Magic Blankets

Photo detail of machine quilting

Around here, magic blankets are not something you can buy in a store.  You’ve got to know the right people.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Back when our first baby was born, we took swaddling seriously (shout out to Harvey Karp, he’s spot on), but the things sold in stores as receiving blankets at that time were little better than oversized burp rags.  No exaggeration!  So off I went to the local big box craft store and bought 5 one-yard lengths of flannel in fun prints.  A couple straight hems and BAM, we had a pile of swaddling blankets.

Our first child loved swaddling and we got a lot of use out of the big blankets.  When he got to be about 2 years old, I sewed two blankets end to end, then another two end to end, then quilted those together with a made-up meandering stitch.  Without a walking foot.  That’s what we call a labor of love, friends.  I sewed the fifth blanket into a pillowcase that is still in use today (on the pillow that is propping me up while I write this, in fact!).

Photo of the pillowcase made from a flannel baby blanket

My son loved this blanket as only a child can unconditionally love the wonky things we make for them.  He declared it the magic blanket and, eight years later, it is still a cherished possession.  So much so that my younger child was eventually jealous.  I needed to make her magic blanket, and soon, lest she stage a Leverage-style attack to take permanent possession of her brother’s blankie.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Of course she also had 5 (no, 6!) one-yard lengths of flannel that she used as a baby — although she was not one who liked to be swaddled.  No, instead she wanted to be held constantly.  For three months.  Not that I am scarred or anything.

Ahem.

Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

For her blanket I got fancy.  I did a bunch of math (cooped up much?) and decided that 9″ squares would make the most efficient use of my fabric.  I cut the blankets up and sewed them back together in an eye-blistering pattern of colorful delight that is different on each side.  I ran out of patience at this time and quilted the whole thing together with straight lines, and machine bound it with commercial bias tape.

Thus was balance restored to our universe.

Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

I take deep satisfaction in upcycling, but this project took it to the next level because of how much my kids love having something I made just for them and having something that is a direct connection to their early years.

I toyed with the idea of writing this up as a sort of tutorial, but the real message is: just sew that shit together!  Your kids will love it, you will learn some things, and whatever you make will be NEW and get used, rather than gather dust in the basement or sadly slip away to a marginal existence in a thrift store.

Surprise, Baby!

The Baby Surprise Jacket in Happy Fuzzy Yarn Superwash Sport

The Baby Surprise Jacket was the most fun thing I knit all year.  Bold statement considering we have three more months to go, but I’m sticking by it.

This is probably one of the world’s most famous knitting patterns, first published by Elizabeth Zimmermann in 1968. The knitter just knits along, tracking some not-complicated increases and decreases, and when you bind off, you are left with an odd blob, but with a quick fold here and there, the garment’s shape is revealed. A couple quick seams later and you have a really cute jacket.

This pattern has spawn child and adult versions and is a favorite for those who want to use scraps and handspun because the geometry of this pattern shows off stripes and multicolored yarns to great effect.

I was able to see all this for myself in Ravelry under the projects tab for this pattern. Armed with that knowledge, I chose a gender-neutral green and yellow multicolor from Happy Fuzzy Yarn called “Colorado River” in the Superwash Sport base. This yarn is incredibly squishy and dyes up vibrantly thanks to the superwash quality.

It knit up quickly and when I was near the end, I puzzled out the folding just to see what it look like.

The Baby Surprise Jacket in Happy Fuzzy Yarn Superwash Sport

It took my breath away, it was soooo adorable. I think the Baby Surprise Jacket, done up in a sportweight yarn, makes a sweater that fits a 3-6 month old — well, based on standard clothing sizes for babies. YMMV.

If the pattern weren’t awesome enough by itself, my son FINALLY learned to knit one night on a weekend trip by working a couple rows on this sweater.  Yes, I left them in.  His stitches were fine! (Those are his hands in the action shot above.)

The Baby Surprise Jacket in Happy Fuzzy Yarn Superwash Sport

This sweater was a gift for our newest nephew, born at the end of August.  He’s a little bean now; we can’t wait to play with him when he gets a little older!

I can’t recommend this pattern highly enough. It kind of makes me want to go on an EZ pattern bender. Have you made any of her patterns? I’ve knit a few and enjoyed them also; I think it’s time to discover others by her.

When Your Space Heater Dies in May, Knit Up Some Fingerless Mitts

Feels a little bit like I’m living in a Dickens novel, but I am stubborn enough to wait until fall when space heaters are available again at the corner hardware store.

Photo of a fingerless mitt.

Meanwhile, in this cold spring, after working for an hour or two in my basement office, my hands ache from the cold.

It probably goes without saying, but taciturn I am not: it is really hard to take pictures of your own hands when one is using a cell phone.  Do I have a fancy camera that attaches to a tripod and has a timer?  Yes.  It is a DSLR hand-me-down (oh, but we paid for it) from my fancy brother.  I wish I knew how to use it better.  I also wish there were 25 hours in the day, but my tiny tyrant is home in an hour and I need to get this posted, pronto.

Photo of a fingerless mitt.

I take breaks from grousing to admire my lovely Pageturner Mitts knit out of Noro Silk Garden.  The yarn was a random lone skein I had and lone skeins, especially those that are beautiful, are so hard to do something with.  Maybe that’s just me.  Now I want to make myself a pair of mitts for every day of the week.  The pattern is the classic and elegant, yet simple Pageturner Mitts by Sarah Jo Burch.  I cast on 40 stitches instead of 30 because I wanted some extra coverage.  I knit each block of garter 6.5″ before sewing up, which gives a nice amount of negative ease.

Pageturner Mitts would make a great quick gift if you use a beautiful yarn, like Noro Silk Garden, or something tonal or handpainted.

I finished these on Mother’s Day weekend and haven’t even worn them out of the house, but they are getting noticed.  My five-year-old thinks they’re the bees knees and keeps stealing them so I am making her a pair.  She is normally into pink, as our species demands of these young females, and when I pulled out pink yarn for her she said, “No, I want orange.”  Okay darling, I will make you orange ones.  And I am.

Matt laughed to see me wandering the house in May, wearing wooly-silky fingerless mitts and all I have to say to that is: polar vortex.  It is still happening, my friends, even if it is only in my mind.  It may not be snowing, but damn this weather continues to be weird.

 

The Gift of Gift Knitting

It’s really no fun to read about how crummy someone’s vacation was so we won’t dwell on it.  I’ve only just recovered, psychologically, this week.  Farewell, 2013!  Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out!

The BEST part of winter break, for me, this year was seeing how genuinely happy my husband and children were upon opening their handknit gifts.  Does that sound too cute and saccharine?  It’s true.  There were big Os of surprise, there were smiles, thanks, hugs, and kisses from four through thirty-six.  GO ME!

boot socks

(It does help that I have made it clear that the best way to get on the handknit list is to appreciate the things I make, sincerely and loudly.  This elf is making her own kind of list and checking it twice.)

For the past few years — in my efforts to enjoy the winter holiday season rather than just survive it — I’ve stepped way back from trying to make something for EVERYONE (that’s 11+ people).  It seems like a good idea in the planning stage (I looooove the planning stage), but the execution of the plan goes on too long for my available knitting time.  There’s the amount of knitting time I actually have and what I wish I had or sometimes just think I have.

Full disclosure: I was on the crazy holiday knitting train at times this season.  And then I got off.  Got on. Off.

red scarf

I try to have a pair of socks on the needle for one of the four of us at all times.  So when Z’s latest pair came off the needles in mid-November, I decided it was serendipity and tossed it in the gift knits basket.  Then I saw, in that basket, a lovely, drapey, moss stitch scarf in heathered burgundy Paton’s Classic Wool.  Guess who likes burgundy?  Not me.  But Matt does.  (Like me, his favorite color is green, so this really wasn’t obvious to me or him while I was knitting this scarf, off and on, for a couple, um, years.)

purple mittens

That only left my four-year-old, who could use a handknit pair of mittens.  Something to balance out all the pink and leopard print.  I finished on Christmas Eve, after tucking my puking children and husband into bed.

She, by the way, wins at appreciating my work.  She reminds me almost daily how much she loves her mittens. Aw! Her savvy father, in between appreciations, has already put in his request for a Purl Soho Shawl Collar Cowl.

I wish I had better pictures to share, but here I am, working at home, and my family and all their handknits are out of the house.  The dark purple of those mittens is especially difficult to capture at this gloomy time of year, while attached to a four-year-old.  More information and photos are available on their Ravelry project pages, linked above.  An account on Ravelry is required to view.

How did your handknit holidays go?

When Life Gives You Lemons…

…you knit a doll blanket with ridiculously cutesy yarn!

Just...one...more...stripe...tonight...

Today I went to the yarn shop — with my preschooler — thinking to indulge myself in a single beautiful skein of something to make something with.  (I was deliberately keeping my options open.)  And there she was, being such a good girl in such a grown up store, skipping down all the aisles, pointing out every single pink skein and squealing with delight over them all.

The conclusion was obvious and I am really enjoying this diversion knit.  I thought I was busy last year, with a husband in grad school, both of us working, a kid at home, and a kid in school, but we have managed to take it up a notch this year.  Oy.

I have been reduced to hiding in my bedroom on a Friday afternoon, knitting pink yarn, and watching Downton Abbey.

Of course when I write it down it doesn’t sound bad at all.  Perhaps I do have a sense of self preservation.

The yarn is Plymouth Encore Colorspun in the poetically named color #7722.  Now, if you don’t mind, the blue stripe is waiting…