Friday, May 08, 2015

FO: Mitts for Mom!

Dear Mom,

Back in March when you came to visit during the kids' spring break, you started looking for a new knitting project. Your hands are often cold (like mine!), and you had been working on a pair of mitts for yourself but they were turning out too loose. Frustrated, you went on the hunt for a different pattern. We poked around a bit on Ravelry together, and then I remembered that I had just gotten my email newsletter from the PurlBee with a free pattern for cabled mitts, the Traveling Cables Mitts, to be exact. You had a brief look and decided you liked them (you don't obsess over pattern searches like I do, apparently), so down to the basement we went to print off the pattern and pick out some yarn.

Mom, you and I have a healthy respect for each other's stashes. Between your epic stash of quilting fabric and my epic yarn stash, we can pretty much come up with supplies for any project we want! That said, these mitts call for fingering weight yarn, something I don't have terribly much of in my stash...relative to worsted and aran weight, anyway. So it didn't take long for you to choose this herby, earthy green color.

After picking out the yarn, you commented that knitting projects take you forever, and you wondered (perhaps with a bit of a sigh) just when you would get these mitts done. Also, you're not a huge fan of knitting with DPNs, though you know how. Were you dropping hints? Or merely making an observation? Anyway, before I knew it, I had offered to knit them for you. 

This is the sort of project I can whip up in a week! No problem. Or so I thought.

It took more like a month and change to finish this pair of mitts. Granted, I've been busy (April was crazy, and May has been just as bad so far), so there hasn't been as much knitting time as I'd like, but I also managed to screw these up six ways from Sunday and then some. I got the left mitt done in a relatively short time, then knit the right mitt and they weren't the same length. They just weren't. I counted the cables and the rows of ribbing and it was like some weird knitting Twilight Zone where I did the exact same number of things for both mitts, but one was simply longer than the other and there was no explaining why.

So I reknit the right mitt and then discovered I should have reknit the left.

So I reknit the left mitt and managed to mess up the cables every third round and kept tinking back.

Long story short: what should have been a quick, easy project turned into a month-long ordeal and me grousing about mistakes more than usual. I blame the stress of my life at the moment. Normally I don't mess up this often.

As you can see, I did get the mitts done, and they are quite lovely. I was a little bit sad to package them up and send them away, but there is no one more deserving of a hand knitted gift than you, mom. After all, you taught me these skills in the first place. You also have proper respect for The Stash! That means a lot.

Happy Mothers' Day, mom! I hope you like these (even though I know it's probably hot in Kentucky already and it's not like you'll need them...maybe I should have saved them for your birthday in the fall?)

Suzy Q

Monday, May 04, 2015

stashing and minimalism and whatever else is trendy passing me by

The Next Big Thing is minimalism. Have you noticed this?  It seems like you can't swing a knitting needle without hitting a blog or website with the writer paring down or at least pledging to reduce, reuse, simplify, and generally rid him/herself of All The Excess. There's Marie Kondo's book (I haven't read it), people are moving into tiny houses, there are workbooks you can download to help you curate (yes, curate!) your wardrobe, and even the latest issue of Twist Collective, after presenting us with dozens of gorgeous patterns (I'd like to knit THEM ALL, please?) prints an article about how to minimalize your craft stash...hard to reconcile the two, really.

I get why this is happening. We've indulged ourselves in acquiring too much, we're sick of mass-produced crap that falls apart, we're becoming more aware of deplorable factory conditions in developing countries that make said mass-produced crap and we'd like to avoid buying it (easier said than done, alas), we're seeing the impact of our lifestyles on the environment. Not only that, we're still climbing out of a recession that made paying for the basics - food, shelter, clothing - a challenge for a lot of families, so we reprioritizing our spending and paring down out of necessity and learning to enjoy more with less.

I'm on board. Sort of. Sometimes I wish I could get rid of 75% of the stuff in my house so there would be less to clean up and trip over and fret about. But I also have two kids and a handful of creative hobbies, so it's not going to happen.

I've been knitting a long time and stashing for over a decade, so I have a lot of yarn, plain and simple. I also have a pretty good sized fabric stash that never gets smaller because I never seem to find the time to sew. (Though clearly, I find time to blog and fart around online, so I can't really claim that I don't have the time.) And let's not forget the large pile of felted sweaters from the thrift store waiting to be cut apart and sewed up into blankets and pillows and mittens and pincushions and potholders and coasters and softies. I have a tidy little box or two of embroidery supplies now too.

It's not that I'm not mindful about what I have and what I've acquired, but I know I'll never be able to embrace minimalism. I like having a wealth of supplies at my fingertips. I love being able to root around in the basement with the kids when they get the urge to make something and we have the supplies all handy right there and it's not all rare and precious. There is plenty to use and mess up and try again.

I know I have more than I need. Our house is pretty small and my yarn and fabric takes up more space than it ought. I would like my overall stash to shrink in volume. However, there's something about the current minimalist trend that strikes me as having too many moral implications, like having only 5 shirts in your closet makes you better than me because I have at least 15 t-shirts from Target in my drawer and I obviously don't need all of them, nor did I take a proper amount of time deciding just how those shirts fit into my lifestyle and fashion sense. (The one with foxes cavorting around it is cute and I needed another long-sleeved undershirt, so I just bought it. Done!) Doing things like filling out wardrobe workbooks and counting your shoes and logging yardage of yarn knitted up into a spreadsheet still feels like an awful lot of time spent thinking about your stuff.

Me? I'd rather use my stuff and enjoy it.

Of course, a lot of people are simply being more frugal and mindful (I know I use that word a little too often, but it's appropriate) about buying habits. But it seems to me that there are an awful lot of bloggers making Rules for themselves and committing to Challenges, and those are the kinds of things that make me run the other way. I've tried it. I tried committing to No More Yarn Buying and it just made me think all the time about buying yarn and as a consequence, I probably ended up with more than if I'd just left it alone.

Minimalist challenges are more opportunities to fail, is what I'm saying. At least, that's how it goes for me. I suppose everyone works differently, and if setting rules and committing publicly on a blog will help someone get her stash under control, she should go for it.

What about you? Where do you stand on the whole minimalism thing?

Oh, and I finished one project (will share later this week) and started another. All from stash yarn, so yay me!

Monday, April 27, 2015

FO: Caden scarf for Stuart

I just can't seem to finish things up as fast as usual these days. I do most of my knitting in the evenings, and lately my evening time has been taken up with teaching prep, freelance editing work, and coordinating via email volunteers for some large outdoor projects at the kids' school. It's all such a big time suck. When I'm feeling overwhelmed I allow myself to whine inwardly for just a minute about how I want everyone to leave me alone for a week so I can do yoga to heal my aching forearms (from all the typing and practicing I've had to do) and knit up a storm...and when that minute is over I remind myself that I love what I do. I love teaching, I love playing, I love the volunteer work. It's that time of the spring semester/planting season when everything has to be done RIGHT NOW but in a couple of weeks, the worst will be over and I won't regret having done any of it. 

Last week was like that. This week is better.

Meanwhile, Stuart's birthday was in March (!!) and I made him a scarf...which was finished only a week or so late. I'm lucky to be married to a very patient man. He didn't mind it was late.

And now six weeks later, when it's finally not even scarf wearing weather any more, I finally got some decent photos of it! We're having a week of gorgeous weather, so I grabbed the nice camera and took the kids to the park for some photos. 

I just took a class in using Adobe Lightroom, and I'm having fun messing around with the editing features. It's easy to use. I'm still getting used to the catalog system, but it's far far better than iPhoto ever was.

As you can see, I over corrected somewhat in the photo above. The scarf isn't that blue in real life. I was able to mess with the contrast and light in the background and bring out the highlights in Anya's face and the scarf around her neck. It's all part of the learning process.

It's all fold-y.

The pattern is Caden, from Quince and Co. I used Chickadee yarn (3 skeins, medium heathered gray color), and it was delightful to work with. I'd love to make a sweater out of it one day. Actually, I want to make things out of ALL THEIR YARN. One thing at a time, Susan. One thing at a time.

I like how the stitch pattern gives the knitted fabric gentle accordion folds. I blocked it pretty sternly but the folds are still there.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


I feel like my creative energy is scattered all kinds of places lately.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I’m feeling inspired to try some new crafts and think outside the box. But it also means I don’t have much to show you in the form of finished objects or even a coherent plan. 

Surprisingly, though, I’ve been interested in embroidery! When I was a child, I learned some basic stitches and did a few cross-stitch projects. I recall a tea towel (or was it a set of two or three? I don’t remember) I made for a Christmas gift for my grandmother when I was about 9 or 10 years old; the motif was a set of blue bowls, and I used stem stitch and large cross-stitches on a printed transfer. I also cross-stitched an alphabet sampler that my mom sewed into a pillow for my dad, which he used for snoozing on the easy chair in the corner of the living room until that little pillow literally fell apart. I lost interest in embroidery somewhere along the way, for ordinary reasons I’m sure: I got older and other hobbies interested me more; it felt a little bit old-fashioned; I didn’t like the patterns, you get the picture.
OK, you have to admit that is kind of cute. But modern it ain't.
Why the sudden interest now? Well, the modern arts and crafts movement has made embroidery cool again! While there are still plenty of old school transfer patterns out there for exquisite floral motifs and round-faced girls doing the “Washing on Monday, Ironing on Tuesday” (or however that goes), are also designers offering fresh, bold ideas and designs that I’m more inclined to stitch. (Here are a few of them: Kristin NicholasCozyblueRebecca Rinquist)

For another thing, my own kids are getting to the age where they can handle doing activities that require more intricate fine motor skills, and I have found that whenever they have something to keep busy with during down time after school or on weekends, whether it be doodling or knitting or building with Legos, they pester me a lot less about being bored. And while I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed that embroidery and hand-stitching would be an activity they chose to encourage their creativity (re: keep them out of my hair), they love it.

Daniel was very proud of his dragonfly.
And remember the neck warmer Anya designed for Stuart?

Really, this all started when I ordered a couple of books by Kristin Nicholas: Crafting a Colorful Home and Kids Embroidery. I ordered them directly from her website (she signed them! And included picture postcards of her sheep in the order!!). I admit, the Colorful Home book I bought mostly for the eye candy. I am not inclined to stencil my walls or paint exterior doors or even start a mood board on my own, but I love paging through the book and daydreaming. Totally frivolous, I know. I think I'm about to cave and get Colorful Stitchery, too, because I checked it out from the library and I never want to give it back!

Image from

The Kids Embroidery book, though? TOTAL HIT around here. It is awesome: full of detailed instructions and projects kids might actually want to make. My kids love looking through it and finding new stitches to try. Anya is still dabbling and tends to start things without necessarily finishing them. Daniel, though, has thrown himself into some of the projects, learning new stitches, and creating his own. We’ve been following Kirstin Nicholas on IG and sharing his projects with her, and he is tickled pink every time she “likes” a photo of his handiwork.

Just trying some stuff out.

What makes this book so good?
  • ·      The projects are adorable. Daniel has made the stuffed cat and dog, and is working on a second stuffed cat for a gift. (I won’t say for who.) With my help, Anya made a mouse of her own design  and gave it to my cousin Stephanie for her cats when we visited over Easter.
Allow me to introduce you to Professor Meow.

Cutest. Cat. Toy. Ever.

Softest puppy ever! And we even forgot to add his ears...

  • ·      The projects are also doable! My kids, at the ages of 7 and 9, need help preparing fabric and threading their needles but then they are set to go. Independence is a wonderful thing.
  • ·      The kids featured in the book are gender and ethnically diverse. In other words, this is an embroidery book that features plenty of boys, and plenty of non-white children. This is a BIG DEAL to me. Why should embroidery be just for girls? Why should the subject matter be restricted to flowers and butterflies? Daniel’s first project was a creeper (it's a Minecraft thing) stitched in black on bright green fabric, o
I am all about challenging gender roles (I can just hear my mom rolling her eyes right now, we talk about this a lot) and allowing children to engage in any creative or athletic activity they want to without feeling uncomfortable or ashamed. Finally, there is at least a conversation these days about girls in sports and girls being strong and smart and girls speaking up for themselves. While there is a long way to go in terms of true gender equality and empowerment, we’ve at least reached the point in our society where we can stand up for girls and champion girl power, even if we’re not exactly sure how. But what about boys? Those boys who find satisfaction creative endeavors, not just sports? Boys who like cooking or sewing or needlework? Boys, like my Daniel, who is a total math whiz and can outrun me and roll in the mud and then come home and extol the virtues of well-made pesto while experimenting with his embroidery stitches? Let’s not leave boys out of the conversation, is all I’m saying here. (*Stepping off the soapbox now).

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


Friends, jumping back into life after a weekend road trip is no picnic. As soon as we got home on Monday, I went to the grocery store twice (because I forgot important stuff like salt the first time), we did four gazillion loads of laundry, and the kids bathed for the first time in days. Yesterday we hit the ground running, and I immediately felt overwhelmed and panicked about everything I need to accomplish by the end of this month. It's not pretty. Then partway through making dinner, Daniel started feeling sick* and I tried not to freak out, but it's been a completely shitty winter for us in terms of kids catching germs every 3 weeks since Halloween (I am not exaggerating), Stuart wasn't going to get home until 9:00, and I very nearly fell apart.

Today, it all came into perspective. You may or may not recall that at the end of last summer, I got the sad and unexpected news that a former professor and mentor of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hadn't had a lot of contact with her in the last few years, but it was still a punch in the gut to know what she was facing with surgery and chemo on top of parenting a tween and managing a stressful job. I made her a blanket because I had to do something for her, and it was the only thing I could think of.

I chose to make the blanket orange because that is a color she wears a lot, and it seemed cheerful without being garish.

This afternoon while at the music school, I ran into J. It was completely unexpected and I was so happy to see her. She looks good. Her head was covered with a scarf because her hair hasn't grown back yet, but the chemo finished up in January and she is starting to feel better and is - for the time being - cancer free. We didn't have time to catch up, really; she had to meet a student, and I was running down the stairs to a rehearsal, but she told me the blanket meant a lot to her, that she curled up underneath it during chemo, that her cats love it, and that it even matches their family room. It was the highlight of my day to see her. And while I'm still feeling exhausted and stressed, I've had some perspective today.

They say don't sweat the small stuff. They also say it's all small stuff. I think both are true. But for today, I'm grateful that I can sweat the small stuff in my life, because one day the Big Stuff will come and I need to embrace what I have now.

*Daniel is fine. He had a good long sleep and woke up feeing totally normal. Not sure what that was about, but I'm relieved.

Monday, April 06, 2015

marching on

March has come and gone, and now that we're nearly a whole week into April, it's high time I checked in here. I finally finished that scarf for Stuart more than two weeks after his birthday. I think he honestly doesn't mind that it was late, but it's finally warming up a bit so he doesn't even need it now, and that makes me feel bad about not finishing it on time. 

I've been quite busy with work-related stuff (this time of year lots of music students are getting in recitals before they graduate). The kids were on spring break last week, so my parents came to help out with them and it was wonderful. They cooked and played games and went to the park and generally had a blast while I taught and practiced and rehearsed without worrying about finding sitters for all that time I needed to get things done. 

The moments I find between all these things are never enough for all the making I want to do. For instance, my mom and I wanted to work together to sew me a dress. I really need more performance-appriate attire, and I have been unable to find anything suitable. Right now I have two pairs of black pants and 2 or 3 black tops in the rotation and that is it, no exaggeration. It's dire. So I ordered a pattern and we got as far as buying fabric (some really nice rayon from a local shop that is actually local and not Joann's) and cutting out the pieces for a mock-up from some spare muslin I had on hand. But that's it. I haven't even had time to sew up the practice dress. Why I thought I'd have time to make myself a dress when I barely have time to go grocery shopping should tell you something about the state of my mind lately: not entirely rational.

We took a few days off for a road trip, though. I was completely stressed out before we left, sure that leaving for five days would put me totally behind. I will have to be extra-disciplined the rest of this week to keep up with all the music I'm responsible for, but I don't regret it. A few days away was just what I needed and we had a great time. We drove to Lawrence, KS, to see my cousin Stephanie and her husband Eric for the Easter weekend. We also saw my aunt and uncle (her parents, who drove up for a day to see us), and met a bunch of Steph and Eric's friends and just generally had a blast. I posted loads of pictures on my IG feed. Here are a few of my favorites:
Daniel showing off some new stitchin' skillz (more about this on another post!)

Sorting through the worm compost with Stephanie. Anya actually loved this activity.

Pretty eggs we dyed with my aunt Bonnie.
Anya getting ready to hide Easter eggs

Much silliness involving nostril selfies and uncle Eric

Iowa sunset on the way home.

I started a new knitting project while we were in KS:

These are the Traveling Cable hand warmers from, and they are a nice, quick knit so far. I don't know why I don't make more hand warmers. They're dead useful, and much faster than socks. I think it's the fiddly thumbs that hold me back, but even that's usually not so bad. An easy, quick knit is what I need right now while I get through the rest of the semester and plan some bigger projects for when life slows down a little.

Monday, March 16, 2015

better pictures

I've been blogging on a fairly regular basis since 2006 - which makes me
a dinosaur in the world of the internet. I started with MadtownMama when
Daniel was a baby and began this blog, Mad Knitting, a few months later.
I don't want to quit, but I'm not sure where I'm going with this,
either. I don't sell things, I'm not a designer, I'll never write a book
(not about knitting, at any rate) and I don't make any money here. It is
for me now, and probably always will be, a personal endeavor, a place to
share my creative life, document the stuff I make, and share random
tutorials from time to time.

But now, I am going to just come out and say something: I'm having a bit
of a bloggy identity crisis. I have been listening to a lot of
interviews with "successful" creative people lately, and now it is
starting to feel like I'm doing this all wrong, like I should be trying
to make money here or write posts to gain readership or give it up
altogether because everyone else has moved on to tumblr now. So maybe
one of these days (like when the semester is over because man am I busy
these days - I've had to turn down a lot of gigs, which is quite
painful) I'll find a platform less cumbersome than Blogger (Squarespace
is awesome, Weebly is really nice AND free) and move everything over and
it will be lovely and fun again.

What do you think? Quit? Move? Keep on keepin' on?

Meanwhile, I have been playing just a little bit with the nice camera
and new editing software, and I have a few finished projects to share.
I'm taking a class next month on using said software, but for now I'm
just messing around. I have lots to learn.

Stuart's birthday was last week and we all worked on some handmade gifts
for him. You're only seeing two out of three today because I'm only
halfway done with his scarf (she hangs her head in shame), in part
because of the time it took to help out with the kids' gifts.

Anya embroidered a patch to sew on a neckwarmer we made for Stuart. She
was inspired by the book Kids Embroidery by Kristin Nicholas. I highly,
highly recommend this book, and if you buy it, I strongly suggest you
order it directly from her website. She'll sign it for you, and as the
author, buying directly puts more of the profit into her hands. Kids
Embroidery is full of fun, colorful projects, useful introductory
information about how to make different stitches, and my personal
favorite part is the great diversity of children featured: there are
girls and boys, and lots of faces that aren't white. Needle arts are for
everyone, know what I'm saying? (I'll write again about that sometime.
It's a topic that deserves its own post.)

In any case, Anya wanted to learn to embroider and worked on this
project for weeks. She practiced stitches on a scrap piece of fabric,
and then we designed the patch. What does Stuart like? Several things
came to mind, but the topic of disc golf won out because that's an
activity the kids love to do with their dad. They played just about
every weekend last summer. So the image below is a disc about to land in
a metal basket. She even used chain stitches for the chains!

Anya was pretty proud of herself. I sewed the neck warmer out of some
fleece I had on hand, and stitched the patch on by machine. Notice, by
the way, that the embroidered disc is headed straight for the
embroidered basket. The first picture I drew, the disc aimed askew and
Anya wouldn't stitch it because she wanted the disc to land where it's
supposed to. Doesn't miss a detail, this girl.

Daniel and I decided together to make Stuart an apron. He isn't able to
help with cooking very often except on weekends, but at those times we
sometimes embark on rather ambitious recipes. He is particularly fond of
frying things and will sometimes look for an excuse to fill the wok with
oil and heat it up - eggrolls, samosas, doughnuts. You need an apron to
do this, so we found a large piece of denim in my fabric stash. I did
all the cutting and sewing, and I used an existing apron for the basic
design. Daniel did the pocket decoration, however, using a bleach pen.
Bleach pens are fun, man. I need to use them more often. I got the idea
from an old knitting book from at least a decade ago where all these
projects are knitted in denim yarn and then bleached to great effect.

This apron was fun because I used some hardware, which felt very
professional, though it's not hard to do. I installed grommets in the sides for the ties (not
pictured) and put a buckle on the neck strap.

The last batch of pictures are from Sunday. It was windy and warm, so we
spent a bit of the afternoon in a nearby conservation park (Pheasant
Branch, for those who are interested), hiking up muddy trails to the top
of what the kids call "Mount Hill", where there are Native American
burial mounds and an amazing view of a winding creek and suburban
development below. I brought along my latest FO to get some photos. It's
the scrappy cowl I made using leftovers of a variety of yarns. It's not
perfect, but I like it and it's very light and comfortable to wear, a
good transition piece.

I have this to say: Anya is WAY more photogenic than I am. All the
pictures of me were dreadful except this one. They all make me look old and gray and blotchy. 

I guess I could wear make up and color my hair, but I won't.

My only project on the needles right now is that (#*$ scarf for Stuart.
I'm itching to do some sewing and even some embroidery (Anya's interest
has kindled my own), so be on the lookout for more projects soon.