Monday, January 30, 2012

Endless Saturday Socks

 

Surely a lot of people have had this idea.  If you’re a sock knitter, you have almost assuredly thought of doing this:

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When the sock yarn leftovers basket reached critical mass, I thought I had it figured out.  But when the tweedy linen stitch scarf did not deplete the pile in any noticeable way, I had to try something else.  I had to get clever.  I decided to do what I have really been planning to do from the beginning:  make a whole bunch of stripey socks.  But here’s me being a genius, are you ready?  I will not stop with two socks, oh no.  There will be no pairs.  There will just be a whole bunch of socks, a big pile of unmatched but sort of related socks, meant to be worn in a mismatched way.  The socks will just keep on a-coming until the yarn gives up the fight.  It could take quite awhile, and I am in no hurry.  I am digging in for a long siege on this one.  It’s just me and my needles vs. the sock yarn leftovers, and if another ball of leftovers goes into the basket—and it will—I will not be discouraged; I will simply keep knitting until I win. 

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Everyone who saw these while they were in progress said, “You know, you can buy them this way now, mismatched like that.”  I am so trendy. 

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To make these, I cast 60 stitches on my favorite US 1 dpns and work 10 rounds of k2, p2 ribbing.  Then switch to another color and work 10 rounds.  There are nine color sections of ten rounds in the leg.  Then I switch colors again and make an 18 sl st heel flap/turn heel, switch colors again, and keeping the 10-round thing going, work the gusset decreases until I’m back to 60 stitches.  Then I work five more color sections (eight total in the foot) and then switch colors again for the toe.  That’s the nitty gritty, in case you want to take this and run with it. 

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I think victory is already mine.  Look at all that stripey goodness! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ruffle Rayon Scarf, a failure

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Is it fair of me to blog about something that’s already in the dumpster?  I don’t know.  This project had so much promise, but I should’ve known the minute I cut into this fabric that it would end badly. 

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You might be looking at it, wondering what could have gone so wrong that I have already thrown it in the trash? 

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See it now?  It’s the “Make-Your-Own-Fun-Fur Scarf”!  It shouldn’t have been this way, but I failed to heed the directions, which very clearly stated that I should choose a fabric that wouldn’t fray.   Oh, what’s a little fraying among friends, right?  Well, you see there.  It looks like a wig for your neck!  It wasn’t even the extra-hairy appearance of the scarf, either, that was the biggest problem, it was that if I wore it, or actually if I even touched it, it shed all over me and I looked like I’d been wrestling polar bears.  Little teeny hairs of rayon just flew off this thing.  There was a cloud of them.  They were in my hair and in my mouth.  They fully coated the work room, and everything I made for a week afterwards had strings of rayon all over it. 

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This could have been awesome, if I’d listened.  I think the right fabric choice would still make this a great scarf.  I don’t know.  I might try again.  The pattern, if you feel like taking a crack at this thing, is in the super-clever book Fabric-by-Fabric: One Yard Wonders.   Seriously, look for a fabric that doesn’t fray very much.  Really.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vintage Flowers Quilt, the Reveal

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In an effort to have this not be about my two—yes, two—broken sewing machines, I will simply say this:  plastic is not an optimal material to use for machinery gears.  It seems obvious to me, and to you, too, I’m sure, but somebody out there needs to hear it.  Parts have been ordered, but I am machine-less at the moment, which gets me a little panicky.  Okay, let’s distract ourselves from that disaster:

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The Vintage Flowers Quilt is done!  Somebody asked me whether I actually use all my quilts, and I was able to honestly say that yes, I do, although you’ll have to include “it sits there neatly folded and looking pretty for my visual enjoyment” in the definition of use.  I doubt any family of four really needs this many quilts and blankets, but I like to make them, so that makes them useful to me, and for many months of the year, it is cold here in New York, so there’s always room for another quilt. 

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One issue I did not anticipate:  the non-cotton content of these fabrics meant that it was not a super fun sewing experience.  They also don’t snuggle up nicely against the cotton batting, but rather hover over it, making this a puffier quilt than I usually strive for, and somehow it lacks stitch definition.  At least I think that’s what the problem is. 

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For the backing, I used the only 100% cotton sheet in the pile, so it is still soft and nice on the side that faces me.  One sheet was big enough, so no piecing, hooray!  I love the binding, too—that print looks kind of Liberty-ish to me, and it’s probably as close to Liberty as I’ll ever get, alas. 

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As I worked on this blanket, suffering one machine failure after another, I realized that it was never going to be square, flush, plumb, a perfect grid or any other measure of a well-made quilt.  It is crooked.  The seams are crazy.  The fabric biased a little.  It is made of somebody else’s discarded laundry!  I can make a beautiful quilt with perfect points and neat, even stitches, and I have done so, lots of times, but really, that is just not what I’m after, and usually it just happens by accident anyway, since I’m very lucky to have access to beautiful tools and a lovely space in which to use them. 

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I love this motley little mess.  I love the goofy sashing and the knockoff fabric binding and the nostalgic weekend-at-Grandma’s look of the old sheets, and really, I love the hectic nature of the whole process of making a big, floppy, warm, cozy quilt.  There’s blood, sweat, and tears, almost every time.  That’s the mark of something worth doing. 

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Maybe you’ve noticed my new couch?   We went to IKEA again (oh gosh, IKEA, how much I looooooove you) and brought home the least original couch in the world, the couch most loved by fabulous stylish bloggers the world over, and with very good reason, too, because it is the Perfect Couch—yes, we got an Ektorp

Here’s the room now:

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I can only photograph that corner of the room at any given time, because just outside the frame, to the left, is my husband’s chair, which is surrounded by computer cords and the piles of paper which are associated with his doctoral dissertation.  In fact, if you look carefully, you can see his leg; he was diligently working on his formulas even as I clicked away.  You can also see the new quilt, folded on the shelf of my new Hemnes coffee table (IKEA!  Marry me!) and which is now the cat’s new favorite sleeping spot.  See?  Useful. 

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Don’t they look perfect together?  Ah, bliss. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Blob, or The Pillow that Ate The Couch

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Is it an eyeball?  A rising lump of bread dough?  Is it a deflated chef’s toque?  No, no it isn’t.  It is yet another pillow, which, as you know, is precisely the last thing we need.  Also, this pillow is a whopper.

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See it dwarf the furniture with its enormous fluffiness?  When this pillow is on the chair, there is literally no room to sit down.   Possibly I overstuffed?  I do believe that’s part of the problem.  Another cause is probably gauge, but I have to admit I will not pursue that line of inquiry because I have yet to unravel the mysteries of “gauge.”  I mean, I know all about “gauge”, and sometimes I think I’m getting “gauge” but then the object I’m knitting continues to have its own ideas about how big it will be, so whatever.  Anyway, there is now a massive pillow lurking in the shadows of my living room.  Watching me with its Great Eye.

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As usual, this effect was unintentional on my part.  My thinking was to use Erika Knight’s very excellent Round Pillow pattern from her book Simple Knitting, and then stuff it—not too much, we’re not making bowling balls here—and use fabric covered buttons to tuck in the centers.  I had a bunch of ecru cotton hanging around the cupboard, so I used that and a US 6 needle, and then spent two lovely days knitting it up.  It was heavenly, too.   But its just a little bit too big, I think. 

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Just a little bit.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Harvest Moon sweater

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I have made another sweater.  Here’s what I think happens:  I think that when the weather is cold, my brain goes to sleep and all I can imagine doing about the fact that I’m chilly is to knit something, never mind that I already have a lot (I mean a LOT) of sweaters.  If it snows?  I knit faster.  If the wind blows through the cracks?  I knit with one hand and cast on two more sweaters with the other.  If there’s a blizzard and the power goes out and we all have to sit around by candlelight singing madgrigals in four-part harmony because the internet won’t work?  I sing alto, while knitting in the dark.  I guess that’s just how I am.

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This has turned out to be the most perfect sweater I have ever made.  It is Harvest Moon by Heidi Kirrmaier, and I love it.  It has everything I want in a handknit garment—interesting details, great fit, and long stretches of plain knitting so I can keep my eyes on Downton Abbey while I work. 

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I’ve worn this sweater four times since I finished it.  I wore it before it was even photographed.  I wore it yesterday, and I want to wear it again right now.  It is warm and flattering and comfortable.  Heidi, I am your faithful servant.   I don’t know which part I like better, the tidy i-cord bindoff (which rolled like a cinnamon bun until I blocked it, after which it just sat up straight and combed its hair and behaved itself like I can’t believe) or the cute little crescent-shaped pocket trims with i-cord edging:

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Oooh, aaahh. 

The yarn is Cascade 220 in charcoal gray, recycled from another sweater I made a few years ago and got tired of. 

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I love this sweater so much that I’ve already started another one just like it:

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I can’t wait.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vintage Flowers Quilt, the beginning

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I had a pile of old sheets—I don’t know whether to say they’re “vintage” because I don’t actually know how old they are, but they look vintage, so maybe they are.  I’m so tempted by them, and they look so pretty, stacked there together.  They are (mostly) not cotton, so I don’t think they’re very comfy to sleep on.  So they just sat there, looking pretty, and kind of accumulating since every time I go to the thrift store, I look at the sheets, you know, just in case.  The flowery ones just shout Take me home!  So I do.  Originally, there were wild ideas about smothering the bed in these sheets, mismatching the pillow cases and everything, but they were just kind of rough and itchy.  But I kept buying them, and the linen shelves were groaning.  And then there was this.  After I started seeing the sheets as fabric, they suddenly got even more interesting. 

Over the weekend, I got out the scissors, and I got this far before the poor old Bernina started limping again:

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The gingham sashing was a lucky find—quick story:  the inspiration quilt I saw used a dark chocolate brown solid, and I thought it was gorgeous, but I decided it might overwhelm the flowery lightness of the sheet fabrics, so I made up my mind to find a brown calico or maybe, just maybe a brown gingham, hopefully 1/4” brown and white gingham, but I can never ever find that, and if I do it’ll be brown and tan, or there will only be one yard left.  You know how it goes.  The first store I tried had nothing, not even brown and tan, but the second store had it, a huge bolt of it.  On the clearance rack.  So I bought the whole thing.  Now you can look for this gingham check to show up all over the place around here.

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If all the stars align, I might have a new quilt by the weekend.  Fingers crossed!

I want to thank Sandra at Chaos, Kids, Crochet, and Cake for the lovely award—gosh, craft bloggers are so awesome.  Her blog is beautiful, and chock full of craftiness.  I’d love for you to go and visit! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Grannies, and a little about blocking

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The grannies continue to pile up.  There are 260 of them now, and I have begun to think in earnest about the joining round color.   I think there might be too many possibilities, actually.  I’m still considering white, cream, the very palest shell pink, and now navy blue (check out some inspiration here and here) and this morning as I sat in my mustard gold chair knitting away, I thought that might be nice, too—gold.  A little ironic, a little 1970’s, a little nod to nostalgia, but maybe fresh, too, if it’s the right shade and I pair it well with other border colors.  Hide the avocado green, just in case.   I’m having so much fun thinking about it, I have to admit.  I lie awake at night considering the different options.  I think that might be a little weird, but maybe it isn’t. 

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I’ve had a few questions about blocking.  In a nutshell, blocking is the difference between this:

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and this:

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Much nicer!  To achieve this, all I do is soak them a few at a time in a sink of tepid water--tepid!  Not hot, or you’ll felt them, and your screams will resonate throughout the land.  Then gently squeeze out the water and roll them up in an old bath towel to remove as much moisture as possible.  Then just lay them out flat, nudge them into shape, and let them dry.   That’s it.  This is how I block sweaters, too, just a little water and a long, flat rest on the rug in front of the fire.  The dog, happily, knows to lie down somewhere else, which is really a tribute to how smart she is, bless her. 

To be filed under More Than You Wanted To Know, there is also steam blocking, which I use mostly for scarves and in garment pre-seaming.  To do this, simply heat up your steam iron, lay the scarf on the ironing board, and then blast it with the steam.  You don’t make contact with the fabric, you just let the steam whoosh out onto it.  It’s pretty easy to burn yourself doing this—that steam gets very hot—so watch your fingers.  The fibers just relax, go limp, and lie flat and supple and compliant.   Mmmm, nice.  

There’s also pin-blocking, which I only use for lace.  I will say this:  you can get away with shirking your blocking duties when making sweaters, socks, scarves, blankets, mittens, and almost anything else, but you absolutely must block your lace.  The before and after is incredibly significant.  Before=ramen noodles.  After=gossamer heirloom worthy of your children’s children.  After I blocked my first lace shawl, my daughter looked at it and said, “This is that blue thing you’ve been working on?  Really???” 

To pin-block, soak the finished object the same way as before, roll it in a towel to remove moisture, and then you stretch the heck out of it, pulling it as taut as it will go, and pin it along the edges.  You want it as tight as a drum, with pins at every point.  This is a little bit nerve-wracking the first time, because everything you know about lace is that it is fine and delicate and that care must be taken with it, and you happen to know you just spent forty-trillion years knitting this huge spiderweb out of what seems like thread—what’s with all the yanking????  Isn’t it going to tear?  Yikes!!!   I don’t want to give you a false sense of security, so I won’t say it can’t happen, but I have never damaged a finely knit laceweight object by blocking it, and I block it tightly enough to bounce quarters. 

Aaaaand, back to the grannies:

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I’m hopeless at restraint.  I am making these squares ten or twenty or thirty at a time, now.  I’ve also abandoned the “no color scheme” thing.  Who am I kidding?  There’s a little bit of a scheme now (which is apparently a little bit reminiscent of the patchwork curtain there, as it happens, hmmm…) and yesterday I took all the warm reds and soggy lawn-colored greens out of the basket.  This thing has a mind of its own.  I’m making my peace with it.

I want to thank the lovely Laura for the sweet award.  Go over there right now and see what she’s making—there’s a crochet block I might have to start right now.  Beautiful! 

I’ve been very lazy about passing these awards along, I’m sorry about that.  I do appreciate them, very much.  It’s mostly that I don’t know how to do the fancy html code thing for the award button.  Excuses.  Anyway, apologies since there’s no button here for you, but I pass my awards on to the very wonderful Lynne at Pieceful, who’s beautiful blog is full of quilts, wee scrappy projects (is there anything I love more?) and lots of witty writing.  It’s one of my favorite daily reads.  Go see!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cedar Souvenir Ring Box

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When I was little, I had a shell-colored jewelry box where I kept all my treasures.  There was a plastic ballerina inside, with one plastic leg in a spring, and when I opened the box, she bounced upright and twirled around to music.  I think maybe a lot of people had a jewelry box like it, but I have never seen another one since then, so maybe not.

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I remember a cameo ring I had back then that my Grandma gave me; I think it came from Avon.  It was carved white (plastic) against a light blue background, and it was so, so pretty.  I wish I had a cameo now, I think they’re so beautiful. 

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When I grew up and had some nice jewelry, I wanted a nice place to put it,  but nothing ever came along.  Once, I screwed some cup hooks right into the wall so I could hang necklaces there and they wouldn’t tangle.  Eventually, everything just went into a small drawer, and it was pretty hard to find anything.

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The February issue of Country Living (US) featured a tutorial for something like this little ring box, and what could I do but drop everything and make one?  Mine differs a little from their version, so in case you’re interested, here’s what I did:

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I had this cedar box already; it has been biding its time in the bins for many a year, because I just knew the right project would come along eventually.  It is similar to those wee cedar boxes I used to see in roadside souvenir shops when I was young, with “Sault Ste Marie, Michigan” or “Niagara Falls” woodburned into the lid.  This one didn’t have any lettering, but when I sanded it, it for sure was cedar—oh, right, sand the box.  I made sure to remove all the varnish.  Then I painted it with two coats of what just happens to be Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore (our paint store carries that line in teeny little sample pots for $2.49, so I have a few colors.  They are brilliant for things like this!)  You can remove the hinge, or paint carefully around it, or heck, just go ahead and paint the hinge if you want. 

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For the lining, I cut two pieces of decor-weight cotton and one piece of cotton batting just a smidge narrower than the width of the box’s opening, and sandwiched them with the fabric’s right sides together and the batting on top.  Then I machine basted it on three sides, turned it, pressed it and folded it like an accordion.  The folds are about 1/8” shorter than the height of the inside of the box.  As I made the folds, I tacked them at the bottom edge, like this:

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When it was wide enough, I stopped folding, cut the end off, shoved it into the box—no glue—and it was done! 

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The hardest part is waiting for the paint to dry.   Wow, I am so impatient…I think you can buy little wooden boxes like this one in craft stores, so you don’t have to go all the way to Niagara Falls to get one. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Trim spool

Since I’m in as big a hurry to get out of trouble as the next guy, I think I’ll just get busy and show you something cute:

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Here’s where it becomes apparent that my photography skills are sorely lacking.   I don’t know how to style a wooden spool so it looks awesome, I just know how to make it bigger.  Too bad there isn’t a bunch of incredible detail there for you to feast your eyes on.  (Feel free to print this out in poster size if you want, though, I think that would look great over your couch…)

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This was another one of those four-second projects that would’ve taken me twelve seconds if I’d had more wooden spools.  Amy at Nana Company made some awhile ago (I just tried to find a link for you and failed) and I loooooved them.  I went right away riffling through my boxes.  A couple quick circles of scrapbook paper applied with Mod Podge (oh Mod Podge, I really do love you) and a little end bit of rick rack, and it’s done! 

Sweet little things like this remind me of something I saw awhile ago in this book by Cath Kidston, which I loved so much:  she uses a pretty old china teacup to scoop her laundry soap powder.  I saw that and just went YES!  Why not, right?  Those gorgeous little cups are less than a dollar in the thrift store, and who cares if they have a chip or two, and then your laundry day is made a tiny bit happier.  I just love that.  I think these spools (and these from Liberty ooooooh!) are like that, too.  I think I’d like to hunt down some thinner spools (so more will fit on it) and do this for all my trims, isn’t it lovely?  Make your life sweet, wherever you can. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Specimens

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I think this is the year of the butterflies.  Have you seen the new Design*Sponge book?  Mark Montano’s Big Ass Book of Home Decor?  Even Anna has one in her new banner (which also makes me want to needlepoint so bad!)  And after I wrote about Luna Moth, I wanted some, too.  I love all different kinds of weird things, and old glass cabinets of curiosities is way at the top of the list.  I once saw a museum display of “exotic” specimens collected in New Guinea by the Captain Cook expedition—just the tiniest birds you ever saw, frozen in time.   (I did have to feel a bit sorry for the birds, I admit.)  I also have a bizarre admiration for taxidermy, especially when it’s silly, like mice sitting around a table having tea, which may surface unexpectedly in these pages someday, who knows.  Anyway.  Ever since my failed high school biology project, I’ve wanted a beautiful butterfly collection, so when I saw this, I decided it was time.  Originally, I was going to use fake butterflies, made of feathers, but they just didn’t look, I don’t know, real enough. 

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I thought to just wait for summer and collect them myself, but I am such an impatient little magpie, and besides, unless I wanted a whole display of just monarchs (which are plentiful in our part of the world and which, come to think of it, would be awesome) I had to turn to a professional.   Goodness me, there’s some great stuff out there in internetland.  In the end, I bought four unmounted butterfly specimens from this etsy seller, and I’m not really sure what a “mounted” specimen would be like, but these four had their wings already spread and looked ready to stick somewhere.  They showed up so beautifully packaged, with little labels telling me the Latin name for each, and careful instructions detailing how to open the package without wrecking any delicate wings. 

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We assembled our tools:  x-acto knife, tweezers, glue (I used E6000) toothpicks, paper towels and a plastic stick, normally used for who knows what, that looked like a dental instrument.  The glass dome is a light fixture cover, found at the thrift store, and the wood base was custom crafted by my husband to fit it.  The twig is from the ground in my backyard.  I found I needed an extra pair of hands for this, and it ended up being a little like building a ship in a bottle, since the opening of the glass dome is so much smaller than the interior of it.  We planned our strategy carefully, but there was a lot of me saying, “Is it in the glue?  Wait, be careful!  Ahhhh!  I can’t even seeeee!”  and a lot of him calmly saying, “Here, let me do that.”

In the end, we broke off three antennae, but the bugs sustained no major damage, and I am pretty happy with the results.  Apart from heading off to Costa Rica with a net and probably also a handful of government permits, this seemed like the best way for me to do it.  I’ll admit, I had a moment of feeling a little uncomfortable about using something that used to be alive to decorate my home.  Elton John singing “Butterflies are free to fly” came into my head, and I felt a pang of remorse. 

In fact, real-life reaction to this project has been mixed, ranging from “That is amazing!!!” to “Er,…they’re dead.”  Dean said this:  “They’re pretty, but it’s not very cozy, is it?  Dead bugs?”  Wherever I go, he just goes along, bless him.  I should also point out that none of these particular butterflies are members of a protected or endangered species.

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They’re not playing poker or riding motorcycles or anything, but I like them anyway.  What do you think?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monogrammed Mittens

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When my girl was very little, I knit her a pair of mittens, in purple yarn, and she wore them to nursery school where, one day, another kid put them on and said they were his.  I kind of thought it was great that he wanted some purple hand-knit mittens that much, but when I pointed out that it was very sweet that he liked them but that the mittens actually belonged to my daughter, the boy’s mother said, with a straight face, “Nope.  Those are Jeffrey’s mittens.”  This was a long time ago now, but thinking about it still makes me feel indignant, and I don’t mind telling you that I totally helped her steal them back from him. 

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There can be no confusion here.  These mittens do not belong to Jeffrey.  I think Mrs. Weasley knits her monograms right in to the fabric, intarsia-style, but I cheated and used duplicate stitch to put the N on these.  (There’s a great article on the difference here, if you’re interested.)  Pretty cozy, huh?  Now I’m imagining my whole family in monogrammed mittens, each pair a different color, just marching down the street covered in hand knits like a bunch of Weasleys headed for Diagon Alley.  Better start knitting.