homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Friday, October 29, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Which We Enjoy Nature

That's a bit of an unfair post title, really, seeing as how our default state seems to be outdoors. But something about fall makes me want to drag the kids into the woods constantly. Some recent lovely photos of autumn adventuring:

Squirrel drama. We're not sure if they were playing, fighting, or flirting,
but these two chased each other for a long time. Big entertainment.
Releasing milkweed "Santa Clauses" with PapPap at Laurel Caverns.
We went inside the cave, too. ;)
Viewing the rapids/falls at Ohiopyle

C making an Inukshuk. Okay, he was just stacking rocks, but I like to project.
And now he likes to say the word Inukshuk.

Like mother, like son.
Don't mess with Wolverine.

A genuine candid smile. See above; this kid loves to pull faces when he sees a camera pointed toward him.
It's all in how you spin it. Yardwork = not fun. Making a leaf pile = fun.
Air guitar with rake = more fun.
Burying dog in the leaves = *most* fun!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Think Globally, Act Locally

A passage in a recent blog post (someone else's) caught my attention and has been niggling at the edges of my consciousness. That is, the notion that providing your children with an alternative education creates an unfair advantage, and as such is amoral, or at the very least civically irresponsible. Kind of a "you may not enjoy your treat unless you brought enough to share with the rest of the class" vibe. Maybe it's just me. Here: I'll refer back to the original, from Living the Unschooling Life.

There were some dissenters, however, & one of the most vehement one was someone who could not understand why I would not continue to support the public school system.  To him, choosing my children over "all" children was socially & morally selfish.  AFter our interviews in various media, I saw a few people mention this, too.  Why not fix the problems from within rather than remove ourselves from it, in part because we could afford to leave? 

This resonated with me in no small part because of a conversation I had with a colleague years ago. Before I'd done my reading on education and my research on homeschooling, long before I'd married and had children, I mentioned to a coworker that I'd entered college with the intention of becoming a teacher, but quickly soured on it and changed majors. I never quite recovered from some discouraging--even shocking--attitudes that I encountered in my introductory classes within the School of Education. The lectures that I attended did not discuss learning theories or motivational approaches, but focused on crowd management and "results-based" standardized testing and basically every other depressing reality which suggests that public education is not about nurturing a love of learning and an ability to self-teach and pursue knowledge and skills, but rather about producing a consistent product and never questioning whether the quality of that consistency is acceptable. I was shocked, saddened, and frightened away. When I expressed my disillusionment to my friend, he challenged me: "Well, why didn't you stick it out and try to be the one who changes it?"

It was a good question. But let's be frank: it's also a naive one. Hollywood loves the story of the determined educator who nurtures potential in a group of disenfranchised kids. Many of these stories are inspired by real people, and I have a deep respect for the tenacity and determination and sheer resilience of each and every one of them. But--real or fictional--for every Jaime Escalante and Joe Clark, every Erin Gruwell or Louanne Johnson, there are hundreds more teachers who bleed themselves dry trying, and thousands more teachers and administrators and school boards who block their efforts, directly or indirectly.

I do not blame the teachers. Oh good gracious, this is the first thing that many people get defensive about when they hear that I don't send my kids to school. I'll probably explore my feelings on the teacher thing in another post. For now, though, I want to stay focused as much as possible on one point.

Which is, is it nobler to try to fix the system from within and elitist to remove my children from it?

I'll concede "maybe". Yes, it would be terrific to see some real change happen in our public schools. But the problems noted by Holt and Gatto and all of the other reformers, critics, and theorists that I never read about in school (but should have)...these underlying problems (we're not talking test scores!) have not only not been adequately addressed over several generations, but many of them have gotten worse. In many ways, we are so locked into our cultural notion of what "education" looks like, that I often feel that true reform is impossible. It's frustrating to watch well-meaning politicians and administrators try to "fix" schools by doing more of the same. The overall approach seems to be more funding and earlier intervention, and few people are brave enough to suggest that maybe the paradigm itself is inefficient at best and absurd at worst. Imagining that I would be the one person, the one catalyst, who could make enough of an impact to improve things within the generation that I teach is highly unlikely. If that makes me a defeatist, so be it. But it also makes me a realist. I know that I don't have that battle in me. I know that I can't survive that kind of soul-draining effort for the length of a career.

Is it elitist/amoral/selfish to take my kids out of that paradigm and let the other kids presumably suffer? The easy answer is "Yes and I don't care, so eff off." (Boy, wouldn't that be nice to say sometimes!) The more thoughtful answer is twofold.

First and foremost, it is my right and privilege and duty to consider the welfare of my children above all others. If that makes me an unpatriotic citizen, so be it. It is what it is. It's a social and personal choice, yes, but it's also a biological imperative and I feel neither the need to justify it nor to apologize for it. These children are my charges, and you'd better believe that I will make choices that benefit them without feeling like it's my obligation to make sure that *everyone's* kids enjoy the same benefit. Would we make a mother feel guilty for breastfeeding because others only have formula? How dare you give your child an advantage that all others don't have equal access to!

This blends nicely into my second point. Have we not yet gotten to a place in our Enlightened Society where we realize that Harrison Bergeron isn't a fable but a commentary? Guess what? There will never be a perfectly level playing field. Life will never be equal for everyone, and it's absurd to think that we can force such an environment. We cannot raise everyone to the ideal, but why do we insist on then equalizing by effectively asking everyone meet at the lowest common denominator? Just because you can't or won't doesn't mean that I shouldn't. Where is the live-and-let-live? Let me do it my way and stop begrudging me the freedom to try because I do not have the ability to do it for everyone.

I can feel myself talking in circles. That's how so much of the more controversy-stirring aspects of education makes me feel. It's just absurd!

I let my colleague's comment bother me for a long time. I felt as though he was challenging my drive, my intelligence, and my determination. I felt like he'd exposed me for chickening out. And maybe I did. But I've also come to realize something very important.

A public school teacher cannot improve the lives of all children. But a teacher can reach a few...can make a difference for a few, and that's a noble and wonderful thing.

A homeschooling parent cannot improve the lives of all children. But I can change things for a few.

I AM changing things. For MY few. And for them, I trust that it will make a positive difference.

Apron Monday: Pretty, Ratty

Those are two qualities, not one.

See? Pretty!

But oops, ratty.

Alas, the drawer in which I keep most of my aprons is overstuffed, and this one had the misfortune to get wedged between a moving part and a stationary part, and when I opened the drawer...RIIIIIIIIP!

I was pretty bummed.

However, there is hope. The rip is straight, clean, and along a grainline. Also, the print of the fabric is "busy" enough that the mending shouldn't be all that visible. If you look closely, the pattern right by the rip looks almost like a blanket stitch, so I could even try to hand-repair it in that way for better blending. I will rescue this one!

But right now I'm in the throes of Holiday Crafting, so it will have to wait.

What I like about this apron: Although the extreme gathering makes it effectively a dirndl (read: hideously unflattering on curvy figures), I am still somewhat charmed by the girly appeal of it. And yes, the cross-stitch pattern is part of the print rather than being genuine stitches,

which seems like kind of a copout, but I love it anyway. Finally, check out the suspended pocket.
Something tells me that there is a specific term for this style,
but I'm pretty tired right now and can't recall it.
If you know, please refresh my memory. 
Not only does it allow for a functional flat pocket on an extremely gathered garment (it hangs, as you can see, from the waistband), but the detailing with the tiny rickrack is retro-kitschy and wonderful.

I'm nearly to the end of my apron collection, egads! Only a few more and then...well, then I guess I'll have to start making them. I actually do have three cut out and waiting in the project bin, but I'll refer back to Holiday Crafting with the understanding that "someday" has no defined value. ;)

Friday, October 15, 2010

WIP: Measure twice, cut once.

I've lived and learned with the sewing thing. Sometimes, no matter how well you take measurements, a garment sews together with a completely different fit than you expected. Although it's an extra investment in time and effort, it can save a world of heartache (and a small fortune in fabric) to make a practice "muslin". It's true for formal wear, and it's true for costumes.

That's why I just sewed two paisley bodysuits.

They're unfinished, natch. (And FTR, they're paisley because I am a frugal goddess and repurposed an old bedsheet.) But look at the difference in size, between ONE grading of size in a prepackaged pattern (Simplicity 2855, a perennial workhorse. About 30 years ago, my mother used this same pattern to make a costume for yours truly. Ah, memories!). And I'm *so* glad I did the test-run, too, because as I'd suspected...I'm going to have to use one (the smaller, it turns out) as a starting point but alter the snot out of it to get it to fit my kid correctly.

Seriously, between two sizes we have a four-inch increase in the torso length, another four inches around the waist, a SIX inch increase in the sleeve length, and only two inches in the leg.

Whose kids are they measuring? That's just crazy!

Anyway...stay tuned. This is just the framework for a costume I'm going to be freehanding on top of this base. Wish me luck!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ridden Hard and Put Away Wet

This is another apron which is in such a state of disrepair that it's no longer functional. I'm not sure why I keep holding onto it, but I suspect it's a combination of factors.
  • I find the print appealing.
  • I find the cut appealing and might get a wild hair and copy it someday.
  • I feel too guilty to throw it away.
This guilt is a BIG motivator for my pack-rat tendencies. I blame The Velveteen Rabbit; when I see an inanimate object that was once loved, my heart breaks to think that it's not loved anymore. And I feel obligated to love that object. That dear, loyal, rejected object.

I mean, look at the repair work.

Someone who was not particularly good with a needle tried to mend this by hand anyway. Does that not just make you want to cry in empathy?

Alas, even if I could fix the disaster that used to be the waistband,

I'd still have this unwashable mess to contend with.

What is that...paint? Joint compound? I have no idea.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Advice for beginning knitters

This started as an email to a friend who asked for some getting-started advice. I've had so much fun thinking about this that I thought it might make a decent blog post as well. Please add your own advice in the comments--she'll be reading this! ;)

First, it helps to know your learning style. Some do well with written instruction; others need images. Some can manage with static resources (books, videos) while others need direct feedback (forums, IRL knitting groups). You'll have a lot of questions as you start, and knowing how to ask them is going to get you the most useful answers. That said, here are some of the resources that I've found useful for learning:

Ravelry. Get thee to Ravelry. Immediately. It's free to join and it's THE online spot for all things knitterly. The best part for beginners? Forums, forums, and more forums. Thousands. Yes, THOUSANDS, of other knitters from whom to ask advice. And do not get me started on the searchable pattern library. My queue is unrealistically long. This site has a number of tutorials for basic techniques, and special tricks. Many have images. Many more have short demonstration videos. And the folks who run it were nice enough to produce many of the videos with versions for English and Continental styles, so you can get the best advice for how your hands work. (A quick note on styles; don't let anyone fool you. Neither is superior. Do what feels most comfortable to you. My own style is kind of a mash-up. Pickers, throwers...we all get it done.)

Stitch and Bitch. Yeah, I know. But the teaching style in these books is very chatty (appealing to me) and easy to understand, and the projects are easy enough to get your confidence level up and trendy enough to actually look like something you might actually want to wear/use. You may grow beyond it, but it's a good place to start.

Knitty I adore this online knitting magazine, and not just for the always-anticipated quarterly publishing of gorgeous free patterns. It has a wealth of instructional articles, all searchable in archives.

And once you get into the swing of things, you'll likely seek out specific advice. Many people swear by Elizabeth Zimmerman (books). I love Wendy Johnson and Cat Bordhi for help on socks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Next step is to find a project. I am the absolute worst person to ask for advice on this. I taught myself to knit and purl using a LeisureArts pamphlet, made one wonky ribbed hat, and immediately dove into a textured baby blanket. I reinvented the wheel on a few things (like stitch markers), and made a TON of really stupid mistakes simply because I wasn't yet familiar enough with things to realize when I was goofing up. Of course, the baby blanket was for my first child and between the "love in every stitch" and the nostalgia of my naive optimism as I worked on it, it's probably my favorite piece. Warts and all.

Well? Maybe that's not a bad thing, then. But if you're the kind of person who is easily frustrated, or Type A, or who just wants something that actually looks nice when you're done, you'll do best to start with an easy project. A simple scarf in either garter or stockinette stitch is useful, lovely, and builds "muscle memory" for the basic stitches. Your first sweater should probably be a pullover with drop shoulders. Simple shapes, simple stitches, simple construction. I refer you back to the Stitch and Bitch books for some easy learning projects.

Finally, the stuff. This is a tough one. I find it hard to recommend really high-end materials to someone who may or may not keep up with the craft. On the other hand, using low-grade materials can lead to frustration and less than satisfactory results. I'll try to find a nice middle ground.

So, you need to buy some yarn and needles. At some point, you will want to seek out a LYS, or Local Yarn Store. KnitMap will help you locate shops by zip code. A LYS is a wonderful place to touch and feel yarn before purchasing (I've had good luck buying online, but have also had a few nasty surprises). They are usually staffed by knowledgeable and friendly people who should be able to help you with anything from selecting products to working out problems. And most of them host knitting groups, or knit nights, where you can go for a casual meeting and meet other people who enjoy the craft.


I'm frugal and shy (yeah, as chatty as I am, you wouldn't think, right?), so if I were taking you shopping for the first time, I'd probably just go to a chain craft store.

Horrible, I know.

Now here is where you enter a minefield. You *can* get some halfway decent stuff at a chain store. But you can also get some real junk. My recommendation is to get a yarn that is either 100% wool (if you are okay with hand-washing), or a wool blend (typically washing-machine safe). I know it sounds snobby to be anti-acrylic, and there is a range of quality among the acrylic brands, but the more experience I have with them, the more I'm convinced that they are just evil. Patons Classic Wool? Not bad. Lion Wool-Ease? It'll do. Cotton-Ease? Quite nice, actually. Red Heart? Step away from the yarn bins.

Seriously. Don't let the variety of colors fool you. Red Heart is the work of the devil. Yes, this means that you will not be doing your yarn shopping at Wal-Mart, so scratch that idea from your mind Right. Now.

If you do go to a yarn-centric boutique, LYS, or shop online (which I don't do enough to have an opinion, but several friends love KnitPicks for selection, price, and shipping), look for Cascade 220. It's available in an obnoxiously large palette of colors, is inexpensive (my favorite LYS sells it for $6 a skein, comparable to what Lion products go for at the chains--and it's a far superior product), and is a dream to work with. It is soft and durable. It's low-pilling while you're working with it but felts very well if that's your thing. I could say more things about how much I love it, but we'd be here all night.

And this post is already getting out of control for length. Sigh.

Finally, you'll need some needles. If you decide to commit to being A Knitter, you will want a full set of sizes, in a variety of materials. For just-starting-out, I would actually advise getting a basic pair of aluminum needles. Why aluminum when the bamboo are so darn nice? Well, the bamboo (and other wood) needles are indeed nice--for many yarns. But not for all of them. If your chosen yarn is "toothy", or if you knit tightly (a common problem amongst beginners), wood needles can actually make things more difficult for you. Most yarns will slide nicely over the metal surface. You can go fancy later.

I would start out with needles in a size 6 or 8, and I suggest making one of your first sets a circular needle. NO, I do not think you should start circular knitting until you are more comfortable. However, a circular needle (two short needles connected by a long cable) allows you to knit flat projects without holding the entire weight of the piece on the needles the entire time (lovely for baby blankets and sweaters). Short needles are also much easier to use; you're not banging them into your lap or the tabletop or whatever. Later, when you do decide to try knitting a tube...well, you'll already have a set of circulars. And I am *all* about items that are versatile.

What else? Really not much at the beginning. You may benefit from a set of stitch markers, but you can just as easily use small hair bands or a scrap of contrasting yarn, so that's not a necessary expense. If and when you decide to do a larger project in which you'll need to count rows, you could keep a scratch paper with hash marks (my old method), or you could go visit the nice ladies over at CrimsonOrchid Designs, who sell the most beautiful row counter bracelets. I think I have four of them now, and I love them dearly.

Knitting is one of those things that you have to DO before you really know what to ASK. My best advice is just to go slowly and try not to get overwhelmed. You'll be surprised how quickly you go from struggling to read a pattern, to modifying patterns. And then designing them...or going completely free-form.

Congratulations for deciding to try this! It's a soothing hobby, meditative in the repetition, challenging in the details, and rewarding in the final tangible product. Oh, and it's portable, which I can't say for my beloved sewing machine! LOL Good luck to you. <3

Friday, October 8, 2010

Running in Circles

I live close--like, across the street close--to a spur of the Montour Trail, a lovely bit of once-private real estate that has been reclaimed for public use. Once the site of a railroad line, the land is now maintained by volunteers as a "linear park". I discovered this trail system back in the 90's when my best friend and I used a paved section a few miles south of here for inline skating, and I fell deeply in love with the trails when another friend introduced me to trail biking a few years later.

*happy sigh*
The freedom of my youth that I reminisce about? Is 40 mile trail rides along the Youghiogheny (that's YOCK-uh-GEN-ee, for non-locals) River every Saturday. K and I would meet at 5:30 AM, hit the trail around 6:00, and our brains would finally be sufficiently warmed up to actually attempt some small talk by our first rest stop at around the 10 mile mark. Man, those were the days.

Seriously; this is the view from our first resting area.
Tell me you don't want to spend every weekend here.
Nowadays my life isn't particularly conducive to such all-day indulgences, and after many years of intending to do exercise videos but largely ignoring them (or being too distracted by the demands of small and needy people to even bother), I've settled on running as my double-duty mode of exercise and Time Alone To Recharge. I'm sure Ive mentioned that I had never run in my life until about 2 years ago when I tried the Couch to 5K challenge and actually finished it. And then kept going.

Naturally, I prefer to run on the trail. Not only is it right-out-my-door convenient, but it's largely quiet, free of traffic, mostly shady, and pretty. The crushed limestone surface is more joint-friendly than pavement and there's something charming about the "good morning!" smile-and-wave between neighbors.

the spur near our house. That's C, zoomin' on the training wheels. ;)
But I'm first and foremost a mom. Which means that unless my Beloved Partner is available to supervise the kiddies for a while during daylight hours, my run usually gets squeezed in after dinner. Or after work, on those nights when *I* head out to earn a few bucks. In the summer months, I usually have enough daylight left to just about make it. Once the days start getting shorter, though, I have to look for other venues.

The high school track is an option, or so I've been told. In reality, I've found that either there's a game or practice going on (in which case the public is forbidden from using the track), or it's just plain locked up. Rats.

I've run a time or two at the half-mile racetrack at the county fairgrounds, but despite the giant floodlights that illuminate the field in the center, I've found that the far end of the track is both disturbingly deep in shadows and kind of rutted. I'm always convinced that I'm going to take a spill on the uneven ground and then the Boogeyman will get me. So I don't go there very often.

Something tells me that road running after dark would just be suicide. I live in a municipality with very few sidewalks, and even fewer shoulders at the sides of the roads. Mine is not a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood at all. So really, road running at any time is just not something I do. And my aging knees are okay with that.

Which leaves indoor running. We own a treadmill but it's currently in a state of disrepair. No worries; we have a Community Center (free! My favorite!) nearby. With an indoor running track. It's where I did most of my initial training. It's where I do most of my midweek runs. It's dry, well-lit, and climate controlled. Awesome.

But it's also inside a building. Which means it's small. One twelfth of a mile per lap.

That's a lot of little circles. Enough to make you bored. Or crazy. Maybe even a little dizzy. But definitely bored. So it helps to play little games with myself, while I'm trying to keep track of my laps. I listen to my iPod (so worth the investment)...sometimes music, sometimes audiobooks. I focus on the middle distance to reduce the vertigo and claustrophobia (yes really. Come on, I'm running inside a box. You should see me on the treadmill; I go cross-eyed and get wobbly.) I mess around with my stride and speed. This is actually pretty fun on a short track, because it's a small investment. One lap is over in no time, so it's not so intimidating to go all-out for a brief burst. Mostly, though, I people-watch.

There are "regulars" with whom I share the track quite a bit. The skinny senior lady who wears sandals with socks all year 'round. The couple who walks together, then individually, then together again. The chatty girlfriends who seem genuinely startled every time they realize someone wants to pass them. On such a small track, it's hard not to notice the other folks. It's not like out in the real world where you encounter someone, either do the quick head-nod acknowledgment or avert your gaze because you're all badass in your "zone", and then go on your way and don't see them again. Indoors, you're lapping other people (or being lapped BY them) every minute or so. The "hi" thing doesn't work, because then you're in an infinite loop of awkward social graces. Do you have to acknowledge them every time? If you smile once and then ignore them, is that rude? What Do You Do!?!

Then there's the double-edged sword of playing games with the people. It can be a fun challenge to try to lap the walkers when you're running. Or to keep up with other runners. But it can also be a recipe for defeatism if you don't measure up. I don't run to be the fastest. I don't even know what my own times are. I run to run. I'd hate to fall into the trap of pushing myself too hard to "beat" someone when--for me, anyway--it's not about competing.

But, ya know. It can also be kind of fun.

I actually don't usually see other runners late at night. I run between 8-9 p.m., and the building closes at 9:00. Later in the evening, people seem to just want to walk. But every once in a while there is another runner. On a recent visit, there was a guy who was making me feel like about the slowest thing on two legs. It was good, though...I certainly wasn't going to "phone it in" in front of him. My strides got a little longer, as did my intervals. I wasn't going to catch him, but by Jove, I wasn't going to (completely) embarrass myself either! I was very conscious of his presence, so that I knew when to move out of the passing lane lest I break his stride. (Trust me, when you're running in a zillion little circles, constantly dodging around slower people can really get annoying.)

And then...I could tell he was approaching. I moved into the center lane.

He didn't pass.

I ran another lap.

He didn't pass.

OMG why wasn't he passing me? I knew he was back there!!

We ran a few more laps and I went into a cooldown walk, forcing him to pass me at last. On his next lap, he reached out toward me. WTF? I looked up and he smiled, looked back over his shoulder and motioned "come on".

Was he challenging me?

I laughed. No way, buddy. I am pretty out of shape right now and babying a bum knee that seems to just not want to behave itself. I had already run 1/2 mile more than I'd aimed for, and I was done.

Next lap, same thing. No words, just a beckon. Come on. Oh, now I understood. He thought I was giving up, not cooling down. He was cheering me on! Nevertheless, I demurred again.

On the next lap, I joined him. Then he walked a lap and retired to the corner to stretch. I walked a final quarter mile (that's three circles for those who are counting), and then walked another lap for good measure because he was stretching in the corner where I'd stashed my jacket and keys, and in a rapidly-emptying building it just seemed a little weird and too chummy to go do my own stretching right next to him. ("We made eye contact! We're besties now, right?")

By the time I reached The Stretching Place, he was walking away. He smiled and waved. I said, "that was fun!" (der.) He gave me an inquisitive look. Okay, idiot, you just acknowledged another person, now own up to it. "It was fun trying to keep up with you!"

And he said, "Hey, I was using you as a pacer during those last laps!"

Oh. That's why he didn't pass me.

And even though I knew, and he knew that I knew, that I was so not in his running league, I felt pretty freaking awesome about myself for a moment there.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This time, I did it on purpose

Every knitter has a horror story, about an item with days...weeks...maybe months worth of loving, careful work ruined by a careless person putting wool (wool!!) in a washing machine. And maybe drying it. The tears! The drama! The tiny little sweater/hat/socks!

It sucks, if you don't mean to do it.

"It" is correctly called "fulling", although common usage insists on "felting" (which, I am told, involves fibers that have not first been manipulated into an intentional shape (knit, crochet, weaving). Don't take my word for it: these folks explain it well. Anyway, for the purists out there...I know it's called fulling. But enough people call it felting that I may slip and use the terms interchangeably. Forgive me, please.

I've accidentally fulled two hats. One was quite by accident, and although the hat was too loose before the fated wash cycle, it became so misshapen in the dryer that it's barely recognizable as something one would wear on their head. Oh, you *can*, but it's an oddly shaped tricorner (it started as a rather clever peaked-crown, ear-covering brim beanie). Ah well. The other booboo was a hat I'd mis-gagued. It was part of a set (hat and gloves) intended as a Christmas gift for my mother and it was literally Christmas Eve when I finished and found out it was enormous. No time to redo. No time to even have a good cry about it. I ran it under some hot tap water and threw it in the dryer, and was left with a tight, firm fabric that was too small to reasonably fit any adult head. I tried to pass it off as a "cloche", and she was gracious in accepting it, but I am sure it's never been worn. Ah well, at least now I know that Paton's Classic Wool reacts dramatically to such treatment, should I ever decide to try again.

But let's talk about now. On a recent trip to Natural Stitches (I seriously LOVE this store), I picked up a skein of Cascade 220 in a pretty shade of bubblegum pink. Naturally, I am nowhere near my skein label so I can't confirm the actual colorway, but I don't think that really matters. I used this to teach myself Magic Loop by making a top-down hat (my lived-and-learned method for testing size as I go. No more poorly gagued hats!), and as the project grew, I decided that it wanted to be a beret for my best friend's daughter. I am not much of a beret person, myself. It's one of those things that I can appreciate aesthetically on someone else, but always feel like it looks like hell on me. My preference is a more sculpted look. I'd rather be closer to the Army end of the spectrum than the Rasta end, if you catch my drift. One way to accomplish the goal of "less floppy" was, ironically enough, to knit the thing way too big and felt (whoops, full) it later. Which is what I did.

I used nearly the entire skein to knit the hat. If I were a little more Type-A, I would have weighed or measured this or at least made some attempt at estimating what amount is left. But I didn't. The world will keep spinning anyway.

The dregs. I see some accent flowers in my future. Or maybe a small Fair Isle motif? Perhaps some intarsia? The possibilities are endless...

I didn't follow a pattern per se, but rather followed my impulses as it developed, under the general guidance of this knitting recipe. It has a slight peak at the center and a deep decrease section, intended in my mind at least to serve as the millinery equivalent of a collar stand. (There has got to be a name for this, but I don't know it.)

When I finally deemed it Finished and bound it off at the brim, I indeed had something enormous. It brought to mind "Ernie and Bernie" from the movie Shark Tale. (ETA: It was far more amusing when I'd just linked the picture of two Rasta-looking jellyfish, but the site I'd attached got all crabby and redirected my URL. Curses! I'm just going to have to assume that you know what I'm talkin' about.)

Or, in keeping with the oceanic imagery, a Big Pink Urchin. Which was nearly the title of this post. ;)

No, really. Look at this thing. It's absorbing my head like a mutant amoeba!

Yes, I have grey hair AND zits. At the same time. Mother Nature is a sadist.
Okay, to be fair I might have been able to pass this off as a "slouch" hat were it not for the entirely-too-baggy brim. I could barely keep it from sliding down over my eyes long enough to snap a picture. No way a gradeschool girl would do better unless she has a head like a melon. And I'm pretty sure she doesn't.

On to the felting! I mean, fulling!

One of the bestest things that happened in 2010 was that our washing machine died and we upgraded to a high efficiency machine. We are a family of six. We do a LOT of laundry. Saving on our energy and water bills at the same time AND being able to wash more clothes per load makes me a rather grateful housewife. However, I wasn't sure whether felting (rats, FULLING) would happen with the same dramatic results, given that the machine lacks an agitator post. I found this delightful article over at Knitty and decided to try some old-school no-machine felting using it as a guide. Since my project was small, I substituted "pan on stove" for "bucket in shower". I also opted for a potato masher rather than a plunger for my agitator. That plus a few plastic dryer balls, and I was ready to heat and beat this fiber into submission.

Knitting plus cooking. Someone help me.
Um. Yeah.

You know what? Apparently "boiled wool" takes for-freaking-ever. I gave it the old college try; I really did. I  got playful and pretended the potato masher was an agitator post. I even got tongs involved in the process. I boiled. And agitated. And rubbed those spiky little balls all over the place. And it just seemed like nothing was happening.

So I got bored and fed up and threw the steamy-hot hat into the dryer with a load of my stepson's work clothes.

It came out looking...improved. Not quite where I wanted it yet, but it was definitely changing from a shapeless sack into something that could be molded into a number of creative shapes.

But it wasn't quite done yet. I had another load of laundry to do, and--what luck--it required hot water. So I threw all caution to the wind and put the hat in with the sheets & towels and hoped for the best.

It. Came. Out. Perfect.

It's EXACTLY the size I wanted it to be. I'm currently air-drying it and am therefore hesitant to try it on, lest I stretch the brim before the fibers really lock in to their new arrangement. I could not be happier with the results, though. The fabric is soft and semi-firm. It holds a shape well but is flexible enough to adjust as desired.

I am so psyched about this. And I couldn't wait to share it with all of you!!

We need a little Christmas

Whoops, I didn't blog an apron yesterday. Well, in my defense I had a lot more interesting things going on. ;) But here's a belated picture for those who are keeping score...the second of my two holiday-themed aprons. Which no, I did not bother to iron. (Shut up.)

Its stats are as follows:

Origin: I've forgotten
Manufacture: unsure. It appears to be handmade.
Style: gathered skirt, single pocket
Category: Kitsch/holiday/hostess
Appeal: The print (carolers) is cute yet understated

Drawbacks: short ties. Yes, even objectively speaking. Which sadly brings its likelihood of use way down, despite my overall like for it.

I know it's probably a little early to be sharing the Christmas aprons, but it's a chilly day and just looking at this makes me think of a crackling fire, a houseful of loved guests, and perhaps a lovely hostess serving a throwback tray full of Hot Toddies and eggnog.

Seconds, anyone?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Works in Progress

This week's primary craft project was crocheting a colony of beanbag rabbits, which are part of a birthday gift for a friend's 2yo (party tomorrow). I finished embroidering their faces today, and decided to turn the rest of the pink skein (bunny noses) into something lovely. So I started knitting a hat for another friend's daughter.

The bunnies will find a home in a clever little carrot bag (pattern in this book) that I sewed this week. I still have some finishing work to do on it, but as this is a resurrection of a previous craft it's safe to say that the finished kit will look like its predecessor:

Counting/Color Toy, Mark 1
The hat is a top-down beret. It's my first project using the Magic Loop method, which I've tried and abandoned before after deeming it too clumsy. No worries; I am pretty handy (and perfectly happy) with a fistful of DPNs. A recent trip to Natural Stitches and a purchase of some better-quality circular needles, however, has ignited my ambition to dive in to this technique.

My experience with circular needles thus far is limited to Boye (cheap!), Susan Bates Quicksilver (distressingly "grabby" with most yarns I've tried), Addi Turbo (My most expensive set. They're incredibly nice for lace, but mine isn't well-suited to ML because of length), and now my new ChiaoGoo needles. I am smitten with the ChiaoGoo. The cables are freakishly smooth and have little to no memory, and a very smooth join to the bamboo needles. These and the Cascade 220 yarn I'm using (OMG soft!) have me not wanting to put this project down. What a difference good materials make!

The beret is kind of free-form, based on several "recipes" and good old fashioned guesswork. I'm intentionally making it too big and plan to "full" it in the washing machine to produce a denser finished fabric, to minimize flop and make a more sculpted piece. I hope. This will be my first attempt at intentional fulling, and my first time using the new high-efficiency washing machine to do so. Wish me luck!

And finally, although I haven't worked on this little guy in a week or so, I suppose that Sheldon deserves mention as another current WIP.

He'll be much cuter when he has legs. And a shell. :)

Food Friday(ish): Waffles!

Nothing new this week in the kitchen. At least, not from me. The Husband was home on staycation this week and embarked on a few delicious but nevertheless undocumented culinary adventures. Me? Same-old, same-old. But there's something to be said for comfort food.

Baking. Or is this really grilling? Let's just say *cooking*, shall we?
Yes. The dog got some waffles too. I'm not completely heartless. ;)