September 15, 2013

Blocking on the Cheap

{blocking} *
Definition 1. The thing we knitters sometimes forget to to do at the end of making a sweater. 

Definition 2. The thing we knitters remember to do at the of making a sweater, except we don't have that expensive blocking thingy in order to complete the task, so we still don't bother with it. 

If Definition #1 resonates with you, it's time you learned to block. It really can help to shape your garment at the end of the process. 

If you are in the Definition #2 category, and you don't want to spend oodles of money on a giant blocking pad (or you don't have space for something that large), I have an easy and fairly cheap solution for you. Simply purchase an interlocking child's puzzle play mat and save your money to purchase more yarn. Save your space to store that yarn. 

I purchased mine through an online children's retailer. Their website seems to be totally outdated at the moment, and I couldn't find the actual product any more. However, I did find this one from Overstock, available on Sears website. And if you're a pureist and want an actual knitter's product, KnitPicks sells these

You can search yourself for 'puzzle foam mats' or look in stores that sell children's' products. Be cautious of exercise quality and gym mats -- some of them are way overpriced. I certainly didn't pay anymore than $20 for my set, including shipping. The set I got has a total of nine squares that are one square foot each. It's just enough to block one sweater. You may need more than one set if you're going to block a larger garment or a shawl.

No excuses knitters. Start blocking.

* (Craftsy has a great tutorial here if you're wondering what 'blocking' really is...) 

PS: Want more cardigan details? Go here, for the previous post with links to the pattern. 

September 12, 2013

Happy International Crochet Day!

I really had no idea that an International Crochet Day existed until yesterday. Only when I went on Instagram, did I noticed that numerous fiber junkies started hashtagging the daylights out of a bunch of granny squares. 

Not one to miss out on the fun, I submitted my own little square for a worldwide virtual blanket. (Check out #virtualblanket if you're on Instagram and watch the blanket grow!)

This square is an extra one from a baby blanket I made for a friend in 2011. The pattern is available for free for a full-sized afghan -- I just scaled mine down to baby size.

I couldn't find out any other 'official' information or real history on International Crochet Day, but really, do we 'hookers' need a reason to crochet? 

I learned to crochet when I was about eight years old. My mother learned from her mother-in-law, and as I watched Mom make heavy acrylic blankets for the winter, I too wanted to learn. I watched her creating loop after loop, the bulge in each skein of yarn getting skinnier and skinnier the more the blanket grew.

My mom showed me the basics and I remember using a small hook and red yarn. I managed to make a chain and a few rows of single crochet. However, I hadn't learned the concept of making that extra stitch at the end before I would go onto the next row, so what started out as a red bookmark became a C-shaped something-or-other.

I didn't pick up a hook again for a long, long time.  

Then, the Sailor and I spent a year in Cape Town, South Africa for his navigation schooling. Armed with paper, glue sticks and craft scissors, I planned to make cards, collages and scrapbook pages galore in the evenings while he studied. 

After only a week in our cramped 'granny flat' near the sea, all of my paper began to wilt. The place was so damp and full of salty sea air that I couldn't create much at all. The cards curled, the glue stopped sticking, and I myself started to crack. 

I knew I'd need some sort of artistic venture to see me through the second semester. I loved sewing, but hauling my Singer all the way overseas was out of the question. When we arrived in the USA for the term break, I marched myself to a craft store and purchased hooks, yarn and the simplest crochet guide possible. I figured of all things, wool could stand up to getting damp. Plus crochet seemed portable -- much more so than that sewing machine. I remembered my mom's blankets and decided I too wanted to crochet something to keep me warm in the winter. 

First things first though -- I somehow, without a pattern -- made this hook carrying case. (Don't ask me how I did it, because I still don't have a clue. Think glorified roll-up pencil case made with cotton. VoilĂ .)

I don't really remember what else I made -- some dishcloths and a few potholders that I still use and lots of small projects that I'd create one day and then rip out the next just to learn a technique. Suffice it to say, even though I didn't complete a giant crocheted blanket at that point, the second semester was a lot less stressful for me (it helped that I wasn't the one actually studying, but I do give crocheting credit for it's zen-like properties.) 

In honor of International Crochet Day, I'd like to share a few crochet projects that never made it onto the blog. 

Hooded Baby Blanket (minus the hood, in my case): I have made this blanket too many times to count in all different colors. An excellent go-to crochet project. I like to keep a few extra in 'stock' for those surprise deliveries -- you know -- when you have a far-away friend announce the birth of their baby and you had no idea they were pregnant!

Apron strings:
I showed off the start of this before we moved, but I never gave you a glimpse of the finished apron.

Great Granny Afghan: This is not a 'recent' project, but it's been on our sofa ever since I made it, and much to my delight, the Sailor uses it whenever he's home. While the pattern is from an older Crochet Today magazine, if you know how to do a granny square, then just keep going! (There's a great granny square tutorial here, on the Purl Bee.)

Happy International Crochet Day, everyone! I'm going to spend my evening crocheting something that I'll share with you later. I'm also going to see if I can figure out what to do with a few more leftover granny squares. (I'm thinking soles for some new granny square slippers.)

Check out the 'crochet' label on the right for more crochet fun if you've missed any posts on Typing Sunflowers and happy hooking!

September 8, 2013

Life, Lemons and Pie

I love lemons. Seriously. I used to beg my mother to let me eat lemons whole. I'd sprinkle a tiny bit of sugar on them sometimes, but most of the time, I'd cut them up and stick the slice in my mouth and pucker up. 

Nowadays, my taste buds are a little bit more refined. I'd rather eat my lemons in a cake, pie or cookie than simply raw. I still crave them though. I even dream of having a lemon tree of my own someday. Is that weird? 

Tree or not, last weekend, over Labor Day, I realized how many lemons I actually had laying around. I also realized what a hankering I had for Lemon Meringue Pie. 

When life gives you an abundance of lemons, what else is there to do but make pie? 

Years ago, I found a copy of the Joy of Cooking: All about Pies and Tarts on sale at a craft store of all places, and I grabbed it on a whim. I've never regretted it. It's been my go-to recipe book for all kinds of pies -- and it's never failed me. Every single thing I've made from there, sweet or savory, has been delicious.  

While I couldn't find the actual recipe from the book available from Joy of Cooking online to share with you, I did find this one from Better Homes and Gardens that looks deliciously similar and just as tasty, if you are craving your own pie. 

 Don't be put off by the meringue -- it's deceptively simple if you follow the recipe! 

The only thing better than baking the pie is sharing it with friends and eating it, naturally. Spontaneous pie picnics over holiday weekends really are the best (especially when the pie is eaten out of vintage Pyrex, of course.) 

September 5, 2013

Meatball Madness

As I child, I wasn't a fan of meatballs in any form. To me there was nothing worse than getting a mouthful of dry meat with my spaghetti sauce and pasta. Clearly, my mother's Italian roots came out, because her meatballs were enormous. Years later, when I had to get eight teeth extracted before they could straighten the rest, I realized why I had such a difficult time chewing. Apparently I had a small mouth for the size of my teeth. 

Things have definitely changed in the past few decades and now I'm actually a big fan of meatballs. I even crave them every now and again. The next time I make them for the Sailor, I'll be sure to share my yummy (and juicy!) turkey meatball recipe.

In the meantime, you can make your own giant dried out meatballs right here. Remember the Talking Squash? I sent the same friends this crochet cheeseburger, because I knew they needed some meat to go with those veggies. Then they reminded me that they were serving up meatball grinders for the toddler's birthday party... and could I maybe make up a few meatballs as party favors? 

Last year, they had a blueberry theme... and even though we trolled through craft stores central, we couldn't find suitable blueberries for party favors. 

I made these instead. 

This year, I used the same basic orb pattern and just added eyes. I've had this brown yarn in my stash for so long that I can't even remember why I bought it in the first place -- but it definitely worked for the meatballs!  

The best part about homemade meatballs, is that they don't have to be perfect. In fact, imperfections are welcome.

I'm not sure what I'll be crafting for the third birthday party next year, but I'm guessing it'll be something round and squishy! I think I have some green yarn that needs to be used up. Peas perhaps? 

Recipe for Crocheted Meatballs

Yarn scraps in brown, white and black(I used worsted weight #4) 
Crochet hook to get a tight enough gauge so that the stuffing doesn't poke through (I used a 4 mm hook)
Yarn needle

sc: single crochet
sc2tog: single crochet 2 stitches together. Insert hook in next stitch, yarn over and draw up a loop, 2 times. Then yarn over and draw through all three loops on the hook.

Work the ball in a spiral, which means don't join at the end of the round. You can use a marker, safety pin, or a piece of contrasting yarn to keep your place. Or, if you can concentrate and crochet, just count. Even if you lose concentration, there's nothing wrong with a lumpy meatball every now and again. 
Round 1: Make a magic loop (tutorial here) and chain two. SC 6 times into the loop and pull tight. (You can always just chain two and then work 6 sc into the 2nd chain from the hook, but I think the magic loop makes it tighter.

Round 2: Work 2 sc in each sc around (12 sc) 

Round 3: (sc in next sc, 2 sc in next sc) 6 times (18 sc)  

Round 4: (sc in next 2 sc, 2 sc in next sc) 6 times (24 sc) 

Round 5: (sc in next 3 sc, 2 sc in next sc) 6 times (30 sc) 

Round 6: (sc in next 4 sc, 2 sc in next sc) 6 times (36 sc)  

(If you want fatter meatballs, increase another round or two after Round 6, before continuing on.)

Rounds 7-11: (sc in each sc around) 

(If you increased more than Round 6, remember to start the next round of decreases appropriately -- ie, if you added one extra round, sc in next 5 sc, sc2tog 6 times before starting Round 12.) 
Round 12: (sc in next 4 sc, sc2tog)6 times (30 sc)

Round 13: (sc in next 3 sc, sc2tog) 6 times (24 sc) 

Round 14: (sc in next 2 sc, sc2tog) 6 times (18 sc) 

Stuff the meatball with fiberfill.

Round 15: (sc in next sc, sc2tog) 6 times (12 sc)

Stuff a little more fiberfill in there if necessary.

Round 16: (sc2tog) 6 times (6 sc) 

Pull the yarn tight and cut, leaving a long enough tail to weave in with your yarn needle. 

EYES for meatballs: 

With white yarn make a magic loop and chain 1. SC 4 times into loop. Pull the loop tight and slip stitch to first sc made. Leave a long enough tail to sew the eye onto the meatball. 

Once the white of the eye is on the meatball, add the pupil by making a secure french knot right in the middle of the eye. 

Weave in all ends securely. 

Serve immediately, in vintage Pyrex, of course. 

No need to refrigerate.

September 2, 2013

Goodbye Green?

I'm a little confused about the seasonal change. Stores are already pushing harvest themes, but the temperatures were in the 80s today. I'm not sure when Labor Day became the official start of Fall in America, but I'm sticking with what my calendar says: September 22nd is actually when the autumnal equinox is due to happen. In the meantime, I'm going to keep wearing shorts.

In anticipation of slightly cooler weather though, I decided to start knitting a cotton cardi a few weeks ago. This one in fact. And this weekend, I nearly finished it. Remember this gorgeous green goodness? It's just as beautiful to knit with -- seriously. It's Pima Clasico 100% cotton in 'kiwi' and it feels like butter. I managed to get the lot for half price at my local yarn store. (Resistance was futile.)

This is the first seamless sweater I've ever made. While I usually don't mind seaming up pieces of a sweater (I learned to sew long before I learned to knit!) I did find it a joy to realize that once I finished the sleeves, all I'd have to do is weave in the ends, block it and put a few buttons down the front.

The only downside to seamless knitting is that you can't do the sleeves two-at-a-time to ensure that they are the exact same size, especially if the pattern says to knit to a certain length. This time, I just kept track of my number of rows and made sure I repeated the process exactly on the second sleeve.

I'm happy to report that with all of the actual knitting done at this point, and besides having to rip out a few rows because I forgot a buttonhole, there were no major catastrophes (unlike that last blue cardigan...)

I was also pretty excited to use these lovely double pointed knitting needles. I have a ton of vintage needles that I've acquired cheaply and en masse (so many that I use them for photo projects, like this one) but these are some of my absolute favorite. 

I found them at the 'I Knit Weekender' event in London several years ago. (You can view their London-based shop here.) I happen to be in town the same week that the convention was happening and I found myself staring at rows and rows of yarn, books and needles. These tortoise shell resin double-pointed needles came home with me at a bargain.  

I hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day! I certainly did, although I'm not quite ready for summer to end just yet -- I love green. I suppose I'll have the cardigan to help me with the transition, in any case.