My next door neighbor’s son, Colin, turns 3 years old on Monday.  Until late this morning, he had no idea that his mom and I were cooking up a surprise for him in the form of a handmade scarf.  Mom said it shouldn’t be too long because she didn’t want it to wrap around his neck too many times.  She also said he preferred a neutral color – something in cream or beige tones. The main thing was that it be appropriate for a little boy.  What?  No crocheted rosettes? Guess not.

Thank you stash deities for the machine-washable aran weight Jaeger Matchmaker still in the original packaging.  Perfect color and weight.  I never gave a thought to searching for a pattern.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been on a seed stitch tear.  Since color was not the star here, I reasoned that texture would add visual interest. My only other consideration was that the pattern be reversible since being tied “just so” is not part of a child’s clothing vocabulary. This is what came off the needles on Friday:

Colin's New Scarf

Colin's New Scarf

Yarn: (2) 90 yd. balls of Jaeger Matchmaker (discontinued) in Light Neutral
Needles: Size 7US
Finished size:  36″ x 5″

I cast on an even number of stitches – enough to create an approximately 5″ wide scarf. After a couple of establishing garter stitch rows, I started the 4-row American Moss Stitch. Didn’t know it beforehand but there is apparently a British Moss Stitch the looks suspiciously like a 2-row seed stitch to me. Eh. What do I know.

After 11 inches, my attention wandered and I found myself flipping the yarn back and forth, doing the regular seed stitch and screwing up the nice diagonals I had going with Monsieur Moss. I gave myself a little break in the form of about 3 inches of garter stitch, then it was back to moss for 5 inches. Tack on 3 more inches of garter then end with a final 11 inches of moss stitch.  If you followed the math, I knit the scarf in thirds:

11 Moss + (3 Garter + 5 Moss + 3 Garter) +11 Moss = 33 inches of scarf

A cool water Eucalan bath and some light blocking turned those 33 inches into 36 inches as the stitches relaxed and lengthened.  Speaking of math, everything apparently added up correctly because I get the feeling Colin really likes his new scarf!

Happy Birthday, Colin

Happy Birthday, Colin

Gone, baby. Gone.

January? I hardly knew ya and now in marches February, all brash and bold and blizzard-brained. Good thing I was well-stocked with yarn and Diet Coke because knitting definitely took place even though there’s no bloggish evidence.

Exhibit One:  Leah’s Baby Jumper.  Seven pound Leah was born December 31st.  Leah is my friend Stacy’s first child and I just had to make sure she started the New Year right with her very first hand knit.

Baby Leah's Jumper

Leah's Baby Jumper

Yarn: Rowan Polar (discontinued)  in pale blue; used a skosh over 1 skein
Needles: Size 13 US
Notions: One yard of .5 inch velvet ribbon in French blue from M&J Trimming I love this store for buttons, trims – almost any embellishment.

Since Polar is not quite as bulky as the  Blue Sky Alpacas yarn called for in the pattern,  I made up the difference by using smaller needles (size 13 instead of 17) and casting on more stitches for the size 1 jumper (66 stitches instead of 60).

Exhibits Two and Three: Tweed Houndstooth Mittens and Seedy Alpaca Mittens.  I jumped-started my January knitting by signing up for a Mitten Knit-along on Ravelry.  I wanted to do at least one pair and decided to challenge myself by creating mittens I’d only seen in my imagination.

Tweed Houndstooth Mittens

Tweed Houndstooth Mittens

Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed in Rage, less than 1 skein; Beaverslide 1-ply light sport weight in Mountain Midnight.
Needles: Size 3US Addi circulars
Pattern: My own

This was a fun one – a bit frustrating at first but ultimately a real learning experience.  Some time ago, I’d done a swatch of houndstooth from Book One of Barbara Walker’s stitch dictionaries.  The problem with this fantastic resource is that the stitch patterns are not written with circular knitting in mind.  My first lesson from this project was to convert one of the simpler stitch patterns.  I chose “Houndstooth Check”  on page  90 .  For me, the key to successful conversion lies in 1) picking a pattern that doesn’t require more than one type of wrong-side stitch and 2) being able to “read the knitting” and chart it.  Others say that you merely knit the purls and purl the knits to replicate the wrong-side with only right-side knitting.

Circular version: D = dark color.  L = light color.

Row 1 D1, L1, D2
Row 2 D1, L3
Row 3 L3, D1
Row 4 D2, L1, D1

I also learned how to do an afterthought thumb (check out KnitPicks YouTube tutorials), as well as the rudiments of Continental (picking) instead of English (throwing) my knitting.  I found it so much easier to manage two-color knitting this way.  I was able to maintain tension and keep the floats tangle free.  Like I said, a fun project that added to my knitting repertoire – and to my collection of mittens.  They fit snuggly and have a rustic feel to them.  Tweed is good.

Seedy Alpaca Mittens

Seedy Alpaca Mittens

I really wanted to do a second pair of mittens, what with the Houndstooth mittens taking so long.  Darn that lightweight yarn. Enter 2 hanks of long-ago stashed Catalina Chunky Baby Alpaca (also discontinued).

I started someone else’s  pattern using size 10US needles but didn’t like the results. When you get handed lemons, wing it!  I had to work my way down to size 8’s to get a decent enough tension to keep the soft (but no memory) ribbing relatively secure.  I decided to do the palm in stockinette and the back of the hand in seed stitch. You’ve gotta feel these mittens. Delightful!

Somebody stop me! Seed stitch (or cousin Moss Stitch) has cut a wide swath through me at the moment. I’m working on a scarf for my next door neighbor’s 3 year old. He’s just too adorable and his mom says he needs a new scarf. This is an offer I cannot refuse, especially if I get some Bulgogi as a reward (smacks lips expectantly).


Food, glorious food. It becomes a bit difficult to reconcile a 1500 calorie per day diet with anything even vaguely delicious, but the doctors say I must. I’ve started keeping a food journal that tracks not only calories but percentages of fat, sodium, carbs and the like. I’m also on the look-out for simple, healthy recipes like the turkey meatloaf and herb roasted potatoes I made recently. I’m even learning how to make brown rice which, for me, is still very much a work in progress. Any suggestions for entrees?

While you mull that over, take a look at my latest documentary, “Catnip Wars.”


Ginger syrup

Fresh ginger syrup

I looked out the window as the ginger syrup simmered.  I decided to try a different sort of homemade gift this year, based on the recipe from Mags Kandis’ “Gifted”.  I sliced an orange and added the pieces along with the zest to the mix, giving the syrup a more citrusy taste to add a different note to the bite of ginger.  Italian glass bottles dressed in red crocheted circle ties about the neck of the bottle went home with my friends – a perfect end to an afternoon of mulled wine, loud singing and an evening of salsa, chips and hockey!  Yep.  Chicago won.  Another gift.

My friend is an aunt again – this time it’s a boy.  Another friend is impatiently waiting for her daughter to arrive.  The gifts of life.  And hand knits.  Is there such a thing as too many handmade gifts?

Whether friend or stranger, there is always a need for the work of our hands which is why I’d like to tip my hat to the Crafty Angels.  They send the gift of warmth and caring to people in need in the Chicago area and around the world.

Finally, I am grateful for you even though most of us have never met.  You’ve given me the gift of your time and talent;  you’ve given me your trust.  Y’all do kind of rock.  I’m a lucky duck.

Snowy evergreen

Let It Snow!

Ginger scents the air
Snowflakes blow sideways outdoors
Wet boots stand empty.

Seasons change; new life
New year and promise of hope.
Yuletide gifts to you!

Caped On A Cold Day

Slouchy Cable Beret

Red Java Slouchy Beret

I am a serial knitter.  At least I became one in the last month.  I committed to starting AND finishing three pieces to accompany an old (but still unworn) orange, brown and cream tweed cape.  Two you already know about: Malabrigo Arm Thingies (Ravelry) and Malabrigo Neck Thingie (Ravelry).  The newbie is Natalie Larson’s wonderfully slouchy cabled beret, Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret.  The only change I made to this easy, cabled hat was to double the rows of k1, p1 ribbing.

Like they say on the infomercials, “That’s not all!”  I’ve even resurrected a project started almost two years ago.  Despite good intentions (and a cheat),  I’ve never even come close to finishing the beautiful knitted lace Honeybunch (Ravelry).  I picked it up last week and have made it to the 75% mark.  Christmas?  I really, really hope so.  Must. Stay. Focused.

The only thing standing in the way (at least in my sometimes unrealistic head) is a baby gift. It’s getting down to the wire for the baby’s birthday and I need something quick, thick and chunky.  I’ve thrown out the idea of finishing the beautiful vintage baby dress – for now, at least.  I’m trending toward a jumper in some long-discontinued Rowan bulky yarn.  I knit it before so it should be a slam dunk.

I know I promised to get a shot of me wearing the cape and the knits all together.  Monday’s chilly weather and a trip to the courtyard of the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue offered the perfect opportunity.

Baby Its Cold

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Just In Time!

December in Chicago and the first snows have fallen, right along with the temperature.  I was afraid I wouldn’t have what I needed so I knit as fast as my fingers permitted – just to make sure I was ready for the drop.

It’s not as though I don’t have hand knits to wear, right?  The conundrum this year had to do with a cape and the colors of that cape.  Yes, a brown, cream, charcoal and rust colored tweedy wool cape that very much put me in the mind of the old Sherlock Holmes movies.  Beautiful, dashing things WITHOUT sleeves.  What to do, what to do?  My workable option came in the form of Malabrigo Hand Thingies (Ravelry). I like the faux-rib created by the slipped knit stitch, so I adapted the pattern to create fingerless mitts that extend to the elbow.  No sleeves? No problem.

Project details

(2) skeins of Cascade 128 Chunky Solid in Charcoal Grey
Size 10.75 US needles

Although I used heavier yarn than called for in the pattern, I still cast on the requisite number of stitches. I followed the pattern as written except I kept going until I’d knit the length of my forearm, alternating k2, sl 1 row with knit row until to about 2 inches shy of my wrist.  I then repeated the purl row, knit row banding as in the beginning of the normal Thingie pattern and voila!  Thingies At Arm’s Length:

Malabrigo Arm Thingies

Malabrigo Arm Thingies

I’ve never worn this cape so I decided its debut wouldn’t be complete without a neckwarmer and matching hat.   The challenge here came in the form of the flared-bottom shape of the cape.  It absolutely requires a fuller shaped hat to help balance top to bottom.  I have enough body issues so I refuse to look like a tweed-clad penguin with a tiny head and large body.  I settled on Natalie Larson’s Star Crossed Slouchy Beret (Ravelry). The slouch and the fullness of the softly cabled top really appeals to me.

For the neckwarmer, I stuck with the Malabrigo Neck Thingie pattern, using one skein (210 yards) Malabrigo worsted weight merino in Red Java.  Two days, start to finish:

Red Hot Neck Thingie

Red Hot Malabrigo Neck Thingie

There is no way I was going to go the completely matching ensemble route though, which is why I chose the same pattern for arm and neck thingies, then the same color for neck thingie and slouchy beret.  I’ll try to snap a picture of the complete look once I get cracking on the beret.

And then there’s Eleanor.

Knitty Eleanor Cowl

Knitty Eleanor Cowl

I actually cast on for Eleanor in mid October but those 132 stitches sat for two weeks – just the promise of a cowl at that point. I knit it in fits and starts, hence the delay in finishing this beautifully simple pattern. I thought chart-reading would be a problem after my long knitting hiatus but this is easy-peasy. If you’re sitting on the fence about this pattern, time to jump in and knit it!

It helps that I rediscovered my Knee-sel™ from Nancy’s Knit Knacks.  Totally worth whatever I paid for it.  The name comes from the fact that you can prop it on your knee to read and knit at the same time.  It is a perfectly portable easel with a pop-up flap to hold papers or charts in place.  It made knitting in the waiting room so much more manageable, without having to wrangle papers along with a wily ball of yarn and needles.

By the way, I have no affiliation with Nancy or her Knit Knacks.

Choices and modifications

  • The pattern calls for sport-weight such as Lorna’s Laces or similar.  I used about 2/3rds of one skein of  Kitchen Sink Dyeworks bamboo merino worsted with no adjustments for gauge. Despite weight difference, the cowl still retains the grace of lace but with a bit of heft from the slightly beefier yarn.
  • I chose to knit the piece flat because I found it easier to manage moving the stitch markers. I cast on using size 9 US and switched to size 8 once I finished Chart A.
  • I used Ravelry member Nakiru’s modifications to Chart B to make the pattern more symmetrical:

Edit rows 17,  31 and 45 of chart B so that the decreases in these rows showing “k-k2tog-k2tog-k2tog-k2tog” become “ssk-ssk-k1- k2tog-k2tog.” I tinkered with the pattern chart to make this mod a bit clearer:

Chart B Mods

Eleanor, Chart B Mods

  • By the way, there is a bit of errata in the written instructions. Where it says, “When you begin working Rounds 5, 15, 35 and 48,”  it should read “When you begin working Rounds 5, 15, 35 and 43.”  The chart itself is correctly highlighted.
  • Because the yarn is worsted weight, I did not repeat rows 23-49 as called for in the pattern. I had already reached the finish height of 12” by the time I hit row 50.
  • I used a Kitchener stitch to seam the cowl. It might have been easier to do a 3-needle bind-off or crochet the two sides together but this way, the seam came out nice and clean with little tell-tale thickness on the inside.

Knitting. Kitty.

There is actual knitting going on chez moi. This is Knitty’s Eleanor knitting up nicely in Kitchen Sink Dyeworks bamboo merino blend. I found this lovely yarn on sale at Chicago’s YarnCon in early October.

I seem to be knitting this neckwarmer in fits and starts, having cast on 132 stitches and letting it sit for a week before doing a few rows.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The real progress came from a concerted effort to make the most of the time spent waiting in the doctor’s office.  With yarn cake nestled in my über cute somersaulting kitties Piddleloop bag, I was able to break through well into Chart B of the pattern.  At this rate, I predict completion this year!

Eleanor in progress

Eleanor in progress

Now to the “Kitty” portion of our program: Nikita’s birthday is October 29th. As he emerged in 1996, that makes him 14 years old and just as cute (though not as spry) as the day he was born.  I’m not going to lie to you.  He’s had some recent health problems – one of which seemed to develop suddenly.  He’s bounced back from the weight loss and dehydration and seems much like his old self.  His heart is still a concern but the vet reminded me that cats, unlike dogs, don’t do things to please us. She says that if he wants to play, let him.  And so, life goes on. One bowl of tuna at a time.

Nikita and his tuna

Nikita and his birthday tuna

It comes but once a year

It brings together those of us who believe in its soothing properties and the implied promise of renewed creativity. It gives us a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones.  It feels good to know that, although you’ve fallen away from the local scene, the people who “knew you when” still welcome you as one of their own.  Best of all, we get presents!  What could this magical October event be?  YarnCon!

YarnCon bills itself as Chicago’s only independent fiber festival and yarn-centric exhibition. The convention, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of “two Chicago knitters and otherwise crafty gals,” Natalia Wilson and Sara Ware.  Wilson and Ware say their intention was to find a way to support and promote locally-owned businesses and producers.  It seems the dozens of vendors in attendance provide fitting testament to the success of their effort.

Since I’m (mostly) on a self-imposed yarn-buying ban, if was not my intention to bring home any fiber.  Trouble is, I couldn’t resist a good sale at Kitchen Sink Dyeworks, a new beautiful colorway from Sophie’s Toes, an adorable wedge bag from Piddleloop or a mystery bag of yarn for $5 from Chicago Knitters Unite.

KSD Sophies Toes yarn

Turquoise - Kitchen Sink Dyeworks and New Plum - Sophie's Toes

Piddleloop Mystery Yarn

Blue Mystery Yarn and my new Piddleloop Bag

Right now, I think the Kitchen Sink yarn will become Knitty’s beautiful cowl, Eleanor.  Dunno yet what fate awaits either Sophie’s Toes or the Mystery Yarn which I bought, sight unseen.  Chicago Knitters Unite had a table loaded with brown paper bags cryptically labeled “Pretty In Pink” and “Fuzzy.”  I bought a bag of the “Blues.”  All I can say is that I saved so much money that  I cried, “Wee-we-we-Wee!” all the way home.

Days Like These

The cool, grey days. The school bus days. The days with geese flying away in formation toward warmer climes. It’s days like these that say to me loud and clear, “Where the heck have you been?!  Could you have been knitting and crocheting and just forgot to blog about it?”  My answer is D) None of the above.

I started to write something a month ago but then the, “Oh shiny!” got the best of me. I’ve been trying to get out more because socializing is supposed to be something we humans need to have a certain “quality of life.” I’ve got pictures of most of my adventures. Thank goodness no one shot video of me doing my interpretive chicken dance. Yes, I have one, complete with sound effects.  Sweet baby corn, the cats just love it!

Here’s a loose timeline of events:

May and June – Arthroscopic surgery and recovery, including physical therapy. No pictures, unless you rilly, rilly want to see inside my shoulder. Just ask.

July and August – Freakishly hot hereabouts, with the resulting freakishly huge electric bill; washing machine broke; rode my bike for the first time in 9 years.

retro red bike

My Madwagon

Fell off said bike – backwards, no less.  I am talented that way.

bad bike fall bruise

Am I Blue?

Sold valuable yarn to buy my Nutcase helmet to more safely ride said Madwagon bike.

Nutcase Swirl

Nutcase - Keeping My Brains Intact

Played tourist with visiting friends – from tours of the Chicago River and the Tall Ships to Chinese artists’ displays and Cloudgate (The Bean)  in Millennium Park.  I really do enjoy this city – even though I know it’s much more than the pretty lakefront and downtown architecture.

Wrigely Tribune

Wrigley Building & Tribune Tower

tall ship crows nest

Tall Ship Sail & Mast

Man versus Pig

Man versus Pig

Inside Cloudgate

Inside The Bean

September and you’re welcome to it.  September is that month with multiple personality disorder: I shall be HOT! I shall be cool. I shall be rainy and miserable. I shall be perfectly cromulent. You will love me because I signal an end and a beginning; because it means the kinder are back in their holding pens – um, school.  It means both my Old Man Kitty and I have new medical issues, with his more serious than mine.  My MRI and his echocardiogram will tell the tale. Later.

Progress is good.

Physical therapy is well underway, with a week’s worth of sessions under my belt.  Over-achiever that I am, I can already raise my right arm at least 140 degrees – well past the 90 degrees I strained for just one week ago.  The sad part is that I still can’t completely brush my own hair as this involves reaching back or across, which is one of those “not quite yet, Karen” moves.

Until I’m a bit further along in the recuperating, I thought I’d take advantage of my camera’s image stabilization feature to capture a couple of things in my wee garden.  Enjoy!

Pink Columbine

Columbine and Concrete


Dragon Lily