International Knitting :: The Tan House Brook Shawl

As many knitters understand, deciding what knitting to bring along for an extended trip is something that deserves a fair amount of thought. Not only do you need a pattern that is relatively simple (traveling, I’m afraid, isn’t a great time to whip out your heirloom lace knit… well at least not for me), that doesn’t take a large number of skeins (luggage size/weight limits are unmoved by pleas from desperate wool lovers), is rather compact (some passengers on an overly-cramped, international flight might frown upon being occasionally poked by knitting needles), but you also need something that will hold your interest and not be complete before your trip back home is over. In addition, it also behoves one to learn of various airport regulations regarding the allowances or prohibitions of getting knitting needles past security—Charles du Gaulle, for instance, does not permit knitting needles on the plane—so you’ll also need to carefully consider which equipment to take or leave at home or pack in the checked bags as appropriate.

Casting On

Equally important, of course, is the choice of yarn. Because you can not bring your entire stash with you, it is necessary to take some time to consider where you’re going and what you’ll be knitting. I would strongly advise against selecting black, worsted wool for a summer vacation in Greece, or a fluffy glittery angora for your eight hour flight. You might think, as a knitter might, that one can obtain yarn almost anywhere in the world and that a yarn shopping excursion sounds like a wonderful use of down time while on vacation, but the sad truth is that even yarn shop owners like to take a break every now and then. So you may just find yourself standing in front of the singular yarn shop on your beautiful get away island staring at a “gone fishing for August” sign in deep despair. This story may or may not be based on personal experience.

My Own Yarn

Which is how, upon the wise recommendations of my most experienced knitting friends, I found myself winding up my very own hand-spun for a beautiful shawl the day before I flew out. Socks and shawls, they told me, are a knitter’s best friends for long, uninterrupted expanses of travel time, shorter lay-overs, and slowly swaying train rides past fields of golden sunflowers. This was the first time I wound my own yarn for an actual knitting project. I’ve been slowly collecting skeins, eking out a few moments to spin here and there, and the collection has outgrown it’s designated spot. It was just about time to find some way of using what I’ve made. I wish I could tell you more about the fiber—I had it all carefully recorded, the weight, the dye house and colorway, the yardage—but other than the blend (panda roving which is a lovely mix of merino, bamboo, and viscosemy favorite spinning fiber thus far), I’m afraid all other info is lost. I’m hoping the band will pop up as I get the house cleaned up, but for now, it will have to remain a mystery.

On The Med

One of the other bonuses of having such wise and experienced knitting friends, is that a few of them are designers! One of my newer knitting friends, Jennifer Lassonde of Down Cellar Studio, offered up her absolutely lovely Tan House Brook Shawl pattern, which fit all the considerations for the right project perfectly. I waited to cast on until I arrived in Frankfurt, trying my best and utterly failing, to sleep on the flight over in attempts to mitigate the effects of jetlag. And I managed a few rows there as well as the subsequent flight and layover to Athens before arriving in Crete, where I discovered much to my delight, that the hotel room my friend and I were to share, had an absolutely stunning balcony over looking the Mediterranean, perfect for sipping coffee, knitting, and napping!

On The Plane

The Tan House Brook shawl is a lovely, lovely knit, just what I needed for both the trip and my second shawl. Rows of soothing ole’ stockinette to help me recover from nearly 20-some hours of travel, before getting into a perfect little bit of textured stiches, just in time to keep my interest while waiting for the flight to land in Paris. I am sure the passengers next to me are also unknowingly thankful for Jennifer’s pattern, since I managed to leave them in peace instead of asking “are we there yet” the number of times I would have if left unoccupied.

And it was a great companion for our train ride across France and into Germany where we met up with my husband’s relatives for their annual family reunion in his hometown.

 

On The Train

I was hoping that I would finish it while I was away, but unfortunately due to the regulations at Charles du Gaulle, where the belief is that knitting needles are weapons of mass destruction and terror and not the tools of peace and charity, I had to pack it in the checked bag for the flight home. I was a little worried about what I was going to do with all those hours of sitting without some knitting within my hands, but that was before I remembered about the in-flight entertainment system and all the movies I haven’t been able to see in the past two years. But I am hoping to finish it up in the next week or so as I find myself sitting on the sidelines watching a few kids kick a ball back and forth for the next few weekends.

And if you do find yourself so very anxious regarding the sitting on a plane for nine hours without anything to occupy your hands, you may find that a skein of sock yarn and a few bamboo double pointed straights mixed in with all your pens and pencils in the pocket of your purse do not seem to cause any alarm, concern, or the forcible removal of said items from your cold, sweaty-palmed hands. This story may or may not be based on personal experience.

 

 

“Sparklers” for the Fourth

This year, instead of running back to Pennsylvania after school let out at the end of June, we decided to stick around and enjoy our seaside community’s early summer activities. One of the first things we crossed off our list was a friend’s famed 3rd of July party… The 3rd of July, so that everyone could take the 4th to recover. It was brilliant! We enjoyed homemade pizza from their hand-built, backyard wood-fired oven (where I took notes from the oven’s builder to add to my ever-growing list of dreams), and then walked to our local beach to watch the neighbors put on competing fireworks display up and down the coast. With the light breeze and clear sky and beautiful calm low tide and most excellent company… we could not have asked for a nicer day. I am so thankful for the people we have met here.

But before the festivities kicked off, the kids and I decided to make our recent tradition of chocolate covered sprinkled pretzels to bring along to the party. One of the kids decided they looked like sparklers, and so now we have a little family name for our fourth of July treats!

The Set Up

It really is a lovely little craft-like dessert project that all our littles can enjoy helping with. And the best part for me it that it requires no baking, which—as many of my friends and family can attest—is not my strong point.

No Baking Required

The process could not be more simple:
• Melt a few bags of chocolate candy coating (my kids also enjoy the vile vanilla, but maybe they’ll outgrow it) either in the microwave or over a double boiler, taking care to not burn it, which is really the only trick. I find a double boiler a bit more cumbersome for set-up, but easier to control for heat. Inevitably I burn the coating in the microwave, which causes it to seize up and crystalize.
• Pour melted coating into a tall, thin glass
• Dip pretzel rods—I’ve found the rods in buckets have fewer broken pieces than the rods in bags—into coating, placing dipped rods onto parchment or wax paper
• Shake your choice or sprinkles over the still-melted coating
• Let cool, then eat

Foodie Crafting

So easy, I promise!

Add Sparkles

All the kids enjoy the dipping, and with as many kids as we have (and one extra who was here on a play date!), we’re able to make a whole bunch in a short amount of time.

Too Many to Eat

Once we were done with all the dipping, we took the rest of the melted coating and put it in a lidded jar to save for next time. And yeah, if you have the time and patience, it would probably be even better with real chocolate, but I have neither the time, patience, nor equipment for proper tempering. I have made my peace with chocolate candy coating, since we have it only once or twice per year.

TaDaaaa

We brought them to the party in a galvanized bucket filled with rice so they could stand up on their own. We didn’t even get the bucket set down on the table before our sparkers started walking off in little (and big) hands.

What a nice little crafty-type foodie project to start off our summer!

Sibling Gifts :: Fleecy Winter Wear

To round out the parade of handmade sibling gifts of the Christmas 2012 season, I have this one last post with a project I worked on with our oldest :: Fleecy Winter Wear.

Swaddled In Fleece

Have you seen the insanity that is Joann’s Fabrics when it’s time to roll out the winter fleece? I didn’t know it was possible for one store to offer such a huge variety of different fleece styles. They had it in three separate aisles, along the tops of displays, and all along the top shelves on the outer walls in the store. Crazy.

I wanted to take the eldest with me to pick out fabrics, but due to an outbreak of flu and other illnesses in our home, I had to run out last minute to grab something quick so we could at least get something made and under the tree. This was almost as last minute as you could get; we finished the last bit right before dinner and bed-time Christmas Eve.

Sock Monkey Fleece

There aren’t an enormous number of images showing how we made these. Since I significant portion of this involved the sewing machine, and I’m not very proficient and my daughter was quite out of her comfort zone, I didn’t feel like I should be snapping photos while we’re both sweating bullets.

Fleecy Supplies

But overall, The scarves were an easy project, even for us sewing machine neophytes! Pick some fleece, cut it, pin it, sew it together except for a few inches at either end, flip it inside out, top stitch on either side, then cut a fringe on the ends, and tie it in knots.

Fun Fringe

The hat was a bit more tricky, and it didn’t work quite the way I had envisioned (didn’t mean for the ugly seam to be exposed, but alas, perfection wasn’t the goal, done was!), so I’m going to spare you any attempt to explain what I did, although I will say I took a measurement of the baby’s head to use when cutting out the rectangles, and that worked well.

Fleecy Hat With Fringe

And even though it is rough around the edges and not at all finessed, the baby loves it so very dearly. Dearly enough that once I put it on her head, I can’t take it off. And since she doesn’t stand still for photos, I needed to throw it on the four year old’s head in order to get a few snaps.

So there you have it… a round-up of all the sibling created handmades under the tree this year. But wait… there’s more!

Even though the littlest one isn’t quite old enough to partake of the making, she does manage to find someone to help her purchase a few small tokens to give out, namely fun band-aids!

Fun Bandages

So there you have her contribution, and now, I swear, we’re all done!

Sibling Gifts :: Pencil Cups

To continue on our theme, I present the third-born daughter’s contribution to this year’s sibling gifts :: Up-cycled Pencil Cups.

Another easy, low investment craft that was completely age appropriate and quite useful, as each kid got their own set of personalized pencils in their stockings this year. Thank you Oriental Trading Company for your customizable pencils for my kids that don’t have names often (read :: ever) found on store shelves!

Pretty in Pink

We collected a few cans from the recycling bin—two bean cans and one for tuna—made sure they were nice and clean and dry, then I painted each with two coats of primer before setting the four year old loose on them. She got to go through the paint bins and pick out whatever shade she thought they might like. I know she’s at least partly my child because she went for the extra-shiny metallic paints.

It Aint Easy Bein Green

After she painted each can, we picked out different scrapbook papers, one for each can, and then dug out our old alphabet stamps. She helped me find the letters and she stamped—with a teeny bit of guidance—the names of her sisters and brother onto individual white labels. I cut down the scrapbook paper into strips, then used double sided tape to adhere the paper to the can. The finishing touch, of course, were the name labels!

Alphabet Stamps

The awesome thing about this project is that it doesn’t need to be perfect to look great! Little brush strokes here and there and a bit of primer showing through gives it a touch more character, a feature if you will, not a flaw.

Tuna Tin For Ties

The littlest one doesn’t use pencils, but the tuna can was the perfect size to hold her hair bands and, conveniently, a few barrettes.

Pencil Cups

And the older kids cups were put to immediate use after they found their pencils.

It really is amazing how much they all love both making and receiving these gifts. I hope this is something we’ll continue for quite a few more years.

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Sibling Gifts :: Glittery Barrettes

We have finally reached that glorious day, Epiphany, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, when we pull down the tree and most of the Christmas decorations get wrapped back up, placed lovingly in their box, and put away in a corner of the basement for next year’s festivities. It is normally not a task I look forward to, but this year, for the first time I can remember, I was anxious to get the tree down and everything put away and tidied up. Granted, there are still a few things hanging around, but for the most part we’ve moved on. I suspect come the first heavy snowfall that I will miss my twinkle lights and glass balls, but now that we have internet radio, I feel assured that I can sneak in some time on the window seat with a hot cuppa somethin’ and get my fix of carols. Keep your fingers crossed for me; I am desperate for some good snow.

For the past three years I have managed to get the kids together to make a little something for their siblings for Christmas. With so many children and as many birthdays, more shopping trips for toys is not exactly what we need, but I treasure the time I get to spend with each kid planning and making gifts for their siblings to open. And the kids are the perfect age to enjoy this right now, so I am making hay. This year, due to all our right-before-the-holiday-viruses passed around and me down and out with the flu, we got it in right under the wire, but we still finished in time to have something wrapped from each sibling to the others.

The first project I’ll show you is one from our son to his sisters. This was originally his idea, whispered into my ear before a birthday, and remembered by this addle-brained mother just in time. He wanted to get barrettes for the girl’s because they could never find matching ones when they needed them. So one day when we were in the pharmacy filling yet another prescription, we grabbed a few sets for each girl along with a few bottles of glittery nail polish carefully selected by our five year old guy.

BarrettesSupplies

It only took a few minutes to get one coat on each set; four pair of large for the biggest sister, four pair of small for each of the littler ones.

BarrettesConcentration

There was a whole lot of concentration and not much chatter during craft time, and he also started with the color he believed his biggest sister would like the best.

BarrettesLinedUp

I placed the barrettes onto the back of two index cards that I cut, so he could more easily see where the paint was, and I could more easily run my nail around the edge of the wet polish so it would release from the card when it dried. That turned out to be a good idea, the running if the nail around the edge. It took a few coats each for every set and the black barrettes looked better and needed less than the simulated tortoise shell, but overall, it was simple enough that a five year old could do it mostly on his own.

BarrettesFinis

I think the results were simply spectacular!

The girls have certainly enjoyed them, and the baby has even kept hers in her hair without tossing them off in less than ten minutes as she does any type of clothing we put on her.

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A Pretty Kitty

Happy Birthday

A particular three year old had a birthday a few days back. Now, as she patiently explains to anyone willing to listen, we have a 7, 5, 4, and 1 year old in our family, not a 7, 5, 3, and 1 year old that her mother continually makes the mistake of blurting out when asked. I fear it will be far too soon before I’ll have to update my mental model yet again.

Four is such a magical time for my kids, one of my favorite developmental ages. They start playing together instead of side-by-side; their fine motor skills become more skilled and steady; their whole imaginative life takes off, in particular this little one who has always always been drawn to dramatic play. It has been and intense and joyful period of growth.

Birthdays in our family of six have taken on a slower, gentler pace through the years, as I suppose happens in any growing family. Not only are the daily demands different than when we only had one child, but we’ve discovered what works for our family and what doesn’t, and our needs have also decreased, since we’ve hit this age twice before and the gifts that have fit us best are still around and being loved and played with by all. So gift piles have become smaller and more thoughtful, with time spent on making and experiences over stuff.

For this year’s gift, I found this pattern for a stuffed mama cat on Craftsy that would be just about perfect for my little full-o-loving mini-mama who mothers all her toys with her big heart. Kindly remember that I am still quite a novice when it comes to sewing, so when I found the pattern a week before her birthday, I thought I would have plenty of time. And when I actually started it the day before her birthday, I thought it would only take three, maybe four hours.

Mama Kitty

I was so. very. wrong.

It took me until 4am. But… I got it done. Here she is, sitting pretty with her closed off skirt, which holds…

Mama and Babies

four little kitties; three littles and one baby, just like us. You’ll note that these little kitties are naked in this picture, because I simply ran out of steam and had to get to sleep.

Mama Bodice

She’s made out of linen, which was a little tricky for me to work with. It frayed in a few spots, but I think I figured out how to adjust the stitch size to prevent it. Also, I worked a few of the kitties on the bias, which helped significantly.

Mama Detail

The apron and dress were made with some japanese cotton linen blends; the matroyshka print is discontinued and I can’t find any more bits of it which makes me sad because I really found it so dear. There a bit of funkiness you’ll see going on with the bodice which is completely due to my inexperience and the time of morning when I tried to decipher the instructions. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out so I sewed together what I had and the next day (after three coffees and a few hours of rest) I wrote to Dorie, the creator of the pattern, and the writer of the equally fabulous tumblingblocks blog, hoping that she might be able to decipher what I did wrong. Not only did she respond within two hours, she took the time to walk me through making the bodice, step-by-step with kindness and incredible grace. Then, to top it off, she also updated her blog with an extra little bodice tutorial for us sad and confused newbies. Needless-to-say, after her lovely email I read through the instructions again, and everything was clear as day. It really was my inexperience getting the best of me.

Anyway, the bodice needs a bit of fixing. Luckily I have just enough fabric left to remake it (there was some rather unfortunate cutting which prevents me from reusing the pieces in the one I already sewed… eek!) and that’s on the list to finish up before the week is over.

Baby Kitties Dressed Up

After the older two went to school and the baby went down for her nap, my husband took the newly minted four year old out for a little Daddy-Daughter time, and I had just enough time to attempt to make the kitties some clothes. Being as tired as I was, I decided to forgo extra time in front of the machine, and grabbed some felt I had lying around to cut and tack together a few pieces. Worked like a charm! I wish I had used some decorative stitching or rick-rack, but there’s time for that after the holidays. For now these work perfectly. Plus, I don’t have any rick-rack lying around. I did, however, have 1/4″ bias tape that I believe I purchased in 2002. Let me say that the most difficult and nerve wracking part of sewing for me was attaching that 1/4″ bias tape. It was ripped out many, many times. Next time I’m using 1/2″.

Super Secret Skirt

She played with that cat (Hey look! A secret POCKET!) for a good ten minutes while I took pictures. She was so excited when I told her that I made it. I can’t imagine it will be too much longer before mama-mades no longer elicit such emotion, so I am reveling in it for as long as I can.

Baby Kitty With Pants

Of course, Mama Cat and her Three Little Kittens were forgotten (as well as every other gift provided by her loving grandparents and aunts and uncles) as soon as the playmobile set was unwrapped.

As I said earlier, experience taught us what they love… and gives us the knowledge to have her open that gift last 😉

 

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A Sideboard Journey

A few years ago, my mom and my step-dad decided to downsize their home significantly, which was lucky for me because there were quite a few pieces I was able to “inherit” because there wouldn’t be any space for them in their new digs.

One of them was this sideboard.

Brown Sideboard

I have this rather awkward spot in my kitchen—you can it a bit better in this post—where the countertop ends abruptly and leaves an empty space where cabinets would normally go. We could use those extra cabinets, or more specifically, we could really use the extra counter space. One of my main frustrations with this kitchen is the lack of space between the sink, the stove, and the end of the counter. The layout is just strange, and if I could figure out how to get more space between the stove and sink, make the sink a double-well, and somehow balance it all perfectly with that gorgeous window, then I would probably love my kitchen. Right now my kitchen and I have a mostly working relationship, but we don’t like hanging out after hours.

When we originally bought the house, the previous owners left us two desks that fit side-by-side in this space, but we decided to put those in the living room so the kids could use them for their homework, without being in the middle of the kitchen fray. As a temporary stop-gap measure, we decided to throw in my Mom’s sideboard. But that dark brown just wasn’t doing anything for me. So even though I promised myself I wouldn’t start another piece of furniture until that blasted hutch was finished, I ordered some Annie Sloan chalk paint in Provence and dove right on in.

Here it is after the first coat…
First Coat

First Coat Art Shot

And here’s What happened when I got to the second coat…
Second Coat Drawer Fronts

And here’s the beginnings of the third coat, that yellowish tinge…
Third Coat Top

Fourth Coat

And that brown-ish awfulness in this shot… that’s the beginning of the fourth coat… or what would’ve been the fourth coat if I wasn’t extremely unhappy with how it looked.Fourth Coat Begun

So this is what the fourth/fifth coat actually ended up being… (at this point I stopped counting individual layers)The Fifth Coat

Detail of Fifth Coat

And just in case you thought that I managed to finish all this in one sitting because my kids are busy sitting quietly in their playroom, building the next innovation in robotic technology while implementing their newly formed Middle East peace plan and eating their self-prepared PB&J sandwiches leaving me in my solitude to paint, wax, and clean-up the kitchen, this work happened over seven days, and caused all other work (excepting the laundry… there is always laundry…) to stop. Here’s the Keepin’ It Real shot.Keepin It Real

After seven more days, and several more coats of wax and paint, this is what I came up with…All Done

Another Angle of Done

Still All Done

The Top Is All Done Too

The cabinet has become the lunch box prep station with snacks on the top…
Snacks On Top

Painted drawers full of containers and sandwich sleeves…
Steel Container Drawer

A thermos cabinet that also hold the baby’s snack cups…
Thermos Cabinet

A drawer full of boxes and bags…
Lunch Bag Drawer

The other drawer contains loose change for lunch money on pizza day, and the other cabinet is full of snacks. I have to say, it’s been working very well for us!

Because I invested so much time refinishing this beast, I’m going to share a few more details of the paint and wax. You think you’re bored? Imagine how I felt after the ninth coat…
Surface Deet

Surface Corner

Left Face Deet

Scroll Cabinet Deet

Shes Got Legs

Paint Deet A

Knobs

Paint Deet B

Paint Deet C

Paint Deet D

Paint Deet E

So there she is… a modern colored wax and distressed Annie Sloan chalk paint furniture refinish. Hours and hours of work, building and buffing, painting and sanding…

And here’s the rub… I think I hate it.

Yeah. I’m going to live with it for quite a bit longer before I make a decision, but I’m thinking I might start pushing the hubster to invest in those base cabinets and new countertop.

I guess I should insert something here about destination vs. journey, but mostly I’m considering this a live and learn type of thing.

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