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

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

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First up, the Autumn Vindauga Blanket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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See? A lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.