Thursday, January 31, 2013

Color and doubt


Sweater.  Very colorful, but only five colors.  I can’t believe how hard it is to choose only five colors.  Five colors is not very many, and they have to do all the work and provide all the complexity I usually rely on thirty different colors to accomplish.  They need to be compatible, but not too analagous, nor too primary, nor too dull, nor too neon, and they need to have value contrast, which is the most difficult part for me.  Unless I photograph the yarns and view them in black and white, I can’t see the values at all.  My brain sees pink yarn and thinks it must be lighter than the green yarn, because pink is a light color, right?  Right?  Usually, it turns out I’ve chosen five colors that are the exact same value as each other, which, for a project like this, won’t work. 


All the way through this colorwork section, I was feeling a little hinky about my yarn choices.  So close to primary colors, which I resist like crazy.  I changed my mind once and started over.  I swapped stuff out, bought new yarn, went back to the original plan, swapped stuff out again.  Doubt.  Finally, there was nothing to do but plow ahead or give up, so I plowed ahead.


Wait, that looks pretty good!  Don’t you love it when that happens?  When something you dreamed up seems like it’s going all sideways, but then it doesn’t?  When it looks like you imagined?  The best.  (Hey, is that a steek in there?  Am I going to cut that with scissors??  Yes, yes I am.  Gulp.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013



Not bad for a selfie photo.  There’s a bit of lint on my sweater, but I’m not being picky.


I loved making this.  I loved it so much I made another one for my BFF.  I might make a third, I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’m done with these yet.  


The charms are a mix of orphaned earrings, pendants, and doodads I made using beads from my collection.   Some of these things I’ve had for a looooong time—that square-ish looking clear dangler at the lower right corner is actually a crystal pyramid pendant I bought in a hippie shop back in 1986, maybe in hopes of cleansing my chakras or something.  That store had Janis Joplin sunglasses and ponchos made of blankets woven in the Andes, and incense burners shaped like the smiling Buddha—all the same stuff you can get at 6T’s now, but at the time, and I was a small-town girl, it seemed so, you know, authentic.  I had just read The Dharma Bums and was looking for Truth and Poetry, trying to care about tea leaves and handmade pottery.    I bought a silver yin/yang ring there, too, for six dollars.  That’s still around here somewhere. 


You want to get in touch with your inner hippie now, too?  I knew it, you guys are my people.  Okay, you’ll need a #5 steel crochet hook (one of those small, scary-ish ones) and some fingering weight yarn—I used Tahki Cotton Classic Lite.  You’ll also need to make (or procure) about thirty dangly charms.  For most of these, I just poked a headpin through the hole of a bead and wrapped it in a loop at the top, around the tip of some round pliers.  Make sure your crochet hook fits through the loop.  If your loop is too small, add a jump ring.  You’ll also need a two-hole button, with holes big enough for the yarn to fit through. 

Chain 232, and then sl st in 12th chain from hook, making a loop.  Work a whole bunch of scs into the loop, working all the way around it, until the loop is covered and you’re back where you started.  Sl st in the joining ch. 

Sc in next 4 chs, then place a charm.  Do this by sticking the tip of your hook through the loop or jump ring on your charm and then work the sc in the next ch, pulling the yarn through the loop.  *Sc 5, place charm; rep from * to end, sc 4.  Tie a knot, thread the two tails through the holes of the button and tie another knot.  You’re done!


It wraps four times, then the button goes through the loop to close.  You can make it shorter, or longer, or with fewer charms and more spaces between them, or put a charm in every sc if you wanna.  I tried to write this all down as I went, but the math and/or stitch counts might work out differently when you do it.  Be all hippie about it, all whatever, man.  And I dare you to make just one. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Las Vegas Cowl


I’ve been down with a bad case of the sniffles this week—ow, my throat hurts—but it hasn’t kept me in bed, so I guess it isn’t the flu, thank goodness for that.  I was still dumb enough to go out into the snow this morning for a photo shoot of this fabulous cowl, and it was –16 F.  That’s sixteen degrees below zero.  I know. 


This is the Inspira Cowl by celerystalk.  Mine looks nothing like what I usually make.  Where’s the gray?  Where’s the neutral?  I don’t know what happened here.  It’s sort of a Cathedral Stained-Glass thing, or Sunset Over L.A., or Vegas Through Bars on Window.  (I suppose all this could be the cold medicine talking.)  I prefer to blame it on the fact that I chose the yarn after dark, and the lighting in my work room is not that great. 


But in spite of its Elvis-Painted-On-Velvet vibe, I am still madly in love with it.  I can take no credit for the amazing color washes; that is all the magic of Noro.  This is Silk Garden 258 and 276, and the dark mullions between the peeks of color are Cascade 220, color 9413, which is a marled black/olive green.  (Why did I even have a marled black/green yarn in the stash?  I confess, I don’t know.  Thank goodness this pattern came along so it would be useful for something around here.) 


Inspira is a free pattern, but it’s really more a recipe than a pattern, which is fine with me.  It’s just a corrugated rib, done in staggered sections, and best shown in a yarn with long color repeats, especially two different color-repeating yarns.  Simple, and spectacular. 


Ugh, I can’t even talk without coughing.  Winter is so much fun. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stripes, Wool, and I Finally Learn Something Everyone Else Already Knows



See, this is my idea of a good time.  Endless stripes, in every color. 


No thinking required.  Well, not much anyway.  I choose the next five, ten, twenty colors, line them up in order, and just go on autopilot.  I read for awhile, then turn off all the lights and watch Harry Potter movies again, then maybe I lie on my bed and listen to podcasts, all the time knitting knitting knitting.  Nothing to it.  Just the calming clicking and slow, gentle, colorful progress. 


I’m helplessly whittling away at the stash.  Helpless because I look at the stash and I can’t help knitting something with it, all of it, all at once.  This project will probably take me awhile. I hope. I keep trying to cultivate a long-term project, with limited success so far. Fingers crossed.

It is snowing again.  Time to snuggle up.  I made a nest of blankets and island travel magazines and projects-in-progress, and I made a pot of chamomile tea and put it on the breakfast-in-bed tray that I am so glad I bought even though I was sure at the time that I’d never use it.


Hey, dumb rhetorical question: did you guys know that a wooly tea cozy will actually, literally, keep your tea from getting cold?  For, like, two hours???  Where have I been?  Drinking coffee is where, and I am not saying I’m a convert or anything, but listen, I did not, not until I actually tried it, truly believe a tea cozy would make that much difference.  I thought, you know, they look cute and stuff, but I thought the tea would still pretty much get cold before I could drink a whole pot.  Wrong!  I’m stunned.  Hot tea, still, two hours later.  Wool is amazing.  What else have I missed? 


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Atelier cardigan


The wind is pounding against the house, rattling anything that’s loose and probably loosening a few new things, too, but the sun is shining, and there are just a few puffy-looking fair weather clouds.  It sounds like we’re having a terrible storm, but the sky is blue as an iris in summer.  Weird.  Cold weather is coming. 


I finished Atelier, another Heidi Kirrmaier design.  I really had to have faith with this sweater—those mysterious garter stitch bands at the front were a little confounding, and I was convinced, based on past experience, that I would run out of yarn.  But I didn’t, at least not until I got to the pocket linings, which I had almost sort of decided to do in a different color anyway, so running out there was not a big deal.


I did use every single inch of six skeins of Silky Wool, which both lasts forever and also runs out on me, kind of like when you buy 32 rolls of toilet paper at the bulk store and then you’re amazed when you suddenly find you’ve used the last of it?  Like you thought this was so much toilet paper, just such a gigantic quantity, that you would have enough toilet paper to last your whole life?  Silky Wool is like that for me. 


This knit took a long time, and by the end, I was pretty ready to be done with it.  I had convinced myself it wasn’t going to fit (which of course it does, Heidi is a genius) and that the yarn would fail me (it didn’t) and that I don’t really need any more gray sweaters (that one is true) but after a nice bath and a nap in front of the fire (the sweater, not me) it has a wonderful drape, fits beautifully, and is soft and warm.  Just what you want from a little cardigan like this.  Ahhh, success. 



How do you like my new painting?  It is the work of my very talented daughter, and is called “Not a Lobster”.  Obviously. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013



Netflix is a wonderful thing.  We found this show recently, and I was both grossed out and also completely fascinated by the full-on weirdness.  I watched every episode in two days.  People are so interesting.  It put me in mind of crafting up a little fake taxidermy.

Materials:  moss, sticks, rocks, glass candle tray, tiny lime-green pretend bird, super glue, floral clay, glass dome.   These rocks came from--you’re going to love this—IKEA.  You can buy rocks at IKEA.  Hey, what if it’s winter and all the free rocks are under three feet of snow and you want to make something out of rocks?  It happens


I stuck a gob of clay to the glass tray and then arranged the rocks on it/in it.  I tucked the moss—gathered from the cracks in in the brick patio; happily, the snow had melted, so I didn’t have to get the moss from IKEA, I see you laughing at me—in between the rocks in a naturalistic/crafty sort of way, and laid a couple sticks up there too, so the pretend bird [from the sale bin at Michael’s] would have some firewood, I guess, I don’t know.  It seemed to need sticks.  Then I super-glued the fake bird’s plastic feet to one of the rocks. 


I just love stuff like this.  Nature, but slightly weird, a little creepy.  Have you seen Mister Finch?  So great, I’m in love. 

As soon as the glass dome went over the whole thing, I remembered this, too.  Inspiration is everywhere. 


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Homemade Handwarmers


Walking in the early morning is one of life’s most delicious things.  When I can drag myself out of my bed, that is, because people?  I am what you call a sleeper.  I love my comforts, and once I am all warm and snuggly somewhere, you can’t pry me out of there with anything less than a chocolate-covered millionaire.  I had to go out this morning, though, and whoa, it was so nice.  Our snow is completely gone, but the sun was shining, and the air was snapping with teeny snowflakes, and now and then I’d catch the faintest scent of wood smoke from someone’s stove.  I don’t know if there’s a nicer smell anywhere than wood smoke.  Maybe vanilla is nicer.  Or frangipani.  Whatever, anyway.  I was all warm in my wool coat and was clipping along the roadside feeling all fresh and brisk and rosy-cheeked, and my hands in my new mittens were so snug because, check it out, I had these little doodads in there next to my hands.


Why didn’t I think of this sooner????  I can only shake my head in wonder.  Such a brilliant little idea, these handmade handwarmers.  I spotted them in a magazine somewhere, who knows which one—Country Homes and Interiors, maybe?  I don’t know—and just went Well, yeah!   Having warm hands makes such a difference.  Huge, really.  (Feet too, that’s next.) 

To make these, all you do is get your husband to sacrifice a wool jacket that doesn’t fit him anyway (or get one at the thrift store) and cut out four circles.  To make mine, I traced around the rim of a big mug.  Sew two circles together with right sides facing, leaving a 2” opening.  Clip the seam and turn it right side out.  Fill with about 1/4 cup ceramic beans (if you have them) or real dried beans (if, like me, you don’t) and then stitch up the opening.  Work a blanket stitch all the way around the edge for decorative fanciness, and then make another one for the other hand.  Heat them in the microwave for 60-90 seconds.  (Don’t wander away from the microwave while they heat up.  You don’t want it to start smoking or worse…)  Then tuck one into each mitten and head confidently out into the weather.  They’ll stay nice and warm for about 30 minutes.  Yum. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Embroidered Mittens


We’re having a regular New York winter this year, thank goodness.  Not that I’m complaining about last winter, which was essentially nonexistent and the whole of January and February, those deep, dark months where we normally have to mount an expedition just to take out the trash, was balmy and bright and instead of knee-high snow boots I wore ballet flats with no socks.  [Let’s pause for a moment of nostalgic reflection…long sigh…] No, this year, it is cold, and we have our snow.  It is as it should be.  This is the North.  I need mittens. 

Sometimes I wear two pairs at once, multiple mitten layers, which really keeps the wind out.  And how do people wear gloves, anyway?  Don’t their fingers need each other?  Mine do.  Gloves look spiffy, but in the bitterness of January, my fingers get so cold they want to die.


I have a regular mitten pattern, and if you’re a knitter, you probably do too.  Mine is just a plain mitten with no fanciness, but I felt like making a pair of fancy-ish mittens.   I felt like making some gray mittens with embroidered flowers on them. 


A pair of mittens requires only one ball (less than 100g) of worsted weight yarn and an evening or two cozied up by the fire.  As I knit mittens, I always feel like Ma Ingalls, preparing for the Long Winter.  Making mittens feels like one of the cozies things a person can do. 

I made the mittens first, then began stitching the flowers, for which I used crewel wool and a large-eyed needle.  I started with the french knot centers, leaving the tails hanging out the front:


I dealt with the ends later, but having them out front where I could see them as I worked, instead of letting them dangle around inside the mitten where they could and did get in the way of every single stitch, was a lot easier. 


The petals were added last, just a few straight stitches in pink and yellow.  It was somehow hard to get a good picture of the finished mittens.  Everybody tried to help me:





Well, you get the idea.  They’re wooly and warm, but pretty, too.  I think you could do this even if you aren’t a knitter; just take some plain mittens you already have and stitch on a few flowers.   That’s the soul of cozy.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Crooked Lake Cottage Blanket


Of all the blankets I’ve made, this one comes the closest to me. It puts me in mind of 1975, and of our cottage at Crooked Lake in Northern Michigan, where my grandpa had built everything and the curtains were plastic, and all the blankets and pillowcases and quilts and dishes had come from somewhere else, the way they usually do in cottages, but especially there because an earlier, older cottage which had stood for years on that spot, was struck by lightning when I was very young, and burned to the ground. Everything in every cupboard was mismatched, all stuff Grandma didn’t feel like having in her real house. Later, after the new cottage was built, I found a bent and blackened silver spoon in the sand on the beach, the only trace of the first cottage I ever found.  There was a dinged-up fishing boat with a motor that would hardly ever start, and my brother and I slept in twin beds in a room that looked out into the woods.  Owls kept me awake at night.  My imagination ran totally amok in that place, in those woods.  I thought there were fairies everywhere, and witches and dwarves and gnomes, living under red-topped toadstools, hiding just beyond every fallen tree. 


I wanted there to be old things, secret passageways and heirlooms and things mysterious, handed down, imbued with time.  I thought always of the old cottage I hardly remembered, imagined it brimming with big cupboards bulging with things like this blanket.  I guess that is what I am doing.  Filling the cupboards. 


Goodness, making it was fun.  Those five-round granny squares go so quickly.  I used all scraps and leftovers, which is why the edging is a little bit scant—there wasn’t enough of much of anything to go all the way around it.  That’s okay, it’s big enough for just me; long enough to cover my toes and pull up to my chin . 


I see I’m falling back on this picot edging pretty much all the time, which I swear I wasn’t aware I was doing.  Memo for next time:  avoid the picots, try something new, sheesh. 


This blanket is made up of 12 columns x 14 rows of 5-round granny squares, using worsted weight wool and a US F hook. I joined the squares as I went.  There’s a good tutorial for joining as you go here, but in a nutshell, all you do is replace the chain stitch between the granny clusters with a single crochet into the corresponding space on the adjoining square.  I think it makes sense when you get there, but Lucy explains it a lot better.  Anyway, then I worked a single round of granny clusters all the way around the border, then a round of single crochet, then a round of picots, which I think in this case is something like *5 sc, (sc, ch3 sc) in next sc, repeat from * to end, making sure the corners look good.  I always just kind of fudge the picots at the corners. 


Because these are all leftovers, this blanket goes with everything.  It just matches my whole life in this house.  Burnt orange, turquoise, taupe, peony, copper, lime, fucshia, silver gray, navy, lilac, gold, umber, eggplant, blush, geranium.  A muted folk palette.  My palette.  Which, I guess, is really why this one feels so much like me. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Striped Leftovers Scarf


More plain knitting, because that’s just what I want to do right now.  (I’m also working on Atelier by Heidi Kirrmaier, which is adorable and clever, and which does have some plain knitting, but which is somehow requiring a lot of me at the moment.)  Anyway. 


This scarf is one enormously satisfying project.  Plain knitting + using up the leftovers + something beautiful purchased at Purl Soho (oh squeal, I love Purl) = one cozy scarf and a happy me.


This is one of those things that’s more a recipe than a pattern, and I’ll tell you what I did and then you can do what you do with it.  You will need about 500 yards of fingering weight yarn in a solid color.  If you want yours to look like mine, you can use Spud and Chloe Fine Sock  in “Tutu” (you’ll need two), and if you want the added bonus of having that yarn feel really special, you can get it on your pilgrimage to Purl when you visit New York.  (Make sure you take it on the Staten Island Ferry, and go out onto the open deck at the back where the wind will just about tear the bag from your arms and into the harbor.  Just about, but not quite.  You’ll feel like you’ve rescued the yarn at that point, and it will want to sit in the cupboard for a long time being special, but don’t let it.)  You’ll also need a big bag of sock yarn leftovers in a whole bunch of colors.  The more colors the better.  This is the place to use up those last little bits. 


With the solid, cast on about 80 (90?  100?  whatever is about double the finished width you want) stitches and knit two rows in stockinette stitch.  Join any one of the various beautiful sock yarn bits and knit two rows in stockinette.  Knit two more rows in solid.  Two more rows of leftover bits.  Two solid.  Two bits.  Etc.  When the remnant of colorful yarn bit runs out or you get sick of it, cut it and start another one, knitting it always in two row intervals, alternated with the solid.  Watch subtitled movies.  Look people in the eye.  Gaze pensively out the window at the falling snow.  Carry on conversations with your family that don’t include “Shh, I’m counting!” and “Wait, what?” 


When it’s long enough—measure this by trying it on, of course—end with two rows in solid for symmetry and then bind off.  Sew it up at the ends and up the long side, and then (please) give it a nice blocking with a steam iron.   Now it is double-thick (yum) and super-soft (because this is sock yarn) and stripey and colorful and trendy (I just made that up).  Wear it with pride, and start another one immediately.  Because—and I don’t want to deceive you here--this will in no way make a dent in your sock yarn leftovers.  Sock yarn leftovers are interminable.  Sigh. 


Happily, as always, one idea leads to another.  Oh, I love yarn.