Socks and Chevrons and Bunnies

I haven’t been posting much, but I have been knitting like a crazy person as of late. Ever since my summer semester ended, I threw myself into a self-imposed “Summer of Socks,” the details of which I am not at liberty to disclose due to the fact that it is super-secret.

I can give you a few little cheeky detail shots, though, if that tickles your fancy.

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Oooooooh. Aaaaaaah.

Moving on.

Before the “Summer of Socks” began, I worked on a project near and dear to my heart, a baby blanket for my friend and co-worker Mary, who is about to have her first baby.

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I’m a firm believer in the fact that baby blankets need to be easy to care for, yet also classic and clean-looking, so what better yarn than Blue Sky Cotton? It’s super soft and lofty, yet strong and washable. It has wonderful stitch definition despite its softness, perfect for the pattern that we chose.

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Mary told me that she already had some antique and vintage furniture for the baby’s nursery, so I wanted her to be able to have something that could fit in along with the antiques and yet still be sort of on-trend. When I told her about the Chevron Baby Blanket by Espace Tricot, she was totally on-board. And it already recommended Blue Sky Cotton for the yarn! What kismet.

Mary picked the colors Ash, Bone, and Aloe, and I got to work, right after I was done being stunned at how beautiful they all looked together.

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The only change I made to the original pattern was leaving the inside portion of the blanket striped with only two colors, and leaving just one stripe of accent color on the end.

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If you’d like to do this yourself, you need to buy 1 skein of your accent color, and 2 skeins each of your inner stripes. I also carried the colors up the sides, twisting the alternate colors at each right side row rather than breaking the yarn, because I thought that all those woven-in ends would break up the clean look of the whole thing.

After I was done, I still had quite a bit of the Aloe color left over, plus a need to keep making things for the new baby. So, I went looking for a vintage-y stuffed animal pattern.

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The overall winner was the Knitted Bunny pattern by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer, a fun little origami-inspired piece of fiddliness that was right up my alley.

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First, you knit a plain stockinette square. Then, alchemy-like, you use a little polyfil stuffing and some strategically placed rows of stitches to fold it up into an adorable bunny. You also take the time to knit some tiny ears, which might be the cutest part of the whole thing.

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I did make a tiny change, though, to enhance cuteness. In the original pattern, they tell you just to use a crochet hook to pull out some stuffing for a tail. Although this might be cute, it probably also isn’t ideal for an animal for child, so I went ahead and made a big fluffy pom-pom tail that is easily removable/remade if it gets pulled apart by a curious baby.

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It’s so freaking cute I can barely stand it. I was watching a documentary about the trial of Whitey Bulger while I was making it, which tempers that a bit, I guess.

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Simple and classic. And chevron-y and pastel-y enough to be somehow completely in style. I am beyond proud of how it all came out.

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And I think she liked it. Seriously, it could not go to a more deserving person. We both started nursing at our hospital at the same time, went through orientation together, and I can honestly say that she is one of my favorite people. Mary is a little bit of sunshine in my day, and I was happy to give her something lovely that she will hopefully be able to love for a long time.

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She’s good people. Now with a good bunny. And a good blanket. It’s the least I could do.

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Good, Good Dice Bags for Those Good, Good Boys

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I have previously spoken of my love of the McElroy brothers, and if you are new to my special breed of knitting-based insanity, I highly suggest you click that link and read all about it. When I wrote that particular post, I was merely only full of the Candlenights spirit, and had no idea of what was to come the following year.

One frantic morning, I spent the better part of an hour sitting in front of my computer and cell phone, all hopped up on not yet having slept after a 14-hour night shift, alternating refreshing each screen and texting back and forth with my friend Bailee’s friend Chelsea as we attempted a coordinated strike to obtain precious tickets for two McElroy shows in a row.

Let me back up a little bit. The McElroy brothers, and their charming father Clint, announced that they would be recording two separate live podcasts in Austin at the end of May. Opportunities to see BOTH My Brother, My Brother, and Me and The Adventure Zone, the greatest D&D podcast that I have ever had the honor to listen to, dangled in front of me. (It’s actually the only one I listen to, but when it’s THAT good? You only need one.) My friend Bailee and I knew that we had to get tickets, but the problem was that each show was only being sold separately, and both lots of tickets went on sale at the same time, at about 10am central time when I would normally be sleeping (because night shift makes you a vampire-person) and Bailee would be working as a productive non-vampiric member of society.

What to do?

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You make it wooooooooork. You enlist Chelsea, one of the greatest and most devoted supporters of other people’s silliness (and just freaking awesome person), to purchase TAZ tickets at the exact same time while Jinger is sitting at her computer, still awake after 14 hours of screaming, vomiting children, poised to click as fast as possible to get those good, good MBMBAM tickets.

You join the hundreds (thousands?) of other rabid McElroy fans that have the exact same brilliant plan that you do. And then you crash the damn website.

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That’s right. So many people were ravenous to see these ridiculous podcasters that the ticket website was completely overwhelmed, which resulted in everyone getting “stuck” in the queue for tickets for over an hour while everything stalled. What to do when that happens? Chelsea, that brilliant girl, gets on the phone directly to the theatre, and actually gets through. She bypasses the system and scores orchestra seats! And then you do the same! Miraculously! Much dancing about in your chair occurs, as well as joyous proclaiming of your mutual awesomeness splattered all over Twitter for rational people to ignore. Seriously, Chelsea, you’re my hero.

After all the excitement settles, you’re left with a question. What on earth do you make to give to these wonderful podcasters, especially since they will be the first ones in history to receive two (2!) handknit gifts from you that are not directly related to you? Or Dan?

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Dice bags? Dice bags!

We all know that I hold a special place in my heart for acting-intensive roleplaying games. And every roleplaying person worth their salt needs a good, sturdy dice bag to hold all of their special treasures, right?

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I chose Knit Picks Dishie for these, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Lovely saturated colors (Ash, Eggplant, Navy, and Silver, if you want to know…), a hint of a sheen, great stitch definition, and sturdiness that somehow also remains soft and pliable. Good, good stuff.

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But you can’t just let things be simple, right? Of course not! It’s just not a Jinger-project for famous strangers unless it involves a silly amount of duplicate stitch.

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I sat down with a glass of wine and a screenshot of the Lord of the Rings handwriting font (click here if you’re interested in the exact one, for some weird reason), translating them into knitter’s graph paper to make custom monograms. Like a completely sane person.

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Yep.

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All kidding aside, there are few things I love more than well-executed duplicate stitch. It’s so satisfying to do when you hit a really good stitching rhythm, and it’s really fun to sit down with the graph paper and chart out something lovely, especially when it turns out exactly the way you saw it in your head. These letters, in particular, please me, due to the varying line-weights in the strokes, and how those things actually still come across in the final, embroidered version. It felt really good watching them “develop” right in front of me while I was working on them. When I finish writing up the pattern so that everyone can make one, I’ll be sure to chart out the other letters in the LOTR alphabet style so that you can enjoy it, too.

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It seems like you have a lot of dice until you lay them all out. Maybe some clever cropping?

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Better!

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Do we think Justin, Travis, Griffin, and Clint might like them? I hope so. I hope that they like the new dice that I picked out to go with them, too, because what’s good is a new dice bag if it’s empty?

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I tried to pick colors to coordinate with their bags, and also just ones that were pretty. Because opening up your dice bag should feel like looking at little precious stones. Little precious stones that could make you a triumphant hero. Or they could make you trip on your shield and split your tongue in two so that you have disadvantage on all spell-casting, and you’re a cleric.

I might have a little bit of experience in critical failures, you guys.

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To the McElroys: Wengelbertina Slapdeback, my all-time favorite character I’ve ever played, a holy cleric of Pelor who also looks like a German beermaid who could beat your ass down with her flaming longsword, prays that all your attack rolls are crits with max damage. And I hope you guys don’t get overwhelmed with all of the aggressive nerdiness coming your way this weekend in Austin.

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Amen.

A Very Merry Candlenights to You…and You…and You

I am in love with the McElroy Brothers.

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Yes, all three of them. At the same time.

Not romantic love, no. But a deeper, truer love. The love that you feel for the kind of people that make you explode with laughter while you are trying to keep your shit together and look cool on the elliptical machine, simply struggling to breathe in general and now having to deal with hilarious antics at the same time.

Please tell me that you guys have listened to at least one of their amazing podcasts. If you haven’t, please do so. Right now. I’ll wait. Just pick one at random, you won’t be disappointed.

Done? Good.

I have been listening to My Brother, My Brother, and Me for the longest (Since 2012, I think? The days just run together now in my sad weird night-shift life.), and I highly recommend it as a way to introduce the McElroys into your world. You will soon be unable to resist adding more podcasts to your rotation — I myself have now listened to every single episode of Sawbones (which makes my little nursing brain so happy), The Adventure Zone (which makes me pine for the long ago days when I played D&D like a goddamn boss, even sometimes across the country), and ‘Til Death Do Us Blart (of which there are only two so far, but if you listened as well…you would know that this is an accomplishment to be celebrated).

Justin, Travis, and Griffin are, quite possibly, the most charming set of three brothers alive. They are insanely quick and clever. They are ridiculously vulgar. They play D&D with their adorably curmudgeonly father. They love horses. And haunted dolls. And Jimmy Buffett. They talk about ASMR in a non-insulting manner, which is quite a thing and warms my heart.

So, as most of you know, if there are people in the world that I admire and feel the need to let them know about how much they make my life better, and, let’s be for real here, remotely tolerable in this towering garbage fire of a year, I have to knit something for them. In this case, both Travis and Griffin, the middlest and babiest brothers respectively, have recently become fathers to some ridiculously beautiful babies, who will be celebrating their first Candlenights this year, along with Justin’s wonderful two-year-old. (And can I take a moment to mention the fabulous wives of these guys? Sydnee, Teresa, and Rachel are also hilarious, wonderful people, and…I don’t mean to single anyone out specifically, but I kind of want to be Sydnee when I grow up. I guess my going back to school to get my DNP starting in January is a first step towards that. [Yeah, I’m going to put myself through the torture of school again. More on that later.])

What’s Candlenights, you say? Well, in the McElroys’ own words, it’s “a pan-religious, pan-sexual, personal pan winter holiday…Candlenights starts and ends for each person at different times, is about different things for each person, and is celebrated differently by each person. People from all countries of all religions and those without religion alike can celebrate their own Candlenights in their own way.”

It sounds lovely, right? So, as my Candlenights gift to them, I decided to knit the first ever (probably?) Candlenights stockings to shower upon the three babies McElroy, to hang wherever and fill with whatever to celebrate their first winter together.

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These stockings are super heavily-modified versions of the Keepsake Baby Stocking from Interweave’s Christmas Stockings, which is the greatest Christmas stocking book of all time, and sadly, out of print. Just try to pry it out of my cold dead hands.

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They’ve got super-sexy Latvian braid, always a favorite.

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They’ve got my very silly duplicate stitching and tiny stars embroidery, just to add to the Candlenights spirit.

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They unintentionally look a lot like the Amnesty International logo, now that I’m looking at them. Whoops.

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They are also completely coincidentally the colors of the Chipmunks’ shirts, as I am now realizing. That’s what happens when you decide that the perfect yarn is from the leftovers from LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow scarf, I guess.

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Oh, and Justin, Travis, and Griffin, if you’re reading this…yes, that was totally a shameless name-drop. I made a scarf for LeVar Burton and handed it to him! Seriously! And I made an owl for David Sedaris! This is just how awesome I think you guys are! I think I can quit it with the exclamation points now!

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Anyway, these lovelies are headed over to your respective P.O. boxes soon, so please keep an eye out for them so that all of your wonderful babies can share something silly and fun and handmade this year, made with love and hugs from down here in New Orleans.

You guys are great. And you help keep me sane in trying times. And also make me look like a deranged person at the gym. Keep up the good work.

I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow

Can we talk for a second about Chuck Palahniuk?

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My infatuation with his work started sort of atypically for me, but not for the rest of the world, with the fact that the first inkling I ever had of him was the movie Fight Club. For once, I didn’t read the book before the movie. I didn’t even know there was a book before the movie. I was 17 and not yet shaped into the devour-er of bizarre dystopian fiction that blogs before you.

That movie blew my damn mind.

Initially, the only reason I wanted to see it was because I had a massive crush on Edward Norton and wanted to see every single thing he was in. (The crush is still sort of there, especially Primal Fear-era Norton. Oh man.) I left the theatre feeling like I had just seen something that I shouldn’t have, and my consequential deep-dive into all things Palahniuk only reinforced that.

I made my mom buy me (in addition to being the awkward person next to me in that movie theatre, poor Mom…actually, to her credit, she’s a surprising fan of this type of stuff and subsequently made it through awkward viewings of Pi and Trainspotting as well during this formative period in my life…) the novel of Fight Club, which I read in one day on my way to NYU for college interviews. Then came Invisible Monsters, and I was completely hooked. Then Survivor. Then Choke, which is still and will always be my favorite. Then he couldn’t even write books fast enough for me to read them.

You could say I was a fan.

I have still maintained my fandom over the years, faithfully reading each new work as it comes out and adding most of them to my permanent collection. I still reread Choke and Diary every couple of years just for fun and to cleanse my palate between the Jodi Picoult guilty-pleasure novels I find myself into now. (Seriously, can there be two authors more different from each other? I have no idea why my brain works this way.) When I saw that Mr. Palahniuk was going to be coming to New Orleans for a book-signing this month, I realized that I had to add him to the increasingly-long list of admired people, especially authors, who receive a handknit gift from me.

But what to make? The answer came almost instantly. A throw pillow, emblazoned with an anti-capitalist message, of course!

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Say hello to I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow. (Easily downloadable and printable PDF pattern right here, plus the chart you’ll need to embroider Tyler Durden’s anti-establishment message on your pillow. And your heart.)

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Some notes on the making of this here pillow, so it’s easier to make your own:

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The knitting here is ridiculously easy.

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The duplicate stitching is a beast.

If you’ve never tried duplicate stitching before (or you’re not as obsessed with it as I am), it might be good to practice a little on a swatch (maybe your gauge swatch that you’ve diligently knitted, right?) before you move on to the finished project. Here’s a great tutorial from Purl Soho to review if you’ve never tried it before (be sure to follow the “V” stitch portion for our particular pattern).

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To perform a duplicate stitch, you insert a yarn needle threaded with your desired yarn into the base of the stitch you’d like to embroider over, from back to front. Then, you thread the needle underneath the “V” of the stitch above the one you’re working on, pull the yarn snugly, and then bring the needle back down into the base of the stitch where you came up. You’re basically following the yarn through the stitch as it loops up and down, but only doing it one stitch at a time.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your tension consistent. You don’t want your embroidered stitches to be too loose and floppy because then you’ll be able to see the knitted fabric underneath, and everything will just be a mess. If your stitches are too tight, there will be all kinds of puckering and strangeness, which will be near-impossible to block out. Just practice for a bit on some no-stakes stockinette swatches, and you’ll be good to go.

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You don’t want to make your working yarn too long, or you’ll end up tangled all the time. Make sure, as you’re moving from area to area, that you leave enough slack on the back of your work that the fabric doesn’t pucker, but not enough that you’re getting tangled up and catching on loops back there all the time. The way that I do this is to put 2-3 fingers against the back of the fabric and under the slack as I’m pulling the yarn across and making my first stitch, keeping things loose, but not sloppy. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to look at the back of crazy embroidery? All knitters love that stuff.

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You’re going to wet-block your pillow before sewing it up, just to give those letters a chance to even and flatten out, plus to get your edges straight, which makes things so much easier.

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Mattress stitch everything up almost all the way, leaving the stuffing until the very end. Afterwards, I gave mine another good hit with the steam iron, just to make sure that everything was fluffed and puffed and perfect.

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I feel like someone was watching me.

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—–

One other important moment before we get to the main event.

I went to get all of my Chuck Palahniuk books, just to make a super-cute picture (and it worked, right?), and I decided to look up the page in Fight Club where our famous quote resides.

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Hmmmm. Turns out that the internet steered me oh-so-wrong. I, like probably 99% of the people on the planet, had completely forgotten that the bar scene in which Tyler states, “The things you own end up owning you,” is completely invented for the movie. In the book, the narrator, musing to himself before he has any idea that his apartment is no more, states, “Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

As much as I love the phrase “lovely nest,” that sentence is a little too long to put on a throw pillow. I was mortified that I remembered it wrong, but then Chuck ended up agreeing with me, saying that it didn’t matter and he thought that it was great. Yeah, that was awesome.

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I’m getting ahead of myself.  When I got to the book-signing, I patiently waited my turn, sitting almost entirely in a plant with pillow in tow, chatting with some lovely people who traveled 900 miles to see him. That’s some dedication.

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The book-signing was to celebrate the release of Fight Club 2, the graphic novel continuation of the original novel, which is stunningly gorgeous to me already, and I was only flipping through the first few pages. From what I gather, there’s some 4th-wall-crossing mind-bending author-acknowledgment stuff going on, a la Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, and I am always on board for that. I am so excited to dig in.

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The moment to present my gift was nearly here, and the wonderful people at the Garden District Book Shop caught me looking very coy, wearing my Hamilton shirt in honor of the 212th anniversary of his duel with Burr. Yes, I can’t just geek out about one thing at a time, apparently.

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Can we talk about this man? What a gem.

Not only was he doing the entire event in his bare feet, but he proclaimed the pillow beautiful and asked me all kinds of questions, for which I had extremely short and insufficient answers. Maybe because my brain was overloading with awe.

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He posed me with the pillow so that he could take a picture of it! How freaking cute is that?

He asked me how long I had been knitting (16 years!), and what made me start knitting in the first place. I was honest with my ridiculously lame answer and stated that I saw a friend knitting during a lecture my first semester in college and decided that that was something I needed to learn how to do. No awesome family-heritage-based or raw talent story. Just boredom. If only I knew how much it would come to define me as a person today…

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He personalized our books with the most wonderful messages!

And then…

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…oh yeah.

I had to go with choking, of course, being that Choke is my favorite of his novels, but all I can see when I look at this picture is how genuinely happy Dan looks to be abused by a famous author. I don’t even know how he managed this winning smile because my facial expression is only 30% pretend here. I don’t know if it was the height difference or what (or the fact that he was standing on a cooler behind us), but Chuck Palahniuk actually managed to take my breath away a little bit. More than a little bit. That man’s got some arms.

We strode out of there on top of the world. I’m still smiling, sitting here the next day. I can’t wait to read my book and dive once again into Mr. Palahniuk’s twisted world, knowing that he now knows how much he’s shaped mine.

Seriously, Chuck, thank you. You’re one of the good ones, and you deserve all of the decorative throw pillows life can give you.

Knitting Updates, but not the ones you’re looking for, probably. (Comfort for Critters Blanket and Spectacular Single Skein Scarf)

I’m going to show you some lovely pictures of yarn and gorgeous new needles to distract you from the fact that I don’t have any Hamilton hat updates yet.

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I KNOW.

(Yarn is Malabrigo Rios and needles are the new Knit Picks Majestic set, by the by, but we’ll get back to that in a second.)

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First things first, I made a very loopy and squishy blanket for Comfort for Critters, a charity that works to provide comfort blankets for animals in shelters waiting to be adopted, all over the US. They not only help to make and distribute blankets, but they also provide free yarn for people willing to volunteer and make pet blankets, which is just awesome. I have the feeling that when I am a little old lady, I’ll still be sitting around and knitting as long as I can, making little blankets for Comfort for Critters and Project Linus, since everyone else around me will be completely sick of handknit socks by then.

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I knitted this up out of some mystery acrylic bouclé that my friend Rebecca gave to me an eternity ago. My cats bee-lined for it every single time that they illegally invaded my office and yarn stash, so I figured it would make a really great comfortable blanket, perfect for kneading.

This squishy wonder is headed off to Friends Underwriting Rescues, the only Louisiana-based shelter affiliated with Comfort for Critters, which surprised me, frankly. We need more of these types of things.

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Second thing second, I made this gloriously textured single-row scarf for Dan’s mom, and it’s on its way to her in New Hampshire today, just in time for it to be waaaay too warm for her to wear it. I got the new Knit Picks Majestic interchangeable set as a special present for myself this Christmas, and this was the first project that I broke them out for.

People…these needles are so smooth and silky that it kind of makes me mad. The joins are nearly seamless. The cables are bouncy and flexible. The perfect glossy finish makes everything slide so nicely. I was angry that I waited so long to buy any of these interchangeable sets and really was upset when the scarf was finished because I wanted to keep going forever.

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Also, pairing these dark purple needles up with dark purple yarn? Dumb. But fun.

We all know that I am a big fan of Malabrigo Rios (see it knitted up into my Stone Molly hat), and this color Purpuras is an almost identical match for the Cascade Pacific Chunky that I used to make mukluks for Dan’s mom a few years ago. She’s a big purple fan, and you can’t get much more purple than this.

(My medical/nursing brain has a little bit of a problem with the name of the color, being that in medical-speak purpura describes the purple/red spots made when you bleed under your skin, but I’m imagining that in Spanish this isn’t the immediate association, right?)

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The pattern is the extremely clever Spectacular Single Skein Scarf by Jo Haward. I’m not normally a fan of single-row projects, but this one for some reason shows off the color variation so beautifully. It almost functions like a slip stitch, breaking up each row without obliterating the ombré effect. If you stretched it out when blocking, you’d see that it’s a net-mesh-lace thing in the execution.

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Collapsed on itself, it’s a really plush and squishy texture, inexplicably tilting in the same direction on both sides.

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I’m also a big fan of the slip stitch borders that make everything so tidy and wonderful.

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This is probably the most true-to-color picture, because dark purple is a problematic color to photograph. I have an extra skein left over, since this only took one skein of Rios to make a decently long scarf, and I’m seriously considering making a second one just for myself. It’s that good.

Hopefully by the time I collect my thoughts enough for a New York round-up, I’ll have some sort of update on the Hamilton hats, especially since Mr. Miranda is leaving the show soon.  Let’s all hope that they got them and that they aren’t sitting in the trash right now.  Fingers crossed.

Mr. Miranda, I Made You a Whole Bunch of Hats

28 hats, to be specific.

Maybe I should explain.

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Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda, if I can be frank and weirdly honest, I have decided, for some reason, that part of my mission in life is to create handmade (and often hand-designed) knitted objects for people that inspire me. I made David Sedaris an owl. I made Eddie Izzard a squirrel. (Whether he ever received it is another issue entirely.) An eggroll cat toy for Joy the Baker. A Reading Rainbow scarf for LeVar Burton. And then, most recently, some really aggressively patriotic hats for Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell.

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I can’t really explain why the urge to do this initially took hold, but I’ve come to feel like this is my way to express how much something that someone has done/is doing moves me. While experiencing the creative works of others, I often have some strange feelings of ineffectualness mixed in with my enjoyment and awe. Almost like, it’s impossible for me to love things deeply without being somehow slightly saddened that I didn’t get to be a part of them. So, making something heartfelt with my own fingers helps me to feel creative and part of the process, while also covering people who deserve it in handknit love. Make sense?

Probably not.

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Anyway. I started out my professional life with a degree in theatrical lighting and scenic design from Carnegie Mellon University (proud alma mater of two of your castmates, the always amazing Leslie Odom, Jr. and Rory O’Malley [they graduated the year before me, actually]), and I thought that theatre was always going to be a part of my life. And it was, for a while. I worked in corporate theatre. I was the designer for a very small theatre company in Colorado that has since gone on to have quite a bit of success without me. It didn’t work out the way I thought it would, and I moved back home fairly aimless until I found nursing.

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I work as a pediatric nurse in a very busy hospital, helping children with kidney problems, cardiac issues, and traumatic brain injuries. I work night shift and exhaust myself all the time, but I really do love my job. That is, unless I’m thinking about the life that I somehow missed in theatre, despite my fancy degree and head full of big ideas. The creative outlet that didn’t pan out somehow.

And instead, I knit.

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I cover people that I love and admire with stitches formed over countless hours that would otherwise be wasted sitting around and eating crackers and watching The Wonder Years on Netflix. (Who am I kidding? That show is awesome. I watched nearly the entire thing while making these hats, plus lots of Top of the Lake and Amadeus.)

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117,015 stitches, to be exact. That’s how many stitches it takes to make enough hats to cover not just your head, but the heads of everyone in the cast of your brilliant show Hamilton (at least according to the list inside the soundtrack, but if you need more, just let me know!) to show you guys how much I care about what you do. I love musical theatre, and particularly your show, so much that it makes me ache inside a little. I scream-sing in the car, simultaneously loving the wordplay and feeling that twinge in my gut because I couldn’t be a part of it.

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So, I’ll be at the matinee show on Saturday, June 11th with these hats, knit with nothing but love and affection for you and all that you do, trying not to be too awkward, if you’ll have them. I’ve been told that giving them to the house manager is probably the best way to make sure you’ll get them. Let’s hope that’s true.

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Thank you, Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda, for making a piece of art so lovely that it makes stitches leap from my fingers. I hope that these small tokens return part of the favor.

—–

Knitters? Want to know the specifics here? I bet you do!

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These Hamilton hats were knit up using my very own Oh Captain, My Captain hat pattern, cleverly tweaked (if I do say so myself) to resemble the Hamilton logo. This version is knit up in Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted, in the colors Pepper and Goldenrod.

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I think Steve might be a little jealous that these came out even cooler than he and Bucky’s colorways. Almost looks like…bumblebee roller derby? That sounded cooler in my head.

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I got so freaking good at knitting these hats that I was averaging slightly less than 6 hours per hat, the last one clocking in at 4.5 hours on the dot. It’s safe to say, I really don’t want to knit any more hats ever again.

At least for about a week. My fingers are really tired.

Thankful for Pie (somehow pie-less, yet still awesome) 2015 Edition

I guess this recurring post is just the year in review now, instead of a declaration of love for pie, due to the fact that I can’t get my act together around Thanksgiving anymore. (Want to see previous years? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) Nevertheless, you can be thankful for things anytime during the year, right? Right.

Also, even though I know for a fact that Dan and I ate a whole ton of pie this year, there are absolutely zero pictures of pie! I know, right, but my crust game was just seriously lacking this year. Have no fear, no matter what, pie is always right up there on the list of things that I am most grateful for.

Here we go.

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January was a bit of a blur, as I was starting my last semester of nursing school. Pancakes and beignets were enjoyed at every available opportunity.

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Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day nearly collided in February. Let me tell you, if you want to see some really unflattering pictures, look through about 100 pictures of me screaming at a parade. I get so serious about absolutely needing some useless pieces of plastic, and I look completely deranged. Anyway, Endymion is one of my favorite parades, so it was great to take some out-of-town friends and act like a maniac just to get a frisbee.

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Ha! I lied! Of course, there has to be pie for Pi Day in March! (Seriously, I completely forgot about this amazing pie until just this moment. Bad, bad baker.) My friend Amanda came up with possibly the greatest pie name ever, Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My! Any pie that has punctuation in its title automatically has my vote.

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April brought with it a lovely scarf with beautiful silver beads, of which I still have approximately 8000 and no ideas for how to use them.

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Also, my last nursing school exam! I had a much-needed old fashioned at the St. Roch Market and resisted the urge to run around dancing in the streets.

May? Oh man, May was busy.

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Graduation Day!

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Valedictorian!

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Party planning!

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Rumchata Ribbon Ice Cream! Let’s be honest. The ice cream was the most important. That, and that lemon and blueberry bundt cake up there was pretty amazing, too.

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I designed and made a pretty cowl, Cowl Before the Storm, and it might just actually be cool enough to wear it today when I go see Star Wars.

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We went to see the Rentals! I got to chat with Matt Sharpe a little bit after the show, and I told him that I played through my cassette tape of Return of the Rentals so many times since age 13 that the ribbon snapped.

Yes, that is a Stay-Puft marshmallow man dancing up there during the show. It’s best left unexplained.

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Also, I dressed up like Fox in Socks at some point. Bright red scrub pants are the bomb.

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Dan and I tried to take June as easy as possible.

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I came home from work after midnight on my birthday to find a chocolate cake surprise from my love, plus new vinyl records!

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We did all kinds of coloring. (Yes, I am aware it is super trendy. No, I do not care. Coloring is awesome.)

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I made these awesome alcohol-drenched cupcakes.

In July, I started my new real-world job.

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I never would have predicted that I could simultaneously experience so many different emotions at one job, in even one hour at one job. My previous job life has been mostly retail and management-type stuff, and the feelings range from frustration to accomplishment, but mostly you just want to hurry up and finish things so you can go home.

Working with these kids has been so different and so eye-opening for me. I get to celebrate their victories, sing along to their favorite movies, comfort them and dry their tears, make crazy faces and make them laugh, be the bad guy with the medicine so that their parents can continue to be their heroes…in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve experienced profound loss and unmitigated joy side-by-side with these children and their families, and even though I come home from night shift exhausted and generally don’t have any idea what time it is anymore, I can definitely say that I made the right decision to work in pediatrics.

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Plus, the hospital is close to my very favorite snoball stand, so that’s a plus. There are no shortcuts to quality.

At the end of July, my grandmother passed away. I actually found out about this the day before I took my NCLEX nursing license test while simultaneously battling terrible food poisoning brought about by Chinese food shrimp. There was a big mess in my brain for a fairly long time.

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She loved Christmas, and I felt her absence from our table this year strongly.

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Making pretty scarves helps you get through these things, even though it’s August and way too hot outside.

September?

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A trip to Los Angeles to deliver a very special scarf

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…to a very special person.

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I met the love of my life at the wax museum. It was hard to let go.

And then, the Emmys? What?

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I was just as surprised as you, Jamie Lee.

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Such a crazy trip, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to have created a habit of making opportunities for me to get to go do amazing things. You guys are great.

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In October, my baby Bowie had his 8th birthday. Here are some more adorable cat pictures, just because.

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Dang, those cats are cute.

November started with more alcoholic cupcakes.

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There’s still a lot of winter left to make your own RumChata cupcakes, so you should get on that.

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In December, so much blanket knitting (which you all just read about yesterday, right?), plus carouselfies…

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…more beignets and coffee…

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…and a large pack of angry cranes that followed Dan for about 10 minutes, thinking he would share his beignets.

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Plus, super secret work on a super secret project that I am terrible at keeping secrets about. Let’s just say, it involves a certain Avenger with a propensity for wearing patriotic colors, plus his troubled half-robotic-armed friend. That’s pretty vague, right?

—–

It’s been a year of ups and downs, that’s for sure, and as I looked through all of my pictures, I was struck by how much I didn’t really document things much this year. It just felt like a whirlwind to finally finish school and start a new life in nursing, or perhaps I am also lazy and attracted more to sleep than to putting my life back together again after school.

Now that life is starting to reassemble around my new job, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of making things. Hopefully, 2016 will be full of pies (and I’ll actually remember to take pictures of them), knitting, hugs, and love, not just for me but for all of you out there. I’m just itching to get out there and make things already, and I can’t wait to show you when I do.

Squares and Squares and Squares

Or maybe, more properly, Rectangles and Rectangles and Rectangles.

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Now, I have knitted a number of projects in the past with finicky finishing work. A Dale of Norway ski sweater, complete with terrifying steeks and zippers. Tiny toys, with hand-stitched felt eyes and itty-bitty ears. Duplicate stitched snowflakes for days on end. I could go on and on.

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However, now that I have completed a Warm Up America! Afghan…I feel as though I have summited some sort of insane mountain of mattress-stitch achievement.

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Let me step back and explain.

My brother got married back in September of last year, and in proper fashion, I told him and his wife that I would be happy to make them a new afghan for their house and their new life together. Knowing that my sister-in-law is partial to purple, I decided to go with something patchworky with greens and browns, too, to match their decor. However, all of this planning in my mind for the perfect blanket for them had to go on the back burner while I finished nursing school and then got a real-life job. What I originally thought would end up being a first anniversary present instead ended up being a Christmas present, a fact that I know is making all of the knitters nod their head in solidarity.

Projects like this seem so simple at first. You get pulled in to the allure of the patchwork square. It’s the same seductive pull that makes you start working on something that involves thousands of granny squares, not even thinking about how all of those squares are going to put themselves together.

You start thinking about what would be the perfect afghan and think back on the beautiful one you saw in the fantastic book Knitting for Peace, the Warm Up America! Afghan…8 different types of squares with simple stitch patterns, perfect for beginners or for some mindless knitting while you watch Jessica Jones on Netflix.

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You see all of those little squares and think, “Oh, it’ll take no time at all to make one of those! And they’ll be small, and portable! I can knit those anywhere! Gosh darn it, I am so smart. There’s no way this will backfire.”

You order up a whole boatload of Knit Picks Brava Worsted so that you can get started. You figure, “Oh, acrylic will be such a good choice for this. Easy to wash and take care of, tons of color options. Yes, this will be fantastic.” (Note: Knit Picks Brava is pretty fantastic, don’t get me wrong. However, acrylic will come back to bite you in the ass later, don’t you worry.)

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You start cranking out squares like it’s going out of style. (I know some people want to know the colors, so here we go: Alfalfa, Almond, Brindle, Cream, Dublin, Mulberry, Peapod, and Sienna, 3 skeins each.)

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You knit squares (rectangles, actually) at every opportunity, and since you are now working as a night-shift pediatric RN, you have lots of weird time alone at night to get to know these squares since you can’t force the entire house of Dan and cats to get onto your new bizarro schedule.

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The cats try their best to help. They are unsuccessful.

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You realize quickly that every single “square” of this pattern is completely different in terms of gauge, especially row gauge (which is something that knitters really don’t end up having to think about or compensate much for, which made it even more crazy-making), and that you have to do a fair amount of math to get each square to come out to roughly the same length.

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You take the time out of making squares to procrastinate a little and make a little chart to figure out just how many more squares you need to make after you are done procrastinating. You start kicking yourself for deciding that you were going to make the blanket a little bit larger than the pattern originally called for, mostly because when they provide 8 different stitch patterns but tell you to only make 49 squares, your brain explodes a little bit. 64 squares is much more pleasing to your psyche in terms of a finished project, but when you realize how many more squares you have left to go…you start to hate squares.

All of those beautiful patchwork blankets in your head start to taunt you and mock you for your hubris. You keep knitting until you just can’t knit any more, slogging your way through stupid, stupid, lovely garter stitch in the name of love for your family.

And when you finally finish…

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There is absolutely no relief at all. Now you have to join those squares together. Those squares whose sizes have seemingly absolutely nothing at all to do with one another, no matter how good your math or tension was.

That stack of lovely squares right there is a bit deceiving. The squares come of the needles looking a lot more like this:

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Now, if this was wool or cotton, our blocking situation would just be washing and laying things out, or perhaps a light iron. However, acrylic makes you work hard for the kind of squariness you desire. You dutifully haul out the steam iron and blocking wires and T-pins.

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Every square needs to be pinned out to match the 7″x9″ dimensions needed, some adopting this position easier than others. Then, (and don’t freak out), you use your steam iron to intentionally ruin your fabric.

It’s called “killing” acrylic, and usually it’s a terrible thing to accidentally do to a beloved article of clothing, melting the plastic in the yarn. However, in a controlled environment, the right amount of heat (as little as possible to make steam and staying away from actually touching the fabric) and dedication will coax those squares into flattening out their edges, opening up their stitch patterns, and fitting themselves into the straight edges and corners you need to sew them up without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

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You do this, 3 squares at a time, until everything is perfect and lovely and you are so done.

But, you are definitely nowhere near done. Now…the sewing.

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You lay out all of those squares, trying to make things pleasantly random, taking care not to let 2 of the same color or stitch patterns touch each other. (I did originally try to make each row and column have only one of each color or pattern, but it turned into an endless unwinnable sudoku game because I absolutely did not want to do diagonal stripes. I settled for each row having only 1 of each color, and then let the chips fall where they may for everything else, just to save my sanity.) You put off the inevitable sewing process just a little longer by taking moody, artful pictures of your little squares all lined up.

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Mattress stitching is your stitch of choice, of course, because you want everything to line up as nicely as possible. (You must go here and learn its ways right this second, if you don’t already know.) The pattern gives you very, very little guidance here, but joining the squares into columns actually goes really fast and easy, due to all of the squares being either 35 or 36 stitches wide. Sewing things up when they are actually the same exact size is quick and satisfying.

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Zipping up those seams feels pretty good.

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The vertical seams are not the same cakewalk. First things first, you have to pin out the seam between squares.

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Then, you sew up the sides using the ladders between the first and second stitches from the edge of the row, zig-zagging between the squares.

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But, as you remember from earlier, every single stitch pattern is a completely different length in terms of number of rows, so you’ve got to do some creative stitching.

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You watch your pins carefully, and try to see if they are leaning in one direction or another. In the above picture, the pin is leaning to the left, meaning that there’s more fabric up there to be incorporated into the seam. Therefore, you need to fit more of those rows into a smaller amount of rows on the bottom (picking up 2 ladders on the top and just 1 on the bottom) to ease everything in.

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When it goes right, it goes so right and you feel like a finishing genius. When it doesn’t, you think, “Eh, people don’t look at the corners anyway, right? I don’t need to take a picture of that one. Or that one. Or that one back there.”

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What corners? Low-angle photography makes corners not matter, right?

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Finish up the edges with 2 rows of single crochet, just to make those corners nice and neat, and then hit it again with a tiny blast of steam so that everything lays down nice.

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Then, take a breath and weave in all those ends.

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There are a lot, so it would be good for you to take some breaks between and do this as you go along as a relief from the sewing-up frustration.

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Wait. What frustration? It all melts away when you see that final finished project, exactly as you envisioned it in your head.

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Fields of green and brown and purple, looking like farmland from an airplane.

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Those slightly wonky edges and corners just don’t matter anymore, because it’s so perfect all of a sudden.

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You know that your brother and sister-in-law are going to absolutely love it, and all of the work is worth it. The endorphins kick in and shape the experience in such a way that you start to think, you know, I should make another one of those for Dan and I, as soon as I have some more free time.

But maybe in cotton next time.

It’s Almost Too Hot for Knitting – Woodland Gyllis and a Great Rack

Because it is so freaking hot outside, I went and did the only sensible thing.

20150719_140115I made another scarf that is impossible to wear until it cools down outside. This is because I am a very sensible person who is in no way obsessed with sock yarn.

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Yep. Not crazy at all.

20150524_120249The pattern is Gyllis by the always amazing, beautiful, alien creature that is Stephen West. This man is a powerhouse of knitting design. His patterns are all about structural details and blocks of color, making each piece seem more like a work of architecture than something you’d wrap around your neck.

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I made his Herbivore pattern many years ago, and it is still my very favorite scarf in the wintertime, so I knew that when I found this beautiful yarn, Prism Saki in Woodlands (purchased at the absolutely delightful McNeedles, a store that I only recently discovered but will definitely be making my go-to LYS), that it was begging to be knitted up into something special.

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Something special enough that I would stand out in the 98-degree weather after sneaking onto Loyola’s campus with a bunch of merino wool on my body. It’s that good. Super soft and lovely while still retaining enough stitch definition to pop out all of those yarnovers and twisted stitches. I need a skein of every single color right this minute.

20150719_140136The contrast color is Cascade Yarns Heritage Sock, another great merino and nylon blend. I still have some left over, as well as the Saki, so you might see an anklet that pairs the two together again. As I was knitting it, I kept going back and forth as to whether I liked the two colors together, but after seeing it in action in the sunlight, I’m more than sure that I made the right decision.

Now, I am not the only crazy person making crafts in the ridiculously hot weather.

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Dan made a wine rack out of pallets! Like, with his hands and stuff.

20150713_100529And by stuff, I mean tools. But, seriously, he saw a picture of something similar on Pinterest, and just decided to go out in the garage and make one, with no schematics or anything. Just made it up.

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It’s so perfect that I am simultaneously overjoyed and jealous. We all know already that Dan is the ultimate laid-back stealth crafter. He completely wings things all the time, and they come out exactly as planned.

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It’s infuriating.

Goddammit, that’s a good looking wine rack. Everytime I walk by it, I smile. And then I think we need to buy some more wine.

My Grandmother Made Things

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Grandma Winnie made quilts, mostly, and when I was a kid, it was very rare to see her sitting down without an unfinished quilt in her lap. She would hum a never-ending sort of rambling melody to herself, completely unaware that she was doing it, as she held onto the embroidery hoop and made countless tiny stitches by hand. She had a room in her house totally dedicated to her quilting and sewing, with shelves of meticulously organized fabrics, arranged by color and texture. She had a closet full of patterns, templates, and stencils, because she believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing it by hand. She made my mother’s wedding dress. And all of the bridesmaids’ dresses. And innumerable baby blankets, bonnets, booties, Christmas stockings, tree ornaments, flower pots, ceramic figurines, pies, cakes…you get the idea. If there was something happening in your life, no matter how small, she had something that she had made at the ready to commemorate the occasion.

She passed away last Tuesday, a few days shy of her 94th birthday, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Her strength was in her determination to live a simple life that was filled with things she loved. She married my grandfather right before he left to go fight on a battleship in World War II. She gave birth to my mom, Diane, while he was still out to sea, and had to wait for him to come back from across the world to meet his first child.

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She was an effortless hostess, working hard behind the scenes and never even thinking to complain about the fact that she had yet to sit down while everyone else was already having their second helping of Christmas dinner. She collected porcelain dolls and romance novels. She grew mirlitons and figs in her backyard, and she loved to travel.

When I was a little girl, I was inundated with pink things. Pink stuffed animals, pink clothes, pink hair accessories, pink everywhere. By age 12, I was sick of it, even the beautiful Cheer Bear quilt that Grandma Winnie had made me for my 5th birthday. I wish that I could find a picture of this glorious quilt where it wasn’t completely obscured by stuffed animals, but trust me when I say it was super cool.

Here.

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Just imagine this adorable bear surrounded by diamonds in every conceivable shade of pink. Cute, right? I know.

Anyway, I railed against the tyranny of pink in a big way. Even though I was a spoiled ungrateful child who had absolutely no idea how long it took to make a full-sized quilt for a double bed, she listened. She sat me down at her house with a huge pile of quilting magazines, and we went through them together for hours, picking out just the right pattern with exactly the right fabrics for my new, grown-up, pink-hating self.

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She stitched down every single flower and kitten by hand with blanket stitches of love. And I returned the favor by laying on top of that quilt and doing my homework every single day until all of those stitches wore out, and the appliques were peeling off. And then she did it again, fixing every piece and mending the holes with embroidered hearts. She knew that these things that she spent the time and effort to make were meant to be loved and enjoyed. They were useful objects that had no place hanging on a wall or being folded up on a shelf somewhere. If it fell apart, she could fix it or make you a new one. That was what she loved best.

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She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease several years ago, and at first she was just forgetful. She would misplace things and forget about the fact that she had already made dinner that night. When my grandfather passed away, it wasn’t the sudden downward slide into dementia that people were expecting, more like a slow fading away of the parts of her personality that were uniquely hers. She didn’t make things anymore. She forgot that she even knew how to do so.

The moment that most broke my heart was when I once went to visit her in her assisted-living facility when I had just started nursing school. She sat down on her bed to look at the crossword puzzle books that I had handed her and started absent-mindedly patting the crocheted throw on the bed next to her. I complimented the blanket, saying that it was very pretty (a very cool, seventies sort of retro zig-zaggy thing in shades of red and gray), and she smiled and said, “Oh, thank you. I don’t even remember where I got it.”

I said, “You made it.”

Her eyes got wide as she looked at me, and looked back at her blanket. “I did?”

I nodded. She said, “Well, I don’t know how to do stuff like that.” And then she traced the outlines of the ridges with her fingers. “I used to, I guess.”

I wanted to cry and give her a hug, but I decided against it because she wasn’t really sure who I was. She could tell that she was supposed to know me, but had decided that I probably worked there, given the fact that I was wearing scrubs at the time. Instead, I went and cried in my car after I left.

She was the one who had taught me how to crochet. She taught me how to quilt, how to embroider, how to work a sewing machine even though it still terrifies me. How to be delighted in the small and the handmade. How to love bird-watching. How to do crosswords. Right now, my brain can’t even process what it would be like to forget how to do these things. These things that were such a large part of who she was. Of who I am now.

However, she never lost the core of herself to Alzheimer’s. She was, till the very end, unfailingly kind. She was always up for eating something delicious and watching everyone around her have a wonderful time.

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423She danced at my brother’s wedding reception, with all of the people who loved her most surrounding her and holding her up.

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On that night, when I walked over to her sitting near the edge of the dance floor, I held my hands up at her in a boxing stance, like one of those boxing nun puppets, wheeling my hands around as I came towards her. She returned the gesture and punched me in the arm, and said that she’d knock me out. I used to do this to her in her kitchen all the time when I was in high school and had started to grow taller than her. My cousins and my brother and I all did, for some reason. She punched my arm on the dance floor, and I almost cried. And then we danced.

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I can’t even deign to compare myself to this amazing woman, this woman who was full of nothing but patience and kindness and good advice. This woman that knew that most problems could be solved if you just talked them over with a glass of milk and some vanilla sandwich cookies. I couldn’t say that she was even the grandparent that I am most like, but she’s definitely the one that I most wanted to be. That I still want to be. I make things, too, and I put a part of myself into every stitch or recipe, just like anyone would, I suppose.

But when she made things, she made people happy. She made a beautiful life. May we all be so lucky.