Wednesday, December 12, 2012

cowl season

Oh yes, I'm years behind in this cowl thing.  And so I'm making up for lost time and knitting a few, which has quickly turned into many. It's hard to stop myself from starting a new one every few days.

Luckily the holiday season provides a perfect outlet for this knitting obsession (although those endeavours are currently secret). My favourite free pattern for quick cowls is definitely the Slouchy Cowl. Big needles and bulky yarn make for a fast and warm garment. The purple one above is knit with Malabrigo Chunky which is so soft and squishy (I wear it way more than the red Puffin one I made last winter). Sadie's double moss stitch cowl is a simple, improvised tube, knit with a lovely grey shade of Sublime's Extra Fine Merino DK. Both wearable, both just the tip of the cowl iceberg.

As for reading, I'm running out of Elizabeth Hay options! I finished up Garbo Laughs which again was full of deep, rich characters. The storyline was linear and therefore much easier to follow than Student of Weather. The setting was Ottawa during the ice storm of 1998 and I loved understanding the references without it being from my own backyard. The shared love of old films across 3 generations of characters was pretty magical and I learned a lot about some classics. But in the end it's Hay's characters that stay with me and penetrate my thoughts. Harriet was fascinating and her family and friends no less so. What a set of neighbours to be blessed with! If you're an Elizabeth Hay fan this is another great read.

For an inspiring dose of reading and knitting, check out today's Yarnalong.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

easy boatnecks

You can't argue with a pattern that lets you make a shirt in less than an hour.

Not that I have anything to argue with. Over the last two years I've tried a couple of pattern drafting classes and read a few books, but Wendy Mullin's Sew U Home Stretch never fails. Knits are a little more forgiving to sew with of course, but her instructions are clear and the basic patterns allow for lots of customization (which she explains fully). I've used this boatneck pattern many times and I'm always happy with the result. I made these two shirts a little wide so they would be comfortable, and the fabrics are both from Fabricland in Whitby (it turns out they always have much better choices than the Fabricland here in Toronto - darn suburbs). The white and grey is especially awesome - it's an organic, two-layer cotton similar to the fabric from one of Sadie's drapey cardigans. The other is a cheap, not-as-awesome rayon but the colour is great (Sadie has a scarf and leggings from the rest).

If only I could learn to centre my tags, these shirts just might be perfect.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

snappy love

Another cardigan is finished but I have been way too lazy to block it, so this weekend I needed a quick knitting fix. I had ordered two skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Bulky from Craftsy last winter thinking it would make a more colourful hat and mitten combo. After a little debate I decided on knitting another Snappy Hat, because it lives up to its name and can be knit over the course of a day. It's a little tight though (I knit the medium size) so I just might unravel and re-knit the large this weekend (quick hats make that kind of crazy idea almost acceptable). I used 4.5mm needles for the 2x2 band and then switched to 6mm for the rest, and as a modification I think it works well. My last version rides up too much so the tighter band will help keep it in place.

On the reading front, I have finished up a couple of books over the last few weeks. David Adams Richards Mercy Among the Children however, is a tough one to review. I was thoroughly enjoying the story and the powerful need for the central characters to maintain honesty and integrity in every awful situation life threw at them, but at some point late in the novel I realized that every moment was bleak. These particular characters suffered unfair hardships and the only glimmer of redemption happened after both had died. It wasn't remotely bittersweet, it just sucked. I was left thinking that it didn't matter whether you approached life with honour or malice, your fate would be the same. Life seemed to be a relentless succession of depressing situations. I may wait a while before trying Richards' other novels.

I picked up The Family Fang next, hoping it would be lighter. In the end it was but I'm not sure I would recommend it. The story is interesting - performance artists have children and work them into their "art" which, not surprisingly, has damaging emotional effects on the children. But the tone is somewhat comical and the brother and sister are very likable characters. It's the parents, the artists, that are hard to take. I spent most of the novel being angry at them and also angry that the novel cast a negative shadow on art and what we define as art.

Lisa Moore's February was definitely my favourite. I felt a real honesty in the characters and appreciated the snapshots of life when the family was young and then when all the children had grown and moved on. Maybe I'm just looking for motherly advice, but Helen's perspective on her children was refreshing - although they had lost their father and although they may have struggled as a family financially and emotionally in the formative years, she allowed a certain amount of freedom and rebellion because she believed they would turn out in the end. She was not without her flaws, but she showed strength and love and resilience after losing her husband in an unthinkable tragedy. Overall, I really enjoyed the novel and will certainly try more of Moore's writing.

For more knitting and reading thoughts and stories, visit today's Yarnalong.

Saturday, November 03, 2012


With the temperatures dipping, we're pretty happy to have the basement closed in again. Little did I know that cinder blocks and concrete would be so exciting! Up until last week the new room under the porch was still roof-less, meaning we were living with a big gaping hole that let cold air in. This room is also where the new boiler will be housed so obviously we've been without a heating system and it's still not up and running yet. We are keeping somewhat warm with space heaters, but we're waking up to morning house temperatures of 12 degrees (55 degrees F). Brrr.

Now, I'm sure these two photos are incredibly boring but I can't help it. That concrete floor is almost 3 feet lower than our old basement! We can see where the walls will be! I want to sneak down there all the time just to stand and imagine the final space (and sneaking is hard, it involves climbing down ladders through windows and getting very dirty in the process). The two photos are from either end of the space but they show the one compromise we had to make: raising the floor of the bathroom and laundry room to deal with our problematic sewer connection. We were connected through the back of our house - very unusual - so the plumbing itself wouldn't allow for an 8' ceiling. These two rooms, and the landing outside, will have a 7'2 ceiling. But I kind of like the look of the raised step even in this rough state.

We're still weeks and weeks away from a finished space, but it's so satisfying to see it coming along. And of course we're breathing the biggest sigh of relief knowing that the underpinning is over and the house never fell down.


Monday, October 15, 2012

kcwc: the inspired stuff

The photo for SweetKM's knit hood has been sitting on my Pinterest board for a while, inspiring me every time I glanced at it. It's so simple and so adorable. I guess I thought sewing one would be quicker, but between finishing it and then seeing that the talented lady behind SweetKM taking part in KCWC it seemed like the better decision was to order the pattern and knit it. So I found some red Mission Falls Superwash in my stash, started this red hood on Wednesday and spent two nights working on it.

There is an almost practical reason for making this one too - Milo is going to be the Tomten for Hallowe'en (Sadie is going as Pippi Longstocking and she thinks her brother should also be an Astrid Lindgren character, as obscure a reason as that might be). I may still add a pompom, but it works regardless. I only wish the strap was shorter but since you start the pattern with it I can't figure out how to change it now, and really, Milo doesn't care. He does care that I couldn't get a baby animal button on it though.

I finished my sewing week with an apron - something that Sadie certainly didn't need but that I was inspired to make. While checking out Trula's blog I spied some amazing linen aprons on her girls and started sketching out how I thought they must be constructed. I was a little wrong at the top (it should just keep tapering towards the top, not straighten out) but the resulting apron is still cute. I used Robert Kaufman's cotton chambray in black, fuschia gingham bias tape for the inside channels and black grosgrain ribbon for the ties. Sadie has dubbed it her "crafting" apron, so all is good. 

Inspiration is such a wonderful thing. Thanks to Meg for making this week happen again - quite simply, KCWC rocks.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

kcwc: the practical stuff

Some sewing this week was for purely practical reasons: Sadie needed leggings most of all. I love that they are the easiest thing to sew. So a big piece of navy t-shirt jersey became a pair of much-needed leggings, another (and better fitting) drapey cardigan and then a pair of silly leggings for Milo (made wearable with a lion applique - he's really into animals). And I got one more pair of leggings out of the remaining striped cotton/rayon knit that her no-sew scarf was made from. 

Practical is good.

Friday, October 12, 2012

kcwc: bits and bobs

Not the most masculine garment for my little man, but I couldn't get this amazing knit hood off my mind and I had just enough stretch jersey to make a sewn version...sort of. Turns out that 3 year olds are incredibly understanding of your whims as long as you put an animal button on it. Anywhere. So we're calling this the "Ted the Skunk Hood" and Milo has happily worn it out in public. It's soft, ties nicely and has a hand sewn black grosgrain ribbon along the inside edge to cover the one unsightly seam (anytime I hand sew something it feels oh-so-satisfying). Ted the Skunk is from this little collection of forest animal baby buttons that Milo just had to have. I think he realizes that I'm easily convinced when shopping in fabric stores. Oh, and I'm responsible for those unfortunate bangs of his. Oops.

Next up, a drapey cardigan for Sadie which I first tried during the spring KCWC. Unfortunately I copied the original while Sadie was at school so it ended up a bit small (what, kids grow?). I fixed up the approach though - last time I cut straight slits to insert the sleeves into which resulted in holes because it was too much pressure on the seam at the two points. This time I measured the sleeve cap circumference and drafted an egg shape the same size and then cut that out. It worked perfectly! I've since made one more bigger which I'll post next time.

The fabric is especially dreamy. It's organic cotton knit, two thin layers held together in a subtle grid pattern. Perfect for baby clothes and pajamas, it's so soft. It's probably not very practical for a kid who pulls paint out everyday, but oh well. With such a simple rectangular shape the fabric could easily be repurposed later. The cardigan takes less than an hour to make - there's only 3 pieces to cut, and you could get away with only two seams to sew if you like raw edges. Perfect for the one-hour-a-day challenge.

More tomorrow!  And check out the latest in the KCWC Flickr pool.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

kcwc: fall edition

It's that [exciting, inspiring, satisfying] time of the year again - the week of working on kids clothes for at least an hour a day (aka KCWC). Last fall I started with knitting too because I find it hard to start sewing when I have an unfinished knitting project sitting around. Especially one destined for a kid. So I wove in the ends, steam blocked and put some toggle buttons on this sweater for Sadie. The pattern is the simple, much-loved Cap Sleeve Sweater modified this time to be a cardigan (Sadie's request). The wool was reclaimed from a sweater I made years ago and it's taken me a while to figure out how to use it. One thing I learned is that as much as I love the colours of Noro's Kureyon, my hands just don't like it. I can get excema on my hands and this time I broke out exactly where the wool was wrapping around my fingers. So, no more Noro for me. Cute stripey sweater for Sadie.

Then this is a total cheat: I cut out a scarf for Sadie from some bargain striped knit fabric. Yes - I mean there was no sewing, just cutting a straight rectangle. But you wouldn't believe how happy this makes her. She was able to practice the new knot my friend taught us (who just returned from Paris with fancy French knots to share). Scarves like this are a big deal to Sadie right now and I have an urgent request from her for a knit cowl too. Guess kids are into neckwear this year.

I've also got some more Canadian reading to share. Admittedly, I read Inside by Alix Ohlin for the cover (and yes, I will also buy wine based on label design). Luckily it was mostly worth it. I enjoyed it, but as I sit here writing, I realize I have very little to say about it. The characters were interesting and shared a connection with a central woman who is a therapist in Montreal, but the other details are a little fuzzy. Turns out it's the cover I remember most, though there is a great review at the Amazon link which makes me think I just missed the point. The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger however, was far more memorable for me. We've been watching Downton Abbey so I was immediately drawn to the story of a British Lady's maid. Although I cannot understand Sally's unwavering allegiance to a "Lady" - or anyone of the upper, upper class - the insight was fascinating and the African setting was equally compelling. I felt emotional for Sally, and was near tears when she had to do the unthinkable (but my 21st century perspective made it hard to imagine there weren't other choices). It was a swift, great read.

For more knitting and reading stories visit today's Yarnalong and for kids clothes inspiration make sure to check out the KCWC Flickr pool.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

dress success

This post of Meg's from KCWC caught my eye last spring, and not only because Kelli makes some amazing kids clothes. The dress she is wearing in the centre photo looks amazing on her and it lead me straight to Megan Neilsen's patterns. Not that I went on a hunt for the pattern but when I saw that the Workroom in Toronto had some new patterns in I pretty much jumped in the car.

I checked out any post I could find about the Darling Ranges Dress pattern so I was loaded with great user information. I love the straight-forward instructions and honest measurements. Of course, those measurements are exactly what became my challenge - even the XS was too large for me in the chest (yes, after two kids my chest has shrunk to a size smaller than I had in high school). I had it in my mind that I needed the bodice to be fitted so that the dress had shape (although Kelli's version doesn't seem as fitted and I love how she can wear a belt with it). Anyway, I made a number of modifications to the bodice, including making the bust dart smaller, raising the neckline 2 inches and adding two vertical darts in the back. This resulted in a good fit for me. But even though I made it smaller, the XS sleeve had no ease at all. In fact, it was too small so I had to cut out the S piece instead. Truthfully, I think I'll make a larger cap next time around so there is some ease because it pulls a bit tight across the cap for me now. Otherwise everything went together great and I'm really happy with the dress. I've already worn it to work twice, so it's definitely a keeper. A comfortable keeper.

The fabric I used is a cotton eyelet, and since you can't possibly get through a garment without some kind of mistake - here's mine: I used the wrong side of the fabric. Seriously. Can I blame low lighting? It doesn't bother me too much though. The eyelets mean I have to wear a slip and for a reason I can't remember I used a fuschia gingham bias tape which you can see at the neckline through the holes. Hmm. And I didn't have 10 buttons that matched so I alternated between black glass buttons (love) and plastic ones (not so much love). But these are small details and overall I really like it. It's on the cute side of things but works well with a cardigan. Perfect.

More Darling Ranges to come.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

knitting & reading roundup

The weather turned so suddenly that I didn't get a chance to block this shawl before wearing it. No, that's not entirely true - I just don't really have the space to block anything, not to mention I could have worn any number of shawls or scarves. I suppose I'm just impatient.

I followed the pattern for the Blackburn Reversible Shawl, which was simple and satisfying. The yarn is a camel/silk blend I picked up at Rosehaven Farms last summer in Picton and it's very soft and cozy (the camel only makes up 30% of the fibre). There is a very subtle sheen thanks to the silk but also a nice halo - which seems to suit the natural ivory colour perfectly. Overall it's an easy-to-wear shawl, blocked or not.

I've been reading more Canadian authors for the Canadian Book Challenge. I loved Elizabeth Hay's Student of Weather, so I was pretty excited to start Alone in the Classroom. Most folks know Hay for Late Nights on Air, but I struggled getting through that novel.  Not so with these other novels. Both hooked me immediately and again, I couldn't put this one down. It's funny though - I disliked the narrator, but luckily she didn't become known until the last third of the story. The main character, a woman named Connie Flood, was incredibly interesting. Her only flaw (if it really is a flaw) was falling for unattainable men, but her independence was refreshing, and the characters who were drawn to her had similarly strong egos. The settings were richly Canadian and the themes compelling (though I'm a little lost about the connection between Parley Burns and the murdered girl). 

Next up was Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad, which shows that subway advertising for books works! I applaud tackling the theme of questioning motherhood - surely it's not for everybody, but I understand the topic is practically taboo. Yet when the mother-in-law explained that the ability to withstand the identity loss motherhood demands all depends on who you were to begin with (further saying you need "the genetic structure to withstand such change"), I was disappointed. This idea seems to smack of judgement since she's saying if you can't deal with change, you won't deal well with motherhood. It seems to be a negative approach to understanding the issue, but that's just my opinion. As for the novel itself, it's funny to read a story set in your own city - I had a hard time taking it seriously when I knew all the references. But I laughed out loud at a description of why urban people love rustic design. It was so true and I'm totally guilty of finding what I think of as accidental beauty (ie. barn beams) appealing. I'm hopelessly urban and it was fun to laugh at myself. A decent read overall.

For more knitting and reading inspiration visit today's Yarnalong.

Monday, September 10, 2012

september blues

As a kid, I couldn't wait for school to start. As a teenager too - I was just that kind of kid. But my mom was always a little sad around Labour Day, and as with most things you can't understand until you're a mother yourself, now I totally get why she felt that way.

The end of summer seems to mark so much more than the end of blueberries and bathing suits. The first day of school means your child is another year older, and this is starting to hit me more than it does on a birthday (personally, I think it must have something to do with associating all my childhood memories with what grade I was in). When I started this blog Sadie was a baby.  This week that baby began Grade 3. Grade 3! I don't know where the time has gone, but now I have the first day of school as a startling reminder that it is hurtling past much too quickly. And I'm no longer an excited student, just a wistful mother helping plan outfits for the first day of school.

So, on a happier note - some sewing took place to help with the aforementioned outfit. Sadie chose my new piece of Robert Kaufman's cotton/linen chambray for me to make a skirt with, and she was very sure of her ribbon selection. I tried to persuade her that black ribbon on blue wasn't the best but soon heard what I was doing (meaning, I was forcing my taste on her) and stopped.  Black on blue it was, and truthfully, it's a really cute combo. The skirt is super basic though for the life of me I can't find the original tutorial for it - but it's the formula that only has one seam and the hem is finished with ribbon. Simple and satisfying - even when a 3 year old is sitting in your lap while you sew (funny, Sadie never did this!).

Speaking of blueberries, it was an excellent summer for them. And so I'll just do my best to remember our blueberry moments and not what grade my girl is in. After all, she's still my girl.

Monday, August 27, 2012

moment in time

Two weeks into the reno and it's full-on chaos. I'm not yet used to having a toilet on the front lawn, but the resident "mighty machine" is a fun sight every morning.  It's the big gaping hole that's a little bit disconcerting.

This is that big gaping hole up close. Scary, right? I mean, that's the front door up there, a mere 8 inches from nothing. Not to mention I took this photo from a place previously underground. So weird.

Amidst the jackhammering and dust, I had a day alone in the house (well, alone from my family, not alone from a construction crew). With that time I finished up a quilt for Sadie. Now that Sadie and Milo share a room, I've been trying to make them similar-but-different bedding. I had a double size red corduroy quilt in storage so I cut it in half and then made a single patchwork border along one side. I chose different fabrics and binding to suit my lady and little guy, but the red is a nice, warm similarity. If their room is ever tidy I'll try and take a photo of the finished quilts. But that's a big if.

This is the wee work corner I have set up in Milo's old bedroom until the basement is finished. What you can't see is that I share this small space with the cat litter. Oh well, small sacrifices. At least during this chaos I can still make.

Only 4 and a half months to go.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

of yarn and foxes

More small scale knitting, this time for a charming little guy named Charlie. He was born in May and already has a smile that melts hearts. This teeny hat is made from Mission Falls Superwash which has been discontinued for a while now. I stocked up last year on a few neutral colours and any red I found and it comes in handy for quick baby gifts. I mean, you can wash it! Awesome.

We were away in Prince Edward County last week and I managed to catch up on a lot of reading. The most fun novel by far was Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (unfortunately the shawl pattern I was trying wasn't nearly as enjoyable). I struggled keeping the characters' voices straight, but it didn't really matter. The storytelling was magical and quirky and addictive. Oh, and incredibly clever. So what for my lazy brain! I had visions of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox in my head most of the time I was reading this, but considering the cover and the fairytale structure, it probably wasn't so far off. I think the premise - the emotional reckoning of a male writer who always kills off his female characters - is such an compelling idea. Oyeyemi's style is refreshing and original, and I was reminded of my first introduction to Jeanette Winterson. Totally fun.

But the shawl...not so much. For more knitting and reading stories, visit today's Yarnalong.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Mortgage renewing, tax filing, permit getting and basement emptying - such is the stuff of life these days. It makes for really dull conversation and adds dust to my sewing machine. But making things keeps me sane, so I try to fit a bit of knitting into each day and there's always a book to fall into late at night until I can't keep my eyes open any longer.

This small knitting project is from this free pattern for tiny trees. It's super easy and such a great way to use scraps. I have visions of making a whole forest of these but maybe that vision is more appropriate for another season, not this overly humid July.

As for the novel the wee tree is sitting upon, wow did I love it. A few years ago Ami McKay's The Birth House finally got me out a long reading rut. Her voice was fresh and the story was utterly compelling, so I was eager to try The Virgin Cure. I waited for the paperback (which took patience) and finally the book arrived this month. The horrific slums of 1870's New York City came to life on the page and the 12 year old main character, Moth, was so fascinating. The troubling account of the options available to a poor, orphaned city girl makes for a rather dark story but McKay is able to add flavour and simple humanity in a way that makes the story almost charming. It's a unique style, but I think it is exactly what makes me enjoy McKay's writing so much.

This represents my first book for the 6th Canadian Book Challenge, which just started on July 1st and runs until Canada Day next year. The goal is to read 13 books by Canadian authors, and if you're interested you can join the challenge at the link above. I have done this challenge twice before and it's such a great way to discover new Canadian novels. Now that Milo is older I figure I can manage a reading challenge again, and this novel was certainly an excellent start.

For other knitting and reading suggestions, visit today's Yarnalong.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

pink ladies

Just before Craftsy decided it couldn't ship to Canada anymore (really? it's that challenging? I'm thinking about you too Zappos!) I stocked up on some yummy Rowan Amy Butler Belle Organic DK. Sadie loved the colour and she was sure her Gramma would too. So I had two projects quickly lined up, and Gramma's was finished just in time for her birthday.

Now I don't get the chance to say this often, but my mom is one pretty lady. She dressed up in red for her birthday which was a great setup for the pink shawl (and I love her red sequined headband). I tried to make this shawl a bit bigger than the last Mara I made her, and the garter edge seemed a little more tailored and summer-y than the Mara's usual ruffle. Sadie's version - knit after Gramma's was finished - is an almost exact replica because Sadie shares Gramma's fashion sense and wanted a matching garment. The pink is sweet on her and seeing a kid in a shawl is pretty charming.

I also just finished The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson, another book I'm glad to have stuck with. A few chapters in I almost gave up, but the characters voices finally started to grow on me and I also began to see the wisdom of the story. It's quite a poignant exploration of aging and sickness and I feel like my eyes were really opened to both. 

For more knitting and reading inspiration, visit today's Yarnalong.