Magic Blankets

Photo detail of machine quilting

Around here, magic blankets are not something you can buy in a store.  You’ve got to know the right people.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Back when our first baby was born, we took swaddling seriously (shout out to Harvey Karp, he’s spot on), but the things sold in stores as receiving blankets at that time were little better than oversized burp rags.  No exaggeration!  So off I went to the local big box craft store and bought 5 one-yard lengths of flannel in fun prints.  A couple straight hems and BAM, we had a pile of swaddling blankets.

Our first child loved swaddling and we got a lot of use out of the big blankets.  When he got to be about 2 years old, I sewed two blankets end to end, then another two end to end, then quilted those together with a made-up meandering stitch.  Without a walking foot.  That’s what we call a labor of love, friends.  I sewed the fifth blanket into a pillowcase that is still in use today (on the pillow that is propping me up while I write this, in fact!).

Photo of the pillowcase made from a flannel baby blanket

My son loved this blanket as only a child can unconditionally love the wonky things we make for them.  He declared it the magic blanket and, eight years later, it is still a cherished possession.  So much so that my younger child was eventually jealous.  I needed to make her magic blanket, and soon, lest she stage a Leverage-style attack to take permanent possession of her brother’s blankie.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Of course she also had 5 (no, 6!) one-yard lengths of flannel that she used as a baby — although she was not one who liked to be swaddled.  No, instead she wanted to be held constantly.  For three months.  Not that I am scarred or anything.

Ahem.

Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

For her blanket I got fancy.  I did a bunch of math (cooped up much?) and decided that 9″ squares would make the most efficient use of my fabric.  I cut the blankets up and sewed them back together in an eye-blistering pattern of colorful delight that is different on each side.  I ran out of patience at this time and quilted the whole thing together with straight lines, and machine bound it with commercial bias tape.

Thus was balance restored to our universe.

Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

I take deep satisfaction in upcycling, but this project took it to the next level because of how much my kids love having something I made just for them and having something that is a direct connection to their early years.

I toyed with the idea of writing this up as a sort of tutorial, but the real message is: just sew that shit together!  Your kids will love it, you will learn some things, and whatever you make will be NEW and get used, rather than gather dust in the basement or sadly slip away to a marginal existence in a thrift store.

Spring Valley Shawl

photo of the Spring Valley Shawl by Carol Ullmann

One of the things that I bought yarn for at the recent Fiber Expo was 3 skeins of Happy Fuzzy Yarn DK Merino to make my own Spring Valley Shawl. Finally.

Picture of yarn from Happy Fuzzy Yarn
DK Merino, just waiting it’s turn.
Photo of Spring Valley Shawl by Carol Ullmann
I did the pattern photography with my friend’s daughter modeling.

I love this pattern!  Riin picked the colors and I designed this striped asymmetrical shawl with a deep edging of beehive lace and a simple crochet edge to highlight the new DK Merino yarn base offered by Happy Fuzzy Yarn.

Some patterns fight back in the design process and require a lot of ripping back, swatching, swearing, and finger-crossing.  This one was smooth, joyful, easy, and sprang pretty much full-formed without fuss.

photo of the Spring Valley Shawl by Carol Ullmann
Pattern sample done blocking and I am so sad to see it go!

If you are the kind of person who loves a big cuddly shawl or scarf, Spring Valley will make you happy too.  Happy to knit, happy to wear.

Available to purchase on the Happy Fuzzy Yarn website or on Ravelry.

I can’t wait to see what other people do with this pattern — other color combinations, perhaps other weights of yarns.  If you are a clever sort of knitter, it would be no big deal to knit this in any weight of yarn so long as you set yourself up with the correct stitch multiple for the lace.

Conquering Shyness

Picture of fiber from Happy Fuzzy Yarn

I was terribly shy as a child.  When we moved into a new school district in second grade, I was nearly friendless for two years because I was too frightened to approach other children and ask to join their play.

In fact, I first learned to knit from my second grade teacher because she would allow us to stay inside at recess if we wanted to knit with her.  Knitting was better than being cold and lonely!

Somewhere out there in the world — in a thrift store or garbage dump or maybe even lost in my parents’ house — is an unfinished garter stitch burgundy acrylic scarf.

The shyness persisted throughout school, including college.  That was about the time I began to purposefully push through.  It helped to realize that other people have the same fears and it wasn’t just me.  I also remind myself that talking to people I don’t know isn’t dangerous.  Sounds weird, but if you are shy also then you know what I mean.

Here I am, in my thirties, and I don’t think people would describe me as shy.  Sometimes reserved perhaps, but I no longer hesitate to go up and talk to someone when I want to.  It’s very freeing!  I still have my moments, but what a difference it has made in my life to not be ruled by those fears.

Which brings me to the Ann Arbor Fiber Expo this past weekend.  I was working the Happy Fuzzy Yarn booth, but I also made a point to circuit the barns and talk to many vendors.  I had to consciously approach people, but it wasn’t as hard as it used to be because the interactions are often rewarding, amusing, informative, and community-building.  Only one or two people blew me off, and I left those booths quickly.  I don’t even remember who they were.

I really love talking to farmers and shepherds in particular and am starting to see familiar faces after working at shows around the region for the past year.  Now that I think about it, it’s going to be months–long, cold, snowy months!–before there’s another show around here.  Good thing I stocked up on pretty things to get me through the quiet season.

I totally have a palette.  There is no shame in my game!

Top row: Fiberstory FAVE sock in “Milo”; BFL/Silk from Cross Wind Farm; Superwash Sport “Aquatic” from Happy Fuzzy Yarn.

Middle row: DK Merino in “Verdigris,” “Shadow,” and “Granny Smith” from Happy Fuzzy Yarn; Polwarth “Nessie” (darker braid) and Superfine Merino “Blue Lagoon” from Happy Fuzzy Yarn; 3ply worsted black alpaca from Amiable Alpacas.

Bottom row: Silky Meri in “Deep Blue Green” from Studio June Yarn; Arial Evolution in “Dusk” from Twisted Fiber Art; and Boyne (BFL) in “Castiel” from CJKoho Designs — plus a spinner’s merit badge!

I have specific plans for four of these purchases.  The others I bought as part of my effort to try out the products of local fiber artists.  So I just went with something that called to me and I’ll figure out what to do with it eventually.  Dangerous words, I know.

The only question is: where to start?

 

Spinzilla was a blast!

Picture of a small skein of woolen spun Cormo

If knitting in public isn’t weird enough for you, you should take up spinning.

What I learned from Spinzilla last week was that spinners are, on the whole, a very happy bunch of people. We like to get together and ogle each other’s fiber, wheels, spindles, kates, niddy noddies, and freshly made yarn.  We encourage.  We help.  We teach.  We skip tea in favor of wine.

In getting ready for Spinzilla, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I wanted to accomplish.  Did I want to spin 4 oz per day?  Did I want to make more fractal yarn?  Did I want to try a combo spin?

A couple days before Spinzilla began, I assessed the fiber stash.  I sorted it by prep this time and found that my roving bin wouldn’t close!  That settled what to spin.  As for how to spin it, I figured a spinning competition was as good a time as any to learn long draw, which is a production technique that produces a woolen yarn.  I was almost swooning at the thought of spinning up woolen yarns in many colors to knit colorwork item. Peerie Flooers, here I come!

I opened up my Craftsy class “Drafting from Worsted to Woolen” with Jacey Boggs Faulkner and practiced long draw on a few different roving samples.  After an hour of playing around, I emerged with a lumpy and deliciously lightweight mini skein of woolen 2-ply dark brown Cormo.

Picture of a small skein of woolen spun Cormo

The night before Spinzilla started,  pulled out some of my oldest stash: 7.5 oz of light grey roving with some pale purple and yellow carded into it.  It was mystery wool that I bought on sale from a shop going out of business back when I was baby spinner.  I prepped it by pulling off two yard lengths (measured fingertip to nose, nothing too fussy), splitting that lengthwise, then predrafting, or attenuating, each piece until it was about doubled in length.  Then I gently rolled each piece into a ball so it wouldn’t tangle.

Picture of grey/purple/yellow balls of roving

The prep helped immensely with speed of spinning and it turned out that this mystery wool was even easier to spin long draw than the Cormo.

My second major endeavor for Spinzilla was an 8 oz ball of mixed Icelandic and Border Leicester lambs wool from Kathy Westfall named “Two Black Lambs.”  It was sooooo soft.  The staple length of this fiber was longer, which made the long draw even easier than the mystery wool.  It felt like it was spinning itself!

Here’s my Spinzilla 2015 pile:

Picture of handspun yarns

As team captain for Happy Fuzzy Yarn, I pursued people to fill up my team of 25 spinners.  I am really proud that we had at least 5 people on our team who were very new spinners.  Even though this is a competition for most yardage, my focus was education and community.  I wanted people to feel welcome, no matter their skill level or time commitment.  I am so happy with what each and every one of us accomplished.  I’m not burned out like sometimes happens with intense events like these, and I am already looking forward to next year.

This Spinzilla, I fell in love with the long draw.  I am just getting started.  I can’t wait to try more breeds and see what happens. And my happy spinner friends, makers extraordinaire, will be there with me.

 

 

Surprise, Baby!

The Baby Surprise Jacket in Happy Fuzzy Yarn Superwash Sport

The Baby Surprise Jacket was the most fun thing I knit all year.  Bold statement considering we have three more months to go, but I’m sticking by it.

This is probably one of the world’s most famous knitting patterns, first published by Elizabeth Zimmermann in 1968. The knitter just knits along, tracking some not-complicated increases and decreases, and when you bind off, you are left with an odd blob, but with a quick fold here and there, the garment’s shape is revealed. A couple quick seams later and you have a really cute jacket.

This pattern has spawn child and adult versions and is a favorite for those who want to use scraps and handspun because the geometry of this pattern shows off stripes and multicolored yarns to great effect.

I was able to see all this for myself in Ravelry under the projects tab for this pattern. Armed with that knowledge, I chose a gender-neutral green and yellow multicolor from Happy Fuzzy Yarn called “Colorado River” in the Superwash Sport base. This yarn is incredibly squishy and dyes up vibrantly thanks to the superwash quality.

It knit up quickly and when I was near the end, I puzzled out the folding just to see what it look like.

The Baby Surprise Jacket in Happy Fuzzy Yarn Superwash Sport

It took my breath away, it was soooo adorable. I think the Baby Surprise Jacket, done up in a sportweight yarn, makes a sweater that fits a 3-6 month old — well, based on standard clothing sizes for babies. YMMV.

If the pattern weren’t awesome enough by itself, my son FINALLY learned to knit one night on a weekend trip by working a couple rows on this sweater.  Yes, I left them in.  His stitches were fine! (Those are his hands in the action shot above.)

The Baby Surprise Jacket in Happy Fuzzy Yarn Superwash Sport

This sweater was a gift for our newest nephew, born at the end of August.  He’s a little bean now; we can’t wait to play with him when he gets a little older!

I can’t recommend this pattern highly enough. It kind of makes me want to go on an EZ pattern bender. Have you made any of her patterns? I’ve knit a few and enjoyed them also; I think it’s time to discover others by her.