6 years lived the German way

Today is January 15th. That means that it's now been 6 years [6 YEARS!!!] since we arrived in Germany.

This stroller got me so many looks... Apparently babies this age need to be horizontal (preferably asleep) in an old-fashioned pram with a million blankets on top of them at ALL TIMES.

This stroller got me so many looks... Apparently babies this age need to be horizontal (preferably asleep) in an old-fashioned pram with a million blankets on top of them at ALL TIMES.

Coming from the US with a 6 month-old in tow, we were a bit bewildered at first to find ourselves in such a seemingly remote and... dark part of the country. We live in the North-Eastern part of Germany, in the former DDR, on the Baltic Sea (just across Denmark). So the dead of winter took a bit of getting used to. But even in the winter, there are still good times and incredible surprises to be had, like that one time the ocean had frozen over:

The Ostsee, frozen over.

The Ostsee, frozen over.

Then, a few months later, we discovered the joy of Scandinavian summertime near the sea. A 20-minute bike ride along a wonderfully pretty canal takes you to the beach, where the still and shallow waters mean that you can (almost) leave the kids splashing around unattended. We've had so many beach picnics followed by lazy, slow afternoons.

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And this small town just happens to have kid-friendly everything: great playgrounds, ice cream at every corner, playing area in many restaurants and coffee shops, lots of daycares (relatively speaking, compared to many places in Germany where they are scarce), the most wonderful little zoo, old sailboats along the canal...

So we've settled into a very wholesome, family-centric, relaxed way of life. Pool or bikes rides to the forest on Sunday mornings, or walking to the coffee shop for some fresh pretzels and cappuccinos. Racing bikes down slopes, scaring many a duck and passerby... In the summer, barbecuing or gardening on our deck, perfecting cookie and key lime pie recipes... Ingesting a good amount of Sekt and pistachios. Finding bugs and snails, collecting dead leaves. Dreaming of unearthing dinosaur bones.

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Of course it hasn't been all puppies and rainbows. Learning to navigate things when there were (at the time) so few expats around to guide us (thank you to the few who did!!) and without the benefit of a proficient German speaker in the family (oh, how my high school German felt inadequate!) has at times been painful and peinlich... Building a successful business with such a language barrier for all things administrative wasn't easy. Figuring out what's done and not done, said and not said was an everyday learning experience -- but that's what all expats and immigrants (should) do.

Another hard thing: juggling three languages every day. And the myth of the multilingual kids who absorbs all languages equally, rapidly and with sponge-like passivity (propagated mostly by non-trilingual-kid-having people)... This myth led to much anxiety during the first few years of language struggles for our eldest, which came with a side of behavioral issues, due to language-related frustration and insecurity. We were almost going to throw the towel in and leave, feeling that we had failed him by hampering his communication and learning skills with all these difficult languages to be learned AT THE SAME TIME.

But then... things sort of clicked (with a LOT of effort and family involvement). The trilingual thing is no longer a source of worry. We had a second child here (who had none of her brother's language difficulties), bought a place, got a car (after years of riding bikes everywhere!). And just like that, we're home. For now ;) 

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On New Year resolutions

Lately, I've noticed that it's become fashionable to look down on new year's resolutions. They are an artificial habit that we almost superstitiously maintain, as we yearn to finally be that better version of ourselves. These unrealistic, lofty goals, that we neatly list in our pristine yearly planners or diaries, inevitably fail and becomes another source of self-loathing. Right? 

This is not my bullet journal -- just a stock photo ;)

This is not my bullet journal -- just a stock photo ;)

Not necessarily. 

I think it can be useful to channel that surge of hope and energy we get as a new year begins into creating positive and sustainable changes in our lives (if we want those changes of course!) 

But don't get me wrong. I am not going to be resolving to "lose weight" or "support cause A" or "run more" in 2018. As written, these goals are either too vague, too generic for me (do I really want to do X? Why? Are things around me convincing me that I * should * want X?) or too removed from my actual life and natural tendencies. Also, a year is a long time, and for me, a bit more planning and breaking down into tasks is necessary in order to accomplish any substantial goal.

So what I will do is set a handful of specific to-dos that I know I can complete in the next few weeks. These will be attainable and very precise, for exampl:e "Schedule physical with doctor XYZ", "Download Couch to 5K app" or "take the stairs instead of the elevator."

As these are being completed, I'll pat myself on the back and write new, simple tasks, perhaps a tad more challenging this time (depending on my level of motivation) for the following few weeks. These tasks will be the incremental steps that will take me closer towards my goal(s). 

So, while the goal is still on the horizon, what I focus on daily is only the (manageable) task at hand, making progress tangible and measurable. Each time I reach a milestone on the way to reaching my bigger goal(s), I try to:

1) recognize that I've passed that milestone

2) mentally give myself a high five for having gone this far.

What do you think? Do you do dislike new year resolutions? Or do you think they are useful? If so, what are your tips to make them stick? 

 

Looking back at 2017: consolidation

Before I set some goals for the new year I wanted to take stock and look back at 2017, see what I accomplished and what I could have done better. Overall I think the word that defines this year is "consolidation:"

Isn't this mug really cute? Too bad this is a stock photo, I have no idea where to find it!

Isn't this mug really cute? Too bad this is a stock photo, I have no idea where to find it!

-PATTERN RELEASES: I've released 10 patterns in 2017, still going slow and steady and trying to be very intentional about each design that I release. Half of the patterns I published in 2017 were based on my best-selling pattern Entrechat: two extra versions of the designs, written for DK and for fingering weights, and three matching accessories: the Entrechat bonnet, available for three different yarn weights: worsted, dk and fingering. The rest of the releases were: Em Dash (the grown-up version of my Hyphen cardigan), two gender-neutral cardigans (Merci and Miel) and two dresses (Honey Pie and Aubade).

While I felt a bit frustrated that consolidating my porfolio (the different weight versions for Entrechat and the matching bonnets) meant less time spent exploring new designs, I think spending time giving my customers what they asked for was the right thing to do :)

-STYLE: 2017 is the year that I have consciously looked within to find and express into words the source of my inspiration. I feel that I have solidified my own style and my designs reflect the sweet spot where my creativity and my customers' expectations intersect.  

-SOCIAL: in 2017 I ran the first-ever Entrechat Knitalong and while I spent a lot of time planning it and gathering sponsors and prizes, it was a real thrill to see so many people participate and have fun with the design. Earlier in the year I also ran an Easter/Spring dress KAL, which was also great. I think I still have to do better and fight my introvert tendencies in order to connect with my lovely community even more. Overall, though, I feel like I'm on the right path in consolidating these ties. I've been posting regularly on Instagram and although my Newsletter is currently mostly about pattern releases and discounts, the number of subscribers is growing rapidly and I am planning on sprucing up the content this year.

-IN-PERSON EVENTS: This is an area that definitely could use some improvements: I had intended to attend both Berlin Knits and Rhinebeck in 2017, but a trip to Japan (which was so much fun and so inspiring! I'll post about it soon) conflicted with those dates, so I ended up missing out on both events. I really want to meet more knitters in person, and it's a bit frustrating to live far away from big cities and always feel like I'm in a bubble. 

-WORK/LIFE BALANCE: This year was one of steady business growth. My revenue grew 25% in 2017, which I'm very happy with. I've spent more effort where it matters and hired help here and there so I wouldn't get bogged down by easily-outsourced tasks.  I also tried to aim for a good work/life balance: I tried to be focused and disciplined during work hours and avoided working when my family was home and on weekends. I also prioritized sleep -- the kids now sleep beautifully and so do I! I also took advantage of our kids growing more independent to take longer trips with my husband (thanks to the help of dedicated grandparents!). I even basically took December off, knitting other designers' patterns, which was so enjoyable:

Christmas Stockings by Ukeeknits: link to Ravelry pattern

Christmas Stockings by Ukeeknits: link to Ravelry pattern

Berlin Soft Cardigan by Meiju Knits: link to Ravelry pattern

Berlin Soft Cardigan by Meiju Knits: link to Ravelry pattern

-PERSONAL: A big chunk of my year was taken up by the need to pass my driver's license again. I live in Germany, and my New Jersey (expired!) license isn't valid here. So I had to go through the very lengthy and expensive process of taking hours and hours or theory and driving lessons -- all in German! (Not to mention a first-aid certification, eye test etc... prior to even getting started.) Long story short, I passed the test in September and can now finally USE OUR CAR!! That's been a relief because as much as I enjoy riding my bike, the kids are starting to be in that tricky phase where they're too young to ride their own bikes to school and almost too old to be in the bike seat and trailer. Plus when it rains or snows it's nice to have a more comfortable option ;)

The focus on this has taken away from spending time trying to improve my German and I fear that my skills have taken a nose-dive. Same with running/exercising. I did ok early in the year but then the driving lessons in the early morning interfered with my efforts. One good thing I did thanks to the break I took in December was to finally set up my sewing machine and start sewing again as a hobby! For now it's baby steps, just sewing some dolly clothes, but it's a good start to getting my sewing skills to an acceptable level ;)

Tiny doll clothes for my girl!

Tiny doll clothes for my girl!

-FAMILY: The kids made tremendous strides in 2017: I now consider them fully trilingual: their French skills have really blossomed because of time spent with my side of the family and they are now starting to express themselves relatively well. It's great to finally be able to have conversations with them in French.

They have become very chatty and social and say the funniest thing. They are joined at the hip, love being read to and they draw a lot. A. also learned to swim this year! When I think about how nervous he used to be in the pool, it's a real wonder. They also both have started attending a music class and they love it. Finally, A. has just recently passed the German Schuluntersuchung, the test all school-aged kids have to take before they can start school. I have to say, this was a lot more involved than what I was expecting: one hour of medical and cognitive testing... So that means he'll start "real school" this summer! Hard to believe...

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We also added two member to our family in 2017: two kitties, Jacko and Stella! They are a bit naughty, making messes wherever they go, but they are incredibly snuggly. Sharing our flat with them is still an adjustment sometimes, but the kids are so happy about these two furry friends!

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What about you? How did 2017 treat you? I wish all of you a fantastic 2018!

Entrechat KAL Sponsor: Kunibag

I first met Judit online when she came up with this incredibly stunning version of my Hyphen cardigan (click on image for the Ravelry project page): 

Stunning isn't it? I had never really thought of using knitting as a canvas for embroidery before! I had to find out more about her (she lives in Hamburg, not too far from me!) and I started following her on  social media.

Her creativity and eye for colors are just brilliant. She has a particular love for colorwork and I love just about everything she comes up with. Her Instagram feed is so inspiring, full of the most enticing photographs of wooly goodness. AND she doesn't just knit, she also spins and sews beautifully, and even sells THE coolest project bags  (she calls them Kunibags) online, in shops around Hamburg and at yarn festivals.

I am so delighted that she agreed to donate one Kunibag as a prize for our Entrechat KAL

One lucky winner will soon receive this beauty! I have to admit I'm a bit jealous ;)

I love the combination of fabrics she picked out, it's super elegant and modern, with a retro twist, don't you think?

Judit has been super busy lately in her studio and will soon open an Etsy shop. In the meantime, make sure you follow her on Instagram and Ravelry so you don't miss any of her beautiful creations. Thanks again Judit!

Entrechat KAL Sponsor: Unwind Yarn Company

Another one of our lovely indie dyer sponsors is Dana from the Unwind Yarn Company.

Unwind Yarn Company

I've been following Dana on Instagram for a while now, and I love having that window into her day-to-day as an indie dyer and business owner, and seeing her adorable little girl grow. 

As an indie dyer, she comes up with absolutely wonderful colorways full of happy bright colors, which come in a wide variety of bases, from fingering to worsted weight. Each one of her colorways is inspired by something very personal, either a meaningful song, a memory, a photo... Dana also makes the cutest notion pouches and project bags in covetable fabrics. Be sure to check out her store! She really pours her heart and soul into her work, and with each new product she shares a bit of herself with the world.

Dana is also one of the organizer behind the Into The Wool Fiber Retreat, which has been taking place for the past four years and looks oh-so-heavenly. 

Are you curious to see the prize that Dana has prepared for our Entrechat KAL? It's the loveliest yarn and bag kit!

This fabric is just perfect, no? And how wonderful is this yarn!

Here are some more details:

The project bag is made from organic cotton print fabric with a white organic cotton lining. It measures approximately 11" wide x 7" tall with a 4" gusset.  It is interfaced with batting and is soft but will stand up on its own. It has a zipper top and coordinating colored stitching.

The yarn is Unwind Yarn Company's Round Trip Sock, a lovely high-twist super wash 100% merino single that blocks beautifully and shows stitch definition extremely well. It was dyed in Dana's repeatable colorway Black Magic Woman, a tonal pink with splashes of navy. The skein is 400yds/100g. Gauge: 7-8 sts = 1” on #1-3 needles. Hand or machine wash cool, lay flat to dry.

I am so excited on behalf of the lucky winner who will receive this wonderful kit! Want your own? You can find the Unwind Yarn Company here:

Shop: Unwind Yarn Company

Instagram: Unwindyarncompany

Facebook: Unwind Yarn Company

The KAL is still going strong, with new participants still joining us every day, so don't be shy and join us! There's still plenty of time to make one Entrechat... or five! I'll announce the winners on July 1.

Entrechat KAL Sponsor: Sewhappyjane Hand dyed yarn

When I had a call for sponsors for the Entrechat KAL back in May, Heather from Sewhappyjane was one of the first ones to offer a prize, and given how gorgeous and special her yarns are, I was more than thrilled! 

How pretty is this?? It's called Lavish and you can find it it, along with all of Heather's offerings here

Here's a close up of the donated skein, Lavish in DK weight, for your viewing pleasure. You are welcome :)

Heather's hand-dyed yarns are inspired by the world around her; tiny songbirds, majestic skies, sand and stone, and all things bright and beautiful. Heather creates sewhappyJane yarn in the kitchen of her century old music teaching studio. She uses only the finest, professional grade materials and dye in small batches of 2-4 skeins at a time. Each skein of yarn is unique and made to infuse your projects with life. 

Thank you so much, Heather, for being a sponsor! And for taking part in the KAL of course!

Heather can be found the following places:

Shop: sewhappyjane.bigcartel.com

Instagram: sewhappyjane

facebook: sewhappyjane

Ravelry: sewhappyjane

www.sustainmusicstudio.com

Entrechat hack: long sleeves

Entrechat is designed to have small cap sleeves, but I think an elbow or even full-length sleeve also works very well for this design. It could be great for chillier spring or fall days, or to use over a summer dress if it's a bit cooler in the evening (or if the A/C is blasting!).

Entrechat knitting pattern by Frogginette Knitting Patterns

Here are my notes about how I made this variation based on the main Entrechat knitting pattern, which is available here.

First a note about extra supplies: You will need a set of dpns of the same diameter as your main (circular) needle to work the sleeves in the round (unless you prefer to use the magic loop technique). You will also need a bit more yarn than indicated in the pattern since you are adding sleeve length. I would guesstimate that you will need anywhere from 50 to 150 yards extra depending on the size you are working and sleeve length you want to knit. 

The beginning of the pattern can be followed as written until Page 3 of the pattern, where it says "Repeat Rows 3 and 4 for the raglan increases until you have the following stitch count."

You simply ignore the stitch counts that are immediately following this statement, as well as the next two sentences, instead working rows 3 and 4 until you get the stitch counts given at the bottom of page 3 (they are bolded).

Then, on the next WS, instead of binding off the sleeve stitches as indicated, you place them on hold using two pieces of scrap yarn (so, purl to the end of that WS, then slip both sets of sleeve sts onto holders, removing markers).

Then, you can follow the pattern as written to finish the body of the shrug.

Once you are done with the body, it's time to work the sleeves. Place the held sleeve stitches onto your dpns, making sure they are evenly distributed.

Then, joining new yarn at the underarm (leave a yarn tail about 8" or 20cm, which you will later use to thread a needle to close up any holes/gaps), you pick up and knit two stitches from the edge of the underarm area. Place a marker between those two stitches and then knit all the sleeve stitches. Then, joining in the round, knit your sleeve stitches in the round for approximately 1" or 2.5cm. 

At that point, work a decrease round: Slm, k1, k2tog, knit until 3 sts remain, ssk, k1.

Continue working in the round in stockinette, working a decrease round every 2 inches or 5cm. When you are 1" shy of your desired sleeve length, alternate working a purled round and a knitted round to produce garter ridges. When you have three ridges, knit one more round and then bind off purlwise (this will produce your final garter ridge.)

Voila!! A sleeve!  Do the same to work the second sleeve and you're all done!

Note: Sleeve length can be easily customized depending on what you need: short sleeves, elbow length, long sleeves. Simply measure the child's arm from the underarm to where your want the sleeve cuff to be. As a reference you can also consult the standard sleeve lengths provided by the Craft Yarn Council for babies and children.

Entrechat knitting pattern (sleeve hack) by Frogginette Knitting Patterns
Entrechat knitting pattern (long sleeve hack) by Frogginette Knitting Patterns

By the way, I am running an Entrechat KAL in my Ravelry group from June 1 to June 30! Join us, it's going to be fun!

Plus, there's 30% off both my Entrechat and Madame Entrechat patterns using the code "ENTRECHATKAL"until June 10th so don't miss out! There will be TONS of prizes: yarn, notions, patterns from many indie designers... To see the entire sponsor list, check out the second post in the Club Frogginette KAL thread)

Don't forget to use the hashtag #EntrechatKAL on your Ravelry project or social media so we can all see your contribution!

Portrait of a knitwear designer: Marie Greene of Olive Knits

I've been getting to know more of my fellow knitwear designers lately, and I am fascinated by the person who exists behind the designs. People have such diverse motivations, personal circumstances, backgrounds, stories, insights! Knitwear designers are definitely an interesting and thoughtful bunch. So I've decided to do a little interview series of my favorite people!


First up: Marie from Olive Knits and her wonderfully sleek, super wearable yet sophisticated designs:

Marie wearing her Southwell Cardigan

Marie wearing her Southwell Cardigan

  • What are 5 random things people might not know about you?

-My kitchen is my zen space. I love to cook - it's a great way to unwind after a long day. 

-I like to binge-watch moody Scandinavian crime shows while I work. 

-I love secondhand and vintage shops. 

-I am an early riser to the extreme (this morning it was 3:30 AM), but it also means that I go to bed ridiculously early most nights. My friends tease me if I'm up past 9:30 PM because they know I'm dying inside. 

-When I was first married I worked as a contract seamstress for the Navy Reserve. 

  • What is your style in a nutshell?

My style continues to evolve. In my early days I was still finding my footing as a designer, still trying to tap into the ideas that resonated with the style story I wanted to tell, but I feel like I'm reaching that place a little more each day. My goal is effortless, beautiful design that is as fun to knit as it is to wear. I hate to use the word 'practical,' but in reality - that really has a huge influence on my work. I want to create pieces that people want in their closets. 

  • What is your favorite technique?

Goodness, it's hard to pick a favorite. I don't know if I can pick just one, but two of my favorites are Japanese Short Rows and the Horizontal Stitch, and you can see both of those demonstrated here

  • What is/are your go-to yarn(s)?

Ooh, another tough one. I love yarns that lean toward the more natural style, and often the "crunchy" yarns really call to me - Sherwood Yarn, The Fibre Company and Rauma Finnulgarn rank high on my list. I also love supporting the work of Sincere Sheep for her commitment to sourcing and her use of natural dyes, and The Farmer's Daughter Fibers because I not only love her gorgeous colorways, but really connect with the way she draws upon her heritage and homeland for inspiration. When I need something with crisp, brilliant color, I go for Knitted Wit; I especially love her rich solids and her personal commitment to supporting meaningful causes through her business. 

  • Do you have a favorite designer? Or any particular design you think is genius.

I have a couple of favorites that span opposite directions, but the one that comes to mind first is Norah Gaughan. She's been one of my design heroes for years. It's funny because my design style is nothing like Norah's, but her designs remind me to think outside the box. I've met her a couple of times and she's genuine and gracious - a true professional. 

  • What is the most important thing you've learned since becoming a designer?

Compassion. Becoming a designer has really opened my eyes to the immense amount of work, love, time and resources that go into the pattern design process. Those insights have translated into a deeper appreciation for the work of my peers, and for the work of small business owners across creative genres; I'm more keenly aware of the person behind the screen/email/storefront who's hustling to make the magic happen.

Behind the scenes!

Behind the scenes!

  • What is your best-selling pattern? Why do you think that is?

Gosh, I had to go look at the numbers. I have two best sellers that are almost tied for first place: Brookings and BeckettI think these pieces are both incredibly versatile and wearable, and flatter a range of body types

  • What is the design you are the most proud of? Why?

Eek, another hard one. I'm really proud of most of them, to be honest, but I think River Light Tee is one I was especially proud of because I challenged my usual construction process, and I think the stitch transition to the lower hem was beautifully strategic. 

River Light Tee by Olive Knits

River Light Tee by Olive Knits

  • What is your favorite quote or saying?
My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night. But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it lends a lovely light.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my very nosy questions with such thoughtful answers Marie! I wish you the very best on your designing journey! You can find Marie's designs on her website (be sure to check out her blog!) as well as Ravelry. She is @oliveknits on Instagram.


Are you curious about what it takes to be a knitwear designer? What the daily routine might look like? Would you like to get to know your favorite designer? Please let me know in the comments if you'd like me to reach out to anybody in particular, and whether you'd like to me to ask any specific questions!

Wearing your knits: 5 lessons I've learned

Every month of May for the past eight years, Me-Made-May has been a big movement in the crafting community. It's not really a make-a-long per se, it's more about actually wearing the things you've made.

Tatie cardigan -- Pattern by NCL Knits

Tatie cardigan -- Pattern by NCL Knits

I have to admit, I don't wear my knits consistently.

I have phases where I will wear something I've made over and over, like this Old Growth cardigan by Tin Can Knits. When my daughter was little and still nursing, I barely left home without it (and wore it around the house as well!)

Old Growth cardigan by Tin Can Knits

Old Growth cardigan by Tin Can Knits

Love that side buttoning!

Love that side buttoning!

I actually tested the pattern for them way back when, and I love how comfy and easy to wear it is. 

Meanwhile some other gorgeous hand-knits have been languishing for years at the back of my closet. Wondering why exactly that is, I studied them carefully and thought about each one's perceived shortcomings. And I had a few epiphanies:

Wearing Your Knits: 5 lessons I've learned by Frogginette Knitting Patterns
  • The sleeve shaping type: I've realized that raglan generally works well for my shape. I like set-in sleeves but I am very particular about the way they should fit on my body, and I'm often disappointed in the way my hand-knits sit in the shoulder area. Very often I feel like the top of the sleeve cap is too narrow, and the seam where the sleeve attaches to the body is placed too far on the outside, towards the very edge or the shoulder or even beyond. (I have pretty square shoulders, too!) This results in the garment constantly feeling like it's slipping, not sitting well, and just not comfortable to wear.
  • The sleeve ease and length: I've learned that I shouldn't just follow directions when I knit sleeves. Instead I should study the schematic a bit more carefully make sure the sleeve ease and length will work for me. I have yet to knit a sweater where the sleeve didn't turn out a bit too tight or a bit too wide. To be fair, I think I'm quite picky there as well. And perhaps I have non-standard arms :D
  • The color: Have you ever noticed that the colors you are attracted to at the yarn store are not necessarily the ones that look the best on you? I love very muted hues, greys, faded lilacs, soft blues... (I mean... just look at that pile of knits above!) Yet I notice that I look much better when I wear jewel tones, deep or bright greens or reds. 
  • The buttons: I have more than a few cardigans that just don't get worn because I made the wrong button choice. Annoyingly heavy buttons for a comparatively thinner yarn. Too-small buttons that slip through the buttonholes easily (this happens too if the yarn is slippery, for example if it has silk content). Cute or fancy buttons that end up distracting from the knit itself.
  • The choice of yarn: Selecting the right yarn for a sweater is no small feat. I've noticed that if the yarn is too precious and delicate, I will simply not wear the garment for fear of damaging it during my day-to-day activities (my kids LOVE to yank on my sleeves to get my attention and they routinely attack me with spiky toy dinosaurs. Ouch!). On the other hand, if I'm going to invest lots of time knitting a sweater for myself, I want the yarn to be special enough. So there has to be a balance. For me, that means using a relatively rugged yarn: Malabrigo Rios, which I used for my Old Growth above, or perhaps Madelinetosh Vintage or Cascade Eco... 

What about you? What are your tips for creating wearable knits?