Summer of Baby Blankets, vol. 1 – Autumn Vindauga, plus a rainbow friend

It’s the self-imposed “Summer of Baby Blankets” over here at Casa Jingersnaps. This summer, not one, not two, but three of my coworkers are pregnant, and I just couldn’t let those opportunities to make adorable baby blankets pass me by.

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First up, the Autumn Vindauga Blanket.

My friend Christina, who you all remember from her Moderne Baby Blanket a few years ago, is going to have her second baby later this summer, and to say that I am extremely excited about it is a vast understatement. Christina is one of the world’s loveliest people, and she deserves all of the happiness possible in the universe. I try to do my part with general at-work goofiness, but when I get the chance to make things for her, that’s when I feel like I can really show her the love that she deserves.

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In college, I used to take the paint strips from home improvement stores and use them as bookmarks. It seemed like an arty thing to do while in theatre school, but the habit stuck. Dan regularly brings home new paint strips for me whenever he goes to buy gardening stuff, and they dutifully mark my place in all of my novels and textbooks to this day.

What on earth does this have to do with anything, you may ask? Well, when Christina and I started looking at baby blankets on Ravelry, we were struck by how insanely beautiful Astrid Sivertsen‘s Vindauga Blanket was. It’s a huge project, with seemingly 64 different unique colors, all made out of hand-dyed sample mini-skeins that the author made herself. It’s stunning, and absolutely a masterpiece of dying and handknitting skill.

However, I am not a hand-dyer in any way, and I would probably ruin hundreds of dollars of yarn in the attempt to make anything even close to this thing of beauty. What I do have though, is a mastery of the subtle art of drawing things out on graph paper, plus a love of little boxed of color stacked on top of other boxes with white borders in-between.  You see where I’m going with this?

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I sat down with the color chart for Cascade 220 Superwash Merino (a workhorse yarn with amazing stitch definition that still somehow makes one of the softest, squishiest fabrics possible after blocking) and some colored pencils, and I plotted out a plan. Since the original Vindauga pattern is more of a recipe with changeable elements, rather than a strict pattern, I knew I’d be able to adjust things without too much stress. I plotted out 7 rows and columns, 7 colors ranging from brown to green, passing through reds and golds on the way, going through the blanket on the diagonal.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the whole thing is plotted out like a crossword puzzle, with diagonal symmetry, pairing the darkest with the lightest color, then the next darkest and lightest, then the next set, until everything meets in the middle. Those among you that enjoy these things can then catch out the inconsistency if you wish. Give up? The center block doesn’t follow these rules, mostly because I just wanted an extra block of that gorgeous burnt orange, so that throws off the whole thing a tiny bit. Oh well, it was worth it.

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For those of your who’d like to make your own with the same autumn colorway, here’s the colors: Rich Brown (03), Raspberry (22), Burnt Orange (06), Golden Yellow (05), Artisan Gold (08), Dark Moss (10), and Tree Top (15), with the “frame” color of Cream (01). You’ll need 1 skein each of each of the window colors, and 2 of the border color, and you’ll be knitting it up on size 7 needles, or whatever gives you the fabric you desire. My Prismacolor pencils weren’t exactly the right shades, but you get the idea.

After all of the colors were picked, then I knitted the strips for the blanket. Because the original pattern calls for 2 strands of what I assume is something sort of fingering-weight held together, I had to make some modifications to adjust for the light worsted I was using. Each vindauga (window in Old Norse!) is 24 sts wide and 14 ridges high in garter stitch, with the frame borders 3 ridges high.

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I was in love with my little garter stitch sushi rolls.

After all of those strips were knit, there were a lot of ends to weave in.

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See? A lot.

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It’s hard to see, but because of how stretchy the garter stitch fabric is, I chose to weave in each end by following the stitch lines, mimicking the last row of stitches to both conceal the ends, but also to allow for the blanket to stretch and move without working out the ends accidentally.

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If you’re following along at home, that’s 7 windows per strip, plus 6 border areas, which means 26 ends per strip. Not to mention the ends still to come with joining the strips together. It’s a little maddening. You just have to keep thinking good thoughts.

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Then came the process of grafting the strips together. I’m sure that the process used in the original pattern makes sense, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Instead, here’s what I did. I picked up and knit 2 rows of cream onto the sides of each seam. Then, I held the right sides together and grafted them together with Kitchener stitch, but I treated both rows like the right side. That means, for each stitch, I pulled the yarn through knit-wise to take the stitch off, and then pulled through purl-wise to leave it on, rather than switching between the two depending on their needle position. This will make more sense when you’re in it, trust me.

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That way, I ended up with perfect purl bumps right in the middle of the frame. It took a bit of perfecting over time, especially with keeping the tension just-right, but after doing 6 of them, each 116 stitches long, it became second-nature.

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Ugh. So pretty. What a cool way to join strips. What a cool way to make a blanket in general. Astrid, you’re the coolest.

As for the border, the pattern has you do provisional cast-ons, and you leave your stitches live at the tops of each strip, so picking up your stitches is so much easier than you’d think. I picked up 2 stitches per “frame” section between the strips, just to keep things nice and even.

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In the corners, you increase two stitches on opposite sides of the corner each time to keep the corners flat and pointy. I just did bar increases, leaving the little row of knit stitches in place to mark the corner lines. I really like how it makes it look sort of “beveled” there, but you can do whatever increase strikes your fancy.

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Then, you weave in all of those remaining ends. Of which there are…26 more? I think? So 208 ends? I’m glad I didn’t know that before I started, or I might not have had the strength.

And then you can block it, which is really just a magical experience with the Cascade 220 Superwash Merino, because it just turns into this gorgeous silky stuff with amazing drape, while still keeping your garter stitch ridges all popped and perfect.

And then, just marvel at the thing for a while.

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And then wonder if you have the inner fortitude to make a queen-sized one, because you want to cover every horizontal surface in your house in those perfect little garter-stitch windows. They’re so good.

Now, if you did yours the same way that I did mine, you’ll end up with a tiny bit left over of each color. Just enough to make you think that you need to make a extra something special for the big sister. I’m a big proponent in getting presents for the other kids when there’s a new baby, so they don’t feel left out of the celebration.

Enter I Can Knit a Rainbow, a puffy little piece of adorableness designed by Clare Doornbos and featured in Knitty‘s First Fall 2014.  I used each color, moving from greens to brown, accidentally leaving out the Artisan Gold, but then ultimately not being too broken up about it because it came out so dang cute.

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Look at that 70s modern kitchen color template action. All that mustard and burnt orange and avocado. Turns out, I can knit a 70s rainbow, and it’s even cuter than I thought it would be.

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It’s so soft and squishy and adorable. I want to make a million more of them and hand them out on the street to everyone. The more rainbows, the better.

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And so ends the first installment of the Summer of Baby Blankets. But don’t worry, there’s plenty more cables and colorwork and nit-picky pattern adjustments to come.

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Starry Night at the Ritz

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I am more of a process knitter than a product knitter. I want to try every technique all the time, but I don’t necessarily want to keep everything that I make. I just want my hands to stay busy. That’s why it’s a blessing in disguise that I have somehow become surrounded by a whole bunch of pregnant ladies at all times.

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HOWEVER. If anyone tries to ask me for this shawl, they are going to have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I am in love with this scrap of fiddly lace-and-beads nonsense, hence all of the goofy faces in these pictures.

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I bought this skein of Dream in Color Starry Silver in Starless Sky (tragically discontinued!) a very long time ago, not having any idea what on earth I would do with it. Sparkly socks are quite tempting, but I figured that this gorgeous stuff should be out on display, not hidden under shoes and pants. Sparkles need to be in the sunlight to achieve their true potential, yes? Yes.

But what shawl pattern could possibly be worth it? Well, when you’re zooming along on Ravelry, looking at shawl patterns, and one pops up that states that it contains 650 individually-placed beads, you get stoked. Glitz at the Ritz is a thing of such complicated, fiddly beauty that I couldn’t resist.

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As soon as I started the first lace pattern, I just knew that this pattern and this yarn was simply a match made in heaven. As for the beads? Toho Japanese glass beads, the clear glass with the silver foil inner lining, size 6/0 E.

I am particularly enamored of the way the large sparkly beads are picked out against the more subtle shimmer of the background yarn. It’s reminiscent of a fiber-optic star curtain, a reference that no one else will probably understand, but that made the lighting designers in the audience get real excited.

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In this particular pattern, the beads are individually placed with a tiny crochet hook onto each stitch right before knitting it, rather than having them strung onto the working yarn. This is really the best way to do it, in my opinion, for many reasons. Not only do you not have to be dealing with stringing a bajillion beads onto your fancy yarn and constantly moving them around and scraping up your delicate mylar threads, but you also get to feel like a mad scientist with your knitting needles in both hands and somehow also a crochet hook the size of a sewing needle balanced precariously within, attempting to not drop the bead or let your stitches drop off the needle (both of which might have happened to me several times).

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I mean, look at that bead action. It’s all worth it, even though when I try to vacuum between the cushions on my couch later, I’m sure I’ll find an awful lot of tiny glass beads that slipped from my grasp. Hopefully the cats didn’t eat any.

The best part of the knitting (although all of it was great, and I sincerely didn’t want it to end) was the bind-off row, hands-down.

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When you’re reading the pattern for that part, it seems insane. As you move along and knit it, you feel like you’re knitting each stitch 5 times over, but you’re really making the most adorable alternating picot bundles with beads placed in the ditches between. It’s utterly unnecessary and ridiculous and yet just a lovely and perfect finish to the whole thing.

As much as knitting it was a joy, pinning it out was even better. My blocking wires took care of the curved top, and as I stretched out each tiny picot edge bundle and pinned it, I just fell in love all over again.

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Dan said, when he saw it all pinned out, that it looked like falcon wings. He’s not wrong.

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Taking pictures of it was a bit of a challenge, due to the fact that the dark blues and purples shift color wildly in different light.

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Sometimes it’s purple.

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Sometimes it’s blue.

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Sometimes it’s lurking in the window, looking all shadowy and fancy.

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No matter what, it’ll make you feel like a goddamn knitting master.

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And a pretty, pretty princess.

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So get out there and get yourself some sparkly sock yarn, some beads, the tiniest crochet hook you’ve ever seen, and some never-ending patience so you can make your own. When you’re spinning around in the park feeling awesome with your new shawl, you’ll be glad you did.

Chocolate Pie & a Warm Pup – the City Stripes Dog Sweater

In early January, my friend Kelli had a wonderful idea. We decided to chase our winter blues away and celebrate the tiny amount of time I had left before my semester started again by baking chocolate fudge pie.

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This girl right here is just full of good ideas. If it’s any indication of just how good of an idea this was, this is the first real opportunity that I’m having to post about it because of school and work and nonsense, despite the fact that it happened 3 months ago.

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We took the chilly day as an opportunity to learn the finer points of pie crust-making, focusing on proper rolling and fluting technique, which are the fiddliest and best parts, of course.

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Such concentration!

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It was worth it.

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Look at that pie-making pride! Well-deserved, indeed.

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I don’t really have a recipe or anything to share, just wanted to brag a little bit about how freaking delicious that pie was. However, during our pie-making, Kelli and I were bemoaning how cold it was this winter, and we got onto the topic of dog sweaters.

Kelli is the greatest dog lover that I know, and that’s really saying something. She loves all pups, especially her tiny Ellie, and we spent part of the afternoon brainstorming on Ravelry what new sweater I would knit for her in order to keep warm during the rest of the winter.

I have never knit an article of clothing for an animal before, primarily due to two facts. One, I am allergic to dogs and cannot spend much time around them without dissolving into a sneezing, wheezy mess. Two, I own two cats, both of which have a history of handily annihilating any object placed on their person, except for a collar. (And even then, only select collars.)

We settled on Lion Brand’s City Stripes Dog Sweater pattern after falling in love with its stripey, squishy goodness, plus the fact that it has a wide range of sizes and fit modifications built into the pattern.

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I am not normally a huge Lion Brand fan, but Wool-Ease Thick & Quick can be downright delightful when it’s combined with the right pattern.  Kelli told me that she wanted neutrals, blues, and golds, and I think I hit the jackpot.  The colors we went with were Sky Blue (106), Mustard (158), and Barley (124), and when they’re striped up all nice, they remind me of a very fancy private school uniform.

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Wool-Ease is soft and squishy and bouncy, perfect for making those stripes pop. I was quite enamored of the wrong side, as I often am. Knitters know, sometimes the wrong side, the inside, is prettier.

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But the right side, hoo boy, it’s nice, too.

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Plus, Wool-Ease is machine-washable, an essential element when knitting anything that’s going to spend the majority of its worn life just a few inches from the ground.

I pretty much followed the pattern exactly as written for the smallest size (the 18″ chest), due to Ellie being a very tiny pup. I carried all of the colors up the side, which all disappeared conveniently in the seaming.

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The only change that I made was in the binding-off. I used a larger needle just for the bind-off rows on each piece (I’m pretty sure I used a size 17 for this, but, as usual, I neglected to write down this important information). When I bound the stitches with the original size 13 needles, it just seemed like it wasn’t stretchy enough to fit comfortably over the head of a squirming animal. Redoing it with the larger needle size made it nice and stretchy without deforming the overall shape. I decided to try it out on the most unwilling participant I could find, just to be sure.

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Trip tolerated it for a whole 5 seconds before deciding that both it and I needed to be destroyed. I’m pretty sure that that solidified my #1 place on his future hit-list, but he looked so cute I couldn’t resist.

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But how did it go with Ellie?

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Awwwwwww.

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Such a warm and cosy pup.

Now that the weather’s gotten warmer, and it actually feels like spring around here (which feels more like summer to everyone else in the country), I know that Kelli and Ellie don’t need their sweater as much, but I have faith that it’ll last them for a long time to come. As for me, it is very tempting to use the 1/2 skeins I have left of each color to make a kitty sweater, but I think I’ll take the safe option and make a blanket for them to destroy. They’ll love it.

Hot Pink Lindsays, the pinkest socks ever

During the Summer of Socks (parts 1, 2, & 3!) last year, I ordered a variety pack of Knit Picks Hawthorne in order to get a certain specific color that I wanted that wasn’t available individually for some weird reason, and I ended up with a bunch of random colors of sock yarn that I might not have necessarily bought otherwise.

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It’s hard to go wrong with a variety pack of Hawthorne, though, since all of the colors are just super-saturated and gorgeous, and these jewel tones were right up my alley.

But that pink! It’s so pink that I kept saying it “pank” over and over again. This color is called “Rose City,” and it is the pinkest yarn I have ever seen, and I have knit an awful lot of Pussyhats. It’s a glorious thing, but not something that I feel like I’d ever be able to wear, even on my feet. I’m just not that committed to pink.

However, after some of my coworkers at the hospital saw my socks from the Summer of Socks (yes, I will refer to it with its full name every time), I got requests for hand-knitted socks from all kinds of people. When my friend Sabrina said that she wanted some, I knew that this pink would be perfect for her.

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Sabrina is a kick-ass punk-rock pixie-looking awesome nurse that I had the pleasure of working with while our floor was being renovated almost 2 years ago. She’s all black hair and cool tattoos and sassiness, and this pink just called out to me when she expressed an interest in some socks.

I sat down with her and showed her a bunch of sock patterns, and she picked out Lindsay by Cookie A., a masterpiece of garter-stitch short-rowing and gathered stitches.

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Now, I am beyond pleased with the way these came out. They are exactly like I pictured in my mind, and I think that the pink just works amazingly well here.

However…

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…those k4togs are a bitch. If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I have a long-standing hatred of all things nupp, bobble, and popcorn stitch. Knitting 4 stitches together with any sort of legit tension on the yarn is just a goddamn nightmare.

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But, dang it if they don’t look real pretty when they’re done.  I guess it’s worth it when it looks so good.

In order to complete these, I had to thread the needle through all 4 stitches, and then work the needle back and forth over and over again to open up the space inside the stitches before wrapping the yarn. Otherwise, if I tried to pull the working yarn though, everything slipped off the needle in a big mess, and a great deal of swearing would occur.

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As for the other design features, I was so enamored of the short row garter-stitch heels that I took a picture and bragged all over Facebook about them to people who had no idea what I was so jazzed about. Which is pretty much business as usual, to be honest.

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I might be a complete short row heel convert now.

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And the toes! So stretchy and comfy and stylish. The seam ends up landing sort of in the crease where your toes meet your foot, but you really can’t feel anything there. When you’re knitting them, they look a little bulbous and strange, but when they’re done, they stretch and fit perfectly.

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Lastly, these socks are paired symmetrically, which I feel is something that I don’t see nearly enough of in knitwear.

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Each sock has a column of knit stitches that run up the outside edge, and I just find this so aesthetically pleasing. Cookie A. is all about these wonderful details, and that’s probably why I’ve made so many of her socks. (Kai-Mei, Cauchy, Sam, Mingus, Stricken, Pomatomus, and Hedera, to be exact.)

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So pretty and so pank. Sabrina sent me a picture of her wearing them the day after she got them, so I’m happy that crazy hot pink yarn found a good home. There was a nupp-like struggle to overcome, but it was all clearly meant to be. It’s nice when things work out that way.

Black Forest Pie

In my last post, I made mention of a pie. A pie that would be the first post of the year. A pie that sounded so tantalizing in my mind that I just had to make it, and force my family to eat it on Christmas, no less.

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A pie that delivers three different hits of chocolate right to your face, plus layers on fluffy whipped cream and a decadent cherry topping. Yes, ladies and gents, it’s Black Forest Pie.

Let’s pretend that that’s not something I just made up, okay? I have no idea how the actual Black Forest in Germany and the type of ham and chocolate and cherries all got mixed up together, but damn if it doesn’t make for an amazing pie experience.

This one takes a good long time, too, with multiple cooking and baking and cooling and chilling steps, so please make sure you read all the way through before you start. Don’t end up with a runny, melted pie and sad guests.

—–

Black Forest Pie
this pie is not a lie

(with a little assist from Betty Crocker, the Food Network Magazine Mississippi Mud Pie recipe, and the Genius Kitchen Cherry Sauce recipe)

Ingredients:
Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Brownie Bottom:
(BIG IMPORTANT NOTE! This makes enough brownie batter for two pies! Make as directed, divide in two, and freeze the remaining portion to make another pie later. Or divide the following in half if you want to make just one, if you can split an egg in half.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. flour
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 tbsp. coffee-flavored liqueur
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs

French Silk Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute (Egg Beaters!)

Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. sugar

Cherry Topping:
4 cups cherries, pitted and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
dash of salt
1/3 cup water

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool while preparing brownie bottom mixture.

Brownie Bottom:
Change oven temperature to 375 degrees. Melt chocolate and butter together in a double-boiler over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir in flour and salt, and mix until smooth. Stir in sugar, corn syrup, liqueur, and vanilla extract, and mix until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition until smooth.

Pour half of mixture into prepared crust (and freeze the rest for more brownie goodness later, as stated above). Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until mixture is set. You might see some cracking, and that’s okay.

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Cool for at least 2 hours before moving on to the next step.

Filling:

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In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Pour into cooled prepared crust with brownie bottom and spread evenly.

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Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, while you make your cherry topping.

Cherry Topping:
Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir in water.

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Add the cherries, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce darkens and thickens to your preference.

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I really cooked it down, nearly 30 minutes, until it was super dark and purply and thick, almost like black cherries. Allow this to cool to room temperature while the pie is chilling.

You might have a whole bunch left over, so I made the sacrifice and did the research in order to tell you that it’s also freaking amazing on top of vanilla ice cream.

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Just try not to eat it all before the pie is ready.

Finishing it Up:
When the pie is finished chilling and the cherries are cool, you’re ready to put it all together into a ridiculous tower of pie.

First, take the pie out of the refrigerator and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting it while you make the whipped cream. Then, combine the whipped cream ingredients in a chilled bowl, and whip cream on high speed until fluffy and spreadable.

Cut yourself a slice of pie! You’re going to need a sharp knife and some patience to get that first piece out because of the thick layer of chocolate on the bottom, so take your time. Then, add a dollop of whipped cream and a spoonful of cherries.

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Then eat!

It’s a super rich and chocolatey affair. After I made this, Dan said, “Why would you even bother making any other kind of chocolate pie? This one is all you need.”

Hell yeah.

Thankful for Pie 2017 Edition

Here we are, at the end of another year. This year in particular was a challenge, mostly due to the fact that it seemed like every other day that the world as we know it was crashing down around our ears. That’s why doing a year-end round-up thing is usually so pleasing to me. Even if nobody’s reading/listening, it gives me an opportunity to look back on everything that happened and pick out all of the good parts. Especially the stuff that might not have made it onto the blog. It makes you remember the good things, even when everything else is still pretty terrible.

First up, in January, Dan and I went to the Women’s March here in New Orleans.

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We hung out with some of the coolest, nicest people ever and got to see some truly hilarious protest signs.

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It really felt good to walk amongst so many people who felt like they just needed to do something. Who are doing things and working hard to make things better. I had a coworker ask me, very sincerely, the day afterwards, “But what is everyone marching for? What’s made them so angry?” My answer: “Everything.” I knitted quite a few Pussyhats for friends and for myself, and Dan and I will definitely be wearing them when we march again this year.

In January, I also finished a vest for Dan, a project that still fills me with pride.

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Speaking of Grow Dat (the little farm that Dan’s running through all joyfully), in February, Dan and I really got the ball rolling on getting creative and cooking with our weekly CSA haul.

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Every week there was more and more kale, and we rose to the challenge. Seriously, I have never eaten so many greens in my life.

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I pickled beets and carrots and daikon and peppers and okra and anything else I could get my hands on. And that’s just a tiny sampling of all of our homecooking. We unfortunately did not sign up for the Grow Dat CSA this year, mostly due to the fact that my time’s going to be even more limited because of school, but it’s definitely helped us to eat better and for me to step up my cooking skills. Do go check out Grow Dat and the Hollygrove Market if you’re here in New Orleans. You’ll be glad you did.

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Studying was a huge part of my life this year, having started grad school in January after graduating from nursing school in May of 2015. I did not take many pictures of it, because it is not particularly visually exciting, but school really ran my life this year. I kept working full-time as well, until the summer, because I am a crazy person and thought that I could handle it. Now I’m down to two days a week (but it’s still night shift and still a crazy-busy job), but at least now I can breathe.

In March, I had to go to “intensives” for school, and I got to see what is possibly the greatest billboard advertisement of all time.

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You might think that a busy highway is no place for Sir Mix-a-lot jokes. You are wrong.

In April, Dan and I found my doppelganger in the New Orleans Museum of Art.

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And we went to a Hootenanny!

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Grow Dat hosted this huge party for all of its subscribers and donors this year, complete with bluegrass music and square-dancing lessons, and all kinds of amazing food and cocktails from all around the city. I may have had a whole lot of strawberry punch and donated a large amount of money to buy a tractor, but those kids were so excited that it was impossible to not get super excited about tractors right along with them.

In May, I made some dice bags.

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Want to make your own? Here’s the pattern, and here’s the chart for your very own LOTR-inspired monogram on the front.

Then, Bailee and I drove ourselves down to Austin in order to personally hand them to the McElroy brothers.

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It was amazing, plus I made an extra-special awful face in that picture, so that’s how I get to remember it for the rest of time.

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We got to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law, and I got to meet some wonderful Twitter people in real life and eat brunch with them, which is why I think the Internet was really invented: to eat brunch with cool people in different parts of the country.

In June, I went to San Francisco to visit my best friend, Jonathan, and his wife, Rebecca, who are two of the best people, just hands-down.

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We went to a Japanese mall.

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We saw Justin Townes Earle.

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We saw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model.

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We saw beautiful water and gardens.

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We ate at In-N-Out Burger.

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We saw Elvis Costello at the Greek Theatre. (My third time seeing him, and a wonderful birthday treat.)

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We saw so much modern art at SFMOMA that I’d previously only seen in textbooks, which blew my mind a little bit.

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Warhol, Chuck Close, George Segal, Robert Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Rothko, Duchamp, Josef Albers…I didn’t want to leave.

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We also watched a lot of the new season of Twin Peaks, so it seemed only fitting that I baked us a cherry pie to enjoy.

What a wonderful trip.

During July, I was deep into the throes of knitting for the Summer of Socks, but I figured that this would be a good opportunity to post some pictures of the baking I did this year. Nothing ended up on the blog, but dang there was some good baking coming out of my kitchen.

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And I haven’t posted any pictures of the cats yet!

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Bowie and Trip make every year better.

In August, I made a lovely baby blanket for a lovely lady.

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And a very cute bunny.

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Dan and I also enjoyed the eclipse with Dan’s custom made shadowbox viewer, and a giant welding helmet. Everyone loved science for a whole day. It was great.

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In September, Dan and I finished up a masterpiece.

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And then we just couldn’t stop doing puzzles. We have three now that need to be framed and hung before we’re allowed to do any more.

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Dan also took this nice picture of me in the courtyard of Le Petit Theatre before we saw a show.

In October, we showed some friends from out-of-town around the city for Halloween, which always includes some above-ground cemetery action.

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Yep, that’s right, that’s a human jawbone just hanging out. Every day is Halloween here.

I took those same friends to the National World War II Museum, and we had a great, although sobering, time.

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The production value of this museum is downright astounding. I highly recommend it, even though I’m not really a huge wartime-history buff, just because everything was so detailed and interactive. Just make sure you plan to spend the whole day there so you can see everything. The place is massive, and the four hours we spent were simply not enough.

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This was my favorite fun fact.

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I also posted about some awesome socks in November.

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And I visited Bailee in Mississippi for her birthday!

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We ate all kinds of fried chicken and fancy pastries, listened to Taylor Swift and did our Tarot. A really, really good day.

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I surprised myself and made a beautiful rainbow baby blanket in December.

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Complete with turtle friend.

And then I made another one.

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With elephant to match.

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All of these pregnant ladies in my life have such good taste, so I really had to step up my game to give them some beautiful things.

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Dan requested apple pie for his birthday (as per usual), so I got my buttermilk crust game-face on.

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He also had an extra request this year, and that was that a make peach cobbler for one of his coworkers, a widower whose wife used to love to bake. He’s a good egg, that Dan.

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Then, the Summer of Socks was upon us, and I posted all about my super-secret sock knitting escapades, in three installments (1, 2, and 3!).

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Then, just a few days ago, Dan and I welcomed a new family member into our lives.

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Her name is Turbovicki, and she’s very red and half-electric. We love her.

I have never had a new car ever in my entire life, so I’m having a complicated mix of feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel like I really don’t deserve something so nice. I’m bad about treating myself and doing nice things for myself, because I just don’t ever feel like I’ve done anything special for it. It was a very big decision to even allow myself to think about having a new car.
On the other hand, oh my god if this isn’t the coolest car ever. I’m trying to get over myself and enjoy it.

So, all in all, a pretty good year, full of baking and knitting and schoolwork and love. Speaking of baking…

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First thing for the new year will be a new pie recipe, so you can enjoy all kinds of chocolate and cherries to start 2018.

I can’t even express how good it feels to look over all of this and to be able to share it with all of you. I’m always glad to have the outlet of blogging and to be able to share my (albeit small) accomplishments with a tiny corner of the world. I hope that you all had a good year, despite the ongoing garbage fire of a world, and that we can share the upcoming goodness of 2018 together.

Summer of Socks, vol. 3 – Barbecue Casual & Pool Socks, the exciting finale

Hooray!

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If you’ve made it all the way here, you’ve done an amazing feat! You’ve read through an unprecedented three-day-long streak of blog posts all about…socks.

Woo!

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In our first installment, we saw socks for my mom and dad. In the second, for my brother and sister-in-law. Now? Well, no Christmas would be complete without a secret surprise gift for my boyfriend, Dan, plus an extra pair of socks for myself (because I couldn’t let everyone have warm feet without me).

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The truth is, this whole project started with this little skein of yarn. This beautiful yarn cake is Satchel from Mrs. Crosby Loves to Play (the most hilariously weirdly named yarn company ever, which also happens to make some truly stunning stuff, please do check them out), in the colorway Rueppell’s Griffon. Dan and I noticed it when we were browsing in McNeedles, a not-so-local LYS that we enjoy, and the staff there told me that the colorway was meant to be a dupe for the Lorna’s Laces colorway named “Zombie BBQ.”

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We were delighted. If you thought that they had to say anything else to get me to buy that skein of sock yarn, you would be mistaken. However, I knew that if I bought it in front of Dan, he would put it together rather quickly that a secret pair of socks was in his future, so I instead headed out to Lacombe, a 40-ish minute drive from here, by myself while he was working in order to buy it later and hid it away, biding my time for the perfect secret sock moment.

That moment came this summer, when Dan went out of town for a few days for his sister’s wedding, and I was already deep into the Summer of Socks. He was only gone for a few days, which meant that I had to knit and block the pair in that short amount of time. At this point, I had already knit 4 pairs of socks in quick succession, so my fingers were up to the task.

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But what pattern would do this glorious yarn justice? Business Casual by Tanis Lavallee was an utter joy to knit. I had no problem flying through it, even though it involved cabling and a bit of fussiness, due to the fact that it is so incredibly well-written and clear. Other sock pattern writers should take notes, because it’s that good.

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Also, those tiny delicate lattice cable crosses kill me. They just look so good.

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That’s it really. I tried to find a more clever way to say it, but that’s all. They just look so good. Especially how they peel off from the ribbing on the cuff.

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I just really like looking at them, guys.

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I wasn’t the only one.

Both socks were knitted up quickly, and I had such a good time with them that I was kind of sad that they were over so fast. However, there was a strict deadline here, so blocking commenced and the socks stayed hidden away and secret for 4 more months while I waited for Christmas.

With the combination of yarn and pattern coming together so perfectly here, I knew that there was only thing that I could call them: Barbecue Casual. When I presented them to Dan, wrapped up inside a very silly elephant mug (he’s a fan of elephants and silly mugs, so double-bonus), he was so happy.  It’s going to be so hard to not steal them.

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For my socks, I used another treasure that I had squirreled away from McNeedles for a while. This is Lorna’s Laces Solemate, which is a very cool blend of superwash merino, nylon, and Outlast, a proprietary blend of microfiber that helps keep your socks from making your feet get too hot. It’s pretty interesting stuff that results in a sort of silky-soft, light sock that stays nice and warm without horrible sweaty toes.

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I got it in the colorway Bayou McNeedles, the special colorway created especially for and only available at McNeedles. It looks like really cheerful school colors to me, or a painting of a calm pool of water with plants and greenery around it. Hence the name, Pool Socks. I know, it’s not super great, but I can’t be expected to be clever all the time.

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Again, I went with the Good, Plain Sock recipe featured in Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot. I just wanted some simple and plain anklets to show off those colors, and I knew that there was high potential for flashing in a space-dyed yarn like this, which could ruin any all over stitch patterns.

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Normally, I am not a fan of flashing, but that big blue zag across the whole thing really did it for me this time. If it’s in the right colors and the right place, flashing can be quite an interesting thing.

And there we have it, the exciting conclusion to….the Suuuuuuummmmmmmer of Sooooooooocks. In reality, it just looked like me knitting something small while listening to my Advanced Assessment class online lectures or watching Midsomer Murders on Netflix…so just like I normally look, with perhaps a bit more urgency. I just hope that everyone enjoys their new socks.

And I hope that all of you have warm feet throughout the winter and into the new year. If not, just let me know. I’ll make you some socks.

Summer of Socks, vol. 2 – Denim Ribs & Embossed Leaves

Yes, ladies and gents, it’s time for another installment of…bum bum buuuuuummmm…

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The Summer of Socks! While we’re in winter! Hooray!

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Just as a recap, as I explained in the last post, I spent the summer knitting socks for my family, and I packaged them up with hot cocoa mix and personalized marshmallows into super cute mugs for them to enjoy on Christmas Eve.

And speaking of super cute mugs, just look at those little kitties. Those things are just so freaking adorable. I couldn’t resist getting them for my brother and sister-in-law, as they are also cat people.

Here we have the next two pairs of socks in the line-up. Denim Ribs

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…and Embossed Leaves.

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Oooooh. Aaaaah.

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My brother Jarrod tends to spend his life in jeans and t-shirts, and when I saw the colorway called the Pearl in Knit Picks Hawthorne, I knew it was something that he would like. I’m not sure where the name “the Pearl” comes from, since all I can think of when I hear that is the incredibly depressing novella by John Steinbeck. Looking at this colorway, with its varying shades of denim-y navy blues and pops of cream and gray, I get the impression of a well-loved, well-worn pair of jeans. Not to mention the synchronicity in the fact that it looks like the denim cousin to the Mt. Tabor colorway, previously featured on my dad’s socks.

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I didn’t want to do anything too fiddly here, due to the fact that the high contrast between the colors would probably obscure any stitchwork. Instead, I wanted something where those long stretches of cream and gray would pop out and spiral around and look awesome, just like they looked in the skein.

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I went with an old stand-by, dependable pattern, the Good, Plain Sock recipe featured in Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot. She is knitting royalty, and if you don’t have a copy of this book, you are seriously missing out. In it, she gives “recipes,” not complete patterns, of socks, hats, scarves, and shawls, and gives you all the tricks and tips you need to write your own patterns for yourself. Plus, she’s funny and snarky in all the right ways. I adore her.

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I have made so many socks with this pattern, and it always comes out great. This one in particular has a 3×3 ribbing throughout the cuff, sort of similar to my Plain Vanilla Taiyo socks. They also have simple slipped-stitch heels and capped toes, just the basic background structure to make the yarn really stand out.

I played a serious game of yarn chicken with these, due to the fact that my brother wears between a size 10-10.5 men’s shoe, and I had only about a foot left of yarn when I was done. Good thing to know that Hawthorne, with its 357 yds., had plenty enough for some giant socks.

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Here we have some of the prettiest yarn I have ever seen. Seriously, look at all of these colors! It’s Knit Picks Hawthorne (again!) in the colorway Alameda, and man, it was so much fun to knit up. I lived for hitting all of the little bright blue spots. (Do other knitters do that? Pick a favorite part of the colorway and get really excited to knit those particular stitches when you see them coming up? Just me? Okay.)

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These beauties were made for my sister-in-law, Kim, who enjoys feminine details, especially if they’re purple, so I figured something lacy and flowery and leafy would be perfect. The pattern here is Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt, again from the book Favorite Socks: 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave.

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I’m been wanting to knit this pattern up for a good, long time, mostly because of the ingenious little details that take into account how the leaf pattern interacts with the structure of the sock. There is a stockinette stitch smooth heel with purled “gutters” on the sides that extend from the purled areas between the motifs on the cuff. That sentence seems like nonsense, but trust me, it’s something to be excited about.

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The star toes incorporate purls into the decrease, making it look like the leaves all swirl together at the bottom. And those perfect little spirals at the end of the toes! Mona, you’re a genius.

That’s it for this installment. Stay tuned for the next…and final episode of….the Summer of Sooooooooooooocks (oooooocks oooooocks oooocks ooocks).

Summer of Socks, vol. 1 – Retro Rib & Osean

The wait is over!

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I know that you were all on pins and needles, just frantically wondering what all of my super-secret sock hinting was about. You barely got any sleep, with all of that uncertainty. Your work suffered. Your personal life suffered. It really took a toll that neither of us anticipated. And for that, I am truly sorry.

Oh wait, I forgot! There’s like, maybe 2 people who read this. What a relief. I’m glad to know that thousands of lives have not been ruined over some Christmas socks.

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That’s right! Christmas socks! I spent my summer, in-between working night shift and studying during the day, knitting socks for each member of my family, each one personalized to their likes and dislikes and relative foot sizes, as one would hope. They were then packaged up with hot cocoa and monogram marshmallows into a new mug, all perfect for enjoying on chilly winter nights.

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And dang if they didn’t come out cute.

First up, the socks that I made for my parents, Retro Rib and Osean.  (Those are the sock pattern names, not my parents’ names, just for clarity.)

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My dad is a hard person to knit for. He often loudly declares not having a need for any things at all, at any time at all. He pretends that he thinks that people waste time on hobbies, but secretly loves receiving anything handmade. He’ll insult your present by saying he has no need for it, but then tell you exactly how he’ll use it in the same sentence.

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It’s a bit of a complicated relationship.

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He’s a fan of green things, especially when they’re vaguely camo- or military-esque, so I figured that the Mt. Tabor colorway of Knit Picks Hawthorne would be perfect.

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It’s a lovely tonal mix of greens and grays that has a sort of nice silvery-sheen to it. It’s rustic and homey without being drab.

I chose the pattern Retro Rib by Evelyn A. Clark out of the book Favorite Socks: 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave, which is a wonderful book for anyone who’s an avid sock knitter. It’s got all kinds of gorgeous patterns with a range of complexity levels, plus lots of size options for most of the socks, which is great when your brother and father have really big feet.

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I did make one important pattern modification here, which I think really ties the sock together. The original pattern calls for a regular slip-stitch heel, where every other stitch is slipped on the RS rows, to make a visually-interesting and sturdy fabric on that part of the sock. It’s fairly standard and makes sense usually, but it made absolutely no sense to me here, considering that the sock has a mistake rib pattern that prominently features long columns of twisted stitches.

Instead, I only slipped the stitches that lined up with these columns, continuing that pattern (except for the purling) all the way down to the bottom. I feel like it makes for a much more elegant solution than just slapping any old heel on there. I also remember (keep in mind I made these months ago) that the directions for starting the heel flap didn’t really make the flap centered in a way that made sense to me, so just make sure that you’re keeping a eye out for that, if you’d like to knit a pair yourself. There are errata listed on Interweave’s website, so there might be a fix there already. Do yourself a favor and check, instead of just flying off half-cocked, like I always seem to do.

Anywho, my dad did just as expected when he received these. He said, “What made you think to make these? For me? What am I going to do with these?” and “Oh, these are just too big!” and “Okay, well they fit but they’re not going to fit under my shoes,” and “I guess I can wear these when it’s cold,” and “Oh look, they fit with my slippers! These will be great when it’s chilly outside.” And in a matter of hours, they were suddenly an acceptable gift.

Mission accomplished.

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Making things for my mother is not nearly so much of a challenge. She loves receiving gifts, especially handmade ones, and she’s a very good gift-giver herself. I have knit more things for her than anyone else in my family, except for Dan. She knows how to receive a gift with grace and delight and takes pleasure in taking care of and displaying these objects as they are intended. She also knows that knitted items are meant to be worn, not just looked at, and she uses them faithfully. It’s real cute.

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When I visited my best friend and his wife in San Rafael, CA, this summer, we stopped by a small yarn store/custom fabric dying shop called Dharma Trading Company that appears to have a lively and thriving online business of which I was unaware. I asked the person working there if they had anything local, because I enjoy buying hand-dyed local yarns when I’m travelling, and she showed me Invictus Yarns, an Etsy seller from Sacramento who does absolutely beautiful work. This particular skein is Beyond, which is a really soft and wonderful merino, nylon, and cashmere blend, in the colorway Tranquility. What better way to pamper the feet of someone who really deserves it than with cashmere?

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My mother and I share a love of the color blue and a preference for anklets, so when I saw Osean by Trudy Hertaas while searching on Ravelry, I knew it would be perfect.

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It has a wide lace panel in the center that mimics ocean waves, flanked by rope cables on either side. It was just enough fanciness to show off the blues and greens of the yarn without getting too crazy.

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The whole thing came together so nicely, it was like the yarn and pattern were made for each other. After she opened her gift, she put them on right away and wore them for the whole rest of the night. I hope that she wears them so much that she wears a hole through all that cashmere and I’m forced to make her another pair. That would be great.

Stay tuned for two more installments of…bum bum bum…the Summer of Socks! In the middle of winter. It made more sense a few months ago, I promise.

Lace and Cables and Elephants

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For my last baby blanket of the year (I was about to say there’s been a bunch, but really only two others. But seriously three baby blankets in a year plus working and grad school? That’s a lot. I’m super proud of those beautiful things, so please do go look at them here and here.), I present this lovely piece of lace and mock-cabling.

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Uuuunnghh. So pretty.

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This gorgeous thing was made for my friend and former nursing school group partner extraordinaire, Bonnie. Bonnie is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She has never been anything but welcoming and sweet to me, even though I can be sort of a prickly person to get to know (especially when I was in nursing school…sorry everybody). She is full of smiles and encouragement, and I am always happy to see her.

We work in the same hospital, except she’s in the NICU, being one of those superheroes that takes care of all of the tiniest, most fragile patients that there are. I get pulled there occasionally, to my general terror, because I am always scared to death that I am going to break a baby. When she’s there, I know that there’s a wonderful friendly face alongside me, ready to answer questions and make me feel comfortable.

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A girl like that deserves something really lovely for her new baby, and I’m more than honored that I got to make it for her. She wanted something sort of simple and classic, and I think that SweaterBabe‘s Fancy Stitch Baby Blanket was just the perfect choice. I tried to come up with a better project title than “Fancy Stitch,” but really…”fancy” describes this pretty aptly.

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I used Blue Sky Cotton for this, because it is the most perfect yarn for baby projects, in my humble opinion, and that gives the lace and curves a really wonderful squishiness. It’s a long-wearing, good, strong cotton, but it feels absolutely luxurious here.  I want an entire adult-sized blanket made out of it.

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The whole thing came out so elegant. Perfect for a soon-to-be sweet wonderful baby.

I had to make a little squishable buddy to go with this blanket, and the grayish-lavender color (number 644, if you really needed to know) just screamed “elephant” to me.

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This little guy was made using leftovers of the lavender, plus some of the white left over from the chevron blanket. The pattern? Elefante by Susan B. Anderson, who has so many more patterns for some of the cutest plushies I’ve ever seen.

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He is so plump and adorable. Plus, I love the little ridges for the edges of the footpads and trunk. Good stuff. When I sent a picture of him over to Dan, he declared that he looks like an anteater, so we’re calling him Arthur.

There is only one issue. If Arthur’s left unsupported…

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…he looks a little…depressed. In the original pattern, this is more of a design feature with his trunk supporting his head and acting a bit like a fifth foot. However, when I adjusted his eyes to be more muppet-y (just like I like them), I felt like I needed to push up his ears to make his face more open and friendly. Which ended up just making him look like he’s Eeyore, staring at the ground sort of sadly.

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But he’s just perfect if you hold him and play with him and squish him, which is exactly what the best stuffed animals are for.

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Arthur also looks super cute just sort of resting on things, like he’s intently watching everyone else walk around. I’m choosing to think of it as a design feature.

I did make one other tiny change, due to the fact that crocheting the ears as written with their tiny, tiny stitches and multiple crocheted increases caused me physical pain. Instead, I knitted up some circles and whip-stitched them together after folding them in half. The little whipped stitches really make it feel homey and handmade to me. For those who are inclined to make some tiny elephant ears, here’s the instructions:

Ears (make two):
CO 3 sts, and distribute them evenly across 3 double-pointed needles.
Knit 1 round.
Kfb across all sts (6 sts total).
Knit 1 round.
Kfb across all sts (12 sts total).
Knit 1 round.
Kfb across all sts (24 sts total).
Knit 2 rounds.
Kfb across all sts (48 sts total).
Knit 3 rounds.
Bind-off all sts.
Fold each circle in half, with the right-side facing out, and whip-stitch the edges together.

Then follow the rest of the pattern as written!

This project was the cap on a really great knitting year, most of which I haven’t posted about yet, due to its super-secret-ness. Don’t worry though, that’ll all be coming soon. For now, just enjoy that lacy squishy elephant goodness and go make your own.