Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last week, when I was posting all those family recipes, I forgot to add the recipe for the best muffins ever concocted by humankind.

Here you go.

You're welcome.  Now, go and make them.

Oh, and HEY, I know some of you are making Joelle's Neck Placket sweater, using my tutorials.  Show me some photos, people!  I wanna see your handiwork.  Please?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Big Brother

For a couple of weeks now, I've been using Google Analytics to keep score on how much traffic comes through here.  I'm not spying on you, I just have an aversion to spending a bunch of time documenting stuff, only to discover that no-one is reading it.

When I moved into my current home 3 1/2 years ago, I started a personal blog to keep my out-of-town relatives in the loop.  I have a HUGE family (8 aunts and uncles, 20-odd cousins and several grandparents - and that's just on my mom's side) and it turns out my sister and grandmother were the only ones who bothered to log on to read it.  I had my dog Maggie for 9 months before my mom found out (I had blogged extensively about her and had assumed my mother was reading it).

So, all this to say:  Hi, Arizona!  Turns out, you're my biggest market!  Weird, but true, apparently.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Music and other obsessions

I received an iTunes gift card from my dad this Christmas and I wasted exactly zero time cashing it in for some new music.  I love music.  No, I really mean it.  I looooooooove music.  I have no musical talent and I am completely tone-deaf.  But, I love listening and singing along to music, and because I can really relate to the songs, I especially like Canadian music.  My iPod Touch has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500 songs, and I would say that approximately half of them are by Canadian artists.  We have some pretty amazing songwriters/performers in this country who get little or no attention from the rest of the world.  Which, in some ways, is nice for us (they play in the smaller cities and their ticket prices remain very reasonable), but kind of sucks for them (it's nice to get money, don't you think?).  I try to support them as much as possible.

I bought 3 albums (yes, I'm an album girl - buying individual songs is weird...go big or go home, I always say).  The first album I bought is not Canadian - it is the soundtrack for the movie "Once" (if you have not yet seen this movie, go out RIGHT NOW and rent it), by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.  Awesome.  Really soulful, mellow and melancholy.  Just what I like.

The next two albums ARE Canadian and they both feature Jim Cuddy.  The first was "Palace of Gold", by his band Blue Rodeo.  Again, soulful and mellow.  Perfect.  Next, I got his solo record "The Light That Guides You Home", which has completely blown my socks off.  Completely.  They're lying on the floor right now.  Blown off.  If I wasn't already married, I would pack my bags and head to Toronto, track him down and camp out on his doorstep until he agreed to make me his love slave.  On second thought, that might seem a *bit* desperate.  On second thought, maybe (to, you know, preserve some dignity), I would just offer to carry his bags everywhere, for the rest of my days.  That doesn't seem too needy and obsessive, does it?

As I mentioned, I don't own a TV.  This leads to me feeling a little out of the loop, sometimes.  I was not aware that Jim Cuddy had a solo album, or else I would have hunted it down a while ago.  I took some time this week to Google him and found the following video on YouTube (do yourself a favour and watch this in fullscreen):

I have been admiring this video for days now, and not just because he's beautiful and wonderful and perfect. Did you SEE that photography? Is that not the most stunning imagery? I'm a sucker for dramatic shots and this just pushed all my buttons. All that deep black (did you notice how in almost every single shot, at least one side of the image bleeds into the black border of the frame - oh, negative space, how I love you)! All that atmospheric blue!  All those saturated colours.

*Sigh*.  Some days I just feel like giving up trying to make art.  I couldn't do any better than this video and to try feels criminal.   Does that make any sense?

Anyway, the feeling obviously doesn't last.  I just had to do something with all this inspiration, so I whipped this up as a little virtual gift for my sister, who is a huge Blue Rodeo fan, herself. Here you go, Trish. This one's for you:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Recipes (not gluten-free, sorry)

I finally got around to dressing up some of my favourite family recipes.  Here they are (they're going in the sidebar, too):

Turkey and Stuffing (oh my god, if you try this, you will NOT regret it)
Cinnamon Swirl Loaf
Oat Bran Cookies (you could make these with raisins or chocolate chips...)


PS: Sorry for the non-existent posting.  I've been going insane.  I'll be back in a few days, when I have a chance to breathe.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I had a nice little blog post planned for tonight, celebrating the arrival of my early Christmas present (a previously-enjoyed Canon EOS 40D DSLR camera...oh yeah, baby!).  HOWEVER, when I plugged it into the computer to download everything, I discovered that the memory card was corrupt and I lost all of my photos from today.


And this day was going so well...

Friday, December 11, 2009

A new obsession

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is a fellow Canadian, fellow knitter and she also happens to have a rockin' blog. I follow it religiously and yesterday, she posted something that made my heart stop.

Seriously, my life flashed before my eyes and everything.

This is what overwhelmed me. I must make these. NOW. I just bought a new pair of needles and I'm swatching madly, as I write this. Ok, maybe not EXACTLY as I write this, but the minute I log off, I'm popping in a movie and I'm going to it.

I hope everyone I know is happy with receiving slippers for Christmas. 'Cause that's what is gonna happen!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Oh wow...

...look what I just found.

I think I'm in love. Don't tell my husband.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

DIY Bed Frame

Hey, I've finally put together my instructions on how to build your own bed frame. I'll stick it in the sidebar, but here it is as well. Enjoy!

On Notice...

I've been advised that, any day now, Wood is going to post about the sweater she just finished for her son and that she's going to link over to this site so people can see what we've been up to. If that's where you just were and you're here to snoop around...


Have a seat, make yourself at home. If you want to start at the beginning and attempt to knit this baby up yourself, start here. The tutorials I created are in the sidebar on the right (down there... a little lower... keep going... there). If you sign up for a (free) membership to Scribd, I believe you can download and save them to your computer. If not, just click on my links below and print them out onto paper from the Scribd site. And let me know if you have any problems. I'm a novice and I have no idea what I'm doing (not that I'll let that stop me).

If you want to learn to knit or sew or anything else that's crafty, drop me a line. I might be able to help you. If you leave a comment on the blog, it won't be published right away - I have things set up so that I can moderate comments, for now. I have a full-time day job, so I'll do my best to get back to you asap, but please forgive me if it takes a few days. I'm not ignoring you, I swear.

Glad you came to visit! I'm sorry I'm a little short on photos at the moment - I'm sans camera. I promise I'll fix that as soon as I can (Santa baby, just slip a Canon under the tree, for me...Been an awful good girl...).

See you again very soon, with some more goodies.

Homemade laundry soap, anyone?

I had to make up a batch of laundry soap today, so I borrowed the camera from work and I'm going to give you a step-by-step. This goes with the recipe I have linked in the sidebar on the right. I used a wooden spoon, but I do specify that you're to use a whisk for parts of it (you see, it helps if you actually follow your own recipe when you're doing stuff like this...oops).

So, here goes:

The bucket is for mixing. The detergent jugs are empty and rinsed, ready for new detergent. You'll need at least three of them. The rag is for cleanup (you might think you won't need it, but I'm here to tell you "Yes, you will. Take it out now and have it close by.").

Grate the soap, using the cheese grater.

Place the grated soap and 6 cups of water in a large pot to boil.

You might as well take another big pot and put 12 cups of water in IT and boil it as well (you'll need it in a minute). If you only have one big pot, just wait until the soap is boiled, rinse that one out, and boil more water. You could also use a kettle, if you have one.

While you're waiting for those two pots to boil, you can measure up the Borax...

...and the washing soda. See? I told you there'd be a mess. That's ok, more washing soda is not a bad thing - it increases the "strength" of the soap.

Your soap mixture will start to look like lemonade and a bubbly foam will build up at the top.

When it boils and all the soap is dissolved, add the Borax/washing soda blend and mix well until it is all dissolved (no more grit). Keep the heat on until this is done.

By now, that other pot of water should be boiling. Dump everything into the bucket and stir well. Add 8 cups of cold water and whisk (just imagine that wooden spoon is a whisk, will ya?).

This is where the nasty old Brita jug comes into play. I use it to pour the soap into the jugs, but you could use a regular jug or large measuring cup. You could use a funnel (like the type they sell to mechanics for use during oil changes) to minimize mess, but I don't have one that big, so I take my chances. Also, you should do this with the bucket and jugs on the floor - that mixture is still HOT and will heat up/soften the handles on the jugs, making them dangerous to hold! The reason I didn't is that my floor is disgustingly nasty and there was NO WAY I was taking any photographs of it.

**Speaking of photographs, if you ever attempt to take photos while doing this, please be careful. Cameras don't like water. Especially when they are borrowed and potentially very expensive to replace.**

Ok, so once you mop up all the spilled soap and water (if you don't have any spilled water to clean up, I hereby curse you), you can stand back and admire your beautiful bottles of homemade soap. I forgot to mention that you can also add essential oils to the mixture (refer to the recipe for the right time to do that). That's why I have one red jug - for the lavender soap.

So, you ready to try it? Come on, you can do it! It only takes about 20 minutes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wood started a mitten project and asked about how to fasten them together with an idiot string. I'm going to sneak a really good little tutorial in here that explains how to make an "I-cord". There seems to be some debate about who invented this little gem, but the word on the street generally credits Elizabeth Zimmermann with its conception.


*Edited to add: Alternatively, Wood gave me a tip on another (read: more useful) YouTube clip that helps, too. Here it is (I wasn't allowed to embed it, so you'll have to go and view it there).*

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Not that it's of any importance...

...but there was a bit of back and forth yesterday about the last tutorial. I'm posting it because I feel it illustrates what I mean when I say that knitting becomes an obsession.

Phase VII:

Wood's reply to my e-mail with the tutorial:

"Eeeeeeee! I'm so excited! Thanks, and I'll let you know if I have any questions.

(Jim just asked me why I was so excited, and I told him you'd just sent the final set of instructions, and he said, "wow, she's really hooking you up, huh?" and I said, "indeed.")"

I couldn't resist replying:

"It's all in the interest of expanding our cult following. You'll recall I warned you about that at the beginning. It starts innocently enough (you're browsing the yarn shop, contemplating another garter stitch scarf, carelessly browsing the pattern books) and the next thing you know, you're looking into buying a spinning wheel and booking tickets for knitting retreats...

We're worse than Trekkies.

When my buddy broke her arm last year, she blogged about it and my first reaction was "Oh my god, how will she knit?". I didn't leave that as a comment, though - I thought it might sound kind of callous, considering she had a 2-month old baby and a 4-year old to look after and she couldn't paint (she's an illustrator). She probably had more important things to think about than knitting. I went over to her place a week later and asked her how she was coping and she said "Well, it's tricky. I can't pick up the baby and I can't cook and I feel helpless and I can't work, but I'm dealing with that, because PRAISE BE TO GOD I can still knit!". Turns out, it was one of the first things she tested out when she got home with the cast.

Brainwashed, all of us. Welcome to the club (I can safely say that you are in the club, because you are sitting at home on a Friday night, checking your e-mail for a knitting tutorial and you exclaimed about its arrival loud enough to attract the attention of your husband --- you're hooked, it's a done deal)."

Her confession came a little later:

"Oooh yes, you've got me. I did just spend two hours knitting on a Friday night, and it was really fun and there is nothing I would have rather been doing. Now my hand is cramped and my eyes are tired, so I better go to sleep before I start making mistakes.

Awesome story about your friend. That cracked me up. I'd write something funny or clever myself, but I'm too tired.

Thanks again for recruiting me into your cult."

That's knitting, for you. The yarn wraps you around its little finger and you can help but love the abuse.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Phase VII (the last of the tutorials for this sweater)

Phase VII is ready! We're finished!

A little bit of back-and-forth

About a week after sending Wood the pdf for Phase VI, I got an e-mail. It wasn't really crucial to include here, but I had fun with it:

"Okay, I've done the decreases, and as usual, your guide was great. I haven't grafted the armpits together yet, but might try it tonight.
It was tricky and kind of confusing to follow Joelle's instructions, but I think I got it right and am ready to move on!"

This is what I wrote back:

"Soooo, what you're saying is "get off your ass, woman, and get me my next tutorial!"

It's cool. I get it. The first bloom of friendship has wilted and the gloves are coming off. I see how this is going to play.

Heheh, I'm just messin' with ya.

I did 90 minutes of yoga tonight, so I'm totally wiped. I'll work on it tomorrow night and send it to you asap - how does that sound? We're almost finished, you realize..."

She wrote back:

"Ha!! Actually the original purpose of the email was to say I didn't understand what Joelle meant by "ending the last round 25 stitches before the last round -- 149 sts: 45 sts for front, 46 for back and 29 for each sleeve" but then as I typed it out I totally got it. So then I was left with an email without a point, so that's why it ended like that.

90 minutes of yoga? I am impressed!"

After which, I got off track talking about yoga (moi? prattle on and on about something? seems so out-of-character!!) and how awesome it is, until she brought us back to the subject at hand and asked:

"I spoke too soon. I do have a question about that last instruction: (1) for some reason, I have an extra stitch in front and back-- 46 sts for front, and 47 for back. But the sleeves are right at 29 each; is this a problem? I have no idea what happened. (2) if I end the round 21 stitches before the end, that is a few sts into the left sleeve (left if you're wearing it, right if you're looking at it). Am I understanding this right?"

My answer:

"Re: 46 and 47 stitches vs. 45 and 46: Totally no big deal. Ignore it and carry on.

Re: end of knitting in the left sleeve: I had the same thing happen to me. Conclusion? Either we made the exact same mistake or (more likely, I say) wonky pattern writing, Joelle! I refuse to consider that I got cocky and misread the pattern. Nope, not my fault. No way.

Now that we have absolved ourselves of guilt there, here is the solution: I totally fudged mine, so you can too. I don't have a camera with me at the moment, so bear with me: You want to find yourself in the middle-ish of your 46-stitch section of stockinette (the front). Knit that 46-stitch section on your last round, but stop when you are 25 stitches from the first right sleeve marker - it'll be about halfway-ish. (note: right arm goes in the right sleeve, just to make sure we are talking about the same sleeve, here). That's where you'll be working the neck placket (see photo), so that's why you stop there, and not at the end of the round. Don't worry if the round is a little offset and you have to knit a partial plain row just to get back to the front section (you probably have your "beginning of round" marker in the wrong spot) - no-one will ever notice, in a trillion years. That's the nice thing about knitting for babies. Their cuteness distracts the viewer from goof-ups in the knitting.

"Oh, isn't that little girl adorable? Wait. Is that decrease slanting the wrong way in her- Oh, she just smiled at me! She smiled! She's the most beautiful baby in the World! Hmm... Now, what was I going to say about her sweater? Oh well, mustn't have been important... She's so pretty."

Hope that answers your questions."

She wrote back the next day:

"Still getting the hang of reading those patterns.
I think I know what I did -- I put my place holder at the wrong sleeve -- I used the right front from my perspective, which is really left. Oops. I knit a partial row to get to the right spot.
I stitched up my armpit holes last night, and the first one is a little rough looking, but the second is better. Like all things with knitting, the first time I didn't really understand what I was doing, and by the second time it made more sense, and as a result, looks much better."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some recipes


I've added links to some interesting recipes in the sidebar. One is for homemade laundry detergent (super super super easy - don't be intimidated) and the others are for a couscous salad and a date/chocolate/almond cake (gluten-free).  {ETA: Sorry, I've done some downsizing and I've taken them off the web.  Let me know if you're interested and I'll send them directly to you via e-mail.}

Phase VI - the sweater yoke

Aaaaand, here's Phase VI.

You'll also need to learn how to graft.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Phase V - finishing the first sleeve and connecting it to the body

Click here.

Phase IV - starting the first sleeve and learning how to knit with dpn's

My next e-mail was sent off a few days later...
{ETA: Am not sure when I sent Wood Phase III, but here it is.}

"Ok, so here is Phase IV.

Listen up: I'm giving it to you on the condition that you wait until you are well-rested and have an hour or two of peace and un-interrupted quiet (stop laughing, I'm serious) to try it. Don't attempt this on an empty stomach or when you're PMSing or when you're nursing a 4-year-old who has caught H1N1 back to health. It won't work. You'll get frustrated and you'll decide that anyone stupid enough to try this deserves to be taken out of the gene pool. And, seeing as you've got my home address, I'd rather you didn't get to that point.

That said, it's quite do-able. No really, it is. I actually much prefer double-pointed needles to circulars, which I realize makes me an anomaly, but still. Just keep in mind that the needles (whether you're using 4 or 5) are going to dangle and clink and clang together while you knit. Totally normal. I tried to show you as best as I could how to do this, but I figured I would send you this link, if you need a YouTube video. She's not knitting in seed stitch, so just remember that. But, she's got a cool accent and her instructions are quite good (socks and kid sleeves are essentially the same - just tubes). She's using 4 needles, instead of 5 like me, so you can see the difference. Also, she is using a completely different cast on (see, I had no idea it even existed - you learn something everyday!):

I just realized you may be confused about why my yarn is now beige in the Phase IV tutorial. I started this tutorial with my yellow yarn last week, and was knitting along nicely until this weekend, when I picked it up again and realized that I had made a mistake and ripped it out to restart. I didn't have the laptop's webcam here and I got so carried away with the knitting that I went way beyond the point where I finished the tutorial and decided to just keep on going. So, I had to go back and re-document what I did, using a different yarn and set of needles (I didn't want to restart AGAIN and my needles and yarn were otherwise engaged). So, I'll get back to the yellow yarn and bamboo needles in the next installment. Make sense? Do you even care? Probably not. Oh well."

Here are Phases V and VI:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming...

It was time for Phase III.

Wood took a little break to help out with Halloween.

Holy crap.

A couple more glitches...

And, because you always get a few curveballs, I got this message, one day:

"So at first when I dropped a stitch I was too afraid to try and fix it, but after two holes, those little buggers really started to bother me. But I don't know how to go back a row, and when I try, I inevitably drop more stitches and the whole thing is such a mess! I looked in Sally's book, and other than convincing me me that every mistake MUST be fixed, she wasn't very helpful. Pulling the whole thing off the needle is a little scary.

Sally has good directions for when you have one loose thread on the back of your work--- what do you do when there are two?


I have to admit that I had no idea what she was talking about. I could feel her panic, but wasn't sure what to tell her. This is a good thing to note if you plan on sending me any questions about knitting. Make sure you tell me *exactly* what the problem is (or send me a photo), so that I can help you quickly and precisely. I sent her this:

"ACK! This is your step-by-step plan:

1. Ok, don't panic.
2. Grab a needle (any needle - even a stitch holder, or a bamboo skewer for making shish kebabs) and pick those dropped stitches up, so they don't unravel completely, like a run in stockings. Heck, even use a safety pin just to hold them in place.
3. Go and look at page 146 in Sally's book and double-check to see if this might help.
4. If it does not help and you have a Skype account, look me up and ring me on your computer (it's free). I'll be sitting at my computer all afternoon (well, at my sewing machine, beside my computer).
5. If you don't want to set up a Skype account, call me at the number listed below my signature and I'll walk you through it. We'll keep it real short so your phone bill doesn't give you a coronary.

I'm not *exactly* clear on what the situation, so it's a little tough to give you instructions in an e-mail. If you've dropped a couple of stitches and then proceeded to knit several rows, you'll see those stitches hanging out (probably on the wrong side of the fabric), with their loops all exposed and naked. THAT's what you want to catch on your extra needle/bamboo skewer. You don't want them cascading down until they disappear. If they've disappeared, let me know - we can fix that. If they're still a row or two down, that's easy to fix. If they're 5 or 6 rows down, we might have to do a bit of "ripping back" (really not as scary as it sounds) or "tinking" (get it k-n-i-t, spelled backwards is t-i-n-k, so it basically means un-knitting, one stitch at a time)."

She fired me off this message:

"I am home with the kids today, so I won't get back to my knitting until tonight after they are in bed. I don't currently have any dropped stitches, instead, when a stitch was dropped for a minute it became unknitted in two rows before I grabbed it. I don't know how to reknit that second row -- Sally only has directions for one row (or one loose thread.) I'll check my email tonight."

Ah, that's a little clearer. I put this together for her and she was able to fix the glitch.

This was her response, the next day:

"Hooray! It worked! I'm knitting forward again instead of just staring sadly at my project.
Your instructions were perfect. I fixed the problem that was on my needle (the stitch had slipped back three rows) and then as I knit around, I fixed three other holes caused by one loose thread, each of which were about ten rows back. Each time I purposefully dropped the stitch to get back to the row where the loose thread was, my heart beat so fast and I felt a little sick to my stomach. But I followed your instructions (I had to look at your pdf each time), and I managed to fix each hole. Now the only obvious error in my project is the seed stitch in the beginning.
Even better than having the holes fixed is knowing that if a stitch slips off and gets unknit for a row or two, I know how to fix it. It makes it so much more fun to knit now that I'm not in fear of making a mistake.
Thanks again. I am so relieved and excited to be moving forward. Oh, and as a status update, I have about three inches completed. I'm considering doing an inch or half-inch more than the 7.25 the pattern calls for. I figure that way it'll be size 1-2 years in width, but more like 2-4 in length. As I mentioned, my son is on the skinny side, and I'd rather the sweater be snug, which is why I picked the smaller size. Can I adjust the length, or will that screw everything up?"

My answer:

"Oh, I'm so glad it worked! Keep in mind, you'd have to do something a little different if you were doing a knit/purl pattern (like the seed stitch), but it's all a matter of how you place that "bar" and how you work the stitch over it. Maybe I'll add that to the tutorial...

I *totally* understand the "sick to your stomach, leaping off the edge of a cliff feeling" you got when you intentionally dropped your stitch to go back to the source of the problem! Imagine THIS (and yes, you will want to barf when you read it): there's a type of sweater that is made by knitting up a huge tube (much like we are doing), but instead of creating armholes by binding off and casting on (which we will do), you just keep knitting all the way up to the neck (you decrease, of course, as you get up past the shoulders). THEN (oh my god, I can't believe I'm about to tell you this - it's like ripping your heart out), YOU C.U.T. ARMHOLES INTO IT. Yes that's right: you take your beautiful handknitting and you CUT slits in the tube with SCISSORS to create armholes. Granted, you sew the knitting on either side of the cut, so it doesn't unravel, but STILL! It's called "steeking" and if someone ever proposes it to you, try not to tremble and cry. I'm sure some people can bring themselves to do it, I'm just not one of them (yet). CUTTING my knitting? *shakes head in dismay*

Oh! I forgot to mention that lengthening the sweater is absolutely no problem - that's the joy of handknitting. You may also consider making the sleeves longer, when we get there (you can always roll the sleeves up on it if they're a bit long - the little seed stitch cuffs will make that super easy to do). However, whenever you make a change like that, you should write it down on your pattern. I know it seems dumb, but if you get in the habit of doing that, you'll save yourself a lot of misery later.

Like when you're designing a sweater on the fly and you cast on a bunch of stitches and you knit up a sleeve and you don't write it down and then you get to the next sleeve and you have no effing clue what you did the first time and then you have to take 2 hours meticulously charting your entire completed sleeve to make sure you make the second one to match and you still manage to get it wrong... *cough cough*.

Yeah, like that."

Phase II glitches

So, a couple of days later, I received the following e-mail:

"Okay, so I finished the eight rows of seed stitch, and they are far from perfect. It was hard to keep track at first, and it wasn't until I was a few rows in (er, like 5) that I got the hang of the rhythm and could tell what stitch came next (purl v. knit) if I lost my place (or focus). At the beginning it was so hard to tell what I was looking for, but now I get what the little bumps look like.

So, it lays flat, but it isn't perfect. Should I start over or press on? If I start over every time something isn't perfect, I might never finish. Also, in general I am not a perfectionist. Do knitters have to be perfectionists?
I'll take a picture in the morning when the light is better so you can see what we're dealing with.

Please advise!!"

Here was her photo:
(I know you can't see it, but there is a glitch in there - she's got ribbing, not seed stitch. My highly trained eye *snort* picked it out right away.)

So, I wrote her back:

"Uh, if knitters have to be perfectionists, I'm in big trouble.

No, you don't have to start over. In fact, I actually found it interesting when I was starting out to KEEP my *ahem* imperfect pieces so that I could gauge my improvement, as I finished more and more pieces. I say keep going. Down the road, if you feel like you just can't take the way it looks, I'll show you how to unravel and re-knit JUST the seed stitch border.

By the way, mine is a little wobbly-looking, too."

She decided that she could live with it for now and that we should keep going. I sent her:

"The next step is to knit, knit, knit (no more purling for a while) until your tube measures 7.25" from the bottom edge (or whatever the pattern tells you to do for the size you're knitting - are you knitting the 1-2 years?). If you're confused as to why you don't need to purl in order to get stockinette stitch, take a look at Sally - she may have an explanation in her book. This next part of the sweater pattern is going to be the easiest/most relaxing, so enjoy!"

I got this encouraging note, in response:

"Yup, that's exactly what happened. I was afraid it would, but couldn't really keep track of which stitch was next. Once I'd been doing it for a while, it was obvious to me which side the yarn came out (and thus it was clear which side I needed to move it to for the next stitch), and I could easily tell which stitch was next.

Okay, forging on!"

I couldn't resist adding:

"So, what you're saying is that you had a EUREKA! moment.

Told you so.


Bringing us back to Earth for a second...

As I was chugging along, Wood sent me an e-mail asking me a question, which brought us back a few steps (that's a good thing, sometimes):

"When you measure the 4 inches, what stitch is it? Does it matter? Knit/purl (what is the technical name for that? stockinette?) or knit/knit (is that garter)?
More soon. . . I have knitted a few inches but now need to know if I'm measuring it correctly."

My (short and sweet - HAH!) response was this:

"Hello! I was just logging on to put together Phase II, but I may as well start with this (I'll try to explain it as well as Sally Melville does). Here goes:

When you knit up your 6" x 6" square (like the one you took a photo of and sent me), you are to measure the stockinette stitch. If you look at the sweater pattern, under the heading "GAUGE", you'll see that she has written "21 stitches and 32 rows = 4" (10 cm) in Stockinette Stitch". Very important to check this every time you start a new project!

Stockinette stitch (SS) is made by knitting one row (the "right" side of the fabric), flipping the work around, and purling the next row (on the "back" or "wrong" side of the fabric). The knit side is always knitted and the purl side is always purled. It tends to curl at the edges (which is why you're knitting up a little border on your squares - so it sits flat). It looks like a bunch of v's:


Reverse stockinette stitch (RSS) is made exactly the same way, but you call it by this special name when you want the use the "back" side to be a visible part of the pattern (the "background" of this pillow - the parts on either side of the cables - is RSS). The green part of this blanket is knit up in alternating strips of SS and RSS - if you flipped it over, you'd still get the same "ribbed" effect. RSS is tight - no gaps between the purl "bumps". It looks like a bunch of n's (ok, not really, but it helps to understand it, visually):


Garter stitch is kind of a combination of both. To make this, you knit every single row (knit, flip, knit, flip, knit, flip, knzzzzzzzz). Yes, it's really tedious, but nice to do while watching movies, 'cause you never get lost in the pattern. It creates a really springy, stretchy, stable, flat fabric (unlike those other two, above). The reason I say it's like a combo of both, is that when you just look at it, it looks like RSS, but when you grab it and stretch it out, you'll see that there are rows of SS hiding in there, between its purl bump rows:


You'll also see that garter's purl bumps are spaced further apart than RSS. You likely made many scarves while you were just learning and they were likely all made up of garter stitch. You'll recognize the difference when you grab it, but it IS very easy to mix it up with RSS when you see it from a distance. Those purl bumps kinds swallow up the knit rows.

This gauge swatch is made up of SS and garter stitches - the borders are garter (see the little gaps between rows in the border, where the SS is hiding?), the body is SS. IF, however, you were to flip it over and call that side the "front" or "right" side, you would say that it is made up of REVERSE SS and garter stitch. Get it? Clear as mud?

I'm going to take a plunge and hope this doesn't throw you off:

When you knit "in the round", meaning you are using a circular or double-pointed needles, you are creating a tube (or a big spiral, if you prefer). Because you are not flipping the work front to back, you don't need to use the purl stitch to get stockinette stitch. (I'm cringing right now, 'cause I don't want you to throw your hands up in confusion.) You'll see what I mean - you're ALWAYS facing the "right" side of the fabric, so you're always knitting. And instead of calling rows "rows", they're called "rounds".

There is another stitch you need to understand before you start:

Seed stitch is a pattern made by alternating knitting and purling (would you look at that, it looks like a pile of seeds - who knew?). You knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1 (and so on). On the next round, you purl the previous round's knit stitches and vice versa. Don't worry - Joelle's pattern is set up so that you don't have to figure it out - you just keep alternating like it tells you to and it will stitch itself up before you know it. I'm going to send you another e-mail in a few minutes, explaining how to to switch from knitting to purling and back again.

Just so you don't feel all novice-y and green:

I learned to knit when I was 5 and spent the next 12 years asking my mother to cast on and bind off for me, 'cause I could never remember how. I had to ask my grandmother to teach me how to purl about 16 times ('cause my mom was getting impatient that I could never remember). I literally spent those 12 years knitting garter stitch scarves. When I was in grade 11, I had read all the books in the library that interested me (gee, I like words, can you tell?) and I had to do a book report. I went to the local library and took out a knitting book and taught myself how to knit ribs, cables, increase, decreases, intricate patterns, knitting in the round, and all sorts of neat stuff. It took me 2 days (I was knitting hats before the week was up). Seriously. Two days. Oh, and did I mention that the book was in French? Yup, I'm French-Canadian, but when it comes to knitting, all the books around here are in English and we all use English patterns, so I had no idea what any of it meant. But, I figured it out (and no, I'm not a prodigy, before you ask) and you'll see what I mean - EUREKA! before you know it.

Ok, I'll be back with some progress photos and instructions."

She responded (concisely and without blathering on, like I do) with:

"Well, I can't claim to understand all of that, but I think I get most of it. Or at least kind of. I had noticed how the garter stitch looked different than the knit side of the stockinette (what I mean is that the RSS looked different from the garter). Wow, it is hard to write about this stuff. You did a great job. Thanks for taking the time to explain all of this to me!
I am 90% sure that my size 7 needles are getting the right gauge, but I'm not completely done with the square. I still need to take my list to the store to get the rest of the stuff. It has proven harder than I thought just to make it across town during business hours without a child. Normally I bring the kids on errands, but I need to be able to focus at that store and actually get the right stuff, so maybe tomorrow while Gram naps? I say that every day."

After which, I sent:

"I'm totally un-shocked that all that information was a bit much. If you had figured it all out, I would have been a bit stunned. Don't worry, it'll come.

Little note: make sure you finish and bind off the gauge swatch before you take final measurements. The fact that it's on the needles is going to affect things. You're also *technically* supposed to wash it and pin it out on a towel to air dry (called "blocking") before you measure. To hell with that, I always say. 'Cause I'm impatient.

It also helps to stick a straight pin (like you use to pin fabrics together when you're sewing) into the knitting near one edge and stick another one at the 21 stitch mark. That way, those points are more visible when you put a ruler up against them. Does that make sense? "

She then responded with:

"Oooh, the pin thing totally makes sense. I was wondering about the best way to measure --- that is a good tip.

I'll finish the square tonight, and will forgo the wash/dry, because I am also lazy.

However, I knitted the square with straight needles b/c that's what I had in a 7. We'll be using circular needles though, right? (and by circular I mean the ones that are short and attached by that clear plastic -- that's what they are called, right?) Do I do the square over after I buy the circular 7s?"

And then me again:

Re: re-swatching...weeeeellllll, *technically*, you probably should make another swatch when you get the circular needle (yes, your description is correct), but I look at it this way: if your gauge is a little off, is it really going to matter? If the sweater turns out big, it will fit your little guy at SOME point, and if it's a little small, you can always gift it to someone. There are always babies around. And you can always knit some of it, measure it, and (god forbid) if it's really off, you can start over (it's really not that scary, don't cry).

When you go to buy the circular, remember: getting a shorter one than she asks for in the pattern is ok (24"), longer is NOT. Don't forget - you will also need a set of 5 double-pointed needles (bamboo are good to start with - they aren't slippery like the metal ones).

Here are the instructions for Phase II, by the way. Don't look at them until you're ready to start. You'll probably start hyperventilating - there are a lot of words on there. I wasn't sure what type of cast-on you've been taught (I went 19 years thinking there was only one kind), so I'm showing you how to do the one she specifies (cable cast-on). If you haven't already learned it, you're about to find a new favourite, I promise.

Holy crap, this is fun!"

And THEN she wrote back:

"I have everything I need, I think. I finally made it to Detroit's only yarn store, and it was awesome. Got my double pointed needles, got my circular 7, got yarn needles, a proper gauge measurer (ruler?), and the Sally Melville book! It was only $20, and paperback -- yay!
I am going to try casting on right now. I just printed off your instructions. wish me luck!"

...which I thought was so cute (she seems so excited!), so I sent her:

"Oh my god, you are so excited and it is so contagious! Yarn stores are amazing, even if it means you need to take 3 buses and walk 15 blocks in the rain to get there. I think they pump cocaine into the air.

Good luck! And don't be afraid to follow the instructions in the book, instead of mine, if you want. She is really great and her photos are a LOT better than mine (and $20, huh? you rock!)."

Before we start the "real" knitting

Wood was working on other things for a few weeks, so I put together the first tutorial for our sweater project. My next e-mail went something like this:

"As I mentioned, the first thing you have to do is decide which sweater size you want to knit. I'm going to knit the 1-2 years, but you can choose whatever size you want (I was totally brain-dead and bought twice as much yarn as I needed, so I'm actually going to make two - Christmas presents). Once you know the size you want to knit, the pattern will tell you how much yardage you need, in yarn. If you're knitting the 1-2 years, the pattern says you need 4 skeins/balls of yarn containing 114 yards each = 456 yards (I think... Math, don't fail me now!). Mark up the pattern in a way that will clearly lay out the instructions that apply to you.
(Sorry for the crappy quality - my camera pooched and all I have is my built-in webcam for now.)

You'll see that the 1-2 year size is the second one in parentheses, under "FINISHED SIZE". That means that I have to obey all the instructions located in the second position, wherever there are parentheses. Hence, I have circled all of those instructions and crossed out all the other choices, so I wouldn't get confused (a lot easier to do than you would think, especially when you're distracted by children, the TV, or chocolate). I did that to the whole pattern and double-checked to make sure I got everything.

A word on yarn: You can get any yarn you want, but I would stay with a superwash (non-shrinking, washer/dryer-friendly) merino wool. And (VERY IMPORTANTLY), it needs to knit up to 21 stitches/4" or very close within that range (check the ball band on the skein - it will tell you). I know I'm repeating myself, but if this doesn't get done right, your sweater could either fit Barbie or Paul Bunyan, depending on which way you go. And for the love of all things good and holy, bring the damn pattern to the store with you (so says the voice of much experience), so you don't end up buying twice as much yarn as you need to. Rookie mistake *cough cough*.

The next thing to do is figure out what needle size you need. You do this by knitting up a "gauge swatch", which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly what you've been doing when you were knitting up 6" squares for Juniper's school. Those were all gauge swatches. So, you get to knit a couple more. The idea here is to try a couple of different needle sizes (start with the size they recommend on the yarn's ball band and go from there) until you get the right yarn/needle combination. And the reason you measure over 4" is that 1" is not precise enough and 12" would drive you crazy (see attached photo of correct swatch - sorry, Photobooth is the best I can do - no amount of abuse will get my camera working). I can not emphasize this enough: YOU ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NEED TO KNIT UP A GAUGE SWATCH. This is non-negotiable when you are knitting garments. Even hats. Don't fool yourself. I can not emphasize THIS enough, either: KNIT YOUR SWATCH WITH THE NEEDLE YOU WILL BE USING TO MAKE THE SWEATER. You'll knit differently on circular needles than you will using straight or double-pointed needles. You knit the swatch on circulars the same way you would if you were using straights (back and forth). For the sweater, we'll be knitting in a "tube", but don't worry about that for now. For swatching purposes, pretend the needle is actually a set of straights, just tethered together.

One of three scenarios will occur when you are done your 6" x 6" square:

1. You will get LESS than 21 stitches per 4". This means that you are knitting too loosely. Your stitches are too big and taking up too much space. Get a smaller needle size - start by going down one size and go from there. Knit a new swatch to see what happens.
2. You will get MORE than 21 stitches per 4". This means that you, like 99% of all other beginning knitters before you, knit too tightly and need to use bigger needles to let your stitches breathe.
3. You will get EXACTLY 21 stitches per 4". This is pretty unlikely, so if it happens, go buy a lottery ticket right away.

If you get 20.5 or 21.5 stitches (what I got), don't sweat it. Stick with those needles - it will still fit.

Usually, if I don't have the right needle, I try to borrow, but seeing as you're starting and you'll likely make more baby/kid stuff, you're safe to buy a couple of these. Fairs and garage sales are AWESOME for picking up cheap and good quality knitting supplies. Grandmothers' closets are also a good raiding spot.

Then, when you've gotten the size picked, the yarn purchased, the needle sized figured out, you'll need to get the stuff I sent you in that pdf (the one with the lovely self-portraits), and also grab 4 paper clips or large-ish safety pins (if you can find one that has a different colour/shape, snag that one, too). We're going to use those instead of buying stitch markers. A girl's gotta save some money, somewhere.

So this is where I'm at:

pattern printed out and marked up? check!
sweater size picked out? check!
yarn? check!
gauge swatch knitted? needle size figured out? check! and check!
needles purchased/found? check!
other stuff on the materials list? check!

I'm ready to cast on whenever you are.

Nothing like a little peer pressure to convince someone to do something they're not quite sure they're ready for

Wood responded to my previous novel-of-an-em-mail and expressed some... um, shall we say "trepidation"... about the complexity of the sweater I suggested, but she was willing to try (as long as the sweater was sized for a 1-year-old). She also mentioned that she already knew how to cast on, make knit and purl stitches, and bind off. She'd been making 6" x 6" squares for a project at her daughter's school. I wrote the following:

"Ok, so I have news for you: if you're knitting 6x6 squares and you know how to cast on and bind off, you know how to knit. You are knitting. You are now a "Knitter". Despite the fact that you have no idea what you're doing, you are doing it. There's no turning back now.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can move on to the other "obstacles". For instance, the pattern reading. You have to approach patterns like you would a cooking recipe. You usually have a materials list (ingredients) and some initial instructions (like your knitting gauge) and then the body of the pattern (the step-by-step recipe). Reading it all in once shot - though it is a good idea to do - is scary. That's ok, let it be scary. (Ever made bread? The recipe scares the shit out of me, but it's really quite easy. I look at it this way: if uneducated and overworked housewives have been doing something in the dark of their earthen-floored kitchens by the light of whale blubber lanterns for thousands of years, chances are I can probably figure it out, too. 'Nuff said.)

Finally, the pattern is indeed for a baby. Joelle's pattern is available for newborns to 10 years. That should work. And check it out! I just found it online for free and posted by Joelle, so you don't have to spend $40 on a new book, when you don't even know if you'll like knitting. Take a look at it and let me know if you're game.

If you ARE game, we just have to find the right wool and needle combination to "get gauge". First, pick the size of sweater you want to knit and how much yardage of yarn you will need (the sizes 2-4 years and 4-6 years both use 570 yards, according to the pattern). You'll have to go to your local yarn store and find an appropriate yarn (look on the ball band and find a yarn that knits up to 21 stitches per 4" - and don't worry if you don't know what that means - we'll get to that). And always buy a bit more yarn than they call for in the pattern. And always always always always (seriously, always) make sure you're buying from the same dye lot - ask the shop keeper to show you where that's written, if you can't see it on the ball band. It may not be obvious, but dye lots can vary hugely (in colour AND in composition/texture).

We're going to have to knit up some test swatches before we actually get going, so let me know if/when you're ready. The "gauge" of the knitting (spacing of stitches) all depends on the size of needle you use, so start with the size the pattern calls for and we'll adjust if necessary before starting the actual sweater. You'll also need the stuff in the other attached pdf (I forgot to photograph the double-pointed needles - don't buy them until we're sure about needle size).

{ETA: Here's the pdf I sent her:}

I have most of what I need - I just have to go and pick some yarn at the mill (oh darn, I have to go buy yarn, woe is me, however will I cope with the horror?). Take a look at the pattern and let me know if/when you want to start. It's ok if you change your mind, by the way - I'm not out to pressure you. This should not be stressful. I would be horrified if that happened, so just say the word if you're feeling overwhelmed and want to work on something simpler, ok?"

Knitting resources and freebies

Wood contacted me after I commented on her "wanting to learn to knit" post. She said she very much wanted to learn to knit up "real" garments (not just garter stitch scarves, the scourge of beginner knitters). I sent her the following e-mail (and yes, I really am this long-winded):

"You have no idea what you're in for. You've probably read a lot of sewing/fashion design blogs and you figure that knitting is just another branch in the family tree. You would be wrong. Knitters are a whole other breed. It's a cult. And it's wonderful.

Here are some first steps to take:

1. Go to and sign up for an account. They are currently Beta testing, so I think there's a waiting list, but make sure you get on there. Ravelry is like Facebook for knitters, only it's NOT annoying and it IS immensely useful. You can search and find almost every single knitting pattern ever published and see how many people have knit it/what type of yarn they used/photos of their finished projects/progress photos/whether or not there are issues with the pattern/etc. It is fantastic.

2. Purchase a simple learning-to-knit book. Just one for now. And just your luck, I know which one you should get. It's called "The Knitting Experience, Book 1: The Knit Stitch" by Sally Melville. She was a school teacher so as you can imagine, she actually knows how to teach. Don't pay any attention to the style of the designs for now - the important part are the instructional photos and diagrams. She's really excellent.

3. Some must-read books to borrow from the library or buy over time (there's more, but until you know what you like, it's hard to narrow it down):
a. Anything ever written by Elizabeth Zimmermann (she is to knitting what Coco Chanel is to fashion and sometimes referred to as "St. Elizabeth of the Schoolhouse"). Anything. Written. By. Her. Anything.
b. Book 2, The Purl Stitch by Sally Melville (just as good as Book 1)
c. Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson
d. Stich' N 'Bitch by Debbie Stoller (a fun and colourful read)

4. Go to and check out the on-line goodness (the patterns are not free, but all the articles are)! There are 4 issues in their archives, so read away. Another great resource for free-ness is Everything is free, there.

5. Find a simple, small project to start on, like this one. I know it doesn't look simple, but it really IS! There are also some cool ways to use what you already know how to do and practice your stitching (without always having to make scarves) - like this neckwarmer (I think Jim would like that one...). Debbie Bliss has a gazillion simple clothing patterns for children - google her and brace yourself for the cuteness. My friend Lori just made a couple of cardigans for her girls and they were very easy (I can find out whose pattern she used, if you like).

6. Stay away from sock patterns, lacework, multicoloured (fair isle) knitting, cables, fluffy or "hairy" novelty yarn and any other fancy stuff for now - you can try them out after a little while. Stick with simple, straightforward patterns that use DK or worsted weight/aran yarn (16 to 24 stitches/4" inches - that's how knitting gauge is calculated and it will always be indicated on the tag when you buy yarn) and use 4 to 6mm (sorry, I don't know the US sizing) needles. Choose wool for now - it is springy and forgiving. If you don't like the scratchiness, get some superwash merino (no, it's not organic and there are some ethical issues related with merino, but in my opinion, you can delve into that when you're more comfortable with your knitting and you understand what you're looking for). Superwash is machine wash/dryable. Perfect for kids. And it's not synthetic (stay away from those). Mission Falls makes a great yarn called "1824 Wool" in a bazillion colours. It's really great to start out on.

Ok, I'm done for now. Sorry to overwhelm you - I really really really love knitting and I'm so excited when I meet someone who wants to learn. If you have any questions (seriously, any questions), let me know. If you run into any problems and you need help, e-mail me and we can video-Skype, where I can show you how to figure out any glitches."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ok, so here goes nothing

For a while now, I've been toying with the idea of teaching.

I grew up with a disabled younger brother and it seems to me that I started teaching him to do things before I learned to do much, myself. He has difficulty with speech and as a child, I acted as his interpreter. I remember showing him how to do up his coat zipper and how to tie his shoes. We were raised in a large family and the notion that "it takes a village to raise a child" was alive and well in our community. As the first grandchildren/niece/nephew, we benefited from a lot of one-on-one learning. Passing practical skills on to others with patience and encouragement is something that I understand because I experienced so much of it, growing up, and I've always felt compelled to give some of that back.

Now, I am not a professional teacher (though my husband is), but I've always believed that knowledge is power and that it is the responsibility of those who have it to impart it onto those who don't. I grew up knowing just how lucky I am to have been born with a full capacity for learning. My brother is 29 and though his condition is complicated, I would put his mental age at 10 years. It was only a matter of chance that I was born with the ability to learn and I've never (not for one second, I'm proud to say) taken it for granted.

I'm starting this blog because it was suggested to me by someone I am currently teaching to knit. Her husband has a blog on which she occasionally posts her crafts projects. She mentioned that she wanted to start knitting items for her children and I knew enough about where she lives and the resources available to her that I suspected it may prove to be challenging for her. I offered to teach her over the internet and for the past month, we've been corresponding about it. We chose a sweater that we both like, and though I have no children to knit for, we are each in the process of knitting it. She mentioned that she'd like to post all of the instruction pages I've sent her, so I'm setting this up as a way to do that. I'd like to invite any beginner knitter interested in learning how to knit a sweater to download and use the materials I created.

When our project is complete, I'm going to continue creating tutorials on some of the other projects I'm working on. I do a lot of sewing, knitting, cooking, canning, building things (sounds vague, I know, but we'll explore that later), painting, drawing, and the list goes on - heck, I even know how to macramé. I'd like to invite anyone who has a specific question to contact me, so that I can put together and post something that answers their question - I'd like this blog to be a virtual tutoring session. I'm going to put things together in pdf format, so that they can easily be downloaded and printed out. I'm not interested in taking your money, but I do ask that you not use them for financial gain or without attributing them to me.

So, here goes nothing. I have to figure out how to post pdf's to this thing (one more thing to learn - it never ends!) and we'll be in business.