Making Time

If you have a recipe or pattern for making enough time for your hobbies, patent it. You’ll make a fortune.

The reason I haven’t added a blog post in far too long is that I haven’t had much time to set aside for my hobbies, which means I haven’t had any new projects to post. And when I did have a few spare hours, dry cracks and sores on my hands kept me from working with yarn.

But when my niece asked if I could make a baby-sized version of the cupcake hat I made her for Christmas, how could I say no?

Baby Cupcake Hat

Baby Cupcake Hat

The pattern is deceptively simple, so the adorable little hat shouldn’t have taken me so long to knit. If it weren’t for the cracks in my hands, I could probably have finished this beauty in two days.

Even before I started that cupcake hat, I finally cast on for a sweater coat I’ve been wanting to make for a couple of years. I’ve actually had the yarn since way back when I was a knitter-blogger for Patons Yarn. You have to commit a lot of time to such a large project, and I never had the time to spare. But earlier this year I decided to start anyway. This is where I was at six weeks ago…

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…and I’m still not quite to the 21.5″ point where the next pattern step kicks in. You’ll also notice at the left of the photo that a couple cables are twisted in the wrong direction. By the time I spotted the mistake I’d invested too much time to rip it out, so the flaw will remain. After all, handmade does not mean perfect.

Knitting is like any other hobby. You have to make time for it. Thankfully, unlike a lot of other hobbies, knitting can done while watching TV (although you might risk the occasional twisted cable, ahem), chatting with friends, or while waiting for someone.

Another reason to wish I had more time to knit? An ever-growing backlog of projects I want to make – several to use up scrap yarn from past projects. Yet I keep finding new patterns to try. Like a pattern for a cowl I spotted when looking up links to include in this post.

I’m sure it’s the same feeling people get no matter what their hobby is. There’s always something more to do or make, a new skill to perfect, and more joy to feel with that next level of accomplishment. Do you have a hobby? How do you make time to pursue it?

Weaving Magic

A few months back I heard about something called weaving sticks, which, I was surprised to learn, have been around for a very long time.

Always one for finding new ways to use up my scrap yarn — or for an excuse to get more yarn — I decided to buy some weaving sticks. The only problem was none of the local craft stores carried weaving sticks. I looked around and wound up ordering both small and large sizes of bamboo weaving sticks:

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Here they are, all spread out…

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Basically, they’re like pencils or chopsticks with eyes at one end.

Following the package directions, I first tested two of the smaller sticks with some lovely alpaca yarn I had left from making my sister some arm warmers. First I strung a length of yarn through the eye of each stick and let it hang. Then I made a slip knot from a ball of yarn and put the knot around the left stick and began wrapping the yarn in a figure 8. I only spent about five minutes testing it, and this is what I came up with:

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Next, I tested three larger needles with a bulky yarn. That resulted in a nice, thick fabric:

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When I was ready to end, I simply tied the ends together.

Then I got bolder. I decided to try all of the large sticks at once, and change the color every five layers. I also remembered to photograph the process:

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Weaving the yarn, left-to-right...

Weaving the yarn, left-to-right…

...and right-to-left

…and right-to-left

As you wrap, you push the work down the sticks and eventually onto the yarn you fed through the eyes of the sticks when you started. My goal was to make a cowl, so I only wove about 26 inches. (In retrospect, it would have been a better idea to have more layers between rows. It took me longer to weave in all of the yarn ends than it did to make the entire piece.)

This is what I wound up with:

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I still haven’t figured out how I want to connect the two ends. They aren’t flush, like you’d get with a knitted or crocheted piece. I could attach a button, or even braid the strands of yarn left on each end and tie it together. I might even un-weave it and start over since this was just a practice piece to get me used to working with weaving sticks.

My experiment taught me how to use weaving sticks and also gave me a glimpse into yet another method our ancestors used to create woolen garments to help fend off the cold long before there was indoor heating.

If you like yarn but don’t have the patience for knitting or crocheting, consider giving weaving sticks a try. All you need to do is wrap, wrap, and wrap some more.

 

 

Making Merry (Christmas Wreaths)

For the second year in a row, our family gathered at our cousins’ property in the North Woods for a wonderful Thanksgiving retreat. And once again, wreaths were made.

We started by collecting boughs, like last year. Then several of us sat around the table and followed Mark’s lead in assembling bundles of greens and attaching them, with green floral wire, to our wreath frames. Most of us used 18″ round frames, but Brice got fancy and used a square frame. His wreath (which I don’t have a photo of, hint, hint) turned out great….except for the decorative little bird on it that chirped sporadically all that night, about three feet from where I was sleeping.

As usual, Mark was the fastest worker since he’s had more practice at making wreaths:

The Wreath Master at work

The Wreath Master at work

And once again my sister and I were the last ones to complete our wreaths, even though we started making them at the same time as everyone else.

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Lisa took time out to prepare our (delicious) dinner that night, yet still finished her wreath about two minutes before I finished mine. Brice and Mark were already cleaning up the unused boughs and vacuuming pine needles off the floor when I was decorating my wreath. I’ll blame my slowness on the fact that working with thin wire is tricky when you have to wear work gloves to keep the sap off your hyper-sensitive skin.

Here are a couple of the finished wreaths:

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lisaswreath2014

 

 

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Yeah, the right side of my wreath got a little crushed, but it still smells great!

 

Throw Together Some Hot & Sour Soup

Freelancers don’t get sick days, so we tend to find creative ways to pamper ourselves while still getting our jobs done. I’m not letting this annoying cold stop me from meeting deadlines, even if every time I take my dog out in the unseasonably frigid air I have a coughing fit.

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Hot and sour soup always eases cold symptoms for me. I know that sounds strange coming from someone who doesn’t eat meat, but when I’m sick enough I’ll gladly pick the pork out of the soup.

My cold symptoms had me craving hot and sour soup today, but I didn’t have all of the ingredients. I did, however, have enough things to cobble together a respectable — and delicious — near-vegetarian version. (The only reason it’s not vegetarian is because I threw in a handful of pre-cooked frozen salad shrimp at the end.)

Instead of measuring, I just added a bit of this and a pinch of that.

  • About 2 cups of my homemade veggie stock
  • Two huge cloves of garlic
  • Lots of thinly slivered ginger
  • Two super hot Thai chilis, sliced open
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Dash of rice vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Sliced onion
  • A bit of chopped red pepper
  • One chopped carrot
  • One stalk of celery, sliced
  • Handful of frozen peas
  • Soy sauce
  • A few whole coriander seeds
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Unless you love really hot food, remove thai chilis when the vegetables are cooked.

Stir into soup:

  • Cornstarch/water slurry  – just enough to thicken the soup
  • One beaten egg
  • Handful of thawed salad shrimp, if desired

The final result is spicy and gingery enough to clear out your sinuses, but not so spicy that you can’t enjoy it. Would I prefer it with tofu strips and green onions? Yes. But under the circumstances, this is pretty darn good. I’m starting to feel better already.

What are your favorite home remedies for colds and flu?

How-to Make Your Own Pink Sock Monkey

A couple years ago I did a series of posts detailing how I went about making a pair of pink sock monkeys to help cheer up two women who were battling breast cancer.

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That led to me making another pair of pink sock monkeys that were auctioned off to raise funds for a Texas-based breast cancer organization.

Since it’s still Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it seemed like a good time to revisit our Craft-a-Long from 2012.

If you don’t like pink, remember that you can make sock monkeys in other colors, too.

 

Extreme Pumpkin Obsession

In honor of the season, I thought it would be nice to revisit a popular post from 2012:

 

My brother gets a little crazy every autumn. Brice is always buying pumpkins in October, and he carves them all, or as many as time allows. Gourds aren’t even safe from him at this time of year.

As of Monday he said the current count was 26. That was nine pumpkin-shopping days before Halloween, so he may have even more by now. (I think he’s regretting not following through on his idea of planting a pumpkin patch this summer.)

It all started way back when little Bricie won a ribbon in a pumpkin carving contest. Not that lots of actual carving was involved – his creativity caught the judges’ attention.

Every Halloween season, Brice & I wind up talking about pumpkins. When I carve jack-o-lanterns, I only do one or two. I carve slowly, but add special touches like freckles (by plunging a metal skewer through the shell) or scars (by scraping skin and a little flesh off the pumpkin). Brice? He uses power tools.

Use extreme care when using power tools – especially on round objects.

Brice’s carving isn’t completed yet for this Halloween, so let’s take a tour of their yard from a Halloween past. (The great photos are by my sister-in-law, Jeanne.)

Hmm, doesn’t that white jack-o-lantern way back there appear to be eating something? Let’s take a closer look….

This last one looks a bit Seussian, don’t you think?

All right. It’s time to admit my role in my brother’s autumnal obsession. A couple years ago I gave him two Extreme Pumpkin Carving books by Tom Nardone.

Hey, Bri, it seems Nardone has an annual pumpkin carving contest. Enter it, and maybe you’ll repeat your childhood success with another win!

What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions? How many pumpkins do you plan to carve this year?

The Upside of Cold

We saw our first snowflakes of the season this morning. That’s early for us. There was no accumulation, but my dog is still very excited to know snowy doggie walks are on the horizon. I love snow and snowy doggie walks, too, just not before the beautiful autumn leaves fall.

What I don’t love is facing another season of heating bills. I turned the boiler on this morning and warmth is beginning to rise from the radiators. There’s something very comforting about the smell of hot radiators on a cold day.

Ah, radiators. They’re definitely an upside of cold weather. If you’ve never had the good fortune of living in a home with radiant heat, you probably don’t know the comfort of putting on toasty warm socks, mittens, or pajamas fresh off a hot radiator.

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If you’re a baker, radiators are also a great place to let a bowl of bread dough rise.

That’s right. Baking is a great activity on a chilly day. Even non-bakers can enjoy freshly-baked treats thanks to slice-and-bake cookies, frozen pies, or a tube of ready-to-bake rolls.

Another upside of cold weather? Homemade soup. I was thinking about making pumpkin chili today, but I don’t think I have any canned or frozen pumpkin. (Well, I have a fresh pie pumpkin in the dining room, but I won’t be cooking that up until after Thanksgiving.) Maybe I’ll make black bean soup. Then again, yesterday I overheard someone mention homemade potato soup, so I may need to find a good recipe for that. Whatever I decide to make, it will be warm and comforting — precisely what you need on a chilly day.

Of course, the best part of a cold day may simply be putting on your favorite sweater or snuggling under cozy afghan and watching an old movie.

What are your favorite upsides to chilly weather?

 

Impromptu Pillow

I’m a bit ashamed that two months have passed since I’ve posted anything new. The truth is I’ve had an onslaught of assignments for several clients throughout August and September. Since I’ve already turned in three of six projects due this week, I decided to sneak in a new post.

Even with a heavy workload, I made time to work on projects most evenings — usually staying up far later than planned just to finish a piece or complete a section. I made a Sock Monkey Bag for my niece’s birthday and a Creeper pillow for my nephew’s birthday. The unseasonably cool weather over the past week must have put every knitter around here in knitting mode. After finishing a pair of socks for a cousin I needed another project. I had the yarn and pillow form, so I made another Impromptu Pillow:

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I developed the pattern last year because I wanted to make a chunky knitted pillow for a Christmas gift. Inspired by some gorgeous knitted pillows on Scandal, and knowing the recipient likes that show, too, I bought some super bulky yarn and started playing. The first Impromptu Pillow, in cream, turned out really well, with a beautiful texture you can’t help but run your hand over again and again:

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The problem? I didn’t take notes when making the first pillow. I remembered using the seed stitch, and the size 13 needles recommended by the yarn. I also remembered my gauge swatch was a bit large, so I wound up using fewer stitches to make a 16″ square.

I knew I’d crocheted the edges closed — a super easy and clean way to assemble a pillow, and a good reason every knitter should know some basic crochet stitches — and added a simple (single crochet, chain three, skip one, repeat) edging to finish it off.

For the first attempt at the second pillow, I tried 35 stitches, which was too wide; 33 was a perfect fit. Your own results will vary depending on how loosely or tightly you knit.

This is called an Impromptu Pillow because you only need to make two squares large enough to fit your pillow form — in whatever stitch pattern you like — and join the edges around a pillow form. The crochet edging is optional.

Has the knitting or crocheting bug bitten you a bit early this year? If so, what’s on your needles – or hook?

Scrap Happy Pillow

Every knitter has leftover yarn. Sometimes entire skeins are left once a project is done, but it’s usually just a few yards of this and a partial skein of that. They may be different weights, different fibers, and they’re always different colors.

What do you do with all that scrap yarn?

I get scrap happy.

I’ve made scarves, a granny square afghan, and other things over the years. Unusually cool summer weather, a desire to use up some of my yarn stash, and a spare bolster pillow form inspired me to turn this basket of mismatched yarns…

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….into the pillow on the right:

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Look closely and you’ll see a few remnants from the square pillow in the bolster.

The cool thing about using random colors in one project is how they almost always find a way to pull together. It’s the reason I love scrap quilts more than matchy-matchy color-coordinated quilts.

But there’s a trick to keeping all the different colors from fighting. Balance.

In this case, I doubled the yarn scraps with black yarn. (I used a couple different black yarns in this project.)

I decided to knit the bolster cover on size 11 circular needles, and switched colors at the end of every round. It would have been easier to use random lengths of colored yarns, but I was going for a subtle stripe.

To create texture, I used a seed stitch, but garter would be nice, too. (Remember: because you’re not turning the work, doing a garter stitch on circular needles is like stockinette on straight needles. Knit one row, purl the next.)

I wasn’t sure how to do decreases in the seed stitch, so at the ends I switched to garter stitch and decreased on my knit rows, switching to doubled-pointed needles as the number of stitches decreased.  For the second end, I picked up stitches from the cast-on edge and decreased as for the first end. I’m not entirely pleased with the decreases — I was hoping for flatter ends — so I can’t say I’d make it exactly the same way again.

Scrap happy projects are fun because you can play around and make mistakes without the worry of wasting yarn. When it comes to leftover yarn, the only waste is in not using it.

What are some of your favorite uses for scrap yarn?

Ice Cream, part 2

I’m having way too much fun making homemade ice cream. My latest concoction? Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

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It was easier than I expected. I checked out several recipes online, and they all simply folded bits of a chilled, egg-less cookie dough into a standard vanilla ice cream while it’s in the soft serve stage. As with chocolate chip cookies themselves, each “dough” recipe was a bit different so I threw together one of my own:

  • roughly 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 of a cup light brown sugar
  • scant 1/2 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

I beat it together with a wooden spoon shortly after making the vanilla ice cream mixture, and refrigerated both for a couple hours.

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While the ice cream was in the machine, I broke the dough into small pieces – the largest being about the size of a small crouton. After the ice cream was done mixing I folded in the bits of dough. You could do the same with softened store-bought vanilla ice cream. But why not make your own?

It’s nice knowing what goes into each batch. There are no preservatives or multisyllabic additives I can’t spell or pronounce (unless they were in one of the ingredients, like the mini chips, for instance). Yes, homemade ice cream contains a lot of heavy cream and half and half, but knowing exactly how much might make you a little less likely to overindulge.

Mika Doyle

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