Category Archives: thrify tip

Best Stash-busting Knitting Project Ever

I confess: Working on a lot of little projects barely put a dent in the yarn stash I pledged to use up over the course of 2017.

Fortunately I spotted the Katie Rose Pryal’s Sediment Scraps Blanket on Ravelry. Because you’re working five—count ’em five—stands of yarn at a time, this project really burns though a yarn stash. It also makes for a really thick, warm blanket.

Working five strands of yarn at the same time results in fabric that’s roughly half an inch thick.

The pattern works up much like the classic dishcloths I made over the summer (using up nearly all of my cotton yarn), but it seems even faster because it’s on large needles. This is what I had after a just couple of hours of knitting:

For reference, the footstool the project is on is about 32″ wide.

The Sediment Scraps Blanket pattern is really fun to knit. I got excited whenever a strand of yarn ran out and needed to be replaced.

I tried to balance the colors a bit, so there wouldn’t be too much of any single color in one area, but sometimes the yarn had a mind of its own.

This is a pattern that really showcases the basic garter stitch. Despite being worked on the bias, it’s also straightforward enough for a beginning knitter to tackle it if they know how to work simple increases and decreases.

It’s hard to believe, but about mid-way through I was worried that if I made my blanket too long I might run out of yarn.

This “aerial shot” doesn’t get the entire finished blanket into the frame.

The final result is a thick, heavy, warm blanket that’s about 50″ by 60″—a perfect size for settling in to watch TV on a cold evening.

Those bumps are my knees, all warm and cozy under the new blanket.

Not only does this pattern use up a lot of random yarn scraps, it holds memories of each project those bits and bobs of yarn came from. A really cool thing happens when so many different colors combine into a single object: the new item can blend in with pretty much any color scheme.

Did it use all of my yarn stash? Not quite. But most of what’s left now fits into two under-the-bed storage cases, so it made a huge dent.

After the holidays I think I’ll try to make a coordinating throw pillow to use up the rest of my stash.


That Tarn Bathmat!

Remember when I went crazy and made all that t-shirt yarn—aka “tarn“— last summer?

This weekend I turned several balls of tarn into this funky, textured bathmat:

That tarn bathmat!

This tarn bathmat measures about 17″ x 26″

The colors aren’t quite true, since this in an interior bathroom lit only by two wall sconces with “warm” LED bulbs. (The tile and tub are actually white.) But this is scrap art, made from several random old t-shirts, so it’s not like the colors actually matter. Your own mat will vary depending on the colors of any old t-shirts you have on hand.

You can knit or crochet tarn, but the knitted swatches I made last year all curled under on the edges. Since I wanted my finished product to lie flat, I broke out my massive crochet hook (the size isn’t even marked, but it’s roughly 1/2″ in diameter) and chained 26 so I’d wind up with 25 stitches per row. Next time, maybe 30 stitches.

I also wanted my mat to have some texture, so instead of working the mat in single crochet, I decided to crochet in the back loops only. That’s as simple as it sounds.

See the texture

Look closely and you’ll see how every other row points up a bit, like the reddish-orange section. The edges sticking up slightly are the front loops; the row above recedes a bit because it was worked into the back portions of those loops.

Now that you’ve seen how I worked the rows, let’s jump back to where I decided to change colors. I joined new colors using the same technique succinctly demonstrated in this brief You Tube video I ran across. Initially I wanted to start new colors at the end of each row, creating true stripes. But it took several attempts to get the second color to start at the end of the first row, and by the time I switched to a third color I gave up and went with random lengths of tarn.


That third shade of tarn wound up joining a couple of stitches into the third row.

Knitting or crocheting with random colors can be tricky, since you still want the colors to be evenly distributed—unless you want a lopsided look—so instead of creating a giant ball of tarn scraps, I decided which color to add as I went along. I kept going until I ran out of tarn, but always planned to end with a row of the same color I started with. Here’s what I had after one evening of crocheting:

Quick work!

Quick work!

The best part of a project like this is you’re upcycling old t-shirts into something fun and practical—and you’ll still have the sleeves to use for dust rags.

You can make a rug or bathmat any shape or size you want, as long as you have enough tarn.

What would you like to make from tarn?


Simmering Stock

My love of making something out of virtually nothing isn’t new. It was already well-ingrained in me by high school when my Botany teacher explained how you can turn old bits of vegetables into soup stock and still have something left for the compost heap.

That’s when I started saving and freezing scraps. I put some onion skins and tomato cores in a gallon-size zip bag and popped it in the freezer. Every time I used fresh vegetables, I’d add any trimmings or peels to that bag. Over the course of a few months it began to grow. My dad noticed and asked why there was garbage in the freezer. “It’s for vegetable stock,” I said. That’s when he started calling it Garbage Soup.

Not the most appetizing label. But it is made of random bits of produce that would otherwise have wound up in the trash.

I still save scraps. And when the bag is full, I simmer up some savory stock.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the over-stuffed zip bag of random vegetable bits, but I didn’t think about it until I’d popped everything into a stockpot and covered it with water.


You can see there are bits and pieces of all kinds of vegetables, including one of those bite-sized sweet peppers that was starting to wilt. Not fresh enough for a salad, but fine for soup stock.

I simply empty my frozen veggie scraps into a 6-quart stockpot and top it off with water. I typically toss in a few peppercorns and a bay leaf and turn the heat up to high. It can take a while for the water to heat up, but thawing the veggie bits overnight in the refrigerator speeds it up a little. Just before it begins to boil, I reduce the heat to simmer and partially cover the stockpot, then simmer for about 30-45 minutes, until the largest vegetable bits are good and tender. If you want to salt your stock, wait until it’s finished cooking.


Next, I use a large slotted spoon or “spider” to remove the veggie bits from the pot and into a colander placed over a large bowl to collect any runoff, which I pour back into the stockpot.


After that, I ladle or pour the stock through a finer sieve and into a bowl to trap pesky pepper seeds and tiny leaves. Ideally, I’d line the sieve with a layer or two of cheesecloth to reduce the amount of sediment in the stock, but I discovered I was out of cheesecloth.


I wound up with about 4 quarts of gorgeous, healthful, and flavorful vegetable stock. Here’s a peek at the final result:


I cool it in the refrigerator overnight, then freeze the stock in 1-cup, 2-cup or even 1-quart containers. You could freeze it in ice-cube trays it you like.

My favorite way to use the stock is in vegetarian risotto, but I also add it to cream-based soups or use it in recipes calling for chicken or beef stock.

You can make stock from just about any vegetable trimmings you want. That said, I’d advise against adding too much of any strongly-flavored things. One year I tossed in a few too many dried up bits of fresh ginger root, another year, too many tough asparagus ends. (I was able to mix that broth with a different batch to even out the flavors a bit.)

Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of what went into this year’s broth: kale, spinach, sweet peppers, stem ends of a couple hot peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, turnip, red and yellow onions, garlic, tomato, green beans, snow peas, zucchini, green and red cabbage, summer squash, celery, carrots, scallions, swiss chard, ginger, parsley, and butternut squash. This year I even found a few artichoke leaves and the leftover ends of a couple potatoes that I’d grated.

Leeks are a good addition, as are parsnips, corn, and beets—but go easy on the beets unless you want really red stock. Lettuce, mushrooms, eggplant, and cucumbers don’t add much to the party, but sometimes I’ll toss those in, too.

Homemade vegetable stock is a great way to use scraps you’d normally discard, like the tough stems from cauliflower and broccoli, seed cores from sweet peppers, dried ends of celery, and the crowns of root vegetables.

Less than an hour after making this year’s vegetable stock, my new zip bag was already starting to fill up.



Deconstructing a Wreath

Remember how a bunch of my family members made fresh Christmas wreaths last year? At the time, Mary told us once the wreaths were past their prime we could disassemble them and reuse the heavy-duty wire wreath frames next year.

Spring is here, and my community has resumed collecting and composting yard waste, so it was time to deconstruct my glorious wreath.

It needs a pop of color, but a bow would be crushed by my storm door, so I need to figure something out.

Any wreath constructed around a metal frame can probably be disassembled, too. Even a store bought wreath. Not sure how your wreath is constructed? Take a look at the back.

Wow. Look how the greens have faded.

See how the greens attach to the frame with green wire? And wow – look how much they’ve faded!

Untwist or cut the greens free. We tied small bunches of greens together before attaching them to the frame, so I started by pulling a few out. (Do I even need to point out you should be doing this outside if your wreath is made from real greens?)


Each of these little bundles was bound with green wire. If you’re planning to mulch or compost the old greens you need to remove all of those wires. Some of the greens slipped right out of the wire for me, others had to be unwound or cut. The wire-free greens were tossed into a paper yard waste bag.

I simply reversed the process we used when making the wreaths and systematically worked my way around the frame.


It probably took about 20 minutes to untie and pick wires out of the greens, but now I’ve got a wreath frame ready to be reused.


Deconstructing the wreath wasn’t as much fun as making it, but the faded greens still smelled wonderful – and my gloves didn’t get covered with sap this time!


Apples to Apple(sauce)

Whenever my dad bought apples he managed to choose the bag containing the largest number of bruised apples. It didn’t matter what variety he chose, what season it was, or whether they were on sale or full price. They were always bruised.

No one likes biting into bruised fruit. That’s why people turn old bananas into banana bread, and why I turned this lot of mismatched, slightly past-their-prime apples into applesauce.


Perhaps best of all, it’s a lot easier than baking banana bread.

I started by peeling, coring, and quartering about two pounds of apples. (If they were fresher I would have left the skins on.)

I put the apples in a medium sauce pan with:

  • approximately 1/3 cup of water (apple cider or apple juice would work, too)
  • roughly one tablespoon of lemon juice (the amount depends on the varieties of apples you’re using and how tart you like your applesauce)
  • one cinnamon stick (you can substitute about 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon if you don’t have a cinnamon stick)
  • about 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (optional)


Start it on medium heat, and when it begins to simmer reduce heat to low or medium-low. Cover, but stir every couple of minutes. Simmer 20-25 minutes. Timing depends on how large the apple chunks are and which varieties are used.

About half cooked.

About half cooked.

The cool thing about adding cranberries? They pop when cooked, which turns the applesauce pink.


Once the apples are tender it’s time to mash them up a bit with a spoon and taste the sauce.

You might want to add a little sugar, a lot of sugar, some honey, or no sweetener at all. You can also add dried ground ginger, nutmeg, even a dash of vanilla if you like. I added:

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried ground ginger
  • about 1/3 cup of sugar
  • a few grinds of freshly ground nutmeg (a little nutmeg goes a long way)

Quick aside: I was never a nutmeg fan until I got this cool nutmeg grinder for Christmas.


The types of apples you use — and whether or not you add cranberries — will make a big difference in what you decide to add. That’s why tasting is so important. If it’s too tart, add a small amount of sugar or honey and taste. Repeat until you like the flavor.

If you add sugar or honey, continue to simmer another minute or two so it cooks in. Remove the cinnamon stick.

I like chunky applesauce so I used a wooden spoon to break up the apples. Potato mashers also work well, especially if you prefer smoother sauce.


All that’s left is to dish up a nice bowl of fresh, homemade apple sauce and enjoy. It’s perfect warm or cold!


I’m obviously not a food stylist. Luckily this tastes much better than it looks!

Homemade pumpkin puree

I loathe pumpkin pie, but that doesn’t mean I hate pumpkin.

Pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies. All good. It’s the slimy texture of pumpkin pie that I can’t stand.

You might remember this cute little pie pumpkin that adorned my dining room table this fall.


I kept it out through Thanksgiving. As long as the skin isn’t damaged, pumpkins will last a long time. Once the Christmas decorations went up, my intention was to cook and puree the pumpkin and freeze it for future use. I was a bit busy making Christmas gifts, so I didn’t get around to it until now.

Here’s how simple it is to turn your decorative pie pumpkin into a healthy puree ready to use in your favorite pumpkin recipes. (This works with pretty much any type of winter squash, too.)

  1. Wash the pumpkin.
  2. Remove stem and cut pumpkin into quarters.
  3. Remove seeds (you can save those to roast) and cut pumpkin into large chunks.IMG_1067
  4. Steam for about 15 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. (Roasting is another option.) IMG_1072
  5. Cool slightly and remove skin.
  6. Puree in food processor or blender until smooth. Add a little water if the machine seems to struggle to start processing. I added about 1/4 cup of water to this batch.IMG_1073IMG_1074

Since I’m not always sure what I’ll use the pumpkin for, I measure it out before freezing.


This pumpkin yielded roughly 4 cups of puree (the yellow dish holds 2 cups, the red one holds 1 cup and the bowl in back holds 1-1/2 cups when full) .

The recipe I’ll be making calls for 2-3 cups of pumpkin, so I’ll freeze the remainder for future use. When freezing puree, I always note on the container the date it was made and how much there is.

Care to guess what I plan to make with my pumpkin puree? One hint: It won’t be pumpkin pie!

What’s your favorite pumpkin-flavored food?

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