Dressing Up the Holidays

Close-up of Abby's stocking

My brother, Noah, was the catalyst for the other holiday gift knitting experience.

Last summer Noah asked me if I could secretly knit a pair of Christmas stockings for himself and his fiancée, Abby.  He likes the set of handknit colorwork stockings I made for my house.

My family's handknit Christmas stockings

 

These stockings are knit from Nancy Bush‘s pattern, Christmas in Tallinn, published several places, but the only souce that matters is her excellent book Knitting on the Road.  I made the first one, the red one, in 2005 for my infant son; Matt’s green stocking was made in 2006; my blue one was made in 2007; and then I had a year reprieve until our daughter came along in 2009.  She got a purple stocking.  I substituted the yarn Bush’s pattern calls for, Dalegarn Tiur, for Dalegarn Heilo simply because I liked the Heilo palette better.  (This was, by the way, the first time I was bit in the ass by yarn substitution.  Tiur is 109 yards.  Heilo is 126 yards.)

E's Christmas stocking

Noah left me in full creative control, so I of course immediate sought out ways to make this project as difficult as possible.  First, I had to design my own.  Second, if one design was fun, then two new designs were twice as fun!  (Right?!)  Third, the yarn (O!  The yarn!).

Abby's Christmas stocking, designed by me

I really enjoyed picking out colorwork patterns for these designs.  I found everything I wanted, and pretty quickly, in Sheila McGregor’s Traditional Scandinavian Knitting.  For the top of Abby’s stocking (green), I chose a boy-and-girl motif; for Noah’s stocking (orange), I chose reindeer.  The body patterns on each of their stockings come from the same 19th-century sweater: one was the pattern on the back and the other was the pattern on the front.

Noah's Christmas stocking

Can you imagine knitting that sweater?  Maybe…

There was some math to work out to make these motifs go together, resulting in Noah’s stocking being noticeably larger.  Noah has no problem with this.

As for the yarn, Cascade 220 Superwash Sport, it wasn’t my favorite.  Noah and I chose it based on wide color palette and affordable price, but it has just about put me off superwash yarn for the rest of my life.  It did not hold up well to repeated ripping and reknitting, coming un-plied and… for lack of a better descriptor, flacid.

Of course then my friend pointed out that many of the high-end end indie yarns, like Mashtosh and Tanis and Plucky Knitter, are superwash now so never say die.

Bits and Pieces

I’ve reached that point of the holiday season when there is so much to do, holiday or otherwise, that I can’t keep track of it all and I know some things are time-sensitive and I end up so turned around that I don’t know what to do first and thus do nothing.  Thankfully, I’ve learned not to stress about it (too much).  Instead, I am bewildered, I suppose.  I called Matt this afternoon after dropping Z off at preschool just in case he knew something I forgot.  He suggested I do some shopping downtown.  I am burned out on shopping, whether it is for gifts or groceries, so I just went home and played with the baby until it was pick up time.

Now for the randomness:

*It’s so windy!  And wet!  I should make myself a cup of tea.  But I forget to before I make it to the kitchen.  Or I don’t hear the electric kettle.  I’ve heated it twice.

*Finished a small Thorpe for Zander last week.  It took me only three days–what a thrill to finish something so quickly.  I knit the small size using Cascade 220 doubled, and this is a good size for a child.  It’s a little loose on my preschooler but not so it will fall off his head.  I skipped the braided ties because I thought that would be safer on the playground–and they’re easy enough to add later if I change my mind.

*Elinor makes kissy noises with her lips.  And gives open-mouth, wet, baby kisses.  You know it’s love when you don’t care!

*Hanukkah starts on Friday.  We are ready with the gifts but not the food.  Someone needs to go to a grocery store with a real produce section so we can get a heaping mound of onions and potatoes for latkes.  And it’s windy, rainy, cold, and gross outside.  So far…I can live without latkes on the first night.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings (I hear it’s going to be very cold).

*I have had a crisis of coat buying for the children.  It has nothing to do with the holidays but has worn me out on shopping.  It involved going to the mall, in December, which I never do.  The best part, though, is that I found a coat for Elinor in her closet this morning, a coat her cousin passed down.  Hallelujah.  Crisis over.

*I/Zander inherited a UFO from Charlotte–a pair of half-finished socks–which her children outgrew before they ever got to wear.  I finished the first this afternoon.  Here it is yesterday.  The yarn is Plymouth Jelli Beenz, a fun and colorful acyrlic/wool blend.  Zander, my biggest fan when it comes to knitting, is very excited.  We’ve already had one serious discussion about his socks and the dog.  Ahem.

*My freelance work is ramping up again.  I have two projects right now, although one is in three pieces so it’s really more like four projects.  I must pace myself to avoid stressing out because I can only do one piece at a time and if I get behind it will be a vicious domino effect complete with loss of sleep.

*I am knitting Elinor a stocking to go with our other three.  The pattern is Christmas in Tallinn by Nancy Bush from Knitting on the Road.  I’ve made several patterns from this book.  I had to substitute the yarn because no one locally now carries the Dalegarn Heilo I used for the first three, but I am happy with the substitute, Rauma Strikkegarn.  It comes in lots of colors and is sticky, which is great for colorwork.  I may actually like this yarn better than the Heilo.

*The seed catalogs are starting to arrive.  I am thinking of planting more quantity of fewer types of plants next year in the vegetable garden.  Partly to get better at growing the things we love the most and partly because we really need to focus on the flower beds, get them organized.  They were empty when we moved in.  Now they’re kinda weedy.

Good night!

A hat is a hat by any other name

I started Toasty Topper last night and knit away until my hands were sore and creaky.  No good.  I only made it past the the crown shaping.  Turns out that Cascade 220 is not a good substitute for me for this pattern.  It’s made on US 8 with yarn held doubled.  I can control my tension somewhat, but even with an effort at knitting more loosely, the fabric was stiff and my hands hurt.  There was much indecision and denial but I finally faced the music and ripped it out.

Part of my indecision stemmed from the question: “If not Toasty Topper, then what?”  Because my kid needs a hat.  Knit by me.  That wasn’t one of the other hats we already had in the closet.  I bought this lovely yarn last December for HIM and it was going to go on his head, OKAY?

Okay then.  I switched to making a small Thorpe.

(It is more blue that this picture shows.  I played with all my camera settings but it is a cold, gray day so what’s a gal to do?)

It was in the forefront of my brain for various reasons and I had to laugh when I started because it is incredibly similar in the beginning to Toasty Topper.  (I am holding the yarn doubled instead of using a chunky weight yarn.)  There was one crucial difference: it is knit on a US 9.  So the fabric is now dense and I am still consciously knitting loosely but my hands don’t hurt and it’s smiles all around.

I still hope to have enough leftovers for mittens, for which I will probably use Anne Budd’s Handy Book of Patterns.  And I wonder if I can finish it all before school on Monday (today’s school day has already begun and Friday is a field trip to an indoor destination). . . . because it is not like I don’t have, oh at least four other projects on the needles/hooks.

The Urban Aran Cardigan warms yet another body

IT IS FINISHED!

After swearing up and down and back and forth that last night was the night that I was going to go to bed early (ie, on time), I sat down for an hour to sew some more on the zipper of Matt’s Urban Aran Cardigan.

Wait, back up.

On Thanksgiving, Matt drove us to my parents’ house and I started sewing down the zipper.  My hand sewing is not the best but I am capable.  I decided back stitch was the way to go.  Strong, uses twice as much thread, and even I can’t screw it up.  Or can I?

The thing I was doing didn’t look like back stitch but I could not fathom what I was doing wrong.  So I stuffed the sweater back into its tote and talked to my husband for the rest of the car ride.  Maybe, just maybe, I saw a tear in his eye?  He’s been waiting a long time.

That evening, back at home and kids abed, I did some research online.  Looks like I had the right method but was, um, going backwards.  Sigh.  I was sewing back stitch left to right rather than right to left.  I don’t know how it could make that much difference but, oh, it did.

Sunday was another trip, this time to Matt’s dad’s house.  In half an hour (before the edges of car sickness snuck up on me; a legacy of my pregnancies that sometimes haunts me) I managed to sew down about half of one side of the zipper.  Yey!  Measurable progress!

So last night, with an hour to go until my 10pm bedtime, I figured I would get the other side sewn down.  That plan went so peachy and my back stitch was going much faster so I started in on the other side and willfully ignored the clock.  I was also listening to Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Master Classes on the Knitting Workshop DVDs.  In the end, I stayed up until midnight with Matt who, when he realized sweater was about to be finished, decided to stay up and keep my company.

At about 11:30pm last night we pranced around singing “Happy Birthday” and snapping pictures.  The strange glow in the photo above is my Ott light, which was necessary to see the dark brown thread against the dark brown zipper and dark brown wool.

So that’s the good news.  Ten months later, the birthday cardigan is done and I am free to start my own new sweater: Ribby Cardi.  Of course my mom mentioned to me on the phone last night that she needs a wool sweater for her office.  Was she fishing?  If so, I didn’t bite; not yet.  She knows how to knit and I need a cardigan!

The bad news is that our dog, about an hour ago, jumped up on a window and broke it.  After cleaning up the glass, I was able to wrangle the storm into place (our windows are old) so that I am no longer heating my front yard.  I am awash with ugly emotions.  Luckily both children are asleep and I can hunch over some knitting and distract myself for a bit.  This post is part of that distraction so let’s just move on.

Ribby Cardi calls me like a siren but I am going to put her off for a few days or weeks.  I’d like to wrap some of my other projects.  Nevertheless, I did cast on something entirely new this afternoon.  Zander’s winter gear was next most important on my list because he is playing on the playground at preschool three days a week, at the very least.  I started a Toasty Topper today with Cascade 220 Heathers in a blue color.  Hopefully there will be enough leftover that I can also make him some mittens.  If not, I know where to get more.

There is more to tell you my pretties, but I’ll save it for another day.  I need to go do some knitting.

Inspired by babies, part 1

Hard to not have babies on the brain when one is being kicked by a baby all day long from the inside.  Somehow I still manage to think of the impending bundle of joy as “cute” and dream up wonderful things to make in quantities that far exceed the time I have available.

Since watching the Urban Aran Cardigan grow – for the second time – is rather boring for the blog, I am going to blab a bit about the baby knits which tempt me.  And I am going to divide this over two posts because it’s coming out kind of long.

First of all, a finished project: Star of the Day hat by Susan Lawrence.

(Zander models for his baby sister)

Knit up in Violet Wool-Ease, a slightly dusky, dark purple which captures my eye in a way that makes me go “but I don’t usually like purple THIS much.”  The brim, finished with an applied i-cord per the pattern, rolls but not when worn so it’s not that big of a deal.  Sadly, the grapefruit test shows this hat to be too big for newborn use but she’ll wear it eventually.

Second: Organic Guernsey by Fawn Pea.  I have loved this pattern for a long long time but have yet to make it.  Part of my issue is that I really do want to use the organic cotton but the $30+ price tag chokes my momentum.  I’ve read on Ravelry that there are sometimes fit issues so I think I will make this in something I have in my stash and, if I love it enough to knit again, then I will fork over for the organic cotton.

Third: baby cardigan from Argentina… I ran into an old college friend at a party last autumn and she was making this sweater from a pattern handed down in her family who have it from their neighbors.  She said that everyone in their neighborhood made this baby cardi.  It’s knit in one piece from sport-weight yarn (such as Louet Gems wool, which is machine washable) and I have no idea what the finish cardigan looks like.  Adventure!  I wouldn’t normally knit something sight unseen but the background of this garment intrigues me and apparently that’s enough.

Fourth: Toasty Topper, a Knitty pattern which is a hat/scarf combo for toddlers.  Love it!  I even bought yarn for this last month, Cascade 220 in a blue-grey which will look very fine on my blue-eyed boy.  I do highly recommend the Berroco Ultra Alpaca the pattern calls for, which is only a dollar or two more per skein than the Cascade.  If all goes well the first time around, I will make a second one this summer for baby #2 to wear in the winter.

Thus concludes part 1 of the parade of baby knits, many of which I think I am going to make in the next six weeks.  On top of the Urban Aran Cardi, hats and mittens for myself, a few designs in progress, a pair of socks, my Ribby Cardi…. hahaha!