Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jam and a revelation


My dad, a total extrovert who knew everybody and had friends in every corner of the universe, a local hangout in a dozen different cities, would now and then come mysteriously into possession of a huge basket of peaches, or somehow a giant tray of strawberries, somebody somewhere would gift him with their garden windfall, and he’d then spend an entire Saturday making jam and canning it.  It steamed up the kitchen and made the wallpaper bubbly, got every single pan and spoon dirty, and afterwards, the pantry was bulging with jars that glowed like jewels.  And so I continued to do, myself, once I had my own kitchen and pantry and canner—a bushel of bruised fruit, sold at half price at the end of the market day found its way into my hands and then into jars.  The steam rose up the walls and up the stairs, making clothes and pillows soggy.  The walls dripped with damp.  And there were fifty pints of peach jam at the end of it all.  Which is great, and they still glowed, still gave that huge sense of satisfaction, that cozy feeling of hard work in preparation for the long winter, of stashing one’s metaphorical nuts like squirrels in the woods--except there was no room for it all in the cupboards.  We ate jam every morning, spread on toast.  We paired it with peanut butter.  Everybody got jam for Christmas, and still there was more peach jam, until everybody was just completely sick of it.  We are still working on this apparently endless supply of peach jam, and I tell you, I’m over it.  A little variety would be nice.

Er, how about smaller batches?  Hello.  I feel kind of dumb for thinking it wasn’t worth the bother of canning unless it took forty pounds of fruit and six bags of sugar and an entire weekend.  Then this book came along, and I totally saw the light, and one cantaloupe and a vanilla bean became this:


It made six jars.  There’s not even enough to share. 

Friday, September 28, 2012



Sometimes, plain and simple is best.  A scarf like this, nothing more than garter stitch, worked on 32 stitches with US size 6 needles (the most beautiful vintage bakelite needles you have in your collection, glossy with patina), knit until the yarn is used up, can be a companion in difficult times, soothing and meditative.  Worn, it can be the perfect foil for your beautiful face, dressed up in red lipstick, dangled with big hoop earrings.  It can be the most ordinary, most reached-for scarf in the basket.  Warm, a comfort. 


There were times in my knitting life when I felt I was way above the humble garter stitch scarf, that to wear one was the mark of a beginner, or worse yet, it seemed to me, the mark of a non-knitter.  Well, learning for me is non-linear, and I am cycling circularly back around to the beginning now, to an unabashed love affair with the plain and simple.   I’ve learned most of knitting’s fancy tricks, but this one, this back-and-forth without looking at my work, this feeling for the stitch and knowing it will be there, this intimacy I have with yarn and needles, the way we understand each other, is what drives me to it.  It feels like knitting loves me back. 


This particular scarf has its own story—it was requested of me by a sixteen year-old boy, the son of a dear friend, and he asked for it to be as simple as possible.  He chose the yarn.  He said all his friends would be jealous.  With that, there has been nothing but reward for me in making it for him.  And now I want to make one for myself, too, in Candy Apple Red, to match my lipstick. 


The cowl goes to Lynne!  Thank you all for playing.  :)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Casbah Lampshade


I was listening to world music on NPR yesterday, and was influenced by something Moroccan.   I had only turned on the radio to try and purge an insidious Culture Club earworm, and the lampshade I intended, along the lines of this, became slightly more opulent. 


This is the basement stairwell, leading to the gloomy lair that is my laundry room, and it is finally getting it’s turn with the paint.  We moved here over twenty years ago, and this poor, shabby corner of the house kept getting bumped to the bottom of the list.  I’m so glad it finally came due, because the unpainted cinderblocks and orange-stained wood cladding, and especially the bare bulb that hung here, were creeping me out.  Wow, paint is wonderful, isn’t it?  [FYI, This is Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore.]


I started with a thrifted lampshade, measuring its height and circumference—this lampshade is mostly barrel-shaped, which makes this process pretty easy.  It is 9” tall and 41” in circumference [math!  I hate it!] at the bottom edge, which meant I would need to start with five 8” squares—five times eight is forty, and they needed to stretch a little, to spread out and show the pattern, and also to stay on.  Using fingering weight cotton (Tahki Cotton Lite, and Berocco Pima Cotton) and a US F crochet hook, I made five squares (Edwardian Fancy, from this excellent book) and blocked them.  When they were dry, I sewed them together and tried them on for fit.  It was nice and snug, good, so I began adding more rows at the top and bottom edge, trying to continue the pattern as given in the blocks and swapping colors in and out as I pleased.  Because the circumference at the top edge of the lampshade is slightly smaller than the bottom, I decreased a little bit in the rows at the top edge, always trying it on to make sure I was on the right track.  When it was tall enough, I added a row of simple shells at the bottom. 


The hardware inside the lampshade was designed to fit over a harp, with a hole at the top for the finial to fit through (so, not the sort of lampshade that clips right to the bulb.)  We snipped out the ring at the center, leaving the four branching rods sort of poking out loosely; those rods are what tuck between the existing ceramic fixture and the ceiling, like this:


They’re not attached to anything, they’re just tucked under there.  Clever!   A couple of them got a little wobbly, fixed with some hot glue. 


So much better.  Doesn’t it look like it leads somewhere a lot more exciting than the laundry room?  It has a secret, beckoning quality, like it leads to something dark and mysterious and wonderful.  It’s an intriguing lampshade.  I like that a whole lot. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Slouch Hat and a Giveaway

Slouch hats, how I love them.  I have so many already, and it never seems like enough.  This is my first crocheted hat ever, and I am sold.  Look how slouchy it is!  The pattern is from Crochet Boutique by Rachael Oglesby, a review copy of which arrived in my mailbox a couple weeks ago.  
The stash is still a slave to the Log Cabin Blanket (Part four is underway.  So close.) so I made a scrappy striped version of the slouch hat, which was tremendous fun and which turned out great.  It’s worked at a fairly loose gauge, so it isn’t going to keep the wind out, but it’s perfect for the weekend, when my hair is all over the place (which is every weekend) and when I want to wear my skinny jeans and pirate shirt and hang out in coffee shops.  
My beautiful model has gone away back to Hogwarts, so I held auditions.  Her BFF, who would look awesome in this slouchy hat, and who would enjoy the pompom very, very much, is also away at Hogwarts and could not be reached.  I thought to model it myself, but could not do so without making duck lips at the camera like a teenager updating her Facebook profile picture.  The boy sarcastically volunteered, and I laughed until he put on the slouch hat and looked just like the Head Longshoreman of the Christmas Elves, which was totally perfect, but I wanted a goofy picture and he wouldn’t let me, so I had to resort to the alien head. 
There are a whole bunch of things I want to make from this book.  The designs are simple, and they’re lush, too, cuddly, with big soft yarns and stitches.  I love this kind of design—plain, but gorgeously executed.   Lots of lovelies.  It’s a keeper. 
Rachael has sent me this, too: 
 Kasey with cowl 2
It’s the Cuddle Cowl, modeled here by a willing friend and crocheted by Rachael herself, and she thought I might like to offer it to one of you guys.  
For a chance to win this beautiful, original, super-cozy piece of crochet, please leave a comment on this post.  I’ll choose a winner next Friday, 9/28.  Thanks, Rachael.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Zinnia Pillow Cover

Again with the scraps.  Wait, I just thought of this:  I don’t know why they don’t sell little teeny balls of worsted weight yarn in a whole bunch of colors, like 25 yards of everything (I know I’d buy those by the bagful)--somebody, quick, jump on this idea, and then send me the link to your etsy shop--but I am in the happy position of having made so many blankets that I have a lot of scraps, in lots of colors.  I once thought I should probably use those up, since they were adding up fast and it was making me feel bad, but now I know how lovely, how really creatively wonderful it is to have a generous palette like that at my disposal.  (I’m serious, I think this is a great business idea.  Little balls of yarn, scraps for sale. Take it, it’s yours!)
So, the zinnia pillow cover (pattern here).  I didn’t know whether it would be a pillow cover or a blanket or a bag or what, until I reached 25 squares and sort of felt like I was over the whole thing and my wrists hurt, which is what happens when you do almost the entire project in one day while listening to an audiobook of Anna Karenina (can you believe I’ve never read that?  I know, I can’t either!) and by the time I’d decided that I both love and hate Vronsky, which actually isn’t much of a decision, but he’s a charming cad, isn’t he, I was just ready to be done with it—the zinnia pillow cover, that is, and it (I knew it would) looks just like zinnias.  Gorgeous summer flower, I miss you already. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Early Fall



Oh, these early autumn days are so gorgeous.  That low, slanting light and the blue, blue sky…it just sends me.  I want to photograph everything.

I also want to keep sewing skirts. 


Although I’ve exhausted the stash, skirt-fabric-wise.  In fact, that one on the right?  The beige linen one?  That’s my Sound of Music skirt—it’s made from a curtain. 


It wasn’t being used as a curtain at the time, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have taken it off the wall to make clothes.  I once cut buttons off a shirt in my husband’s closet because I needed them for something else. 

Speaking of buttons, I want to show you how I made the button closure.


I threaded a piece of #5 Perle cotton onto a big-eyed needle and ran it through the end of the waistband (which in this case is just a bias edging) and made two loops.  I made sure the button I was planning to use would fit—snugly—through the loops, and then I began making little knots around the loops, like this:




When the loop was covered with knots, I fastened off the end by running it into the interior of the skirt, between the curtain linen and the gingham lining, and knotted it.  For all I know this is an actual technique (maybe called “buttonhole stitch” or whatever, who knows) and my mama may have taught it to me, I have no idea.  I’ve just always done it when I need a loop closure.  It’s handy, and I don’t have to go to the store.


This one is a wrap skirt, made using the same pattern.  I lined it with (what else) gingham and then sewed a bias edging around the whole thing.  Then I added two buttons at the waistband, and hand-sewed two buttonholes to meet them. 


Whoops, I’m late for school!  Gotta go. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hansel and Gretel School Skirt

DSCF1024a Every time the seasons change, I get a little bit amped up, as if now I’m going to get it together with a new wardrobe and exercise regimen and whatnot, and I’ll change my whole life and start writing self-help books and getting my own show on the Oprah Network.  Or maybe I’ll just make some school clothes, even though I haven’t been to school in a really, really long time.  It feels right, you know?   The leaves have begun to change and there’s that coolness in the evenings, and storybook skirts with cabled hand knit socks suddenly seem like the best idea in the world.  I can change my life, a little.  I can have a new skirt. 


I had this idea, at 11:00 at night, to start sewing some school clothes, so before I went to bed, I dug around in the stash and found this piece of denim, leftover from a failed pair of jeans (more on that later, jeepers, what a disaster…) a couple yards of brown and white checked gingham, a length of cotton lace (thrifted, please don’t hate me) and that incredible, gorgeous, fairytale piece of jacquard ribbon, bought at full price (feel better?) from a fabric shop two years ago, with no project idea in mind at all, but with the sure knowledge that it was meant to be mine. 


I already had the zipper, I already had the button (one of a whole bunch—thrifted—the card on which says, “Pewter Buttons from Norway” (don’t you just love that?  LOVE?)  Then I went to bed, feeling like I do on Christmas Eve and my mom is telling me she can hear sleigh bells and I should go to sleep right away.  Just so excited, you know?  I could not wait to sew this skirt. 


The pattern on the ribbon reminds me of “It’s a Small World.” 


There’s the lining, with hem facing and everything, and the hem, with bias binding I made myself, going all the way around.  The pattern is so simple, an A-line skirt, drafted to fit me (with help from this book) and customizable all kinds of ways—you can make a fitted-waist skirt like this one with a zipper and button closure, you can make a wrap skirt, both with or without linings, you can make your favorite jersey knit Alabama Chanin-style sweatpants fakeout skirt, and probably a few other things I’ve never tried yet, too.  There is only one pattern piece, and the rest comes from experience and (as in my case) haphazard guessing/getting lucky. 


I made the socks a long time ago (in KnitPicks Bare), and hardly ever get to wear them.  I think they have been begging me for a skirt like this ever since they came off the needles.  Clessidra socks, this is your big moment. 

I want to buy some new pencils and walk in the mornings, shushing leaves on the sidewalk, and draw maps and read Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and have milk and cookies and maybe naptime, too.  That’s cozy.    

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Scarborough Faire Tunic



The day after Alicia posted about the beginnings of her wonderful Nomad dress and sent me over the edge again, I was wandering around in the thrift shop and there, between the white wicker bathroom shelves and the electric hair rollers, I found the pattern for this tunic.  For 69 cents. 


It is McCalls 4031, dated who knows when.   With a little teeny bit of math, combined with eyeballing (usually the best method anyway) I converted it to patchwork and raided my stash of vintage and thrifted fabrics to make this.  That big roll of cotton lace trim is also thrifted.   (Really, what isn’t at this point?)   I had to add a tie at the back, to avoid looking like a total circus tent, and then it became perfect. 


I love it, but I’m not sure…maybe a little too much Mrs. Roper?  Dean said it looked like “peasant going to the festival” and I just took that and ran with it.  If you could sum me up right now, it might be in that sentence fragment.  Peasant Going to Festival.  So picture me with long (ha) blonde (haha) braids and a flower-covered tambourine, dancing barefoot in a field of clover, tipsy on elderberry wine and humming Joni Mitchell songs.  That’s what this shirt is for, even though I’ll probably just wear it to the hardware store where they’ll look at me funny. 


Sometimes, I just love to make clothes. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dappled Shade



The last few days have been hot and windy and dry, and it’s so hard to be indoors.  Yesterday I spread a quilt in the dappled shade and read an entire book. I tried (in vain) to make a chair out of two pillows and a tree.  My hair grew wild in the wind, blowing into my eyes and the pages of the book flapped and fluttered, and at one point, the cover tore off and sailed into the bushes. Leaves and half-ripe crabapples tumbled down onto my head.  My dress lashed against my legs.  There’s been some knitting, but mostly not.  There’ve been blackberries at $1.00 a pint, and millions of tomatoes, and a bit of sewing (more later!) and laundry.  So much of that.  When it’s hot and windy, I get to washing things.  Sheets on the clothesline whip and snap like sails, and everything is dry in about four minutes.  


There is a rustling grayness to the garden now, a spent quality.  Exhaustion.  Readiness.   See the spider?  The wind broke his web and he has (yiiiiikes!) vanished again.  I’m giving those tomatoes up.  Forget it.  Not worth it.  Goodness only knows what all could be lurking in there.  One day awhile ago, I reached down into the deep thicket that is the center of this tomato patch, and suddenly felt something clinging to my finger.  It was a cicada the size of a pony, just clutching my finger like a baby, its skinny legs curled like a tendril.  It was unexpected, this clinging, and I screamed.  Cicadas look prehistoric, probably because they are.  He jumped calmly onto a leaf, looking bored, and I got my wits about myself long enough to peer at him.  His eyes looked like marbles.