December 2008 Archives

My Regularly Scheduled Blog Post

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... will be moved to tomorrow.  I'm in Ann Arbor right now and spent my blog posting time explaining toe up sock construction to my mom so that I can finally make sure that she is bitten by the sock knitting bug.   And now that she has a second grand baby to knit for, she has extra motivation.

I did not really mean to, but I added both yarn and pattern books to my collection this weekend.  I have an apparent inability to walk away from nice man-friendly yarn and pattern books featuring garments with good classic lines.  And there's nothing like a couple of new pattern books to initiate yet more yarn shopping... 

Classy* Baby Scarf


Sometimes yarn remnants sit in my stash for ages with no identifiable future.  Other times, their destiny becomes obvious.  When I made the Tulip sweater for Ms. Z, I had bits of all the colors left over.  At the time, I was not entirely sure what to do with the bits, but they were far too pretty to condemn to the stuffing bin.  Once I had a mobile winter outdoor-going toddler, their ultimate home became clear.

20081201_DICScarfOrchid.jpgI might not be able to convince her to wear mittens, but I didn't think she'd have a problem with a scarf (or, more to the point, I didn't think she would be able to figure out how to get the scarf off once she was bundled into her coat).

The scarf is knit in the same color order as the sweater.  I knit with each color until I ran out.  Since I had different amounts of each yarn, that meant that I got a lovely, random rainbow scarf.

It ended up being an almost perfect length for a toddler.  In fact, I think she's likely to get more than one year out of it.

I wanted a pattern that would lay flat, but still not be deadly boring to knit.  So I started out with K2 P2 rib and then on every right side row I shifted the pattern one stitch to the right or one stitch to the left depending on which color I was knitting -- every time I changed colors, I changed the direction of the shift.  This pattern resulted in something that both kept me entertained and created a fun textural detail in the scarf.

20081201_DICScarfLength.jpgSimple, fun, washable and soft -- perfect for an inquisitive toddler girl with an active lifestyle.

20081201_DICScarfBaby.jpgThe scarf's first outing was to one  of my mom's LYS -- Knit Around.  Z has a habit of going crazy whenever I let her near my stash, grabbing yarn and throwing it everywhere before finally grabbing something and running off all over our upstairs with it (which is completely forgiven when she looks at me and says "Yarn, Momma.  Yarn!") so I figured I needed to be prepared for similar exuberant behaviour in a yarn store, even with grandma helping to keep an eye on her.  I also figured that a baby in hand knits might be more easily forgiven her transgressions.  I need not have worried.  Knit Around has a toy box near the front of the store (and a coffee machine and two lovely seating areas -- it's a store that I like a great deal) and once she discovered those toys, you would hardly have known she was there.  So both momma and baby had a good time and both momma and Grandma came a way with sock yarn.  A good time for all concerned.  Z left the store with a sucker.  The scarf got sticky, but the baby was happy.  And that is what superwash scarves are all about!

And even better, Z never tried to take her scarf off

* Updated to add... I can't believe that I forgot to mention that the yarn is Dream in Color Classy.  Nice yarn for baby sweaters and scarves. 

If This is Thursday --


Oh! wait!  It's not supposed to be Thursday, it's supposed to be Wednesday.  I am definitely time line challenged this week.  Combine a holiday weekend with an extra day off on Monday and my whole temporal sense gets out of whack.  So, since my week is kind of random at this point, maybe it's a good time for a random Wednes - er - Thursday.

  1. I have a thing for the cashmere sweaters at J. Crew.  This is literally the only animal based fiber (besides silk) that I can wear against my skin without going into an itching frenzy.  A couple of years ago, I didn't really understand "all the fuss" about cashmere sweaters.  Then I got one of these (a chocolate colored cable V neck) and now almost all my cotton T-necks have been replaced.  Warm, light and indulgent -- but a perfect indulgence for someone who has to spend almost half of the year dealing with cold enough weather to merit a sweater.  Yesterday I got a 30% off promo from J.Crew for their online store.  You can bet what that baby went into....
  2. I got to hold a beautiful, sweet 6 month old baby today, and suddenly Ms. Z looks completely different to me.  How can so little time (10 months!) result in so much change?
  3. Speaking of Z, when we were in Ann Arbor, she saw an old granny square afghan on the back of my Dad's armchair and went up to it: "Flowers!  Pretty!"  I know it doesn't sound all that remarkable, but she did two very neat things.  First, she was able to apply an abstract idea "flower = granny square" to something she had never seen before.  Second, she made it clear how she felt about them.  Clearly there is so much more going on in baby brains than I ever thought possible.  And I'm sure that you can all see what this is likely to inspire...
  4. We are remodeling our downstairs guest room after some water leakage as a result of a foundation crack.  I am actually considering painting the walls a shade of red or cinnamony-red to complement the dark wood of the furniture that I have.  Given my white wall history (painting Z's nursery a pale purple was a wild move for John and I) this feels like a radical and dangerous move.  I am excited by the idea of taking the chance on something different.  John is skeptical.
  5. The makers of Cascade yarn now make lovely solid colored sock yarn, Heritage.  For those of you looking for sock weight, man-friendly, super-wash merino/nylon blend solids, you may want to check it out.  It's also priced incredibly well -- $14 for the same amount as in a ball of Opal.  Did I mention that John thought color 5606 was the perfect shade of burgundy for a pair of hand knit dress socks?  Time to find some pattern inspiration!

Zig Zag Baby Scarf Pattern

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I got a polite request to share the pattern for the scarf I made for Z.  No problem!  This is a nice, simple pattern and it is easy to work in almost any yarn - gauge is not critical at all to this pattern.  My recommendation is worsted-weight superwash or a soft acrylic just to keep it fast and fun and washable (if it is for a baby... if it's for an adult, the washability is clearly dependent on the recipient).   You don't need all that much of any one color of yarn -- in fact, even a few yards is fine. Your yarns also do not have to be the exact same type of yarn as long as the washability and gauge characteristics are comparable.  Before you start, put your yarns in some order that you like so that you can make sure you get a color progression you like.

This is a simple pattern, so it is easily scaled up for any size recipient, but I'll provide the details for a toddler/child just to keep it simple.

First off, cast on 16 or so stitches on needles that don't give you too dense a a fabric with the yarn you are working with.  Scarves usually do better with a little drape.  This pattern is a modified K2 P2 ribbing, so it will pull in a little, creating a little extra thickness.  However, because the ribbing is shifted every two rows, it won't pull in like straight K2P2 ribbing, instead it will lay flat and maintain most of it's width*.  Obviously, you can cast on any number of stitches that is divisible by 2.  I selected my starting point based on the amount of yarn I had and a general examination of Z's neck.  I didn't want it to be too wide or it wouldn't sit comfortably around her neck.

After casting on, knit 4 rows -- this will create a little garter stitch border for the scarf, and a nice flat foundation to start on.  Now it's time to start the pattern!

You can choose to start with either a left or right progressing (slanting) ribbing.  The charts I've provided include a two stitch garter stitch border on either edge of the ribbing (stitches 1 & 2 and 15 & 16) the edge stitches are indicated with the grey shading.  Please note that the "|" symbols represents "knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side" (except for the edging which should be a knit stitch no matter which side you are working) and the "-" symbol represents "purl on the right side knit on the wrong side".  This pattern has an 8 row repeat interval.  So once you start, you just keep going, starting with row 1 again after you finish an 8 row repeat.  Just keep knitting until you run out of yarn or want to change color.  It doesn't matter what row you end on.  If you'd like my original excel file with the chart in it, you can
download Zigzag.xls by clicking here.

When you complete a color, you want to end that color with the end of a row.  What you do next depends on whether you ended with a right side or wrong side row.

  • If you ended with a wrong side row, on the next row you're going to switch direction.  To figure out what your next row would be, identify the row you finished with in which ever ribbing direction you were working (as an example, let's say you ended with row 4 of the left progressing ribbing).  Now look in the chart for the alternate direction and find the exact same row (in my example, this would be row 8 in the right progressing chart).  Your next row is going to be the row that follows the row you just finished in the new chart.  So in my example, since my end row would be row 8 in the right progressing chart, I'd start my new color with row 1 of the right progressing chart.  
  • If you ended with a right side row, you're going to complete the wrong side row for the pattern you are working on before switching direction.  So, for example, if you ended with row 5 of the right progressing chart, you would work row 6 of the right progressing chart in your new color.  Row 6 in the right progressing chart is the same as row 6 in the left progressing chart, so your next row would be row 7 of the left progressing chart.
After you've switched charts, you continue to knit in pattern with that chart until you get to the next color change. After which, you repeat the steps for switching directions again. 

You're going to continue knitting and switching directions until you're on your last color.  When you're on your last color (ideally your scarf will be somewhere between 3 to 5 feet long for a child, for an adult, somewhere between 6-7 feet is usually a good length), you're going to continue knitting in pattern until you think you have about enough yarn left for 4 rows of straight knitting plus your cast off.  At this point, you're going to stop knitting in pattern and just knit 4 rows in garter stitch (like you did to begin the scarf and bind off with the cast-off of your choice.

Now all you have to do is weave in your ends, et voila! a fun, sweet baby scarf is ready for it's recipient.

20081201_DICScarfZ.jpg If you use this pattern and have any questions, please don't hesitate to email me or post your questions in the comments.  I'll also try to link to this in Ravelry for those of you who might want to add it to your queue so that you can remember it for later.

* as a general design note, stitch patterns with an equal number of knits and purls in each row will lie flat. 

"Easter" Baby Socks

For me, apparently, baby socks are like potato chips. I can't knit just one pair!  Talk about instant gratification in so many ways.  First off, they are fast fast fast to knit -- if I had nothing else to do, I could easily get a pair of these done in a day, and still have time to work on something else.  Second, Z gets so excited when she gets a new pair "Sockies!  Sockies!" and she runs off with both in her hands.  Nothing like an enthusiastic recipient to encourage more knitting (and her father likes them, too -- given a chance, he'll put her hand knit socks on her over any other socks in her drawer).  So now Z has 4 pairs of handknit socks in her drawer (there's one more pair I haven't shown you yet) and I think with the remnants from previous projects of mine, we can easily get to 7 pairs -- my goal -- one for every day of the week.

By happy chance, these socks almost match -- apparently Z sized socks are almost exactly one stripe pattern repeat in this colorway (Regia 4450 in Kaffe Fasset "Exotic Color Easter") and there is still at least one more if not two more baby sized socks worth of yarn left from the 50g skein. 

20081207_ZInRegiaEasterSock.jpgPlease pardon the cacophany of patterns that Z is wearing -- we're having some remodeling done right now (as a result of a basement crack, not because we really wanted to) and combined with the cold weather we're getting right now in Chicago, it's colder than usual in the house.  Z loves the butterflies ( "Fly flys" as she calls them) and is resistant to wardrobe changes except when they include clothes she likes.  So to get her to wear an extra layer, we bribed her with butterflies.  She doesn't usally have to be bribed to wear hand knit socks -- not only does she run around with them when she gets them, but she will sit still and let you put them on when you tell her what you are doing.  Put all of that together and you get a big print, a small print and stripes!  And happy warm baby feet.  And happy warm baby feet are really what counts!

More cold weather in Chicago and more frantic digging in my chests of drawers to find things that keep me warm and make me feel good.  Out popped another Silk Garden Sweater.

20081207_DBScoopNeckRetro2.jpgThis sweater is Debbie Bliss' Scoop Neck Cardigan from Noro #1 knit in Noro Silk Garden colorway #71.  This sweater was finished in the fall of 2003 for the next winter season after the raglan Silk Garden pullover that I talked about in my last retrospective.  While it's a lovely sweater, it really doesn't get the same love and appreciation that the pull over gets, even though I love the scoop neck and the sweet crocheted edging.

Why?  Well, "popping" out of drawers isn't the only kind of popping this sweater does.  It has a lot of buttons (which is one of the details I love).  Unfortunately, I picked buttons just a touch too small for the loops and this very fitted cardigan pops open more often than I like.  On the positive side, lazy finisher that I am, I never actually sewed the buttons down (I used button safety pins instead) so probably all I need to do to move this sweater into more regular rotation is to get some bigger buttons.  I love it when it's so easy to fix my mistakes.

20081207_DBScoopNeckRetro.jpgThe other thing that makes this sweater a little less useful is how cropped it is.  I'm pretty short waisted, and if it looks cropped on me, then you know it's meant to be cropped.  And for going to work in the winter, I generally prefer sweaters that cover my entire midriff.  Especially post-baby.

Given how early on in my sweater making career I knit this garment, I'm still very happy with it overall.  But there are some definite learning experiences here, in particular that I like my sweaters to fall below the belt line.  At the time, I had no concept of how to modify patterns, but if I were to make this sweater now, I'd order a bit more yarn and lengthen it.  Given that it's knit so the stripes run vertically instead of horizontally, that would have been trivial to do without altering almost any of the shaping instructions.

So there you have it.  Two Silk Garden sweaters, I love the yarn for both, but one sweater turns out to be much more utilitarian than the other.  Which leads me to another conclusion: special purpose sweaters get much less wear.  No doubt something that will come up again in future retrospective segments.

Targhee Squares

A while ago (right about the time I found out I was pregant with Z) I took a trip to Montana and stopped at the Mountain Colors shop and dye studio.  Mill ends and other goodies abounded, and I came home with a small suitcase stuffed with 3-ply Targhee mill ends in as many colors as I could find.  My initial plan was to make a small blanket out of the log-cabin squares in the middle of the picture.  I got distracted from the project as my pregnancy progressed and when I made the transition into motherhood, I also had the chance to participate in the project to knit diagonal garter squares for a blanket to be auctioned to help out Emma's son, Oliver. 

Those diagonal squares got me thinking... so easy, yet really neat looking, especially when put together in a blanket.    When I came back to this project, I got to thinking that it might be fun to keep the log cabin squares I had already made and randomly intersperse them into a blanket of these "solid" colored squares. 

This is TV knitting at it's finest.  Uncomplicated garter stitch but a chance to indulge in a variety of lovely colors. 

While I feel like there is much yarn in my basket, I have a suspicion that I will be phoning up for more mill ends.  I like the thick, sproingy quality of these squares, and I am beginning to imaging a large and inviting blanket...

A Final Pair of Baby Socks

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I promise -- this will probably be the last pair of simple baby socks for a while -- not that I won't start anymore, but with our holiday party approaching and a Christmas shopping to be done, my knitting time is becoming more scarce.

These little socks are made from Mountain Colors Bearfoot -- which is a lovely soft yarn that is a blend of superwash wool, nylon and mohair, which is just about all you could want for strength, washability and warmth.  These socks are made out of leftovers from a pair I made for a good friend and a pair I made for John (I bet you can guess which colorway was for John's socks if you don't remember the socks themselves).  These socks aren't the most beautiful from a color co-ordination perspective, but they do meet the "keep baby feet warm" criteria that is most important ant the moment.

Since the Bearfoot is a somewhat thicker yarn than the Regia and Trekking, these socks were knit on 2.5 mm needles and the gauge is slightly differentm, but otherwise it's the same general pattern as the previous three pairs.

I was asked in a previous sock entry if I would consider sharing this pattern.  Yes, I definitely will at some point when I have a little more time to write it out and make sure that it's proof-read correctly.

So Many Socks

Today is not so much of a retrospective as an accounting.  The pictures were taken on a sunnier day, before the snow started to fall. All my socks were clean (except for one notable pair) and it seemed like a good time to get the class together for a group shot.  My orange striped socks missed the photoshoot, but the other 20 pairs that I have knit for myself made it in.  I have knit 21 pairs of socks for myself since I started blogging.  21 pairs of socks in something like 5 years* -- just around 4 pairs for myself every year.

20081216_VerticalSocks.jpgBut that's not really the whole story.  I've knit 2 pairs of socks for my dad, 2 pairs of socks for my mom, another 3 pairs for an aunt, my brother and his wife and 1 pair for a good friend from grad school.  So that brings the total up to 29. 

And even that isn't all.  I've made 7 pairs for Ms. Z and at least 9 pairs for John.  So my sum total sock production in the past 5 years is at least 45 pairs of socks.

That's a lotta socks.

20081216_AngledSocks.jpgI've knit toe up and top down, short row and Dutch and afterthought heels, star toes and square.  Patterned and straight stockinette.  Single color and two color.  Designed my own, worked from patterns. Ribbed and garter and picot cuffs.  On two circs, one circ and double points. 

I've knit socks from wool, I've knit socks from cotton/wool blends, I've knit socks from wool/silk blends and wool/mohair blends.  I've knit socks from Opal, Regia, Meilenweit, Socks that Rock, Tess Designer Yarns, Shelridge Farms Ultratouch, Lorna's Laces, my hand spun, SKnitches, Oxford Kitchen Yarns, Trekking, Sock Hop, Cascade Fixation, Koigu, Greenwood Fiberworks, Moutain Colors Bearfoot, Curious Yarns, Dream in Color and probably some more that I'm not remembering.

In short, I feel like I'm pretty experienced when it comes to socks.  I've learned alot about yarn and what works and what doesn't. And I thought, today, that I would share some of my favorite yarns and their applications:

Best Wearing 
Without a doubt, the best wearing yarns I've encountered, tested by many steps of man feet and my own, have been Regia and Opal yarns.  They aren't the softest yarns, but they are The yarns that require the least care and can take the most abuse and still look good.  One of my earliest pairs of socks was pair of Opal socks for John.  They've been "loved" a great deal in 5 years and still have a good many years of wear in them.  If you want a pair of socks that's going to wear like iron Regia and Opal are almost guaranteed to come through.   And there's no lack of great colorways for either of them either.

Softest Merino
This one is certainly open to interpretation, but the softest, most foot inviting socks that I have are made from Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock.  In both color and texture these socks are really sock therapy.  Koigu and Dream In Color would come in a close second.  But the softness comes with a price: the only socks I've had to repair for wear are my STR and Koigu socks.  Soft as it is, merino doesn't hold up as well to repeated washings and wearings, so it's good to keep some of the yarn in reserve for repair work if you are at all hard on your socks. 

Elasticized Yarns
Elasticized yarns abound these days.  I don't think they will ever qualify as my favorites, but they sure make great yarns for socks for small people with growing feet.  Knit One, Crochet Too's Soxx Appeal is my favorite of the ones I've tried.  It's a wool blend instead of a cotton blend, so warmer in the winter for little feet.

Luxury Blends
I haven't tried quite as many of these as I would like to have!  One thing to keep in mind with most luxury blend yarns: silk/wool, mohair/wool, cashmere/wool, alpaca/wool is that the luxury fiber doesn't have the same give and elasticity as the wool it's been blended with.  This means that these yarns may not have the same level of memory or of stretchiness as a 100% wool yarn.  This means that the socks from these yarns are going to tend to be a bit more slouchy, so you may need to adjust your patterns accordingly to accomodate the loosening that will occur with wearing.  So far I've been pleasantly surprised by the wear characteristics of Regia Silk (enough so that I am considering making John a pair out of the stuff) and my husband loves the extra warmth he gets from his Bearfoot socks. 

If you asked me, I would be hard pressed to pick an absolute favorite.  Each application I knit socks for have some yarns that work better and make the sock knitting and wearing experience more enjoyable.  If I had to pick a "desert island" yarn (which would be strange because socks would not seem applicable to that milieu) it would probably be STR -- the three different weights provide stylistic variety and there are both solid and wonderful wild colorways.  But I know I'd be trying to figure out how to sneak some other of my favorites into my suitcase.

* I have included some sock swap socks because even though those pairs are with someone else, I received an equally nice pair in trade.

Cookies for Christmas

I'd like to introduce you to one of my prized possesions.

20081218_StandMixer.jpgThis old mixer was on Christmas cookie duty when I was a child.  It is certainly nearing 30 years old and it still runs like a champ.  When my Dad decided to help my mom "upgrade" one Christmas to a newer model (Kitchen Aid stand mixers being one of the few things with a motor that you can get a woman for Christmas without getting into trouble) I jumped at the chance to bring this old treasure into my house.  Generally, it's my brother who inherits my mother's cooking tools -- he's the one who really learned to cook -- but my closet baker couldn't let the mixer head to Houston.  It may lack the beauty of a new mixer, but what it lacks up in beauty, it makes up for with character and good memories.  I can remember so many batches of Christmas sugar cookies and gingerbread helped along by this mixer.  It always makes me happy to bring it up onto the counter.

Every year John and I have a holiday party.  It's our one big "do" of the year and one of it's central features (other than yummy catered Polish food) is the cookie exchange.  Most of the time my cookie making adventures stay close to the chocolate chip cookie genre, this being the cookie that makes John happiest.  But at Christmas, I always look for a new recipe to try.  Something pretty, something I haven't tried before.  This year I indulged myself in almost every cooking magazine I could find that featured holiday cookies (this will certainly be a good investment for the future) and settled on the Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies featured in the December 2008 Gourmet magazine.  The old mixer was only too happy to help me out for this project.

As a part of the cookie making process, I learned a couple of things:

  • I actually do own a lemon zester
  • Zesting lemons is more challenging than I thought it would be -- at least to do without bleeding.
  • One lemon does not generate that much zest
  • Fresh lemon zest smells absolutely enchanting.
  • The warming tray of an espresso machine is an excellent place to put butter that needs help softening.
  • Sanding sugar is a lot of fun to play with
  • Cookies just taste better when made with my 30 year old KitchenAid mixer
This recipe is actually pretty easy.  Their time estimates are definitely on target and I finished making a batch in one afternoon nap interval.

20081218_SugaredBalls.jpgSanding is a little time consuming if you want to get good coverage, but it's lots of fun, especially done to the beat of 80's pop music.  I wish I had found some blue and purple sugars to play with.   While this recipe isn't young toddler friendly, I do think it could be child friendly in general -- what kid wouldn't enjoy rolling dough balls around in brightly colored sugar?

20081218_FinishedCookies.jpgThe finished cookies are "glued" together with a lemony cream center.  Pretty, are they not?

I am mostly pleased with the results of this cookie project.  In fact, it's very likely that I will make another batch of these.   Given the range of sanding sugar colors, they could be used for almost any holiday.  I would make a few changes for "next time" though.

  • When the recipe says "scant teaspoon" they really mean it.  In order to be bite sized, my cookie balls needed to be much smaller than they were.  Also, I would flatten them a little more before putting them in the oven to make them a little flatter on completion.  They didn't change shape all that much with baking.
  • I think I would let the dough sit for a while and let the lemon oil in the zest have more change to work through the dough.  I would also add more zest, since I would have liked the cookie part to be more lemony. 
  • Ditto for the buttercream center.  More zest for sure.  Maybe more lemon juice. 
That said, when they were sampled by the husband, he felt that there was a lemony quality to them.  So if you make this recipe, you might want to go with the recommended amounts for your first batch and adjust to taste later on.

Now I just have one last thing to figure out...

... what does a girl do with left over zested lemons? 

Finally, Another Baby Sweater

Wow!  Thanks for all the suggestions for the post-zested lemons.  I know I'll be trying this recipe again, so I will keep those in mind -- and also I will suggest to Santa that I might like a microplane in my stocking.  Sounds like a handy tool.  Plus Santa will get better cookies on his stopover at our house!

We had a good deal of fun at our party.  Good friends and good food always make for a winning combination in my book.  I love our party, but it's always a bit of a relief to have it wrapped it up for the year. Then we can take a breather and think about other things.  Like how much Christmas shopping we still have left to do!

Seriously, the knitting product has been low for the past week or so.  Not even so much as a baby sock has been completed.  So I had to reach back into my few weeks ago wayback machine to pull out a few pictures that I hadn't yet talked about: the start of a new project, Z's Zebra Striper Sweater.

20081222_ZebraStriperSweate.jpgLike the Zebra Striper dress, this little sweater features the intersting two color knitting (including that un-memorizable zebra stripe) at the bottom of the sweater and then shifts to single color per row knitting farther along. What makes this garment different than the dress is that the sweater is a cardigan and is steeked after the knitting is complete.  So, having gotten comfortable with two-handed two color knitting on the first project, I'm now moving to the next phase of two color knitting: taking scissors to a garment.  But that will be sometime down the road, as I am essentially knitting a sweater in sock-weight yarn.  So there is much to go before I have to get too worried (and find some way to sharpen my scissors).

20081222_ZebraStriperDetail.jpgWhat I have been very happy with so far on this sweater is my tension.  On the dress, before I blocked it the stitches definitely pulled in.  With this garment, my stitches are laying well and are relaxed and happy.  That makes me feel that I am getting better mastery of two-handed two color knitting. Clearly practice helps ingrain those important rhythms that bring manual dexterity skills together. 

With our holiday party in the history books, this sweater will recapture it's place on our couch and I will plug away at the remaining inches of straight color knitting.  I still have hope that I'll at least be able to try this on Z before it gets too warm for sweaters again -- even though the incredible subarctic weather we're having makes it almost impossible to believe that it ever will be warm again...

20081223_SilkieSockStart.jpgWell, clearly this sock isn't going to get hung anywhere for a little while, but since it is Christmas Eve I thought a quote from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas would be appropriate. 

This sock-in-progress is of my own design (it's a simple stitch pattern from Barbara Walker that I am too lazy to look up right now) using Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock Silkie in "Walk on the Wild Tide.  I chose a stranded pattern intentionally.  Wool/silk blend sock yarns tend not to have the elasticity of straight out wool yarns, and, thus, tend towards slouchiness as the socks stretch with wearing.  Stranded patterns have less give than non-stranded ones and thus tend to discourage some of the slouching.    I like my yarns to have good posture!

20081223_SilkieSockStitch.jpgI was hoping that this particular pattern would break up some of the color banding a bit more, and that the stranding would show up a bit more strongly over the background.  It doesn't accomplish it as well as I would like, but it does make for a pretty, simple texture.  And the pattern stitch is incredibly simple, so it's easy to memorize and the knitting moves at a pretty rapid pace since every other row is straight stockinette.

With Christmas fast approaching and my family soon to be arriving, I bid everyone who drops by to chat with me a very happy holiday season, if you celebrate, or a pleasant bit of peace and happiness if you don't.  Much warmth and joy to you all.  

Post-Christmas Review/17 Months

I never thought having a child would make Christmas an even better time than it already is, but this year, it was really wonderful and special.  From the Christian holiday perspective, Christmas, is, in fact, about the birth of a child, and while I am not particularly religious, that thought really struck me this year.  In many ways, Christmas is a celebration of the arrival of a child, of new life.  Indirectly, it is a celebration of the joy and new hope that children bring into the world. 

This year Z started to realize that something interesting was going on.  Whether it was "Tree!  Pretty!" accompanied by a huge smile or the excitement she got from putting on pretty clothes (those red shoes were a very big deal -- perhaps I have a fashionista engineer baby on my hands) or the interest she took in the strange phenomenon of "gift wrapping", you could tell that she was taking it all in, trying to figure it all out.  We had so much fun watching her figure out how to open presents and tear into the gift wrapping.  She's a master at ripping up magazines, so you would have thought wrapping paper would have been a cinch, but she had to work at it to figure it out. 

20081225_XmasEveBaby.jpgPerhaps the most magical part of the holiday has been her interaction with my Dad.  Up until recently, she's been very stand-offish with men and we hadn't really convinced her to let her only grandfather carry her or interact with her while in close proximity.  But this holiday she has been his buddy.  He's been able to carry her and show her things, read books with her and play with her on the floor.  Probably the best gift I got this year.

This transition from 16 months into 17 months has been a time of blossoming for Z.  Her language skills are incredible (at least in my own, biased opinion).   She not only repeats words (and with very clear diction -- it is not at all hard to understand what she is saying) but she is also putting concepts together in two or three word phrases.  "Pretty" is her favorite adjective, and she regularly makes it clear to us what kind of things she likes -- she has very particular opinions about clothes; she can tell us what she did "broke it" or "go shopping"; she sings "Jingle Bells" (well, she sings that phrase three times...) she also now uses "Thank you" at the appropriate time, and this morning she surprised us all by pointing to a calendar sitting on the table and saying "football" (she had only heard the word once the night before while she was helping us open packages).  And then there is the fact that her Polish vocabulary is also becoming quite strong.    Her ability to communicate better just makes things fun for everyone, I think.

She's also becoming quite the social butterfly -- and is becoming adept at getting things she wants from adults.  She makes many friends when we go shopping -- she acts coy to get adults to interact with her, and then slowly but surely ramps up her biggest megawatt smile.    On the flip side, she's also learned that if she's being ignored, she can do something bad and adults will pay attention to her.  Or she will tell us she's "poopy" right before she gets put down to bed in hopes of forestalling bedtime with a diaper change. 

She's also become very attached to her father.  Last night her cousins were over.  Both of the older two love John and love to spend time with him.  But both times that he did, she couldn't deal with the fact that he was doing something with them and barged into the scene.  When she wasn't doing that, she was being unhappy and needy and doing things to get his attention.  As soon as they were gone, she was back to being her happy self again. 

Christmas brought Z everything a baby could wish for: wooden puzzles, Duplo blocks, alphabet magnets and computer games, new clothes (she is very into sweaters and will often comment when I am wearing one), books, a small Ikea train set and a Magnadoodle sort of thing.  Of course, her favorite toy is still the almost week old helium baloon that her father bought her and that she almost doesn't let go of when she is awake.  Sometimes the simplest things are the best, and there must be something magical abouta  toy that rises up instead of falling down. 

From my house to yours, we hope you had a lovely Christmas day full of whatever gives you the most joy.  And Z wants everyone to know that every girl should have a pair of red shoes that make her happy!

Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies Redux

It is a rare occasion indeed when I get to baking twice in two weeks. Honestly, though, I just couldn't handle that my holiday cookies hadn't turned out exactly the way I had envisioned them.  Not enough lemony flavor and not sandwich cookie enough.  When I have a problem to solve and I think I know the solution, my brain just doesn't let me leave it alone.  I just have to know whether my solution works.  In this case, it leaves my husband with the happy accident of getting more Christmas cookies.

Yes.  I did take these cookies up onto my sunny upstairs deck for their photo shoot.  Is anyone surprised?

I was much happier with this batch.  What did I change?  Well, my Mom got me a microplane for Christmas after reading my first cookie post (thanks, Mom!), so zesting those lemons got a lot easier (lemons will have to live in fear of me and my new cooking tool, now!).  Second, I got a 5 lb bag of lemons from Costco so that there would be no lemony limiting reagent.  Third, I put in twice as much zest into the cookie dough (2 tbsp!) and, finally, I let the dough incubate overnight in the refrigerator.  When tasted the next day, all agreed it was much lemonier -- and in a good way.

While out doing a little craft store shopping with my Mom and Z, I picked up the blue, orange and purple sprinkles.  I guess they are a bit more Easter-y than Christmas-y, but I like to think of them like shiny glass holiday ornaments.  In order to get them to be a bit more like sandwiches than the previous batch, I used less dough per cookie and also flattened them down a bit before baking. 

I also added just a skosh more lemon juice to the buttercream frosting for the centers, and that also helped pick up the flavor a notch.

The verdict?  Yummy and much more lemony goodness.  I made a side by side batch with dried orange zest and discovered that it didn't work anywhere near as well as the lemon zest.  Although the orange-y ones turned out to be John's favorite because they were more "buttery" -- which translates to "had less citrus flavor" because both batches were made with an equal amount of butter. 

That said, when I suggested he take some into work, his first comment: No way! Do you--

My response: For you, not for your office mates.

Oh, okay.  
Grin. For me.  I don't mind taking them for me.  But I'm not sharing*.

So, lemony or buttery, apparently whatever they are, they are too good to share.

*Just to be clear, John is hardly the selfish type, but if he could hoarde any one particular food, it just might be homemade cookies.  And it's really hard for the maker of said cookies to get all that upset with him for loving what she makes.

The Zebra Striper Sweater Continues


I have been on the under motivated side of the equation while on my holiday break.  I try to sit down and work on something and I find myself drifting from one thing to another, not really accomplishing very much.  This is usually an indication that my focus is too broad and that I need to limit my peripheral vision a bit.  It used to be that 5 or 6 projects banging around didn't cause too many problems, but since Z entered my world, the breadth I can keep that focus at has narrowed.   I want to make so much out of her nap times that sometimes I just can't decide how to use them best.  The other thing that gets me into this state is the simple lack of inspiration by my projects.  And, to some extent, I have to admit that that is going on here, too.  All the interesting parts of Rogue, for instance, are done.  The sewing in of sleeves and the applying of i-cord edging is just hard to get motivated for me to do, for some reason. 

20081230_ZebraStriperSweate.jpgHowever, when this kind of boredom strikes at the same time as the breadth of focus problem, starting another project, no matter how interesting or inspiring is usually the worst thing for me to do.  Instead, what usually works better is to pick one of the collection of projects and make enough project to feel some satisfaction in the process.  Since I am feeling very bad about the fact that my baby keeps looking at what I am wearing and saying "Sweater! Pretty!"  (and then she tries to pet me... it's very sweet) while she no longer has any hand knit sweaters that fit, I've decided to try to get some more accomplished on her Zebra Striper sweater.

I have to say, I think I like this two color knitting stuff.  The process is slower (making the product knitter in me squeak a bit) but the results are so much fun to look at.  There's 12" of knitting before this sweater gets to the base of the armholes, so I still have a bit to go, (about 5 more inches, in fact), but it's beginning to feel like a little sweater, so I'm also beginning to feel the energy in the project build.

20081230_ZebraStriperDetail.jpgThis second snap is just a cross section of the two-color work.  Initially I wasn't completely sure about the whole red/pink stripe thing, but the more I look at it now, the more I like it.

On another note... it's hard to believe that this is my last post of 2008.  John and I have a quiet evening planned.  After we put Z to bed we're planning to pull out some champagne, boil some lobster (or other unlucky crustacean) and have a lovely little dinner to ring in the 2009.  I hope wherever you are, you have a lovely evening.   Happy New Year, everyone!