Summer of Baby Blankets, vol. 2 – Annie’s Levi Blanket

We’re on to the second blanket in our self-imposed Summer of Baby Blankets (make sure you go look back at vol. 1!), and it’s just such an astonishing piece of loveliness that I am surprised I made it.

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I mean, come on. If I didn’t spend so much time with it, watching Flashpoint and Endeavour while navigating its intensely cabled wonderland, I’d swear that I could never make such a thing.

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It’s almost like we should it Impostor Syndrome: the blanket.

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This blanket is going to my friend and co-worker Annie, who is expecting her first child in the next few weeks. She is, to me, someone who exudes a sort of class and grace about her that I can only aspire to, especially when I am concentrating very hard on not spilling something on myself or dropping something very breakable.

She’s lithe and blonde and will undoubtedly have the most beautiful and graceful daughter possible, so I figured she’d want to have something graceful and charming with family-heirloom potential. I clicked around for a long time on Ravelry, trying to find something that possessed those same characteristics. Something in lace or cables, for sure, but nothing that looked like it was an exercise in crazy celtic love-knots or impossibly difficult cabling. Just something classic and simple, but interesting and difficult enough to hold my attention.

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Enter Levi’s Baby Blanket by Lindsay Humphrey.  Three separate cable motifs, all symbolizing the unity between a baby and its parents.

Braids…

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…keyhole twists…

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…and a set of three heart motifs running up the center?

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Yes, please.

It’s got everything you could want in classic baby elegance, plus a cable chart that’ll knock you over sideways. It’s color-coded, for pete’s sake. Does it get any better?

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I went again with Cascade 220 Superwash Merino, this time in the color Tuffet (02), which is the most amazing cross somewhere between soft brown and gray. Like a really delicious mushroom. Or the color you’d expect Martha Stewart to have in every room of her house.

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When it was blocked, the merino relaxed into gorgeous silkiness, while still keeping perfect stitch definition for all of those twists and turns. I may have shoved my face into it for a second.

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And speaking of blocking, blocking wires are definitely your friend here. They are the perfect solution to making sure that every cable is stretched out perfectly both horizontally and vertically, and in getting those wavy blanket borders to lay flat. I got mine here, and have used them for almost every project since. They are a fantastic investment.

I did make a tiny bit of modification here from the original pattern, in order to make my yarn choice and desperate need for symmetry to work together.  The original pattern calls for a DK-weight yarn, and the Cascade 220 Merino is more of a light worsted, so things are going to be a little different height-wise. Also, I knitted the whole thing on size 6 needles, which may seem small, but really gets those cables to pop right in your face. To accommodate for this, I had to change the ending point of the pattern.

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The pattern calls for three repeats of the chart, then working up until row 56 on the 4th go-around. Because my yarn was larger, I found that I was at a really good length at three repeats, and then I just continued until row 9 so that my top and bottom cable twists on the 2nd cable motif were symmetrical. However, this made me go on to a fifth ball of yarn that I had to frantically special-order. If you’d like to make this pattern in the same yarn, you could probably just stop on the third chart repeat at row 73, then start your border from there. That way, you get your symmetry and you don’t have to scramble for that extra ball of yarn.

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Ugh, even the wrong side is pretty.

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Stay tuned for the exciting finale in the Summer of Baby Blankets, as soon as I finish it. Which might take a little bit. Hopefully we don’t bleed into the Early Fall of Baby Blankets, because it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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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.

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.

Showered with Love – the Moderne Baby Blanket

“The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. You know, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice, and yet you spend more time with them then you do your friends or your family. But probably all you’ve got in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for 8 hours a day. And so, obviously, when someone comes in who you… you have a connection with… yeah.” – Tim Canterbury, The Office

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Now, I know that quote up there is about a man finding the love of his life, but really, I think it applies for all of those wonderful work relationships that everyone experiences, but are hard to describe.

There are people who you would have otherwise never would have met, and once you’re put together with them, particularly in the stressful field in which I work, find it very difficult to imagine your work, hell, your life without them.

My lovely friend Christina is one of these people.

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I knew from the day that we met, in a class where we had to qualify for our PALS certification (that’s right, I’m all kinds of responsible for the lives of children now, it’s crazy), that she was going to be one of the people that made my new job a good place to be. We work night shift together on the 6th floor, where we take care of lots of different high-acuity patients, children with brain injuries, kidney diseases, and heart defects, and even though it’s night shift, it can be extremely hectic and demanding, due to how much care our kids need and how busy our hospital is.

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Christina is always there for me to bond with over our shared pediatrics experience. She’s kind to a fault, knowing exactly the right way to talk to children and parents to put them at ease, and I know several kids that we see frequently who ask for her to be their nurse every time they come. Even when she’s got a ridiculous amount to accomplish in a shift, she’s always got a smile for anyone who comes up to her. She is always down to help with any small task or enormous disaster (usually involving inordinate amounts of bodily fluids) that occurs, no matter what.

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When Christina found herself suddenly, and really unexpectedly, about to have a baby, I knew that I had to make her something to show her how much I appreciate having her in my life, no matter how randomly we were brought together (and also because I feel like love is best shown through gestures like these, not just how we sit off to the side of the nurses’ station and talk about our pets).

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She and her boyfriend didn’t want to find out whether the baby is a boy or a girl ahead of time, so I figured that the silly amount of yarn I had left over from Squares and Squares and Squares would be best served in making a green-and-brown woodsy, squishy blanket for a teeny, tiny baby-to-be that will be very much loved by his or her entire adopted nursing family.

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Time to talk shop. The pattern here is the Moderne Baby Blanket by the glorious ladies behind Mason-Dixon Knitting, baby cousin to the Modern Log Cabin Blanket, which I made in 2009 with Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool and remains a prized possession in my home, only allowed to be used in my office where there are no cats allowed. I can’t blame them, that squishy garter stitch is really, really tempting to stick your claws in and get in some good kneading.

Wanna see that one?

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Hell yeah, that’s a big blanket.

This Modern Baby Blanket is quite a bit smaller, and full of little tweaks to accommodate the fact that I was using yarn from another project. First things first, I was dealing with seven colors here, as opposed to four, so I had to be strategic about not letting colors that were too similar stack up on each other, as well as constantly checking to make sure that I was using up each color as much as possible, judging each new rectangle by its placement and what size it would be before choosing which color to go with next.

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That sounds so much more complicated than it actually was.

Go ahead and click on the link for Squares and Squares and Squares above in order to see which colors of Knit Picks Brava Worsted I used (it’s all of them except for Mulberry), in case you want to make your own. The only other thing that I changed was the size of the blocks around the outside edges. Because I was using the leftovers from another large blanket, all I had to work with was slightly less than a skein of each color. Because of this, I worked with each color as long as I possibly could, and then recalculated how many stitches to pick up on the subsequent crossing blocks.

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Again, that sounds way more complicated that it was. Part of what’s wonderful about this pattern is how easy it is to customize. I’ve seen fantastic adaptations where people make long gradients of one color family, where they knit in extra borders between blocks, where they go crazy with multicolored yarn…it’s all awesome.

The Brava makes for a wonderfully squishy, hefty knit, perfect for softening up a floor to let a baby hang out and get some tummy time, while also being really easy to wash and care for.

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After finishing up, this precious bundle made its way to a super-stylish baby shower (Seriously, look at all that gray and green! I want to redecorate my house to look like this future baby’s possessions now.), in our conference room on our hospital floor, because sometimes work can wait while people eat fruit tarts and open presents.

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There’s Christina there, reading out her cards and looking radiant and teary-eyed, not realizing just how much we all love her and are willing to shower her with that love.

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This baby is going to be so spoiled and adored. There’s just no way around it. And no other person who deserves it more.

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.