Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beef Stew and Snow

Merritt snow It hasn't been a terribly snowy winter, in my opinion. Sure we got hit around Christmas, but then it all melted away.

That all changed this morning when the brief squalls the weatherman predicted turned into full on snow for the morning commute. Yeah, 2.5 hours later I made it to the office. I tried to focus on the fact that I wasn't smashed up and the trees were pretty, which helped me manage.

All along I'd been telling people they could thank me for the lack of snow since this was the year I finally let Hubby buy a snow blower. In fact, as soon as he took it out of the box I was assuring people it would be an easy winter.

Now I must accept the fact that this burst of bad weather might also be my fault. See, I made beef stew last night. We usually make it once or twice during the winter. We haven't made it so far this season and I finally did it last night, even though it's been warm.

Give Me Wine!
I've been a domestic goddess lately. Well, aside from the whole cleaning the house thing, so I hope mom doesn't have her hopes up too high for her visit this weekend.

No. My wonderfulness has been confined to picking up the destroying the kitchen slack since Hubby has been so busy with the end of the grading period.

My stew making has been thwarted recently because Hubby wouldn't fork over a bottle of wine. I would no sooner go digging through his wine fridge than he would mess with my yarn, so it was quite an impasse.

Finally, last night I went into the liquor store next to our dry cleaners and told the guy I need "a yummy, inexpensive wine for my beef stew."

He showed me the $6 Sutter Home. I went, "Uhhh," because I couldn't remember whether Hubby would drink it. The guy offered me something cheaper. I said I was willing to pay more since I'd be drinking it as well.

He showed me the $8 Woodbridge from Mondavi. I balked again because I know Hubby runs hot and cold on Mondavi wines.

He showed me the $10 Cab Sauv from McManis, told me it was delicious, and confirmed they were still family owned. (as it says right on the label.) I went with that one because I'd never heard of it, but it had a nice Scottish name.

Hubby said the Woodbridge would have been fine. sigh.

Into the Pot
To clear the evening, and since we were both getting home late, I planted the idea of orbeef stewdering pizza in Hubby's brain. Of course he ran with it, so we didn't have to cook dinner.

I generally follow the stew recipe in "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bitten.

I also wanted to bake cookies (I told you I've been all kinds of domestic lately). So I prepped all the veggies, then mixed up the cookie dough (the traditional one off the Nestle bag). The dough went together much quicker than I expected. I only do a half recipe, which gets me about three dozen cookies.

Then I went back to the stew as the cookies baked. There was a tense moment when I couldn't find any bay leaves, but I had some in storage in the basement (gasp!) so I was back on a roll.

The cool thing is that after the meat was browned stew is pretty hands off, which allowed me to lounge around watching the State of the Union speech and knit on Hubby's scarf.

I was also surprised to realize that stew is sort of a one-pot dish. You might have realized from those chicken dishes that I'm a casserole kind of girl.

Well, aside from the cutting board and the bowls I used to hold the chopped veggies, the only pot I got dirty was the great big one. So the kitchen wasn't as destroyed as I was expecting. Even with baking the cookies.

If we cook stew on the weekend we'll have it for dinner that first night, but we really prefer it after it's been in the crockpot for a day. A slick thing I thought of last night was to use the cockpot sleeve to hold the browned meat while it was waiting for the veggies to catch up. I'm so clever.

And despite all that activity, I still got to bed at a decent hour.

Dumplings and Peas to Come
This morning I dropped the crockpot ceramic into the sleeve and put it on low. I also left a note next to it remind us to add peas. We forgot the last time.

When I get home we'll wrangle the Bisquick dumplings together. I don't know why dumplings have to be a team effort, but they do. So simple and yet so complex.

My mom never did dumplings, but that is how Hubby's family does it. The first time I had stew at my in-laws my MIL pulled me aside and pointed out the recipe on the box. I believe she said something along the lines of not straining myself making a more complicated version. ha!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Keep the Pasta Coming

Creamy tomato chicken I've been all about the easy pasta dishes lately.

I follow Philadelphia Cream Cheese on Twitter (@lovemyphilly) because, well, cream cheese is awesome. They share a lot of recipe links mainly.

Anyway, they sent me a tweet, which led to an e-mail, which was an invitation to try a new recipe out in exchange for some coupons and a little recipe book. Who isn't up for free stuff, right?

The recipe is Creamy Tomato-Basil Pasta with Chicken. Since I'm too lazy to retype it all here for your reading convenience, I found it on here.

This for That
Now, I did make several changes to the recipe.

If you've used these back-of-the-can style recipes before then you know they usually call for cooking the chicken breasts whole. We don't. We always cut them into bite size pieces before cooking. I think this speeds up cooking a bit, but it's probably balanced by the extra prep time. The real advantage, in my mind, is the chicken is easier to mix in to whatever sauce is involved and the entire thing is easier to eat.

My next change, and this was a big one, was to drop the 1/4 cup of Kraft Sun-Dried tomato dressing. Instead I used just enough olive oil to cook the chicken. I'm sure this really changed the flavor of the dish, but I had valid reasons.

First, we don't use bottled salad dressing so anything leftover would have been wasted.
Second, Hubby doesn't like sun-dried tomatoes.
Third, I couldn't find it at the grocery store anyway.

My final change was to use dried basil instead of the fresh basil in the recipe. Again, I couldn't find it at my grocery store.

Easy and Yummy
The recipe did go together quickly and easily. I never know if they really do only take the 30 minutes they are supposed to.

I had debated slicing the grape tomatoes, but the recipe didn't say to, so I rolled with it. They are cooked long enough to soften up nicely.

I thought the end result was yummy and would make it again. Hubby said it was pretty good. He's not a big tomato fan like I am and admitted the grape tomatoes had him concerned, but he said it was acceptable. Although I did see him giving some of the bigger tomatoes to Baru as he was getting toward the end of the serving.

In the end, I will keep it on the list, but it won't be in heavy rotation because of Hubby's tomato aversion.

My picture at the top of the post is actually next day lunch from leftovers. I mixed in some frozen broccoli to get a green veggie.

Of course I've already used one coupon to make that yummy cream cheese chili dip you see at parties. Sooo yummy. Hmm, maybe I should use another to stock up on bagels and cream cheese.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hubby's Chunky Scarf: On the Other Half

Scarf half tweeked P called a halt to test knitting her sock so she could make some adjustments to the pattern.

This cleared the way for some quality knitting time on Hubby's Chunky Cabled Scarf.

Seeking symmetry
When I returned to the Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran my plan was to get four and four of the colors. However, we only had three of the green in the store. I took what I could get (four blue, three green) and figured I'd stripe randomly.

The Lamar pattern calls for 327 yards of yarn. I'd been saying "around 300" and figured I'd be good with what I have. But over the weekend I did the math and realized 27 yards is a lot of yarn to round down, especially since I'm making my scarf wider than the pattern. Still, I should be ok. I hope.

I was knitting away Saturday night and had reached that third blue section when I stopped to consider my stripes and how rapidly I was using each color.

I knew that I had to start hitting the green harder. My plan was to flip what I'd been doing and make two wide greens with two narrow blues.

But it crossed my mind that the two ends of the scarf might not match.

This prospect was starting to make me feel lightheaded.

I was using two balls of blue held together, but one ball of green worked from both ends. This really skewed my ability to see how they were tracking, which only added to my anxiety.

What if I ran out of blue first and the other end was mostly green? Or what if I ran out of green and the other end was solid blue? How random did I want these stripes to be?

Measuring Quantity
The kitchen scale was pressed into service!

For the balls I was working with I had 30 grams of green and 25 grams of blue remaining. So they were about even, but not really since that weight was divided between two balls of blue. But did that really mean anything in the long run? After all, I had an even amount of yarn left in the bag—two blue and two green.

As you might expect, the yarn was weighed multiple times as I was dithering over all this. And it told me nothing.

The end result, and this might not surprise you, was that I put the current half on a stitch holder and cast on for the other end.

My plan is to use the four fresh balls to knit up to the same point as the first portion, which will ensure both ends match, then continue knitting them simultaneously.

This construction will force me to either kitchener or three-needle bind off the two halves together, but it's better than the alternative of mismatched ends! I figure if I can time the seam to land at a color change it will be less noticeable. Also, I don't believe Hubby wears his scarves with the middle front and center, which will also keep the seam out of the public eye. As opposed to the way I usually wear scarves, which is to put the middle over my throat and then pull the opposite ends over my shoulders so it crosses in the back.

Maybe all this matchy-matchy anxiety is one of the reasons I don't like knitting scarves. They are supposed to be such simple little projects and yet I find a way to complicate them like nobody's business.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Heel Flap Opinions

Green sock flap My current mindless project is a pair of plain stockinette stitch socks using some green Austremann Step yarn (with Aloe and jajoba!) mom gave me for my last birthday.

She said she went into a local yarn store and told them, "My daughter likes to knit socks." Smart cookie, that one. Obviously runs in the family.

I've used this yarn before. I made Hubby a pair of socks out of the blue colorway and I have a skein of the red colorway in stash. I was meaning to use the red for myself, but then Hubby showed interest in it. The poor skein has been languishing as I tried to decide who should get it. But then mom gave me this green one and the decision was made. I could use the red for Hubby since I had to use the green for myself.

Anyway. These socks have been low project on the totem pole, but I finally reached the first heel flap.

In keeping with the mindless theme, I decided to go back to the old st st flap with a slipped stitch edge, as opposed to the heel stitch flap with a garter edge that I've been obsessed with for the last few pairs.

Well, now I'm picking up stitches along the flap and I've suddenly decided that in all cases I prefer the garter edge.

I was digging through my old posts to confirm I learned it in a Charlene Schurch class (back in 2008!) and discovered that I didn't like it at first. I thought it was hard to pick up. Now I've done a 180 and decided the slip stitch edge is hard to pick up.Scrappy 2 done
I counted up one side and got 17. I counted the other and got 16. I'll have to fudge a stitch. I know things will change when I knit over the other side. It's hard to keep track of which loop to go in. whaa whaa whaa.

Seems to me I wasn't having these issues with the garter edge. Seems to me they had an obvious equal number of stitches to pick up. Seems to me they stood out better since you just
pick up between the ridges. blah blah blah.

I even briefly considered pulling this flap out and reknitting it. What's 28 rows? But I resisted. And I'll make the other sock to match.

Of course, the garter edge is quite a different look, but isn't that part of the charm?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Too Many WIPS

Tartan Argyle Sock legI blame my sporadic blogging last week to having too many projects on the go.

Scattered knitting leads to scattered blogging.

Five Project Rotation
At least I think it's still five. It could be more at this point and I'd never know.

This is a far cry from where I was last year, practicing project monogamy, and finishing projects.

It happened subtly. I got frustrated with the Tartan Argyles and put them aside in favor of Stella (Girly Top in the side bar). I needed a small travel project, so I cast on the Angora Bed Socks of Power and Fortune. I ditched everything for Hubby's Striped Sweater (which is, of course, finished). I needed a mindless project for proofreading and line waiting, so I started the Green Step Socks. Hubby wants a new scarf.

Now all those have been ditched for yet another sock.

Phew. I can hardly keep up.

Rather than go back to project monogamy, even though I know it works, I decided to go with a rotation. Each day I would work on a different project.

It was working rather well. The ABSoPaF were flying along. The Tartan Argyles are through their first diamond.

There were two problems with this idea. First, I never wrote the rotation down so wasn't sure which project I should be working on. I figured as long as it wasn't the same project as the night before I was good. Second, seeing the progress on a project made me want to stick to it and get it done.

I guess monogamy is my first instinct.

Error Prone
The Girly Top was also part of the rotation, but wasn't working out as well.

When I abandoned it for Hubby's Striped Sweater I had the back and both sleeves done. When I picked it up again, I had a devil of a time working the set-up row. Which was an issue I had when I first started. I remembered having and issue and over-thought the situation. In the end I must have started it four times before I got it right.

Then I was working on the Tartan Argyles and the pattern wasn't working out right. I saw I had messed up on the previous row. As I was tinking back I saw that I'd made a second mistake of not working the diagonal line in one spot. Fortunately, both mistakes were on the same row.

The ABSoPaF were a whole other, special issue. I knew I might have to fudge things since I started at the ankle with a provisional cast on. I thought I had it right, but six rows in I went to cross the cables and had too many stitches on one side and too few on the other. Happily, the yarn is a bit sticky, so I was able to just rip back without worrying about running stitches. The judicious application of many stitch markers to establish the first couple rows got me through it.

Don't even get me started on the number of times I had to restart Hubby's Chunky Cable Scarf. I lost count.

Everything is back on track now.

I think when I'm done with P's sock I'm going to go back to working on one project at a time.

Part of the reason I started the rotation was because I couldn't decide which project to prioritize. Which one was closer to being finished? decisions, decisions.

Now, however, that question has been answered. Hubby's Scarf will get priority.

Getting puppy eyes from Samson and Baru is bad enough. I don't need them from Hubby too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who's a Spoiled Hubby?

Back around Christmas time Hubby was putting on his scarf in preparation for leaving the house and said something along the lines of, "I want the next scarf you make me to only come to my waist. And I want it to be thicker and wider."

His current scarf is from a DK weight yarn and is about 6 inches wide by 91 inches long.

"I made that scarf for you in 2007," I blurted out. A fact I knew because I'd been digging in the blog archives or my Ravelry notebook.

Our eyes locked for a moment as the import of what I'd just said sunk in.

Then, in his best pompous voice, Hubby said, "At your earliest convenience then." Because, of course, now his current scarf is old and stale.

I would like to point out he has continued to wear it happily every day since this conversation.

Award Winning
This is an award winning scarf he is rejecting. For the December issue of his school's student newspaper they did a top ten best present list and his scarf was voted #1. I clipped this image of the online version for proof.

Regardless, since I love my Hubby I set to work. We had the week between Christmas and New Year's off together, so I dragged him into Knitting Central to try to narrow down color choices at least.

I was thinking a bulky or at least worsted weight yarn would be the way to go. One difficulty with these projects is Hubby doesn't "speak yarn" and tends to know what he likes when he sees it, but not how to get there.

He didn't like any of the colors of the bulky yarn we had in stock and settled on Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran in a dark blue and dark green. I figured I'd do stripes.

But after having the evening to see it and pet it he decided it was too thin.

Combination One and Two
To give him a base to work from when trying to articulate his desire I got out some of the Zara left over from his striped sweater.

At that time I was working up a pattern using the XO cable. So I knit a swatch with Zara single, then I knit a swatch with two different Zara colors.

He liked the thickness of the one held double and was intrigued by the color variation. All along he'd been saying he wanted something tweed or with lots of colors.

So I took the Debbie Bliss yarn back and bought some Artyarns Supermerino in a semi-solid green and a white with flashes of different colors. It's a worsted weight yarn and I figured holding it together would get the chunkiness he wanted.

I also settled on the Lamar scarf pattern by Gale Zucker rather than attempting to design my own.

I knit a swatch. He liked the thickness. He wanted it wider. He was wishy-washy on the color and questioned whether it would go with his blazers.

I returned the green and got an orange instead. It was a bright orange rather than the rust orange I remembered. Someone kindly compared my swatch to a dog throwing up a box of crayons.

Hubby nixed the colors right away. But I finally had a base to work from when he said, "I want more professional colors."

That Settles It
I returned the Supermerino and went back to the Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran.
hubbys scarf 1
This time I held it doubled, which didn't make it quite a thick as the Supermerino held doubled, but was thicker than it held single.

Finally, all the pieces fell into place. Hubby approved and I was off and running.

Aside from the fact that I had to keep restarting because I was making stupid knitting mistakes.

I cast on 48 stitches instead of the 36 the pattern instructs since he wanted his wider.

I had worked about what you see in the picture and handed it too him for approval. Despite watching me knit for all these years, he apparently still doesn't understand the mechanics. He didn't realize which direction it was growing, despite the needle dangling from it, and said he wanted it wider.

My little head almost exploded. I was like, "It's 9 inches wide!!" Which is when he confessed he was holding it the wrong direction (I was messing with something else so hadn't been watching him). Once I got him straightened out he liked it.

Only problem now is I've temporarily abandoned the scarf to test knit a sock pattern for P. Last night Hubby found his scarf on top of the dining room credenza and was playing with it.

That is a bad sign. That is phase one of his campaign to make his project a priority.

First he is all cute parading the unfinished item around and mooning over it. Then he slowly escalates into pouting. Finally, other projects and yarn are taken hostage.

Oh, yes, I've seen this behavior before. Things could get ugly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Forward, Sock!

Tartan Argyle sock heelAs I said previously, I did get some actual knitting done over my Christmas vacation.

Top of the list was the first Tartan Argyle sock.

As you might recall, I was struggling mightily with this sock back in September in my attempt to use Elizabeth Zimmerman's Moccasin Sock technique.

I frogged that heel/sole combination then left the sock to languish as I worked on other projects.

Anyway, over vacation I was able to whip them out. Having learned from sewing up the feet on my Pirate Arrgyle socks, I was on the alert for things shifting out of place. This time around I counted the rows on the instep, then knit the sole to the same row count, then worked them one after the other (row on instep, row on sole) as though they were one long piece, in order to make sure the lengths matched. Then I sewed the foot seams and worked the toe in the round.

I was also able to knit the ribbing for the second sock over break. I've been working on it recently and am surprised at how quickly it is moving along despite being color work.

Angora Bed Socks of Power and Fortune!
Angora Bed Sock foot
I finished the first foot on my angora bed socks, picked up the stitches from the provisional cast on, and worked one row of the leg. Then abandoned them again.

This angora yarn isn't the easiest to work cables on. Or maybe it's that I'm still not accustomed to the 9" circulars yet.

Also, it's kind of a complicated cable, so I can't work on them when I'm watching a TV show that I actually want to watch.

In case you've been wondering, I'm calling them the bed socks of "Power and Fortune!" because I'm planning do work cable motifs based on runes of good fortune onto the back of the leg. snicker.

So this linked cable pattern will continue up the front of the leg and the stand alone cable will be on the back. Which just adds to the knitting chaos and increases the amount of concentration needed.

Perhaps you won't be surprised to hear that I've gone to the other end of the ball and knit 15 rows of ribbing to ensure I don't run out of yarn.

Well, that was just stupid.
Last week I decided new Lie to Me hat could benefit from a tassel. The top was a bit pointed and needed something to jazz it up. I whipped up a tassel and everyone says it's just the thing.

Although it now feels like there is a mouse sitting on my head when I drive (I flip the tassel forward because it is uncomfortable when it falls between my head and the headrest).

I was washing a load of handknits over the weekend (yeah, I toss stuff in the machine on the "handknit" setting. So sue me. Nothing bad has happened yet) when I decided my new hat could benefit from a blocking.

A little voice said, "Take off the tassel. Take off the tassel."

But, of course, I ignored it. So it was no surprise when I emptied the machine and found this tangled mess in the bottom. At which point the little voice said, "I told you so" and flounced away.

It was not salvageable. Well, the piece that had tied off the tassel head was, probably because the ends were knotted so it couldn't fray.

Fortunately I had enough yarn leftover to make a new tassel. I will be much more careful with my tassels in the future.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mac & Cheese! Mac & Cheese!

Mac&Cheese The frigid weather we've been having in New England (and across the rest of the country!) has created in me a deep seated need for comfort food.

I keep telling Hubby we should make some beef stew, but then I forget to get the ingredients.

So I wasn't surprised when we were wandering through a book store yesterday and I was riveted by the yummy looking mac and cheese on the cover of the current (Feb/March) issue of Fine Cooking. Now, I admit it, when I want mac & cheese I open a box. Mainly for the convenience. But also because when I was living in Texas I made a great baked mac & cheese by cobbling together elements from two or three recipes. Only I didn't write down what I did so I haven't been able to reproduce it.

It's like making a great pair of socks, giving them to an out of state friend, then being unable to replicate them for yourself. Sure, if you could get the socks back you could count stitches, etc., but basically they are lost.

Quick & Easy
Of course, I've been told my lazy box route is unnecessary. Back when I was taking the train a woman on the shuttle bus was so appalled I used a box she told me her mac & cheese recipe. Right there, on the bus! Only I didn't write it down.

When I saw the magazine cover I suggested to Hubby we make it for dinner. It was even in the 30-minute meal section, which increased its attractiveness.

Well, technically the one on the cover had pulled pork in it and the first step is to cook the pork for 5 hours, which totally wasn't going to happen. Since he wanted a protein of some sort Hubby grilled chicken.

The recipe uses Emmentaler and Gruyere, which are not cheeses we keep laying around. No, we're more of a cheddar and parm family. I realized Hubby was taking a route home that wouldn't take us past the grocery store. He said he thought the recipe was nixed since we weren't near the fancy grocery stores. But I had faith in Stop & Shop and I was right!

The recipe went together very quickly and easily. So quickly, in fact, that I ended up having to wait around for Hubby to finish the chicken. He sliced it and mixed it in, then I sprinkled the top and stuck it under the broiler to brown.

The only changes I made were to use skim milk instead of 2% and to add a wee bit of breadcrumbs to the top to increase the crunch factor.

For such a quick dish it was very yummy and flavorful. After we each took our first bite we nodded sagely at each other, which is our shorthand for "This dish is a keeper."

Since it's mainly a casserole style it will be added to my list of recipes to use when Hubby doesn't feel like cooking.

I would like to tell you we had a nice green salad, or sauteed broccoli, or even just peas with our yummy chicken mac & cheese, but that would be a lie. We looked at each other and said, "Why clutter our comfort food with that healthy stuff?"

It was also very filling. I didn't finish my serving.

One thing I like about trying a new recipe is that I get to pull out all my cooking gadgets. I premeasured ingredients into my little glass mixing bowls, I got to use the grater plate on my Cuisinart for the cheese, and of course my Calphalon pan could go right in the oven to broil the top.

Really, if you don't make an awful mess when you cook, have you had any fun?

Day Two
Since the recipe serves four we have plenty of leftovers. I have some for lunch today and did make a green salad this time. It reheated very nicely in the office toaster oven. I packed it in a wee foil bread pan I used for the date nut bread at Thanksgiving and was able to heat it up without fuss.

It is just as yummy today. In fact, whose brilliant idea was this stupid salad?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When Should a Handmade Sweater Retire?

This is on my mind since I think I may be wearing my current sweater for the last time.

I cannot show you a picture of this very cute sweater at the moment because my Flikr Pro account expired back in November. I've been resisting renewing it. I tried just now and got an error message.

Anyway. It's a crocheted sweater from (I believe) the May 2002 issue of Crochet! Magazine, which makes it around eight years old.

It's in a power blue Bernat boucle yarn (that has been discontinued and was hard to work with) with big white buttons. It has a retro style, so I wear it with a pencil skirt or peg pants and look very Mary Tyler Moore.

I put it on this morning, and well, it's kind of stretched out. And it's a little pilly, although that's hard to see with the boucle. It was never the most fitted sweater. The last time I wore it I noticed it was getting a little more generous in the body width. But today it seems to be hanging badly, and the spaces between the snaps (the buttons are for show) are gapy.

Of course, I wore it anyway. But even as I left the house I knew it should probably be retired.

That made me sad because this is the second sweater I ever made. Sure I've been crocheting since I was little, but I always stuck to blankets and toys and never got into the whole clothing thing.

Unless you count that 70s halter top I made out of red, blue, and yellow craft cotton that never did fit right.

Not the First
Which explains my lack of sweater crocheting right there. Growing up I only had access to patterns in library books, which were full of 70s fashions. What respectable child of the 80s would make one of those?

But then attractive crochet patterns started cropping up and it was time to take the plunge.

Of course, here I am mooning over retiring this blue sweater when it's not actually the first one I've retired. I unofficially retired the first sweater I crocheted (not counting the halter top, which I never actually wore) a few years ago.

The first sweater I crocheted was The Big Easy a free pattern from Lion Brand using Homespun yarn. I used the Fiesta colorway (I believe), which is now discontinued. It's a lovely blue with spot of red, white, yellow...oh I don't know lots of colors.

I crocheted it in one marathon weekend session. I got lots of compliments on it. Mainly from the yarn color than the actual sweater, I always thought. The sweater is just an oversized turtle neck. And, oh boy, was it oversized. I could pull it down past my butt. It wasn't the most flattering design. In fact, I always meant to frog it and shorten it, but never did.

Instant Yarn Snob
I had a distinct lack of motivation to rework it because of the nature of the yarn. Homespun, although attractive, quick to work up, and good for blankets, is just horrid for clothing (in my opinion). Being 100 percent acrylic it doesn't breathe at all. Sure, the sweater was a nice, warm, slouchy sweater to snuggle in, but I used to be able to feel the sweat trickling down my back because the yarn wasn't absorbent at all. I actually bought some white t-shirts to wear under it to combat the issue, but that just made me warmer.

Then the yarn started pilling and the sweater hasn't left the shelf in ages.

In fact, between the Homespun sweater, the blue sweater I'm currently agonizing over, and a spring top with granny square flowers (which is also a wee bit stretched but I can still wear) out of yet another acrylic yarn, I suddenly transformed into a yarn snob.

I'm all about the natural fibers for clothing, or blends at the most. (I'm looking at you Rowan Calmer.)

We Need a Checklist
Of the sweaters I made while living in New Hampshire the only ones still in circulation are the white top with the granny square flowers and my first knit sweater (scroll down to "Inspiration") out of Lion Brand Wool-Ease.

They are both still in good shape and fit for public consumption.

My other handmade sweaters are much newer as they are recent projects from 2004 forward.

I probably won't have to worry about retiring another sweater for a few more years.

But shouldn't there be a way to tell it's time?

Do you just ditch it based on age?
That wouldn't work for me. I don't even ditch store bought closed based on age. I don't tend to go for trendy pieces that will be outdated quickly, so I think I can get away with it.

Is it all about looks?
That's what's going to do in this poor blue sweater. It's just not flattering any more.
I think this would be my main factor. If the item is showing wear and tear it's probably done.

How many sweaters have you retired? And what were your reasons?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

March of the Christmas Stockings

Stocking and Mitten Red So this will be a picture heavy post today. So sorry if you are on dial-up. :-)

After I jumped in and made that Christmas Stocking just before Christmas some people asked to see the other stockings I made.

While I was up at the in-laws' I finally took pictures of them all since all of them were made pre-blog and I wasn't photographing projects back then.

Couple's stockings did not get hung together this year, which might make this a little disjointed.

You will notice that there are not names on any of the stockings. That because I don't do embroidery, nor do I own a glitter glue pen (which got a loud "Hey!" from my sister-in-law when we were at the house, since she does own glitter glue pens). Also, I figured I made the things, getting names on them is the responsibility of someone else.

The Christmas Stocking Saga started with the red and green crocheted stockings. The red one is Stocking and Mitten greenmine and the green one is Hubby's.

The pattern is the Christmas Morning Stocking from (registration required). I'm pretty sure I used Red Heart Yarn and I seem to remember making them a bit bigger than then patter was written.

The oversized mittens are from a kit, which I thought was from Mary Maxim, but I don't see it on the website. However we are talking some time between 2001 and 2004 so maybe they've been discontinued.

I made the mittens for the brother- and sister-in-law that are usually at Christmas.

I really need to get names on these things. Every year I running around saying, "Red are girls! Green are boys!" but people still get confused. Sigh.

Claddagh Christmas stocking closeFinally there is the infamous Claddagh stocking, which I designed myself. I figured, "I knit socks all the time, a Christmas stocking is just a big sock." But the proportions in the foot just about killed me. You can see a more or less full length image here.

The pictures of it are really bad. I hung it on the door to the porch thinking I'd get better light, but it was not meant to be.

I think I intended this stocking to be my mother-in-law's and was going to do a thistle one for my father-in-law. Or vise versa. I don't remember. I'm just making them at this point. But this one was such a train wreck (in my mind) that I abandoned the thistle idea and when with the cabled cuff one.

Everybody thought the cabled cuff one was lovely. One sister-in-law even said people where she lives would pay for a handmade stocking like that. Which made me cringe. But they all nodded in understanding when I pointed out that this is my hobby and making them to sell would make it not fun anymore.

Then I said I only have the three nephews to go because I'm just making it for the people who come to Christmas every year.

Then she said that she'll be at Christmas from now on and she wants a pink stocking. But Hubby said she can't have a pink stocking because it's not Christmas Colors. Then he said it would have to be pink and light green. Which did not help the situation at all.

What I need to do is learn to knit in my sleep so these stockings will go faster. Alternatively, I could grow a second pair of arms/hands so I can knit while I'm doing other things.

I don't think either option is likely to occur any time soon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Have a New Hat

Lie to Me Hat 2 close Miss me? More likely you didn't notice I was gone. sniffle.

I was on vacation! For the past few years my company has closed for the time between Christmas and New Years. It's nice. I unplugged and spent the week on the couch knitting, watching TV, and ignoring the blog and any responsibility. Hubby's school was on break, so we got to be useless together. ahhhh.

Not all that knitting was productive. I did a lot of swatching. And as important as swatching is it doesn't produce finished projects so it doesn't fell productive.

As Seen on TV
I did manage to make this hat.


Hubby and I have been watching that show "Lie to Me." In the episode before they went away for the holidays the teen-aged daughter character Emily had on a cute, red, knit hat.

I didn't say anything, but my antenna must have been up because Hubby suddenly hit the pause button and said something along the lines of "I bet you like that hat and want a closer look." Why, yes, I do.

It looked to be ribbing and seed stitch in a DK weight yarn. As Hubby's Sweater neared completion I snagged two balls of cherry red Zara (color 1466) for my hat. This is the yarn Hubby was holding hostage until his sweater was done. Well, he let me have it on the table next to me as I seamed for incentive.

Take One
Lie to Me hat 1 DK side This is where some of that swatching came into play. My first attempt I held the yarn single. I swatched with a US5 and a US4 and wasn't really happy with either. In the end, I went with the US5 because the yarn felt softer at that gauge.

I knit almost the whole hat in one marathon session on New Year's Eve. We ran some errands in the morning then I spent the rest of the night, right through the ball drop, knitting my fingers off.

Yeah, we lead a wild life, Hubby and I.

I finished the decreases Friday morning and proudly donned my new hat. (second picture above)

Hubby said it looked like a swim cap. He said it didn't look like the one in the show. He said he was just being honest and mentioned bathing caps again.

I had to agree it wasn't what I'd had in mind. After taking a couple pictures I stood in the kitchen, unwove the tail, put the hat back on, and started unraveling it into a ball.

Chaos Ensues
Hubby got a gleam in his eye as he watched this. I handed him the ball of yarn so he could help me.

I might as well have handed it to one of the puppies.

He bolted out of the kitchen into the green room, up through the dining room, and through the living room, arriving back in the kitchen behind me. At which point he promptly returned my yarn ball.

Of course, trying to roll the ball of yarn as I still wore the hat on got me nowhere except a new room of the house.

I gave Hubby back the ball and demanded help.

Only this time I was the one who bolted. I ran up the steps and made it all the way to our bedroom—and still had the hat brim ribbing on my head! Well, the hat did take almost an entire ball of Zara. You can get pretty far on 136 yards.

Take Two
Lie to Me Hat 2 sideFor my next (and final) attempt, I used the yarn doubled to get more bulk. I used US8 dpns because I still don't own US9 dpns.

I'm really not sure how that happened. I don't think they are hiding in a project somewhere. I think when I started knitting, and stocked up on needles before I left Patternworks, I decided that I wouldn't be knitting with bulky yarns so wouldn't need anything above an 8.

I came to this conclusion because I have Clover dpns in 0-8, no 9, then a set of 10 in Crystal Palace, which is the brand we carry at Knitting Central. So obviously I gathered all the lower sizes in one fell swoop, then ended up needing one of the higher sizes.

Oh well, that's what you do, fill in the tools as you need them.

Anyway, I started the second attempt hat Friday morning and finished it Sunday evening. (I was working Saturday, which cut into my knitting time.)

Hubby says it still doesn't look like the hat from the show, and I probably have to agree. But I'm not sure how to get it to where it would need to be, so I'm stopping.

(I think one change would be to make the seed stitch band shorter so there is more ribbing at the top. Hubby still thinks the fit should be looser/floppier. But, on the other hand, I don't like floppy hats.)

Although I have decided that a tassel might be nice. I'll work on that tonight.

Not My Forte
Making this hat, combined with my unsuccessful attempts to design that uncooperative cabled hat back in October, has convinced me that designing hats is just not my thing.

You would think it would be simple. Small and quick. Less shaping than a sock. But they have me flummoxed. I think I'll stick with other people's patterns from now on.

Or at least try to.