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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?

 

 

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?

 

 

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.

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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?

 

D-I-Y Christmas Wreaths

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The only downside of our family’s new Thanksgiving tradition of making our own fresh Christmas wreaths? I’m always the last one to finish. But the effort is worth it.

We’re fortunate to have access to plenty of balsam, white pine, red pine and other random evergreens on our cousins’ wooded property, but this time of year you can usually buy boughs (or maybe even pick up free trimmings) wherever live Christmas trees are sold. For us, going out to cut the branches is half the fun.

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We foraged mostly for balsam, white pine, and red pine, but a little spruce, hemlock, and jack pine may have worked their ways into our pile of greens. We didn’t have our full contingent of wreath makers this year, so we only filled one wheelbarrow with boughs.

It gets messy dealing with all those pine needles, so this year we tried putting the branches on a tarp to make clean up easier. It helped, but we still had to do a lot of vacuuming when we were done.

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Most of us re-used our old wreath frames. They’re not expensive, and in January when people discard their Christmas wreaths they’re pretty much free for the picking; if you want to take time to remove the old greens you’ll have a usable frame. (One of my older blog posts explains how to deconstruct a wreath.)

This year my sister decided to make a swag instead of a wreath. She made her own frame by bending a coat hanger into a diamond shape, and our cousin, Mark, happened to have some chicken wire to stretch over the hanger.

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With a frame in place, it’s time to start bundling. Some people make several bundles and wire them to the frame at once, others wire each bundle to the frame as they go. I did a little of each. Hoping to speed up my work this year, I only used about 5 sprigs per bundle…usually four balsam plus one of the showier greens. Last year I think I did seven or eight.

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Mark holds a bundle of greens as Lisa works on her swag. (The bowl of M&Ms on the table was for us, not the wreaths.) The pile of greens in the front is part of what I was using to make my bundles.

Here are a few more photos of the process…

Lisa's swag in progress.

Lisa’s swag in progress.

Mark's made so many wreaths now, he's virtually a pro.

Mark’s made so many wreaths now, he’s virtually a pro.

Brice powered through. I think he was the first to finish.

Brice powered through. I think he was the first to finish.

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With our creations. Note that Brice is the only one whose wreath is decorated.

Mark had to help me finish the last third or so of my wreath so we could take the photo before dark. The last two years I thought I was slow because I’m allergic to pine sap and have to wear gloves. But in the photos above you can see Lisa and Brice wore gloves this year too. Yet I was still the slowest wreath maker.

Later that evening, Mary helped Lisa and me make bows, and the next day we added our finishing touches. My decorations include a few pine cones, some gold jingle bells I bought at a dollar store in Eagle River, and the bow made of ribbon I bought at Goodwill in Rhinelander. Here are our finished masterpieces:

Mark's wreath,

Mark’s wreath.

 

Brice's wreath.

Brice’s wreath.

 

My wreath. A couple of jingle bells are hiding at this angle.

My wreath. A couple of jingle bells are hiding at this angle.

And the game-changer this year, Lisa’s swag:

Lisa's swag.

 

Upcycled Bag

Here’s a little experiment I tried with some of that t-shirt yarn (aka “tarn”) I made a few weeks ago. All I did was coil it and secure it into place with single crochet stitches and cotton yarn.

Drawstring tarn bag

Drawstring tarn bag

Well, that’s how I built up the sides.

I started working the bag at the bottom, and added a few chain stitches here and there to increase the diameter of the spiral. Once it was the width I wanted, I switched to single crocheting thought the spaces (as opposed to through the loops like a standard single crochet).

Adding chains between some of the single crochets allowed the coil to get wider

Adding chains between some of the single crochets allowed the coil to grow wider

Since I wanted random colors, I used shorter scraps of tarn and several colors of cotton yarn leftover from other projects.

The drawstring is simply tarn that’s been chained. I made slots for the drawstring by skipping six stitches (evenly spaced around the bag) and adding an extra chain stitch over each gap. Then I worked a couple more rows, adding those skipped stitches back by crocheting into the chain spaces. (Trust me. That will make sense to crocheters.)

Some people tie strips of tarn together with knots, which adds more texture. Others sew one piece of tarn to another. I chose to join them as if I were linking two zip ties together. It’s faster and easier than it sounds:

  1. Fold the end of a strip of tarn over by about 3/4″ and make a tiny cut at the fold. (I discovered the smaller the cut the better, since the opening can stretch larger when you pull the tarn through.)
  2. Do the same thing at both ends of a second piece of tarn.
  3. Slip the second piece of tarn through the hole in the first, then through the hole at the opposite end and gently pull it tight.
  4. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

If that’s not clear, here’s a link to another blog that beautifully illustrates all three joining techniques. (And yes, I plan to make their tarn Swiffer Duster cover next!)

I love that this fun and funky bag was made entirely of scraps. It’s really the epitome of this blog – creating something out of virtually nothing.

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.

 

 

One Reason Plans Always Go Awry

Earlier this month, on I Love Yarn Day, I said the color work cowl I made for my sister was my final non-holiday knitting or crochet project of the year.

Yeah, um…I got lured in by an interesting new pattern.

I can’t justify spending $80-90 on the gorgeous yarn the pattern was designed for, especially when I don’t know if the project will turn out well. Luckily I had plenty of a much cheaper (but nice!) yarn on hand from an abandoned project. I compared the weight, yardage, wraps-per-inch and gauge of the two yarns, and they were close. Very close. I had the right needles, so I cast on. This is how far I was by day three:

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The pattern is fun. After a border of alternating sections of garter (knit every row) and stockinette (knit one row, purl the next), the “mixed texture” repeats begin: a simple arrowhead-like lace pattern followed by a few rows of seed stitch. I have a couple more repeats to go before any shaping starts.

The structure looks simple. Start at the bottom and knit the back and sides as one unit — no piecing, hooray! — and eventually divide the block into sections to form the shape. The tricky bit will come when the main piece is done and it’s time to “evenly” pick up 200+ stitches from the front bottom edge on one side, all the way around the neck, and down to the bottom of the other side. After that you knit a wide border like the one you started with.

One trick to knitting any complicated pattern, like lace, is to add a lifeline every few rows. A lifeline is just a piece of contrasting yarn or string that you run through each “live” stitch. (Live stitches are the ones on the needles.)

Look closely. There are two lime green lifelines through each lace section,

Look closely. There are two lime green lifelines through the top two lace sections.

If you make a mistake and need to rip some rows out, the lifeline will keep all of the stitches on that row from unraveling. You can slide them back on the needles and continue knitting. It’s a good idea to note which row your lifeline is in, so you’ll know where to resume the pattern.

The sad thing? I only learned about lifelines a few years ago. Before that I’d usually give up when — not if — I found a mistake.

What are some “I can’t believe how easy that is!” tips that make your own projects, of any type, a little bit easier?

Return of the Pink Sock Monkeys!

October is already here, as is breast cancer awareness month. If you didn’t get around to making a pink sock monkey last year, why not make one now?

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The first two pink sock monkeys I made went to women who were undergoing breast cancer treatment. The second set was auctioned to help raise funds for Texas-based breast cancer organizations.

The cool thing about making pink sock monkeys is the special pink Rockford Red Heel socks are sold in 2-pair packages so you can make a sock monkey for yourself and another to give away or donate to a breast cancer charity auction.

Here are step-by-step instructions from last year’s Pink Sock Monkey Craft-along to get you started. It’s as simple as 1-2-3.

  1. Initial Cuts
  2. Assembly
  3. Hair (optional)

If you’re not making a pink sock monkey, what are you doing for breast cancer awareness month?

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.

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