Wednesday, December 30, 2009


It's calm around here again. Our family has headed home and I am spending lots of quiet time with my girls again. We had guests for 6 nights and seven days - making it the most special, magical holiday season in our home yet. We had as many as 17 folks sleeping under our roof for on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We even had a meal for 24 people. Lots of food, lots of dishes, lots of sweets and lots of energy. If I could bottle it, I'm sure it would be enough to sustain me all through the year.

There were highs. Like when my girls squealed with excitement at the presents they made for each other. There were lows. Like when the basement (which we gutted and worked overtime finishing for the holiday; new lights, new carpet, new stairs, new drywall, etc.) flooded on Christmas Day. On balance, however, there's nothing like family to see you through the rough spots and celebrate the magic of the season with.

As for handmade gifts there were some successes and some not-so-surprising un-finished gifts. I was able to delve into sewing for a week before Christmas and made quite a few things: superhero capes for my nieces and nephew, new down quilts for my older girls, gifts for each of my girls to give to each other. DH and I even collaborated on the big gift for the girls - a play landscape that can be used for many purposes, but is currently home to a family of horses and unicorns. Unfortunately the vest is still in my knitting basket - the pieces are done, but blocking, assembly and finishing has yet to start.

I'll write a few posts over the next couple of weeks about the various gifts and projects, but today is a dedicated play day with my girls. I'm off to enjoy more of the holiday magic that is still all around us.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday preparations

Wow - it's been busy around here. And it will get busier before it slows down. It's not that I've a long queue of holiday knitting or sewing. In fact, I've pared down my holiday knitting to one item and sewing to three items. But we are preparing for 20 overnight guests (incl. 7 kids under age 6) and a kitchen that will be working overtime. So...I'm making lots of lists and checking them twice.

Knitting-wise, here's what I've been working on: a zip-front vest for my brother-in-law. (Pattern is Rugged Up Vest by Judith Avery - Copyright holder for the two pics below is Yarn Magazine 2006). I was inspired to make this piece after a good friend knit one for her husband. And I'm a sucker for o-ring zippers. I just love 'em. The zipper had to be ordered before I finished the knitting so I'm hoping that it will all go together in the end. [If anyone is looking for a custom zipper, is where I found the one for this vest. I am reserving endorsement for now as I have yet to receive the zipper, but I'm hopeful it will be here this week.] The vest is turning out great - and that cast-on is brilliant. The pattern calls it an Italian cast-on, but I think it is also known as the tubular cast-on. At least that is the one I used. I learned the technique from this book. I got it from the library, but it's now on my amazon wish list.

So, 10 days to go until it needs to be done. I figure I need four days for blocking the pieces, assembly and sewing on the zipper, so that really only leaves 6 days. The back will be done tonight, so if I get each front panel done in three days there's a chance it will be finished on time...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FO's, WIP's and holiday knitting

I promised her it would be done by Thanksgiving. And by golly it was washed, folded and waiting at her chair on Thanksgiving morning. (Never mind that I put in a few late nights the week leading up to that morning...) I couldn't get her sister to wear her wallaby for the photo, but maybe I will snap one of the two of them wearing their sweaters in the future. At this point I'm just glad they wear them at all.

I'm not sure how, but the purple one turned out about a full size larger than the first one I made. I think that once I followed the directions on the first one, and had a sense of how it all went together, I got liberal (lazy?) with measuring on this one. I know at one point the booklet was open to the adult directions, so I'm certain that's an adult-sized hood, but those sleeves and hem are too long for her this year. Room to grow is my motto for this one.

I also couldn't wait to dig into that new yarn from my mom. I've been itching for a new hat that would match both my winter coats - one is red and is used for outdoor activities: shoveling, ice skating, snow angels, etc. and the other is black and is for going to the coffee shop, meetings on campus and other activities that don't require me getting down on the ground. I've got a few hats that look nice with one or the other coat, but this is the first that I think will look great with either. The pattern is felicity - instant gratification hat with a bit of hip tossed in. [I only know that its hip because: 1) the pattern says so, and 2) when I picked up the twins at the daycare coop last week wearing it our 20-something childcare student swooned over it.]

In other news I broke two of the dpn's that I'm using for my striped socks, so those are on hold until I can wrangle the rest of the sock onto three needles, or I purchase another set. This is frustrating because this set purposefully comes with a spare needle (6 needles total), but after the first one broke, the spare did too. And both needles broke within 24 hours of each other?! They are made of birch, and I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the fluctuations in the humidity in the house now that the heat is kicking in?

When you are knitter a temporary stop in one project means more time to devote to another neglected project and I've really made some progress on a project I started last winter. I'm planning to felt tonight. With any luck it will be done and on the wall before my in-laws arrive for the holiday visit.

I've also decided to pare down my holiday knitting this year. I'm only going to knit one item, a zip-front vest for my brother-in-law. This year it's quality, not quantity, that's dominating my personal handmade holiday quest. I haven't started the project, but in preparation I plan to do the swatch and practice the Italian cast-on today. Here's the yarn I'll be using - a lovely worsted gray, direct from the Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tour: Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill

Awhile back I purchased a skein of yarn at a local apple orchard, that came from sheep raised at the orchard, and was spun at a local woolen mill (local = 30 mile radius of where I live). At the time I was amazed by the idea that I had purchased a skein of yarn that came from a sheep that I was staring at just 5 minutes before.

The tag on the skein noted that it was spun locally, and thus I started to think about how that yarn actually went from the muddy, prickly, dirty fleece coat on the sheep into the soft, beautifully wound skein of yarn in my hand. Enter Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill.

I found myself with some extra kid-free time on Saturday afternoon and took a chance to get away. I drove out to Mount Horeb, WI and attended an open house hosted by BBR Woolen Mill.

I can hardly describe what I saw::

: A living museum to America's industrial age. Many of the carding, processing and spinning machines date from the early 1910's.

: Bales, and bales, and bales of raw and washed wool.

: More spindles and cones then I could ever dream about.

: Skeins, upon skeins, upon skeins of yarn - some natural, some dyed and some hand painted.

: A team of highly skilled and knowledgeable machines(wo)men, spinners, and artists.

The mill processes its own merino (white) and corriedale (grey) fleeces, purchased from farmers in South Dakota and other midwestern locales . After processing they sell yarn and roving direct from the mill via the internet or by appointment only. The mill also processes fiber from other farmers around the country (the farmer at the apple orchard, for example) - the minimum processing weight is 20 lbs. of fiber. An average garbage bag of wool weighs approximately 9 lbs, but I'm not sure how many sheep that 9 lbs. of wool represents. On the top end, they can process up to 2,000 lbs.

Records of the different yarn runs are meticulously kept by hand in a series of notebooks - everything is recorded: from the initial weight of the fiber, to the final yardage and all the machine settings in between.

The mill hasn't been in its current location for very long (I think only about 6 years, but I could be mistaken on this point), and the machinery was originally purchased from a manufacturing company on the east coast. I'm not sure how the machines and parts made their way to Wisconsin, but I look forward to learning more at their next open house.

I took many photos of the machinery - I rarely, if ever, get this close to the machines that process and make the things I use daily. You can find photos of my tour here.

This trip was a peek into one of the 'missing links' of my handicraft/artwork. I understand on an intellectual level how wool and other fibers are made into yarn. But before this trip I didn't truly appreciate how yarn got from an animal (or from a plant) into my LYS. I saw up close how raw materials shift from one state to another. Now I know, experientially, how wool from the back of a sheep is transformed into something for my own back.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Direct from Ireland

My parents embarked on a journey to Ireland at the end of October. My mom, understanding my love of yarn, brought me back 6 skeins of Blizzard. I can't locate this particular yarn on ravelry, so I'm completely free to daydream about what this yarn might become. Could be a set of matching hats, could be a vest, could be a sweater, could be a scarf...

It's a superwash wool/polyester blend and very soft. Might be perfect for girly vests - something like this perhaps?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mauda Bonnet

Last winter I knit up the bonnet from Last Minute Knitted Gifts. The pattern photo was so cute and the yarn was a dream to work with. However, the finished bonnet wasn't as close fitting as I wanted. It gets C-O-L-D here in Wisconsin and I hoped for something that would fit closer to the neck, to prevent the snow and cold from creeping up to the top of little heads.

After trying to modify the bonnet post-knitting, I decided to knit up a new one and make a few modifications along the way. The result is my Mauda Bonnet.

If you are interested in my modifications you can find them on my ravelry projects page (I got permission from Joelle Hoverson to post my mods there). This bonnet should fit kiddos 9-18 mos. and it's been knit up at least twice by other knitters without any problems. If you use the mods leave me a comment below, or on ravelry, and happy knitting!

Friday, November 13, 2009

FO: Shalom Cardigan

One reason I was not very productive during Socktoberfest was because I got distracted. Awhile back, thanks to friends and white wine, I got the courage to completely frog the first sweater I ever knit. I planned to let the yarn sit, but once it was nicely balled up and stored away I felt lonely for it. Strange I know. The sweater had been in my closet for about 5 years, definately since before the twins were born, just sitting there. It was never worn. But once it was gone I started missing it. So I began the slow process of reincarnation.

The yarn re-knit beautifully, and I'm happy to say that my skills have mightily improved since I first knit that sweater. The new piece is the Shalom Cardigan. It's a great staple to add to my fall/winter wardrobe. It nicely layers over a long-sleeve t-shirt, perfect for those days when it's too chilly to wear one on it's own. It is 100% wool so it is also quite warm. Good thing it's short-sleeved and a cardigan. It adds just the right layer of warmth and color.

This was my first attempt at doing anything larger than kids clothes or accessories (socks, hats, mittens, shawls, etc.). It required a lot of work, and a lot of faith. I took measurements, knit a gauge swatch, used a calculator, and probably most importantly knit from my gut. The final garment mostly turned out as I had hoped.

The only hitch - the same one as from the original sweater - was that this yarn is heavy and thus wears long and drapey. When I soaked the sweater for blocking it spread all over the table and I gathered it up best I could, but there was no denying that the finished cardigan was about 8 inches longer than before I soaked it, and about 7 inches longer then I planned for. It's also bigger overall than it needs to be (that second button isn't pulling - I made a wonky buttonhole on accident). It's ok with me. Had this been my first time knitting with this yarn I may have gone back and taken off a few inches to shorten it up. But I'm happy with it and so it stays. It may not place me on any knitter's 'best dressed' list, but it surely identifies me as a knitter. I'll gladly wear it. I'll wear it proud.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Socktoberfest Round-up

Socktoberfest came and went and here's what I have to show for it. Two finished socks, but not a complete pair. I will work my way towards complete pairs with the goal of finishing by the end of the year. I am in love with both these socks and look forward to wearing them. If I had more fashion gumption I might just wear them as a pair, mis-matched and all. But such as it is I don't. And they will remain members of the single sock society for a bit longer.

Once the pairs are complete I'll go into more detail about the patterns and yarn, but I would be remiss if I didn't give a quick 'thank you' to Kirsten from Through the Loops for her '09 Mystery Sock KAL sock pattern. It's truly a work of art.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wag the Dog (or Happy Halloween)

This years Halloween costumes were sewn in a two-day event. One day to buy the fabric and cut the pieces, and one day for assembly. I relied on the help of this pattern, but adapted it to my own kids' tastes. The suits are made of polar fleece, which was perfect for our 40 degree weather.

They asked to be dogs for Halloween. Specifically, they wanted to be their favorite stuffed dogs. One is all black, and the other brown and white.

I've made costumes for the twins every year since they were born. My youngest daughter uses their old costumes, or thrifted ones that are part of the general dress-up collection in our casa.

I enjoy sewing (bags, quilts, pillows, etc.) but I don't entirely enjoy garment making. For me, kids costumes fall somewhere in the middle. So, having a interest in sewing puts me well on the road of making our own costumes. However, I also feel an overwhelming desire to make their costumes. I want my kids to remember the creative energy - as zany as it is - that surrounds dressing up for the land of make believe. But, there is more to it than that for me. For my kids they are just costumes, right?

Yet, I'm not sure what this 'more' is. Is it because my Mom sewed costumes for me and my brother when we were young? Is there tradition buried in the piles of thread and fabric scraps? Or is it something more global? Or more personal? Something that ties in to values I hold about art and craft and society? Values I hold about mother/parenthood?

In a way, I feel that making costumes is a personal statement about our culture and our choices. By making costumes - and knowing that they will be worn over and over and over again, and not just on Halloween - I choose to reject the idea that we live in a disposable society. The amount of waste produced by our family alone (a family that tries its best to recycle, reuse and repurpose as much as possible) is staggering. Often times I need to get rid of half of what I bring home from a store just to use an item: the packaging and the bag(s) it came in. So I find small ways to push back against this reality. I make or thrift cloth napkins. We make school lunches with re-usable containers. We buy in bulk. We use our own shopping sacks.

I was forced to think this issue through when a friend of a friend said, "I bet you're the kind of mom that makes your kids Halloween costumes, right?" It was a kind remark. It was intended to celebrate and support my creativity and motherhood. However, I was discomforted by the remark and I didn't figure out why until later. Making my kids costumes is less a sign of love for my kids than it is a statement about how we consume/use in our society - especially around holidays. Lots and lots of parents purchase costumes (handmade and otherwise) for their kids on Halloween and they don't love their kids any less than I do mine.

While I was taking this photo of my girls I was reminded of the saying - popularized by the movie of the same name - Wag the Dog.

To 'wag the dog' means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue. The expression
comes from the saying that 'a dog is smarter than its tail', but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would 'wag the dog'. [From]
So, I'm starting to wonder if this is it. Maybe I am wagging the dog with this costume issue. I want to draw attention to the sustainable handmade/homemade movement and away from the costume. For me the 'more' seems to be my desire for a society that values the art of independent creating, and not cheap plastic.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Black Welsh Sheep, Apple Pie & Salad Dressing

Two weeks ago our family made our annual apple picking trip. I always forget how quickly this goes - within 20 minutes of being among the trees we had picked over 100 lbs. of apples. Yikes. I've been busy making apple sauce, apple pie filling, apple crisps and apple bread. Next year I will remember that 60 lbs. (or two and a half bags) will be just fine for our family.

Luckily the orchard we go to has some other fun things to do, aside from the actual picking. There's a pond to visit, various paths to explore, and grape, raspberry and blackberry vines. They also have sheep! A beautiful herd of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep to be exact.

I purchased this skein directly from the owner of the orchard, who also raises the sheep. It was locally spun at the Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill. The girls and I had been petting the sheep that this yarn came from just 10 minutes before - they thought this was pretty cool. It was also affirming to meet the woman that produced this yarn. She only sells her yarn at the orchard - if you are interested you can get in touch with her at Door Creek Orchard. She has a variety of undyed colors and yarn weights.

Yes, that's right - this yarn is undyed. This perfectly black color is straight from nature. As a knitter that is typically drawn to color and dyed yarns, using this black will be a first for me. I'm excited however. "Natural is the new black," I was saying all weekend. In this case, that is completely accurate.

I have slowly been working through our apples. This year I tried apple pie filling. I can't remember which blog I got this link from, but it was a great starter recipe. It gives complete directions, with photos. I also like the recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I found my Clear Jel here.

Lastly, I've been obsessed of late with making salad dressing. Not only does it taste WAY better and fresher than store-bought, it gives my girls something to do; something to head off the 5-minutes-until-dinner-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do-while-I-wait whining session. I fill up a jar with the ingredients and give it to them to shake-shake-shake. I found a ton of great recipes in Sara Foster's Casual Cooking and Lorna Sass's Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. Do you all make your own dressing? What are your favorites?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall is our busy time

When I flipped the calendar from September to October I took a big sigh of relief. We had made it through our busy month with full weekends and evening events. There was nothing on our calendar for October, save Halloween. It was a clean slate. I imagined all the knitting I could get done, and all the progress I could make on my dissertation.

I mentioned this to DH after a few glasses of wine, not realizing that his head was FULL of things we s/could be doing as a family to enjoy the fall. Pumpkin picking, apple picking, library story time (there is a special one for Dads, complete with donuts and coffee), hayrides, a train ride, the Fall Art Tour, sauce making, pie baking, raking, gardening/yard work, stacking firewood, fires in the fireplace, costume making, and the list goes on I tell you! I had a few of those same things knocking around in my head too, but all of them? Yes, he insisted.

So, now that it is mid-October I've realized - and processed - the fact that fall is our busy time; a time of togetherness. I've been managing some work on the dissertation, but the knitting is neglected at the moment.

I did start and finish Calorimetry. It's a fantastically quick knit and a very cute fall wardrobe item; great for apple picking. And it's perfect for folks with long hair: no worries about static building up, or a hat smashing all the body out of your long locks. I picked out a cute pearl button, but have realized that it's too small. I'm now on the lookout for a bigger button to keep it snug around my head.

Socktoberfest '09 was all the motivation I needed to use another ball of delicious Noro yarn to knit up some socks. These striped beauties won't be finished for quite some time, but they are fun to knit. I'm also learning how to make travelling jogless stripes - very cool. Usually when you make stripes, while working in the round, it's very obvious where you changed colors. One stitch is color A and the next is color B. It looks sort of like a stair-step at the point you change colors. But this new-to-me technique eliminates that and with a few twists of yarn and the help of a stitch marker the steps disappear. You can read more about the technique here.

The '09 Mystery Sock KAL is coming along nicely too. Admittedly, I'm only knitting one sock, but I'm managing to stay caught up with the pattern. It's gorgeous so far. I wish I had selected a softer sock yarn, but instead these will be hearty winter socks. Think very thick, bright red wool. No pics yet, and there won't be until after the sock is finished. I don't want to spoil it for anyone else that's knitting along too.

And least my daughter thinks that I've forgotten about her purple sweater I haven't. It's still on the needles and I'm making some progress with it. I've promised her it will be done no later than Thanksgiving. Today we are headed out for a fall train ride. It's an hour in the car, one way. Maybe I'll get some knitting done...I can always hope, right?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sewing, Crafting and Beading

My twin nieces turn four next week so I quickly whipped up these colored pencil rolls during this past week. It took about 1.5 nap times: one day I cut the pieces and the next day I did the assembly and sewing. They aren't as detailed at the ones I made for my girls a year ago, but they sure are cute. Again, I loosely followed the pattern directions in Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts. I decided on a white linen exterior (two different fabrics) with a dark solid for the interior and I think it works. To my eyes that dark background really makes the colored pencils stand out.

At first I thought that making a solid interior would save time on the project. And it did. But it created an additional challenge too - I had no way of making sure that the pockets I sewed for the pencils were straight, or that there would be 12 of them. Using the patchwork interior, which is nicely sized to the pockets, is very helpful indeed. I know I could have used chalk, making pens, or any other assorted notions that sewing folks use to mark lines on their work, but I was working under nap time deadline and just went for it. Ultimately I wound up with 11 pockets for each roll. So what I lack in spacial estimation I make up for in consistency.

At the end of the week I couldn't shake the crafting bug. I grabbed the crayon box from the kids art shelf and began sorting the bits into paper liners for the mini-muffin tin. I popped them into a 200 degree oven for 18 minutes (although I can't be sure, I did it by sight). They melted down into a new set of crayons. Since this was a nap time project, I was pleasantly surprised when the crayons had hardened and cooled by the time the girls woke up. They were amazed that "Mama made crayons!!" while they were sleeping. I think that I will keep this little secret to myself and let my all powerful, mystical, omnipotent aura float around in their little heads for awhile (ha, ha). On another funny note, when DH came home he asked me how many peanut butter cups I had to eat to get the project off the ground.

During this same uber-productive nap time I also whipped up five stitch markers for my knitting. The two rings on the far left are what I have been using since I started knitting. They are flexible and accommodating, but not very aesthetically pleasing or inspiring. The only plus side is that I can easily find the bright green ones when they slip below the couch cushions at night. I picked up the first beaded one on the left at my LYS about two years ago. I used it the other week on the second wallaby that I'm knitting and I thought that the brightly colored rings just didn't do it justice.

Earlier in the week I went to the craft store, with the three kids in tow, to find supplies for a future knitting/beading project and quickly realized how naive I am about beading. There is a lot to take in when browsing the beading department (and when your kids are literally going in three different directions, and all screaming from true fear at the Halloween decorations looming around every corner). But I persevered and found everything I needed, including the long wires for this project. Luckily I had a stash of beads from an old necklace that broke a few years ago, and they work nicely as a set here. I raided DH's workshop for a needle nose pliers and off I went. I learned a few things, like next time I need to get longer wires, and I should probably make the eyelet openings larger (these only fit up to a size 7 needle) but overall I'm really happy with how they turned out. They are much prettier than those rings, indeed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Socktoberfest '09

I'm pretty late to the game with regards to Socktoberfest. This month-long celebration of sock knitting has been going on since 2005 and this is my first year participating. Since I knit so many socks in general I thought I would join in this year.

First up is the pair of socks that I completed on October 2nd. I'm not sure that it's fair to include these as I actually starting knitting them in the middle of the summer, but they were completed this month nonetheless.

I used a self-striping cotton/nylon blend yarn and am really happy with the result. Actually, I can't quite believe that the socks match! I must have cast on for each sock at just the right place in the skein as each sock starts with the same striping pattern, and it continues right through the toes. The only difference seems to be the distribution of black 'spots' on each of the color bands. DH was quite impressed to say the least. So far the socks are wearing well, but a bit on the big side. And since they are cotton, they are slouching a bit towards my ankle.

Secondly, I've joined the Mystery Sock KAL '09. I'm excited to see these grow on my needles, especially since I have no idea what is coming next. We only get one clue at a time. In many ways it's refreshing not having the whole pattern in front of me, and only given to me in pieces. Regardless, I'm only going to knit one sock at a time so it may actually be next year before this pair is finished (smile).

Lastly, I noticed on the Socktoberfest '09 discussion board that there's a group of folks knitting up baby socks/stockings for an advent calendar. I'm re-posting the links to my project from last year for anyone that's interested in checking out this project. I'm warning you that even though I would consider this a relatively quick project it did take me over a year to complete.

I never claimed to be a fast knitter. Just a compulsive one.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Second Birthday

My youngest turned two years old this past weekend. Hard to believe that my little baby isn't so little anymore, and she most certainly isn't a baby anymore. She's a toddler thru and thru; playing an endless game of keep-up with her older sisters. On her birthday we kept asking her, "how old are you today?" and she'd reply with a firm, "FOUR years old." I wish I could explain to her that there's no rush, no race to grow up. Stay young forever was my wish when she blew out her candles.

This was another low-key birthday in our household with only my parents and one uncle in attendance at our small party. The afternoon was full of homemade, however. Homemade cupcakes, birthday crowns and presents. My mom and my other daughters made the cupcakes and my mom also sewed her a cute little corduroy jumper with a star-and-moon print. My SIL made her a wonderful handmade doll, and sent it up from Tennessee.

I did manage to squeeze a quick crown-making session on the morning of her birthday. I had the forethought to cut extra pieces when I was making these, but never assembled it. It didn't take anytime at all and all three girls looked great wearing their crowns all day.

As for presents, we gave her this book, and this book. And earlier in the week I shoved all else off my plate in honor of making her a faux butterfly specimen case. I saw one just like it here (there are lots more links for other inspiration there too) and knew my daughter (we?) needed one too. It's perfect in her room and she literally jumped out of her seat when she saw it. "Budfry, budfry, budfry" she chanted as we all gazed on in wonder at this little ones uncontrollable enthusiasm.

The project took no time at all really. The most labor-intensive part was marking the foam mat so I could place the butterflies in neat rows and columns. I did this with a template made from a paper grocery bag, cut to the size of the mat. Then I drew grid lines on the bag and poked holes through it, leaving a mark on the mat at each intersection of the grid lines. That let me center the foam dots that are below each butterfly.

The butterflies are made with a butterfly punch (ala Martha) and the display case I found on clearance a couple months ago. The covers of my back issues of Cooking Light and Knit Simple provided the colorful paper for the butterflies themselves. If you look closely you'll see knit fabric, polka dots and even a red onion on the wings of the butterflies.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

FO: Simple Yet Effective Shawl (SYES)

This shawl really lets that Noro yarn sing. I burned, very quickly I might add, through one skein to make this shawl - and apparently just in time as the temps here in Wisconsin are starting to dip into the 40's during the wee morning hours. The pattern called for regular color changes, to induce a predictable striping pattern I presume, but I went with my own interpretation and made the color changes a bit more random. I love the dramatic look of the shawl and the way the colors flow with each other; yet the colors are so different from one to the next. The last photo is the most true to color.

I was initially worried that the shawl, which I've mostly been wearing as a scarf, would be scratchy as it is 100% wool. While knitting it I did come across the random bit of straw too. But after a good soak and blocking it's really softened up. I love that about wool.

You might wonder about my blocking mat here in the's actually one of those kids foam floor mats that you can piece together in any number of sizes and shapes. We initially picked it up at Target, to cover part of the chilly tile floor in our sun room, but quickly realized that the kids preferred to chew on it, rather than play on top of it. So I put it away in a closet. About a month ago I noticed this new product in one of my favorite knitting catalogs and remembered that I had something similar stashed away. I'm so glad that I'm getting some use out of it, and there's no need to worry about ingesting it this time around.

The shawl was a breeze to knit - perfect for what I like to call "dk" or distracted knitting - which I'm often doing with the kids around and under my feet. This shawl is a lovely way to kick off the fall season here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wallaby I

The first wallaby is done! I finished it up early last week - while my mind was still swimming from Stitches Midwest - but wanted to wait and blog about it after it was firmly established in my daughters wardrobe, and had been through the wash a few times. Luckily the weather has been chilly enough in the mornings that we've needed sweaters for a few hours, and she's been enthusiastically reaching for this one each morning.

The yarn is a cotton/synthetic blend that I hope will be comfy on the skin, not too hot, and durable. There was a slight shine to the yarn when first knit up, but that seems to have faded after a few washings.

I love this pattern and sweater construction method. The booklet is very cute, and has lots of hand-drawn illustrations of kangaroos knitting and wearing sweaters, that my daughters really enjoy. You just don't find patterns like this around anymore. Most patterns that I come across are very straightforward, maybe 3 pages long, with a few photos, and a schematic of the dimensions. This pattern is it's own 24-page booklet, complete with advice, encouragement, and illustrations. It also is a pattern for all sizes and ages.

The sweater was manageable to knit, and wasn't overly complicated. I did make a few modifications, however. I switched out the ribbed hem and cuffs for rolled hem and cuffs. I think this made it more feminine and gives the piece a more relaxed and modern look overall. I also used seed stitch for the sides of the pocket, placket and hood trip. I felt this gave it an extra nice detail; the pattern called for regular garter stitch which I didn't think really added anything to the 'look' of the sweater.

I didn't change around the dimensions really, but I did knit a size 8 sweater, which happens to be fitting my size 5 daughter, albeit with a bit of room to grow. You can read more details about the knitting process, and sizing, on my ravelry page.

The sleeves for the other wallaby are complete and I am about 6 inches up from the waist on the body. I've got a ways to go, but seeing how cute this first one turned out has me excited to finish it up too.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stitches Midwest

From Yarn Stash

My trip to Stitches Midwest was incredible. It was a great first knitting event for me. The cost of admission was reasonable, I took one class on bead knitting from Deanna Van Assche, and I saw, felt and coveted more yarn then I ever imagined possible. I visited with some local yarn shop owners, and took notes on endless yarns, projects to try and books to read. In short it was total inspiration.

This was actually a three-day event, but my friend and I attended for just one day. I think this was plenty. We were able to each take a class, and make it through the marketplace, even taking a break for lunch and checking into our hotel. Besides, we were two gals on a weekend vacation without our kids. We had other plans too - IKEA, pierogis, and a trip to the Japanese market.

I've never attended an event like this before. There were vendors of all sorts, selling yarns, needles, notions, kits, patterns, books, roving - the variety of items was overwhelming. I stuck mostly to the yarns as I have a ravelry queue full of patterns and I've got plenty of needles to get me started on most of them.

There was one vendor in the marketplace - I believe it was Woolstock Yarn Shop - that basically set up a corral and filled it with bags of yarn. One worker stood in the middle of the corral and tossed bags of yarn around. The prices were 40-50% off retail, and each bag had between 4-10 skeins. This was a great way to get enough of one kind of yarn for a larger project (sweater, vest, blanket) without spending a ton of money on individual skeins. I got 5 skeins of the Noro, and 10 skeins of the blue variegated Queensland Rustic Wool. This one seller alone made the whole experience for me. I love quality yarns, but as a graduate student/mother of three I don't have the extra budget to purchase 5-10 skeins of yarn at a time. This was a great way to pick up a large volume of high-quality yarn for an affordable price.

I have to say that I'm feeling more like knitting then blogging, so I'll leave you with a few pictures of the yarn that I picked up at the marketplace. I'm so excited to have these in my stash - especially the Noro sock yarn and some hand painted sock yarn from Cherry Tree Hill. Ever since I began knitting I've coveted these yarns, and now I own some. Weeeeee!

From Yarn Stash

From Yarn Stash

From Yarn Stash

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blackberries and Pomegranates

With a trip to Stitches Midwest planned for next weekend I am deep in knitting thoughts.

As for the event itself, I'm planning to take one class on knitting with beads. I hope that I will come away with enough confidence to give something like these a try.

At home I've been digging around in my stash trying to decide what I might need to purge to make room for new purchases at the convention marketplace. I'm so excited to learn more about the different yarns I've used and maybe pick-up a few new skeins that I don't even know exist right now.

I've also been digging around in my pile of finished objects (FO's) and re-discovered the first pair of kids socks I ever knit. I promptly placed them on little feet and delighted in watching them run around the house. Too bad I can't remember a thing about them - the yarn, needles or pattern are lost to me.

With yarn purchases on my mind I serendipitously discovered this beautiful new skein of sock yarn (on sale at 25% off) from a local LYS/quilting store. A great yarn at a great price - you can't beat that.

As for actual knitting, I've been making a load of progress in the wallaby sweaters - hooded sweaters with a front kangaroo pocket - for my twins. I've completed the first one, in colorway pomegranate, thru the sleeves and am ready to join for the placket and add the hood. As I was knitting the sleeves I decided to break open the yarn for the second sweater and just continue on the sleeve train for awhile. The opening photo is of the four sleeves folded up together. Unfortunately the purple, or blackberry, sleeves will have to wait awhile until they are put to use. The girls are delighted in my progress and have been running around the house in just the sleeves. Quite a comical scene. So far I am really enjoying the pattern. I've made some modifications that have been working out - including substituting rolled hem and cuffs for the ribbing called for in the pattern.

Lastly, When I'm not knitting, or reading for my research, I'm slowly working my way through Knitting Yarns and Spinning Tales. It was a very thoughtful gift from my Mother-on-Law for the holidays last year and I'm just getting around to reading the stories now. Each story is a delight and I love discovering all the ways that I am similar to other knitters. There seem to be universals that bind us: our desire for meditation and/or relaxation through knitting; creating and expressing ourselves with our hands; and a deep interest in color and texture. There are others that are more emotional, more psychological and more complex, such as healing from or coping with trauma through the act of knitting. I have to admit that after reading The Friday Night Knitting Club I was a bit turned off from knit-lit (anyone else feel this way?), but this book has brought me closer in to the fold. I can't say I'm sold, but I'm interested in giving another volume of short stories a try. Maybe For the Love of Knitting? From the review it seems that Jamaica Kincaid is featured and after reading A Small Place in graduate school I will never be the same. For this reason alone I've added it to my library queue.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Zipper pouch

I have had a long standing fear of zippers. I was never sure how to exactly sew them, or size them. Could I just pick any size zipper? What is an invisible zipper? How did I get the zipper ends to match up to my project exactly?

Last weekend all three of our girls were at my parents for the night (a first for us!) and I had some time in the sewing room while DH had time in his workshop. Armed with cute fabric and a seven inch zipper I dove in head first. I tackled my first zipper and it was scary, but good.

I'm really happy with the tutorial I chose. It was well written, clear and seemed to be free from what I consider "unnecessary" or "fussy" steps (pinning, basting, etc.). Yes, I know that these are very important, and probably underrated, facets of the sewing art, but with a limited amount of time - and a steep learning curve - I was going for rapidity and results, not quality, my first time around.

I say the experience was scary because I did wind up sewing over the zipper teeth. As the tutorial pointed out I was careful to avoid the metal parts of the zipper, but my needle still made a scary sound as it passed over (thru?) the zipper teeth and I saw the needle bend dangerously. I've had a few close calls with breaking needles while sewing with my machine. I've even considered wearing safety glasses after a sharp needle point flew at my face after breaking. Next time I put in a zipper I'll think twice about the glasses, and probably wear them. Anyone have advice on this? Was I doing the correct thing by just going right over the zipper teeth? Is there a way to make this a more enjoyable experience for my machine next time? Anyone else have problems with flying metal when their needles break?

I followed the tutorial as best I could and am amazed that I wound up with this cute little pouch. It's sized perfectly for my knitting dpn's and has found a cozy home in my knitting basket. I've already got my eye on three other zipper projects! The next time I'd like to find something that turns out nice crisp top corners or has a rounded look overall.

Skip To My Lou also has a great tutorial on cloth napkins - I've fabric laundered and ready to go for that project too.