How to Make Good Crafting Decisions

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Did you know I used to hate shawls? I've come around, obviously. My struggle was more with how to style them. Fortunately, my friends have taught me to appreciate the versatility and warmth of a shawl. And it's easy to love how shawls don't have to fit (no sleeves! no torso!).

Which brings me to my new pattern. It's a shawl called Caravanserai. Here's the blurb, or "pattern romance," about it:

For the travel-loving knitter, this generously sized triangular shawl packs down to nothing. Caravanserai’s bold color changes and geometric lace are just the ticket, whether you’re twirling the night away in your favorite little black dress, dining al fresco in Amalfi, or warming-up après ski. Built centuries ago in the desert regions of Asia and North Africa, a caravanserai was a roadside inn with a central courtyard where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Wherever you’re headed, toss a playful tassel across your shoulder and enjoy the airy drape of this fly-off-the-needles statement shawl.

Through the end of July 2018, I am donating 50% of Caravanserai pattern sales to RAICES, to support their work providing legal services for immigrant families. You can find more information about RAICES here: https://www.raicestexas.org/about/.

If you knit, please consider picking up a copy of the pattern. And if you don't knit, please consider picking up a pattern anyway! I'm sure you can convince someone to knit the shawl for you or at least teach you how to do it for yourself. Also, please share this post! The more patterns I sell, the bigger the donation to RAICES, an organization doing really important work.

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The yarn I used for Caravanserai is Cormo Fingering by Sincere Sheep. The moment I shipped Sincere Sheep my sample for their show booth, I began work on another version in the same yarn for myself. I'm working from my stash for this one. It has been surprisingly fun to mix and match colors I'd never have thought would work together. I have one row left of diamonds to do, then I'm on to the tassels. It's a good summer project--not too hot, easy to pick up and put down without losing my place, and super portable.

This summer, in and around craft projects, travel, and everything else, we've been talking a lot in our family about making good decisions as consumers. Plastic Free July and watching Blue Planet have been the catalysts for the discussions. Eliminating plastic waste wherever possible is important and so is thinking more broadly about other purchasing decisions. Fortunately, we all can address more than one issue at a time. What easier place to start than in our crafts? I mention yarn and knitting here, but these considerations apply to any other craft. They also apply to anything you want or need to buy. But sometimes it's easier to start new habits on something less daunting than every aspect of your entire life. Here are my thoughts so far.

Making Good Crafting Decisions

Use what you've got

  • Reduce waste by working from your stash whenever possible.
  • Consider giving previously knitted yarn a new life by knitting it into something else. Check out the Unraveling Club at Reunion Yarn.

What? You don't have enough yarn in your stash and lack the patience of a saint required for unraveling? I hear you. That's me usually me, too. Most often, a new project means shopping for new yarn. But before buying...

Do some research before you buy

I know. I'm so eager to get started on that new project, too. But remember that crafting is, compared to many things in our modern world, slow. It is also optional. If you're going to spend all those hours knitting that sweater, shawl, pair of socks or first hat, you can afford to spend some time doing some research to make good decisions about your yarn (and patterns, too).

When shopping for new yarn, go deeper than the basic questions of what's required for the pattern, what fiber you like, and what colors you prefer. Ask questions like, who's behind this company that makes the yarn I want to buy? What are their manufacturing and employment practices? Are those practices sustainable and fair? What are the company's values? The "About" section on most companies' websites will often answer many of these questions. if not, ask. Send the company a direct message through social media, drop an email to customer support, or buck the text/email/dm trend and call them on the phone.

Actions matter more than intentions

Remember that the answers you get about a company's values and practices may not match how a company acts. It's the actions, not the intentions, that matter. Pay attention to what a company actually does, call them out when they blow it, and let them know what (if anything) they can do to have a chance to earn back your business.

Speak up

Speaking up about your decision to take your business elsewhere is critical to raising a company's awareness and hopefully, encouraging them to do better.

For example, you can read here about an issue that Lady Dye Yarns experienced and shared regarding Madeline Tosh. Madeline Tosh's response to me and others on Instagram regarding this issue was so toxically dismissive that I plan to never buy their yarn or any other product from them ever again, and I let them know as much. Another recent example involves Brooklyn Tweed. You can read here about their "dick move." I have unsubscribed from their newsletter and told them why I'm not buying from them.

In short: Be resourceful, get informed, speak up, and support companies and people who deserve your business. Repeat.

You can find the Caravanserai shawl pattern in my Ravelry shop.

The Latest: News and Knitting

This week's blog post was going to be entirely about the knitting patterns I released into the wild late last week. But this weekend, white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, and through their acts of terrorism, they severely injured and killed people, including Deandre Harris and Heather Heyer. The president has, once again, shown us who he is by failing to immediately denounce the neo-Nazis and their actions. I wish I were shocked.

I've read great pieces about how we can respond to the events in Charlottesville, including this one, and this one, about how to talk to children about it.

But a "what happened in Charlottesville" conversation is a tiny part of the ongoing conversation we (and when I say "we," I mean white people, in particular) need have every day with our children. Hate mongers don't get to decide when I address racism (or any other societal scourge) with Wyatt. So today? We continued reading Rad Women Worldwide. We read about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Sophie's story is inspiring, remarkable, and so worth your time. I hadn't heard it before this week. Here are some of the things we discussed in connection with our reading:

  • "Wait. So she JOINED the Nazis? Didn't she know they were bad?" (She joined because she didn't know what they were about. When she learned they were about hatred and inequality, she fought them.)
  • "I'm smiling right now because she was so brave making those papers and leaving them around--she could have been arrested for that!" (YES!)
  • "Do the people that hate always lose? Like in that war we talked about, the one before the enslaved people were free, and in this one, the Nazis lost. But if they lose, they don't always get killed, right? So there are still some of those kinds of people around." (Right. We've talked about them before. People who hate other people because their skin is a different color, for example.)
  • "Hang on. So those Nazi people liked people like them. And I'm white like them, so they'd like me, right?" (Ah. Good point. They might. But they don't like people who stand up for others, either. I know it feels good when people like us. But it's okay, and sometimes it's really good, not to be liked. You're safe. Your dad and I and other grown-ups keep you safe. There are a lot more people (like us) who believe in equality and fairness, and we win because we work together.)

We win because we work together. May it be so.

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In lowercase "n" news, I published some patterns last week. (No, there aren't any good transitions from Nazis to knitting. Trust me. I've looked.) My Coastal Urban Trails Collection includes patterns for three accessories inspired by the rugged beauty (and fog!) of San Francisco’s beaches, parks, and open spaces. All three patterns include two versions: one for a bulky yarn and one for a lighter weight yarn.

There's a hat, Nest: Dove (in O-Wool Chunky Merino) and Hummingbird (in O-Wool Local).

There's a cowl, Strata: Mountain (in O-Wool Legacy Bulky) and Sand (in Sincere Sheep Equity Sport).

And there are also boot cuffs!  Footpath: Stroll (in O-Wool Legacy Bulky) and Hike (in Sincere Sheep Equity Sport).

Nest and Strata use a technique called helix knitting (or helical stripes) (like a barber pole!) in their construction. I have included how-to instructions and a link to a video, too. It's hard for me to believe I've been working on these patterns since the winter; no one ever said I was efficient or prolific in this new occupation. I am pretty excited to see how much people enjoy knitting and wearing them.

(If you're so inclined, each pattern is available individually in my Ravelry store, and the ebook containing all three is 15% off through the end of August.)

 

 

 

Inspired By

Happy Valentine's Day from this little mouse (and me).

My inspiration levels have not been overflowing lately. Shocking, I know. I have had only just enough spark to take someone else's work and riff on it.

This hat is a good example. I loved Bristol Ivy's Peace de Resistance Mittens pattern, but I hardly ever wear mittens. Hats, on the other hand, I wear all the time. So, I turned the mitten pattern into a hat.

I finished the hat on Sunday, and I have posted my project notes on Ravelry in case you would also like to make a hat like this one. I like mine so much I almost slept in it Sunday night.

I then turned to knitting a gift for Wyatt for Valentine's Day. For the last two years, I have knitted him a little Valentine's present. The first year was a red heart pillow (that I scented with lavender flowers and is now worn and pilled from love) and the second year was a bouquet of lavender flowers (that sit on his nightstand).

Last week, Wyatt reminded me that Valentine's Day was coming and asked if I had already started working on his present. (I do love how there is no chance my child will wait and wonder whether I will meet his expectation for a present. I mean, why hope quietly, count on mind reading, and risk disappointment when you can SPECIFICALLY ASK?) I hadn't, so I looked through Hansi Singh's book of Amigurumi Knits, and I opted to make him a banana slug, inspired by the snail in her book, the endless amount of rain we have been getting this winter, and my lack of lovely yarn for a shell. But, the problem was three-quarters of the way through the body, the slug looked a lot like a gangrenous-colored peen warmer (as my friend Sarah correctly observed).

So Monday afternoon, I bought the pattern I had found last week before I talked myself into making that stripped-down snail. I knitted furiously from when Wyatt went to bed until the wee hours of Valentine's Day morning, knitting, embroidering, and assembling a Valentine's Mouse. The mouse is adorable, and way more time-consuming than I had anticipated.

And for dinner? Inspiration has been lagging a bit there, too. We had lots of soup last week. But this Saturday, after another afternoon volunteering at the Presidio Nursery (weeding this week!), I tried making Cabbage Pad Thai for the first time. I know, I know. The rallying cries of "Zucchini noodles!" or "Cauliflower rice!" followed by, "You won't even notice the difference!" is utter nonsense. Of COURSE you will notice a difference. If you don't, you're not paying enough attention to your food. The question should be whether you like the substitution, not whether there's a difference. Sometimes I like the swap, and sometimes I don't. Same goes for Wyatt. He actually scowled when I said it was Pad Thai made with cabbage, and said, "WHAT? NO NOODLES?" And he wasn't wrong--we all really do love cabbage in many forms, but cabbage is not noodles. So I made the recipe as written but added a two bricks of brown rice noodles I had just pre-cooked (mixed them in with the cabbage at the end). We also added a sprinkle of mung bean sprouts, too. We had just enough for the three of us for dinner.

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.

 

Treetop Owls and "Goldfish" Crackers

I have just published my third pattern! The Owl & Branch Beanie completes what I've named the Treetop Collection.

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It was pretty thrilling to hit "publish" on Ravelry, and I love that people are "favoriting" my designs. But there's even more to be excited about. Hard copies of all three of my patterns will be available for purchase in the Sincere Sheep booth at TNNA in Washington, D.C. and at the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon later this month!

Obviously, I'm excited about the release of these patterns. And Wyatt is also excited, but for a different reason. He's thrilled he won't have to sit (or stand) for any more photos for a little while.

This weekend included a flurry of activities related to getting knitted samples and pattern copies ready for the shows. And it also included some baking during a low-key, at-home day today.

Wyatt has recently been asking for Goldfish Crackers. Or, I should say, he has been asking for gluten-free, goldfish-shaped crackers (which, as far as I know, only exist if you make them yourself). It remains my opinion that Pepperidge Farm Parmesan Goldfish Crackers are the best snack cracker ever invented. It pains me that most gluten-free crackers are terrible. If something's going to be devoid of nutrition (as most snack crackers are), it should at least taste great. Store-bought gluten-free crackers never do.

When we went gluten-free four years ago, Wyatt was one year old. Parenting was very new, the toddler years were just beginning, and with the dietary restriction, the usual toddler snack foods weren't going to work for us. It was time to start figuring out alternatives.

Some of the first snack foods I made regularly were Anytime Cookies and Gluten-Free Cheesy Mini Goldfish Crackers. I stumbled on the cracker recipe pretty early in my search, and I have never strayed. It's fantastic. And even though I have yet to spring for two expensive (and no doubt time-consuming to use) tiny copper goldfish cookie cutters here or here, I think it's fair to conclude that the crackers taste great whatever shape they are. (But see UPDATE below.) Wyatt would desperately like to test this hypothesis, of course, and eat crackers shaped like tiny fish. So maybe we'll spring for those cookie cutters someday. Meanwhile, though, I do like the speed with which I can make random cracker shapes with the pizza cutter.

The recipe at Gluten-Free Canteen is perfect as-is. And here's what it looks like when I make gluten-free not-goldfish-shaped knock-offs with a pizza cutter:

And just like the "real" Goldfish Crackers, it's really hard to close the bag and walk away. Our half-gallon jar of them is already one third gone...

6/5/16 UPDATE: Imagine my surprise last Thursday when we received an unexpected package that contained two tiny copper goldfish cookie cutters. Our friends had sent them. We made more crackers today, this time with the shiny new cutters. And while I would have expected the goldfish shapes to taste the same as the random shapes, they don't. The goldfish shapes consistently bake so there is a delightful bubble in the body of the fish, and this bubble vastly improves the texture of the crackers. I was right about the cookie cutters taking more time, but it's so worth it.

Mystery Garden

"Mom. We HAVE to put stakes or bamboo sticks or SOMETHING in there for the peas to climb."

Just before Christmas, Wyatt and I sowed six planters of different kinds of cool weather vegetable seeds. In some planters, we even planted two kinds of seeds. When we were done, Wyatt informed me we HAD to label the planters RIGHT THEN. But I didn't want to get out the label maker with him (because for every label I make, he insists on two for himself) and I couldn't find the masking tape. Then it rained for awhile, so I put him off some more because the labels wouldn't stick to the pots. And then we both forgot about labels until mid-January when we went outside to empty the saucers under the planters. Surprise! Everything had sprouted except the peas, the only planter and seed combination we remembered.

Our little mystery garden practically pleads for me to be a better planner and organizer. The saying, "A stitch in time saves nine," also occurred to me, finger waggle and all. But rather than considering how I could become someone who does things like this right the first time, I'm thinking about the possibility that I can just learn to be more free with the label tape.

Over the last few weeks, some of our mystery seedlings have begun to reveal their identities. The radishes are obvious—fast growing and decidedly radish-like by now. The peas finally sprouted and are growing taller and taller. Just yesterday, I provided a tomato cage to satisfy their grabby little tendrils. I also noticed the beginning of feathery leaves on what might be a carrot, but because everything else in that pot looks decidedly not carrot-like, I still can't reach a conclusion about those seedlings. The rest of the planters remain a total mystery.

In an attempt to get some yield from all of the mystery plants, I read the backs of all the open seed packets for thinning recommendations. But because I can't say with certainty which packets of seeds we used for planting and which we didn't, or where they are, I simply attempted to average what most of the packets advised and applied that rule to all of the mystery seedlings. I like to think that if we were relying on me to grow the vegetables we'd eat this year, I would have handled seed sowing very differently and set us up for better results.

Details are obviously important. And as much as I like to think I can keep all the details about everything straight in my head, I have now proven to myself (once again) that I can't. Luckily for all of us, though, I wrote down the date we wrapped our Camembert-style cheese to age in the refrigerator. We have been counting down the days until taste test day, otherwise known as this past Wednesday. Our cheese was delicious, and there was no question that we created a Camembert. The flavor and texture were unmistakable. We also started another batch of chèvre that we will age, hopefully without the unwanted ecologies from our last batch. Wyatt took to heart David Asher's suggestion to taste our cheese before we age it. He slurped up almost an entire bowl of fresh chèvre curd.

As of today, we have officially run out of space in the refrigerator in which to age cheese. We are aging our blues, a second batch of Saint Marcellin, and I have just nestled in a second cave to house the chèvre cheeses.

I suppose this refrigerator real estate limitation is for the best, though, because although we want to make all the cheese now, I need to focus for the next couple of weeks on the details of my knitting patterns. Believe it or not, I think I have found a tech editor, and that means I've got a deadline!



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.