It’s finally finished!

Way back in 2019, I decided to buy myself a birthday present, and ordered a crochet blanket kit: Janie Crow’s beautiful “Persian Tiles” pattern, in the “Eastern Jewels” colourway. After 2.5 years of on-and-off work (mostly off), I finally finished a night or two ago. Here it is:

I’ve made some variations on the pattern. If you look up other Eastern Jewels blankets, you’ll see that there is no black in the original. I wanted to really separate the tiles in a way that highlighted their colours, going for a stained glass effect — which I think I’ve achieved! To do this I made all of the square and octagonal motifs as written, and then added a row of single crochet in black around all of their edges. This also made it very easy to do a no-show join, as I simply whip-stitched the pieces together with the same black yarn.

The other variation had to do with the triangles. The pattern calls for sixteen of them: twelve between the octagons on the outer edges, and four on each corner. I decided to omit the corner triangles entirely. For the inner group, instead of following the pattern and making coloured ones (to look like the square tiles, halved) I just made granny triangles, again in black. Because of my chosen stained glass aesthetic, I didn’t want it to look like any “panes” were incomplete.

The border is a simple one. Once the blanket was all sewn together, I did a row of single crochet all the way around, followed by two rows of moss stitch. After that, I did two rows of loops (chain five, skip a stitch, anchor with a single crochet stitch, repeat) and… that was that! I toyed with the idea of adding a third row of loops, but decided I’d rather be done. It will be very easy to add on later if I decide I really want it.

The blanket was made with Stylecraft Special DK yarn in twelve colours (storm blue, pistachio, tomato, spice, violet, duck egg, mustard, sage, fondant, vintage peach, buttermilk, black) and one ball of Stylecraft Life DK in fuschia. This made for a lot of ends to weave in. Like… a lot lot. Over 500 if I’ve totted it up correctly! Weaving all the ends may have taken more time than crocheting the squares; it definitely took more time than the assembly and border. Good thing I don’t mind doing the ends (and that the results were worth it).

All in all, this was an enjoyable project. I’m glad to have done it, and I’m really, really glad it’s done.

Car blanket for Perpetua

With impeccable timing, I’ve finished this woolen car blanket for Perpetua just as the weather here is finally getting consistently warm. Ah, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes…

About a year ago, a neighbour of my mother’s gave her a box of yarn to pass on to me. Inside were about a dozen skeins of “Lamb’s Pride” yarn from Brown Sheep Yarn in Nebraska. It’s an 85% wool 15% mohair blend, so very warm and very heavy (Lamb’s Pride comes in multiple weights but my skeins are Bulky). I wasn’t sure what to do with it for a long time; it’s a lot heavier than I would personally use for a garment and I only had about 500 yards of each colour. According to what I could find on ravelry, a lot of people use this yarn for felting.

But as we moved into fall and winter it struck me that it would be perfect for small lap-robe blankets that the kids could use in the van in the winter. Our old girl can take some time to really warm up and since you’re not supposed to use winter coats in cat seats things can get pretty chilly! (We do lay their winter coats on top of the buckles, don’t worry.) Perpetua is the one who is most bothered by the cold, so I decided to start with hers. And then I put it away halfway through because I was bored. I recently pulled it out and finished it in like two evenings, but least it will be ready for this winter. I’ve got some nice green and dark blue to make blankets for Tertia and Anselm as well.

This blanket was done in moss stitch with a K (6.5mm) hook.

I guess I knit things now

I made a thing. After twenty years of crocheting, my first knitting project is complete. I honestly don’t know how I feel about it… but I learned some things (including how to fix at least some of my mistakes) and ended up with an actual finished project, so that’s something.

Anyway, this is a pair of fingerless gloves, made with some leftover Mary Maxim Starlette Sparkle yarn from when I made our tree skirt. It was a pretty good yarn for a first project: not too splitty, not fuzzy, and a cheap acrylic to keep the stakes nice and low. The gold tinsel-y strands did give me occasional trouble when they didn’t want to stay with the rest of the yarn, but on the whole it was manageable.

The gloves were each knit as a panel, and then folded and seamed together. In the photo above, the first one I made is on the left and the second is on the right; I can definitely see some improvement between them even though I accidentally added a row or two to the second one. Counting is hard, guys. (It still ended up slightly smaller as my tension evened out a bit.)

This project taught me the long-tail cast-on, knitting and purling, garter stitch, stockinette stitch, ribbing, binding off, and three different techniques for seaming. Binding off, by the way, makes me feel like a wizard. It also taught me that 36 live stitches is a whole other thing compared to crochet’s one and it’s frustratingly easy to lose stitches off your needles. Errors on my part meant I also learned how to decrease after accidentally increasing, tink (knit backwards to go back in a row), pick up a dropped stitch from a few rows up, and get all of the stitches back on my needles after having to rip out several rows (nightmare). Phew.

Did I enjoy it? Yes and no. I hit a lot of the frustrating phases of learning a new skill, when you can follow instructions but don’t yet understand the “why” behind them, or when you know you’re making mistakes but don’t necessarily know how to fix or avoid them. Crochet is very relaxing to me; knitting definitely is not. I can see that it likely will be some day, if I’m willing to put in the work now. To be honest, I’m still deciding whether I want to do that, at least at this particular phase of my life. (But also to be honest, I daydreamed up an easy scarf pattern and got out some yarn to try it with, so clearly my brain is engaged with knitting even if my feelings aren’t.) I need to keep reminding myself that I’ve been crocheting for two decades and knitting for, like, six hours, so of course it’s going to be a very different experience. And that’s ok.

And if knitting doesn’t work out, well, I guess there’s always hand modeling.

Season of small projects

I’ve been making and finishing small batches of things, lately.

With my machine (and a small amount of hand-stitching to finish) I made a dozen double-sided cloth napkins out of fabric I had in my stash. The gold stripes and the blue were both pillowcases. The green and the brown stripes were… I don’t know what. Bolt leftovers, I suppose, that I think I got from my friend Kendra many years ago.

I crocheted a hanging basket so that our hats and mitts would have somewhere to go besides all over the floors. This is yarn from my stash and it’s either Red Heart Super Saver or a similar acrylic from Bernat. It’s too rough and stiff to use for a garment — the sides stand up on their own! — but it’s great for this kind of household storage.

I darned a favourite pair of tights for Perpetua, using three stands of embroidery floss and a wooden darning egg. It is a very amateur job but got it done. She says that it feels “great, but more tickly!”.

I made Perpetua an ear warmer and she hated it, so I turned it into a hat for me. The first picture (a mid-construction fit check) is more accurate to the colours. The yarn was a small skein of some soft and lovely 100% alpaca given to me by friends a number of years ago. It can sometimes be hard to find good projects to do when you only have one skein of something, but this ended up being exactly the right amount of yarn. This was made without a pattern.

And finally, after many many months of hiatus, I’m working on my Eastern Jewels blanket again and determined to complete it. There are sixteen of these octagonal tiles, and I had finished them all through to row 9 — and then just got the most terrible mental block when I tried to move on to row 10. There was something off in my counting, I think, but I just couldn’t figure out what to do! But recently I looked at it again and it just clicked, so we’re off to the races. I can finish one tile (rows 10-15) in an evening and it’s been really fun to see them come together. I have some plans to expand and slightly alter the pattern so… stay tuned for that 🙂

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.