Category Archives: utilitarian

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?

 

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Summer Knitting (and Crocheting)

Just because the weather heats up doesn’t mean the knitting has to stop. I usually switch to making smaller things with lighter weight yarns.

Over the years I’ve crocheted a lot of different dishcloths. But my hands temp to cramp up if I crochet too much, so I looked around for interesting knitted patterns and found The Hive Knitted Dishcloth at BeingSpiffy.com, a site that has a different dishcloth pattern for every week of the year. It was a quick project, but turned out a little smaller than I’d expected:

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I love the honeycomb texture. I’ll try it again on slightly larger needles, but worst case scenario I’ll just add one pattern repeat to the width and length.

Another dishcloth design I couldn’t resist making is this fun (and sometimes frustrating) new crochet pattern I found called Sailor’s Knot Dishcloth (free registration required to download the pattern):

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Some patterns are available in both knit and crochet versions, but I couldn’t find knitting instructions for this one. The blue, green and variegated one above was my first attempt. I used different colors to better see how the pieces are woven together. Now I’ll show you how a Sailor’s Knot Dishcloth is assembled:

Start with the square loop...

Start with a square loop…

Then make two oblong loops...

Then make two oblong pieces.

Weave one oblong piece over and under the square loop as illustrated in the pattern.

Weave one oblong piece over and under the square loop as illustrated in the pattern.

Follow the same steps with the second oblong piece, and….

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…you have a large, thick dishcloth that looks more complicated than it really is. The great thing is the designer planned it out so the ends of the oblong pieces join right where they meet the cross pieces, so the seams are nearly invisible.

The dishcloth is reversible.

Here’s the flip side. The dishcloth is reversible.

Since the guys do dishes in my family (at least for family gatherings), I couldn’t resist making this for my Canadian brother-in-law:

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From the front or back, this clever pattern looks like a red and white striped square. But viewed at an angle, like above, you see the maple leaf. The colors are reversed on the flip side. The illusion is created with strategically placed knit and purl stitches.

Dishcloths are great projects to test new stitches and learn knitting and crochet skills, but they also make doing dishes a little more fun.

After the rain

Much of the Midwest experienced devastating flooding this week. That happens when more rain falls in one day than fell throughout the entire previous summer – especially when that rain falls on soil that’s already soggy.

I’m lucky to live on a hill so no floodwater is near the house. But the runoff needs somewhere to go. With a driveway that abuts part of the foundation (on the up side of the hill, of course), heavy rain on wet soil usually means I’ll wake up to find a little water in the basement. Towels, fans and a wet vac can dry it up in a day. This time I woke up to three inches of water in the basement. The floor drains weren’t working.

That’s not much compared to what some basements had, but enough for the gas to be shut off. I had the basement pumped out and the floor drains are draining again. As required, I had the boiler, water heater and dryer all inspected to be sure it’s safe to have the gas turned back on. When I called Friday to schedule, they said the earliest they can get here is Monday between 8 AM and 5 PM. In the meantime, when I’m not cleaning the basement (or trying to write articles or blog posts with very cold fingers) I’m huddled under this:

My favorite afghan still on the needles (wool-acrylic blend)

My favorite afghan while still on the needles.

Who knew that in late April it would be 52-degrees indoors and I’d still be curled up under the nice, thick and very warm afghan I made two years ago just because I thought it was fun?

I know some of you’ve been hit by flooding this week – much harder than I was. How are you faring? If you have any tips about cleaning up from a flood, please share them.

Spools on Display

While my sister and our friends bought lots of little things at The Pec Thing flea market this weekend, I only found one thing I couldn’t live without:

The thread was included, too!

Not only do I love the rich patina of the aged wood, but it’s an item that makes you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It’s basically a piece of varnished wood with 24 evenly-spaced small-headed nails, plus one hole drilled at the top for hanging. (There’s also a larger nail at the bottom – not quite sure what that’s for.)

Do you have any sewers on your gift-giving list? Why not make them their own decorative spool holders? You could customize them in any shapes or sizes you like.

You know why I love flea markets? My big purchase was only $3. The thread that came with it is worth more than that!

What great deals have you found at flea markets lately?

Unwelcome distractions

Yep. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted anything. It’s not that I’ve been super busy or anything – I’ve just been overwhelmed with a bunch of unexpected distractions.

Way back on Easter my gas oven started acting glitchy. Sometimes it ignites, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes it starts fine but doesn’t maintain the proper temperature. Not a big deal since I don’t bake much in warm weather. Little did I know that was merely a precursor of what was yet to come.

Last month my lone window air conditioner broke. Because the house has unconventional windows that won’t accommodate window units like traditional double hung windows do, the AC was permanently built into an opening where a canopy window used to be. (That’s in the addition, so bungalow purists can rest assured that no original windows were sacrificed for the sake of my comfort.) As if the idea of replacing it wasn’t ordeal enough, it broke just as my property taxes and second-quarter income taxes were coming due (on the same day, no less – the joys of self-employment), which meant replacing the AC had to wait, despite a couple of nasty heatwaves.

About ten days ago – as soon as I started seriously shopping around for a new air conditioner – my 2-year old refrigerator decided to break. That’s one repair that couldn’t be put off.

The first thing the refrigerator repairman said was, “Oh, this is one of those Whirlpool Maytags.” My response: “That’s explains it! First the Whirlpool range, then the Whirlpool AC, now you tell me my Maytag is a Whirlpool too? I should have known!”

According to the repairman the freezer hadn’t been defrosting. At all. When he removed the back panel inside the freezer there was a thick sheet of ice encasing the all of the working parts. It took him over 45 minutes and a heat gun just to melt enough ice away so he could assess the problem. He said it was a faulty thermostat – apparently thermostats aren’t supposed to rattle.

The upside of the service call was the repairman diagnosed the problem with the oven just from my description of its (literally) off-and-on problem. He’d already been there two full hours, and an extra hour of labor plus the new part would have almost doubled the price of the already longer-than-expected service call so I didn’t have him fix it while he was here. With a heatwave and a broken AC it’s not as if I were planning on baking anytime soon.

The saga doesn’t end there. A box fan I’d set near some windows to bring “cool” air into the house in the early mornings and late evenings died. I can’t say that was entirely unexpected, since the fan originally belonged to my Grandma who passed away in 1991.

As soon as the refrigerator was fixed my TV started acting up, too – about 80% of the time there’s sort of a vertical kink in the picture, and it no longer wants to shut off properly. I almost wish the same were true of my DVD player – a few days after the TV began refusing to turn off the DVD player actually shut itself off while I was using it.

Want more? The very day I realized the refrigerator wasn’t cooling properly, I was outside watering my plants and the metal watering can fell apart while I was using it. When the spout fell off it nearly killed my cucumber plant.

Disclaimer: this photo was staged after the fact.

Wait. There’s more. The other day I noticed a petunia in one of my window boxes was missing. Squirrels and cats sometimes get into the window boxes and make a mess digging and throwing dirt around, but if they dig up a plant they typically leave it. This time there was no mess and no sign of the petunia. I looked under the hostas and around the corner of the house. It was gone.

As annoying and frustrating as this string of incidents has been, I’m thankful than only things have broken. Sure, the refrigerator needed immediate attention, but it’s possible to live without an oven and AC for a while. If the TV dies, I have a little 13″ TV I can hook up to the cable in a pinch. Old milk jugs and juice pitchers work well enough for watering plants. The petunia was practically free, anyway, given the bargain I got on my flowers this year.

Even so, having so many things go wrong at the same time is a bit overwhelming. The little things just added insult to injury.

The good news is the refrigerator seems to be working well again, and I had a new AC installed a few days ago. The old one was in so well it took the handyman longer to remove it than he thought the entire job would take. It’s in just in time for the 100-degree temperatures local forecasters are predicting for later this week (I really hope they’re wrong).

It might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but I love my new air conditioner. Doggie Lily – who’s a very furry Husky, Collie, Keeshond blend – likes it even more than I do.

Lily chillin’ in her favorite spot: under my desk

The handyman came back a day after installing the AC to insulate and weatherproof it from the outside.  When a neighbor familiar with my recent run of luck saw his van here again she called and said, “Well, what’s broken now?”

Luckily nothing else. So far.

Utilitarian Objects

A couple weeks ago Deb asked  if I could make some nylon scrubbies for her – she said her “source” had dried up.

I’d made some a few years ago, mostly for the guys in the family since the guys are the official dish washers. (Except on Easter when I declared anyone who had helped me with repairs and painting didn’t have to do dishes. Even so, I swear they were looming over their replacement washers, mentally critiquing every move.) The idea of making Scrubbies again really appealed to me because I love the idea of transforming delicate netting into durable objects.

Deb sent me a pattern that was much easier than the one I’d used before. (Sorry, folks, I have no idea where she found it, so I don’t have a link. Maybe we can get Deb to post a link in the comments.)

Basically, you start by cutting nylon netting into 2″ strips.

Then you cut small holes in the ends and loop them together, sort of like slip knots. (It’s easier than it sounds.) You’re basically knotting strips together, but without leaving a a bulky knot. Maybe it will make sense when you see it….

Is it starting to make sense?

The trick is to pull it taut without pulling so hard you tear the netting. If you do tear it, just snip off the damaged end of your strip and start again.

Once you’ve pulled it all the way through, it should look something like this….

With only a half-inch or so of netting sticking out, these knots are a lot neater than a regular double knot would be – and more secure, as well!

I kid you not when I tell you cutting the strips and knotting them together was the most time-consuming part of the project. It was also the messiest. See those tiny flecks? They’re itty bitty bits of nylon from the netting.

A couple yards of netting – enough for four scrubbies – resulted in this ball of “yarn,” so to speak:

From here on out, it’s all a matter of double crochets and single crochets. I used a “J” hook, but even a “K” would have been fine. You work a few rounds of double crochet, adding stitches here and there.

The cool part is when you stop increasing the next round becomes a side, or edge. Before long you’re making decreases on the reverse side! They work up really fast – less than an hour per scrubbie.

These scrubbies are slightly different, front and back. One side is all double crochet, the other is single crochet. The different size stitches offer users a choice of scrubbing oomph.

Once you’ve worked the whole way around, don’t worry about hiding the end of the “yarn” because you tuck it (and some scraps, if you like) right inside the scrubbie for a little extra strength.

Okay Deb, here’s a sneak peak at your new scrubbies:

A                                                                                       B

While most people use scrubbies for, well, scrubbing, I know some people who swear by them as lint removers.

My favorite way to use scrubbies? Cleaning soap scum out of the tub using just a little water, baking soda and the scrubbie. Once you’ve used these scrubbies, you’ll understand why Deb needed a new “source.” They’re real workhorses!

What do you like about your scrubbies?

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