Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How YOU doin'?

Are you having a good February?  Things have been going very well for me ever since the beginning of the year, right up to last Friday night.  I was so exhausted that I went to bed at 6:30 in the evening.  I shouldn't have been surprised when I woke up on Saturday morning with the plague.  I went in Monday for a strep culture and it was negative, so I've just been laying low, waiting for this virus to run its course.  

I'm working on a knitting project (of course!), but since I haven't gotten to the fun part of it yet, I thought I'd just post a little bit about what I've been up to over the past couple weeks.  That will be way more fun!

We got some damaged ceilings fixed, so that was exciting for us!  (And my pattern sales continue to help fund our home improvements, so I say "thank you!" if you contributed to this ceiling repair!)  Our house has plaster board walls - kind of a weird drywall/plaster hybrid.  It's plaster (trying to repair it with dry wall mud looks super bad), but it doesn't have the wood slats behind it, just a solid board (that's the drywall-esque part of this situation.)  From what I've learned from the guys at the local Ace Hardware, many post WW II homes in this area used plaster board, but then after the 50s, it wasn't really used anymore.  So, we're just lucky I guess.  Last year we had some roof troubles and by the time we replaced the roof, we had ceiling damage in 5 different rooms.  You can imagine how happy I am to finally have all these spots plastered over.  Now if I could just get the painting fairy to visit me....

  I bought a whole cart full of cheap soda.  I needed pop bottles to serve as the innards for a knitted ottoman that I constructed.  I had been playing around with different construction ideas and the best I came up with was a circle of wood, a plastic milk crate and towels/stuffing to fill out the sides.  It was fine - not fantastic, but ok.  I posted a picture of it on my Facebook business page and soon received a Pinterest message from Kelly, a fellow knitter who has shared wonderful ideas with me a number of times.    This is the link she sent.  Brilliant, right?  It was the lightweight construction I was looking for (although I decided to keep the disk of wood instead of using cardboard like in the link), but with all those bottles supporting the weight, I knew it would still be sturdy.  And the thing that made it superior to my wood & milk crate idea was that the inside structure was already curved and wouldn't have any droopy stuffing or towels crammed in there to fill out the sides.  (That was what made my first attempt just "fine", it was difficult to fill out the sides without them being lumpy.)  

When I visited the grocery store, my plan was to buy the cheapest bottled beverage I could find.  We don't buy 2-liters at our house unless we're having a party, so I knew whatever I bought was just going down the drain.  Big K soda (the generic Kroger brand) was on sale 4/$3, so it cost me $15 to buy the 20 bottles I needed.  It was SuperBowl weekend when I bought the pop, so I didn't want to be a jerk and buy the flavor I thought people might actually want to buy.  So I looked for the grossest flavor I could find and bought every bottle.  Pineapple Passion Fruit fit the bill.  And since they didn't have quite enough of that flavor on hand, I also dipped into the Peach soda.  I'm sure the store inventory had a moment of confusion when he realized both of those nasty flavors had flown off the shelf that day!

Speaking of this knit ottoman, get ready to use your crochet hook.   It's the method I decided on to seam this puppy, and let me tell you - it is far faster & easier than any knitted join I could have done.  The ottoman is about 75" in circumference and it took me about an hour to work a slip stitch chain around the top edge, and another hour for the seam around the bottom edge.  Super easy, and it leaves a nice looking seam!

What else.....?  I got new glasses.  I've had my old frames for about 8 years now.  I've been trying to replace them for the past couple years, but the trend was either rectangular frames or enormous Zooey Deschenel frames, which just remind me of being an awkward 12-year-old.  So apparently 8 years is the length of time it takes for glasses frame shapes to come back in style, because when I looked at the new collection of frames after the first of the year, there were a lot of oval-y choices.     So now I have these new brown frames.  And, because I apparently have a weird emotional attachment to my black oval frames, I got the lenses replaced in those, too.  

On the knitting front, I've been playing with color.  My LYS has started carrying yarns from Wonderland Yarns.  They do these lovely color packs, and I found one I absolutely loved.  The colors in this photo are a little real life they're much more jewel-toned.

Anyhoo....this colorwork will be incorporated into the project I'm working on now, so stay tuned for new developments!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Gleener Giveaway!

My February pattern, a cowl called "Crush on You" has just been released, which means it's time to give away The Gleener!

Check out the video below for a demonstration on how to use this fantastic tool, a little Q & A about it, and the drawing for the winner!

Thanks so much to all who entered and to everyone who reads my blog and supports my pattern business.  And congratulations to the winner....I don't want to spoil the surprise by putting the winner's name here, I'll let her be surprised when she hears her name on the video!  :)

Crush On You

Just before Christmas, I was looking through my closet thinking, "I don't really have anything "Christmas-y" to wear to church on Christmas Eve.  But I do not want to go shopping."

What's a knitter to do?  Pick up some red yarn and come up with an accessory that can instantly turn any outfit into a Christmas outfit!

Now that it's two months later and the pattern is test knit and ready to publish, I realize that this cowl is just as appropriate for February, the month of Valentine's Day and celebrating love.  In honor of that, we're calling this cowl "Crush On You"!

The pattern is written for the smaller size (Top picture.)  The larger size (middle picture) was my first draft, and while it was perfectly lovely - and the cowl that I sported to all my Christmas gatherings - it just wasn't the size I had intended for this project.  If you prefer it though, the only think that needs to change is the cast-on number (and you'll need about 150 more yards of yarn).  Find details on my project page here. 

This cowl pattern looks lovely when paired with a solid, semi-solid, or tonal yarn.  The stitch pattern is small enough to be memorized, but has enough going on to keep things interesting.  The border stitches are made more plush by using "knit one in the row below" stitches.  A demonstration video is linked in the pattern for anyone who is not familiar with this easy-to-learn technique.

The groundhog just saw his shadow, which means there's at least 6 more weeks of start this quick-knit now and enjoy a new pop of color in your winter wardrobe!  Click this link if you'd like to purchase this pattern through the Ravelry website.

Thanks to all who entered my "Gleener Giveaway"!  If you would like to hear the answers to the questions asked in the comments thread, see a little live demonstration, or find out who the Gleener winner is, stay tuned to the blog!  This morning I am busy running my kids to school and going to the gym, but I hope to get a short video made after I get back and it should be uploaded to the blog by later this afternoon!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Gleener Giveaway!

I know I've posted about this contraption before, and I swear I have no association with the company that makes this thing!

But if someone asked me to list my Top Five Tools for Knitters, this would FOR SURE be included.

Because really, if you're going to spend a wad of cash on yarn, then invest a whole bunch of your time making something, don't you want to be able to keep that thing looking nice as long as possible?

Last winter I took before and after pictures while I was de-fuzzing one of my sweaters.  NIGHT AND DAY, people!
<--- Yuck - nobody wants to wear a sweater covered with pills like this one!

                                                                           Good as new! --->

The Gleener kind of feels like a big razor.  You hold the middle of the handle and just drag it across the surface of your fabric, holding the fabric taut so the pills slough off easily.  The Gleener comes with 3 different detachable heads and the instructions (and some experimentation) will tell you which head works best for each type of fabric.  It's VERY easy to use, and it gives results that are far, far better than any of the other "sweater shaver"-type products I've tried in the past.

Now that I'm a few months into sweater season, I've had to get my Gleener out to shave a few of my more-often-worn sweaters.  And it occurred to me - maybe one of my blog readers needs of of these things!  So I stopped by Bed, Bath & Beyond and picked one up this morning.  Leave a comment below to enter your name in the drawing!  Make sure to put your e-mail address in the comment form so I can contact you if you're a winner.  Your e-mail address won't display, but it will allow me to click on your name and send you a congratulatory note if your name gets drawn!

I'll be promoting this giveaway on my Facebook business page, too, so you can enter your name more than once if you click over to that page, "Like" my business page, and "Share" the Gleener Giveaway post! (posted Jan 21 if you have to scroll through a few things to find it.)

I want to leave this post up for a couple weeks to give people a chance to enter, so I'll do the drawing on the day I release my February knitting pattern, which will likely be on Feb 3rd or 4th.

Good Luck & Happy Gleening!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Homemade Christmas

Every year, my mom, sister & I do a homemade gift exchange.  Everyone else in the family is welcome to participate, too, but so far they've decided they don't know how to make anything.  Ahem.  Anyway, whoever I'm gifting always knows they'll be getting a knitted gift from me....there's no surprise there.  This year I was a little up-in-the-air about what I would make for my sister.  Nothing was really jumping out at me, and since we live 4 hours apart, I don't see how she dresses day-to-day, so I didn't really have any great ideas about what to make.  I decided that rather than surprise her with something I've spend a lot of time on, and a lot of money on the yarn to make, only to have her not really love it, I'd ask her for some suggestion of what she might like.  I sent her a link to the Pinterest boards that were made up for the Indie Gift-a-long, since I wanted to participate in a couple of the KALs for that, and asked if she saw anything she liked.  

She sent me back links to 3 or 4 patterns and the just-vauge-enough suggestion "I like jewel tones".  I had plenty to run with, and she still didn't know exactly what she would be getting.  

I was off to The Fiber Universe, my LYS, in a flash.  I love the Three Irish Girls Adorn Sock Yarn that they carry, and they had two jewel tones in stock: purple and emerald green.  I'm kind of a sucker for purple, and I thought I had seem my sister wear other things that were this color, so that's the one I picked.  The cowl I settled on took almost 2 skeins of the sock yarn.  It's a nice floppy, cozy cowl!

Here's my sister opening it....she thinks she likes it, but hasn't quite figured out how it works.  This cowl is shaped differently from your typical "far wider than it is tall" cowl shape.  This one has about a 32" circumference, so when it's folded flat, it's about 16" across and something like 24" tall.  That makes for a nice squishy cowl that piles up on itself all around your neck.  To add to the squishiness, I used the sock yarn held double rather than using the dk-weight yarn called for in the pattern.  My gauge didn't match, but it's easy enough to modify the cast-on number so I'd still get a 32" circumference.  

Here, she's figured it out and is modeling it for me.  Since this pic is a little on the dark side, I posted the pic I took of the cowl on myself the minute I finished it.  It's not blocked yet since we were in the car on the way to Thanksgiving dinner, but you can see the stitch pattern a lot more clearly.  

Anyway, I liked the cowl shape and my fingering-weight-held-double-mod so much that I based a new cowl pattern on those two things.  The pattern is currently in testing and will publish in early February!

Here's my sister and mom with their two handmade gifts.  Natalie with her cowl, and our mom holding some of the homemade goodies that my sister made for her.  That's some sort of flavored coffee creamer in one hand and some herbed butter sticks in the other hand.  I remember there were also cheesecake bars in the cooler on her lap.  It was a very dairy-heavy gift!  Absent from the photo are the button hangers my mom made for me, and which my husband immediately claimed because they are his "favorite hangers to use for his work shirts".  Hmmm....who knew he had a "favorite hanger"?
Believe it or not, the cowl was the only gift I knit as a Christmas gift.  There was one more Christmas-themed thing that I knit, and I'll post about that soon.  But I'm happy we always do the homemade gift exchange...those gifts are by far the most fun to give and receive!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Pattern Release: Two Wrongs Make a Right

Last month, I was looking through Ravelry for a specific type of pattern.  This is why I'm a designer...I'm always looking for something very specific.

This time my criteria was some sort of glove/mitten to give to someone who lives in a warm climate but often visits cold climates.  I didn't want it to be something that would only be worn on winter trips, I wanted it to be something my friend could wear when at home, too.

But what exactly is that?  A medium-weight mitten?  I wasn't happy with that.  I wanted something that was convertible, or was made in layers so it could be something that would actually be really useful in a very cold climate, and also on the cool evenings of a warm climate.

For this particular gift-recipient, the standard "convertible mitten" with a flap over the fingers wasn't going to cut it.  That was just not how this person rolls.  I'm sure you're not shocked that I couldn't find anything else that fit my conditions.                                                                                                                                                                                 So I started imagining it instead.  I decided to go with a simple stockinette mitten paired with decorative fingerless gloves that can go over the mittens or be worn on their own.  I chose a stitch pattern that doesn't contain any holes and doesn't scream "male" or "female".                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               In the end, I was quite happy.  I like the versatility of this design, not only because of the layering, but because the fingerless mitts can be made either as a colorwork project (pictured), or as a texture pattern, using just one color of yarn.  For my sample pair, the colorful yarn is Knit Picks Felici Sport, which, as far as I can tell, has sadly been discontinued.  Good substitutes would be Sport Weight Self-Striping by Quaere Fiber or Momentum Self Striping from String Theory Colorworks.  Another great way to go would be to order two colors of 2ply Sock Yarn from Beaverslide Dry Goods.  The beige color in these fingerless mitts are that yarn in the "natural buff" colorway.  I also have some of the "Hidden Lake" colorway in my stash and I can vouch for the gorgeousness of the color.  It's a "rustic"yarn rather than a buttery-soft one like Malabrigo sock, for example, but it comes in big skeins, it's durable, and the price is right ($15 for about 458 yards!)  I have very sensitive skin and have to wear a layer between my skin and anything I've knit maybe 75% of the time, but I can wear just about anything on my hands without itching or getting hives.  You might be the same - even if your neck/shoulder area gets itchy from some fibers, you may be able to wear just about anything on your hands.  And I don't mean to make it sound like the 2ply sock is the itchiest wool ever's not.  I just wanted to describe it a little since it's not something you would have a chance to see at most local yarn shops. 

This pattern is written for three sizes: 6.5" (7.75", 9").  Those sizes roughly correspond to Child (Women, Men), but, measuring around the circumference of the palm of your hand, you should pick the circumference that is closest to your own.  Instructions on how to add or subtract circumference stitches are included in the pattern, and modifying the length of the mittens or fingerless gloves is just a matter of knitting more or less rounds than instructed in the pattern.  It's a very easy pattern to modify for a custom fit.

More details as well as a link to purchase the pattern can be found on the pattern page, here!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Treats

If you're like me, you've been snacking on sugary treats lately and you're just about junk-food-ed-out.  I had big plans to do a special bonus cookie post before the holiday, but life got in the way.  So as I sat down to write today, I thought, "Maybe I should just write this post then save it to post next December."  But alas, I do not have that sort of discipline.  It's now or never!

So while I totally recognize the possibility that you are starting to throw all the leftover treats in your kitchen into the trash, I'll just put this cookie post out into the universe and maybe you'll come back to it next time you want to do some baking....especially if you (or a loved one) has dietary conditions like a few in my family do!  Because you see...this isn't just any old cookie post.  This is a cookie post for people who have to eat lactose-free (and gluten-free) diets!
This first cookie is the reason I'm going to gain 20 lbs in 2015.  I've been doing my best to avoid lactose for about 20 years now, and for the most part I've been able to find good substitutes for most foods (Lactaid instead of regular milk, parmesan & monterrey jack instead of mozzarella, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, etc). But there just isn't a great substitute for butter.  Don't get me wrong, we use Smart Balance light when we need a butter "spread" or something to cook with that will give a "butter-like" flavor, and we have used Earth Balance sticks when baking, but they are pretty not-butter-tasting substitutes.  In fact, the only lactose I really allow myself is when I use a teaspoon of butter on my waffles once a week or so at breakfast.  Anyway, the point is that I haven't been able to find a substitute that will really mimic butter, especially in baking.  So there are lots of dessert recipes that I simply don't make anymore because they turn out a shadow of their former selves.  (And I'm a "if it doesn't taste really good, then I'm not wasting the calories on it" sort of dessert eater.)  

But then I found this: 

Coconut oil does not taste like butter, but man does it make a fantastic cookie.   I'll have to pace myself, but I am definitely looking forward to trying other recipes with coconut oil subbed in for the butter or oil.  This particular recipe is a delightful take on the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.   It does have gluten in it because of the flour (though you could probably substitute a flour not made from wheat), but these are entirely dairy-free as long as you pick dairy-free chocolate chips (I like Ghardelli semi-sweet, but Costco usually has a giant bag of chips that also do not contain milk.  And a side note: cocoa butter, which is almost always an ingredient of chocolate chips, has nothing to do with actual butter or anything dairy-related.)


2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil (use a little more if dough seems is too dry)
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks + more if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer add the oatmeal, flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, canola oil, eggs and vanilla, beat until the dough is moist and all the ingredients are combined. The dough will be crumbly. Mix in the chocolate chips.
Shape dough into balls and place on prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until just set.  

I originally found the recipe here.

Moving on, here are my Puppy Chow Cookies in progress.  This one was both dairy- and gluten- free because I used a peanut butter cookie recipe that had just 5 simple ingredients:
2 Cups Peanut Butter
2 Cups Sugar
2 beaten eggs
2 tsp Vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Mix it up, place balls of batter on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for about 10 minutes at 350.

After the cookies are cool, melt 1 1/2 Cups semisweet chips and mix in 1/3 Cup of peanut butter.  Dip each cookie in the chocolate-peanut-butter mix, then roll in a bowl of powdered sugar.  Voilá!  You've got your puppy chow snack in cookie form!

Inspiration for this recipe was found here.  
Last, we have my daughter's favorite treat of the holiday season: Oreo Cookie Truffles!

I set her to work the day before we want to make these - I buy two family-size packages of Oreos and it's her job to open each cookie, scrape off the middle goo, then put the two chocolate wafers in a plastic bag.  We dump the goo and don't use it for this recipe, although I think some people do include the goo in theirs.

The recipe itself is super simple:
We whack the Christmas right out of that bag of Oreos - sometimes pounding it with a meat hammer and sometimes going at it with a rolling pin.  If you are high class, you could even use a food processor.  Whatever method you choose, just make sure you've got those cookies broken down into CRUMBS.

Put the crumbs in a big bowl and add cream cheese.  I use Tofutti "Better-Than-Cream-Cheese" to make them dairy-free.  This year I used about 10 ounces to mix in with my two packages of cookies, and I really liked that ratio.  If you're really into cream cheese, you might like more added, but when using the tofutti, I found that a 5oz cream cheese to 1 pack of Oreos ratio means that the Oreo taste completely overpowers the cream cheese taste (there is a little bit of a weird after taste with the dairy-free cream cheese if you use more.)

I take off my rings and get in there to squish the batter together with my fingers.  Pup the batter into the fridge for an hour or two to firm it up.  Next we roll it into small balls and put those on a cookie tray lined with waxed paper and put them back in the fridge.  (I cover them with plastic wrap and leave them there overnight to really firm up.)

The next step is to melt almond bark in a double boiler.  I don't own such fancy kitchen implements, so I get out a big sauce pan, fill it halfway with water, then set a smaller sauce pan inside, where I melt the almond bark.

Once it's melted smooth, I like to use a fondue fork to poke into each Oreo ball, then I dip it in the almond bark.  I set it back on waxed paper to cool, then once the coating hardens, I dip the top of the ball back in the almond bark to cover the hole left from the fondue fork.

Check out a printable version (that suggests you use too much cream cheese!) of this recipe here.