Friday, October 30, 2015

Blue Hair

This year, I spaced a bit on the whole "Halloween costume" issue. Which is a tad embarrassing for a costumer. But this morning, I bought some blue hairspray, probably for the first time since junior high, and dug out bright red sweatshirts. Boom! It's Thing 1 and Thing 2. 

After some anxiety over the hairspray, the boys were pretty excited .. 

Does Twinkle have the best faces, or what?

And Munchkin's laugh is just infectious.

There was a small mishap when we were spraying their hair ... hopefully that will come off with some soap and water.

Munchkin told me to "Take a pichure of da treats!"

Once we got to the Fall Festival, I pinned on their labels.

And we were off to the races!

"Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW! It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Cup of Tea ... and Rather a Bit More

Today, I held a Celebratory Tea. This is a particular tea party that I throw for the cast and crew at Covenant College after the show's all done and everyone has pried themselves up off the floor where they collapsed after strike.

I've done this for a few shows now, and have a bit of a framework for the menu, which is mostly different each time but there are a few favorites that always show up. However, despite the framework and the favorites, I feel like I'm always scrambling to remember what I did last time - did I double that recipe or triple it? How much food is enough food? So I had the happy thought of just recording everything here, to be inspiration to you, gentle reader, in planning your own celebratory teas, for aiding me in planning the next one, and to serve as a simple way of getting recipes to all those who requested them.

Such an inelegant, non-magazine-worthy photo, but I barely remembered to take one at all, so there you go
Clockwise from bottom:

- Various paraphernalia for making tea. With this particular crowd, black tea, preferably Earl Gray, was universally preferred.
- Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread Cake, by smitten kitchen. I baked it in 2 loaf pans instead of a bundt pan. Completely delicious, very dark and spicy. Though only one pan is pictured, we consumed both.
- Easy Devonshire Cream, by I made a triple recipe.
- Simple Scones (recipe to follow). I made a triple recipe, minus 6 or 8 scones that we had for breakfast
- jar of lemon curd. The combination of scone, Devonshire Cream and lemon curd is sublime. (Devonshire cream is also called clotted cream.)
- ham, Brie, and mustard sandwiches. I used only a little mustard because I wanted the Brie to really stand out. I did 8 sandwiches, cut off the crusts, and cut them into triangles.
- [on the same plate as the ham and Brie] cucumber sandwiches. I used 1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced, and spread the bread with a mixture of 8 oz cream cheese, 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp dill and 1 tbsp mayonnaise. This made 7 sandwiches and I cut off the crusts and cut them into squares. (Pro tip: use the smaller ends of the cucumber, and 4 slices will fit perfectly onto a piece of bread, so when you cut them into squares, each square has one perfect slice of cucumber.)
- plain slices of bread with the crusts cut off, for use with:
- butter mixed with sugar and cinnamon
- Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake, by smitten kitchen. Amazing. Also, I was very fearful that I had over mixed, but it turned out fine.
- Twice-Baked Shortbread, by smitten kitchen. Just lovely.

I realize that there are three smitten kitchen recipes here, which seems a bit excessive even to me, but smitten kitchen has never not once steered me wrong. Wonderful recipes.

This menu more than adequately fed a medium-sized crew and a cast of 4. I made the gingerbread the night before, because it's better the second day, apparently, and I made the dough for the twice-baked shortbread the night before because that's what the recipe told me to do.

Simple Scones

1 cup heavy cream
2 cups self-rising flour

Mix thoroughly and knead several times, adding flour if necessary to keep it from being sticky. Roll it out to half an inch. Cut as you desire. Bake for 10 minutes (or until turning golden at the edges) at 450 degrees.

Incidentally, the next Covenant show is Waiting for Godot, directed by Cacey Williams. The preview is November 12th at 8, and performances are Nov 13, 14, and 20 at 8pm, with a matinee performance on November 21st at 2:30. Waiting for Godot is absurdist and thought-provoking. More information here

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Bundle of Baby Things

One of my dear friends just had a baby, and of course he needed some woolies.

Let us pause for a moment to revel in the wonderfulness of babies in general and knitting for babies in general. The startling smallness of the little humans. The tiny little sweaters and hats. So many soft lovely things. Squee!

And this baby in particular is so adorable, just a little morsel of cuteness. But in the interest of privacy and good decisions, he won't be making his internet debut just yet, so it's just pictures of knitting today.

So much knitting!
I'm really happy with this layette. My friend has wonderful taste and is always dressed beautifully and fashionably. Which makes her a little intimidating to knit for, because my idea of high fashion is putting a necklace on with my t-shirt and jeans. But we cruised around the internet together and came up with a lineup that was simple and classic and also a touch sophisticated. Just a touch, because my friend and I decided that babies do not lend themselves to sophistication. Babies are about round and cuddly and not about standing tall and being sleek and elegant. But we tried, and I like it.

So here's what I did.

Title: a complete knock-off of this hat. It's a free pattern, so I don't know why I copied it instead of just following the pattern. 
Design: a garter stitch hat knit vertically, with a paper-bag top, gathered with a twisted rope of yarn, size small
Materials: Cascade 220 Superwash, in 1910 Summer Sky Heather (I think? I can't find any of my labels.)
Finished: October 2015

Title: a total knock-off of this hat. Again, no idea why I copied a pattern that was available for free. So much unnecessary effort.
Design: a toboggon-style hat with a garter stitch brim and ear-muffs. The body of the hat is ribs of stockinette with garter stitch in between, topped with a pom-pom. Size large (for a baby)
Materials: Berocco Vintage, in Dove
Finished: October 2015

A hat with a pom-pom on top is ideal for a baby that still is going to spend a lot of time lying on his back or in a car seat. And ear-muffs are both adorable and practical on a baby. 

Title: First Outing (designed by me!)
Design: a stockinette vest with garter stitch trim and buttons on the side and straps, size Newborn
Materials: Berocco Vintage, in Dove
Finished: October 2015

Title: baby pants in the method of Elizabeth Zimmermann
Design: stockinette pants with ribbed cuffs and waistband, gathered with an i-cord tie, size 0-3 months
Materials: Berocco Vintage, in Dove
Finished: October 2015

Title: On the Go-veralls, by Heidi Lehman
Design: stockinette overalls with garter stitch trim and buttoned straps, size 0-6
Materials: Cascade 220 Superwash, in 1926 Doeskin Heather
Finished: October 2015

This was a really fun knit, and I love the idea of knitted overalls. However if I make them for a older child in the future, I'll use a chunky wool instead of the worsted that the pattern calls for. The fabric that the worsted yarn makes is a little thin for something that a child would be crawling around in on their hands and knees. Also, the pattern calls for 200 yards for the smallest size, but it used all but a smidge of my 220 yards of Cascade 220.

Title: Pull Gaspard, by Christine Rouville
Design: a stockinette pullover with garter stitch cuffs, sailor collar and kangaroo pocket, size 0-6 months
Materials: Cascade 220 Superwash, in 1910 Summer Sky Heather
Finished: October 2015

I very rarely buy patterns because there are so many great free patterns on the internet, but I bought this one and I'm very glad I did. It's such a clever, stylish design, and it would not have been easy to reverse-engineer from the pictures. 

I finished off the layette with a wee little gnome. I'm slightly obsessed with gnomes, peg dolls and other simple dolls with blank faces. I think they lend themselves to imaginative play very well and they're so iconic. 

Title: garter stitch gnome. I used a pattern once but now it's just in my head and I have no idea whose pattern it was
Design: stuffed gnome with garter stitch body and stockinette face and hat, 6" tall 
Materials: Cascade 220 Superwash in 1910 Summer Sky, white cotton
Finished: October 2015

Ta-da! I hope you enjoy your woolies, little one; it's starting to get cold! 

While I was taking these pictures, Munchkin wanted me to take a picture of him digging ... 

Munchkin's favorite outdoor play right now is digging in his dirt hole.

And then Twinkle had to get in on the action, too ... 

That smile! The dimples!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Cutting Up Your Knitting

A few weeks ago, I was knitting what I thought was a tiny pair of pants. I was using the wonderful Elizabeth Zimmermann's pattern/method, which more or less starts by saying "Cast on enough stitches and start knitting." This is not as crazy as it sounds, because if you knit a swatch, and measure how many stitches per inch you are running (This varies depending on how tightly you knit, and the size of your yarn and needles.), and if you know how many inches wide you want your knitting to be, then you just multiply stitches times inches and that's how many you cast on. Accuracy is key.

Unfortunately accuracy is not always my strong point. (Clearly.)

I wanted these pants to be 0-3 months size, and the more I knit, the more that seemed unlikely. They were looking much more like 6-9 months or even 12 months. By the time I realized this, I had knit enough that I really really didn't want to rip it out and start over.

So I made a steek.

A steek is a crazy crazy thing where you cut your knitting and somehow everything works out. It's a technique most commonly used in two-color Norwegian sweaters to make cardigans and armholes and it can be re-purposed to make a piece knitting smaller.

The first thing that you do is sew a line of machine stitching just inside where you are going to put your seam in the knitting to make it smaller. I used very small stitches and went over it twice.

Can you see the lines? Unfortunately I used tan thread on gray knitting, which was a poor choice from a blogging standpoint.

You can see it slightly better on the wrong side.

Then you cut (yes, cut, as in, with scissors) in between the lines you've sewn, and then you sew the edges together with a darning needle and a piece of yarn, using mattress stitch.

Look how you can't see the seam at all! 

If I was knitting these pants for an older child who was going to wear them for a long time and who would be walking and crawling around in them, I would have knit a little rectangle and sewn it on to cover the raw edges. But these are for a baby and probably the most athletic thing he'll be doing in them is trying to touch his toes. I'm confident this seam will hold up well and that the machine stitches will keep the edges from fraying further. It's nice and soft for his little skin and doesn't add bulk the way covering the seam would.

Here's a little sneak peek of what they'll look like. More pictures coming soon! 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Abject Failure

There are times when the knitting gods are with me. When I'm inventing on the fly and it's like it was always meant to be. When I drift blissfully from one finishing high to another. (Actually this just recently happened to me and I have a bunch of stuff I'm excited about to photograph and show you.) But today ... was not that day.

Since Saturday, I've been working full blast on a new project, a top-down child's sweater with a round colorwork yoke. I've been doing this slightly complicated thing where I combine a picture of the colorwork I want (no actual pattern, but it's fairly straightforward and I can mostly count stitches to figure out what to do) and a computer-generated pattern. I entered my stitch gauge (stitches per inch) and row gauge (rows per inch) and the dimensions of the sweater I wanted to end up with, and the computer spat back a pattern.

Which I've been knitting, which has given me ... this.

Which bears no resemblance to how human beings are shaped. People (ideally) have these things called shoulders. Which is a good thing, I suppose. But less good for my very strange, shoulderless sweater. Short of a sleeve for a sumo wrestler, this sweater is pretty useless.

How did this happen?

Well ...

First of all, I think I'm going to be much more wary of computer generated patterns in the future. Having a human being at the design controls is maybe a good idea.

Second, I think I completely bombed measuring my gauge. I rushed over this part because I wanted to print out my pattern, and this was a terrible decision. PSA: you get a much more accurate gauge if you cast on enough stitches to make a 4" or 5" square, measure 4", then divide by 4 to get your gauge. Don't round up! Decimals and accuracy are your friends!

Third, I really (really really) should have figured out this sooner. I now have a heartbreaking 6" of of colorwork to unravel. My only explanation is that I was using the Magic Loop method, which allows you to knit with a longer circular than really fits your number of stitches, and it's not a method I love and it causes you to focus on a smaller section at a time. Lots of not seeing the forest for the trees.

Sigh. I guess I'll know better next time.

It's been an educational evening.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First Outing

This is a simple vest for a newborn baby. I designed it for a very young friend of mine. A great beginner project, strategically placed garter stitch gives the appearance of curves without the difficulty of curves. With buttons on the side and straps, it will be easy to put on. Based on the weather in October (in the American South), it should be an ideal layer over a little shirt and pants for his first outing.

First Outing

Worsted weight yarn (less than 110 yards)
Size US 8 knitting needles
5 half-inch buttons
Darning needle and scissors
Needle and thread

Size: Newborn

Cast on 70 stitches.
Slip all first stitches. A slipped stitch counts as a knit stitch. 

Knit back and forth in garter stitch for 8 rows.
Row 9: K 5, P 60, K 5.
Row 10: K 2, YO, K2tog, K to end of row.
Row 11: K 5, P 60, K 5.
Row 12: K to end of row.
Repeat rows 11 and 12 four times.
Row 21: K 5, P 60, K 5.
Row 22: K 2, YO, K2tog, K to end of row.
Repeat rows 11 and 12 four times.
Row 31: K 9, P 18, K 15, P 18, K 10
Row 32: K to end of row.
Row 33: K 10, P 16, K 17, P 16, K 11
Row 34: K 2, YO, K2tog, K to end of row.
Row 35: K 11, P 14, K 19, P 14, K 12
Row 36: K to end of row.
Row 37: Bind off 7, K 5, P 12, K 5, bind off 12, K 5, P 12, K 5, bind off 7, break yarn and pull through.
                Begin knitting on left set of live stitches.
Row 1b: K to end of row.
Row 2b: K 5, P 12, K 5.
                Repeat rows 1b and 2b once.
Knit back and forth in garter stitch for 4 rows.
Row 9b: K 3, YO, K2tog, K 12, ssk, YO, K 3.
Knit back and forth in garter stitch for 2 rows.
Row 12b: Bind off all stitches, break yarn and pull through.
                Begin knitting on the right set of stitches.
Row 1c: K to end of row.
Row 2c: K 5, P 12, K 5.
                Repeat rows 1c and 2c twice.
Knit back and forth in garter stitch for 8 rows.
Row 15c: K 11
Row 16c: K2tog, K 9
Row 17c: K 10
Row 18c: K2tog, K 8
Row 19c: K 9
Row 20c: K2tog, K 7
Row 21c: K 8
Row 22c: K2tog, K6
Knit back in forth in garter stitch for 31 rows.
Bind off all stitches, break yarn and pull through.

Repeat for other strap, reversing the shaping so that the straps come down to a V in the middle. Weave in all ends. Block lightly. Sew on buttons. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Skein is Born

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on three bundles of roving at my new favorite yarn shop, Yvie's.

And was immediately convinced that they were meant to be together. These lovelies were made by David Simpson's Green Dragon Yarns, and they were each 50 grams and imaginatively labeled "Random Colors."

As I was spinning the singles I discovered that this fiber, the bluer roving, was Merino wool, and the sandier rovings were Corriedale wool. After some deliberation, I decided that this probably wasn't a problem, since you can buy all kinds of yarns that are blends of different types of wool, silk and other fibers. I was planning on spinning each of the rovings separately and then ply the singles together to make a three-ply yarn. Now it would just be a 33% Merino, 66% Corriedale three-ply yarn.

Spinning the singles was a very different experience, though. Merino wool is a very fine wool, silky smooth. (I may or may not have rubbed this roving all over my face at random intervals, just to glory in the remarkable softness. This behavior was looked on askance by 'Stache, who flatly declined to participate.) This smoothness makes for a glorious yarn, but the making of that yarn is a little tricky. Corriedale, which is a slightly scratchier, more work-a-day yarn, and it sticks to itself, just a little. This is an advantage when you're spinning it and helps you control the roving to make a smooth, even single. I found Merino to be quite slippery, and many times the roving slipped out of my hands and the single broke off.

But I managed, and the singles plied together to make a lovely yarn. 

And then I set the twist of the yarn (if I didn't, it would unwind) by winding it around my makeshift niddy-noddy (normally a niddy-noddy made with PVC looks like this, but I couldn't find any T-joints), poured steaming hot water over it, and let it dry.

And voila! A 160 yard skein of good, sturdy worsted yarn. The colors remind me of a turtle shell with a streak of blue in it. I'm pretty crazy about it, because 'Stache has approved it as being sufficiently neutral to make a hat or mittens for him or my brother or one of my three brothers-in-law. Masculine and yet non-boring yarns are wickedly hard to find, and now I've made one! 

I haven't decided exactly what its destiny is, and so right now it is beautifying the world by being a yarn-pet, which is another practice at which 'Stache looks askance. 

In case you're unduly impressed by my spinning yarn, go watch this video. It's the easiest magic you've ever seen!