Winter Break for Adults

Photo of a handknit cowl, in progress

You know how you have a break coming up and you get all excited because you’re going to have ALL THIS TIME?  If you’re a maker, like me, maybe you plan out a project or thirteen.  Go buy supplies.  Talk about it with friends.  Print out patterns and choose your project bags. Sharpen your pencils.

While you’re talking with your friends, you also make plans to have brunch and play a board game.  Or go see a movie.  Or go for a winter hike because it’s unseasonably warm.  And there are the day trips to see the extended family in various configurations.  And you have to clean your house before your family comes over for dinner that one night.  And then your family comes over and you drink too much and put music on the that party can with the light show and wake up sated with familial love and your house is trashed again.

Photo of handknit socks and cowl in progress

Suddenly Winter Break is almost over.  You’ve only knit four rows on one project and cast on another.  You pulled out all the scrapbooking supplies, but never got started.  You think longingly of your sewing machine and the leggings you were going to sew yourself. That plan to try crewel is going to have to wait.

You wonder if anyone else notices that you’re almost out of milk (which you don’t drink, but the other three humans do, and the dog if she can get away with it). The pile of dirty laundry is epic and suspiciously contains things you know a certain smaller person didn’t wear recently. And why are there hair ties, paper clips, candy wrappers, and pieces of the wreath on the floor, mixing with the dog hair?  Don’t the other humans know the magical vacuuming robot will DIE if it hoovers up those things?  And if it dies, then you might too? And then who will buy the milk and wash the underwear??

That’s when it happens.  You realize for the umpteenth time that “break” is not a vacation.  It is a break from routine.  And while maybe you need a day off here and there, a full two weeks of no routine is a special kind of hell for the person who works from home.

You love your children, but you can’t wait for them to go back to school.  (Not to mention your loving spouse, who is so much fun to have lunch with when it’s not leftovers in the kitchen full of things that need to be fixed and cleaned.) No one is excited about going back to the morning routine, especially in the depths of winter, but it is the gamut we work-from-home types must run to have our space to ourselves.

One day, about two weeks from now, you’ll kiss the wind-roughened cheeks of your children goodbye and watch them rustle off to school. You walk inside your home (your office, your sacred place), your mind on fire with projects.  Break is over and you have your space and your time back.  What will you make first?

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.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

handknit doll blanket

…you knit a doll blanket with ridiculously cutesy yarn!

handknit doll blanket
Just…one…more…stripe…tonight…

Today I went to the yarn shop — with my preschooler — thinking to indulge myself in a single beautiful skein of something to make something with.  (I was deliberately keeping my options open.)  And there she was, being such a good girl in such a grown up store, skipping down all the aisles, pointing out every single pink skein and squealing with delight over them all.

The conclusion was obvious and I am really enjoying this diversion knit.  I thought I was busy last year, with a husband in grad school, both of us working, a kid at home, and a kid in school, but we have managed to take it up a notch this year.  Oy.

I have been reduced to hiding in my bedroom on a Friday afternoon, knitting pink yarn, and watching Downton Abbey.

Of course when I write it down it doesn’t sound bad at all.  Perhaps I do have a sense of self preservation.

The yarn is Plymouth Encore Colorspun in the poetically named color #7722.  Now, if you don’t mind, the blue stripe is waiting…

Love Is a Pair of Hand Knit Socks

Charlotte had a great idea for what to do about adding elastic.  From the comments yesterday:

What if you picked up the brim edge stitches (or even stitches on the inside of the brim), then knit a short inside brim, which you then three-needle-bound-off into the brim on the inside. This would form a tube for elastic, which you could then hide.

I’m totally going to do that.  Thanks, Charlotte!

The parade of finished objects continues…

Next up: kid socks!

I made these for my darling anklebiters in a 10/11 and a 5/6 (toddler sizes).  I am gratified that my kids love to wear their hand knit socks and will reach for them first in the drawer (when they’re there).  Too bad for them that they grow so quickly because they generally only get one new pair a year.  E is lucky that she inherits Z’s hand knits; Z is lucky he doesn’t grow so fast anymore, thus his hand knit socks can be worn for longer than 6 months.

These were knit in either Opal or Fortissima Colori Socka. Using leftovers, y’know?  Pattern is just my usual formula – guess or measure the girth of the foot and ankle, multiply by the gauge, round to the nearest number divisible by four and cast on!  I made E’s socks first only because they were a gross miscalculation for Z’s pair.  This is another frustrating theme in my past attempts to make my son socks.  I always make them too small and end up ripping and reknitting so many times I could have made him two pair.

I’ve been thinking lately that I might want to slowly turn toward Opal for socks because it is a tough but not rough yarn that will even survive the dryer, thus keeping our handknit socks in quicker rotation.

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.