Mary Blanket Squared

Well, it’s been a bit. I have no excuses other than clinicals eating my life this past semester. Everyday is a little bit closer to my degree, and now that I’ve actually physically started my doctoral project, the simultaneous feelings of being-close-to-being-done and still-having-so-much-work-to-do are doing my head in a bit. How do we fix that?

We knit baby blankets!

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And this one, my friends, was really something special.

My friend and co-worker Mary is just a lovely person. You might remember her from nearly two years ago when I knit her a stripey chevron baby blanket for her first baby, and now she’s gone and decided to bring another wonderful person into the world. How very like her.

Mary, in addition to being a fantastic nurse, is also a wonderful visual artist. You can check out (and buy!) some of her art here: Art by MLeon. Her visual language is really striking, particularly if you are a person from New Orleans, and I have been lusting after one of her abstract swamp paintings for a long while.

I figured, after taking a little trip through Ravelry‘s baby blanket pattern section with Mary (and speaking of Ravelry, hell yeah Ravelry, you go Ravelry, good for you Ravelry), that I’d take her preferences into account, but add in a few little extras so that she knew how much I admire her talent and style.

Her oyster paintings really caught my eye, with their swathes of pearls and greys, along with metallic accents. So did this particular colorway of Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in Pearlescent. And the handful of beads that I had left over from my exciting venture into beaded shawls. A plan was starting to come together.

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The pattern is Baby Blanket Squared by Jennifer Donze, and it really shows off all of that lovely subtle variegation. From far away, it just looks like varying shades of gray, but up close…

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…you’ve got hints of blue, purple, and cream mixed in, just like an opalescent oyster shell.

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The beads are Toho Japanese glass beads, the clear glass with the silver foil inner lining, size 6/0 E, and you won’t even need a full container. The original pattern doesn’t include the beading, so let me tell you what I did, in case you want to fancy it up with me.

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For each beaded stitch, you take a tiny crochet hook and thread the bead onto the stitch that you are about to knit, just right on top of it, and then place it back on your left-hand needle and knit it normally. Starting with the border chart, I put beads on every corner stitch on the pattern rows (the odd-numbered rows).

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Then, with row 26 (the last row of the pattern chart, where you’re just working plain stitches around), I placed beads on every stitch that had previously been a double-decrease on the row below, to mark the tiny clusters. This makes that last row take approximately a thousand years, but something about those tiny little bits of sparkle make me happy.

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Then, on the bind-off row, I beaded the corner stitches one last time before binding them off, just to make sure the sparkles went all the way to the end. This is optional, of course, because then you’ve got to block it really aggressively to make sure all those little beads lay totally flat.

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Because this is a pattern where every other row makes the blanket grow larger, you will get extremely irritated with it and shove it back in the bag after every few rows, just because you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. My last few rows and the bind-off alone took 1.5-2 hours each, since at that point you have over 600 stitches of sock-weight yarn on your needles. It’s hard not to go a bit stir crazy.

But when you’re finally done and you get to admire all of that hard work?

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It’s so worth it.

That Stroll sock yarn is such good stuff, it’ll have you thinking crazy thoughts like, “Hmmm, maybe I’d like a whole sweater out of this.”

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I mean, can you blame me? It’s just got such a lovely drape and squish. It would probably take 10 skeins to make something that would fit me, and approximately a bajillion years to finish it, but damn if it doesn’t sound appealing right now, in the hazy fog of finishing a project.

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I can only hope that Mary loves her blanket just as much as I do, and that it becomes something special to her, just like she is to me.

Effervesce: A Very Fancy Name for a Very Pretty Sock

It’s my first project of the year! Coming in just under the wire for January, we’ve got Effervesce.

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A fancy name that really does befit a lovely sock, but makes me feel like I’m in a pretentious perfume commercial when I attempt to say it.

Effervesce. By Lancôme.

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But, seriously, those are some pretty things. They deserve a pretty name.

Effervesce. By Dior.

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My friend and co-worker, Kristen, is equally lovely. She is a former dancer and a kickass nurse, and it’s one of my favorite things when I get to give her report in the morning. She’s also a dead ringer for Simone Giertz of shitty robot fame, who is just one of the coolest people in the world. I’m a firm believer that only the coolest people get the coolest doppelgangers, so there you go.

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This pattern, beautifully written and charted by Purrlescent on Ravelry, has so many things that I am just a sucker for. It’s got symmetry between the feet, both in the cable twists and in the overall pattern design.

Effervesce.  By Calvin Klein.

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(Important note: my camera just cannot handle purples, for some reason, so just imagine a sock that is somewhere between all of these disparate photos. Knit Picks Hawthorne Fingering in Goose Hollow is actually a kettle-dyed-style mix of blues, purples, and pinks, and it looks like a cotton-candy wonderland.)

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Effervesce.  By Oscar de la Renta.

Even though I’m making an awful lot of fun of the name, this is one of my favorite sock patterns that I’ve knit in a long while.  It’s just too good. Each sock has its cable twists going opposite ways, plus the enlarging twisted rib detail just kills me. There’s something very satisfying about all those super straight lines.

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Like, look at that! So neat and tidy and orderly and perfect.

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As you can imagine, having this type of symmetry required a whole lot of charts. Four, to be exact, and they were super clear and easy-to-follow, which can be quite a feat. What a good job. Plus, there’s a bonus recipe for sangria at the end of the pattern, which, although it’s not my favorite thing, is super fun. Who doesn’t love drinking and knitting?

Effervesce.  By Marc Jacobs.

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I’m particularly enamored of the way the cables unfurl into the slipped stitch heel. I’ll be sneaking these into Kristen’s work locker tomorrow, and I hope she feels the same.  And I hope she loves the name as much as I do.  And then we can both stare off into the middle distance and say it in unison.  Effervessssssce.

Thankful for Pie 2018 Edition

You guys. This year was a hard one to recap due to the fact that so many things were just so terrible this year, just in general. From the world seemingly falling apart around our ears every other minute, to the more mundane and personal challenges that Dan and I experienced…it was difficult to sit and take the time and attempt to see the silver lining of everything that was going on. This year has felt like five years packed into one, but if you would have asked me before I started to sort through my pictures, I would have had a difficult time telling you the highlights. I guess that’s part of the point, though. Taking the time to sit and reflect and see the good things that happened.

It would feel a bit hypocritical to not mention that all of these things probably only functioned as temporary distractions from the greater problems and difficulties that were occurring all around us. However, that doesn’t make them any less important. You’ve got to find those things that make getting through life worth all of the problems and strangeness, right? Here we go.

In January, I got to make delicious chocolate pie with Kelli, one of my favorite people.

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We made plans to make more pie (which hasn’t happened yet because I am a busy, bad friend), and to make a dog sweater for her cutie, Ellie.

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Awwwwwww.

There was also the completion of this masterpiece, now proudly hanging in my dining room.

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I mean, people talk about life goals, but I didn’t know that having a giant picture of Ralph Macchio on my wall was one of mine until I had properly achieved it.

I made the pinkest socks ever for my friend Sabrina, right in the middle of a crazy hard freeze, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t happen very often in New Orleans.

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And I got to attend a wonderful Hamilton sing-a-long with my friends and fellow nurses Eli and Carolyn, plus Tessa, the coolest kid I know.

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Of course I wore my Hamilton hat, plus I met a fellow super-cool shirt-wearer.

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February brought with it a very cool woodworking project from Dan. I’ve been begging him for years to make us a coat rack because Trip loves to infiltrate the hallway coat closet and sequester himself in there whenever anyone opens it. True to form, Dan cut down a tree and made a forest in my hallway.

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It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

This year, we really got into tending our own backyard garden rather than participating in a CSA box, mainly because the washing and storage upkeep on the CSA vegetables would have been pretty impossible with all of my grad school work. In March, the whole yard was sprouting and blooming and glorious. A few highlights from the spring and summer:

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We planted wildflowers in nearly every empty space in order to bring the bees on over, and it worked like gangbusters.

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It wasn’t long before the sunflowers got taller than Dan.

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Then, taller than the fence and the patio roof.

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I could look out of my second-story bedroom window every morning and see them blooming. It was fantastic.

We planted a whole crop of carrots, too, which brings me to another goal of the year, which I started in April: annoying a James-Beard-award-winning chef into being my internet friend.

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Dan had bought me Alon Shaya‘s cookbook, Shaya, a little while back, and I spent a large portion of my year making various recipes out of it and tweeting them out to him personally.

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But, it worked! I can’t tell you how many times I danced around my kitchen, roasting red peppers over the open flame and delighting in the fact that a famous chef was delighting in the fact that I was cooking his recipes. It’s a recursive cycle of joy, really.

In April, I also learned how to suture.

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Another skill, along with knitting and CPR, that will serve me well in the apocalypse.

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Plus, I made a very pretty beaded shawl and flounced around in the park with it, feeling like a pretty, pretty princess.

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In May, Dan and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary, and I sent him on a scavenger hunt around the house, collecting fancy dark chocolate candy bars commemorating various landmarks in our relationship.

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We went to NOMA a whole bunch, to see the beautiful exhibits, and to escape the overwhelming heat.

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And I made a beautiful baby blanket for my friend Christina and her new baby.

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I don’t usually call my own work beautiful, but I can’t remember ever being so proud of a project as I am of Autumn Vindauga. It was the perfect way to kick off the Summer of Baby Blankets, because I was just surrounded by pregnant ladies.

In June, in-between writing essays for my nursing ethics class and knitting furiously, we grew some mystery melons.

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Seriously. We did not plant these. They just appeared. And they were yummy.

Then, my friend Bailee surprised me with what might be the most perfect birthday present anyone has ever received.

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Yes, friends, that is me, clad in my Captain America dress, being held aloft by a very sexy, bearded Captain himself. Do yourself a favor and go look at Sakibatch’s other amazing fandom art and support her! This thing is just glorious.

The Summer of Baby Blankets continued into July.

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I put my fingers to the test with all of these tiny cables, but man, it was worth it.

And I made a tiny rainbow!

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In August, the baby blanket mania finally came to an end with the coolest illusion knitting ever.

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A video that I posted on Tumblr revealing the illusion stars is the most reblogged thing that I have ever posted. A small accomplishment, but people love their illusion knitting something fierce.

Then, Bailee and I attended the Ninja Sex Party concert at the Joy Theatre. Aptly named, because sheer joy was just the theme of the evening.

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I mean, look at that. There’s just sunshine and happiness and glitter and rainbows emanating off that stage.

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Because we got VIP tickets (priced appropriately at $69.69), we got treated to Danny and Ninja Brian’s lovely faces as they answered questions and talked about the music they love.

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We wore an awful lot of glitter, but we definitely weren’t alone. There was so much cosplay and sequins and joy joy joy everywhere.

I was introduced to Planet Booty, an energetic and exciting band that travels with a disco-mirrored mannequin butt that they bring out on stage.

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I did not manage to get a picture of this part because my jaw was hanging open while I danced my ass off.

Then, we rocked out to TWRP‘s electronica-disco-dance-party stylings.

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Then, NSP blew our faces off.

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I would have never known about these wonderful bands and people if Bailee had not introduced them to me, and for that I am eternally grateful. I have been listening to them this entire time while writing this, and it’s just impossible to not be happy while you listen to their music. Seriously, go to their channel and immerse yourself in awesomeness.

September brought more musical greatness.

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My friend Kyle, better known as KP, rapped all about bad bitches right in front of my face. Go check out his Soundcloud. His stuff is just…it seems wrong to say delightful because that’s such a “me” word and not a word for super cool rappers, but it honestly makes me so goddamn happy.

Then, we saw Taylor Swift at the Superdome.

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Yes, I only own one shirt with sequins on it. Again, I was not alone in being a sparkly lady here. Never before have I seen so much glitter. On the crowd, on the stage, floating in the air. It was unreal.

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And snakes!

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There are no words. It was the loudest, brightest, craziest spectacle I have ever seen, and I loved every second.

In October, I made socks for some truly-deserving people.

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Plus, Dan and I went and saw Aaron Mahnke of the Lore Podcast, a truly wonderful little bit of creepy storytelling you should add to your weekly routine.

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He treated us to a book-signing and a reading from his new book, Dreadful Places, and we chatted for a bit about exhumed graves. Like you do.

In November, we saw Nine Inch Nails.

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Again, there are no words. I will never stop loving Trent Reznor, especially when he pulls out a freaking saxophone in the middle of concert and plays us some ambient end-of-the-world sounds for about 30 seconds, and then puts it away and never mentions it again. My hero.

So, here we are at December. One last project got completed before the end of the year, a little good, good dice bag for Bailee to enjoy while she’s in grad school in London.

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Plus, we’ve got pickles going in the fridge from the last remnants of the garden, tons of bell peppers and green roma tomatoes.

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And, I’ve got a new pair of socks on the needles for my friend and coworker Kristen, all single-stitch twists and bubbles.

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I also wrote the proposal and designed my DNP scholarly project this year and wrote a total of 85,710 words and 320 double- and single-spaced APA-formatted pages on everything from fall prevention to nursing ethical dilemmas to atrophic vaginitis. I saw 411 patients. Yes, I kept track of all of these things because I am a giant nerd. Some of our long-term patients at the hospital passed away or had some crazy near-misses. I sat with mothers and grandmothers and children as they cried in frustration and fear and relief.

I am very tired.

Let’s hope that in the new year, we can truly delight in the things that bring us joy, rather than only using them as a balm to distract from the horrors of the world. I’m trying harder to do this every day, and I can only wish that it gets easier for all of us soon.

Warm Feet = Love

A few years ago, my best friend since high school, Jonathan, and his lovely wonderful wife, Rebecca, moved from New Orleans out to beautiful San Rafael, CA.

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I miss them all the time.

Ever since visiting them in the middle of summer last year, I am also concerned about the state of their feet. The entire San Francisco area is ridiculously cold at night, no matter what time of year, and I knew that this had to be remedied with some precious handknit socks, post-haste.

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I happened to have a gorgeous skein of Mrs. Crosby Loves to Play Satchel hanging around, an impulse purchase made during a huge sale at my favorite LYS, McNeedles. This weirdly-named yarn is one of my all-time favorite sock yarns, supersoft with gorgeous color saturation and a lovely single-ply twist that manages to still yield some great stitch definition with a soft fuzzy halo around it. This colorway, Peacock, is just absolutely stunning, and Jonathan and I felt like it was perfect for Rebecca.

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The pattern is the Cookie A. classic, Monkey. I’ve been wanting to make these since the first time I saw them in Knitty, 12 years ago, and I finally got to add them to my Cookie A. oeuvre.

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Seriously, I have made a lot of Cookie A. socks. Look through the archives, if you don’t believe me, because it’s just now the end of the semester of my second year of grad school, and I just can’t muster up the energy to look them all up and link them here for you. But trust me, there’s a bunch.

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There’s nothing overly twee or clever about these, just a really good, classic sock pattern, with a little bit of lace and mock-cables to keep things interesting.

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They are so incredibly soft and plush. The perfect thing to keep this wonderful woman’s toes warm this winter.

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The only thing that I might change, if I were to make these socks in the future, is to try them with a yarn that’s maybe more tightly-spun or smoother, because even though the halo of Satchel is glorious, it does obscure the more subtle bits of the patterning. I’d love to see what it might look like in something more defined.

As for Jonathan…well, it would just be really mean to make beautiful, warm socks for his wife and not make him anything at all. Too rude to even think of.

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How freaking cool is it that I somehow have pictures of both of these people that coordinate somehow with their new socks? Uncanny. (You’d almost think that I did it on purpose, but I didn’t. I swear. I’m just good at picking out sock yarns, I think.  We all have our talents.)

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I’ve had this skein of Berroco Sox in my stash for years, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it. You don’t just jump into a self-striping sock without having the perfect pattern and perfect person to use it for. This colorway, the tragically-discontinued Lancaster, was an utter joy.

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I mean, that’s a lot of pictures of the same thing over and over, but I don’t know how else to reveal those little flecks of soft browns, purples, pinks, and grays throughout the whole thing. The pattern is my old stand-by, perfect for showcasing crazy stripes and colorfades, the Good, Plain Sock Recipe by the Yarn Harlot.

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Just a standard 3×3 rib pattern to show off all those tweedy stripes. Such good stuff. It’s hard to not feel like an aspiring Ivy League professor trudging through the fall leaves while you’re wearing these.

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These beauties got packed up and sent on their way to California, where they are doing their important job of keeping the toes warm of the people that I love.

That’s what true love is, right? Keeping your loved ones warm, any way you can, even from across the country? I think so.

Summer of Baby Blankets, vol. 3 – Star Illusion Blanket

The final moment is upon us. The grand finale of the self-imposed Summer of Baby Blankets is finally here! (Want to read vol. 1 and vol. 2?) I know that all two of you have been waiting with such anticipation, so here we go.

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Ooooooooooh. Aaaaaaaaaah.

Now, there are those among you who don’t know about this amazing thing called illusion knitting (or shadow knitting, if you’re super cool). Here is what this blanket looks like when you look at it head-on.

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Seemingly random stripey-ness. Cheerful, and somehow very Spongebob-esque, but nothing much going on, except if you look at it too long, you might get a mild headache.

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However, embedded within those innocent garter-stitch-resembling stripes are a series of knits and purls that transform the picture when you look at it slightly off-kilter.

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See? Ugh, it’s just so good.

When I found out that my friend and co-worker Samantha was pregnant, I knew that I had to make something fun for her. She’s a bright and bubbly person, and she once bought me a book of knitting patterns for tiny monster hats for children, so we definitely have the same inclination towards silliness and whimsy. When I was scrolling through baby blanket patterns on Ravelry and saw this bit of wonderfulness pop up, I knew she’d be into it.

Now, I’ve seen the illusion knitting technique countless times on scarves, usually cleverly hiding secret patterns or pictures or words in there (shout out to my Twitter friend Jen who made an amazing rainbow illusion scarf to go with her TAZ Istus cosplay), but I’ve never seen it in a blanket. It’s just freaking genius on a blanket, because you are almost always looking at the surface at a angle, and almost always with a large part of the right side exposed, something that’s just not always the case with scarves.

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Getting sick of the stars yet? Me neither.

The pattern is Star Illusion Blanket by fidget, or Katie Ahlquist, and it’s just a brilliant piece of design. In the original pattern, you knit three separate panels of stars with varying “blocks” of foreground and background colors and then seam them together, to get this sort of faded stained glass effect in the finished piece.

Now, I basically cannot follow a pattern as written lately, so my version is a little bit different. First, I thought about having to sew those strips together and matching up all of those stripes perfectly, and I had flashbacks of grafting together my Autumn Vindauga blanket, and decided that one experience like that was enough for one summer. So, instead, I cast on for the entire blanket all together (which is 158 sts, if you’re playing along at home).

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For the yarn, I used Plymouth Encore Worsted, because I wanted something super strong and durable with the brightest colors I could find. Instead of alternating in blocks of color for both the foreground and background, I decided to just have one foreground color (Bright Yellow [1382]), and then striped three background colors throughout, carrying the colors up the sides. (Background colors are, in order, Miami Aqua [0235], Serenity Blue [4045], and Royal [0133].). I think it makes for this nice watercolor-y rippled effect, don’t you?

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I was a little bit worried about the edges looking messy since I carried up the colors and Encore isn’t exactly a “blocking” type of yarn, but I’m thinking it’s pretty darn good. The original pattern has you back the entire thing, plus cover the edges, with fabric, which looks amazing if you know what you’re doing. I am not the world’s greatest seamstress, so the fabric portion just went out the window.

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Besides, who would want to miss out on how freaking cool the wrong side of this thing is?

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I only did two repeats of the pattern, but extended it to row 2 of the next repeat, just to make sure that I ended on a background row on both sides. My need for the slightest bit of symmetry gets in the way sometimes. I would’ve kept going until the next aqua stripe, but I don’t think that I had enough yarn, plus it was nice to have the top and bottom just mirror each other. After it was done, it got a bath with some Soak (mainly just to get the dye smell out), then a little bit of pinning and a gentle steam block, just to make the edges and corners lie down a little bit better.

You’ve got to be super careful messing around with a hot steam iron and acrylic blends, otherwise you’ll “kill” the acrylic, leaving you with a weird limp mess. Sometimes, this is the goal, but usually you don’t want to take the spring out of your yarn. In order to lightly steam-block this, I just held the iron about an inch over the fabric and shot steam down, constantly moving and never touching the surface. I let it dry and cool down, then passed over it again, then unpinned and called it a day.

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Then, I did what any normal person would do, which is take countless videos of me standing over the blanket and crouching down over and over again to watch those magic stars do their thing.  Please, just click on the above picture (or right here), and you can see this for yourself, over and over and over and over again.  You would do the same, trust me. It just never gets old.

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So, thanks to everyone for joining me on this Summer of Baby Blankets journey. We striped and grafted and cabled our way through the summer, and we are better knitters for it. Go and find yourself a technique you want to try and make a baby blanket out of it. You’ll be glad you did.

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.

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.

Starry Night at the Ritz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sometimes it’s purple.

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Sometimes it’s blue.

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

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

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And a pretty, pretty princess.

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

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

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

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

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

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Such concentration!

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It was worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But how did it go with Ellie?

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Awwwwwww.

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Such a warm and cosy pup.

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

Hot Pink Lindsays, the pinkest socks ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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

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I might be a complete short row heel convert now.

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

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

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

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