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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rory and Jojo

Continuing with my theme of "The Year Of Accessories!", I give you a new hat pattern, Rory and Jojo.

This idea sprung up and was entirely knit while I was binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix.  [How did I not see that series when it ran the first time?  I blame having small children in the house. :)]  The bright blue eyes of both lead actresses inspired to name the hat after one of their characters.  "Jojo" is the type of yarn I used for this hat - Jojoland Splatter Dash.  It's a soft, silky 100% merino with a lovely sheen that will keep you warm without any itch factor.  And it drapes like buttah.

 I originally envisioned this as a slouchy-style hat, but while putting in the final edits from the test-knit, I decided to write in a length modification so people can make it a beanie-style (fitted, not slouchy) if they prefer it that way.  I'll be knitting a sample hat for that style myself as soon as I have a couple other projects off my needles.

 The brim on this hat is made from 2/2 cables, so if you're a "cable without the needle" kind of person, this is an easy project to work that way.  And, there's only 4 rows that actually use the cables, so it'll keep your interest without totally souring you on cabling.  The dense fabric of the brim is nice for keeping ears warm when the wind is blowing!

All the beanie styles can be made from one skein of Splatter Dash and so can the smaller two slouchy styles.  Actually, I made my Adult Small hat from one skein (97grams!) but I include a little extra yardage in my pattern estimates so people don't run out of yarn and hate me.  But if you like to live on the wild size (or don't mind shortening the length by a couple rounds if you come up short on yarn), go ahead and just get one skein for the smaller adult slouchy style.  Chances are good that you'll be fine and you'll save yourself $15.  Speaking of saving money, I see that the Yarnia website has this yarn on sale for $10 (and free shipping on $50 orders)!  This is nice yarn and that's a great price.  It's tempting me to get more for future projects!

Many thanks to the fun testers who worked on this project - queenbayman, JudyeNaz, gloriajj & schmitt642.  I always appreciate the work my testers put in on a project, but on one like this, where I decide to do something like change the crown decreases at the 11th hour, they deserve even more thanks!  (Speaking of, a couple of the test hats have a pointy look to the crown decreases that wasn't what I intended - the new decrease pattern will take care of this and round out the crowns of hats made from the final version of the pattern.)

So dive into your stash and see if you come up with a skein of DK (or two).  You may have Christmas knitting already on your needles, but this hat might make a lovely gift for someone on your list, too....

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Harry Potter for the Holidays!

As far as I can tell, everyone under the age of 15 loves Harry Potter.  And a good number of people older than that love him as well.

The most enthusiastic Harry Potter age group seems to be the under 12 crowd.  From the minute they become familiar with the books (or have older siblings who tell them about the books), kids seem to be attracted to the idea of being a wizard and the magical life that goes with that.

My own kids, at 11 and 14 still love the stories and the movies that were made from them, but they have grown out of their "pretending to be Harry & his friends" playtime games.  My niece and nephew, at 6 & 9, are still in their prime imaginary-play years.

"The" Sweater
Last year, upon hearing that my niece was obsessed with all things Harry, I took a look at Harry Potter-themed knitting patterns.  I had already made "The Sweater" for my son, and I think when I ran that idea across my sister, she talked me out of it.  I came across a pattern for double-knit bookmarks that I thought were adorable, but I know from experience how excited kids get about opening a bookmark for Christmas.  Even if it is Harry-Potter-themed, that sucker is probably going to end up behind a dresser or at the bottom of a toy box before we're very far into the new year.

But a scarf and hat set based on that bookmark there's something any kid could get behind!  They could wear this ensemble at recess as they cast spells on their friends!  They can publicly proclaim their Hogwarts house affiliation!  And having unique winter outerwear can also be a plus when it comes to reclaiming things from the lost & found at school.  (Ask me how I know this!)

So last Christmas I found maroon & gold yarn and double-knit a scarf.  I used the Gryffindor lion design from the bookmark pattern and monogram letters from this "Harry Potter Font" chart that I also found on Ravelry.  I added fringe to the ends of the scarf.  The hat was double-knit as well and I added two pompoms to the top just for fun!

If you click into my project page, the second photo shows my niece's adorable reaction of excitement that I caught just as she put on her new winter set.

This year, my nephew has gotten in on the Harry Potter action.  My sister told me that there had been some scuffles concerning the Gryffindor set because both kids wanted to wear it while casting spells.  So we thought a second set for the nephew was in order.  And this dude is not a Gryffindor....he's Hufflepuff to the core.

I wish I had caught a picture of my niece's face when her brother opened his birthday gift.  Apparently a new little friend of hers has pledged allegiance to Hufflepuff, which has made my niece feel like she should be Hufflepuff as well.  There was a serious sad face going on when she saw her brother's set.  If she was a typical first-born, she'd be scheming right now, trying to come up with a plan wherein she convinces her brother to trade sets with her while simultaneously making him feel like it was his idea in the first place.  But maybe she's not as cunning a first born as I was...

At any rate, the two sets were a hit and a new Hufflepuff set has been put on the table as a Christmas gift suggestion for my niece.  As far as cost goes to make these sets - the gold & maroon yarns were easy to find in a soft acrylic that is sold at Michael's (I believe it was Caron, but I'm not 100% sure that's right.)  I think I used 2 skeins of each color and the whole set probably came in under $30.  The Hufflepuff set was trickier to find yarn for because the canary yellow wasn't available in the softer acrylic brands at my local craft store.  I think I could have gotten it in Red Heart, but I can't imagine wrapping a double-knit Red Heart scarf around my own face, so I didn't want to go that way.  Instead, I went with a 60/40 acrylic/wool blend from my LYS - Pacific Chunky.   I would have preferred a worsted or aran-weight, but my options for washable yarn in canary yellow at this LYS were pretty limited.  And at about $8 per 120 yards, this yarn made the Hufflepuff set more of a $60 project.  Still totally worth it for all the use my nephew will get out of the set, and as you can see, it will easily fit him for as long as he is a Hufflepuff!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Designer: Kate Martin

One of the reasons the Gift-A-Long is such a fun thing for indie designers to participate in is that we get the chance to discover other designers who are involved in doing the same kind of work. As a knitter, I am participating in two of the KALs, and I've added a number of patterns to my Ravelry favorites list because I've seen some lovely patterns in the KAL threads!

One of the things the participating designers are doing for each other is introducing other participating designers on their knitting blogs. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Martin, a new designer who just began publishing knitting patterns this year. If you are into shawls or lacy patterns, she might be right up your alley!

Please share 3 fun facts about yourself, Kate:

I’m a huge fan of Jerry Lewis. I hate all boybands with a passion! My favourite film is Strictly Ballroom.

Can you describe your aesthetic?

My aesthetic is for clean, simple designs that although simple still have impact, as well as an element of challenge for less experienced knitters.

Do you set design goals for yourself? What is one of your current goals?

My designs tend to start with a stitch pattern that I like the look of, and things just tend to evolve from there. I do tend to buy yarn specifically for future designs, usually with a type of design in mind rather than ‘ooh, this yarn would be nice for something’. I’ve actually got ‘design yarn’ for at least four bigger projects - cardigans or something similar - so I could say one of my current goals is to design a pretty cardigan - but for now I’m quite content to get some more accessory patterns under my belt first before I take that next step.

What do you enjoy most about designing?

Making something unique, definitely, and developing my own unique style.

What part of designing do you not enjoy?

The long process from getting that initial idea to actually starting to knit. I can be quite indecisive, and I can spend weeks agonising over stitch patterns, yarn, colour etc before I actually feel ready to start knitting anything. And I’m a procrastinator too, which doesn’t help - I really annoy myself sometimes!

What has surprised you about being a knitting pattern writer?

I think the most surprising thing was how difficult it is to actually write a good pattern. I’ve always found writing easy, and I’m good at it - so it was quite a shock to discover that pattern writing is an art! Thankfully I have a great tech editor who keeps my writing on the straight and narrow.

What other handicrafts do you enjoy doing?

When I have time (which isn’t often) I like making cards and scrapbooking - I used to have a papercrafting supplies shop and website and at one point I used to scrapbook daily. I really want to get into sewing too - it’s just a case of finding the time to get my sewing machine out and have a play.

Who are some designers you look up to?

Krydda from Yarn-Madness 
 My absolute favourite designer is Madeleine Nilsson (Yarn Madness) - I think she is incredibly talented. During the GAL I’ve discovered some fantastic designers that I wasn’t familiar with before - Lee Meredith and Tori Gurbisz to name but two.


Leksak Lady from Yarn-Madness

What was your favorite knit of 2014?

That’s an easy one - Leksak Lady, by Madeleine Nilsson - it’s very versatile and so pretty. If I had to pick one of my own designs, it would have to be Nell.

Nell from Kate Martin
What is your most popular pattern and do you have any guesses as to why that one found the largest audience among knitters?

My portfolio is still quite small, but my most popular pattern to date has been Nell - and I’d like to think that’s because it’s a classic shawl that won’t go out of style.

Do you work in a field in addition to pattern writing, or are you focused exclusively on this work?

Yes, I have fingers in lots of pies! My main job is as a manager in the NHS - amongst other things I’m responsible for ensuring that all human tissue transplants we carry out in our department meet the legislative requirements of the Human Tissue Authority - it’s really interesting work. I also have a ‘hobby’ job doing all the admin for a medical association and helping to organise their annual conference; and I’m also a partner in the family business - making rubber stamps. Life is certainly busy, but never dull!

Kate is one of the 293 indie designers who have come together to make this year's Gift-A-Long a big success!  You can see all of her designs on Ravelry here, and if you'd like to browse through all the designers who are participating this year, you can find them here.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I live in Central IL, USA.  I've been hearing rumors for the past few months that this winter is supposed to be as bad, if not worse than the one we had last year.  And that's saying quite a bit.  We had a lot of snow (compared to what we have in an "normal" year), and we had temperatures that were so cold that our schools shut down multiple times for "snow days" even though snow wasn't really the problem.  The problem was that they were afraid kids would be outside waiting for busses for too long ("too long" in this conditions being longer than 5-10 minutes) and not wearing enough proper cold weather gear.  So you can imagine how much I have not really been looking forward to seeing whether this prediction becomes true!

Then two weeks ago, there was apparently a typhoon that hit Alaska, and basically blew freezing cold Alaska air all over most of Canada & the US.  Our temperatures, which normally have highs in the 50s through most of November, were more like highs in the teens - low 30s.  One day this past week, we had a morning where it was below freezing somewhere in each of the 50 states, and yes that includes Hawaii.  So while my attention might not normally be turned to gloves in November, this year I'm feeling very determined to make sure we are all properly outfitted for the winter-pocalypse that is surely on its way!

I thought these Karen Double Layer Mittens looked like a fun project.  And the "double-layer" thing was a big draw for me - the person who can put on regular gloves/mittens and still have freezing cold fingers.  These do a very nice job of warming my hands up and keeping them toasty warm, even when it's zero degrees outside.  

I chose Llambrosia yarn for the outside, which I loved because of the halo and the warmth.  It is the tiniest bit heavier than the yarn I chose for the inner lining, but that worked out great since I wanted the lining to sit inside of the outer mitten without bunching up at all.  

The inside fit my hand like a glove, if I do say so myself!  The lining was made from Bugga yarn leftover from my Rock the Lobster sweater.  It has 20% cashmere, so it's lovely to have next to the skin.  And if everything I wore was dyed this rich blue color, I'd be totally fine with that.  

The pattern has you starting at the fingertip of the inner glove, using Judy's Magic Cast-on.  Then you knit the inner glove, weave in all the ends for that, then join the outer glove and work from the wrist up to the fingertips on that one.  I finished the thumb before I grafted the top of the glove so I could weave in the end of the thumb without too much hassle.  Weaving in that last end from the grafting is tricky, but because there is a lace pattern on the front of the glove, I used the little holes to work my tail in and out of a few stitches.  Without that lace, this would be a very difficult pattern to finish off, with the construction done the way it is.  

I wasn't sure about the picot edging around the wrist while I was knitting it - it seemed to want to stick out and be too puffy.  But after blocking, it is flat and looks great.  It isn't the sort of mitten wrist that "grabs" you, so these aren't play-in-the-snow sort of mittens.  But for "I need some mittens to wear while I'm driving and my car is still warming up", or "I need some mittens to wear when I'm out running errands", these are perfect.  And like I said before, the double layer really helps these be a cut above when it comes to warmth!

If you're curious about the specifics, my project page is here.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Snowflake Girl

I was waiting and waiting these past couple weeks to get outside and take pictures of my next knitting pattern release.  Central Illinois in November pretty typically has right temperatures in the 50s, so I was reasonably confident that I could take pictures without freezing solid.  But I forgot to factor in the predictions that this winter was going to be another beast of a season, supposedly colder and snowier than the one we had last year, if that's even possible.  Judging by the fact that right now it's 12 degrees with a wind chill of -1, I guess the predictions are starting to come true.

So that just makes me happier than I made this lovely double-thick scarf to keep me cozy this winter.  I'll be outside shoveling my car out of the garage in knitterly style!

Make the long (48") version and it's perfect to wear long as an indoor accessory or twisted over on itself to keep your neck warm outside.  The shorter version (24") will keep your neck cozy without feeling like you're wearing a tight neck brace. Check out testers' project pages here to see the shorter version, as well as some beautiful variations on the color, and one lovely cowl that uses a yarn with long color-changes.  
The long version can also double as a head/neck wrap that might come in handy once Mother Nature really hits her stride this winter.  Loop this cowl over your head and neck, then pull your hood over the back and you'll be ready for whatever the weather can come up with!  
This pattern is written with the novice double-knitter in mind.  Some basic "Double Knitting Rules" are given, as well as a link to a video demonstrating how to work double-knit fabric.  If you're a knitter who can knit, purl, work in the round, and do a long-tail cast-on, you can be successful with this pattern.  If you're a more advanced knitter who likes a challenge, suggestions for a more complex (and elegant-looking) cast-on and bind-off is given.  These options will allow the cast-on and bind-off edge to not let the background color from the opposite side show - each side will only have it's own background color on the edges.  

Many, many thanks to testers who worked on this project!  LTimms, herzleid, queenbayman, woollykim, KirstenLund - I love that your chose such a wide variety of color combos, and I'm especially impressed by the couple of you that jumped right in with this as your first double-knitting project. Thanks so much for the time & work you put into testing this pattern!

Snowflake Girl is available now on Ravelry.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Anniversary

A year ago today, a very powerful tornado hit the town we live in.    The landscape was bleak - we lost something like 40% of our town's "property value" in a matter of minutes.  (Not 40% of the houses, just 40% of the "value".  Most of the neighborhoods that were hit had lots of bigger, more expensive homes than the "average" home in our town.)

The afternoon & evening of the tornado was chaotic.  Knowing that we wouldn't have power for a significant number of days, and knowing that we'd only be able to cook with the outdoor grill, the kids and I drove about 45 minutes to the next big town in search of a generator & food that could be grilled or eaten without cooking.  My husband stayed in town to try to find people who he could help, and because we didn't know if the kids and I would be able to get back into town after we left...someone had to stay here so our cats didn't starve.  

The next week was kind of a blur.  Once we realized the kids wouldn't be back in school for a while, I took our kids to my parents' house a couple hours away.  My husband stayed behind in "camping conditions" (no heat, quickly falling temperatures, & unable to cook), even though his parents who live in our town had their power restored after only 2 days.  He went to his regular job, but took off early a couple days to go help with recovery efforts.  He was out helping to move debris to the curb for pick-up and helping property owners sort through the possessions that were scattered all over the ground.  He took these first two pictures while he was doing that.  

He also volunteered at a couple of the places that were collecting donations for victims.  The kids and I joined him the day we got back from visiting Grandma & Grandpa.   It was really good for all of us to be able to pitch in and actually DO something to help.  

Here's what I learned from working at the clothing donation site:  1) ONLY donate things that people can use right now.  If it's late fall, don't donate summer pajamas and tank tops.  Those sort of things just have to get boxed up and shipped to a different donation site like Goodwill.  2) Don't donate anything that smells like smoke or musty basement.  These things will just get thrown away.  Same thing goes for anything that is ratty, full of holes, pilled-up sweaters, pants with worn-through knees....  Those went into the garbage as well.  3) It helps A LOT of your donations are sorted in some way - a bag of girl's clothes and a bag of boys, or a bag of toddler girl's clothes, a bag of girl's sizes, a bag of junior's sizes, etc.  The boxes that were just a big heap of everything under the sun took a lot longer to get organized.

Since the kids and I were back mid-week and they were still out of school, we went over to the school a couple times to help out there.  The school was being used as a base of operations for feeding the crews that were working on clean-up outside.  People would either visit the cafeteria mid-day and get a hot lunch, or they'd eat in the field with food supplied from one of the vans driving around.  Our school was handing out sandwiches and a couple other things (chips & cookies, maybe?)  So the kids and I showed up to help make & wrap sandwiches.  I've got them working assembly-line style here.  I know other people were taking food to volunteers, too.  The local coffee shop was bringing hot coffee around, I heard about a van full of fried chicken and pizza deliveries, too.  

 While we were at my parents' house, I had a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to sit around and feel like I wish I could be doing more to help.  The kids and I came up with an idea for the families we knew that were relocated to temporary housing (mostly hotel rooms this early on).  Since the kids were stuck in hotel rooms and had just lost most of their possessions, we decided to make "advent calendars" that we'd deliver before December 1st.  They were filled with puzzles, games, craft supplies, coloring books, trinkets, treats, and each kid got either a hand-knit stocking cap (boys) or a headband (girls) made out of our high schools' school colors.  I think I made 13 of those in all!

We wrapped everything in very fancy paper bags and each family had one bag to open every day in December.  We were able to give these advent calendars to six families.  That probably only represents about 1/4 of the families that we personally know that lost their homes, but they were the ones with young children who were hardest hit, so they were the ones we most wanted to help.

We drove all over the place on delivery day - our friends were now very spread out.  But it was 100% worth it to be able to do something that put a smile on the kids' faces!

The other thing that kept me busy during this time was the pattern I started working on as soon as we arrived at my parents' house.  The Whirlwind socks were released about a month after the tornado thanks to awesome, quick testers that helped me work the kinks out of the pattern that I had quickly written. Much, much later (this past June, to be exact), I found out that I had inadvertently uploaded the test knit version of the pattern rather than the finalized version that incorporated all the suggestions from testers.  And yeah, there was a big correction, so I was mortified that for 7 months people had been buying the rough draft.  Thank goodness that a Ravelry member messaged me to ask about a problem with the pattern.  When I saw her message I thought, "No, we fixed that part during the test knit!  Wait a minute.....oh no!"  Anyhow, people responded wonderfully and bought lots of copies of the pattern.  100% of the proceeds have been donated to the town's tornado recovery fund that was set up at a local band.  Through this date our donations have added up to $295, so thank YOU for helping to contribute!

I'm happy to report that driving through our town now makes us feel happy & hopeful rather than depressed & helpless.  New houses are going up everywhere and many families are back in their rebuilt homes.  Many more are hoping to be back by Christmas.  There are only a hand-full of homes that haven't been touched, and from what I understand it's because owners are having problems with insurance companies and can't do anything until insurance is settled otherwise the company might penalize them.  But overall, things are going really, really well.

Tonight we're having a town walk where people will start out at three different locations in the area of town that was badly hit, and the three groups will all walk about a mile to meet at the high school where our top band will be performing a song that the band boosters paid to have commissioned last year in commemoration of the tornado.  I believe the band actually performed it at their spring concert last year, but I didn't have a kid at the high school last year, so this will be the first time we get to hear it.  Another thing all the schools are asking the kids to do today is wear orange & black, our high school colors.  Maybe you can throw on an orange scarf for us today and help celebrate a year of rebuilding!

So on this, the anniversary of our town being destroyed, I can happily say that things are looking very good here.  And I thank you for any part you played in that recovery!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gift-A-Long 2014

Gift-A-Long Kick of Day had arrived!  The pattern sale and cast-on begins tonight at 8pm EST, and the sale runs through 11:59pm on Friday November 21.

Are you signed up?

I'm not.....but it's not for lack of trying.  I'm just still very up in the air about what KAL I want to participate in.  There are sweater patterns calling my name....

ObLaDi from Lyrical Knits
Coastal Hoodie by Tori Gurbisz

Karen Double Layer Mittens by Heidi Hennessy

....but there's also these adorable and very warm mittens....and I actually need a new pair of

....and I've kind of been on a sock kick lately, so these are tempting me as well.
Dillsboro by Rich Ensor

Complicating matters is the fact that two of the three categories listed above would be "ME! ME! ME!" knits, and with the holidays approaching, I kind of feel like my "extra knitting" (not to be confused with my "work knitting") should be used to make Christmas gifts.

So that's where I'm at today.  Never fear....I'll get it sorted out.  And even though I won't be knitting them all any time soon, I still have a list of 10 patterns I'll be buying during this sale since indie designers don't often discount their patterns!

If you're not signed up yet, scoot on over to the Indie Designer Gift-A-Long forum where you can find the list of almost 300 participating designers and all the KAL threads.  Pick your pattern, or a few, or heck, buy a whole bunch because the ones you like might never go on sale again!  Enter the coupon code giftalong2014 during the Ravelry check-out process for 25% off as many patterns as you want to purchase.  Just make sure the patterns you are trying to buy are part of the "Gift-a-long bundle" that each participating designer has put together.  There was a limit on how many patterns we could each discount for the GAL, so many designers (including me) are not able to discount their entire catalog for this event.  Then sign up in a KAL or two to help you stay motivated to work on your projects this holiday season.  A note about the KALs - ALL patterns from participating designers are eligible for the KALs and for winning prizes, not just the ones the designer had discounted.  So if you find one you like by a participating designer but it's not in their "GAL bundle", you can still sign up for a KAL and fully participate in the event.  During the KALs there will be some fun games and we have somewhere around 2000 prizes to give away (some electronic - codes for free patterns, and some physical prizes - lots of yarn and other things like stitch markers & project bags)!  There's also a thread that lists all the prizes we've collected to give away, so stop by there is you need any more motivation to join us!

Here are all the patterns in my discount bundle, plus a link to the bundle on Ravelry!

I hope to see you there!  Looking forward to figuring out which project(s) I'll end up doing!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Felted Clogs, Carpet Trauma & Tylenol

Here's one of my pet peeves: wearing shoes on carpet.  I grew up as someone who preferred to be barefoot or in my socks if at all possible.  I'm still someone who only puts on shoes if I'm planning on leaving my yard.  I didn't used to care what other people wanted to do with their feet while at my house....then I went through the experience of pulling out all our old carpeting.

My guess is that it was maybe 15 years old.  At the time we had been in our house for around 13 years and the carpet had been replaced a few years before we moved in (or so they led us to believe....)  The previous owners had a large dog, so I'm sure that contributed to the condition of the carpeting.  But I had been good about renting a big Rug Doctor rug cleaner on a yearly basis for about the 5 years leading up to tearing out the old carpet, so I thought we were keeping it in decent shape.  When it came time to replace the carpets, we did the tear-out ourselves to save a little cash.  Ermagherd, I could not believe what we removed from our house.

First off, our house is about 65 years old and we always thought it had a musty smell.  For years we thought maybe there was mold hiding in the basement (there wasn't) or the crawl space had some sort of disgusting standing water (it didn't).  Then I learned from a neighbor that the family that built our house were smokers.  We had already re-painted every surface in the house, often with Kilz paint, so I thought that would seal in any sort of smoker smell, but for all my new painting projects, I switched to the paint that has baking soda in it.  You know, the paint that says it will make your house smell clean and fresh!  Still no change.

Then we finally save up the money to buy new carpeting.  Once we had the old carpets (and all the random debris that came with them!) off the floor, and out of the house, we realized it was not only the carpet that smelled horrible, it was the subfloors beneath them as well!  I'll put it this way - you may think you did a decent job cleaning up whatever your large dog did on the carpet....but no, the evidence is just 2 inches below the spot you scrubbed, and it's soaking into the subfloor.  I think the cigarette smoke smell had marinated into the wood as well.

After removing that nasty carpet, there was no way I was putting new carpet over the disgusting sub-floor, so I set to work cleaning and sealing it.  It was me, a bucket with diluted bleach, and a sponge, washing maybe 800 square feet of subfloor on my hands and knees.  I followed that with a couple coats of Kilz paint to hopefully seal in any nastiness I couldn't wash away.  I can think of a few more enjoyable ways to spend a week, but man am I glad I did that.  When we walk into our house now, even after a week away, we don't smell anything except possibly the garbage we forgot to get rid of before we took off.  Baby steps, people.

Even though the saga of our flooring isn't very interesting, I had to include it so you'd understand the motivation behind my love of no shoes on the carpet.  I'm totally fine with people walking through the wood and tile-floored rooms of my house with shoes on, and in fact I designed it so you can walk back and forth between all 3 doors that lead to the outside without ever having to walk through a carpeted room.  I can sweep that stuff away without leaving a trace.  But baby, if you decide to veer off the hard floors, you'd better do it in sock feet.

I've learned something about people in the three years I've been asking them to take their shoes off in my house: kids don't bat an eye, and 90% of the time, they will take their shoes off for ever more without me asking again.  I think there's one of my kids' friends who I've maybe had to remind 2 or 3 times.  But the kids who come to my house for piano lessons?  (Have I ever mentioned here that I'm a piano teacher?  Well, there you go!  Now you know 2 random facts about me!)  They jumped on the bandwagon right away and never looked back.  And their parents either follow suit, or, if they don't feel like taking the shoes off, they stand in the foyer adjacent to the room with the piano when they show up a couple minutes early to pick up their kid.  It's so not a big deal.  But adults?  Especially the ones who are related to you?  They think it's totally weird that we have a "no shoe" rule and basically leave them on until I physically remove the shoes from their feet.

So after giving it some thought, I decided to help the adults out.  After all, there are certain houses that I visit where I pack an extra pair of socks (or some slippers if it's someplace I'm super-comfortable).  Since I have a "no shoe" thing at my house, I like to treat other people's homes with the same care as my own.  But I hate having cold feet.  So my sock/slipper packing is my way around that.

I decided I just needed something similar at my house.  I'm borrowing a move from the Japanese playbook, just without the obvious shelving for outdoor shoes.    I already had a great pattern for felted slippers that I've already used a dozen times: Felted Clogs by Bev Gelaskas.  I've made them for everyone in my immediate family as well as gifts for 4 or 5 other people and they've always been very well received.  I needed to make myself a new pair this year anyway because I've worn the bottoms out of the ones I made about 5 years back!  I love this pattern because A) Being felted means the sizes are fairly adjustable B) Even the finished slippers are fairly loose on sizing, the way flip-flops don't have to fit exactly right, C) Worsted-weight held double + Size 13 needles makes for pretty quick knitting, and D) These slippers are like little foot ovens.  VERY warm.

Anyway, the plan was this: make enough pairs that there would be enough slippers to shoe any group we invite over.  In cooler months, keep them in a big basket by the front door and offer them to guests  I figure most people will keep their socks on, and if they don't the slippers are easy enough to run through the washer.  It should be a pretty low-maintenance situation, and a pretty strong hint having them sit by the door.  And it should invalidate the foot-dragging (pardon my pun) motivated by "I'm going to just keep these shoes on because otherwise my toes will be cold."  The feet of all will be cozy and warm, and I won't find myself on my knees any time soon gagging over a bucket of bleach water!  It's win-win!

As it happened, at the beginning of this month I got hit with a semi-truck in the form of a headache that just wouldn't stop.  It started on the top of my head, then gradually moved to mid-face, then the jaw as the days and weeks went on.  I'm not a person that has ever dealt with more than the very rare "I didn't get enough sleep" headache, or the "I need to drink more water" headache.  So having head pain that drove me to take Tylenol as often as the label would allow was something of a concern.  Multiple friends told me that a weird headache virus was going around, so I figured that's what I had.  And since I could barely stand to do anything except sit quietly and wait for my next dose of Tylenol, it was the perfect time to start my slipper project.

I wasn't in any shape to drive myself to the craft store that is 25 minutes away to buy more Paton's Worsted Wool (my favorite felting wool), so I dragged the "reject yarn crate" out from under my bed.  That's where the stuff that isn't pretty goes to hide out until I need it or until one of my kids says they need yarn for a craft project.  "Spare the pretty, expensive yarn!  You may use the Paton's Wool under the bed!"

I was surprised that I had quite a few skeins and partial skeins in there.  I think I had about 4 slippers done before I had to send my husband to the store to fill out my yarn needs.  He did ok, picking up about half the things on my "Must Have Yarn" list.  I made a few more slippers and by the time I was done with those, I had figured out how to get the pain killers to give me a decent chunk of the day where I could do functional things like drive and go to yarn stores.  I hit a different place and found the rest of what I needed.

I ended up with 5 new pairs of slippers.  My son immediately claimed one pair for his own (the blue & black ones), but then generously gave his outgrown slippers to his sister, who had also outgrown hers.  So I get to add her outgrown child-sized pair to our guest basket.  The beige & purple pair are kind of mine.  I haven't really broken them in yet, but I've got my eye on them.  My old pair can't go in the basket though because they are dead.  Worn hard and fulfilled their destiny.  Time for them to go to the wool mill in the sky.

My slipper factory lasted about a week and I ended up with 5 pairs for the communal basket.  If I hit another project lull this winter, I may make 3 or 4 more pairs, a couple of them in kids' sizes.  The crazy headache thing, if you were wondering, lasted 24 days.  It started October 1 and I finally woke up this past Saturday and thought "Hey!  I haven't taken Tylenol in 24 hours and nothing hurts!"  It was fantastic.  I did go to my doctor mid-month and she told me that at 39 years old, she thinks I've developed seasonal allergies.  It's possible I was just strange that allergies would hit me so hard despite the fact that I take a daily anti-histamine (for non-seasonal-allergy reasons).   No hard freezes here yet, but maybe the 2 light frosts we had in the past week took care of enough allergens to make my headache go away.  Or maybe I really did just have a crazy 3-week-long headache virus.  Whatever it was, I say "good riddance!"

How about you?  Are you a shoes-on or a shoes-off person?  Do you religiously wear slippers in the winter like me or are you fine with chilly toes?  I never remember having cold feet until I lived in my current house, so I don't know if we just have cold floors or if it's just a symptom of not being a carefree kid anymore!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New Release: World War G{loves}

Here's a funny story for you:  About a month ago, I was hard at work on my husband's secret birthday sweater.  I brought it with me to Knit Night every week, with a decoy project in tow as well, just in case Jason asked me what I had worked on that night.  Darn those husbands that take an interest in what you takes a lot more effort to pull off a surprise for them!

So on this particular day, I happened to meet my husband for lunch.  I told him that I had just finished up whatever project I had been working on....and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized I had made a mistake.  Now I had no decoy project to take with me that evening to Knit Night.

But I left for Knit Night before he got home from work that evening, so he didn't see my bag that was "chock full of sweater".  When I came home that night, I actually left the sweater project bag in the trunk of my car, so he didn't see it when I came home either.

But as I sat at The Fiber Universe that evening working on his sweater, I thought about what I was going to say if he asked me what I worked on.  For most of the evening, I thought I was just going to tell him that I didn't work on anything and just decided to sit & visit with the other knitters.  But just before I was ready to leave, the answer hit me:  the new Frog Tree Llambrosia yarn I had been drooling over.

My local yarn shop just started carrying this line of yarn in September, and I had been eyeing it, thinking I would definitely want to use it to write a pattern.  I bought two skeins of yarn in a light brown that I liked, still not knowing what they were going to be.  My plan was now to tell m husband that I had stared at these two balls of yarn all evening trying to figure out what they might be.  He'd believe that story.  I spend a significant amount of time staring at yarn.

But it takes me about 20 minutes to drive home from the yarn shop.  And by the time I got home, I knew that the Llambrosia was going to be gloves, probably fingerless ones.  I wanted them to be simple but interesting.  No fussy stitch patterns, but I didn't want plain stockinette, either.  I had experimented with some alpaca yarn a couple months back that I had considered turning into fingerless gloves, and I remembered liking the way it looked when the stockinette fabric was kind of "bunched up" with wrinkles showing.  And the idea of welts was born.

The welts are super-easy to do.  If you can pick up stitches and knit 2 stitches together (1 stitch from each of 2 needles held parallel), you've got this.  If you're still not sure, you can check out my welting video here.

In keeping with the theme of "simple & slightly rumpled", I went with a turned hem.  I didn't do a purl row as the turning row (because that gave them too tailored of a look), but I'm sure some will prefer to make that modification.  Which is great - I can't remember the last pattern I knit (besides my own) that I didn't modify in some way!

And the name?  When I showed my husband the finished gloves and said, "What do these make you think of?" he read my mind and said, "The apocalypse."  I guess that's why we're married....we tend to share a brain sometimes.  I had been knitting them up thinking, "These look like fingerless gloves that might be worn by an army of zombie-fighters in one of those crazy movies."  He agreed.  Playing off the name of one of the more famous recent-ish zombie movies, "World War Z", I named these "World War G{loves}".  I was pretty pleased with myself, then immediately started to wonder if this was going to end up being an inside joke with myself.  Luckily, some of the lovely people who are connected to my Facebook business page reassured me that they got the reference, as well!

MargiBorck, WoollyKim, & LTimms were the brave testers who took on this project.  They all called this an intermediate project, and I agree with that.  There are a few techniques used that might be new to a less-experienced knitter (find a list on the pattern listing page here), but I give links in the pattern for the ones I think might throw you for a loop.

If you're substituting yarns, I'd recommend using one with a significant amount of llama or alpaca in it.  Wool will work, but the 100% baby llama yarn the sample gloves were made from have a drape that is much more similar to alpaca than it is to wool.  The welts will end up a bit stiffer & more pronounced when done in a high wool-content yarn.  Even having a plant fiber-blend (such as bamboo), possibly with some silk in there for strength, will give a drape that is relatively close to the llama yarn.

This pattern is written as a "one size fits most women" size, but suggestions are included for using sport-weight yarn paired with a smaller needle to make a child-size pair, or worsted-weight yarn paired with a larger needle for a man-sized pair.  I used Mirasol Yarn's Nuna  (a silk/wool/bamboo blend) which made a beautiful child-sized pair and Cascade 220 (100% wool, which is why I know now not to recommend high-wool content yarn!) for my man-sized pair.

These gloves were a quick knit and might make a great gift for someone on your holiday list this year!  The pattern is now available on Ravelry here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Where Does the Time Go?

Saying that life has been busy sounds so lame, because whose life isn't busy, really?  

The school year started off with a bang.  I made lists.  I decided to do a deep clean / purge around the house.  I took a day or two with each room and took a number of boxes to Goodwill and filled up our garbage can week after week.  How I can stuff a kitchen-size garbage bag full while cleaning my son's room is beyond me.  How can all that trash be in there and we can't see it?  

Anyway, as a reward for my organizational efforts, I'd knit.  I came up with 2 patterns since school began, both of which are being tested now.  I'm hoping to release a pattern for fingerless gloves in a week or two and a pattern for a double-knit cowl in November.

But crazy health developments have cropped up once again and have been biting at my heels, not allowing me to do everything I'd like.  I have some sort of undiagnosed swelling problem that happened 3 times last month.  Once it was my bottom lip, once it was my top lip, and once it was the upper side of my nose near my eye.  I know going to the emergency room for an IV dose of Benadryl stops the swelling and sets things right, but who wants to do that every 7 days?  I went once and joked with the nurse that they probably think I'm a drug seeker.  But really I was.  I came in, announced that I had swelling that has been seen by a few different doctors and no one can tell me why it happens, but I know what to do about it.  They gave me the Benadryl and I slept most of the day away.

In an attempt to keep the swelling under control & maybe not have a major reoccurrence, I took a lot of oral Benadryl in September.  Which means many of my days went like this: Wake up, take the kids to school, take a dose of Benadryl, sleep for 4 hours.  Wake up groggy, try to find something to eat, attempt to stay awake until kids get home from school.  It was not the end of the world, but it definitely put a cramp in my style.  

But nothing has swelled up for about 3 weeks now.  I thought I was on the upswing, then last week I managed to catch a virus that is basically a very minor cold with severe head and face pain.  It's the craziest thing I've ever had.  I would be worried that I actually had something seriously wrong with my teeth or jaw except the pain arrived at the same time as the cold (and when I say cold, I mean no fever, enough sinus stuff that I might blow my nose 3 times in a day, and I might cough or sneeze 3 or 4 times a day).  Plus, because of the wonders of Facebook, I've seen a handfull of friends post status updates over the past month about their kids coming home from school with bad headaches.  When I posted about it on Facebook, I was immediately answered by two friends that currently have this virus and one who said her husband had it and it lasted a few weeks for him.  Meanwhile, I'm considering buying stock in Tylenol, because it has become my new BFF.

So all this is just to say: the blog has just fallen off the list for now.  I look at it occasionally and want to update it, then immediately think of 5 other things that are more pressing.  Yesterday, during the 5 drugged-up, pain-free hours that I manage to have every day, I wrote up 4 proposals for new knitting patterns and sent them off to yarn companies.  One sweater, one that would fall into the "housewares" category, one summer sleeveless top, and one hat.  I'm excited to find out which one I get to start first!

I did accomplish one other thing so far this fall.  Early this year, after I gave my husband a hand-knit sweater for Valentine's Day, he asked if I would consider making him another one.  I said, "I'd love to, but I can't take knitting another mile of brown worsted-weight."  He said, "I totally understand.  How about gray?"

He's cheeky, that one.  We agreed on a pattern, and when I was ordering some yarn on-line for a couple projects I wanted to do but couldn't find the right materials at my LYS, I showed him some options of tonal gray yarn I'd be able to stand knitting with.  He picked one and it sat in the stash all summer.  I kept telling him I'd work on it when the weather cooled off.  

But his birthday is at the end of September.  Perfect timing for a new winter wardrobe piece.  I knit on the sweater when he was at work, I knit on it on the evenings that he played basketball, I brought it with me to Knit Night at the LYS.  In 6 or 8 weeks, I had sneaked around enough to have a finished men's XL sweater.  

He said he loved it and he's backed up that claim by wearing it about every other day.  It reminds both of us of a sweater he had in college when we first started dating.  He wore that sweater until it had holes in it, so I had a hunch that re-creating the thing might be a winning idea.  

Anyway, here's a picture of him in his birthday sweater.  He's a cutie.  He has also recently lost about 20 lbs, so feel free to tell him in the comments how fit & trim he looks in his stylish new sweater!

One other bit of excitement: a fellow knitwear designer who showcases different indie designers on her blog decided to feature me!  She published her post today, so head over there and check it out.  I was very flattered that she had such nice things to say about the patterns she chose to feature. 

Back to resting for me....the headache is kind of under control from the Tylenol, but we've had roofers at our house yesterday and today, so the pounding is not helping the situation.  I'm going to put in some earplugs and see if I can take a little nap before the kids get home from school!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New Release: Herriot Hat

I am sure that I am not the only one who can't walk by a silky skein of alpaca yarn without giving it a little stroke.  The fiber is so tempting - a bit of sheen, smooth fibers, silky and warm...  So when I was given a skein of a new alpaca yarn from Juniper Moon Farm and asked to write a pattern for it, how could I say anything but, "Absolutely!"?

Here's the part that had me stumped for a little while: Herriot Great yarn is bulky weight (which is not my usual "thing"), and one skein is 131 yds.  It's enough for a hat or a pair of mittens, but probably not enough for a good-sized cowl.  And due to the fact that alpaca yarn is not a good fit for a project that needs some stretch - like a hat or mittens - it took me a while to figure out what to do with this single skein!

But in the end, the answer was in the stitch.  I wanted to make a hat.  The yarn would make a fantastic hat for shoveling snow, taking walks in cold weather, or giving to my son to use this winter when he has to walk 4 blocks home from the bus stop on windy, cold days.  The thick yarn paired with the warm fiber gives you yarn that will keep your head warm even when the temperature dips below freezing.  To make up for the lack of stretch in the yarn, I picked the stretchiest stitch I knew for the brim - a smocked stitch that begins as a 2 x 2 rib and alternates pulling different groups of stitches together with a bar knitted across the ribbed stitches.  Instructions for the smocking stitch are written in the pattern, and there is a video at the top of the video page of this blog (click the "videos" tab above) titled "Charlotte Dress Smocking Stitch" that will demonstrate exactly how this stitch is done.

The result is a hat that is warm, with a snug fit, and is fun to make.  And did I mention that the 20" size (smaller adult size) only took me about 3 hours to make?  This would make an easy weekend project, and it's something you could whip up as a gift if you only have a couple days' notice.

Give it a try - I'm offering the pattern for free, and the recommended yarn can be purchased here or you can substitute your favorite bulky-weight fiber!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Oatmeal Dress

Back when I was planning out my projects for the Ravellenic Games, I wanted a project that would be relatively instant-gratification.  I already had a man-sized sweater I was working on, and a pair of bright self-striping socks to combat the mile of worsted weight brown yarn I'd be knitting for the sweater.  But I wanted an in-between project as well.  Something that would be portable, knit on smaller needles, and easy to finish in a week or so.  I looked at my list of design ideas and found a sketch for the little dress you see here.  
I wanted it to be an "every-day" dress as opposed to something you'd save for a special occasion.  I already had a couple dressier dresses in my pattern portfolio, so this pattern would fill a different niche.  After all, we put so much of our time into our knitting projects...sometimes it's nice that something will get worn more than a hand-full of times!                 
I see this dress worn with a long or short-sleeved t-shirt underneath and maybe some thick tights or leggings in the fall or winter months.  

Beaverslide Dry Goods yarn has also been on my "check it out" list for a while.  Amy Beth, host of The Fat Squirrel Speaks, has made a number of projects using their yarn, is always complementary about it, and has said that it's very reasonably priced.  I ordered it for the big brown sweater I was making my husband during The Games, and while I was on their website, I came across some 2-ply sock weight yarn in the natural buff shade of the sheep it came from, and it caught my eye.  The yarn gave the "Oatmeal Dress" its name - not only because of the color, but because I intended this dress to be a "staple" item for baby/toddler's wardrobe, just like oatmeal might be in their diets.  

This dress starts from the hem - an easy 3-row sequence gives the hem a scalloped shape, then it continues on in garter stitch with decreases at regular intervals to create the A-line shape.  Little pockets are knit separately then sewn on, and the neckline and arm holes are trimmed with an applied i-cord.  The back is fastened with a zipper - I used an "invisible" style on the sample so it is completely covered up by the knit fabric.  
Despite using a few "intermediate techniques", this is a very do-able pattern for anyone willing to learn.  I provide a number of links to photo and video tutorials as well as an attached i-cord supplement to help you through the trickier parts.  Anyone with an internet connection and a little determination can learn everything needed to be successful with this pattern.

 The Oatmeal Dress is available now on Ravelry.  It is written for sizes 3 mo - 24 mo, and uses between 315 - 560 yds of heavy fingering weight or light sport weight yarn.  The Beaverslide Dry Goods yarn I used in the sample is listed as a sport-weight, but with a garter-stitch gauge of 23 sts and 38 rows per 4", I think a heavier fingering weight such as madelinetosh sock would be a close substitute that many people would be familiar with.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Good Yarn

I have been terrible about blogging this summer, but only because I've had non-stop projects!  Like anything, the more I do, the less time I have to talk about it.  But I've taken tons of pictures and have plenty of stories for the day! :)

My family kicked off summer by taking off to Siesta Key, Fl at the beginning of June.  Like all vacations, we made sure to stop at a yarn shop or two while we were on our travels.  I think my husband actually likes going with me, and while my kids may not technically "like" it, they are patient and well-behaved and find someplace to sit and hang out with Dad while Mom pets the yarn.  

The first shop we went to was a bust.  It would have been lovely if I was into spinning art yarn, because it was really more of a spinning studio than a retail shop with lots of yarn for sale.  But it wasn't my cup of tea, so after a quick lap around the tiny studio, we left.  Luckily, our second try more than made up for the first place!  

A Good Yarn is a yarn shop located just across the bridge from Siesta Key, in Sarasota, Fl.  It might have the most impressive inventory of any shop I've been in.  It's nice-sized and very well organized, by weight.  It's big enough to have a lot of inventory, but small enough that you can easily look around and feel like you've seen everything they have to offer in an hour or less.  The thing that floored me was how many yarn lines they have that I've heard of and thought, "I'd love to see that yarn in person and maybe give it a try".  They were ALL there!  They even had a wall of Quince & Co. Linen, which I've often wanted to try, but didn't want to pay shipping for a single "experiemental skein", and I didn't want to order a project's worth without knowing what to expect.  (Side note: Sparrow is FANTASTIC.  The best linen I've come across so far.)  I probably spent an hour and a half looking around and trying to narrow down my purchases, and even then, I only got it down to a little over $300 worth!  (But I didn't feel bad about that since it was my first big yarn purchase all year, and I got 17 skeins for that price.  My only trouble was wondering if I'd have room in our suitcases for it on the plane trip home!)  My purchases included 6 skeins of Quince sparrow, 2 skeins of Madelinetosh pashmina in a tropical colorway dyed just for this shop, 5 skeins of Anzula - 4 worsted in a tonal beige colorway and 1 sport-weight in a slightly off-white,and 4 skeins of Sirdar Snuggly bamboo yarn.  And even after all those purchases, I still had to make a note on my phone about 4 or 5 other yarns and colors that I had seen there that I wanted to later order on-line.  I could have easily spent $1000 there if I didn't have money & suitcase space restraints!

In addition to the terrific inventory, the owner came right up to me as soon as we walked in, introduced herself and proceeded to show me around.  When I showed interest in something, she would show me a few other things she thought I might like, too.  She and the other woman who were working while I was there were both super-friendly, helpful, and not at all of the "snooty yarn shop" persuasion.  (If you've been in a handfull of shops, I'm sure you've come across one or two that seem to be staffed by the snooty salesclerk in the iconic "Big mistake!" scene from "Pretty Woman".  These ladies were exactly the opposite of that!) 

I didn't even start a project with my new yarn while I was on vacation though, because I had two substantial projects that I packed to work on over our 12-day trip.

The first was a beach dress.  Yes, I might have planned ahead and finished this before I hit the beach, but it didn't occur to me that I might want a beach cover-up until exactly 3 days before departure.  By the time I got on the plan, I was done with the bodice, so I just had an endless stockinette skirt with a little made-up lace along the bottom, plus i-cord straps to finish the project.  It was all done on the pattern.  Just kept trying it on until it seemed right.

 I think I had it finished by Friday, so it took just under a week to complete.  Probably seems fast for a dress, but it was dk-weight yarn (Cascade Ultra Pima), and I had a lot of waiting in the airport time, plane ride time, and knitting on the beach time in there.

Also, I'm kinda a fast knitter.

Once that was finished, I started in on my Francis top, which was made from a pattern.  I used the recommended yarn, Shibui Heichi, which was a very nice, rustic silk.  I had a love-hate relationship with this project.  Some parts of it were a pleasure to knit, but I found other parts unnecessarily complicated.  It's a simple shape and really doesn't need to have such a complicated construction.  While I'm all for learning new things, I'm also a big fan of patterns that are easy to alter to suit your taste, and the absence of a schematic with detailed measurements makes it next to impossible to alter this top.  The pattern will work if you just trust it as you go (except I did have issued with the short rows at the end of each back section...the numbers just didn't work for me, but I was able to fudge it and make it work).  Just don't go into it thinking you're going to make it wider/shorter/longer/alter the sleeves/neckline/etc.  It is what it is, and until you've knit it at least once, you're not going to know which end is up until you're well into the pattern. I finished this project right after we got home.  It would have been done on the plane ride home, except it ends with grafting in garter stitch, and I needed to refresh my memory on that before I attempted it.  If I ever knit this again, I will make one side wider and the other narrower so the seam is at one side of the garter stitch panel.  My stockinette Kitchener Stitch is pretty polished, but I don't graft in garter often enough that my stitches look very consistent.  

Overall, I'm happy with this top (after I sewed the back down...I didn't like the feeling of being half-naked on the one day I attempted to wear it with the back open as it was designed), and I do wear it pretty often.  The silk yarn is beautiful and nice against my skin, I would definitely use it again.

It was a lovely family vacation full of fun yarn-y stops and projects.  Can't wait to see where we decide to go on our next trip!