Seven years of quilts

I was quilting during lunch this week and a coworker asked who had taught me.

No one.

That’s not a brag; it’s an apology to recipients of my earliest quilts.

When I visited Cincinnati last summer my friend P told me that his kids love the quilt I gave them in 2009. “They snuggle up with it when they watch movies.” At least if they’re watching movies the lights are off, because that quilt is all out of whack. The pastels with  blocks of black, the helter-skelter piecing…it’s weird.

sarah quilt
I make probably two quilts a year and I’m only half interested in truly improving (otherwise, I’d take a class or something, right?). But just in making more I’ve learned a few tricks and developed a better eye.

In 2012 I made a quilt for my friend’s first baby that was also wonky, but more purposefully so. It had better balance…a nice tension between the movement of the chevrons and the expansive white space.

ardenquilt
Last fall I finished a baby quilt for L using the “double trouble” block. It’s easy to make a whole stack of them assembly-line style, and the block itself is an even split between precise (the 90-degree triangle) and improvisational (the off-kilter white strip and tiny triangle). Double-trouble and I are friends. We get along.

Mini-quilt
My friend announced she’s due for her second baby so I’m turning to the double-trouble block again, this time with oranges and blues.

Improvisational baby quilt

For the first time I’m trying a thicker thread for the hand-quilting (recommendation courtesy of Bonnie, maker of some truly beautiful quilts). This is #8 Perle cotton in a variegated blue.

Improvisational baby quilt
I held up the quilt last night and R deemed it my best one yet. “It’s prettier than yours!” he taunted baby L. True. But that just goes to show that the quilt-improvement train is still moving forward!

 

What else do you make with piles of handspun?

What do you? There is quite a lot of it.

I’m working on a big zig-zag blanket.

Zigzag handspun alpaca blanket

Lamps! Lamps! Lamps! Lamps!

This past summer in Ohio, R and I were nearing what felt like the definitive end to our year abroad. On an early morning walk through my hometown, Mom and I passed some auctioneers setting up in the front lawn of a small ranch. Near the street was a mid-century wood credenza – the kind with a flip-up wood top, turntable, and speakers. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. “No no no Katie,” Mom said. “The last thing you need right now is a project.”

True. And yet NOT true. Because when is it really a bad time for a project?

I convinced R to drive back to the sale with me. I did this by reminding him that we had no lamps in storage, that lamps are annoyingly expensive, and that this estate auction had a whole bunch of random lamps out front. Also I assured him that auctions are fun.

Over the next hour I firmly established myself as the premier buyer of ugly-ass 80s lamps in all of NW Ohio. In total we successfully bid on eight lamps, a sheet music stand, the giant credenza, and a big weird faux bamboo shelf that got thrown in with the credenza.  I called Mom to see if she could help us cart the rest back to the house. “You bought what?!” she sighed.

Yeah, but here’s the thing. We spent $8. EIGHT. That’s the magic of small town auctions. Eight dollars can buy you all this:
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Then we got to work making it less ugly. When it comes to projects I want it all done NOW. Wheeee! Immediate gratification! R has learned to deal with this by jumping in or tuning out, but not by persuading me to wait. This time he jumped in. So did Mom.

We stripped the inside of the credenza, removing approximately 60 lbs. of electronics from 1955 and a whole bunch of insulation from the speaker bays.

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jscredenza I stripped the top, stained it, and gave it 3 coats of polyurethane, then sanded and painted the sides and legs. The little music stand got the same treatment. credenza2musicstand Mom took some sandpaper to the lamps, and then we coated them in Rustoleum Oil-Rubbed Bronze spraypaint. The cut glass lamps were the most striking makeover I think. milklamp lamps glasslamp And then my amazing parents toted it all to Boston with a little trailer. The credenza fits perfectly under the front windows, and the music stand holds all of baby L’s books. She loves yanking them out one by one and turning all the pages. IMG_2238

Now in our house, if you want to convey enthusiasm for a project or plan, you give a little fist pump and chant “Lamps! Lamps! Lamps! Lamps!”

More furniture makeovers
the curbside dresser with 3 layers of paint
windsor chairs

More DIY baby wardrobe

This fall I was shopping for baby L and found myself rejecting an entire rack of holiday dresses because “frilly things look weird on her.” Something about that is true…I think? When I’ve put her in super girly stuff R and I agree that something seems off. Maybe it’s her lack of hair? I have a picture of myself at around 18 months in tiered ruffled lace, and it looks so odd underneath my glaringly bald head.

It could also be that I’m projecting wardrobe preferences onto the baby, because I’ve looked through her clothes drawer and it’s verrrrry familiar. No browns or tans. Hardly any pink or yellow. Lots of black pants with bright tops, bright pants with black & white tops, etc. Oh and a cat shirt with sparkles, which I would wear if I thought coworkers would take me seriously in it.

She’s built kind of spindly and narrow, so I’ve taken to putting her in leggings. I even sewed a couple pairs this fall so that I could make them extra narrow and extra long.
DIY baby leggings

DIY baby leggings
And what looks better with leggings than tunics? I knit a dark teal version of Like Sleeves for Babies. It’s a little short and wide, so if I knit it again I’d lengthen it so that it could start as a dress and become a tunic as she grows.

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The other thing I’ve been busy making is hats. This kid’s head circumference is >99% on the CDC charts. It’s a seriously impressive noggin and it’s required a set of progressively larger garter earflap hats. I love the pattern though – it’s everything you want in a baby hat but nothing extra, and it’s a great use of handspun or partial skeins. She just doesn’t always want it on her head.

Garter earflap hatOther posts about DIY baby clothes:
Handspun poncho
Two tiny newborn sweaters
Double-thick mittens

Yukon ho!

It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and although my office is closed, daycare is not…at least not until 1pm. I dropped off baby L and am enjoying some coffee-and-computer-in-pajamas time. Using the laptop anywhere near baby is impossible right now as it leads to shrieking, grabbing, pressing of all the keys, and tantrums. So I’m really basking in the luxury here.

I finished up edits on the pattern, which I’m calling Yukon ho! in honor of my favorite cartoon strip, Calvin & Hobbes.

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Baby L loves the outdoors, but after a year in Mexico we’re coming up on her first real winter. Most of the baby mittens I’ve seen in stores are cute but sorta flimsy, so I designed a pair that were truly adventure-worthy. The extra long cuff ensures they stay put. Every time I take them off after a long stroller ride, her hands are super toasty.

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From now until the end of Thanksgiving weekend, Yukon ho! is 50% in the ravelry shop. It comes in three sizes – newborn, baby, and toddler – and is a great way to use up partial skeins you’ve stashed.

Ready for a little holiday knitting?

I’m working on finishing touches for a pattern…hoping to get it out in time for post-Turkey relaxation knitting.

It’s a quick pair of lined baby mittens, knit all in one piece, perfect for holiday gift-giving and personal stash-busting. I’ve made a half dozen prototypes and passed them out to friends, who report that the mittens are super warm and don’t fall off. YEAH!
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Learning to knit without the garter-stitch scarf

Four years ago I made my first design contribution to ravelry – a free hat pattern called Kami. Almost 600 of them have been knit!

Someone commented that she used the pattern to teach a friend to knit:Screen shot 2015-10-17 at 9.18.33 AM

Hats aren’t often used to teach people to knit, but I think they should be. That’s because a hat is – most importantly – not a scarf. Ugh. It is unclear to me how garter-stitch scarves earned their spot as the ubiquitous learn-to-knit project. In my experience, here’s what’s wrong with them:

1. They completely ignoring purling, inevitably leading to another generation of knitters who claim that “knitting is way easier than purling.” It is, if knitting is all a beginner practices for an entire scarf.

2. They are usually knit on straight needles. I prefer teaching on circular needles, which are easier to hold and maneuver. The weight of the piece is evenly distributed on the needle, which puts less of a strain on the wrists.

3. They take forever. I warn beginners that knitting has a pretty long improvement curve. That means that you have to suffer through it feeling awkward and slow for quite a while. I know people who have been “working on their first scarf” for multiple years, or who just never finish. It’s too much work for too long without having a finished object to show for it.

i plan to half knit quite a bit this winter

4. They announce, “I knit this.” Which is alright, but most people get into knitting to make things that look handmade, not homemade.

5. They don’t require a pattern or a gauge swatch. This seems like a plus, since it takes some of the fussiness out of the process. But if someone’s goal is to eventually move out of scarf-land (i.e. sweaters, mittens, hats), they’ll need to learn gauge and pattern-reading eventually, and I’ve found that beginners are okay with both as long as it’s not complicated. Plus, knitting a gauge swatch is the perfect practice run before launching into the project.

Wow. I just hated on garter-stitch scarves a LOT. I owe them something of a thank-you, to be fair, since that’s exactly what my first project was. But I also clearly remember the first FO that I was proud of, and it was not a scarf. It was a pair of fingerless mitts that used short rows, which I spent days attempting and ripping out. In the end my pride was misplaced, since I hadn’t realized that 100% cotton would lack the sort of stretch you’d want in fingerless mitts.

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Am I the only one with a strong hatred for garter-stitch scarves? What pattern did you learn to knit with? What pattern(s) do you use to teach others?

Here are a few patterns that I’ve used when teaching:

Wurm Hat (photo (c) verabee)

Drop-Stitch Cowl – © Abi Gregorio

Calorimetry ear-warmer – © Kathryn Schoendorf