Spring has … sprung?

You wouldn’t know it from first glance at our front yard. We didn’t get to do our final fall lawn cleanup because our first snow came early here in Boston, so there’s quite a mess awaiting me this month. By late March, we usually have a few croci but I have yet to see one poke up through the ground.

Or maybe I’m avoiding looking at the mess in our border gardens!

This winter kicked my butt, mentally and physically. I was sick most of March and still don’t feel like I have my energy back. That said, I’ve managed to get quite a bit of craft work done while recuperating and hiding out from the snow.

My big project of the season was mastering the tailored shirt:

Kwik Sew 3555 women's shirt

Kwik Sew 3555 women's shirt

 

Both shirts were created in Pam Howard’s excellent Craftsy class, The Classic Tailored Shirt, which I highly recommend if you have any interest in making (or wearing) custom tailored clothing. One of my strange fascinations is with men’s tailoring … I can spend hours watching YouTube videos about old Sicilian tailors or the future of Savile Row. When my husband and I honeymooned in Italy, I swear I was more excited about his getting a custom tailored jacket in Milan than he was.

A hand-tailored shirt can run into hundreds of dollars, and there’s usually a minimum order, which means unless one has thousands of discretionary dollars sitting around in a checking account, this kind of clothing is out of reach of most ordinary folks. I am definitely “ordinary folk,” but I do have some mad sewing skillz, so this winter I decided to master shirt-tailoring. My ultimate goal is to fit and create shirts for my husband’s wardrobe, and my interim goal is to master the details that go into fine shirtmaking by sewing shirts for myself. The pink shirt was my first attempt. It’s made of linen, which was lovely to press and sew, but a bit too ravel-ly for the flat-felled seaming I had to do. The blue shirt is cotton chambray, and I definitely improved on this second attempt. Each shirt took me about a week to complete; I would spend a couple hours each night on one facet of construction, such as cutting fabric, sewing the collar, or felling seams. This schedule worked out great for me as I never felt rushed or tired, and each night I could see my shirt taking shape.

The pattern, btw, is Kwik Sew 3555, view A.

I have been sewing since I was in junior high/middle school, and although I was always enthusiastic about creating clothing, I was never very good at it, simply because I had no patience and wanted to wear what I was making that night. Cue a lot of wiggly seams and ill-fitting attire. The turning point in my sewing career came when I started knitting. See, it can take months to knit one sweater and a week to knit one sock. However, sewing an item of clothing, even when I’m patient and methodical, can take just hours. Sewing feels F-A-S-T to me now, even when I spread those hours out over a week or two.

Still, knitting is my true love, and I’ve been knitting up a storm. Here’s a peek at a sweater I just finished but haven’t properly photographed:

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I’m using notions and trimmings from my stash, so I decided to go with the plaid, which ended up being a great choice for the thistle color of the wool, don’t you think? Very Highlander. :)

Some odds and ends … I have been thinking about a blog post entitled “Buying is Not the Only Way to Engage,” written by Samantha at A Gathering of Stitches. This part really struck me:

“Look at your stash. Yes, right now, go look at it, really look at it. Pretty nice,huh? Wouldn’t it feel really good to just pull it out, piece by piece and start using it? What are you saving it for? Don’t buy more, until you use some of what you have! Buying is dangerous. It is a temporary exchange. Once that thing comes home to you, you adapt to it and become de-sensitized to it, and it is no longer as satisfying as you thought it could be.  So you push that button again and buy something else…. A vicious cycle ensues…. “

I am guilty of this kind of behavior, thinking I can’t start a project because I don’t have the right thread or that my creative life would be so much richer with a Juki F600 on my sewing table. Samantha’s post made me realize how much possibility I have already, and it inspired me to get back into my sewing room and work with the riches I already have.

Next — a couple days ago I got a nasty paper cut on my left hand, which has now gone all itchy. I’m convinced I’ve contracted an MRSA superbug and will shortly be losing my hand … okay, I’ll stop with the drama. My research led me to this interesting PBS news report that a medieval treatment of garlic, wine, and cow’s bile can kill MRSA bacteria. Here’s the video: fascinating!

Lastly, are you watching Wolf Hall on PBS? I had a terrible choice Sunday night: Mad Men or Wolf Hall, and I went with Mad Men because I knew I could watch Wolf Hall later on my PBS app. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Tudor history, and as an adult, I’m still a little nerdy about it. I watched the first episode twice, and next Sunday I’ll probably save Mad Men for another night. I’ve read the book, but have yet to read its sequel. On my reading list …

The Kelly Cardigan

The Kelly Cardigan, pattern by Erika Knight

The Kelly Cardigan, pattern by Erika Knight

Finally, the cardigan of my dreams!

A few months ago, I started thinking about how much I wanted a cardigan sweater that had a dressier look. Most of my handknit cardigans are knit from practical, sturdy heavy-duty wool and, paired with jeans, look fine. But I could never wear them with a wool skirt or trousers and look, well, polished.

Now I have a sweater I can swan around town in.

This was my first experience knitting with two strands of laceweight mohair/silk held together, and I have to say it was a complete joy. Any fears I had about knitting with this feathery substance were quickly forgotten, especially after I got past knitting onto the cast-on row, the only really tricky part for me. I used KnitPicks Aloft in the color Carbon. My only “complaint” was knitting such a dark color in the dead of winter wasn’t always easy, especially with my poor eyesight at night … but otherwise I loved every minute knitting this sweater. Wearing it is even better. It’s like wearing a cloud. So soft and warm!

Even seaming it was fun! A few months ago, I had purchased a Craftsy course on seaming, which was very helpful since it’s one of those knitting tasks I tend to avoid at all costs. The instructor, Chris Bylsma, is very good: calm, competent, reassuring. I highly recommend this course to novice or nervous seamsters. I prefer the look of a seamed sweater and now that I know I can do a competent job, I won’t avoid seamed patterns any longer!

One note: I put the buttons on the right button band for the simple fact that snaps are used for fastening. The buttons are purely decorative when the cardigan is “buttoned up.”

If you want to read more details about the cardigan, they’re on my Ravelry page.

I plan to knit two more Kelly Cardigans: a red one and a cream one. I’m going to lower the neckband on these next versions, as well as add some torso length to accommodate my long waist.

Utilitarian, fashionable … or both?

Heart Pops Hat

Heart Pops Hat

Kelly Cardigan

Adding moisture to the air

New hygrometer

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Back garage, winter 2015

 

Greetings from snowy eastern Massachusetts!

I’ve been trying to up my game with my knitting this winter, although I was thinking about it this morning and wondering why. You see, I tend to knit a lot of utilitarian items: wooly socks, felted mittens, hats that can be easily spotted by drivers on the road, thick wooly sweaters…these are the types of garments I wear 95 percent of the time. However, I long for a wardrobe that’s stylish — I look at knitters like Leslie and the Rainey Sisters and think, “If only I thought a little more about fashion!” (Haa, just noticed that the Rainey Sisters knit the Heart Pops hat I talk about further on … guess I’m on the right trail!)

As I left the house this a.m., bundled up in simple wool socks, a reflective knit hat, and my bright red mittens–my first ham-handed attempt at felting, complete with wonky acrylic cuffs!–I came to the conclusion that it’s okay to be more of a utilitarian knitter. I’m happy with these items. They work for me and the life I lead here in New England. I’m just never going to be a wearer of delicate lace shawls or high-style cardigans. By the way, the hats above are from a free pattern I downloaded at WEBS called Heart Pops. I’ve been knitting these up in stray balls of yarn I’ve found around the house. I’m not a pink girl, but I’m really loving the pink and white version — so cute!

So all this thinking about fashion is why I chose to knit the Kelly Cardigan from Erica Knight in an effort to look a little bit more, in the words of Project Runway, “fashion forward.” It’s a simple cardigan design, but knitted in mohair/silk yarn, it’s luxurious … and warm! The yarn is Aloft from KnitPicks in the color “carbon.” I would have liked to knit this in Rowan Kidsilk Haze, but I’m sticking to my Yarn Diet in 2015 like white on rice. I’m happy with Aloft … the only part that’s fiddly with laceweight silk/mohair yarn held double is knitting the first row on the cast-on stitches. After that, it’s smooth sailing, unless one has to tink back or rip out stitches. Luckily that hasn’t been an issue for me as this pattern is simple and smooth sailing. You don’t even have to knit buttonholes (snaps are used), although I am going to sew on some jet and crystal ones for some additional pizzazz. I think I could get addicted to knitting with mohair/silk yarn — it’s like knitting a cloud!

The air here has been so dry. A couple weeks ago I was at my doctor getting an asthma check and she told me our interior humidity should be around 40%. We have a large humidifier upstairs, but nothing downstairs, where I spend most of my day. My husband bought a hygrometer, and yikes! Our humidity level was around 20%. So I borrowed a trick from my mother-in-law … when we used to ski out west where the air is even drier than it is here back east, she would fill pots with water and boil them on the stove to add moisture to the air. I go one step further and add cinnamon sticks, cloves, and leftover Meyer lemons. Mmm, our house smells so good! We all notice a big difference with the additional moisture. My skin isn’t as dry and flaky, and none of us have had any nosebleeds this winter. (I also leave bowls of water around the house near our heating vents … not sure if this helps but the water does seem to evaporate fairly quickly.)

Lastly, some photos of the snow in our side and backyards. We’re supposed to get 3 to 6 inches more this Friday. My son has not had a full week of school since the holidays. He may be making up time until July at the rate we’re going with this weather! The snow has not kept the cardinals away this winter … I’m seeing more of them at the feeders. They’re so pretty, but boy! they’re bossy! It’s hard to believe that in a little over a month it’ll be time to plant my peas. Will the snow be melted enough to do so?

The waffle iron

waffle ironLast night before bed, O asked me if I’d get up early and make waffles before school. Waffles are a weekend ritual around here; I have made them so many times that I don’t need a recipe and can pretty much eyeball the ingredients without measuring tools. O was giving me his Big Blue Eyes look when he asked, so of course I said I’d jump out of my warm bed a little early so he could be sent off to school with Mom’s good cooking in his tummy.

I go to bed before anyone else around here. As I was saying my goodnights last night, I noticed the smell of meat coming from our kitchen. Not surprising since my husband likes to eat late. What was a surprising was that he was cooking hamburger in our waffle iron. Or, I should say, he’d attempted to cook hamburger in our waffle iron. I say “our” waffle iron because it was a wedding gift we received from our friends Chris and Melanie seventeen years ago, a gift that we’ve often remarked has been the most-used wedding gift in our household.

I bit my tongue as I watched my husband (sheepish expression on his face) chisel bits of burger out of the iron. Then I said goodnight, too tired to observe his cooking escapades any longer.

So…I get up this morning, eager to make my son happy, and bounce into the kitchen. The waffle iron is still out and looks surprisingly clean. I plug the appliance in to heat up while I gather ingredients, and that’s when I smell … meat. Then I hear sizzling coming from the iron, which I can only assume is sizzling meat.

Undaunted, I smooth waffle batter over the heated iron and tell myself I’ll do what Julia Child used to do with her first crêpe of her batch … toss it out. I’m confident this first waffle will absorb any beefy flavor leftover on the iron, and the remaining waffles will be fine.

Except, as you can see, they weren’t.

The timer went off and as I lifted the top of the iron up, the waffle pulled in half. Normally the waffles just slip out of the iron as easily as silk slips across skin. But not this morning. I reached for silicone tongs, hoping that a little force would help the remnants un-adhere. No dice.

My son walks out into the kitchen, takes one look at the mess, and says, “Oh, Dad was trying to get the hamburger out with steel wool last night.”

As my friend Gwen said after seeing the picture above and hearing how my husband attempted to clean the iron, “Well, who doesn’t like waffles with old hamburger, bits of steel wool, and Teflon dust in them? Maple syrup is for the weak.”

I’ve left the waffle iron on the counter, waffle still adhered, with a note that says, “Please order a new waffle maker AND a George Foreman Grill.”

I’m beginning to think there’s something to this whole “Mercury is in retrograde” business everyone’s talking about.

 

 

Another goodbye

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Yesterday we said a sad goodbye to the last our cats, Phoebe (1998-2015). She had been struggling with thyroid issues for the past couple years, so we knew her time with us was coming to an end. I had told myself that when she was having more bad days than good ones, it would be time … and this week was that week. Very sad but she had a good long life and passed away peacefully while getting her ears rubbed. She was in heaven even before she got there. :)

I’ve had to euthanize a few pets in my lifetime. It’s a decision I hate making, but a necessary one as I feel suffering is even worse. I would much rather know that my pet died peacefully and without pain, surrounded by people who loved her than … well, the alternatives. We’ll just leave it at that.

Of course, it was sad waking up this morning without an animal to feed, walk, or water for the the first time in 30something years. On the other hand, for the first time in awhile, I did not wake up in the middle of the night needing to puff on my inhaler. When I was a child, I was terribly sensitive to cat dander … by the time I reached my teens, the irritation seemed to disappear. Now my asthma is back full-force and it occurs to me that the allergens that used to bother me — dust, cat dander, dairy products — are back in play. We shall see.

When we were talking to the vet before Phoebe’s passing, he noted that she was polydactyl, that is, double-pawed, and asked us if we were aware that meant she descended from the Mayflower. He said that a double-pawed cat was brought over on the ship and thus double-pawed cats today are all descended from that cat! I did a bit of journalistic research, and while I couldn’t find specific evidence that polydactyl cats descend from one specific Mayflower kitty, I did learn that polydactyl cats were introduced to New England through ships coming from England and they’re more common here than they are in other parts of the U.S. Through my father’s side I descend from a number of Mayflower passengers — I’m something like a 16th or 17th generation New Englander! — so it’s quite fitting that our beloved cat was a real Yankee, too.

 

Crazy socks!

Crazy socks!!!

 

Well that was some break from blogging!

I’ve actually been quite busy … that and there just hasn’t been enough daylight to take good photos. Not only have I been knitting like crazy, I’ve also been sewing like crazy. I usually knit in the winter and sew in the summer, but since turning 50 in November, it’s like a creative lightbulb went on in my head and I can’t stop making stuff. My 2015 resolution is to buy no new yarn … and yes, I was running around town on December 30, 2014, stocking up for the year, which my son informed was kind of cheating. But whatever. So far I’ve been good, and those socks above? I call them Crazy Socks. A couple days ago I spent some time sorting through my leftover sock yarn, grouping it by colors and winding it into 10- to 15-gram balls. Then I weighed up 50 grams of yarn per sock, bagged the yarn, and now I have enough wool to knit thee pairs of wackadoodle socks this winter. However, I don’t think the pair above are looking too crazy. They’re actually kind of … artistic? Cool? Pretty? What’s fun is remembering what I initially knit from the yarn. For example, the turquoise is CEL Alpaca Sox I used for my stepmother’s Monkey socks, which she loves. There’s some leftover yarn from socks I knit for an ex-friend–I try not to think about her too much, LOL. Then there’s a bit of yarn from a project I can’t even remember (the dark teal). Hmmm.

Other stuff I’ve been working on ….

 

Project bags I’ve sewn for knitting …

Owls, pattern by Kate Davies

Another Owls sweater, this one for me!

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A new hot water bottle cover, pattern by Helen Stewart of the delightful Curious Handmade podcast from London. I made the heart out of leftover flannel I used to sew a pillowcase for my son at Christmas.

I have other projects to show and tell. But for now, it’s good to be back. :)

Upward and onward

Has it been a month since I’ve posted?

In August the knitting bug hit hard. It was around the time I drove up to Bath, Maine, and spent a few hours at Halcyon Yarns. Since then I’ve knit quite a few items, not all of which have been properly photographed, such as this pullover:

Blank Canvas pullover

 

The pattern is Ysolda Teague’s Blank Canvas, a simple, close-fitting pullover with some flattering waist-shaping. LOVE IT! I was a bit worried that the 36″ size would be a bit snug on me, but I used a wool that has some alpaca in it (Valley Yarns Northfield in the color Tranquil Blue) so it developed a wee bit of drape after blocking. I have gotten so many compliments on this simple sweater — the color, the shaping — that I am making another in the same wool, this time in plum. I may even knit this sweater one size smaller since I’m still “shrinking.” More on that later.

The other project I finished and photographed is a pair of Monkey socks I knit for my stepmother’s birthday this month:

Monkey socks

I haven’t talked to her properly since I mailed them, but I gather through voicemails she loves them. They’re knot in Classic Elite Alpaca Sox. I think the color is Turquoise; I don’t have the ball band handy. My stepmother loves turquoise so I knew this color would be perfect for her. She also has Raynaud’s syndrome, which means in the winter she has to keep her extremities warm or else risk circulatory system damage thus I always have a happy and appreciative person for whom to knit warm socks, mittens, and hats.

Fall is chugging along. I have been dealing with a particularly rough case of Seasonal Affective Disorder for the past two months, which has zapped my energy. It was bad enough that my husband brought me to our doctor and now I’m on medication for it and sitting in front of a full-spectrum lamp in the mornings. I’m starting to feel a bit better, although I’m still not up to my 100% Energizer bunny speed.

I can tell my mood is improving because last night my son suggested I start a podcast and I got really excited as we talked more about it. He likes to do sound editing, and that he shows any interest in my knitting or talking about knitting is like, wow, really? Sign me up!!! So we did a test recording last night, and as much as I hate hearing my recorded voice, it wasn’t that bad so I’m thinking I’ll give this podcast thing a try. What do you think? I plan to talk mostly about my crafting (knitting/sewing endeavors) with a bit of real-life and Anglophilia thrown in.

This sock climbed Mt. Washington

The sock that climbed Mt. Washington

This is the sock that climbed Mt. Washington on Saturday.

Literally.

What happened is that my foot got stuck between two rocks halfway between the Lake of the Clouds hut and the summit and when I pulled up, the outer sole of the hiking boot tore away, leaving only the inner sole. After a couple hundred feet in misty, slippery conditions, the inner sole fell away, exposing my (handknit) wool socks. Then my second boot started losing its outer sole, but luckily it stayed/flopped on for the rest of the hike.

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Amazingly, the socks came home no worse for the wear. They’ll probably be a little dirt stained, but no holes! My knitting has finally impressed my two boys.  :)

Hiking Mt. Washington (6,289 feet or 1,917 meters) was … an experience. Had I known the trail we were taking was basically an uphill rock scramble most of the way, I would have backed out. At one point I fell pretty hard on my bum hip, but as of today, I haven’t felt any twinges of back pain. On the other hand, I’m kind of proud I made it to the top, even though I was the slowest, dead-last person in our group. (DH stayed behind with me because I was That Slow. He was my rock!) We never got cold, we had no serious injuries, and even though the wind was gusting 50 to 70 mph near the summit, it didn’t bother us too much. Another high point was witnessing O fall in love with hiking. He was like a mountain goat! Not only did he keep up with the group, a group I might add that was amazingly fit and experienced, he climbed down the mountain with them! (DH and I were too late, and with my wrecked boot(s) in no condition to hike down so we took the cog rail).

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Now all O is talking about is what mountain we can climb next summer. Uh-oh. I told DH never again would I do something as crazy as hike Mt. Washington, but after a couple days, I thought, “I should try it again, but next time be better prepared and in better shape.” I learned a lot about myself climbing that “hill,” so in retrospect it was a good experience.

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I just don’t want to experience it quite like that again!

Project Chicken (Coop)

The old coop, before — summer 2014

Looking at the coop straight on, summer 2014

We have an old chicken coop in our backyard. For a couple years I’ve been itching to raise some chickens but two things have held me back: the state of the coop and my son’s reluctance.

This year, the planets aligned. O and his friends are always looking for schemes to earn pocket money, so they all agreed to clean out the coop for me. And because we’ve been through some tough times with our pets in the past couple years, O has grown to understand that animals and pets have shorter lifespans than their owners. The thought of losing a few chickens to predators–a very real possibility around here given that our property borders a habitat teeming with coyotes, fishers, raccoons, and hawks–isn’t as horrific to him as it would have been a few years ago. Plus, that has been motivating him to research the best ways to secure our coop.

It goes without saying that our coop needs a lot of work, so much so that I considered buying a prefab coop. The prefab coops I like, however, are a couple hundred dollars so I figure it’s better to do some DIY on the structure we have in place.

Today it’s overgrown with vines and we need to do some serious tree branch pruning. The structure is very sound. There’s a wooden floor inside, along with nesting boxes. We’ll replace the chicken-wire covered window openings with real shed windows that open for ventilation, and build a door. The structure doesn’t have electricity but we can run an extension cord from our garage. As for the outdoor enclosure that’s currently fenced with chicken wire … I’m not so sure. It would be nice to have a completely enclosed run, but our neighbor doesn’t have one and they have only lost one chicken in the last couple years. Other to-do items: the coop will need scraping and painting after the windows and door are installed and the coop has been cleaned out.

O is having a sleepover tonight and the boys have their first paying job, clearing out some of the brush and branches around the structure. Our plan is to have a coop ready for chicks mid-spring … that gives us the fall, winter, and early spring to get it into shape. As for chickens, I have my heart set on Araucanas, the chickens that lay pastel-colored eggs. Word is they’ve got friendly dispositions, are good layers, and are cold-hardy.

Do you own chickens? Any advice? The one thing that’s creeping me out is the thought of snakes getting in the coop to eat eggs. I don’t mind seeing them out in the open, but I’ll seriously freak out if I’m gathering eggs and put my hand on a snake! An acquaintance has told me, however, that her chickens kill snakes … around here, the snakes are too small to be a real threat to eggs.

 

 

 

 

An afternoon of birdwatching

 

My boy heading off with his birdwatching gear

Loved the pale lavender color of these flowers — see the bee?

A long shot of my boy

 

 

O saved his pennies up for binoculars, which arrived in the mail Monday night, so on Tuesday we headed over to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge for a bit of birdwatching.

As you can see, we didn’t spot many birds–it was about 90 degrees F so they were staying cool in their nests–but the day was beautiful and we got some good photos before biking to downtown Concord and Main Street Market for some lunch. We were starving so when our sandwiches arrived I forgot to take pictures! I had a tomato, mozzarella, and pesto panini and O enjoyed his cheeseburger, which we ate at the bar (I was kind of wanting a cold beer at this point!)

The heat and exercise tuckered us out, so when we arrived back home, I took a siesta in my air-conditioned bedroom then did a bit of knitting on my Checkerboard Scarf, a free pattern from Purl Soho. I’m using a skein of Swans Island Natural Colors in fingering weight in the color Lupine, which is a deep purplish blue, the color of the ocean up in Maine. I bought the yarn at Yarnia in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. It was a pricey splurge, but totally worth it. The yarn is a delight to knit with, and I know when I wear the scarf I’ll always think of my week off this summer.

This is the last week before school starts, so we’re busy getting clothes and classroom supplies purchased, as well as enjoying our last bit of free time together. Tomorrow we have a sleepover at our house — three boys! and they’ve told me all they want me to do is to provide food, lots of it. I have to admit I’m looking for the structure that going back to school will bring. Autumn is definitely in the air … for the last few weeks I’ve been a knitting fiend, which is a sure sign that I’m feeling cool weather in my bones. One thing I’ve been doing is finishing up a lot of WIPS. Feels good to have those projects done and ready to photograph. :)