Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - September (Free Pattern!)

September is the logical beginning of the year. Summer heat is nearly past, the weather begins to brisken up, schools open their doors to siphon our beloved young out of the house for longer or shorter periods, adult activity begins to stir, and Mother forms good resolutions and makes lists. 
Top your list with a resolution to initiate all children, M and F, into the mysteries and fascinations of knitting - Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac 

EZ gives very good suggestions for your child's first knitting project (a garter-stitch potholder) and then suggests that while your young knitter is working away that you knit him or her a pair of "longies" as a reward. These can be fitted to be as tight as leggings, or they can be looser, like lounge pants. Either way, they will be deliciously warm. They are knit in the round, which EZ considers a crucial point for both comfort and durability. Seams "pop inconveniently, especially in a garment which has to have feet constantly thrust into it."

That face!

These leggings were designed to fit my daughter, who is 43" tall and wears a size 5. Her waist measurement is 21.5" and it is 25" from the floor to her belly button. She is long-waisted and slender. If those descriptors don't match the child you wish to knit leggings for, get out your calculator and and measuring tape and figure out the size difference between my child's measurements and yours, and then add or subtract stitches or rows from my pattern to get a custom fit. Or, of course, you could buy Knitter's Almanac, where EZ gives a full explanation of how to knit "longies" for any size, infant to adult. My pattern is informed by hers but not exactly the same.

(This has not been test-knit and may contain errors.)

Cozy Cozy

US 8 DPN (for the waist you will either need a 5th DPN, or a US 8 circular needle)
Worsted weight yarn, less than 660 yards. I bought 3 skeins of yarn because I wanted to do stripes and I have a good bit left from each color. I probably used around 500 yards. 

CO 44 st
Knit 14 rounds in 2x2 ribbing.
Knit 48 rounds in stockinette.
*K2 inc1, knit to end of the round, inc1.
Knit 5 rounds in stockinette. Repeat from * 10 times, increasing by 22 st.
Knit 4 rounds in stockinette.

Repeat for the other leg.

Sew together 18 stitches from each leg using Kitchener stitch.
Knit 1 round, picking up and knitting 4 stitches over each end of the crotch. (104 st)
*K26 past the middle of the back, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, P51, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, K49, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, P47, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, knit 1 round, knitting the wrapped stitches like this. (See note)
Knit 2 rounds.
K23 past the middle of the back, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, purl 45 st, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, knit 43 st, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, purl 41 st, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, knit 1 round, knitting wrapped st as before.
Knit 2 rounds. *

Repeat from * to *.

Knit 43 rounds in stockinette. 
Knit 16 rounds in 2x2 ribbing.

Cast off loosely in pattern. Weave in all ends.
If desired, use a sewing machine to sew elastic to the inside of the waistband. 

Note: This is not a vital element, but the final result is smoother than if you simply knit the wrapped stitches. 

Name: Cozy Cozy 
Design: mine-ish, with the helpful advice of Elizabeth Zimmermann
Finished: Sept 12, 2017

Fancy that! Finished with September before the month is even half over! These were a fairly quick knit; less knitting than a sweater. I think I may collect my worsted scraps for a while and make a pair of crazy striped pants for Munchkin or Twinkle.

Ring-around-the-rosie. I obviously spent a great deal of time coordinating their outfits.
P.S. Twinkle is wearing two pairs of pajama pants, per his favorite things.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Their Favorite Things

When you are 4 or 5 years old, your likes and dislikes are still capricious. Today's favorite may be tomorrow's ma'le*. So I thought that I would record what my children like. As of September 11th, 2017, 7:24 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, all of these statements are correct and truthful. An hour from now, who can say.

*This is the word that Mei-Mei says for "trash," but when I went to look up the tones, Google had no idea what I was talking about. I don't know if this is pidgin word that she made up, or if it is part of a Hebei province dialect.

All of the children love being Mama's Helper at the grocery store. Mei-Mei talks about who is going to help Mama a full week ahead of time.

Munchkin and Twinkle ask for oatmeal every morning. Cinnamon is usually desired. Brown sugar is, of course, best of all, but rarely offered. Sometimes they ask for ketchup instead of cinnamon. This makes their mother gag a little, but she gives it to them anyway.

Mei-Mei loves dippy eggs and chips. These are soft boiled eggs with baked chips made from corn tortillas and oil and salt. You can stab a piece of egg with the point of your chip and eat it that way, which means that forks are unnecessary. Dippy eggs and chips are her mama's favorite breakfast too.

Munchkin loves cuddling with "his" cats.

Twinkle loves the color green. He will always choose the green option. Except for vegetables, of course.

Mei-Mei loves using glue sticks.

Munchkin loves mashed potatoes and peas. Heavily influenced by How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina R. Friedman, he views these side dishes as a package deal and makes nests of mashed potatoes to put the peas in.

Twinkle loves spaghetti and meatballs.

 Mei-Mei would live in her My Little Pony nightgown 24/7 if given the choice. For a while, we even had a good-night song about her pony nightgown. As part of the song I was supposed to stroke the pony and Mei-Mei would become upset if I accidentally poked the pony in the eye.

All of the children love potstickers and homemade ramen and Uncle Pop.

Munchkin also loves sushi. The other kids will eat it, but he gobbles it!

Twinkle loves wearing crowns and hats.

Mei-Mei loves going to sleep while holding onto one of her parents. She doesn't always get to, but it is far and away her preferred method.

Munchkin loves having younger children around to take care of and explain things to. Unfortunately, his younger siblings don't count, as they are the same size as he is and thus considered equals.

Twinkle loves wearing multiple pairs of shirts and pants, even in warm weather. This completely befuddles 'Stache, who has on occasion discovered Twinkle wearing up to seven shirts. Twinkle is also an equal opportunity shirt wearer, layering t-shirts, night-shirts, and 'Stache's undershirts.

Mei-Mei loves to help cook and do little jobs. She is an excellent helper.

All of the children love watching me play Minecraft. There was once great concern and worry when I went exploring and got lost and could not find where my house was. Twinkle even prayed about it at bedtime, that God would help me find my house. When I finally found it, the children discussed the matter on and off for a week.

Munchkin loves reading the original Winnie-the-Pooh. I had never read the whole book before, only snippets and individual stories and Disney versions, which lack the charm of the original. It is Excellent and I wholeheartedly recommend it. (Knowing as I do so that this is hardly an original recommendation. However, if I, as a well-read adult and a well-read-to child, am discovering this now for the first time, perhaps my recommendation can help others who were similarly ignorant of A. A. Milne's brilliance.)

Twinkle loves saying Chinese words. We are learning Chinese as part of Munchkin's school program, and Twinkle is the keenest. Interestingly, Mei-Mei is not particularly better at Chinese than Munchkin or Twinkle. I think that, outside of the handful of words we still commonly use at home, she has forgotten her Chinese.

Mei-Mei loves baths, showers, hoses and water in most forms. She has never gotten out of a bath or shower without having to be told to do so.

All of the children love paper airplanes. This causes some degree of conflict at home, because once a piece of paper has been made into an airplane it becomes a PRICELESS TREASURE and if stolen, torn or carelessly trod upon, instigates immediate commencement of hostilities and the drawing up of battle lines.

In addition to the above, there are of course the perennial favorites such as ice cream, crayons, bicycles and hot dogs. I feel that these favorites have staying power and thus do not need to be documented as thoroughly as favorites that may come and go.

It is such a gift to be able to watch their personalities and interests develop!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - August

The August chapter of Knitter's Almanac was written while the author and her husband were water-camping in the Canadian north woods. She describes her troubles thus:

As soon as the poor but determined creature sits itself down on a boat-cushion against a convenient rock, grabs note-book and pen ostentatiously, assumes an absorbed scowl, and writes just one sentence, gentle questions come wafting over the cool sunny air: Wouldn't you feel more comfortable with your boots off? Do you remember if we brought the soap? Where did we put the soap? Do you remember if I brought my fish-mouth-holder-opener? Shall we move on somewhere else? And of course that hardy perennial: Isn't it time for a little something to eat? - Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac 

Being full, as it is, of adventures such as canoe trips, the knitting projects for August are appropriately compact and whimsical. EZ suggests that hand knit Christmas ornaments are an excellent use of the little scraps time one has on one's hands in August. She has patterns for an angel, a Christmas tree, a star and a net bag for placing a fresh orange or apple in to hang on the tree.

Although the idea of decorating a tree with fresh fruit has a charming rustic simplicity to it, I know that the moment one of my beloved bottomless pits is alone in the living room at Christmas time, hunger would strike and they would be balancing on the armrests of chairs trying to reach one of the Christmas tree apples. I decided to focus on stars.

This pattern is very simple: cast on a multiple of 5 (she suggests 55) and knit in garter stitch, decreasing 2 stitches (knit 3 together) at 5 points on each row. When you have 15 stitches cut the yarn, leaving a generous tail, pull the tail through the 15 stitches, pull tight, fasten off, and sew up the small seam necessary to make it a star. Sounds simple, yes? It is.

I think this would be a great way to use scraps of yarn that are really too small to make a small hat or mitten with but are too pretty or sentimental to get rid of or perhaps (like me) you are just too stingy to ever throw away "perfectly good yarn." Also, I am generally eager to find unbreakable Christmas ornaments, as sword fights are likely to break out in our living room at any moment. These are about as unbreakable as you get! You could also knit several and make a lovely mobile or garland for a baby's room.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Warm as Toast

I believe that cowls are naturally superior to scarves when attempting to keep a young child warm in cold weather.

Being a tube of soft knitting that fits over the head and sits around the neck, there are no long ends that can get caught or trampled on or yanked by a sibling. A mother is guaranteed, having put a cowl on a child, that their neck will stay covered as long as the cowl remains, which cannot be guaranteed with a scarf, which easily becomes untied or twisted or tightened, exposing skin to the elements. And lastly, a cowl requires less than a third of the knitting necessary to produce a scarf, making it a thrifty choice in both time and materials.

(There are very large cowls, of course, designed to be doubled or tripled around the neck, or very wide ones that produce a fashionable bunched effect that would be actually larger than a traditional scarf, but this cowl is a simple one, designed to be only one layer, imminently suitable for keeping a young child who lives in the not too arctic state of Tennessee, warm in winter.)

Mei-Mei may have a future as a knitwear model.

I designed this cowl to be very simple, suitable for beginners. It uses a type of waffle stitch, which is one of my favorite knit/purl stitches. I knit it using the back-and-forth method because I knit faster using straight needles, but the pattern is actually simpler if knit in the round, as the pattern uses an odd number of rows. I have put both here so that you can use your favorite method. This pattern uses approximately 100 yards of DK weight yarn. I recommend that you use a yarn that does not contain more than 50% acrylic or plant-based fibers. The more acrylic or plant-based fibers in a yarn, the less stretchy and less warm it will be

Warm as Toast
approx 100 yards DK weight yarn
US 5 knitting needles, either straight or circular as you prefer
a darning needle 

Back-and-forth directions
Using straights, cast on 102 st, loosely.
Rows 1-4: K
Row 5: P
Row 1: (Right Side) K2, (P2 K2) to the end of the row.
Row 2: P
Row 3: K2, (P2 K2) to the end of the row.
Row 4: P
Row 5: K
Row 6: P2, (K2 P2) to the end of the row.
Row 7: K
Row 8: P2, (K2 P2) to the end of the row.
Row 9: K
Row 10: P

Repeat this pattern 3 times. (40 rows)
Repeat the first 5 rows.
Knit 3 rows.
Cast off loosely, knitwise. Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and pull through.
Sew the selvage edges together using mattress stitch. 
Weave in ends. Block gently.

It can do double duty as a hat/earwarmer in a pinch.

In the round directions
Using circular knitting needles, cast on 100 st in the round.
Round 1: P
Round 2: K
Round 3: P
Rounds 4-5: K
Round 1: K2, (P2, K2) to the end of the round.
Round 2: K
Round 3: K2 (P2, K2) to the end of the round.
Rounds 4-5: K

Repeat this pattern 8 times. (45 rounds)
Round 1: P
Round 2: K
Round 3: P
Round 4: Cast off loosely knitwise. Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and pull through.

Weave in all ends. Block gently. 

K= knit
P= purl 

This perfectly fits my daughter, who is four. However, it is a naturally stretchy stitch and the cowl fits over an adult's head also. If knitting for an adult, I would add an additional 10-20 rows of the waffle pattern, as adults' necks are longer.

Title: Warm as Toast
Design: Mine!
Materials: A lovely lavender yarn that I know includes alpaca but for which I have long lost the labels. It might be 100% alpaca or it might be a blend.
Finished: August  28, 2017

We can't wait for winter, how about you? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Super Simple Blonde Brownies

Last week, I needed a dessert to take to a party. Unfortunately, although I had a kitchen full of ingredients, none of them added up to an existing recipe in my repertoire. So I invented one. It was very simple and pretty yummy, so I thought I'd share. I think this would be an ideal recipe to teach a young child who wants to learn how to bake things. It can be made entirely by hand, or by using a mixer.

Super Simple Blonde Brownies

10 tablespoons butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
a handful of chocolate chips*

*I used half dark chocolate chips and half white chocolate chips because that is what I had on hand. You can use anything that is handy, even M&M's. You can also add chopped nuts if you wish.

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 13x9 pan.
Melt butter in a large bowl.
Pour in brown sugar, vanilla and eggs. Stir together.
Add flour slowly and stir until completely mixed in.
Pour mixture into the pan and spread it out flat. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool before cutting.

Sweet chewy goodness!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - July

When you set out on the annual family trip naturally you have to take your knitting; something has to keep you sane in face of the possibly quite ferocious situations you will be up against in the next two weeks. Try a shawl. Do not scoff; it is perfect travel knitting. A round shawl, in fine wool, on a circular needle, is my invariable companion when space is limited, waiting-around probable, and events uncertain. ~ Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac 

It just so happened that our epic camping trip (epic for its distance, rather than its length) was scheduled for July. Naturally I went yarn hunting so that I could take this project with me as EZ recommends. However, my quest for "fine wool" was a little more fraught than hers. I wanted to buy some from a local store because I had left things a bit late and I couldn't be sure that an online company's shipping would be fast enough. I went to Joann Fabric where I am so well known that if I get a haircut, the employees compliment me on it and vice versa. Joann's has a respectable yarn department, though not exemplary. By which I mean that they have yarn that contains actual wool, with a small but solid selection in wool, wool-blends, and cotton. They also have more acrylic than all the other types of yarn combined, but I am mostly willing to overlook that. However, on this occasion, I came up empty. I was looking for a fingering weight yarn, which is the weight used most commonly for socks and all their selections were striped, which looks charming on socks and would very strange indeed on a shawl. Shawls get progressively bigger from their starting points; socks do not.

The next day Mei-Mei was in need of an adventure, so I carted her off to Genuine Purl, a shop in Chattanooga that has delightful yarns. However, no solid fingering weight anywhere at all. I had no idea this would be such a difficult thing to find. The only lace weight (smaller than fingering weight) yarn they had was extremely fine, and my goal for this shawl was that it would be actually useful for keeping me warm in winter, not just a thing of delicate beauty. Besides which, you cannot knit as quickly with very fine yarn, which makes me impatient. It seemed, then that the only choice was to go up, which I did reluctantly, because it felt like I was straying rather far from EZ's instructions. But I found some Berroco Vintage DK yarn, which is a good basic yarn, very economically priced, particularly for Genuine Purl, which tends towards the gorgeous and expensive.

I can't believe I have talked so long about picking out a yarn. I hope you're still reading.

EZ's circular shawl is fascinatingly simple. Starting with 9 stitches in a circular cast-on, you follow the theory of pi, "the geometry of the circle hinging on the mysterious relationship of the circumference of a circle to its radius. A circle will double its circumference in infinitely themselves-doubling distances, or in knitters' terms, the distance between the increase rounds, in which you double the number of stitches, goes 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96, and so on ..." 

Get it? The first round has 9 stitches, then you double the number of stitches by increasing between each stitch and you have 18 stitches. Then you knit 3 rounds and then an increase round, and you now have 36 stitches, and so on.

There are amazing things that you can do with lace patterns with a circular shawl, and many have done so. Go look at this one, or this one, or this one. They are works of art created from sticks and string. Which is lovely, but ... not what I was looking for. A circle is perfect for creating a beautiful design, but for wearing? I am not sold. I am convinced that I would look like a granny in her rocking chair before the fire, wearing a circular shawl. I could be wrong, but on a project this large, I was disinclined to take chances. I decided, instead, to do a half-circle shawl, still using the pi principles laid out by EZ. In addition to being more wearable, a half-circle, it seemed to me, would take half the time of a whole circle.

I trudged through miles and miles of plain stockinette, wondering on occasion if I was knitting a maxi dress, or perhaps a table cloth. When I finally got to the end, I took EZ's advice to knit a sideways lace border. The edge of a circular shawl must be very very stretchable. In knitting a lace border you cast on more stitches for your border, which you knit back and forth on the border and every other row you knit one stitch from the shawl and one stitch from the border together. It takes an AGE. But it makes a nicely stretchy edge and it's a pretty way to finish off a plain shawl.

You are a very loyal and patient reader, to listen to me for so long, so I shall reward you with pictures. It starts out looking rather insignificant ...

How is this ever going to be a half-circle?

... and then you block it, by wetting it with warm water and pinning it flat, and magically, it turns into something very worthwhile.

Do you see the pi?

Peculiarly, I found it extremely difficult to block this into a perfect half circle. It seems as though the edges are much more willing to stretch than the body. After blocking, I decided to put a garter stitch border on the straight edge because it was wanting to curl. This meant that afterwards I needed to block just the top edge when I was finished, and it being late in the day in July, I naturally decided that it made the most sense to block it outside, on couch cushions. Otherwise, I would have had a large, damp shawl taking up the half the bed for the next several hours.

What? Don't YOU have knitwear drying on your lawn? On couch cushions? In the middle of summer?

Here I am wearing it in the traditional manner ...

... and here I am wearing it in the blanket-as-scarf style.

I think I will get a lot of use out of it, come wintertime.

Someday, when I am very rich and have large walls to fill with art, I want to knit a lace circular shawl and frame it. At the moment, a 72" piece of art would take up rather too much room.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Tale of Eggs and Flowers

Once upon a time, I pinned this pin of flowers made out of painted egg cartons. I thought it was a charming idea, but would require a lot of egg cartons to pull off. Shortly thereafter, eggs went on sale and our weekly egg consumption tripled, making an easy job of collecting enough egg cartons for a whole slew of flowers. 

I collected clean cartons for about 2 weeks, befuddling 'Stache, and cut them into flowers. Unfortunately I don't have any good pictures of the different shapes before we painted, but essentially I cut flowers with long pointed petals, rounded petals, zigzag cups, round cups, and fringe cups (to be the centers of my lilies and daffodills). I also cut leaves from the flat parts of the cartons. Pro tip: it's a lot easier to cut 4 petaled flowers than 5 petaled flowers, especially from an egg carton!

The kids and I painted them ...

And then I glued them to a cardboard circle, which I had also painted green ...

Making a pretty great wreath, if I do say so!

We used this paint, which was very cost effective since we wanted a lot of colors and these came in a set. A few of the colors needed multiple coats (I'm looking at you, yellow!) but most were adequate with one. (Later I tried these paints on wood peg dolls and they had very poor coverage on that surface, so I would avoid glossy surfaces with this paint.) It also cleaned up quite easily.

I have about 20 photos identical to this, courtesy of Mei-Mei.

Things I did right with this project:

1. Draconian color control! I asked the kids which color they wanted to paint, and then I gave them a specific flower shape for that color. Thus, all the flowers are (more or less) recognizable. One shape might have different colors, but each color (except white) only has one shape.

2. Painting in shifts. I would put two kids in their room to play and then invite the other to come paint. They got to pick their color and I would give them 3 flowers to paint. When they were done, I would ask if they wanted to keep painting, and if they did, they got 3 more of the same shape. Mei-Mei had an incredible attention span for this project! She painted all of the leaves (both sides!) at one sitting.

3. Clean up as we went. At the end of each child's turn, they had to go wash off their own brush and I would wipe down the table so there wasn't any wet paint of the wrong color to mess up the next child's flowers.

4. Arranged the colors to be balanced but still random. After all the flowers were dry (we painted them over about 3 days) I divided them by color and placed them more or less evenly spaced around the circle before glueing them down using Elmer's. Because I had different amounts of each color, it still looks organic and random because some are spaced a fifth apart, some a quarter, some a sixth, etc.

Things I did wrong with this project.

1. I started out thinking that the kids could cut the egg cups apart and then I would cut them into flowers, but this proved to be beyond their hand strength at ages 5 and 4.

2. Also, apparently all our non-sewing scissors are crap. Might should fix that.

3. I started out with all the kids painting and me supervising, but this proved too much wet paint to juggle at the same time. Painting in shifts (see above) worked much better and the kids got some one-on-one Mama time.

4. The back of the wreath is made of flat strips of egg carton, cut and glued into a circle. I wish that I had held off until I could find a large piece of cardboard to use for my circle. It's holding up so far, but I'm seriously worried that it may not last.

We hung it in our kitchen. I love that my kids painted nearly the whole thing, and that it makes our daily lives more beautiful.

Egg cartons! Who'd'a thunk?