Yarn and thread

Once upon a time, when we were relatively newly married and in our starving graduate student phase, my husband and I bought our first (artificial) Christmas tree, which cost $30 on sale at Rite Aid. We bought a few strands of lights, and I made some ornaments out of sculpy to supplement our small collection. As for the bottom of the tree, all we had for an improvised tree skirt was a white sateen baby blanket someone had given Anselm. It fit very awkwardly — being a rectangle and all — but we made do.

Two years ago we upgraded the tree, but we’ve still been making do with the same improvised tree skirt… until now!

This was made semi-following a pattern I bought from Mary Maxim. I followed it exactly for the twelve snowflake motifs, but then went off-piste for more of the rest. The original pattern isn’t a joined circle, but has two sort of flaps that overlap in order to make it easier to put around the tree. I prefer the security of having it totally closed; we’ll just have to remember to put it over the stand before the tree goes in. No big deal. I decided to go with a single red accent stripe in the outer section mostly because I was running too low on the other colours, but I brought the white and tan back in when I added the tassels. All in all, I’m very pleased with how this came out.

The yarn is also from Mary Maxim, called “starlette sparkle”. It’s nice and glittery, but it’s a fairly rough acrylic. That makes it good for household projects like this one — but I wouldn’t want to wear it. Still, I expect we’ll be using this for decades to come, which pleases me.

Also in the realm of pleasing things, check out this beautiful old girl:

That, my friends, is a vintage Singer 403a, manufactured in either 1959 or 1960. My grandmother was downsizing, and — lucky me — I ended up with with sewing machine. It came with the manual as well as all requisite parts, and after a good cleaning and oiling this morning it runs like a dream. It’s been years since I’ve had a working sewing machine, so I just sat right down for two quick and dirty projects!

I do mean quick and dirty. I neither ironed nor pinned (I know, I know). But I think they came out well regardless. The first used the fabric from Perpetua’s old broken umbrella, which I turned into waterproof tote:

The second is an envelope-style slip cover for a throw pillow (I’ll make its twin soon):

This fabric is very special to me. I mentioned recently that I’ve been sorting through all our old baby things as Tertia outgrows them. Something I couldn’t bring myself to either sell or donate was the woven wrap from Lenny Lamb that I used to carry Anselm through most of his infancy. He was a winter baby, and a heavy one (!), and those long cozy layers were perfect for us as I learned to be a mom.

And so, instead of getting rid of it, I decided to transform it. Anselm’s wrap will live on in our home as cushion covers, and perhaps other things as well — there’s certainly enough fabric for more projects. It warms my heart to have a reminder of those special months that’s so tangible, beautiful, and practical. Hooray for being able to sew again!

A morning’s work

We seem to be in a bit of a transitional season here at casa Pennylegion. Tertia is a sturdy toddler now, and so I have had to start deciding to do with all our baby things: what to sell, what to donate, what to put away for sentiment’s sake, what simply needs to be thrown away. And of course, in late October, the season is in full transition as well; after some unseasonably warm weather we are now indisputably into fall. And while it’s still warm enough when we’re walking Anselm to school in the morning that snow suits would be overkill, it’s still cold enough that little legs need a little more coverage in the stroller.

Happily, this all afforded me the chance to kill two birds with one stone. After a morning’s hand-sewing, Tertia now has a lovely warm stroller sack, and I have three fewer flannel baby blankets in my cupboard.

These blankets were all square, which meant a certain amount of experimental folding and pinning before I got a shape with which I was satisfied. The sports panel in the middle is folded in half, and the outer striped panel is folded to meet it, which gives three layers of flannel over the portion that will cover her torso. The back half is a leg pocket, made of the dotted blanket. That was been folded in half one way and in… sixths?… the other, which allowed it to join up nicely on the sides with the front half, and will leave her legs with three layers on top and two behind.

From the front the whole thing is much less busy — all you see are white and grey stripes, with some purple stitching (blanket or whip, depending on the section). And while getting my sewing machine working would certainly have made this a lot quicker, there is something about hand sewing that I find very satisfying — perhaps not despite, but because of its slowness.

Last Harvest

We had frost on the ground this morning, and there’s rain scheduled for the next day or two, so I decided to harvest the last of our garden produce for this year. There’s not much going anymore, but I still brought in a good bowl full of brussels spouts (of various sizes), a nearly overflowing bowl of tomatoes (of various ripenessess), and the last seven unripe figs.

We did have a few figs ripen this season, which was more than I expected. The first was half-eaten by squirrels, drat them, but I brought two others in before they were quite ripe and they finished up in our fruit basket. Those were delightfully soft and jammy, with a berryish taste. There is one more undergoing the same indoor ripening treatment now.

As for the unripe figs, the thing to do seems to be to first boil them to death, and then poach them in simple syrup with some clove and vanilla. So that will be a fun experiment! If they turn out well, it looks like they’re fairly easy to preserve this way, which will be handy in future years when we can expect a larger crop.

All in all, I consider our first year of gardening to have been a success. There are definitely some adjustments we’ll make next spring — more strawberries, for one thing! — but with the 2-3 more raised beds we’re planning there will be plenty of room for all sorts of experiments. I do want to have one bed just for strawberries. The cucumbers and tomatoes both did very well, and I’d like to grow more of those next year with an eye toward learning how to can and pickle. And I think it would be great fun to try a three-sisters planting in one of the beds: sweet corn, some sort of squash (pie pumpkins?), and beans (pole? runner?) growing in harmony.

For my winter homework, I’ve got a handful of gardening books from the library to absorb. It’s been tremendously satisfying to be able to eat food that we’ve grown ourselves, and I can’t wait to see where our next season will take us.

Stashbuster

Guess what! It’s another 12-point star blanket! In These Uncertain Times ™ I hope that my crochet habits are a small touchstone of predictability for all of you.

Not much to say about this one, except that I took it on with the sole goal of finishing this skein of yarn. I’m not crazy about pastels, I don’t really like variegated yarn, it was a huge pain the last time I crocheted with it… but I feel guilty throwing useful things out, and it was too snarled to give away in good conscience, so “use it up” was the remaining choice. And so I did. And it was annoying. And now it is done.

This baby blanket is destined for the church donation stash, where I trust that it will end up with someone who does like pastels, and for whom it won’t matter whether the yarn was nice to work with so long as it is soft and warm. Which, as a matter of fact, it is.

The honeycomb blanket (free pattern)

This blanket made it safely through the mail to its recipient, so I can finally blog about it!

Dear friends of ours are expecting their third child very soon, and since the sex is a surprise I thought a nice neutral like yellow would work well. This is Lion Brand Scarfie yarn in the colourway “cream/mustard” which reminded me very strongly of bees and honey — and so the honeycomb blanket was born! I’d never used Scarfie before, but it’s a delightful wool-acrylic blend, warm and very soft, that I would be happy to crochet with again.

The construction of this blanket is relatively simple. If you can crochet a granny square, you can crochet a granny hexagon, as the principle is exactly the same. Once you have the basic pattern down it’s easy to just keep repeating until you’ve achieved the desired size. In this case, I used almost four skeins of yarn for a toddler-sized blanket.

Start with a magic circle (or if you’re rather not punish yourself, ch 4 and sl st to join).

Chain 3 to serve as your first dc, 1 dc — this is your first granny cluster (six sides requires only 2 dcs per cluster as opposed to the regular 3). Ch 1, and repeat until you have 6 clusters joined with a chain stitch in between each. Slip stitch to close the round and move over to a chain space.

Ch 3 to serve as your first dc, 1 dc, ch 1, 2 dc — this is the first corner cluster of your second round. Repeat pattern in each chain space around; you will have 12 dc granny clusters, with a chain space in between every second cluster. The chain spaces will be the corners of your hexagon (although it can be a little hard to discern them in the early rows this will become very obvious soon). Slip stitch to close the round and move over to a chain space (corner).

Repeat the general cluster pattern, doing two clusters joined with a chain in each corner of the previous rounds, and a single cluster in between each non-corner cluster. Go until your hexagon is as big as you want it, then sc around for a nice finish.

Happy crocheting!

Mid-season garden notes

Veggies:

  • Tomatoes: doing excellently. We planted two varieties of cherry tomato — one red and one golden — and they’ve been producing beautifully.
  • Cucumbers: two plants, ditto. We’re getting some big boys off of these vines; these make about ten full-size cukes so far, and there are more to come. Next year we will need to stake them properly.
  • Radishes: the radishes also did very well and it was fun to grow them from seed. However, I am the only one in the house who really eats them, and I can’t eat that many radishes. We’ll skip these next year.
  • Spinach: these seeds didn’t take; we only got the one plant and its leaves stayed quite small, so we didn’t get to harvest before it bolted. I’m not sure if we’ll try again next year or not.
  • Broccoli: we have two plants and I kept waiting for them to get bigger before harvesting, but like the spinach they just bolted. I’ve left these in the garden anyway, for the pollinators.
  • Brussels sprouts: what a big plant! We’ve got lots of little nubbins on the stem that will eventually become sprouts; so far, so good on this one. Something has been eating the leaves but it doesn’t seem fussed.
  • Garlic: I planted three bulbs in a large pot rather later in the spring than I should have. For a long time all the pot sprouted was various tiny mushrooms (it has been a very wet summer) but last week some definite garlic leaves surfaced. I’m curious to see what kind of a bulb we’ll get.

Fruit:

  • Strawberries: we have just one strawberry plant, but it is now starting to produce a second crop. We lost most of the first one to the birds before putting up netting, but there are lots of little green strawberries developing now and I’m looking forward to eating them! Next year I want to have an entire raised bed just for strawberry plants.
  • Blueberries: we’ve got a small blueberry bush in a large pot, and it’s doing pretty well. Earlier in the spring its leaves started turning red on the edges, but I added some coffee grounds to the soil and that perked it right back up. The blueberries have been ripening for what feels like six hundred years and they’re still green. Evidently we picked a late-ripening variety. I’ll be sure to make a note of when they’re actually ready to eat so that less of next summer will be spent on tenterhooks.
  • Figs: Figs! FIGS! We planted the Chicago Hardy variety, which should survive our winters with minimal insulating, and it’s been growing like gangbusters. I’ve been fertilizing it about every 2-3 weeks with an 18-18-18 mix (the Miracle-Gro tub with the tomatoes on the front) and it’s put on a lot of height and foliage. And now the first little wee figlets are starting to grow — just a few millimeters in diameter but definitely there. Note to self: purchase organza bags to avoid sharing these with the birds as well.

Ornamentals:

  • Back: our back flower beds are still very overgrown on the whole, but we’ve made good progress as far as the random tulips and daffodils growing out of the lawn. One more season, maybe two, and I think we’ll have gotten them all. My husband took out a number of bushes on the one side that were not doing well, and we replaced them with two flowering bushes native to our area. I seeded microclover throughout the lawn last fall and we have a few good-sizwd patches. Other than that, we’re just continuing to thin things out, which is easier now that we know where all the perennials are.
  • Front: there are two small circular beds in the front lawn that had pretty annuals in them when we bought the house, and nothing last year. This year we put in some native perennials, like foxglove, which have taken well (except for one tall plant that leans badly after having had a branch dropped on it during tree trimming). In the beds immediately in front of the house, I replaced/repaired some hardscaping and we discovered that plants grow better if you water them (surprise). There are a few patches still with not much going on; the dahlias I planted were enthusiastically ripped out by a nameless party who thought they were weeds. I am considering wild roses for next year.

And that’s how things are going! It is so lovely to have these green and growing spaces to work and enjoy, amateur as our efforts certainly are. Next year we hope to add at least one more raised bed, and probably two, and my husband also plans to build proper frames over them for netting (this year we wholly improvised with large branches from the bushes we ripped out and netting left in the basement by the previous owner). It’s been a great experience getting our feet wet this year and I’m really looking forward to further garden adventures!

Can’t stop, won’t stop

… making 12-pointed star blankets, that is. I think I’ve found my default pattern. Someone’s having a baby? Star blanket! Need something warm for winter? Star blanket! Just feel like crocheting something with no occasion or recipient in mind? It’s star blankets all the way down, baby.

As it happens, this particular star blanket does have a recipient. It’s for my husband — partially because his office is freezing, and partially because I realised I had made blankets for all the children but nothing for him. Actually I don’t think I’ve crocheted him anything since we were engaged (sorry, honey). But I hope this lovely, cozy, squishy blanket will make up for that deficit.

[Edit: not true; I made him a tea cosy. Thanks, Mom.]

The yarn I used for this is Fanatic Lux by Feza Yarns in their colourway #8. It’s an acrylic-wool-nylon blend which is soft and warm. It’s also a chainette yarn, which was something new to me. Instead of being plied in the usual way, chainette is machine knitted into a thin hollow tube — like a shoelace. Even though this yarn should be at least bulky weight by width/thickness, the hollow core means that it’s deceptively lightweight.

Fanatic Lux is discontinued, but I bought five skeins from someone on reddit, originally intending them for a cardigan. I used the entirety of four and most of the fifth, working with a K hook. It was a real pleasure to work with.

Of course, just because it’s for my husband doesn’t mean that he’ll get to use it…

Third time’s the charm

Another baby, another 12-point star blanket. This is such an easy project to work up, simple to memorize, and I love the way it looks when finished. I’ve previously made this pattern (two ways) with Red Heart It’s a Wrap Rainbow in “foggy” (Levi’s blanket, Sami’s blanket); this blanket is for Mayah, an old friend’s baby girl, and since the package finally made it to her I can blog about it now!

This also uses Red Heart It’s a Wrap, but in their “Sprinkles” line rather than Rainbow. As you can see, Sprinkles is an apt name for it! All those lovely long colour changes are still present, but one of the four strands is variegated, which breaks it up visually and disguises the change-points somewhat. This colourway is called “sundae” and I got it from YarnCanada.ca (that’s not a referral link; they’re just my go-to).

As usual, this blocked up nicely. This is in my tiny little basement craft room, and it’s got almost the last bits of carpet left in our house — which I suppose I can’t get rid of or I’ll have nowhere to dry large projects!

And now that this is finished — both blanket and post — I’m going to take a drink and a book outside and enjoy the sunshine in our backyard. Happy Sunday!

One day this quilt will be all patches

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted about mending our wedding quilt, which I chose to do by employing visible mending. I love the philosophy of making repairs visible; they become part of the item’s story, a testament to the love and care we (hopefully) take with our things. Since that post I have put on a few more patches, using different colours and patterns of fabric from my scrap bin. The process for these is exactly the same: iron, cut, press seams, hoop, stitch, fini. I put on a large block patch over a long rent in the border, and a series of smaller ones that fold over some tattering edges.

Well, the quilt has continued to wear, as these things are wont to do, and it was recently time for another round of repairs. There was one hole I found in the centre of the quilt, but the borders showed a lot more damage. (Which makes perfect sense as those are the parts that get yanked on while making the bed or adjusting the covers during sleep.) And since I was a bit bored of patches, I decided to see what I could do with embroidery. Here is satin stitch covering the tear in the middle:

Another example of satin stitch on the border, as well as some… star shapes? We’ll go with that.

For this long rent, I decided to do a backstitch outline/border around the tears, and fill it in with running stitch. I like the effect of not patching this and letting the batting show through. Time will tell if the running stitches are enough to hold it in place, but I think they’ll do fine.

I did a few small sections (only one pictured) in a loose cross-stitch:

And finally, the part that took the longest: a blobby, backstitched spiral around and onto another large tear. It reinforces the fabric around the tear as well as being decorative.

All of this took me several good evenings of work after the children were in bed. It reminded me how much I enjoy hand sewing, and especially embroidery — which, prior to these repairs, I hadn’t done for probably a good fifteen years. But I’ve got the itch again; I’ve sent off for an embroidery kit, and I’m working on adding some embroidered embellishments to a heretofore rather plain tshirt. That will be revealed when it’s finished — well, at least if it turns out!

Pattern: Easy Child’s Crocheted Ruffle Scarf

This is an easy scarf for the child in your life who loves all things ruffled! It was inspired by the “Mindless Mandala Scarf” from Trifles & Treasures; the biggest difference is that with my pattern you’re only working on one side of the starting chain, which gives a spiral effect.

This works up quickly. I used some Lion Brand Mandala in “Thunderbird” that I had left over after finishing Anselm’s afghan, and I love the effect of the long bands of colour. Between the shape and the stripes, this scarf made me think of turkey tail mushrooms the whole time I was making it.

Anyway, here’s the pattern!

Child’s Crocheted Ruffle Scarf

Abbreviations used:

  • ch = chain
  • sc = single crochet
  • hdc = half-double crochet
  • dc = double crochet
  • st = stitch

Materials: Any 4-weight (worsted) yarn with its suggested hook size; adjust as needed if you’d like a longer or wider scarf.

Foundation: Ch 150.

Row 1: Ch 1, turn, 1 hdc in each ch across

Row 2: Ch 1, turn, 2 hdc in each st across

Row 3: Ch 1, turn, 1 dc in each st across

Row 4: Ch 2, turn, [2 dc in first st, 1 dc in next st], continue across

Row 5: Ch 1, turn, 1 hdc in each st across

Row 6: Ch 1, turn, [2 hdc in first st, 1 hdc in next st], continue across

Row 7: Ch 2, turn, 1 dc in each st across

Row 8: Repeat row 7

Row 9: Ch 1, turn, 1 sc in each st across, fasten off

Happy crocheting!