Wednesday, December 21, 2011

last minute finish (2 of 3)

Ok, so the ends on the second sock aren't woven in yet (just tucked inside for the photo) but I am calling this gift done!

These socks are for Daughter, and wow have her feet grown! I can't believe how looonnnnng I have to make her socks!

I was concerned about running out of yarn, so I coordinated a skein of Heart & Sole "watercolor stripe" with the same brand in plain ivory for heels and toes. It looks like I would have actually had enough to make it using just the stripe, but that's ok, they look nice like this.

On to a hat for Hubs. And maybe an ornament for our awesome speech therapist to go with the gift card and chocolate bar I got today.....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

last minute finish (1 of 3?)

Wow, how is it December 20? Seriously, Christmas will be here and done in about 4 seconds. Not sure how that happened when it seems like the first day of school was, like, yesterday.

Christmas prep felt extremely disorganized this year. As I explained it to someone this morning, it feels like a final exam where you're frantically scribbling everything you can into a blue book, and then the prof says "pencils down!" You're out of time so you're finished, even though you feel you could have done more, done better...but that's it, you have to just accept what you were able to accomplish and hope for the best.

Everything seems challenging right now because I constantly have to shove my son into his puffy jacket and then into his carseat, then put his boots/hat/mittens on when we get to the store (because of course he takes it all off in the car), lift and finagle him into the cart, try to get everything we need while not letting him see the gifts and stocking stuffers that are for him, etc, etc, etc. You know how it goes. Hopefully next year he will be in half-day preschool and I will be able to pull it together a lot better. 

I wanted to make more stuff for Christmas but it just didn't happen. AJ has his red sweater, Daughter has her black corduroy jumper lined with Laurel Burch cat fabric, my nephew is getting his framed sampler, my niece should have received her jumper, leggings and white sweater yesterday, and Daughter will be getting her Kina sweater:

Getting the color right was hopeless, believe me I tried. It's a pretty grape-y reddish purple in real life.

I used about 1.5 skeins of Wool Ease sportweight for this, and a button I've had for ages. All stash stuff. US 5 needle. It took a long time to knit. I hope she will wear it. I don't know...I've decided I'm not a fan of "shaping" made by enormous increases at the yoke, like in this sweater and the tea leaves/tiny tea leaves sweaters. I prefer a more fully fashioned approach. (So does Daughter...she never ever wears the tiny tea leaves sweater I made for her.)

I still have a pair of socks I'm hoping to finish for Daughter (one done, one started) and Hubs has requested a "slouchy, skater-type hat in a browny-grayish-green color" which at this time is a ball of cascade 220 heather yarn sitting in my knitting basket.

4 days to go...can I do it?

Monday, December 12, 2011

ho ho ho, it's a Christmas F.O.

Ok, I've got some cookies done, the tree is up and decorated, I not only took the kids' Christmas picture but I actually turned it into Christmas cards and sent them out. I think all the gifts are bought except for one or two little things, and now I just need to focus on finishing up the last of the knitted gifts for my own family members.

Still, I feel massively behind. And you? Ah, the holidays.

I'm psyched to have finished the last knitted gift to send away:

It's so cute and wee! This is a sweet, lacy cardigan for my baby niece to go over the tiny jumper/tunic I showed in my last post. It's from Leisure Arts "Baby Layettes Book 2" (#460). I used a skein of Stylecraft WonderSoft Baby 4 Ply that I found in my stash, and US 5 needles. This is one of those patterns where you get different sizes merely by changing needle size, so it can be knit on 4, 5, or 6 depending on what you want. I went with the middle size, which is supposed to equate to 3 months.

It's a little foo-foo and twee, but it was an interesting enough knit, and it cost me nothing since I had the yarn on hand (yay!). I have to go hunt down 3 buttons, which I'll do after it's completely dry. 

I put the blocking board on my dining room table to take a photo, and then I laughed and had to take this one - the "keepin' it real" shot:


Hope your holiday preparations are coming along!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

tiny (and frugal) baby tunic

Oops, once again I didn't mean to be gone so long. I was having, uh, mood issues. The combo of constant dark, dreary days, my general anxiety problem, and Hubs being away on a boondoggle business trip had me barely able to get out of bed and function, much less create and blog. But hey, today I feel myself coming out of it, hallelujah, so I need to take advantage. 

There's bread dough rising, I made a batch of muffins to use up the homemade applesauce that's been languishing in the fridge, and I managed to get a photo taken of the one handmade Christmas gift that's actually finished. Above you see a wee baby tunic for my sweet niece.

This is Simplicity 4243, in XS (7-13 lbs). The baby was 8.5 lbs as of last week when I spoke with my sister-in-law, so I figured this size should get her through Christmas. They live in SoCal, so I went with just the tunic (view D) rather than the longer dress. She can hopefully wear this with some little red leggings, which I hope to find pretty quickly so I can send them with the tunic, along with a white onesie and the white lacy sweater that I hope to finish in time (needs 1.5 sleeves and it is done). 

The frugal part is that this fabric was Daughter's Christmas jumper 4 years ago, when she was just 2 1/2 years old and I was about 5 minutes pregnant with AJ. Ah, the good old days, when I only had half the gray hair I have now. Anyway, I had maybe - maybe - a half yard of this corduroy. I had to smooth and adjust and smooth and adjust some more until the pattern just fit on the fabric. It was extremely simple to construct...just a front and two backs, a zipper, and some bias binding. I made that myself because I find the storebought stuff to be too stiff for tiny babies. Mine is just black quilting cotton cut 1.5" wide, folded in half, stitched to the right side, then turned to the back and topstitched. The only really tricky part was those tiny armholes. They did not fit around the free arm of my machine so there was some fabric gymnastics involved in getting that binding sewn down.

But it worked! And it is so sweet and wee and soft. I love it and hope they do too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

wool soakers for sale!

I realize there are about 6 people who read here, but I'll throw this out there anyway, just in case (or if you know anyone who could use one)...

I've got 4 newborn wool soakers, available to ship right now, for sale on etsy. There are two in this oatmeal color (a tan/gray mix), one in petal pink, and one in royal blue. The pink and blue are marked WAY down to just $12 because they have been sitting here unsold for quite some time and I'd rather they be used by a newborn baby than sit in my house! 

My soakers are made with the same attention to detail I give to knitted items for my own children. Each is handmade carefully, hand washed in Eucalan lavender wool wash, and air dried. 

First class shipping to the continental US is always included in the price. These soakers are really cute, have very stretchy cuffs, and a tall waist for warmth, absorbency, and extended use as baby grows longer/taller. And they do not have to be used only with cloth diapers! They make a sweet cover for any kind of diaper, and are warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

I've taken down my "custom order" slots for now because I have so much going on for the holidays (and many things I want to make for my own family) but I could definitely squeeze in one or two of these each week from now until Christmas (though for Christmas arrival, the item(s) would have to be shipped by the 19th at the very latest). If there is interest, please leave a comment here or contact me through etsy. I will also be attempting to add a few "scrappy" soakers using my leftover wool between now and the end of the holiday season. 

Real post coming soon! Thanks! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My husband fixed the dryer. He found the part he needed on ebay for about $30 (1/3 of the price at the local appliance repair places) and in an hour it was back in working order. The hardest part was getting the panels off so he could access the innards. FYI, it was the igniter (gas dryer), and was not difficult to replace. So if you have a decent dryer that just stops heating, keep that in mind!

So I meant to update about my homemade laundry detergent experiment...not much to say, really. It's hard to get a handle on a per-load cost until I actually use up the borax and washing soda, so I can average it all. But so far it looks like, using the Dr. Bronner's soap bars which are hella-expensive, actually, I am coming in at between 7 and 10 cents per load. I've started on my second bar of soap mixture, but I don't think I'm going to buy the more expensive castile soap anymore. I'll try the cheaper kinds of laundry soaps (maybe Fels Naptha) or some Kirk's castile which is something like $1.29 at my supermarket (compared to $3.49 for Dr. Bronner's bars).

I don't know if I love the homemade stuff. It's ok, but I find I miss the "fresh" scent of detergent, however artificial that may be. And the clothes are definitely not as soft, not by a long shot.

Frankly, I'm not feeling very inspired about saving money right now. My husband and I were high-fiving after the dryer repair, and then he said sometimes he feels weird and awkward and almost embarrassed telling people he fixed his own appliance (he's done awesome money-saving tricks like this before...with our oven, with the cars...he is very handy!). This is because, he said, he feels it makes us look like we can't afford to just call someone to come and do it.

When did it become embarrassing to fix your own stuff? I mean, what a strange psychological thing that is. I mend and repair and patch. I'm not extreme about things; my kids get new stuff when they need it, my husband and I do too, but less often (I've recently had to replace some stuff obtained early in our marriage and felt resentful that it finally wore out!). I had a conversation with a family member awhile back during which I mentioned sewing buttons back on my husband's shirts when they pop off, and this person was incredulous, like, "why would you bother?" To him if a shirt loses a button it's broken, useless, done. I can't even imagine thinking that way.

Oh well, inspired or not, it is what it is. The holidays are such a difficult time for keeping the "wanties" at bay. I tried to make one final Target run for the year today but they didn't have what I needed...I might try another location tonight after the kids are in bed. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but I pretty much avoid Target and W*Mart between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. I try to do online shopping as much as possible, gather my baking supplies early, etc., both to avoid the awful crowds/parking lots, and to stop myself from wishing for all the shiny, new stuff I see out there. So, one last run for hair dye and stocking stuffers, and then I'm going to try to take deep breaths, relax, and knit/sew/bake/craft my way through the next couple of months.

I'm really proud of Hubs for fixing the dryer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 Christmas sweater - F.O.

Hubs has ordered a part for the dryer. Fingers crossed!

This year's Christmas garb for the children is underway. I always try for coordinating, but not matchy-matchy. This year I think I'm going with red, black and white. AJ will wear red:

This is the Knitting Pure and Simple neckdown children's cardigan...again. I wasn't sure about the hood but this Cashsoft Aran yarn is so, so soft and squishy and nice I didn't want to waste any or leave any behind as an oddball in my stash. It's 10% cashmere, people! What a lucky 3 year old.

The colorway is "poppy" which isn't too important to share as the yarn is discontinued (probably why I got it for around $2/ball). I used nearly all 8 balls, which is weird. That's A LOT more yardage than the pattern calls for in the 2-4 year size. I used size 8 and 9 needles. The buttons are a new style I've been loving from Joann's - I used them on my most recent cardi for myself as well. They look just like leather but they are plastic! And therefore much cheaper. And also washable.

The remaining yarn is there in the photo, and I'd say those balls are about the size of clementines. Mission accomplished...8 balls from the stash are knit up and gone. My guilt-o-meter can go down a tad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I was ready to do a post last night about my homemade laundry soap experiment, and then when I went downstairs to finish the day's loads, I found a lump of wet stuff in the dryer. Huh, I must have forgotten to start it. So I started it, and came upstairs to knit awhile. Soon I noticed I could no longer hear the dryer running...odd. It usually takes longer than that.

You can guess what's coming, right?

Nothing, no drying action whatsoever. The stupid drum turns but there is no heat. I let loose with a few choice swears, then had to tell my husband that the dryer is out of commission. Here's hoping we can fix it ourselves if all it needs is a heating unit of some sort.

I have the detergent info plus a couple of projects to share, but right now I have to go check the drying rack and various hangers scattered throughout the house to see if my clothes and towels have dried even a little bit. Aaargh!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I can't believe it's November 10th. What a week we've had over here.

It was a record-breaking 70 degrees for a couple of days (but back to freezing cold now with snow in the forecast).

The kids are sick, and AJ's ear was draining this morning. Thanks, ear tubes, for that up-close and personal look at infection. Blech!

On the bright side, we have a new niece! My bro and sis-in-law had their first baby in the wee hours of this morning. She is beautiful and all are well.

Unfortunately, overshadowing most everything, my little sister called off her wedding that was supposed to take place in a warm, tropical place three weeks from Saturday. It's such a sad, sad thing. They do love each other, but she just did not feel it was 100% right. My heart breaks for her (and for him) but I am fiercely proud of her for doing the right thing. I won't does free us up a bit financially, and eases some stress about the holidays and paying for the two windows we have to replace. But still, I feel awful for her.

So I've been puttering along, working on some stuff.

I appreciate the kind suggestions and offers about the red sweater yarn famine disaster, but it got rrrrrripped and restarted immediately, before the comments came in. There was really no saving it, and this way AJ gets a nice warm new sweater to wear for Christmas pictures. I think I have enough to make the hood, too.

Oy. What a week.

Friday, November 04, 2011


While going through my pile of forgotten knits, I found this sweater I started for AJ a year ago:

The pattern is this one, and I love it so much. The biggest size is age 3-4 so if I want it for AJ I have to make it, like, right now. When I started it a year ago I figured it would last for 2 winters. I had 8 balls of this beautiful Rowan yarn, a rare special treat that I got on mega clearance.

I started it, I liked working on it, but I tossed it aside. Last night I resurrected it and worked a couple more inches of the back. As I worked along, I thought, wow, this is a great knit! I like these cables! I'm really enjoying this! Why did I quit working on it?

Oh. Whoa. Stop the presses. I glanced at the remaining yarn and realized that there was no way I would make it with only 6 more balls left. Thaaaaaaaaat's why I quit last year. Now I remember that I realized this yarn shortage problem and was so frustrated that I just folded it up and figured I'd deal with it later.

The thing is, I still can't figure out how much yarn I would really need to make this sweater. I have 400 grams of my yarn which is 8 balls X 95 yards each. That's 760 yards. The yarn called for is 400 grams at 115 yards per ball, which is 920 yards. That's a 160 yard difference, whoops. What was I thinking? I don't know. Still, I can't understand it because even if I left off the hood, I can tell I'd never make it with my yardage. The cables just eat up the yarn too quickly.

Oh well, whatever, now I'm going to rip what I've done, wash the yarn and hopefully unkink's been knit up like this for a year so it will be a mess. Instead I'm going to use this beautiful yarn for a top-down raglan cardigan with a hood, and hopefully use dark wooden toggle buttons purchased here. That place has the best price on lots of a dozen buttons that I've ever seen, and they are beautiful. I want to use this yarn up now because it is so, so lovely and once AJ gets just a little bigger I will no longer have enough to make a big enough sweater.

So this will be AJ's handknit under-the-tree gift, and Daughter will get her purpley sweater. I still want to make that pretty cabled cardigan, though...maybe if I get some yarny gift cards for Christmas.....

Thursday, November 03, 2011

it's beginning to look a lot (or at least a little) like Christmas

I started making my Christmas knits list this morning. As usual it has too many things on it and I will never finish them all, but it's at least a place to start. 

I am dying - dying - to buy new yarn. I browse around the interwebs and see other knitters' beautiful yarns and projects and aaaarrrgh, I want to place a humongous Knitpicks order and get a big box of loveliness in the mail.

But I did two things this morning to dissuade myself. First I went through the pile o' knitting that lives in the corner of my bedroom. This no man's land is a dusty pile of projects that seems to keep growing as I start things and abandon them in favor of new, shinier ideas. They're all viable projects, but I get bored and toss them aside. Naughty! So today I sorted out all the in-process items, as well as the yarns that I've pulled from my stash as I browse knitting books. That mostly adjusted my attitude.

Then AJ and I went out for some groceries at Target and BJ's (our club store, for those of you in other parts of the country). We needed a few big things like a case of toilet paper and a case of juice boxes for Daughter's lunch box, and I am starting to pick up holiday baking items like butter and brown sugar when I see them for a good price. When we got home I went to the white board and filled in my purchases, coming in right at $0 for groceries, and taking a solid hit in the "discretionary" column (t.p. and pullups went there this week to preserve more money for edibles). Wow, is everything getting more and more expensive, or what? 32 juice boxes are $10.99 (Juicy Juice brand, the second-least expensive ones next to Minute Maid which my kids don't like). I think for Christmas I will get Daughter a small Kleen Kanteen ($9.95 at Amazon) and she can take water sometimes. She always asks for it, but I don't have a good, leak-proof, BPA-free water bottle to send in her lunch box. The Kleen Kanteen is expensive, yes, but I think it is a good investment as she will use it for years.

So anyway, a shopping trip where I reach the end of my budgeted allowance for the week is always sobering. 

It will be a stash-based Christmas this year. Much as I would love to buy new materials, the fact is I have enough already to come up with gift knits. It may not be my first choice, but it will certainly do.

I do, however, think inexpensive patterns are fair game. After all, it is much less spendy to buy a $4 pattern to go with the yarn I already have than to buy $30-$50 worth of yarn to match a pattern. In that spirit I purchased the Kina pattern (Ravelry link). It calls for sport weight yarn and I happen to have some that has been marinating in the stash for years.

It's Wool Ease sport in the boysenberry colorway...and I had 6 of them at one time. I've used maybe one skein? I got them at a Tuesday Morning store, probably about 6 years ago now. Yep, I bet Daughter was a baby when I got these because I thought I could use this color for a little girl. There were 6 of these and 3 off-white and they were a steal. I have to say, this yarn knits up really nicely for being only 20% wool. I used to use it quite a bit for baby sweaters but they discontinued it a long time ago. Wish they would bring it back!

Anyway, it's sport weight yarn with size 5 needles so it's slow going. But the pattern is so cute, I am committed to getting it done and under the Christmas tree for Daughter. Oh, and the color is really more of a reddish purple, not the grapey shade in this picture. I just couldn't get it to photograph correctly in today's light. I'll try again when there's more to show.

What about you? Will it be a handmade holiday season? What are you working on?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


We didn't really start "observing" Halloween in our little family until about 2 years ago, when Daughter was 4. Prior to that she was too little to know what was going on, and we lived in a somewhat rural area where no one trick-or-treated. When we moved to our current house (almost 2.5 years ago now, what?!), Daughter was 4 1/2 and wanted to dress up and trick-or-treat. That year and last year, also, she just put on some princessy dress-up clothes from her play stuff and went as a princess. Or a fairy. Or a fairy princess, I'm not sure, it depended on when you asked her.

This year, in 1st grade, it was a bigger deal to her. We started discussing ideas a few months ago. I tried to think of what we already have and what I could easily and cheaply make. It occurred to me that both kids had black shirts, and Daughter has several pairs of black leggings...what could we do with that?

A hunk of red fabric with black spots later...we had Ms. Ladybug:

I simply took the piece of fabric and hand-pleated one selvage edge (that sounds fancier than I mean it to...I just pinched it in inch-by-inch and pinned it like crazy), then cut a long strip of black cotton 2.5" wide to make a binding and ties. I just pressed it in half, then pressed the sides in about 3/8" and applied it just like you would apply store-bought bias binding to a neckband or armhole. Then I just continued the topstitching all the way to the ends to create ties. Pretty simple. The hardest part was hemming the other three sides. This slippery fabric is awful to tame. I got a fabric glue stick but it didn't hold at all, so I had to just slowly double-turn the raw edges, pin, and stitch slowly. In the end it looks kind of shoddy, but it's only a costume so I'm not beating myself up. Oh, and to make it seem more like a ladybug "shell" I whip-stitched black ponytail holders to the sides, which go over her wrists to hold the cape out when she moves her arms.

We added a black headband with twisted pipe cleaners for antennae, and red cheeks with black dots. Voila!

And for AJ...well, we continued the bug theme:

Don't ask me what I was thinking, knitting a Halloween costume! I mean, sewing is more reasonable, it goes really fast, comparatively speaking. This little vest actually took a lot of time and energy, and the sacrifice of one of my Denise interchangeable needle cables. I used Lion Brand Hometown USA yarn in "Oakland black" and "Pittsburgh yellow" and - get this - size 13 needles. I am not meant to knit at that gauge! It was like wrestling rope around tree branches. And 2/3 of the way through, my Denise cable snapped right off. Luckily I had reached the armholes and separated the work to knit the front and back, so I was able to switch to a shorter cable. Still, it was a bummer.

Anyway, I designed this myself, if you can call it a's just a bottom-up vest knit in the round, and I bound off about 2 stitches per armhole and knitted it up to the neck, which is kind of a boatneck style, I guess. One shoulder has extra rows and buttonholes, so it can be opened up to get it over AJ's head. 

Add in some inexpensive black sweatpants from Target, and a yellow headband with silver sparkle balls for antennae, and we have a bee!

Side note: last week when I finished this, AJ told me he didn't like it and wasn't going to wear it. It took some serious bribing/threatening to get him to wear it for a Halloween party over the weekend, but once he realized it was his ticket to getting candy, he was ok with it.

Trick-or-treating was a hoot. At the first house, AJ stood stock-still and wouldn't move. At the second, he made it to the door but hid behind my legs and wouldn't let the lady put the m&ms into his pumpkin bucket. By the third house he figured it out, and by the time we were heading home he was pushing his sister aside to ring the doorbells, yelling "twick-o-tweat!" and dragging me along by the hand. "Come on, Mom! We can get MORE candy!"

Monday, October 31, 2011

parade o' gifts...sidelined

Aw, dudes, I am so frustrated with myself right now. I finished up an adorable baby package for my bro-and-sis-in law who are expecting their baby girl in two weeks (squee!), and then wrapped it up without taking any pictures.

I ask you, what kind of blogger does that?!? I am so lame.

Oh well, I can still tell you about it. Along with some store-bought Gerber gowns and a Captain America little golden book (the dad is a pretty big fan...has a C.A. tattoo, even), I made this sweater in pink, some coordinating booties, and a small quilt.

The quilt...oh, I wish so much I had photographed it. Those of you who have hung around here for many years might remember this quilt. Gosh, was it that long ago already? Anyway, I had all that fabric separated from my main stash, and a lot of it already cut into 2.5" strips, so I figured I'd use it for a baby girl quilt. But when I opened the bin, I found lots and lots of finished quilt blocks, leftovers from that original quilt. Score!

So I made a mini version, using a 7 X 7 layout. The blocks are 6" so it ended up about 42" square. I used the same franken-binding from the original, too...still had several feet of it so I just added strips. It came out so sweet and cute. *kicking self for forgetting pictures*

Mmmmkay, that's done. Tomorrow, Halloweeeeeeeeeen! I have a bee and a ladybug to show you!

Friday, October 28, 2011

parade o' gifts (part 1)

Yeah, so, um...Hubs was gone on a work trip all week and got home at midnight last night...and a good thing, too, because I was just about at the end of my parenting rope. I don't know how those of you with traveling spouses do it. I bow down to you.

So I'm a little cranky. And also tired, because I don't sleep too well when he isn't here. I stayed up way too late each night working on a Christmas gift for my nephew. I mentioned it awhile back, and now it's almost done:

I love looking at this - it actually helps a great deal with my crankiness because I'm the queen of unfinished stitchery, typically, but this one is going to get done! I worked it each night until my eyes burned and I started making mistakes, and I was tired enough to fall asleep. 

I need to finish my nephew's name, work a few backstitch outlines (the propeller, the sail), and then carefully steam out all that awful hoop-burn. And frame it.

Now to go hem a halloween costume and finish up some baby gifts for our new niece who will arrive anytime...and then there are a few more Christmas items to work on...this time of year the crafts all sort of blend together, the end of one flows right into the start of another. I still need to make a rough list of all I hope to accomplish. 


Monday, October 24, 2011

walk it like you talk it

So I've been really curious about homemade laundry soap for a long time. Like, a long, long time. Years.

This weekend I finally went for it. Detergent is pricey, peeps! Is homemade cheaper? I'm going to find out. Does it work? So far - and I've only washed 5 loads - the clothes seem clean.

I will admit that there were a few moments, as I sat on my basement floor grating a bar of soap into a recycled yogurt container, when I wondered if I'd gone off the deep end. But then I felt super awesome scooping a tablespoon of my homemade mix into the machine.

I used 2 cups of Borax, 2 cups of washing soda, and one grated up bar of Dr. Bronner's castile soap in tea tree (chosen both for scent and anti-bacterial properties of tea tree oil). Some recipes say use 1 tablespoon per load, some say I split the difference and have been using 1.5 tablespoons in large loads. I knew it wouldn't make suds, but I still watched for them anyway. Nope, no suds. But the clothes do seem clean, they have only the faintest scent of the tea tree oil when they come out of the machine, and really don't smell much after the dryer.

I noticed the towels seem slightly less "fluffy" - I can see the individual loops in the towels more when I am folding them. Also, the whites are slightly less blinding because homemade soap is just that...soap. It is not detergent and lacks the surfactants and whiteners of commercial detergent. But then I thought about the kids my daughter goes to school with, and how I've noticed they often have two different socks on, or one sock inside out, or dingy socks from being washed with darks and colors. And I relaxed about it, because who cares if her white socks don't blind you when you look at them?

I still have a small box of Tide for the tough jobs that my soap won't handle...and again, I just started this experiment so we'll see how it goes. My son has an oral-motor weakness that results in a lot of drool-soaked shirts, which, after sitting in the laundry basket for a few days, can really stink. I've found, up to this point, that only super-expensive Tide gets them back to wearable condition. But who knows? Maybe I can come up with something better (and less expensive).

So far I've spent 10 bucks. But I've only used a fraction of the Borax and washing soda. I'll have to purchase new bars of soap once in awhile, and I'm keeping a rough tally of how many loads I wash so I can see if this is a savings or what. (I'm a stay-home mom of two kids, one of whom is in school...I can manage to keep count of my loads with a scrap of paper and pencil next to the machine, it isn't hard.)

I know, I sound like such a weirdo. Bear with me...I'll report back with my findings.

Friday, October 21, 2011

breaking the habit

I've been experiencing a really introspective couple of months.

The first week of September my husband and I embarked on a new and very strict budgeting plan for our family and our future. A little helpful info: we are the only ones in our generation of family and most of our friends who live on a single income. It is a good income, but after taxes, 401K contributions, and insurance premiums (which are all deducted from Hubs' base pay), it's actually a fairly modest amount of money for this part of the world. And we are very avid news-watchers and we pay a lot of attention to what is happening in the world and our country. Both Hubs and I have developed a healthy fear of "the future" and feel it very, very important to save as much as we can, or at least avoid debt at all costs. We are working diligently to pay down our student loans (I know, again with those g-d student loans), and have begun paying extra on our mortgage each month to shorten the payoff time and reduce total interest paid over the life of the loan (we believe we will cut off 7 years with the small additional amount we are paying).

Anyway, our new plan centers around a little whiteboard that hangs on the fridge. We went over our spending with a fine-tooth comb to find out exactly how much we "spend" per week (dividing things like the yearly total electric, gas, mortgage, etc by 52), then subtracted all the relatively unchangeable ones from our weekly net income. What was left was our groceries-household supplies-medical-and-discretionary amount. It is a pretty small amount!

So on the whiteboard we have two columns. One is "discretionary" and each week it starts with a set dollar amount that we chose based on what we think we spend on un-categorized "stuff" like copays, PTA membership, school pictures, haircuts, etc. - things that change, ebb, and flow and are not the same week to week. This is also the column for take-out pizzas, starbucks drive-thru runs, etc. The other column is straight-up groceries. And that number is also pretty small...less than $100 per week for our family of 4.

Some people might think $100 is a lot. But if you break it down and think about it, that's $25 per family member for 7 days. Break it down further and it's $3.57 per person per day. Seriously, right? That is not a lot of money living in America in 2011.

Each time either of us spends money, it is written on the board and subtracted from that original number. At the end of the week we cheer ourselves if there's anything left, accept it if it is $0, and vow to do better if we've gone into the negative. Occasionally it happens...we had a week with a couple of medical copays that took a big chunk of column A, and that's ok. We have a little cushion in savings to deal with it. That is not the problem.

The real problem, it turns out, is breaking the habit of unconsciously spending. I was chatting with a friend about finances, in general terms, a few months ago and I stated that it wasn't the nickel-and-dime stuff that was harming our finances, it was big things like surgical copays (often several per year anywhere from $500-$1000 each), and surprise repairs needed on our 10 year old car. And to an extent that is true, but it is also the smaller spending. It is the Target run, that evil, evil thing we all do where we go in for contact solution and come out with $50 worth of stuff. We ALL do it, we can't seem to help it, and you just know Target corporate loves us for it.

It's also definitely the coffee drive-thru, the McDonald's run when I just can't face making lunch, the take-out pizza, and yes, the spontaneous yarn purchases, even though they are "cheap" craft store yarns.

When you create a system of obvious responsibility, like Hubs and I have with our little whiteboard, you start to understand your spending habits quite a bit. For example, I have long been in the habit of constantly monitoring the cupboards and fridge, and immediately replacing things either when they run out or just before. No interruption of service here, nosirree. Things are pretty constantly stocked in our house. Now, we keep a pretty simple fridge and pantry. I have friends with entire closets and several basement shelves PACKED with foods they'll probably never use, because they don't shop with lists, or whatever. I've gone shopping with one girlfriend who basically just wanders the aisles, never sure of what her family really needs, so she always overbuys. We're not like that. I use a list and coupons and try to only buy what we'll actually use. Interestingly, this friend and I both eye each other with total awe. Neither of us can fathom doing it the other way.

But the thing is, with the constant replenishing, I never had a real handle on what I spent. I thought I knew, but it turns out I was waaaaaaayyyy off. Now that I am writing it down and subtracting it each time I shop, I am pretty shocked at what I was spending.

It has changed the way I work in the kitchen, and also the way I approach all my shopping. Turns out I have a bad, bad spending habit that needs to be broken. I would go so far as to call it an addiction. I can feel it, it is painful, breaking it is difficult beyond belief. But it's working, slowly but surely. It's only been about 7 weeks but I'm adjusting my attitude. All my son's long underwear still fits from last year, so despite how adorable this year's designs are (at Target, naturally), only Daughter got a set because she actually needed them. AJ will make do with his size 3T until he actually outgrows them. Daughter's drawers are overflowing with clothes, and she does not really need anything right now. So I will stay away from the racks, I will quit plotting and planning what I want to make for her. Homemade stuff is not a moneysaver if the children don't actually need the stuff.

I was browsing at Joann's this week because of those midnight madness coupons, but I just couldn't find anything I wanted to buy. Seriously, this is a major thing for me. I stared at the yarns, I fondled the fabrics, I perused the notions...but no, I just kept thinking about my husband at his desk, the whiteboard on the fridge, the retirement savings we want to have, the house we want to pay off....and as I held the skeins of yarn in my hand thinking how cute AJ would look in a sweater made from it, I realized that first of all, he doesn't need any more sweaters as he has several, and second, every time I put a homemade wool sweater on him these days, he cries and says, "take it off!" So I put the yarn back.

Lifespan being what it is these days, and Lord willing we meet that number, Hubs and I (and all of us) will need to make enough money in the first two-thirds of our lives to support us in the last third. Think about that...if you want to retire in your early 60s and have a nice lifestyle, you have to earn and save all that money NOW.

Take-out pizzas are not worth screwing up our retirement. Starbucks is definitely not worth screwing up our retirement. Hoarding yarn is not worth screwing up our retirement.

That doesn't mean "never shop." It doesn't mean "never buy anything ever." For us it just means "evaluate this purchasing decision really carefully in light of our goals." Sometimes a take-out pizza is a great thing. Sometimes going out for coffee with your friend or spouse is just what you need. And if my kid needs a new sweater I'm definitely going to be all over it, making something warm and lovely with wool purchased using coupons.

And right now it means taking a beautiful, crusty loaf of wheat bread out of the oven, which will be served with our dinner of Farmer's Breakfast to use up leftover ham, the potatoes that are about to start sprouting, the eggs that were on sale this week, and the little bit of cheddar that's left. I wanted to go to the supermarket this morning, but that column is at $0, and I know I can make it until Sunday with what's on hand. Now I just have to make it a habit.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

a new sweater for me

Sorry for the long absence, but I've been knitting feverishly on several projects at once. I started a sweater for myself a month ago, and got really hooked on it so I've spent all my free time working madly to finish it. If you saw my house you could totally tell I've been blowing everything off in favor of knitting (it's a mess, seriously). 

Before I share the photos, I need to point out that my photographer is 6 years old and takes photos by carefully, carefully setting up the shot, then jerking the camera and yelling "CLICK!" while pushing the button. So you can imagine how hard it is to come up with at least one or two decent shots. She tried hard, so I'm grateful...this sweater really needs to be shown while being worn as the pattern does not show up well laying flat.

It hasn't been blocked (I finished late last night) but I can see it needs to be. The pattern is available here for free. It's a good pattern, but not for a beginner. The chart is not numbered, and is a bit difficult to follow. I changed it a tad by lengthening the sleeves - I started with 41 stitches instead of 51, and then just followed the directions as written, increasing to 61 stitches and knitting plain rounds until I got the right length. The sweater is knit from the bottom up, then joined so the yoke can be knit in one piece. I also did not bind off the underarm stitches. Instead I put the required number of stitches on holders, then grafted them together when I was finished knitting. And finally, rather than knitting the garter edges called for, I chose to skip them and add 2X2 rib button bands after knitting the entire sweater. I think it's a neater finish.

Isn't the pattern pretty? I am so pleased with the way this came out! 

And guess what I used to knit it? You got it, cheap reasonably priced wool. This sweater took just under two skeins of Lion Fishermen's Wool in Brown Heather. I got it with coupons at Joann's, making it $5 per skein. I actually bought 3 skeins, figuring I'd need that much for an adult sweater, but I didn't even break into the 3rd. The buttons are faux leather, so they were only $1.25 for a card of 3, and I bought 3 cards with coupons. 

So the total cost of this very warm, heavy wool sweater was $13. I'm just sayin'.

And knitters (crocheters too!), if you're not checking out the Garn Studio website you are really missing out. They have hundreds of free patterns available, and I especially recommend the baby patterns. They'll knock your socks off. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

cheap wool

I pulled it together and got Daughter's winter hat finished:

I used Stitch Nation yarn for this hat - Alpaca Love in 'espresso bean' and 'lake'. This yarn is gorgeous and amazing to knit with. It feels SO GOOD in my hands. Unfortunately I don't think Joann is going to carry it anymore, as I got it on clearance in July for 97 cents a skein, and I recently saw it on clearance for $3 at AC Moore.

That bums me out bigtime!

I have a limited budget. My yarn purchases are definitely dependent on local craft stores and their coupons and sales. I rely heavily on Patons Classic Wool, Lion Fisherman Wool (no one here carries Lion Wool anymore), Red Heart sock yarns, Patons Kroy sock yarns, the Joann Sensations sock yarn, and most recently, this Stitch Nation line. Those are just about the only yarns with actual wool content you will find in the chain stores (AC Moore, Michaels, Joann Fabrics, and we have one lone Hobby Lobby that I don't frequent because it's too far away).

I occasionally buy from Knitpicks if they have a really tempting sock yarn colorway, or if I have a specific project and color in mind that I cannot buy locally. Their plain worsted weight wool (Wool of the Andes) is comparable in price to Patons regular price where I live.

I have to believe people are buying up this wool - heaven knows the clearance bins were practically cleaned out by the time I got there this summer. I grabbed the last few skeins I could get that I had actual use for. So I really hope the local stores keep stocking it!

I guess I'm talking about this today because I've read a few comments on blogs lately referring to yarn like this as "cheap wool." As in: "I am surprised how well this project turned out considering I used cheap wool."


What does that mean? "Cheap wool?"

I think comments like that are really offensive. Not all of us can worship at the altar of Malabrigo, or justify making a child's garment from Three Irish Girls Merino, or indulge in Debbie Bliss or Rowan for our knitting projects. Some of us may not even want to; spending upwards of $10-$20 on a single skein of yarn just doesn't make sense to me. I've made countless garments and accessories using the "cheap" yarns I listed above. The majority have been made using Patons Wool, and all have come out gorgeous, sturdy, and colorfast, with well-defined stitches. They hold up, they wash well, they pill minimally, they are passed down from child to child. My mom and I are both avid sock knitters and have made probably hundreds of socks between us over the past 10 years, and we both find "cheap" Heart & Sole yarn to be one of the best we've used, wearing beautifully on the feet of both adults and children.

Sure, I've used some of the more luxury yarns out there, and they are definitely nice. Who doesn't enjoy working with Koigu or Rowan? They are lovely, to be sure! But the word "cheap" is not a nice word. In this context it surely means "less than" and insults both the fiber and the crafter. Should I feel bad because my kids are walking around in 100% wool sweaters that cost me less than $10 to make, rather than $40-$50 or more?

I mean, if you want to support a small company or farm or individual who is out there spinning and dyeing yarns, then that's cool, you can say that and it's totally legitimate. But if we're comparing factory-spun yarns here, then mine at $5 per skein is just as worthy of use as yours at $15. The jeans my kids wear from Target that cost me $10 will cover their legs and keep them warm as well as the $26 pair from Baby Gap. I doubt anyone would ever say to me, "I'm surprised your kid is warm enough considering those are cheap jeans."

We all make our own buying decisions and they are personal, but when you put them out on the internet for everyone to see, they become less so. And probably I am simply too easily offended...I always have been, it's kind of a personality flaw. But when I read a post about someone struggling to pay for a medical procedure, and then read about that same person using nearly $100 worth of luxury yarn for a child's garment, I bite my tongue so hard it bleeds. I may be judging but it's not my place to say so...just as I believe it's not anyone's place to insult my choice either.

I am a semi-snob when it comes to my yarn choices. I do like wool, and I do not care for 100% acrylic, though I do believe it has its place (such as afghans in a house with children...washability is paramount). This is mainly due to comfort in my hands while knitting/crocheting, warmth, and longevity of wear. I find acrylic content can end up feeling "plasticy" after several washings. So yes, my preference is wool. But I also like to make a lot of things and continually challenge myself to learn new techniques and skills. That requires supplies, so I choose to use what I consider "reasonably priced wool." It is not "cheap wool," it is what I (and many others) can afford. I am just very thankful it exists and is readily available to me.

A chunk of this post went missing when I hit publish! I'm not loving this new Blogger interface. It was supposed to say:

I made the above 100% wool/alpaca blend hat for my Daughter out of love and a desire to keep her warm. I hope that when she pulls it on she thinks of me. I hope she doesn't leave it on the bus! I'm afraid, though, it's likely that she will, and at least when that happens I'll feel a little less awful knowing I only spent about a buck to make it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

a finish and a start

Have you ever had a project hang around so long you begin to actively dislike it? That's the story with these stupid socks:

I am pretty sure evil gnomes visited in the night and unravelled all the work I'd done each time I knit on these. They took FOREVER! I cast them on in January - yes, January! - and finally finished them a couple of days ago. They were started as a project to carry along to the hospital when AJ had surgery to close up his belly. I worked on them in fits and starts all year. They just never seemed any closer to completion.

The yarn is Regia Galaxy, and I didn't love working with it. I don't know if it was the fact that I pulled from the center of the skein or what, but the twist was intense and I kept ending up with coiled, kinked yarn. I had to drop the sock-in-progress every inch or so and let it unwind so I could continue knitting. Not so fun! I will be stuffing these in the back of my drawer, to be worn this winter when I'm done being frustrated with them.

On to other things: I've been taking lots of cross-stitch and embroidery books out from the library, poking around for inspiration.

And inspiration struck.

Oh boy. The book is Traditional Samplers by Brenda Keyes. One design jumped right out at me, and I told myself if I had all the supplies on hand, I would let myself start it. And what do you know...I had all but one color of floss in the house, plus the correct aida cloth, needles, and hoops galore.

This is the Edwardian Style Birth Sampler. I originally thought it would be for my son, but now I am thinking perhaps it will be a Christmas gift for my nephew instead. Neither of them is a Patrick so I'll have to re-chart the name and birthdate, of course. So far (the past 3 nights) it's been a blast to stitch.

I've been listening to The Help on CD (because I cannot get my hands on a paper copy) so it's been working out perfectly to enjoy the story and stitch away.

I love cross stitches - the orderliness of them, marching across the cloth. This sampler appeals to me because there is a minimum of backstitching and no other stitch is used. I don't care for lots of different styles of stitches on aida cloth as I find them hard to execute. 

It's a bit of an ambitious undertaking when I have plenty else to do, but it's buzzing along so quickly, and I am enjoying it so much...I think I will actually finish the thing! Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

this time of year

It's that time of year...a time of endings and beginnings and change. I always feel a little untethered in September. For the past 10 or so years, since officially ending my formal education (got my Ed.M. in 2002), I've felt a bit lost watching the world go back to school. Even my 3 year-old started something new: speech therapy 5 days a week with a new therapist (we love her and she is awesome). 

The weather is struggling to change, and I feel it inside of me too. One day it's gray and chilly, then misty rain and humidity, only to change completely to warm sun and high 70s. I never know what to tell everyone to wear. This week we will have nighttime lows in the 40s and daytime highs in the 70s. Yes, Daughter, you'll need a wool hat with your shorts today! 

Such a random and confusing time of year. 

I want to sew...I want to go to Joann's and come home with great heaping piles of denim, corduroy and flannel. Wait, let me amend my statement. I want to shop for sewing stuff. I can't really seem to get myself to the machine, despite my imagination working overtime. The kids could use new hats and mittens to match this year's coats. The pile of yarn is sitting on my desk gathering dust. I'm having trouble anchoring myself in the moment and just starting what needs to be started. We are also expecting a new niece in two months, and I keep going over my plans for what to make her in my head, but nothing is getting done. I seem to think I have all the time in the world. 

I fret over this weird internal thing I have going on, even though I recognize it and it happens every autumn. I will pull out of it, most likely without noticing until one day I realize, hey, I feel better. 

It's naptime, and Daughter is at school. The house is quiet except for the clock ticking. I believe I will cast on for a hat. Yes, that would be good.

Monday, September 05, 2011

ran. dom.

Ok, so...I changed my blogger to the "new" interface...and I feel like I can't make it work right. I'm so confused.

Maybe I'm confused because I have an ear infection? I think I have an ear infection. It's making me dizzy.

I did finish a sweater. It's AJ's fall/winter wool cardigan:

Top-down cardigan from Raglans Unlimited (a really old pamphlet I got from my mom), size 4. Yarn is Knitpicks WotA in the winter night colorway. Again, I apologize for the otherworldly's a nice color in person. Buttons are little cars from Favorite Findings, purchased at Joann's. Side note: I dragged the kids to Joann's to buy these last week (with a coupon, of course), then came home and cleaned up all my knitting stuff, organizing my current WIPs, etc., only to discover I already had a package of the exact same buttons. My disorganization makes me sick sometimes, it really does. :(

School starts tomorrow. Thank goodness.

That is all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

short and stout

More from A Rainbow of Stitches. Love.

14-count, DMC color 823.

ps: I erroneously referred to these little squares of aida as DMC short cuts...they are actually made by Charles Craft.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

a rainbow of stitches

As I've mentioned before, after a period of seriously practical knitting and sewing, I'm feeling pulled toward more whimsical projects. I would like to make some things that are art for art's sake, just fun and skill-enhancing without necessarily being strictly "useful."

I started with some lace shawls, which are kind of a hybrid of useful and beautiful (mainly because even though I'm not likely to actually wear one, the possibility exists so I can justify the time spent). I'm still working on the latest one - 3 charts to go - but I can only work on it when I am undistracted for a length of time.

In the meantime I've gone to some hand stitching. I used to do tons of embroidery and cross stitch. I even had a friend who liked it too, and we could be found in the embroidery supply aisle of Michael's at age 14, picking out samplers and DMC floss.

When I saw this book on a blog back in the spring, it knocked me right over:

I usually take craft books out from the library, but the choices for embroidery and cross stitch are...well, let's just say "dated" at best. We're talking Better Homes and Gardens compilations from 1992. Not exactly inspiring for the modern crafter. Unless you're into teddy bear bibs. Which frankly I am not.

But A Rainbow of Stitches is fresh and fun. I highly recommend it! I linked to amazon, but I actually found mine on ebay and bought it from a Goodwill seller. It still had the Barnes & Noble gift receipt stuck inside! Someone got it for Christmas 2009 and, it appears, never even opened it. Now it's mine!

I dug through my bin of hand-me-down embroidery supplies and found a pack of DMC short-cuts, which are 6X6 inch squares of aida cloth. Mine were 14-count in white and off-white. Perfect for stitching up a little nugget and getting back in practice. I chose a tomato-red skein of floss and I was off to the races:

Don't ask me what I'll do with it, but oh, was it satisfying! Cross stitch is just so orderly and well-behaved. Anyone can do it, it's inexpensive, and the results are pretty much guaranteed to be good if you follow the chart. I found this little apple to be so, so relaxing to stitch.

There are many, many designs in this book that are built around colors and themes, with about an equal split between cross stitch and embroidery. It is NOT a project book, which I guess really upset some people who reviewed it online, but it does not claim to be a book of directions. It's just motifs and charts with photos of project ideas.

We are attending a tropical destination wedding this winter, and I'm thinking of making Daughter a dress for the rehearsal. Look at these adorable water/beach/nautical designs:


cross stitch:

more embroidery:

And I know this one is hard to see, because it's printed in a light tan, but I'm thinking of a pale linen sundress with some of these shells embroidered around the hem:

So many things to little time!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

i am perhaps seasonally confused

Oh man, file this one under "I'm a bad mom." At the beginning of summer I cut out this dress for Daughter, and proceeded to ignore it for pretty much the entire season. Niiiiiiice. I could give a bazillion excuses, but it boils down to: it was hot, the air conditioner is in my bedroom, and I am lazy. Really pretty much zero sewing happens around here in the summer, it is just too uncomfortable. So if I don't get the summer dresses and shorts sewn up in the spring when it is still chilly, it doesn't happen at all.

Case in point:

I did finally put this together last week. The temps dipped down to the high 70s/low 80s with a breeze, so I could stand to sit at the machine and, more importantly, use the iron. I was still sweaty by the time I finished, but at least it got done!

Here's a (purposely) blurry shot of Daughter helping a little friend of ours off the slide over the weekend. I just wanted to show more of the dress without splashing our friends' kid across the internet.

I can't find a link to the pattern on line right now and I'm too lazy to go upstairs and find it...if anyone has a burning desire for the exact number I can look it up. But I did a quick look around at Simplicity and McCall's and both have similar dresses shown right now in their current pattern collection. It's a very simple pattern...self-lined bodice, shoulder straps, and choice of one-piece full skirt or 3-tier even fuller skirt. I used the size 5 bodice pattern and the size 6 skirt pieces for length (the width is the same no matter the size). *Note* if you make this pattern, you can just cut width-of-fabric pieces for the skirt tiers. The pattern calls for even wider pieces but that is a waste. If you have typical 40-44" wide calico, like I used here, just cutting the lower 2 tiers from selvage edge to selvage edge works fine.

Also note that if you do not like gathering you will not enjoy making this. I cut two of these out at the beginning of summer, made one, and was very frustrated by the huge amount of gathering. For some reason this is a sewing skill I struggle with, and likely another good reason why the second dress sat unfinished for so long.

Moving on: here is a random action shot of me wearing one of the skirts I made earlier this year:

And finally, the reason for the post title...while still sewing summer dresses, I'm also working on fall and winter woolens (of course).

Listen, I have to apologize for the following photo, because it's awful and hurts your eyes. But the color of this wool (Knitpicks WotA "winter night") refuses to show up in a photograph without displaying an otherworldly glow:

Gah! Awful! But the sweater will hopefully be sweet. It's a top-down raglan (boring but reliable) in a size 4(!) for my growing boy. It will likely be a little too big at first, but should serve him well all winter. The weirdness of the color explains why I had a terrible time finding buttons to match (or even coordinate). We went with the little cars from Favorite Findings (with coupon, at Joann's). With an unusual shade of yarn, I find it best to go with completely non-matching buttons so it doesn't look like I tried and failed.

I would like to go work on this sweater some more, but instead I must clean the mac-n-cheese explosion from our kitchen table area. Maybe if I go really fast I can squeeze some crafting into naptime.....

Monday, August 15, 2011

monday monday

Thank you for the kind words. The funeral was on the 15th, so I am still a tad melancholy, but I'm getting through it.

Other things that are more fun to talk about:

Hubs took me to see a production of FAME! on Saturday night. It was so awesome! I have an intense love of musical theater and will go see just about anything, so when these tickets were offered for free from his office (his company sponsored the show), Hubs knew I'd want to go. And, dude, it was FAME! Who doesn't love that? So the kids slept over at Grandma & Papa's house, and Hubs and I got to go on a date, with dinner and everything. The show was performed at Artpark, and if you're ever in the western NY area, I recommend you visit. It's a state park, open anytime, and you can walk right down to the edge of the Niagara River. It's really beautiful.

Also...I finished a sweater! Woohoo! I feel like I've barely finished anything this year, so I was really thrilled to block this baby:

This is Spring Time in Hollis and I really like it. I saw it on a blog last winter and in a rare move, I bought the pattern (through Ravelry, I believe). I liked that it was worsted weight, top-down construction and had just enough interest to keep me going. I'm getting bored after making a bazillion plain top-down raglan cardigans. This pattern is well-written and easy to follow, and I will surely make another sometime.

This is size 8 (!) for my big first grader, knitted from Knitpicks WotA in violet, a discontinued color that I got on sale years ago. I think I used about 6 balls, but I can't remember for sure, as I started this several months ago and only just now finished it. As per Daughter's request, I left out the eyelets and belt, and knit the sleeves somewhere between 3/4 and wrist length, so they "wouldn't get in her way." I'd like to get some fall fabric and make a matching dress for the school year...we'll see.

It feels good to get another languishing project finished. Time to go diving into the UFO basket to see what else I can clear out!

Friday, August 12, 2011

5 years

August 12th is here again. Sometimes it catches me by surprise. It always catches my husband, mostly because I have to tell him about it. He never remembers (though he is terrible with dates), but still I often think it must be nice to just sort of not remember. I have no choice. The memory lives in my body.

I look at Daughter sitting on the couch watching television and I see the spirit of another little girl sitting near her. A little girl who would be turning 5, heading off to kindergarten, with dark wavy hair and a little face so like her big sister's...and yet a bit different.

And then I look at my baby boy and wonder if he would even be here. Last night my husband said, if we had our daughter nothing in our lives would be as it is right now. Maybe so, maybe so.

Some years have been easier than others, but this year I am really sad. I miss my baby girl.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

vacation! (and some projects, too)

Oh man, it's August 9th already. We had such a cold, rainy, long spring and then got super baked for several weeks and I feel we've hardly had any "real" summer. I hope we get some nice days of high 70s with sun and a breeze before school starts.

School, wow, already?!? The time, it flies. Daughter will start first grade after labor day. It's coming up quickly...we've already purchased her supplies (except the markers, because I haven't seen them for $1 yet). I'm watching for juice box coupons and stocking up on snacks for the lunchbox. The light outside is shifting, just a bit, telling me that autumn is indeed on its way.

We were away last week, the kids and I, visiting my sister and her baby boy in the midwest. Her husband was out of town on business so we descended upon their home for a whole week. It saddens me that the cousins in our family will all grow up far away from each other, so it's nice to put them together and let them become acquainted. That way the holidays aren't a visit with people who feel like strangers. Also, holy cow did I need a change of scenery. It was amazing to get out of town for awhile and look at something other than our four walls! Even shopping at Target in a different place feels somehow fresh and new. We played, walked, swam, shopped, cooked, ate, baked, and played some more. My sister's house has central air - glorious! - and our moods were all greatly improved by the comfort we experienced.

I took along a bit of knitting but didn't get a whole lot done.

These socks were started in January. January! I cast them on to take to the hospital for AJ's surgery, which ended up postponed until mid-February anyway, and besides, I never actually knit in the surgical waiting room. Taking knitting along is just wishful thinking. So these rode around in the bottom of my purse until recently when I got sick of seeing them in there and I started working on them in earnest. One down, one started.

And before we left, when I was doing vacation pre-cleaning so we wouldn't come home to a gross house, I picked this quilt up off the dining room table and finished the stinking thing:

This is, I guess, broken dishes (?) but was supposed to be a pinwheel quilt separated by sashing. It went from a planned queen size to maybe a twin to a wallhanging as I got tired of making the blocks. Ha! Some quilter I am.

I based this on a quilt pattern in Nickel Quilts. Unfortunately somewhere between making the first batch of blocks years ago and finishing it up last winter, I accidentally changed the size of the individual components, so some of the blocks got chopped down in the final assembly. If you enlarge the photo you might be able to see where several of the pinwheels don't actually have points on them. Whoops!

Anyway, I don't care and I think it looks pretty good to hang on my living room wall! We need color desperately, and this roughly 56"X64" quilt will bring it.

I've been swayed lately by all the fresh fabric collections quilters are using in the online quilting world...lots of juicy oranges, pinks, lime greens, browns, bright blues...and I was even thinking I might splurge on some of the newer fabrics, despite my reservations that these colors might seem really dated in a few years (remember country blue and rose? how about peach and seafoam green? yeah), but then I finished this quilt and I realized where my heart lies. I love these tiny prints and semi-solids. I love traditional quilts.

And now that I've finished one, I can start another. Or maybe two. Those are the rules. Right?

Monday, July 25, 2011

thoughts on summer

How do you see summer? Do you still think of it in terms of a big vacation, like when you were a kid and summer meant...doing absolutely nothing, or doing whatever you wanted, and it stretched out before you like an endless path?

As a stay-home mom I think of it like that. I've almost always lived by the school calendar, going from high school to college, then two years after that to graduate school, then on to teaching, and now I have a school-age child. My life is ruled by the school schedule, and I have come to really love and rely on the structure it brings.

Sadly, as a mom, summer is not a vacation, right? Gosh, I do still think of it that way, and long for warm, lazy afternoons sitting in a lawn chair with a good book and a glass of iced tea, or breezy mornings sitting on the patio working some cross stitch or knitting with my coffee. I make all these mental plans for what I'm going to accomplish, like finishing sweaters and starting on Christmas ornaments, creating involved cross-stitches to frame for my home, sewing quilts and garments, and getting a head start on next fall and winter's sewing and knitting.


My fantasy of my children happily playing in the sandbox or splashing around in the wading pool while I crafted serenely were quickly dashed this year. The children hop around from place to place, declaring the sandbox too hot, the wading pool too cold, and everything else, you guessed it, booooring. AJ mostly wants to follow his big sister like a shadow, so when she hops out of the pool and heads for the back door, he wants to go in too. This inevitably happens moments after I've gathered all the required towels, sunscreen, snacks, etc., and settled into my lawn chair for a few moments of knitting or stitching.

So to sum up, I'm getting absolutely nothing done. I spend my days refereeing the bickering of the children, chauffeuring Daughter to and from her library activities, serving up endless snacks, sweeping up sand and crumbs, and hiding in our air conditioned bedroom (yep, we are caught in the northeast heat wave, though thankfully on the low end with temps in the 90s). If not that, we're sitting in whatever pools we can find, or visiting grandma in her air conditioned house. It's too hot to hold knitting needles, too sticky for stitching, and I can't even turn on my bedside lamp to read at night because it throws too much heat. Yuck!

This too shall pass, I know, I know. In a few short years my children will be far better able to self-entertain. And I'm not complaining, really, about summer and heat. I vastly prefer being able to just run out the door with the kids when we want to go out, rather than bundling into winter gear...I guess I'm just making excuse that I don't have much to write about because this time is not really mine. It's all mommy all the time just now.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

an easter sweater in july

There's a new online quilt show aimed at the young, new quilter. It's called "Quilty" and it's hosted by Mary Fons, daughter of super-famous quilt personality Marianne Fons (of Fons & Porter). If you haven't seen it, check it out, it's very cute and focuses on beginner quilting skills.

There's a 2-part episode dealing with hand and machine quilting, featuring Marianne Fons as Mary's guest. When discussing the sample they are using to demonstrate different styles of quilting, Marianne says she had trouble coming up with something to bring along...she doesn't have a bunch of quilt tops laying around because, in her words: "I finish my projects."

I finish my projects. What novel idea! I often wonder why so many of us have craft ADD, where we flit from one project to another, leaving baskets of abandoned socks, sweaters, embroidery, quilts, etc. in our wake.

It's fair to say I always have at least two knitting projects on the go at once, generally one on larger needles and one on very small needles (a sweater and a sock, for example). But sometimes, as in right now, I get way more than that piling up. I currently have a sock, a sweater for Daughter, a sweater for AJ, a long-ago abandoned baby sweater that was supposed to be for my son but will now become a gift, a shawl, and a granny square afghan (crochet, but let's lump it in there). Actually, I just surprised myself in coming up with that seemed I had more semi-abandoned projects than that.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong to have a lot of projects going. It's certainly common. I have so many things I want to make it keeps me up at night, my mind racing with possibilities. And I also feel the need to knit and sew for my kids as much as possible while they are still little and will wear what I present to them...Daughter, at age 6, is already expressing strong opinions about her wardrobe and I've started consulting her before beginning anything new lest she dislike it and stuff it in the back of a drawer.

But none of that does any good if I don't finish up. So with that quote from Marianne Fons in mind, I sucked it up and finished the sweater I'd intended as an Easter sweater for Daughter.

Knitting Pure & Simple neck-down cardigan, size 6-8. I used close to 3 skeins of Lion Cotton Ease in white, knitted up on US 9 needles (US 8 for the seed stitch ribbings). I fell in love with these buttons and I think they are perfect to jazz up an otherwise plain sweater. Click on the photo to see them bigger - they look like gingham! So cute! They are "Dress It Up" buttons, purchased at Michael's.

This sweater was so boring, the size 9 needles felt so clunky, and the cotton yarn made my hands hurt. I guess that's why it took forever and a day to finish. Plus Easter was freezing cold (we wore wool) and it was such a cold spring season, this sweater wouldn't have gotten much use anyway. I'm hoping it will get lots of wear at the beginning of the school year.

So, that's done! I guess that means I can cast on for something new...right?

Friday, July 01, 2011

no, really, it's relaxing!

I'm sure that some people find the idea of knitting lace to be absolutely abhorrent...I think I used to be one of those people. So fiddly! Such fine yarn! Pretty, but useless! I want warm sweaters, dammit, not doilies!

Mmmmm. My words taste goooooooood.

It turns out I love to knit lace. In particular, I love to knit triangular shawls on a stockinette background, preferably with the edging incorporated into the body of the shawl, but this time around I'm going for it with a knitted-on edging.

I've begun the Shaped Triangle from A Gathering of Lace. The book photo does not do it justice in the least - if you want to see what it can really look like, check out the gorgeous blue one on ravelry.

I wish I had a pretty, soft color to make this shawl with, but I'm bustin' stash these days, and what I have is some well-marinated Knitpicks Shadow laceweight.

This yarn knits up beautifully, with no splitting or knots thus far. But the color is kind of uninspiring (I think it is called "sunset").

I've nearly completed the first chart, which is all these little asterisk-type things. I'm enjoying the heck out of knitting this so far! It does get more complicated after this chart, but so far it's been dreamy. I find knitting lace to be quite relaxing and distracting - the stress of dealing with my son's transitioning of therapy services has been so all-consuming it actually makes me feel physically ill. This pattern requires just enough concentration that I lose myself in the pattern and my brain stops chewing on other issues.

And it's a good thing, too, because I knit lace without a safety net. That's right, no "lifelines" here. Instead I make sure I knit this when the children are in bed or zombied-out in front of a video (only used when I am desperate for peace, I promise), with no media bombarding me. I sit in good light, and softly chant the stitch pattern to myself as I go along: "knit two, yarn over, knit three, yarn over, slip-knit-pass, yarn over, knit one..."

A holiday weekend is upon us (July already???) and the weather looks good. I'm going to get the house reasonably clean (ok, tidy, clean is a reach), and enjoy the sunshine with my family. Happy 4th!