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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Midnight in a Pine Forest Cowl

I adapted the Lacy Leaf Alpaca-Angora Hat pattern by Bonnie Evans (from 101 Luxury Yarn One Skein Wonders) into a cowl. I added a few repeats of the pattern and didn’t have any of the hat decreases. I used two rows of the green, then two rows of the purple, and continually alternated every two rows. It ended up looking like it was one yarn when side-by-side people told me they didn’t match! I really like the finished product. It’s soft without feeling hairy-wooly (and I still love wooly-feeling wools).

I’ve used this lace pattern several times before, once as a hat, and once as another cowl. It was only of the third time around that I actually found the leaves in the pattern. They’re not really discernible by any of the pictures.

This was sitting expectantly in the “Christmas give-away box” until two Sundays ago. I was wearing my purple shirt and green skirt. I couldn’t find a scarf to wear and I immediately grabbed this. It’s too lovely to give away! I promise I’m making more gifts for the gift box, but this one has to stay. This works perfectly with my purple-dominated wardrobe. It’s also my first Koigu. The two yarns are a tonal, smoky purple Koigu Painter's Palette Premium Merino, and the second is a similarly tonal, smoky, pine green from the same line of Koigu. It’s expensive (these were just remnants that cost $16) so only for tiny projects like a cowl.

I bought these remnants from a knitting group friend who actually visited the Koigu factory in Canada. She brought back beautiful yarn, great stories, and remnants to sell. I couldn't leave these! They sat in my “special yarn” box for 8 months until I figured out how I could use them together. When I striped them together, they really don't looked striped. It just looks like midnight in a pine forest, with rich, hazy hues of a dark sky streaked with purple clouds. Moonlight filters through pine boughs.

Anyway, I've become a little more focused on cowls recently. I now have four: two are mine to keep (this one and a pink angora one) and two are to give for Christmas. Once I get the ends woven in and pictures taken outside, I'll post pictures of the gifts.

I'm also currently knitting a quick clutch called the “Clutch You'll Never Give Up” from Leigh Radford's book “One Skein: 30 Quick Projects to Knit and Crochet.” I'm actually knitting with the yarn called for in the pattern (which is quite rare for me). I'm using Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky (85% wool, 15% mohair). I end up wearing most of the mohair. :) It looks ridiculously huge now. I will make this huge monster in faith and then toss it into someone's washing machine and watch it be transformed into a cute, small clutch. Then I can decorate with buttons. I'll be sure to take before-and-after felting photos.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Family

Today, I had spaghetti for lunch. Immediately, I was back in my Grandma Ann's kitchen. I'm sitting at a glass table with all my cousins and siblings crammed into a kitchen nook probably meant for four. Except now, the kitchen nook also contains the little cafe shutters that have gotten stuck over the years and won't close all the way. And the Christmas cactus is in its wicker basket plant stand. The adults got to eat in the dining room, which wasn't less cramped at all. First there's the buffet table that was never used for food but stored china and silver and displayed glass decorations. In one corner that would have been comfortable way to get around the table, there is a glass tea trolley with cut glass bowls of gum drops and peppermints. On the walls there is a purple, abstract painting that my Papa Larry purchased years ago. No one has any idea what it is. It looks like a bunch of tiny purple rectangles, maybe (?) in the shape of the continental US. I don't know. On the other wall is a oil painting of an Italian village, with a friendly-looking villager leading his loaded donkey up the street. Grandma always sat at the head of the table by the big picture window looking into the backyard. My great-grandfather, Poppy, sits at the other head. Because the table is extended to full capacity, his chair sticks out into the parlor. Back in the kitchen, eleven grandchildren vie for more leg room. As Grandma hurries back into the kitchen to get something out of the oven, she reminds us not to scratch the table. We laugh, tell stories, make faces. When dinner is over, Grandma insists on doing the dishes by herself. She won't even let my mom or Auntie Deb do them. She's afraid we'd chip the plates. And her plates are now worth $13 a plate and she doesn't want to have to replace them. In the midst of the chaos as the doors from the kitchen to the dining room swing back and forth, knocking children in the head and nearly toppling precarious stacks of $13 plates, my Grandma's Soft Coated Wheaten terrier, Meggie, manages to get underfoot all the time.

When dishes are done and the dishwasher is making its racket, the adults pour the drinks in the dining room. Pop wants to play cribbage and so my mom and Grandma play with him. I can hear him yelling when he's loosing and laughing intimidatingly “I skunked you! I skunked you!” whenever he wins. Unfortunately, he's not a very good loser. In the kitchen, the grandchildren play Rummy, Uno, or Mexican Train. The domino tiles for Mexican train make Grandma worried we'll chip the table. As the evening wears on and the adults have drifted into quieter conversation, we play Uno with Pop. I lay down a green 7. He lays down a blue 5. We try to explain to him that he can't do that, but he's deaf and mostly colorblind (he's in his nineties), so he keeps swearing he's right and we're trying to trick him. And my grandma shouts “Not in front of the children, Pop!” We love every minute of it.

The next morning, Pop comes over with his caregiver, Miss Dolly, and a box full of donuts. Our mothers make us eat some decent breakfast (sausage and eggs) before allowing us the donuts. My favorite is a Bavarian cream filled donut. Pop always eats a peanut covered donut. He breaks it in half and feeds the other, rather conspicuously, to Meggie, who has quite a sweet tooth. We've called Pop the Donut Man for years. He never failed to bring the donuts, until he was too old to get them himself. Then Grandma would buy them, the exact same order every time, so we could still have donuts. I only ever ate donuts at my grandma's house. I don't think they could taste as good anywhere else. Besides, everything tasted better when I was an enchanted seven-year-old and my mother pretended not to want me to have donuts.

That night, everyone would drive over to Pop's house and then go en masse to his club for dinner. It took an hour to get to the club in DC traffic. All the grandkids would drink Shirley Temples. Normally we wouldn't fit at one table, so again, the grandchildren got their own table. I have one brother, two sisters, and seven cousins. We definitely filled our own table and the nine adults (my two uncles, two aunts, my Grandma, Pop, Miss Dolly, and my parents). We were quite a crowd. My dad always looked stressed because of driving through traffic and having to get four kids to wear nice clothes to dinner. But after dinner got started, everything went better. My cousin would tell jokes. I'd laugh whenever my older cousins did, not really sure if it was something appropriate to laugh at. Afterward, we'd do family photos in the club's gardens.

Sometimes I would ride home with Pop and my brother. It was a little difficult getting set up. Pop would need a fresh oxygen tank by the time dinner was over. After that was replaced, it need to be put in its little trolley. The oxygen tank and trolley would be on the passenger side where Miss Dolly sat. And Pop would drive. My brother and I would sit in the back, of course. The first time I ever had any second thoughts about Pop driving us around was when, in Fairfax County, VA (extremely busy), Pop would say “Kids! Look left. Look right. Any cars coming?” Based on our answer, he would go. He was probably 92 the last time he drove us. He was just plain too stiff to turn his neck far enough to look. Miss Dolly didn't drive, so that meant my Grandma had to drive him around, or he drove.

In the parlor, there is a white sofa with matching white chairs. It is definitely a grandmother's house: not exactly child-proof. On the abstract coffee table, that is precariously balanced on a diagonal plane, there are about twenty-five pots of African violets: all different colors. The piano sits in the corner, only played when the grandchildren come. It was the piano my mom and Auntie Deb played as children. My cousin and I play each other songs; she plays the songs from Pirates of the Caribbean and I play Amazing Grace.

When it's time for bed, Uncle Craig and Aunt Patty take their three kids home. They live only an hour away. Upstairs, I sleep with Grandma in the master bedroom. My siblings sleep in the little bedroom with the two single beds that used to be my mom's. My two little sisters share one bed and my brother gets the other. Momma said that one year she wanted it painted pea soup green, and it was. She was in fourth grade and after a year she was so tired of it! Anyway, my Aunt Deb and Uncle Tim sleep in her old bedroom (which is much larger). Some of their kids sleep on air mattresses on the floor. My mom and dad sleep in the blue room with its blue curtains and bed spread. The room is a little crowded with the treadmill and the spinning bike. During the day, we (the grandchildren) play on the bike to make it spin the fan really quickly. Our mothers always end our fun; they think we're going to get our fingers cut off in the fan. I don't blame them; we were pretty dangerous. There'd be someone on the bike, a couple people sitting on the treadmill (that didn't work), and all the others would be playing close to the bike with the game from the closet. We're eventually banished to the basement. We can ride the tricycle in the basement, play school (there's a huge chalkboard), and do art at the large craft table my grandma has set up for us. My sisters especially like playing with the large dolls in the blue room.
Even though my grandmother and great-grandfather both died two years ago, the wonderful memories of family time spent living, laughing, and loving together will never be forgotten. Their focus on family and caring for one another has influenced me greatly. Every moment was precious. I hope to be as loving and caring as my grandmother was. She made each birthday special, spending time planning out the perfect gift to bless the person. I definitely learned how to give gifts from my grandmother. She would drive down for almost every single birthday we ever had. When she would arrive in our driveway in her Toyota Camry, everyone would be hugging and laughing, shouting for attention. We'd help her unload her car stuffed full of suitcases, birthday balloons, Meggie in her dog crate, and boxes of brightly wrapped presents. Although she was only packing for one person, she stuffed that car full! I am also like my grandmother in how I pack. When the two of us would go on trips, or I would stay with her for a week, we really struggled to fit everything in her car because both of us were bringing two houses-full of everything but the kitchen sink.

This photo is of my grandmother and I at Goodberry's in Cary. My grandmother always called it Gooseberry's. :) I have this photo hanging on my wall above my white board. Having this photo helps me remember when I get discouraged about school because I know she would be telling me to do my best, work hard, love hard, and honor God with my work.She was a wonderful cheerleader through every moment, even when I didn't do well, or simply wasn't good at something.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cupcake Beret

I found Alice Starmore’s book about Aran knitting at the library. This is such a beautiful book, filled with complex sweaters and some of the history behind the Aran knitting history. I used the stitch dictionary in the beginning of the book to make this hat. I used a plait and a honeycomb cable stitch. I’m going to write up this pattern shortly.

I originally designed this to fit a 10 year old girl, but I guess my math was off. I realized that I need to have many, many more stitches than a normal hat in order to have the “poof” of a cupcake beret. It’s perfect for a 2 year old. I added the I-cord knot at the top to finish off the quaint “little girl” look to it. It really looks like a cupcake.

I used a soft acrylic yarn called “Marble” that I purchased from my local yarn store, Great Yarns (in Raleigh), that slowly transitions between pinks, purples, and white plied with another gray ply. This two-ply yarn has the look of a hand-spun.

Happy Knitting!

Cranberry Leaves Cowl

Last Thursday evening, I ripped out a scarf I had knit in stockinette stitch 3 years ago. At that stage, I had still rudimentary knowledge of knitting fabric and only put a few stitches in seed stitch on either edge. The fabric curled horribly. The yarn was over-spun so it tilted the fabric (in a flat piece). That problem was solved when worked in the round.

I think this cotton-blend cowl will be perfect for my friend. She likes scarves, and the temperatures drop at night, but not enough to want some seriously fuzzy wool. I love this pattern. Right now (probably because it’s fall), I’m obsessed with leaf patterns, so it was a very satisfying knit. I’ve been mulling over the idea of using this stitch pattern in a hat. I haven’t figured out how to do the decreases for the crown yet.

So this was a very fulfilled project: beautiful and soft, especially for those who aren't used to a crunchy, fuzzy wool. I’ll definitely be using the Take it or Leaf it Cowl pattern again. Great quick knit for Christmas presents. I’m still debating with myself whether EVERY cousin needs something handmade. If they do, I’m in for a lot of knitting!

I never had a tag for this yarn, so I don’t know what exactly it is. It feels like cotton, but it might have been blended with something else. Here in the pictures I am modeling the Cranberry Leaves Cowl, with my sisters doing the photography.

Happy Knitting!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Knitted Toys (and all the joys of knitting for children)

I have completely finished another bunny from my treasured copy of “Last Minute Knitted Gifts” and had my adorable neighbor model for me. I was chatting with her dad in the street about snapping some pictures of his little one with the rabbit (and whether she would mind giving it up) when she spotted it and came running over. She played with it for about two minutes while I took pictures rather quickly. She then dropped the bunny in the leaves and returned to her trike. The last picture is actually just after I handed her the bunny. She’s running away with it. :)

I have two wrap-me-up puppies (Itty-Bitty Toys) in the makings. Two bodies finished are finished. I still have to work up the gumption to knit all those fiddly arms and legs on four double pointed needles.

Below are the Christmas gifts from two years ago that were for my sisters. They have been almost loved to death. Bunny (Sister 1 calls her Baby) got flattened from being slept with every night and her ears and kerchief were felted. When my sister cried, she would cry on her rabbit and rub the ears as she fell asleep. I never thought my sister could actually felt something with tears and affection, but she has!

Bear has been equally loved and thus, pilled. However, I’m so happy that someone loved this critters enough to wear them out.

Knitting Notes: I would not do the limbs flat and seam them again. It’s too much work. Next time I’ll work the limbs on double pointed needles. I used the Palette held double and the Shadow (for the inner bunny ears) held triple. I used the Fisherman’s Wool for Bear. Definitely not as soft as Bunny.

The last picture is of all my knitted animals (all right, all but one) that I have made. The other (a wrap-me-up puppy) was given to a neighbor's baby (the baby posing with the bunny in the first pictures), and, I am told,  was equally loved. Children, it seems, when they love things, love with abandon. Remember those blankets and stuffed animals that went everywhere? That get loved until they have holes, and even when it is beyond recognition, is still toted around forever? Although I like my knitted gifts to remain in nice condition, I would much prefer that the child actually plays with the toy that just looks at it sitting on a nursery shelf. Even if it gets holes, and pills, and felts, it was well worth making the creature to be so well loved.

What are your favorite items to knit for children? Toys? Hats? Something else?

Happy Knitting!

Gift Knitting! and Ways to Volunteer with Knitting

Hats and scarves are tried-and-true gift knits. They typically are quick knits and are wonderful canvas for trying new stitch pattern and using smaller amounts of yarn (two skeins of yarn or less).

Here is one of my favorite gift knits. Babies are often the perfect recipients for hand-knit hats. They're so angelically soft and small! However, the bonnet in this picture is the second bonnet I knitted for this baby because she outgrew the first one so quickly. Her mother enjoys the hand-knits and I like having someone appreciate them, so her baby got another bonnet. :)


Sometimes, however, despite all a knitter's plotting and planning, the gift doesn't work. It's too big, too small, or the wrong color. It ends up in a "cannot wear but cannot give away because it was made for me" box. Last year, two of my gifts ended up in that category. The gifts I lovingly made for my parents, unfortunately, were both too small. Neither of them wanted to disappoint me or tell me that the hats were too small, but they couldn't wear them. I noticed and they offered them back. I've re-gifted them to my siblings who are smaller and fit perfectly. Here's the hugs and kisses cabled hat that will be my sister's for Christmas.

I had her model the XO's hat without telling her it's one of her Christmas gifts. Doesn't the blue hat make her blue eyes pop?

Some other projects I'm working on include baby hats for Rex Hospital's postpartum nursery. I volunteered on that ward last year and got to see the families enjoying the hand-knit and crocheted hats that volunteers make for each baby. Unfortunately, the hospital is experiencing a shortage of hand-made hats, so I'm knitting for those babies. There's something very rewarding knowing that someone I've probably never met will be encouraged by a hand-knit cap for their baby. If you are a knitter/crocheter and are willing to make hats, below are two links, one will the description of all the craft volunteer opportunities at Rex and the other with the baby cap patterns. The caps need to be made from any machine washable yarn that is soft for a baby's skin, preferably acrylic or cotton. The caps can be dropped off at the Volunteer Office on the main campus of Rex Hospital.


I'm also working on other gifts that will soon be posted. Happy Knitting!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why do I knit?

I knit to satisfy an urge to create. I love using my hands to make things and I love to give gifts, so knitting combines this. I knit to wrap my family and friends with a tangible object that will warm them and encourage them. Currently I'm busy knitting Christmas and birthday gifts for my family and friends. You will be seeing many gift projects on this blog until January when I can begin working on my personal projects. Gift knitting provides me with the opportunity to try new stitch patterns or a new yarn. I also want my gifts to be practical: something the recipient will both love and use often. I don't want the gift just sitting in a box, so I try to notice what colors the person wears, and what kind of item they would appreciate (scarves, hats, mittens, etc.). Relatives and friends have been very helpful by telling me what colors their mother or friend wears so I can create the gift for them long-distance without seeing them regularly.

I'll begin posting pictures and stories shortly. Until then, Happy Knitting!