in.

So all that I need to do is select a moderately to majorly impressive project that fits into the category of “approximately twin-size quilt”, right?

Well…the blanket took me four months to knit. I literally knit nothing else (save maybe a hat) while I was working on it. Plus I don’t really need another blanket, seeing as there’s only one bed in my apartment and it already has three hand-knit coverlets to its name. So let’s table that lot for now and consider the other lots.

350 – Afghan, one piece, min. 2700-3800 sq. in.

351 – Afghan, made in strips or modules sewn together 2700-3800 sq. in.

353 – Bedspread, min. size 3801 sq. in.

::breaks out into a sweat::

Okay, so apparently I could spend the next 2-3 years just knitting blankets for the fair. Blankets that I don’t need or want.

Honestly, I don’t want it to seem like I’m fleeing at the first obstacle. However, these lots were the first to have the ‘unreasonable’ label slapped on them in the spreadsheet. The point of this is to knit State Fair worthy items that I will enjoy (either knitting or using or both), not to kill myself to produce 47 items, one for each category, in less than a year.

However, thanks to the rule that allows objects finished in the three years prior to the fair, there are two options.

For 351, the modular Afghan category, I have this:

A blanket made up of seamed, knit squares that I knit over a period of three years. I love all the colors I chose, I love that friends and family all contributed yarn to make it, I…I hate the finished project.

No matter how I tried, I could not figure out a way to arrange the squares to make it look attractive. Eight of the squares that I knit never even made it into the blanket. I’ve often thought of ripping its seams and trying again, which would qualify it for the 2016 fair.

The second possibility stems from a rule stating that “Articles which have won a first prize at a previous Minnesota State Fair are not eligible for entry.” Which would seem to imply that items that didn’t get a blue ribbon can be entered year after year until the three-year rule comes into effect. Which would make the blanket eligible one last time, in 2016.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I wish I knew more people personally who entered things in the fair regularly. Is it seen as allowed, but calculating? Is it frowned upon? Personally, I sort of feel like the blanket already had its day in the sun.

So! That’s the plan for the first four lots – I’ll be posting about the next four sometime this week. There will even be finished objects for some of these categories!

(That blanket picture is from the Culture Festival in Otobe, Japan, where I used to live.)

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I’ve always liked the planning stage of a project – maybe too much. As a teenager I wanted to write a novel, something James Michener-ish but with dragons. First, however, I figured out the names and backgrounds of my characters…and their descendants 5 generations along, along with their ages over a period of about 90 years. This resulted in a poster made from sheets of taped together graph paper that was almost nine feet long and about three feet wide.

Thankfully, shortly thereafter I remembered the existence of Excel.

I made a spreadsheet for this project for two reasons: 1) There are 47 different categories for hand knitting in the Needlework division* to keep track of and plan for and 2) I needed a reference for figuring out what fits where and what might be blue ribbon-worthy.

The Minnesota State Fair lays out pretty clearly, in specific language, what qualifies and what doesn’t, and what goes where. For example, Lot 349 – Lap robe, min. size 1444-2699 sq. in. This is the division my blanket was entered in. I measured it before registration, but I noticed that it was also measured after I submitted it to the fair for judging. The judges aren’t heartless – for example, I mistakenly submitted one of shawls to the wrong category (the fair and I disagree as to whether a square is a kind of rectangle), but the officials were going to move it to the correct category on their own recognizance. Unfortunately, I had already submitted something in the correct category and only one item may be submitted to each category. Alas. I suppose it keeps people like me from submitting 2010’s special project, however:

The rules also lay out their definitions of light, medium, and heavy weight yarn, as well as what they men by “texture” and “color pattern”. Since only one project may be submitted by a competitor in each category, the more popular items have several categories, so that someone’s steeked Norwegian ski sweater isn’t competing with someone else’s cabled, fingering weight masterpiece. Some categories are based on the weight (or thickness) of the yarn used (scarves), some on the embellishing technique used (socks, mittens).

That covers the spreadsheet’s first purpose – if I’m going to make something for as many categories as possible, I need to keep track of which item goes where. So it includes the lot number, the category description, my planned project, its current status (some are already complete!), required yarn, and other required materials like zippers, buttons, etc.

Now for the second purpose. I had a fairly good grasp of what a first prize winning sweater or cardigan or shawl looked like – I’ve already done a fair bit of delving into the more complex side of those categories. However, Lot 364, “Cap or hat, plain” stumped me. Plain? No cables? No stranded color work or intarsia? Plain plain? What on earth does a “plain” blue ribbon hat look like?

I needed to study the competition anyway, so the spreadsheet also includes the name of the 2015 winner in each category and, where I could find them, a link to pictures of the winner’s project, along with the number of competitors in each category. This is why I won’t just show you the spreadsheet here – the winner’s names are publicly available online and all of the projects were found by carefully combing Ravelry, but even though many of these women freely link their full names with their online Ravelry personas, I balk at outright linking THIS person’s full name with THAT Ravelry username. I grew up on a part of the internet where that was very rude and damaging. You may do the detective work yourself, if you like.

Go figure, not a single winner of the so-called “plain” categories was to be found on Ravelry. Knitting ninja, apparently.

Anyway, I’ll conclude with a few interesting statistics I found while making the spreadsheet.

There are 47 categories in which a hand knitter can enter their work in the Needlecraft Division. In 2015, 45 blue ribbons were awarded (not including sweepstakes and special prizes); one category had no entries, and one only had one entry. In the case of there only being a few entries for a category, the judges may decide not to award a blue ribbon.

Of the 45 blue ribbons, 21 (46.7%) were awarded to women who won multiple blue ribbons in the hand knitting categories. Wow! One woman one 4, and another won 3. Something to aspire to eventually, I’m sure. Of the remaining 24 blue ribbons, 12 (26.7% of the total) were awarded to women who received other ribbons in the hand knitting categories (second place on down). So only 12 women won a blue ribbon and nothing else (I can’t tell if they submitted other projects that didn’t place, or if they just submitted this one, perfect, blue ribbon project). The competition is stiff indeed!

Next time…reasonable and highly unreasonable.

*There are other places to submit your knitting in the Creative Activities Department – Garment Making, for example. I didn’t include them because 1) I didn’t know they existed when I was planning this year 2) I didn’t know they existed until yesterday, actually (some detective!) and 3) I don’t want to. Maybe next year.

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A Year at the Fair

One thing I never got around to doing while I was here for college was going to the Minnesota State Fair. I was either completely unaware of it’s existence (freshman), didn’t know when it was (sophomore), in another country (junior), or too late in arriving to partake (senior).

Last year, however, I was determined to go. And I did  – three times, even! I ate a lot of portable food, discovered fried cheese curds, ignored the part of me that was screaming in horror about being surrounded by thousands of people, and went over the Creative Activities Building with a fine tooth comb.

See, I had heard that you could enter various crafts and get ribbons for them. I’d never participated in anything that handed out ribbons or trophies before and was…intrigued. Despite the fact that the (very flattering) reaction every time I mentioned maybe entering was enthusiastically positive, I wanted to check things out myself first. Also, I had heard it cost money to enter. (Not true.)

There were some absolutely beautiful items in the case last year – stuff that was not only complex in terms of technique, but…well-executed, if you know what I mean. Smooth fabric, tailored details, fine finishing – there were items on display for which the basic knitting had been only 3/4s of the work.

However, I knew that some of my stuff was up to snuff. If not my sweaters and cardigans, then definitely my mittens and other accessories. Plus, the fair allows you to submit work completed in the three years before the start of the fair, so I was able to submit one of my masterpieces.

That’s right, the blanket (the odyssey of which you can start following here) took second in its division this year. A pair of gloves, a hat, and some mittens also placed, in fourth and fifth. The shawls got jack, and I don’t love them anymore. Kidding.

One thing that stuck out this year, however, was that the second, third, fourth, and fifth place finishers (and all other none placing entries) were all crammed into one display case, while the blue ribbon projects got a case to themselves. The displayers had obvious done their best to make sure that every project was visible, but the case was stuffed.

So I thought, next year I want a blue ribbon. I want my stuff in that case, visible as everybody walks in the door of the Creative Activities Building.

Thus begins my year at the fair – a year of knitting to state fair blue ribbon standards, as best I can. Part competitiveness, part personal challenge, part boredom, and part Mauri’s-gone-all-Kaylee-Lee-Frye over those blue ribbons.

Next time…strategy. Yeah, there’s a spreadsheet.


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