Halloween Countdown

Look what I found in the garden!

Last year for Halloween, Wyatt was an elephant. This year, he wanted to be a panda. I offered to knit him a panda hat and sew him a panda costume. He vehemently objected. "NO MOM. I want you to knit one JUST LIKE last year, only black and white, and we can paint rainbow buttons." Little known fact: Pandas are creatures of habit.

There was no way I was knitting another Union Suit, especially considering the first one still fits. Also, one of my rationalizations for knitting an entire Halloween costume is that I get to learn something new, so repeating a pattern wouldn't work. It took me several weeks, but I finally convinced Wyatt that the way to go this year was a pair of Hammer-style knitted play pants and a cardigan with a simple, panda-esque yoke. I sold him on the practicality of having a two-piece garment when he needed to go to the bathroom, promised he could paint buttons for the panda hat, and told him I'd put as many buttons as I could on the cardigan. It was May when we reached an agreement, in case you're curious about the timeline on a project like this. Then it was time to shop for yarn.

In addition learning something new, this knitting exercise requires my using sustainably and ethically made materials. While the yarns suggested for both of the patterns sounded lovely, I opted to use Quince & Co. yarns. Quince uses 100% American wool, and the wool is processed, spun, and dyed responsibly in the United States. I also used the leftover cotton fabric and thread from last year, and got buttons, once again, from Honey Be Good.

Substituting yarns in a pattern can be tricky, and the sweater and play pants patterns were no exception. I opted for Lark, which is a worsted weight yarn, even though both patterns were written for lighter weight yarns. I did a lot of swatching, modifying, measuring, and cursing as I went along. In the end, I made it all work.

I started with the hat (in Puffin), went on to the play pants (they photograph terribly, so there's no image of them alone), and then I did the cardigan. Why this order? As I told Marc, if were hit by a bus before finishing the cardigan, he could go get a 3/4-length sleeve black and white baseball shirt, and Halloween would be just fine. The big thing I learned from this costume is how to steek a cardigan. After getting past the terror, there's something truly empowering about slicing up the middle a sweater you just finished knitting, especially when it works as beautifully as it did here.

Last, Wyatt and I built a belly for the panda. We sewed three sides of a belly-sized rectangle of pink cotton interlock fabric to an old t-shirt of Wyatt's, stuffed it medium-full with stuffing I had stashed in a closet, and then we sewed the fourth side. Instant panda! Ha.

The one thing we forgot to do was grow bamboo. Does "fast growing" mean we can have stalks in a week? We'll see.


Our Little Elephant

Let me present our little elephant. He will be very cozy this Halloween!

(In case you are concerned about how Wyatt can see through or around this hat, don't be. He was looking down for this photo for full elephant effect. The hat does not cover his face.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we started working on the hat for this costume in June. June may sound like a crazy time to start working on a warm, wooly hat, but we live in San Francisco, and for the last two years, June has been the absolute perfect time for Halloween hat making.

Wyatt opted for the elephant hat pattern from Vanessa Mooncie's Animal Hats book. The yarn we chose was Lamb's Pride, Charcoal Heather, in bulky weight, and I purchased it locally from Imagiknit. Lamb's Pride is 85% wool and 15% mohair, and is made by the Brown Sheep Company, a family owned and operated yarn spinning mill in Mitchell, Nebraska. The company has been around for decades, and over the last several years, they have updated their equipment and developed ways to reuse 70-90% of their waste water every day. The yarn is soft and warm, and it looks like it would felt very easily.

Once the hat was mostly finished (only the lining was left), I put the elephant costume project on pause until September.

In September, I started working on the body of the costume, the elephant suit, as Wyatt calls it, knitting it out of Balance yarn by O-Wool

As I neared the end of the elephant suit, I realized we would need buttons, as well as lining and matching thread for the hat. And I realized that to stay true to my plan to use sustainable materials for this costume, I would need to do some research. I first looked for vintage buttons, but couldn't find the sixteen I needed in the right size, never mind in colors we wanted. After some further poking around online, I found Honey Be Good. They sell unfinished wooden buttons (made in the USA from sustainable hardwood) and some cute, organic patterned interlock fabric.

I consulted with Wyatt on the buttons and the lining. He was excited about the buttons but really wanted me to use the light pink interlock fabric in my stash to line the hat. His plan worked for me, so I purchased the buttons and light pink thread (to match the lining) from Honey Be Good. The thread I purchased is by Gütermann creativ, 100% recycled polyester, from post-consumer plastic bottles, and is Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified.

The next question I faced was what to do with the unfinished buttons. Beeswax polish for a natural finish? Stain? Paint? Natural dye? I considered all of it. Beeswax polish was out because Wyatt and I wanted a pop of color on the suit. Stain and paint would be fine, if I could find a less toxic alternative to what's available in most hardware stores. I looked into mixing my own paint with pigments, but a linseed oil base wouldn't cure in time. I considered milk paint, but I didn't feel willing to commit to such a large amount of paint for such a tiny project. I bought some turmeric root, but after going to two stores, I could not find the alum that would help bind the color to the wood during natural dying. In the end, I stopped overthinking it and went with the acrylic artist paints in my stash. It felt so good to get them out again.

Wyatt and I mixed the paint colors for the buttons of his suit from the three primary colors, plus some magenta and a touch of white. We also used shiny gold paint for one big button, to give the suit the sparkle it needed. Mixing the colors thrilled and delighted Wyatt, and the project engrossed him like no other project I have ever witnessed. He remarked to me as he painted buttons with tiny, thorough brushstrokes, "We're working very hard on these buttons! Let's pretend we are a button factory!" 

Later that night, I varnished the buttons after I discovered that the paint color transferred pretty easily to a damp cloth. Color transfer wouldn't do for an elephant suit that still needed to be washed and blocked!

In the morning, Wyatt helped me arrange the order of the colored buttons. The front of the suit was to be mostly in rainbow order, so I did that, and then he set up the buttons for the butt flap. 

I sewed on the buttons with gray thread I had in my stash, and I lined the hat while Marc took Wyatt out to the park.

I wet-blocked the suit and it took about three days to fully dry.  Once it was dry, I added the tail. Wyatt now spends some of most afternoons as an elephant, until he overheats. I really hope Halloween isn't that hot, or we will have a very sweaty elephant on our hands.

"What do you want to be for Halloween?"

What to be for Halloween is such an important question in our house. Wyatt starts planning his costume early. And by early, I mean November 1. I remember driving Wyatt to school one day last year in early November, and he had a list of about seven different Halloween costumes he wanted to wear, in order: "Next year, I want to be a polar bear, and the year after that, a duck, and the year after that, a kitty cat..."

His polar bear plan lasted a few months, but after sitting down with my book, Animal Hats To Knit And Show Off, he changed his mind. And that change stuck. Just like last year, Wyatt had fully committed to his Halloween costume by early June. And just like last year, I knit his hat during the summer but waited to work on his suit until September

This time of year, I think back to the hours I used to spend as a kid dreaming up and crafting costumes out of fabric and trim remnants. Hot glue, pins, and stitching--we used it all in a flurry of activity.

And this is the perfect time of year to look back at old Halloween photos. We have four years of Halloween photos, because Marc and I never dressed-up before Wyatt was born. We are unusual for adults in San Francisco. Anyway, I think we may have peaked early as a family on Wyatt's first Halloween. All three of us dressed up that year, and only that year. I was the beehive, Marc was the beekeeper, and Wyatt was, of course, the bee. I ordered my wig, Marc's t-shirt, the netting for his hat, and Wyatt's costume online. I made our tiny bees out of pipe cleaners.

For Wyatt's second Halloween, he was a Great Horned Owl. I ordered his costume on Etsy, and it was ingenious. The base of the costume was a hoodie, so it was super easy to wear and very comfortable. The crafter had affixed a variety of felt and actual feathers all over the sweatshirt, very much like a great horned owl. I ordered a pair of matching sweatpants from Kohl's (the source of the costume's hoodie), and Wyatt was good to go.

By the fall of 2013, I had found my crafting mojo. Wyatt wanted to be a dragon, and I accepted the challenge. I modified a pattern for a crocheted crocodile hat, adding claws and ears. I also sewed wings from one of Marc's old shirts and the fabric of the skirt of the bridesmaid dress I wore for my sister's wedding. Finally, I sewed Wyatt a green fleece sweatsuit--his dragon suit. Wyatt made a truly splendid dragon. He still wears the hat and wings, but much to his dismay, he outgrew his dragon suit awhile ago.

Last year, Wyatt wanted to be a lion. That was pretty easy compared to the dragon. I made his hat from the pattern in the Animal Hats book, with Malabrigo Rasta yarn in Coronilla that I bought at Imagiknit. As I mentioned earlier, I finished the hat in June, but waited until September to make his "lion suit," which ended up being a purple fleece sweatsuit. I used the same pattern that I had used for the dragon suit, but I made a bigger size. As you can see by the photo below, the lion costume lends itself to accessorizing. Wyatt continues to use and wear his costume regularly.

In fact, my favorite part about the costumes that I have made is that Wyatt still loves wearing some portion of them. Hats and wings are a great way for him to dress-up and pretend, and the dragon and lion suits have been super cozy to wear after swimming lessons.

This year's costume is finally finished and drying next to me on the floor, because like a good knitter, I wet blocked it last night. Wyatt is not at all happy that it is still wet. He'd rather be wearing it everywhere. Next week, I will share the rest of the story about this year's costume. If you're dying for a sneak peek, I have posted some "Work In Progress" photos on Instagram

Victorian House in the City

Lately, I have been knitting like it's my job. I am knitting Wyatt's Halloween costume this year, and I started later than I should have. I ordered my yarn at the end of September, which is too late for much measure of comfort in terms of an end of October deadline.


During the same time that I've been knitting up a storm, I've been reading Little House on the Prairie aloud to Wyatt at bedtime.* Hearing about the long wagon ride from the Big Woods out to the Prairie, how the family built their home and stable out of raw materials, and how they traveled and kept house in the wild has been absolutely riveting to him. For me, revisiting this story as a parent has given me new respect for every pioneer parent who ever lived. Life was hard.

While Ma and Pa have been felling trees, building a house, cooking over an open fire every day, and ironing their clothes on a bed in their covered wagon,** I've been knitting a Union Suit pattern by Megan Grewal. I chose this pattern because it will work perfectly for Wyatt's costume, and because it involves several design features I've either never done or never mastered. For example, I've never knitted a garment with legs or a gusset, and I need to practice my buttonholes. 

The yarn I am using is Balance, by O-Wool. I've been challenging myself over the last year to make more responsible choices when buying crafting materials, as well as when buying ready-to-wear clothing and home goods. O-Wool has terrific standards. Owner Jocelyn Tunney offers environmentally responsible, affordable yarn that is made in the United States from certified organic materials. Jocelyn also gave me excellent advice on which color yarn to purchase. I didn't feel like I had time to order a swatch card before actually ordering the yarn, so I emailed her and told her about my project. In my email, I included links to the general color of yarn I wanted to find, and I told her I thought that I should order Graphite, but I wanted to see what she thought. She confirmed that Graphite was the way to go, and it's absolutely perfect in person.

I have just found and ordered the buttons we will use. I think Wyatt will be able to help me paint them, which should be fun.

Wyatt checks every day to see my progress on his suit. He is starting to understand that knitting takes time (for me anyway). And he knows that when I finish the legs, I'll move on to the arms, then the butt flap, and then the button bands. His anticipation is great, and I love that he's gaining appreciation for the work that goes into creating things. 

The other night, after I put Wyatt to bed, I sat grafting together the two halves of the gusset on the suit. That little patch connecting the two leg holes reminded me of the many pairs of store-bought tights I've worn, ripped, and thrown away in my life. I imagined having to sit and knit a pair of stockings because someone in my family absolutely needed them. And there would be so many other other garments everyone would need. Knitting was probably the easiest and most restful activity a pioneer homemaking woman would have during her exhausting day, and there would be so much of it to do.

Reading about the Ingalls family during a week of furious-knitting-by-choice has made me so grateful I live with modern conveniences. We have running water, electricity and a washing machine! And we get to choose whether to knit our sweaters and socks, sew our clothes and sheets, or hunt, grow and cook our own food. Modern life may be more complicated in some ways than pioneer life was. But I prefer the luxury of making choices about what to buy, what to make, and researching sustainable options over having to make everything myself.

*We had already read Little House in the Big Woods a few times and were ready to try another one in the series. When I read these books to Wyatt, I do some editing on the fly. I omit the scenes, songs, and references that are not appropriate for him right now. 

**The ironing really gets me. Was this ironing out of pride? Or habit? Good, crisp Christian values, maybe? They saw no one else for days and days, and yet, Ma ironed everything. I feel like ironing would be the last thing I'd do if I were resettling, but maybe that's because I only iron when I absolutely have to.