Knitting for a Reason

I’m sticking to my resolution to burn off as much yarn from my yarn stash as possible this year, but it’s good that I included a loophole allowing me to buy yarn to make something for someone else.

For once I didn’t want to buy yarn, but I did.

Why?

It’s for making chemo hats.

I searched Ravelry for tips on knitting chemo hats and quickly learned you need a soft, lightweight yarn because the hats are often worn indoors—preferably a cotton blend so it’s both breathable and washable. Another tip was to avoid heavily textured patterns, because the texture might irritate sensitive scalps.

Of the yarns that were highly recommended, I decided to try Knit Picks’ Comfy Sport, a super soft sport-weight yarn that’s 75% Pima Cotton and 25% Acrylic. When I saw it was only $2.99 per 136-yard skein (most hat patterns need a little more yarn than that, but even two skeins is under $6 per hat) I bought several colors, because who wants to wear the same hat day in and day out?

When the yarn arrived, the color that drew my attention was Planetarium, a rich blue. I immediately started the Relax Man! slouchy hat, which can be worn a couple of different ways. I had to learn the German twisted cast-on method; it’s a long-tail cast on, and I hate those. I never seem to have enough “tail” to get it right the first time.

Before I finished the first hat, my sister asked if I could make one for someone she knows who was just starting chemo, too. So I ordered more of the same yarn in a girly color named Zinnia.

I was wondering where to attach one of these cool new labels. For a while I thought about centering it in the ribbing, but quickly realize it might get in the way if the recipient wants to fold the brim up and wear it as a cap instead of a slouchy hat.

As of now, the future recipient of this hat still has his hair, so hopefully he won’t need it for a while. I just hope it can help keep him a little more comfortable while going through chemo.

 

 

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Back to Basics

A really long time ago—longer than I can remember—a family friend gave me four hand-knit cotton dishcloths she’d picked up at a craft fair. Pink. Dark blue. Light blue. Yellow. I used some for dishes, others for cleaning. The dark blue one was the first to go. I spilled bleach on it and that weakened the fibers, and after a while it just fell apart.

I’ve knitted and crocheted several dishcloths over the years, using fancy stitches and complex patterns, but there’s something about the simple garter stitch of the old dishcloths that I love.

The last three of the old dishcloths lasted until a couple weeks ago. Tiny holes got progressively larger with each use until they unraveled in the laundry.

The dishcloth on the needles looks smaller because cotton dishcloths stretch out with use.

Luckily, patterns for these basic dishcloths can be found all over the internet. This is the pattern I used. (Be sure to read the introduction to the pattern, too. It’s a lovely story.)

The pattern—which works up quickly—is easy to memorize. You start with four stitches and add a stitch with each row, then decrease one stitch with each row to complete the square. The classic eyelet-like border comes from simple yarn overs.

While the pattern says it takes one ball of cotton yarn per dishcloth, other patterns I’ve made take a little less than a full ball, which makes this a fun way to keep my stash burning resolution.

Some of the partial skeins had enough yarn to make an entire dishcloth, but a few others fell slightly short, so I finished those off with complimentary colors.

The light orange is all from one skein, the lighter bit near the middle results from the varied colors in the yarn itself.

It’s almost ridiculous how addictive this is. Without even trying I’m averaging one dishcloth per day. The funny thing? I like the mismatched dishcloths more than the single-skein ones.

Small projects like these cotton dishcloths make for great, portable, summer knitting projects.

What, if anything, do you like to knit (or crochet) in the summer?

 

Simple is Best: Caprese Salad

One of my favorite summer salads is Caprese Salad. It sounds fancier than it is. All you need to make it: fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper.

Some people marinate the tomatoes and cheese, but past experience has taught me that marinating it can make even the freshest tomatoes turn a bit mushy.

I just slice a tomato and layer it with slices of fresh mozzarella and chopped basil, then drizzle with a little olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

This salad was made with fresh basil and a delicious Black Japanese Trifele Heirloom Tomato picked fresh from my tiny kitchen garden.

Admittedly, the caprese salad pictured here has a bit more cheese than tomato, but this was the last of the fresh mozzarella, so…why not?

For the super lazy cooks among us, this non-recipe recipe can be made even easier by using pre-sliced fresh mozzarella and not chopping the basil.

I’ve also seen caprese kabobs where cherry tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella are skewered along with fresh basil leaves, then drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Honestly, with these ingredients, it’s impossible to go wrong.

What’s your favorite summer salad?

 

 

 

Stash-burning Mittens

While my year-long effort to reduce my yarn stash was placed on pause to finish the Sheep Dreams Baby Blanket for my cousin—which was a really fun project!—a brief reprise from the summer heat has me knitting again.

I wanted a quick project, so I turned to the Knit Knack Kit my sister and I picked up at one of her favorite resale stores.

Kris Percival’s simple, old-fashioned “Warmest Mittens”  pattern leapt out at me. First, because they look warm and cozy, but also because I haven’t tried making mittens in several years. It didn’t hurt that there was enough stash yarn to make a matching hat and maybe a scarf or cowl, too.

The yarn I chose was leftover from a felted knitting project I made back when I was one of the rotating bloggers for Patons Yarn’s former blog. The mitten pattern included directions for three-color striped mittens so I chose three of the five Patons Classic Wool colors that I had the most of: Yellow, Pumpkin, and Orchid.

Time to cast on. The pattern suggests size 4 and 5 double-pointed needles, but I don’t have any 4s. (I know. I can’t believe it either.) So I chose size 5 for the cuffs and 6 for the rest of the mittens. Going up or down a needle size or two will alter the size of the mittens slightly.

Wow! Look how bright the Pumpkin yarn looks under artificial light! The stitch marker is there for a bit of perspective.

The pattern works up fairly quickly, and the stripes allow you to see your progress. (If there’s one thing I don’t care for, it’s knitting the same color and stitch over and over and over. It’s monotonous and makes it hard to see how much you’ve knitted.)

I opted to start the second color after the cuffs and work 10 rows of each color.

The thumb gusset is formed by regular increases on one of the three needles. (And check out my low-tech system for keeping track of the pattern!)

Once the gusset increases are done it’s time to slip stitches from that needle onto a stitch holder.

Continue knitting the hand. The thumb stitches will wait for their turn.

When I got to the final few rows, I decided to work the last 12 or so rows in the final color since switching to a new color for just a couple of rows would have looked silly.

Then it was finally time to make the thumb.

The thumbs work up quickly. I could have worked 10 rows and changed colors, but the photo on the pattern had solid color thumbs, which looked nice.

Before you know it, it’s time to weave in the ends. Each color change leaves two “tails” of yarn that need to be worked in so they’re unseen and secure.

Luckily the pattern said to leave tails that are long enough to thread through a tapestry needle, making it a bit easier to weave in the ends.

One done…

I’m glad I didn’t have size 4 DPNs since these beauties fit my hands really well. I will definitely be making this pattern again.

Do you have a go-to mitten pattern? If so, what do you like most about it?

 

 

Happy Independence Day!

On this Independence Day, I encourage all Americans take a few minutes to remember the sacrifices our forefathers—and foremothers—made in order to create a more perfect union dedicated to providing liberty and justice for all.

Flags, fireworks, and patriotic afghans are pretty, but to a writer like me, the Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution are even more beautiful.

I hope every elected official, in every party, spends at least one hour today to remember how and why our nation was founded. Perhaps they’d realize they were elected to represent We The People—not one political party or another. The only way our elected officials can truly represent all Americans is by working together for the greater good. The gamesmanship of today’s partisan politics is not, and will never be, in the best interest of the people.

Happy Birthday, United States of America!

Memories That Last Forever

Almost five years ago, in honor of our de facto family matriarch’s 94th birthday, I dedicated a blog post to the much-cherished ceramic pieces Ferne made for my family over the years.

Ferne passed away peacefully at home last week. She was 98.

Ferne hadn’t done ceramics in a long time, but her hobby was such an important part of her life that it was mentioned at her funeral. My sister and I even spotted one of her lovely ceramic Christmas trees in the background of a photo in a video montage that spanned her entire life. I sometimes wonder how many of those trees she made—I’ve seen at least three, and each was a little different from the others.

In Ferne’s honor, here’s a glance at some of my favorite Ferne-made pieces.

The Choir Kids & Christmas Tree: Ferne detailed these choir kids to resemble my sister, brother, and me back when we were all under 10 years of age. (I’m the one with pony tails.) In the background is the Christmas tree she made for my mom. Every year when I bring these out I treat them very gingerly. (On close inspection it looks like my sister was decapitated at some point and had her head carefully glued back on. I have no idea how or when that may have happened.)

 

Mom’s angel: Some people focus on the gold candle holders, but I love the iridescent gown most of all. I still have the special “tear drop” candles Ferne gave Mom for the angel to hold.

 

Dresser Sets: Ferne made nearly identical covered dresser sets for my sister and me. (I might not know the correct term for them, but I’m sure Ferne did!) My set has a slightly lighter green than my sister’s set. When I was a teenager, I was heartbroken when I accidentally dropped the lid of the larger dish. Thankfully it was a clean break and was easily glued back together. I can’t remember ever not having them.

 

The Cheese Plate: Most of Ferne’s creations were much like the woman herself—classy, refined, elegant—so this whimsical cheese plate really stands out. I especially love the tiny paw prints trailing from “Nibble with Arlene & Walt” right up to the playful cheese-eating mouse.

You can see more (but by no means all) of my collection of Ferne’s creations in my previous post.

Not only do I hope to honor Ferne’s memory with this post, I also want to use her work as an example of how precious handmade gifts are when they’re created with intent. She spent hours refining and perfecting her projects, and she imbued every brush stroke, every detail with love. She even signed and dated each piece.

I guarantee none of her ceramic pieces will ever be discarded or sold during my lifetime.

Ferne will be missed, but she’ll always be fondly remembered when the holiday pieces are on display, when the cheese plate is used, even when I dust my bedroom. (Which I’m sure is not nearly often enough to suit Ferne. She was extremely tidy.)

What are some of your treasured possessions that were handmade by someone you love?

 

 

Remnants to the Rescue

One of the first things my sister and I did after she gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2015 was hit the fabric store.

The first place I like to stop in any fabric shop is the remnants area. You can find small amounts of expensive fabric for a fraction of the price. On that trip we found a lot of remnants to turn into throw pillows. We both loved a silky muted blue-green fabric with copper-colored French knots.

I like the back as much as the front of this fabric.

I thought it would be perfect to replace the faded fabric inserts in the shutters in the back bedroom. Fortunately there were two pieces of that fabric so we didn’t have to fight.

To underscore the cost-savings of buying remnants: this “designer” fabric was originally priced at a ridiculous $29.99 per yard, but was only $5 per yard as a remnant. The $5.63 piece was 1.125 yards (just enough for this project), and the $9.76 piece was 1.952 yards. I should be able to cover a couple pillow forms with the larger piece.

Yes. I know. I sure took my time before using any of those remnants. Probably because I didn’t realize how badly faded the old fabric was until I removed all eight inserts from the shutters. They’ve been getting the afternoon sun for the better part of a decade, so I’d say the plain cotton quilting fabric held up very well, despite the sun bleaching.

Originally a dark muddy green, the fronts of the inserts faded to an olive green while the backs were sun-bleached nearly white.

The first thing I did was measure the old inserts and the new remnants. Having replaced these inserts before, I knew the upper and lower shutters were different lengths, and the old inserts were each about eight inches wide, roughly double the width of each shutter. While the front of the fabric doesn’t appear to have an up-and-down direction to it, the back does, so I wanted to cut all eight panels in the same direction.

Of course, it was only after cutting the shorter panels that I realized I forgot to allow the extra two inches needed to form pockets for the small tension rods that hold the top and bottom of each panel in place.

Luckily I had the second remnant. No worries, either. The four mis-cut panels should still work well for the pillow covers.

After all the pieces were properly cut, it was pretty much an assembly line process:

  • Press a quarter-inch fold, towards the back, on all of the long edges. (On the old inserts, I folded the fabric twice for a clean, finished edge, but the French knots in this fabric create more bulk, and would be difficult to sew over when sandwiched between two layers of cloth.)
  • Sew the side hems.
  • Form pockets for the tension rods on one end of each panel, starting with a quarter-inch fold for a clean edge, then fold again, approximately one inch. Press and pin.
  • Sew the pockets.
  • Next is the only fussy part: figuring out the right length for the second pocket. I knew the four upper panels needed to be 24-1/2″ and the lower ones 27-1/2″. I folded, and measured carefully before pressing, pinning, and sewing.

Once all of the panels were sewn, it was time to slip them on the tension rods and into the shutters. How cool that the copper rods coordinate so well with the fabric!

Uh-oh. Time for the embarrassing photo. But I need it to show you how the panels fit into the shutters, so try really hard to ignore the fact that I never painted the back side of the shutters.

Only two of the panels were a little tight. But my dad made these shutters long ago, so the spaces for the little rods are no more precise than the lengths of the new inserts. I just tried the tight ones in different openings and they all fit without needing any of the pockets to be ripped out and re-sewn.

Once all eight panels were in, I noticed a happy accident: Shadows of those cool ribbons I love show through in daylight, creating a whole new look.

By day.

By night.

It’s like getting two looks from one project.

In a few years, once the sun has done its damage, I wonder what kind of patterns those ribbons on the back will have created.

What d-i-y projects have you done lately?

Top Secret Knitting Project Revealed!

As soon as I knew my cousin Dano’s due date was July 4th, I started looking for baby items I could knit. On Christmas, I overheard Dano’s mom mention something about a soft neutral gray pallet for the nursery instead of typical baby colors.

On Pinterest I spotted a gray baby blanket with a row of white sheep, but that wasn’t a knitting pattern, it was a finished item ready for purchase. So I searched Ravelry for “sheep baby blankets” and found several options. Of course the one I liked the most—”Sheep Dreams”—was out of print.

It was originally published in a book called Knit Baby Blankets! and I was able to track down a copy of that book on Amazon.com.

As soon as the book arrived, I ordered several skeins of Cascade Yarns Sateen Worsted—a soft, light, worsted-weight yarn I thought would be better for summer than wool—in Gunmetal Gray for the body of the blanket. Because I was substituting yarns, I bought extra skeins in case it wasn’t enough. (That turned out to be a wise move because I believe the color was discontinued.) I also bought a skein of the fluffy, chenille-like Brown Sheep Berrocco Plush in Cream, and a skein of Sateen Worsted in Black for the details, but it didn’t show up well enough against the Plush, so I used a slightly heavier weight black yarn from my stash.

I was so excited to finally cast on. The textured border was really interesting to do. It’s called a ribbed stitch, but it’s more than that. You double the number of stitches of one row by knitting in the front and back of each stitch, then reduce it back to the original number of stitches by knitting two together then purling two together and repeating that across the next row. The process results in a thicker border.

Then the real challenge began.

With the bottom border, stockinette band, and Double Bind done it was time to form the “pens.”

The pattern was challenging enough to be interesting, but it also contained a lot of errors. Luckily the structure is pretty logical and there were several photos to reference, so I could see where the problems were and how to fix them—like when the pattern said to continue the Double Bind Stitch from border to border I could see that would interfere with the Checker Board Stitch in the center field.

Before long it was time to start putting the sheep in their pens.

A bit dark, but it was late at night and I was so excited to have the first four sheep penned I had to take a photo.

The sheep are done with a Duplicate Stitch—sort of like embroidering new stitches directly on top of existing stitches. Centering them was a bit fussy. You have to count stitches from the sides, top, and bottom to find the starting points, but the charts—one with a sheep facing left, the other right—were very clear.

Duplicate Stitch step one: I determined where the feet would go.

Working the Duplicate Stitch.

Yes, I know you’re supposed to work the Duplicate Stitch bottom-to-top, right-to-left, but for me it was easier to start with the right foot and work up, and then to the right before working to the left because the Plush is so fluffy it hid the stitches I needed to work on.

Close-ups of a left-facing sheep and a right-facing sheep.

Hoping the process would get easier with each sheep, I opted to do one corner, then the opposite corner, one side, then the opposite side so you wouldn’t be able to see if my abilities improved with each sheep. (They didn’t. For some reason the final two took the longest to do.)

Initially I was frustrated if I saw gray come through, or if stitches weren’t even or looked misaligned. But once six or eight were completed I realized those little inconsistencies give each sheep its own personality.

Funny how those sheep kept multiplying…

Several of the Sheep Dreams projects on Ravelry didn’t have all 14 sheep. Now I understand why some people stopped short. Each one took me about an hour to complete! Once the final sheep was in its pen and all of the ends were woven in, the only thing left to do was to block the blanket to size. The Plush yarn creates a subtle 3-D effect, which in turn slightly distorts the grid pattern of the blanket, so blocking is a must.

After it was pinned to size, I spritzed the blanket well with room-temperature water and covered it with a thick towel. I repeated the process the next day.

A different perspective of the sheep:

I loved the final result so much I found a pattern for a similar baby hat and made that, too!

I hope the little baby-to-be will have plenty of sweet dreams under this blanket.

 

 

A Stash-busting Update

Although I haven’t posted in a long time, I assure you I’ve been steadily chiseling away at my yarn stash. But it’s slow going. One of the first things I did was start filling a big bag with yarn earmarked for a garage sale, on the off chance anyone I know decides to have a sale this year.

In February I finished a pair of socks for my brother-in-law, who immediately put them to good use.

On the needles…

Clearly, I need to invest in a set of sock forms to block any future socks I make:

…and off the needles.

At roughly the same time, a friend said she was about to buy yarn to make baby hats for a local hospital. I told her to stop over before buying yarn, since I had plenty of yarn in baby-friendly fibers and colors she could have. That got rid of another grocery bag or so of yarn.

Not long after that a neighbor, who was clearing out her father’s home so he can sell it, brought over three large trash bags full of yarn that had been her mom’s. I had no intention of keeping any of it, and I’m happy to report I didn’t keep a single skein. I sorted out the good from bad, and thankfully the same baby-hat-making friend was able to take it all. The other day she told me she’d already made 40 hats.

Before I can start working on any projects to wheedle down my yarn stash I needed to cast on a special top-secret project that required soft new yarn. All I can reveal right now is what the project looked like after the first few rows.

This satiny-feeling yarn is Cascade Yarn’s Sateen Worsted (100% acrylic) in “Gunmetal”

It’s been a fun knit, but the project has been made slightly more challenging due to a poorly-written pattern. Luckily, it was easy to spot most of the pattern errors as I went along. This is a gift, and I’m not quite done yet, so it will be a few weeks before I can reveal the finished product. Because I substituted a different type of yarn, I bought a few extra skeins to ensure I had enough—and I already have plans for some of that spare yarn.

Then last weekend my sister bought a nice classic Granny Square afghan for six dollars. I pointed out an obvious hole and she said, “You can fix that right?”

We brought it home and promptly found several more holes starting to form. (Instead of weaving in the ends with each color change, it seems the original crocheter knotted the yarns and snipped the ends as close to the knots as possible, and the knots are starting to come loose.) I hauled out a couple bags of scrap yarn, knowing I had a bit of lavender yarn that would closely match to one spot, then realized it was with the yarn I’d given to my friend.

At one point, I sent my sister into the yarn room to get some gold yarn, and told her exactly where it was. I hadn’t even dragged all of the yarn out, but when my sister saw what was out she said, “You have a LOT of yarn.”

Good thing, too, or the mends on her new afghan would be really obvious.

Hey, you never know when you might have a crafting emergency!

 

 

The Stash Burning Has Begun

Remember when I said my goal for the year was to burn through my yarn stash?

The only loophole (pardon the knitting pun) is that I can only buy more yarn if it’s needed to make a gift or for a special project someone asks me to make—like the socks I’m making for my brother-in-law who received a “coupon” from me for a pair of handmade socks.

Well, here’s how I’m doing:

The first and biggest hurdle was trying to inventory my yarn.

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Not all of my yarn stash—shown here piled on a king-sized bed—is visible in this photo.

The good news: I only had about 60 skeins (or nearly full skeins) of labeled yarn of various colors, fibers, weights, and brands. The bad news? The pile of unidentified partial skeins was even larger.

While I was thinking of projects that would use up some of the yarn, my sister asked me to make one of the now iconic “p-hats” (to be polite) for her to wear at the Women’s March on Washington. Thanks to the inventory I knew I had enough dusty rose mohair blend to make a couple of hats.

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My sister loves her new hat.

 

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Seems my furry nephew, Stanley, likes his mommy’s new hat, too!

Because the mohair blend is so fluffy it’s technically a “bulky” weight yarn, so I adapted the pattern, using 30 stitches on size 10 needles instead of 50 stitches on size 8.

A few days later a friend asked if I could make a hat for her friend’s 87-year old mother-in-law (below) who was planning to participate in a local march. I was able to use up even more yarn.

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Since last weekend’s marches two more people have requested hats. One being a man who wanted blue, brown, or gray, but I don’t think I have enough in any of those colors for a hat so a little new yarn may need to be acquired.

Once I’m caught up with the socks and hats, I plan to use more of my yarn stash to make projects from the Knit Knack Kit my sister and I found for $2 at a resale shop last month.

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The kit—which was open but intact—includes 25 patterns, a set of circular needles, a stitch marker, and a blunt tapestry needle for seaming projects.

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Some of the patterns are silly—like a cell phone cozy for a flip phone—but others are nice or practical, like the pillows on the card shown above.

Come back in a few months and I’ll let you know how much yarn is left in my stash.

Fellow knitters and crocheters: What kinds of projects have you made with stash yarn?

 

 

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