Monday, July 30, 2012

Sleepover Sweater



I don’t usually like pullovers, but this one grabbed me and I made the whole thing in about a week.  Something about working stripes is just so fascinating.  Getting to the next color change, just six rows away, seems like such an accomplishment.  Even though I think it actually takes a little longer, having to keep cutting the yarn and joining a new color, it feels like progress.  I don’t know, it’s just entertaining.  I’m pretty simple that way.  (Oooh, blue!  Oooh, brown!  Ooooh, blue again!) 


All the yarns I used (there are actually four different colors here) came from recycled yarn—stuff I’ve made and didn’t love.  The blue is from this, and the browns are from this and this.  I’m known to do this from time to time, unravel something when I’m tired of it and make something else.  Do you all do this, too?  I’ll do that until the yarn is so worn out and felted and pilly that it won’t come apart anymore. 


This is Driftwood by Isabell Kraemer (free pattern!  Isabell, you’re awesome!) and it is exactly the kind of sweater I love to have.  Big and comfy and soft, something to pull on over what I’m already wearing, something for when it’s a little chilly.  I have a lot of shaped and fitted cardigans for when I need to look like a grown up, but this sweater is for when I’m at home in my socks and maybe there’s a little rain, and maybe my BFF is here and we’re making avocado face masks and staying up late to watch SNL.   If the sleeves look extra-long, it’s because A) they are—I like extra-long sleeves—B) the shoulders on the dress form are a bit narrow, so they hang down a lot, and C) the gauge on this project is intentionally loose, so it got a little (okay, a lot) stretched out after blocking.  Well, happily, I do like long sleeves, but next time I think I’d use a smaller needle.  


This design has a really interesting construction element, too—it’s worked from the top down, all in one piece, as usual, but the sleeve increases are done so that the result appears to be a set-in sleeve cap, which is just extremely clever.  This method is the brainchild of Susie Myers, and I love that people are still, still inventing new ways to make knitting work better. 


There’s the perfect use for some vintage buttons.  Everything about this sweater just worked—oh, I love it when that happens.  I felt like starting a project on a Thursday night while the kids were at a midnight movie and I couldn’t go to bed anyway, and the yarn was right there in the cupboard and the pattern was easy and also interesting, and by the time they got home I was most of the way down the yoke and awful sleepy but that sense of getting something underway is just so great, and I tell you, I was in the grip of this, and I just worked on this constantly until it was done. 


It’s a knitting success story. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Monogrammed Wedding Gift for Cool People


A couple of the cool people in my life recently got married to each other.  It made me sweetly teary to sit in their beautiful old church with the fans gently turning and the afternoon light pouring through the stained glass windows, with the warm summer all around us, and with friends dressed up to usher and other friends singing in the choir and at the piano.  My yoga teacher was the officiant.  It was so personal, and perfect.  The processional was a Ben Folds song.  I told you, these are cool people. 


I knew they already have a blender, and that they are just the sort of people who appreciate a handmade gift. I made these pillowcases from a gorgeously thick vintage cotton sheet, and then designed the monogram using a font scoured from the internet—I think it’s called “Ptarmigan,” which somehow seems wonderful.  I stitched it over the course of a few days, then pressed the living daylights out of the whole thing, until the pillowcases were as crisp and fancy as I could make them. 


I wrapped them in a piece of vintage voile printed with little violets, and tucked a silk flower into the knot.  I hope they love them.  They come with wishes for sweet dreams, and a happy life together.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bobble-fringe pillow and the weekend


It was one of those weekends I need a vacation from.  You know what I mean?  So full of (wonderful, fun) things, but we got hardly any sleep and the house is completely trashed.  When a basket full of unfolded laundry starts to feel like part of the decor, it might be time to take a minute.  There was little, if any, sitting on the couch, but in anticipation of the possibility, I did find time to make this swirly, ball-fringed pillow cover.  It seems like we have enough pillows already, but every time I see one of those gorgeous magazine photos of a white couch covered in pillows, I just have to start sewing. 


Materials are:  one piece of lime-green-with-a-hint-of-mustard upholstery fabric from the remnant bin, one feather pillow insert from the thrift store (obsessively washed and dried on hot a few times) and a length of bobble-fringe from the crafty thrift store. 


It’s a thrift store with nothing for sale except crafts supplies!  I know!!!  I find it hard not to go totally overboard in there, what with the oilcloth and the vintage fabrics and buttons, and this whole thingy of bobble-fringe, practically for free.  Thank you, crafty thrift store, I love you. 

There was a 5K (not for me, are you crazy?) but for the doctor…


…who couldn’t leave the house until he found his lucky shorts, and then we picked blueberries and then there was a ceremonial sing-along about the war of 1812 (what? I know) and then we were in a parade (fairy tale costumes, 90 degree heat, and the parade we were in was already going past us while we were still stapling fake flowers to the float—“there’s still time, let’s go!”—being towed the wrong way down the road by a tractor, to the bemused stares of the confused onlookers as my teenage and adult children, dressed as pirates, engaged in sword battles with rubber cutlasses, taking it in turns to theatrically die) and then three performances of an operetta (cookies for dinner) and late to bed every single night. 


I have an appointment with my new pillow, I think.  Zzzzzz. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blanket Crazy


Oh my gosh, you guys had me cracking up yesterday—the comments were both so helpful and so hilarious, and I kept reading them out loud to people and just going to pieces again.  So great.  Thank you.  The solution was simple and elegant—I chained a few stitches across the two gaps.  Three minutes, tops.  And the unfortunate headlight effect is completely gone!  I wore the top with confidence yesterday (though I did compulsively check it in the mirror once or twice an hour all morning, just to make sure it wasn’t stretching with wearing) and nobody laughed, nobody.  Success!  Thank you for your help. 

I’m fully engaged with this blanket right now: 


The stash is a hostage to this project.  (What if I work on something else—that granny square vest I’m always threatening, maybe—and I use up the last of that excellent pale orange and then I can’t get any more???)  I know.  That, as my daughter likes to point out, is a first-world problem.  Anyway, of course the beauty of a blanket like this is that if I do run out of something, it doesn’t matter in the least. 

It is a measure of my fascination with the color-play, combined with endless (oh, I do mean endless) garter stitch that I continue to labor over this blanket while the summer heat bears relentlessly down upon us.  A lap full of wool takes on a new quality at 95 degrees.  I begin to feel one with the wool.  I feel like the sheep must feel.  It occurs to me (again) that this might be a sign of unhealthy obsession—someone said to me yesterday, “Knitting in July?  Isn’t this the off-season?”  and I thought for a minute that maybe it is the off-season, and maybe I should be doing more summer-ish things, like tatting lace (as if I knew how to do that, because if I did, believe me, I would be tatting all over the place) or hemming halter tops or something, but then, in my mind, I reached the conclusion that there is no such thing as an off-season for knitting, and that if I want a blanket to be finished in the fall, when it’s cool, I have to knit it in the summer, when it’s hot, and also that if I weren’t knitting something I might not even recognize myself, which made me pull up short again and take a moment to assess my own level of potential crazy, and then I remembered that the guy who was asking was wearing his pants tucked into his socks and at least two hats at once and is known to talk to himself, so I felt better, until it dawned on me that he probably thought I was crazy.  Sobering.  Anyway. 


So yeah.  I’m knitting a wool blanket in July.  I like it that way. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Poetic Lacy Top


Sweet mother of pearl, it is hotter than blazes here in my neck of the woods.  My hair looks like a meringue.  My glasses are sliding off my face.  It is summer with a capital S.  There isn’t enough iced tea in all the cupboard.  And still, I rather like it.  I do, what can I say?  This is my favorite kind of weather.  While that is the story of the day for anybody within five hundred miles of here, in other news, I have made this awfully pretty lacy top. 


[Artsy photos of me by Dean Johnson.  That one has kind of a cool graininess, which I sort of adore, with the blowing curtain adding a certain Wyeth-ish quality.  He’s pretty good at almost everything.]


[Dang, I think I like the photos better than I like the sweater.  I always tell him to keep my face out of it; otherwise I’d have to spend an hour getting all spruced up for having my mug on the internet, and who’s got time for that?] 


So, this little top.  I looooooove it.  Also, I love that I actually managed it, because it turned out to be quite a brain teaser for me.  This thing almost beat me.  You join the motifs (which are easy enough on their own) as you go, working in the round while following a flat chart, and there are square motifs and pentagon motifs and hexagon motifs, and they are strategically placed in order to make the shaping happen, which is just tremendously clever, but I had to use about eighty markers and sticky notes and diagrams to keep everything straight.  Four times, I said out loud, “Omygosh, this is too hard for me.”  Then, I’d go off and do a load of wash or mop the kitchen.  After awhile, I’d come back and try again, make one little breakthrough, then get stuck.  Off I’d go to clean the tub.  Back again, another mystery solved.  And so on, until lo! It was done.  It felt a little miraculous, and I was very proud of myself. 

The pattern is the poetically named “Lacy Top” from the 2012 crochet issue of Vogue Knitting.  It is clever and without flaw, and I am feeling like such a brainiac for figuring it out.  I used Jo Sharp Soho Summer, which is a DK weight cotton (and is practically unplied—it’s like a bunch of individual threads that just lie near each other) but which is very soft and is the most gorgeous shade of pearly gray.  I think I used about four balls of it—I have so much of this in the stash that I honestly don’t notice when some of it is missing—and a US F hook. 

The only thing is…



Do you see what I see?  Have you seen Mean Girls?


Alas, this is a result I did not anticipate, and I can only blame myself, after all, and I swear in all my trying-on I never saw it, though Dean later said, “Yep.  I noticed.”  So.  Any ideas? 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pup tent


Not that I’m complaining, but it’s really hot here.  It’s really, really summer-ish.  If you’re in the UK, I’m so sorry, and I wish I could share some of this heat with you.  I’d gladly trade it for a bit of rain, because the entire yard is brittle and dead, but I do love the heat. 

This tired old lady, however, does not. 


She looks pink because she’d just been shorn the day before and now she looks like a baby lamb.  A huge baby lamb.  But she finally stopped panting.  As she gets older, she begins to tell me, with a lot of desperate shedding and panting, that she wants less hair.  And also, a cave to crawl inside, to escape all the hubbub that happens in a houseful of people.  She tells me this by getting behind or underneath anything and everything, knocking over tables and lamps and rearranging the furniture with her bulk in the process.  Sweet thing, she’s too big.

So Dean and I built her this pup tent the other day, after I saw a picture of one like it in the July/August issue of Country Living (US edition).  Ours is about 54” high, and about 28” wide, which is the width of the broken clothes-drying rack I had stashed in the event of needing some dowels for a project. [The benefits of having a huge barn are many.] He built the simple frame with wood scraps, securing them with bolts and wing nuts, and then I sewed the canopy, using a thrifted vintage sheet and a few lengths of grosgrain ribbon to secure it to the frame at the sides.  Because the wood frame is bolted, the tent is removable for washing, and the whole thing can be collapsed flat and stored. 


Of course, the dog spent the first few days eyeing it suspiciously, sniffing it tentatively, and then lying down, with a deep sigh and a clatter of elbows and collar tags hitting the wood floor, on the other side of the room.

Eventually, though, in the long warm light of afternoon, when I was thinking a nap would be nice, she was thinking the same thing, and so she crawled in there, circled a few times, and flopped down with a snort. 


Good dog.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Stash


As it always happens whenever I’ve finished a big project, my mind is scattered.  I think my brain sees a tidy work table as a fresh opportunity to start a whole bunch more things, as if I have now bent the time/space continuum and can make everything all at once.  It’s hard to settle on something when it all seems so possible, and I already have the yarn to make everything in the world. 


I did spend a few hours (yes, hours!) sorting through the stash and tidying and organizing and (gulp) getting rid of a few things.  When it was all out on the table, all in one place, it was kind of an eye-opener. 


That’s really more yarn that I want to keep track of.  It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t remember what all was in there, which made me squirm every time I opened the door.  While it was all piled on the table, the girl came in, made some kind of horrified noise, called me “Mother” (for emphasis), and then began to narrate a documentary about how the total disarray was a metaphor for my mind, as the bags were slithering one at a time to the floor, which made me fall over laughing. 

After a few minutes of panicked pacing and hand-wringing, during which I was positive it would never fit back in the cupboard, I dug in and started sorting.  I found out some things.  1) I love sock yarn.  2) I have a big requirement for beige and gray.  3)  I have probably spent more on yarn than the entire cost of my college education.  I also re-discovered so many lovely things I’d forgotten about, and was all inspired about them again, but I also had to admit I really do have enough yarn now.  And it felt great to purge some of it, and to put back neatly everything that was left. 


It does seem like I’d better get busy.  I’ve got a few ideas.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Faded Summer Quilt



Here’s something interesting:  if I finish a quilt and I’m not 100% thrilled with it, I have an immediate urge to start another one, to get it right this time.  And if I finish a quilt that turned out just the way I hoped, I have an immediate urge to start another one, probably just to keep the euphoria going.  That’s not the way it is with knitting, which I think I do because I figure I’m going to get cold at some point; nor is that the way it is with crochet, which I do because it brings color to my life.  Quilts are something else, and it’s got the potential to result in too many quilts, and I’m still pondering that.  Anyhoo. 


This quilt happened because the last one I made was a disappointing experience, but in it there were flashes of what I did want, and that keeps me interested. 


Success!  This time around, I got it right, and I’m so pleased.  Elements:  wool batting (learned here) simple construction with no triangles (learned here) hand quilt!  Yes!  (learned here) and no poly blends (learned here) which make the hand-quilting un-fun. 


The top is constructed of 4” squares at 20 x 22—the finished top is 80” x 88”.  I used all lights and neutrals for a soft, faded look, and I couldn’t believe how many light-colored fabrics I already had in the cupboard.  I didn’t have to buy anything.  Which I love, because it means I can start right now, with no waiting!  The inspiration for this came from here.  I piled the fabrics on the work table and spent a few days walking past them, occasionally weeding out the ones that stood out too much, which is the part that takes me the longest, that fabric audition.  It’s hard for me to get that right.

Because we’re in the middle of a heat wave, I spread the pinned quilt over my work table and aimed a fan at my legs and then happily spent the next few hours stitching and unpinning—the pins go in that teacup as I remove them—and singing along with the radio, and before I knew it, I was done.


I just want to say it again, because it blows my mind a little to think about this:  I hand-quilted this whole thing.  Now, of course, my grandma (she of the perfect triangle points) would not be satisfied with it, and she would perhaps suggest that now the quilt is basted and would I like to spend the next twenty years doing it right, but Grandma is probably out buying more geraniums right now and will not see this, so I feel safe in showing you.  And anyway, if it’s good enough for Jane Brocket, it’s plenty good enough for me—check out her gorgeous book.  She gave me permission to take big chunky stitches using #5 perle cotton, and dang if I didn’t finish this entire thing in one day.  Jane, I love you. 


I quilted across each row, right down the middle of the squares, first going one way, then across the stitches, going the other way.  The wool batting makes this so easy.  I didn’t use a hoop or anything, just spread the thing over the table and ran the needle through it.  It was speedy and satisfying. 


This is almost the first full-size quilt I’ve ever hand-quilted.  It’s certainly the first since the time I made that peach-and-teal thing with the stitched-on doilies back in college.  Yes, while everyone else was out drinking tequila and getting arrested, I was at home quilting.  That’s me.  Anyway, there are—blessedly-- no pictures of it.  It was made with dress leftovers in two colors—peach. and. teal.  Because that’s what I had enough of in the instant I felt the need to start making a quilt.  I used three layers of poly batting.  Instead of patches, I quilted the block designs on the plain fabric, using a huge crewel needle (didn’t know better) late into the night, watching The Beverly Hillbillies and The Patty Duke Show on cable.  I poured so many hours of my life into that quilt, and it was soooo ugly—thus my lengthy fabric audition process.  Don’t want to go through that again.  But I digress.

Before washing, the finished quilt looked orderly, if a bit stiff.  It looked like this:


After washing, it looks considerably more rumpled:





With this quilt, rumpled is the point.  And it looks like it’s already spent several summers hanging on a clothesline and going on picnics.  It’s soft and floppy and pre-faded. 


When the kids were little, I sent everyone to their rooms to read for an hour in the afternoons.  I went to my room, too, and drew the shades and lay in the soft light, reading and snoozing.  I didn’t think about what to make for dinner, or laundry or anything else.  I just rested.  So lovely.  This quilt makes me think of that.  Softly resting. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Apple Honey Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Cloud Frosting


We had a birthday around here, and I made the most beautiful cake.  Look at that gorgeous cloud of frosting!  Eating this cake felt like having a party with fairies.  With our assortment of vegetarians, vegans and sugar-avoiders, we are a hard family to feed, but this cake satisfies everyone—the vegans eat it without the frosting--and just look at it.  So pretty.  If you’re like me and you don’t want a lot (well, any) refined sugar in your diet, you can have this cake, and I swear it will make you cry. 

This is an Apple Honey Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Cloud Frosting. Some of it I made up, and some of it is an adaptation of a recipe I found somewhere;  somebody sent me a link, and I don’t know where it went.  Anyway, here’s what  you do:

Apple Honey Cake

Mix 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 tsp baking soda together.  Add 1/4 cup well-steeped tea, 1 cup honey, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 5 Tbsp oil, 1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice, and 1 tsp vanilla.  Mix it all together until it’s very smooth, and pour into a greased 9” cake pan.  Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.  [This cake has a very strong honey flavor, so if you’re a fan of honey, you’ll love it.  I’ve wondered how it would work using maple syrup—If you try that, let me know how it goes.]  After removing from oven, cool five minutes in the pan, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

Vanilla Cream Cheese Cloud Frosting

Whip 1 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Blend in 1 Tbsp agave nectar.  In a separate bowl, beat one 8 oz package of room temperature cream cheese until smooth.  Add 1 Tbsp honey and beat.  Fold in the whipped cream, and then fold in 1 tsp vanilla. 

Scoop giant dollops of this frosting onto the cooled honey cake and decorate with whole strawberries.  Eat as much as you can right away, because it’s best the first day.  Refrigerate whatever’s left.  [After refrigerating, the character of the frosting changes, becoming very thick and vanilla fudge-ish, which is also quite wonderful.  Just so you know.]

Do you know of any other good no-sugar baked goodies recipes?  I’m always on the lookout. 


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Perfect Shawl

This shawl is one of my most favorite things I’ve ever made.  Everything about it just worked, which, as you know, doesn’t always happen.  I had wonderful yarn, and plenty of it, and it was 70% off [!!!!!], the pattern was easy, and it looks just the way I hoped it would. 
Sometimes, these things can make me look a little granny-ish.  I am not one of those willowy types with long straight legs and hair who can wear a crocheted wrap with any kind of irony.  I am a little bit dumpy.  I can accept that.  But this shawl is so perfect, it makes me feel perfect, too.  Wearing it, I feel like it’s 1970, and I live in Laurel Canyon, and I am writing folk music and cooking lentils and living with Graham Nash. 
Inspiration for this came from here (scroll down) and the minute I saw that photo, I wanted my own elbow-length gray shawl, crocheted in chunky yarn.  She said hers was a shop purchase, so I started trolling Ravelry until I found this pattern, which gave me what I wanted—a triangular shape in an overall shell stitch that’s maybe not too hard.  When it came time to work the edging, I studied Vanessa’s photo again and improvised.  It was the edging and the fringe that I really loved about hers. 
Whoops, I see where I missed a fringe—okay, fixed now.  Here are my notes:  I worked the pattern exactly as written (although at a much larger gauge) in Ella Rae Latte, color 03 (which is a light pearl gray) on a US J hook, until the piece reached just above my elbow when I tried it on, ending with a row 10.  Then I worked a row of hdc (all my crochet terms are US) along the edge, eyeballing how many hdcs to put where so it laid flat and didn’t pull in or ruffle.  On the next row, I worked (ch 8, skip next 8 sts, sc) across.  For row 3:  10 dc in each ch 8 space, across.  Row 4:  (dc in the first 8 stitches, skip the next 2 sts) across.  [Skipping those two stitches in row four—which should happen directly on top of the sc from row 2—leaves a space in which to attach fringe.]  Deal with the center point intuitively, making sure there’s a sc in row 2 and a space for fringe in row 4 directly on the point.  I just shortened the ch 8s when I got there.  Make sure you do both sides the same. Then I cut 24” lengths of yarn for the fringe, and hooked three strands, folded in half, through each hole in row 4.  I worked a row of hdc across the top edge, again kind of eyeballing to see how many stitches I needed, so it laid flat and didn’t pull in or ruffle. 
Crochet instructions always look like chicken scratching to me.  I hope you know what I mean up there—you’re all way better at this than I am, and I know you’ll be fine.  Just hook what looks good! 
Two things:  first, the pattern has a few punctuation problems, which, if you’re like me and you rely on every parenthetical and comma to tell you what to do, you might have to crochet by the seat of your pants.  But I got there in the end (with no ripping back) and you will, too.  Second, it looks like there’s some controversy in yarnland, regarding the fiber content of the Latte, which is a softly spun single-ply chunky weight.  I am here to report that regardless of whether or not it actually contains 30% alpaca and 30% milk (which is what it says on the label) it is soft and lofty and has a beautiful sheen, and I’m not disappointed.  Then again, I got it for a huge bargain, so that might be keeping my expectations low.  We’ll see how it wears, but so far, I’m very happy.  If you’re looking for a sub, you could try Malabrigo
Now, if only it weren’t 90 degrees.