Monday, December 21, 2009

One Last Holiday Thing (and One Free Pattern)

Last minute holiday stuff is coming up all around me, and it's making me think fast about last minute gift ideas for family and friends. I figured I'd share my musings with you in case you too are at a loss. Parts of my list could be for knitters and others, but mostly for knitters of course, because I am one and so am very biased in knitterly favor.

Audio Books
This depends on your giftee, but in general I find audio books to be well-received. I myself have a few around and some were sent to me for review purposes. I most recently dove into a review copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society with gusto, and really enjoyed it. Disarmingly homey, this is the story of the correspondence and relationship that forms between columnist and author Juliet Ashton and members of a rather unique book group. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is formed spontaneously as an alibi to protect the members from arrest by Nazis during the occupation of Guernsey. Presented as a series of letters between members, artfully read by multiple voices, I found this a compelling listen. Following Juliet's process from slight to intense interest in this band of club members was entrancing.
I also received The Girl Who Played With Fire to review. Having not had the benefit of reading (or hearing) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I had concerns that I might be missing enough critical information to make this a complicated listen. I had nothing to fear. I was instantly captivated by this thrilling tale of criminal activity and investigation, and by the main character Lisabeth Salander. I found myself rapidly caught up in the story, and sense that if it had been the "real" book I might have found myself curled in my chair long past bedtime, pages turning one after the other, unable to put it down.

Webs Gift Cards
Or a receipt for the one that you ordered online. I always think that the size of the gift card should be commensurate with how late you are in purchasing it. In other words if you don't manage to shop until Christmas Eve - or worse, online on Christmas morning, then the value of the card should be at least double what you would have spent if you'd planned better. Trust me, this will make you feel MUCH better about the whole thing. Would I lie? If you get your gift card in person at the store, amp it up a notch by tacking on a pair of really nice needles, a set of fancy stitch markers, or any of the myriad of other knitting notions we knitters just can't live without. Webs store staff is more than able to assist you in finding just the right thing!

Something Knitted
If you are a knitter, and you've got a toddler or small child in need of a personal but hurry-up gift, knit something and make it their own. Shopping out in public this weekend I ran across multiple examples in different shops of adorable knitted hats and mittens for kids that really were super simple, just embellished and customized into painful cuteness. Here as an example we have the basic knitted hat and mittens:
Yawn? Boring? Dull, right? Well, help it out a little. Knit your own and embellish the daylights out of it. If you're really pressed for time, you could even buy a set at your local department store and cover them with scrap-ball embellishments. This hat and mittens were knit in one day, and embellished the next morning. Super simple and super fast and VERY fun. The hat pattern is below.

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash colors Chocolate, Magenta, and Pink Ice are shown, but you can use any three colors of a worsted weight yarn that will get the correct gauge.
Needles: For me, a Clover 48" circular, US 4, but you should swatch and use whatever needles get you the proper gauge!
Gauge: 5 sts/inch in stockinette stitch
Notions: Clover (or other, this just reflects my bias toward a favored multi-tasker) locking ring stitch markers (8 of them), tapestry needle, imagination.
Finished size: about 16 inches in circumference.

The finished hat will fit a toddler, from about age 2 to about age 5, depending on the size of the kid in question. It may fit a 11 year old, if a bit snugly, as mine did (I just slapped it on one to see). It's snug on me, but I'd wear it, and my head is about 20 inches around. PLEASE feel free to adapt, modify, make bigger or smaller by adjusting gauge, or number of rounds knit, or casting on an extra inch or two's worth of stitches, or what-have you. This is a really basic pattern, and it assumes the knitter has a basic skill set of simple decreases and circular knitting techniques, or knows where to get information on the same.

Toasty Warm Toddler Hat With Ear Flaps Begging for Embellishment:

Cast on 80 stitches – Divide and join for working in the round. (This will vary based on the type needles you choose for your project. I used one long circular, so I divided the hat in two sets of 40 stitches. You could easily substitute dpn if desired, dividing the stitches based on the number of needles in play – for example 20 stitches on each needle if you’re using 5, or 26-28-26 if you’re using 4 and so on. Really all that matters is that you've got 80 stitches and they're joined for working in the round somehow. You could use one 16” circular and not divide at all. Choices, choices!)

Work in garter stitch for 1.25” (knit one round, purl one round; alternate these two rounds until desired length is achieved). Change to stockinette stitch and work until the hat measures 5” from cast on edge to needles. Knit one more round, placing markers after each set of ten stitches.

Crown decreases: Decreases will be in the 8 sections of ten stitches each that you've just made with your stitch markers.
Round 1:*K8, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 2 and all even rounds until round 14: Knit.
Round 3: *K7, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 5: *K6, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 7: *K5, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 9: *K4, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 11: *K3, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 13: *K2, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 14: *K1, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 15: *K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round. 8 stitches should remain.

Cut yarn leaving a 6" tail. Thread yarn tail onto tapestry needle, and pull through all live stitches, pulling to close top of hat. Take yarn to inside of hat and run in end. Run in end of yarn at center back of hat (the tail where you cast on).

Earflaps: These can be left off if you're in a really big hurry. I am just a sucker for ear flaps.
With right side facing, beginning at center back of hat, count across 10 stitches, pick up and knit 16, skip next 28 stitches, and use a second yarn to pick up and knit 16 more stitches. These two sets of 16 stitches form the foundation of the earflaps. I worked mine at the same time, but you can easily slip one set of picked up and knit stitches to a stitch holder and work them separately, or just don’t pick them up until you’ve finished the first ear flap. More choices!!

The earflaps are worked back and forth in rows.
Keeping first and last 2 stitches in garter stitch and the center 12 stitches in stockinette stitch, work 7 rows on all 16 stitches. Now begin decreasing to shape flaps:
Next (RS) row: k2, k2tog, k to last 4 sts, ssk, k2 (14 sts)
Next 3 rows: k2, keep center 10 sts in st st, k2.
Next (RS) row: k2, k2tog, k to last 4 sts, ssk, k2 (12)
Next (WS) row: K2, p2tog, p to last 4 sts, p2tog tbl, k2(10)
Next (RS) row: k2, k2tog, k to last 4 sts, ssk, k2 (8)
Next (WS) row: K2, p2tog, p to last 4 sts, p2tog tbl, k2(6)
Next (RS) row: K1, K2tog, ssk, K1. (4)
Knit two rows on these 4 stitches, then bind off.

I made the ties using 12 strands of yarn, 4 of each color, about 20 inches long. I braided them together and attached them. You can do the same, or knit I-cord, or crochet a chain and work single crochet along it...whatever works for you!

Now comes the fun. Embellish. I've shown you two options here, but there's a million. Simple or complicated, it's up to you. You could use felt scraps to cut out shapes - think trucks, airplanes, snowmen, lollipops, the sky is the limit, and stitch them into place. Or crochet shapes and sew them on. Embroider flowers. Go simple. Go crazy. ANYTHING!! Now find a cold kid, and your work here is, as they say, done!


st - stitches
st st - stockingette stitch
gs - garter stitch
k2tog - knit 2 together
p2tog - purl 2 together
ssk - slip, slip, knit

For tutorials that teach a wide range of knitting skills, check out Knitting Help. This is an amazing website with a huge amount of information available to knitters!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We Fish Ewe a Mare Egrets Moose Panda Hippo Gnu Deer

Since I am such a stellar blogger the past few months, I thought I'd do one now in case I don't get back here until after Christmas and New Year!
I knit something for a pattern, which is something like a miracle lately. But then it's Christmastime.These are called Dresden Green Socks (so far, although the company who owns the pattern could change their minds and cal them something completely different). I did them for Clover-USA to help promote their long circulars, of which I am a fan. Anyone who's taken a class with me knows how smitten I am with Clover's locking ring stitch markers and their bent-foot seaming needles. I also like using their circs. Although a stainless girl most of the time, I occasionally venture into wood or bamboo. I've got their circs in 47" lengths down to a US0. They've stood up to my abuse unbelievably well for a wooden needle, and I am impressed. I did a little bit in the new book that reviewed needles, and I wish now that I'd had some of these on hand when I did so that I could have added them to the mix, because really they've made me very happy. I think the pattern will be available at TNNA, but I am not 100 percent certain of that.
I just put them first so you'd know that yes, I do still knit. In fact I have a few other things floating around here that I can't share. It's Christmas, people. My family reads my blog. So if I were knitting for someone and I put it here, well. Then you'd all know about it, and so would they. That doesn't work for me.
So we'll flip to holiday decor and memories now. I've been musing a lot on my kids when they were small. I think it started with this - which they've tried to wrest from my maternal grasp for years now.
Made with a half a sheet of poster board, crepe and construction paper, some wool, a bead, a pipe cleaner, and a bit of tin foil and glitter, it's probably the dearest part of Christmas for me. I love taking it out of the bin, finding a safe place for it, and staring at it all season long. I remember when we made it, their chubby baby hands struggling with scissors and glue caps, laughing, spotting my house with glitter that remained like warm memories for months after. The first year they were proud of it. The second year the glow began to fade. By the third, fourth and fifth year they were actively attempting to hide it. It's now, I'd guess, about 18 years old. So much changes in 18 years.
When I was 18, I had a baby. And he grew. He grew and he grew. And he became a man. Now, at 23, he's a father. It's the cyclical nature, the way things come around and go around, about life that always awes me. The baby becomes the woman becomes the mother, and hands her child to him, he who was the baby such a long and such a short time ago.For now she's the baby, Miss April is. And here, just two years ago, I announced her birth. Two very short years.Last night as I was going to bed I retrieved my cell phone to pop it on the charger and I found a message from that baby. She said "Goodnight, Omie! I love you, Omie! Goodbye, Omie!" Two years. She grew and she grew, until she became a toddler. I can't wait to see who she becomes. But a part of me sometimes wishes she were still the little bundle I cuddled 2 years ago. And sometimes I wish he were the bundle I cuddled 23 years ago, and Girl were the bundle I cuddled 21 years ago. But they aren't, can't be, never will be again. That's good. I think. Yes, it's good.
Lots of things grow around here. For example, chicken eggs grow. Sometimes dramatically. In the eleven years I've kept birds I have never had an egg this big.Three inches long from stem to stern, with two big yolks inside, as if she'd been saving up, and maybe she had been. This came out of my older Americauna hen. She's reverted to type and is laying proper sized eggs now, but for three days we got eggs progressively larger until this one popped out. Imagine that, from human perspective - that's like giving birth to one of those crazy 18 pounders, every day, for three days in a row. Yowza.
This weekend the birds will move into their new digs.But don't call it a chicken house, at least not near Mr. Wonderful. This, my friends and faithful readers, is a Solar Barn in which non-pooping chickens may be allowed to stay. He's put them on notice. No pooping in the solar barn. You keep telling them, honey. I know they hear you, and of course will obey.
The tree is kind of odd this year. Well, not odd exactly, but not the typical MMO et al type of tree. Every few years I get theme-y. I had more planned for this tree theme, but haven't gotten it done. So we go with these guyssheep from Malea's Pottery pasture, simple gold balls, and white lights. That's it. And I love it.I love the simplicity of it.
And so I give you my wish for your Christmas. May your holiday be filled with simple pleasures and heartwarming treasures (both old, of crepe and glitter, and new, of flesh and bone and ringlets), and love and laughter and joy and peace.
Merry Christmas