Monthly Archives: September 2015

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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Yes, I’m Back


I’ve lived in Minnesota for a little over 4 years now…just not all at once. I first lived here for college, which meant I was only in the Twin Cities for nine months at a time (eight if you take into account my fleeing south every January). However, after finishing with the JET program July 2014, I decided to make St Paul my permanent home. At that point, I didn’t have many choices.

Arizona – now occupied only peripatetically by friends and family. Hot. Governed by people with odd ideas about education and culture.

Washington – specifically Seattle. Now occupied by my mother, an unusual concentration of college friends, and a few cousins. Also, likely to fall into the sea in the near future. (I will point out that I knew Seattle was slated for the Apocalypse well before the New York Times did.)

Minnesota – Now occupied by my father and a less concentrated group of friends. So cold and snowy that I once swore out loud that I wouldn’t move back unless I was rich enough to pay the neighbor kid to shovel my driveway. Also the site of one of the top ten schools for public health in the nation.

…I compromised, bought a new pair of boots and moved into an apartment that didn’t have a driveway.

Next time…so why am I blogging again, if I’ve been hanging around here for a year already?

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Did you see that?



The site name just changed, appropriately enough because I am no longer in Japan.

I wonder if this means I’m going to start posting again.

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