Thursday, November 29, 2012

In Which Ann Patchett makes me knit the same sleeve twice

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Oh, I had this thing all figured out.  I crocheted around the armhole.  I picked up and knit.  I made a sleeve cap using short rows (thank you, Wendy Bernard).  I did a bit of ciphering to figure out how many stitches I would need, and when I had that many, I made coffee, picked up my book, and started knitting.

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This was the scene for most of the day.  The sleeve grew, the book absorbed my attention.  When my thumbs started to ache, I did what any sensible knitter would do and went to the kitchen to make a Sticky Lemon Cake.  Then I came back and knit some more.  When the sleeve was long enough, I put the book down and started to attach the crocheted granny square cuff, and that’s when I noticed I had knit the whole thing without adding the eyelet pattern.  I had gone about eleven inches too far.  I purely forgot about the eyelet pattern.  I put the thing on as it was, and stood in front of the mirror, hoping.  There was a little bit of a back and forth at that point, between me saying “Who cares?  It’s just for me anyway, right?  It looks fine!  It looks fine, right?” and Dean saying, “Well if you don’t care, I don’t care,” and then me saying, “Well, I think it looks fine like this,” and then him saying, “Sure, it looks fine.  If you don’t care.”  And then I thought of coming back here and saying, Well, you know, I goofed it up, but who cares, right?  And then I ripped it all out, all the way back to the sleeve cap, a whole day’s knitting.  Because I care.  I do, I care. 

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Finish book.  Then knit. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Easy

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One of my big roadblocks in this life is figuring out what’s for dinner.  “What’s for dinner?”  makes me kind of cringe.  I always think What, again?  Already?  Didn’t we just eat dinner yesterday?  I don’t know, I’d rather just eat leftover Chinese takeout straight from the carton.  I’m kinda lazy.  So I was pretty happy when I came up with the most genius post-holiday dinner idea ever:  Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner Mashed Potato Soup.  It’s just all your leftover mashed potatoes, plus some broth, plus a couple chopped up leeks, plus a little bit of sour cream and the last of the milk before it goes bad, plus I fried up some bacon and crumbled that in, which is when it started to get really heavenly, and then I shredded about a cup of cheese and stirred that in, too.  Salt and pepper.  It was so good!  I just ate it, thinking, That’s what I’m talking about.  In case you want a real recipe, here’s mostly what I did:

Lazy Girl Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner Mashed Potato Soup

1/4 cup olive oil

2 leeks, chopped

2 or 3 cups (leftover Thanksgiving Day) mashed potatoes

2 cups (leftover Thanksgiving Day) chicken broth

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup (leftover Thanksgiving Day) sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch dried tarragon, if you feel like it

6 strips bacon, fried crispy and crumbled

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Saute the leeks in the olive oil until they’re soft.  Dump in the mashed potatoes, and add the broth.  Add water if it needs more liquid.  Stir it up good and bring it to a boil.  Let it bubble for awhile, until everything is nice and hot, then turn the heat down to a simmer, and use an immersion blender to whip it all smooth.  Stir in the milk, sour cream, salt, pepper, and tarragon.  Crumble in the bacon and stir in the cheese.   Easy, and delicious. 

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One night last week, I came home to find the girl and her BFF sitting around the table making needle-felted animals from little kits they’d bought, which honestly made my heart leap around with comfort and joy.  The craftiness around here does not end with me.  The next day they were casting about for something to do so I put them to work on pom poms, which are also easy.  They happily made these, amid much giggling and narration.  They made tea. They posed for goofy pictures. 

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Then Dean made a huge pan of cinnamon rolls from scratch, and we ate them and decorated the Christmas tree, listening to a lot of Nat King Cole on Pandora.  Crafts.  Soup.  Friends.  Cinnamon.  Life is so good. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Finishing the body, and a note about gauge

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A couple smallish road trips will do wonders for getting your knitting done.  I had this on my lap during a snowstorm as we drove in the back streets of suburban Buffalo, NY, and with the flakes sprinkling down around the streetlamps and the cozy golden windows and holiday lights and the hot coffee and Andy Williams on the radio, all things conspired to put me in a soft and happy frame of mind. 

The body of this, my adaptation of Sidsel Hoivik’s “Candy Jacket” (pattern published only in print copy and Norwegian, but forthcoming in a new book, according to Sidsel herself.  Stay tuned and keep checking Ravelry) has so far been the easy part.  At the bottom edge of the granny square bodice, I single-crocheted a few rows, working the last through the front loops only, leaving the back loops free for picking up knit stitches.

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I picked up one stitch for each crochet loop and hoped it would be close to the number of stitches needed to fit me.  Here’s where you really have to do a gauge swatch.  I can hear you all sighing; I know, gauge swatches are annoying—they take up time when you really just want to get to it, and what’s worse, they will totally lie to you.  I know.  Gauge swatches can lie like a rug.  But they’re the only chance you have, apart from wild guessing, at getting an end result that will fit you.  To do this, I knit a small sample in stockinette stitch, using the yarn I chose and the needle I hoped would work—in this case, Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool in Oatmeal and US 7—and then used a ruler on it to find out how many stitches I was getting per inch; 4.75.  [Don’t round up or down—that extra .75 of a stitch happens every inch, and if you multiply that by something like 40 inches, which is the distance around some part of most people, you’ll be either adding or subtracting 30 stitches in total, which will cause you big problems and make you hate your sweater in the end, and make you think you can’t knit, which is madness because of course you can, all you need to do is swatch and do the math!] 

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Okay, so once I knew how many stitches I would get per inch if I used this yarn and that needle, and I knew how big around I was at the part of my body where this waist join would hit me when I wore the jacket, I knew how many stitches I would need to pick up here.  So I did that, and then just started working my way toward the hem, increasing at the sides every few rows to accommodate my own increasing circumference as you go down toward the hem, and to create the skirt shape.  After awhile, I added the simple eyelet pattern, switching at that point to working the increases at the front opening edges so as not to disrupt the pattern, and then at the end, a couple rows of stranded knitting to add the little beads of color.  [Remember, this is Sidsel’s original design—none of this is my own.  I’m just working by the seat of my pants in poor imitation.]

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I steam-blocked it at this point, to give me an idea of how it would drape.  More sighs!  Well, I am hardly ever going to tell you not to block something, because it honestly makes a huge difference in your work.  Here’s this piece before:

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Not too bad in this stitch pattern, a little bunchy maybe.  Some stitch patterns at this point will look like an egg carton.  Anyway, here it is after I blasted it with a steam iron:

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See?  It matters.  Blocking is key.  If you’re going to spend all that time and money on a project, you want it to look its very best, and blocking is the way.  Steam blocking is nothing more than hovering the hot iron full of water over the project and letting the steam whoosh out over it.  I smooth it with my hand as I go—carefully, the steam is very hot—maybe pulling the piece into place here and there.  I’m not pressing the piece; the iron doesn’t really touch the yarn at all. 

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Sleeves next!  Should I start at the cuff and work up, or pick up at the armholes and work down?  Hmm, a puzzle. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mod knitted belt

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Thank you all for sharing my enthusiasm, Monkee-wise.  It was a huge thrill to sing with them, and I am still floating a little.  Fortunately, almost all my ongoing projects are at the point of mindless progress, so I daydream a little and make rows happen, and daydream a little more. 

I did manage to fire up my brain cells long enough to make this very 70’s belt, which is another pattern from this fantastic book.  The yarn is recycled, and I think it was Cascade 220 superwash in its original life, in some kind of dark wheat heather gold color; I don’t know exactly.  The plastic buckle thing came from the crafty thrift shop, and the jacquard ribbon is another like this, bought a few years ago with no project idea in mind, but it was so pretty. 

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I think this would be so great over a clingy, jersey-knit dress in some kind of tawny color, a dress the color of lions. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fairy Tale

I’ve been a knitting machine this week, motoring along on the fairy tale cardigan and making good progress, but I have to take a moment away from yarn to share this with you, because a real fairy tale happened to me over the weekend, and I still can’t even believe it: I was invited to sing Daydream Believer onstage with The Monkees. 

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I know!  I know!  I have no words adequate to truly describe how this felt.  There’s stuff that’s fun, you know, like roller coasters and winning the lottery and a 70% Off sale at the yarn shop, and then there’s stuff that’s so much fun you feel like all the gray weight of ordinary living melts away and you’re nothing but light and love and you just have to throw your head back and let the joy fly out, you know what I mean?  When a good dream comes true, for real?  Just, wow. 

Monkees and me

So this is me, performing Daydream Believer.  Onstage.  With The Monkees.  I managed it, and didn’t freak out or faint or cry or face-plant or forget the words.  The whole crowd sang along with me, because the room was of people who love Davy Jones as much as I do. 

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It was a beautiful day. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Process

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The fairytale jacket begins to come together.  Here’s the bodice so far.  It looks like in the original, Sidsel joined these as she went, but I decided to do a slip stitch crochet together at the wrong side, mainly because I couldn’t get the join-as-you-go to look neat enough.  I joined them in columns first, then across the rows, going the other way.  It took all day.  I had to get all zen about it.  I watched about seventy hours of local news, over and over hearing the story of the abrupt end of Hostess, thinking, wait, what? Was there any warning?  Why haven’t I been eating more of those weirdly awesome orange cupcakes?  I kind of hate to think about a future without Twinkies in it.  Anyway.  So that’s how I ameliorated the tedium of a bazillion hours of joining teeny squares together. 

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I built the back and two fronts separately, then gave the pieces a good blast with the steam iron, which made these raised seams lie down and behave.  Then I crocheted the side and shoulder seams together the same way, and blasted those, too.  Next, I’ll add a few rows of single crochet around the bottom edge and then, switching to knitting, pick up stitches and start working down towards the hem. 

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And if I see a Twinkie today, I’m going to buy it. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Cutest Hat in the World

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I love how it only takes a day to knit a hat, and it only takes one skein of yarn, and then I look like a character in a French film.  This is the Mulberry Hat from this book.  [As always I’m completely swathed in knitting.  Honey CowlHarvest Moon!  Probably before I went out, I also put on the Sleepy Hollow Coat, too.  Too much?  I hope not.]  Isn’t it the cutest hat in the world?  It is. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Winging it

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I fell madly for this sweater (designed by the extremely talented Sidsel Hoivik) which I think is actually some kind of magical fairy coat, or maybe something made for baby elves by their old grannies.  It definitely belongs in a fairy tale.  I think if you wear it, you’ll automatically smell like cinnamon sugar.  You’ll find yourself living in a stone cottage in a forest meadow, your friends consisting of woodland creatures and one cranky old man with a hand-carved walking stick and a heart of gold. 

It also seems to me this sweater is the perfect blend of crochet and knitting; it is the best of both—the granny square bodice is a creative wonderland, and the knitted part makes it wearable.  I love it, so much.

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I had all those leftovers. 

I could not wait to start.

I can not find the pattern.

Now, nothing is impossible in this world, but short of hitting up a few yarn shops in Oslo and then learning to read Norwegian, I have had to admit defeat. 

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So, I decided I’m just gonna wing it. I’m going to make something similar to the original, something (heavily) inspired by the original, something mostly belonging to Sidsel in design, but made with what I already have lying around the place and with my own ingenuity.  Believe me, I’d rather not.  But I am in the grips of this thing, people!  I’m in the throes!

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I’ve looked everywhere I can look, and in the meantime, I optimistically made 160 mini granny squares, which are blocked now, and clamoring to be made into the bodice of a sweater.  So here is where I step off the trail and turn into the woods. 

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Sidsel, if you’re out there, thank you for the inspiration.  Gulp.  My first-ever crocheted sweater.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  Here goes!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sleepy Hollow Sweater Coat

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The sweater coat is done, and I love it.  Want to see?  Well, good luck.

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I thought to take the camera to the woods, thinking this thing would look so nice against the last of the yellow maple leaves, but events conspired against success.  A few headlines:  Overly enthusiastic dog yanks at leash trying to maximize sniffing experience.  Jeans pocket flap creates unsightly bulge at backside, which shows through knitted garment.  Dark brown yarn absorbs all available light. 

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Husband takes sixty-eight photos of woods, leaves, dog, me, and himself, instead of the sweater. 

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I fail to remember to remove scarf so collar and yoke are even visible.

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Dog continues to drag me through the woods in pursuit of something elusive.

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It started to rain.

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Which did make for a fairly spooky woods walk, with moody, mossy fallen trees and all gray in the distance.  This spot always makes me think of Sleepy Hollow.  I paused for a moment, and the dog sat with the most quivering reluctance.  She was coiled.  She was ready to lunge. 

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I worked this sweater from the bottom up, knitting the body and sleeves separately and then joining them together at for the yoke.  The construction is based on Elizabeth Zimmermann’s yoke sweater recipe, instructions for which can be found in her book Knitting Without Tears  and which is so simple you wouldn’t believe it.  When the yoke was finished, I worked a short shawl collar by knitting extensions on twenty or so stitches at both front edges until the length of each reached to the center of the back neck.  I grafted the ends together and sewed the long edges to the top of the collar opening. 

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Then, I lined the coat with a piece of really pretty taupe and white polka-dot silk from the stash.  This took several tries, and I picked out quite a few seams before getting it right, but essentially, all I did was trace the blocked sweater and create a pattern from that, adding a gusset at each armhole to allow for comfort and movement. 

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I sewed fifteen buttonholes.  By hand. 

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I am so thrilled with this coat.  It is roomy and cozy and woodsy.  The big cuffs turned out just right. 

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The experimental collar turned out just right, too, although it took me seven (seven!) tries to get there. 

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I used seven skeins of Cascade 220 in some kind of heathered raw umber color, on US 7 needles.  It took ages.  It was pretty worth it.  I wish you could see it.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Denali Handwarmers

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Lovely Lori bought this yarn in Alaska, in Denali Park, the crown jewel of which is Denali herself, the tallest mountain in North America, and the tallest base-to-peak mountain in the world.  That’s right, Everest, I’m looking at you!  I don’t know why I enjoy that little fact so much, but I do.  Frankly, I’m very competitive.  Take that, Tibet!  Anyway, I won Lovely Lori’s giveaway (thank you, Lori!) and when the package arrived, i dropped everything and made these. 

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This yarn is by Subarctic Spinners Homespun Yarn, and it is quite scrumptious indeed, a chunky three-ply in the color of campfire smoke and mountain mystery.  A beautiful bluish/grayish/purplish merino wool.  It is soft enough to use for making baby pajamas, but as I have no babies, I decided to make handwarmers instead. 

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(Check out that Caribou Antler button, also part of Lori’s prize booty.  They look and feel like wood.)  It looked like there would be just enough yardage for a pair of fingerless mittens, and I decided to forego cuffs in exchange for more hand coverage.  Somebody once told me that a good way to regulate your body temperature is to expose your wrists, which seems nuts, but so do a lot of scientific things; for instance, did you know that your nose and ears will continue growing throughout your entire life?  I know!  For those of us who already have too much in the way of ears, that is an alarming piece of information.  Anyhoo.

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I’ve written up the pattern for these little lovelies, and you can find it here.  Enjoy!

[Edit:  if you can’t open the PDF, you can right click on the link and “Save As” or you can try disabling Adobe’s Firefox plugin.  I don’t know how to do that last bit, only that it might help!  I’m sorry it’s not simple.]