Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Totoro Bonnet

I've never actually seen the show, but this is the much-recognized character called Totoro, a tree-spirit from Miyazaki's anime film My Neighbor Totoro. I really ought to rent this sometime. Isn't he cute?

Anyhow, I saw a knitted pattern online for a cute Totoro hat and couldn't resist making it:

It's made with leftover Lion Brand Cotton Ease, knit on US6. I had just enough to make the ears, ties and tassles, and the face details are just white felt and black scrap yarn. The pattern is a free one by Hello Yarn and calls for DK weight, but it's not hard to sub in worsted weight. It's quite a clever little pattern...basically a toe-up sock using a figure 8 cast-on, and then you make a few decreases to shape the back of the bonnet.

I think Totoro's nose should have been a little bigger, and I forgot he had whiskers...oh well. he's still pretty cute as he is. This staircase bannister is the best baby mannequin ever.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stacked Coins Baby Quilt

Ta-da!! The Stacked Coins Baby Quilt is done! Yay! I love how it turned out! This is a really simple, straightforward pattern for a beginner quilter and the size is also perfect for a not-too-daunting project.

First time at doing mitered corners!

I was able to finish it over four days, working on it about half a day each time. The binding was a bit fussy to do because I finished it by hand, but it looks clean and tidy that way. I also got better at the free-motion quilting as I went along, although it took much longer than I would have guessed. Plus it ate up nearly a spool of thread! I like the look of the squiggly bits over top of the rectangular design...I think straight lines would have looked a bit boring.

Here's the quilt sandwich pre-quilting:

Here it is after. I took this picture last night in bad lighting, sorry:

All you really need is about 1.5 yards of fabric in at least 2 colours for the sashing and backing, plus a few fat quarters to make your coin strips with them. There are 22 coins in each strip, each coin cut to 2.5" x 5" and sewn with 1/4" seams. Now, I think of myself as a decent sewer...I can sew tidy, even seams, install invisible zippers, you know, all round proficient enough. But my coin strips didn't line up AT ALL with the sashing when I was done. Even if you're off by a millimeter it adds up when you iron things out and try to get them lined up. Not a big deal, but it's not perfect. Some chop chopping solved that problem (but I guess I can't do that for more complicated quilting designs). For quilts to turn out beautifully, you have to be ultra precise...when all the corners and seams match up, it looks amazing.

I bet this will fluff up nicely in the wash!

Friday, January 15, 2010

What else but more baby knits!

JJ is quickly acquiring a stylish hat collection....

This one is based on the Gooseberry Hat pattern, except with some heavy mods because I only had 20g of this pretty yarn from Tasmania...I only included 6 sections instead of 8. I still had a few yards left at the end though, so I made a fat crochet flower to top it off.

Leftovers hat using a generic baby hat pattern...this will match the Crossover Top also made with Jaeger Aqua. I cast on 80 stitches on US6, and just alternated stockinette and garter rows. When the hat reached about 5" in length, I decreased 8 stitches every round until 8 stitches remained, then pulled it shut. The bow thing is made of the last couple yards knit into I-cord.

Ok, I didn't make this one...Courtney made it. She is spoiling JJ already. Isn't it cute?! It's super soft. This one is coming with us to the hospital!

Bitty baby socks made from leftover Plymouth Happy Feet...

And some adorable rollerskates and stuffed bunny from two lovely ladies at my knitting group!

Not particularly chatty today...just got back from an all-day Lamaze birthing class and feeling a little pooped. We talked about labour and delivery for almost 8 hours! It was a good class though and we are feeling more prepared for the big day.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Baby Quilt

I'm still here! Blogging had to stop all week because our camera batteries died, so no new pictures...but I ordered some new rechargeables that arrived last night!

This week I suddenly had the urge to make a baby quilt. I started a quilt ages ago, but it's just been hanging out unfinished because I can't decide how to quilt it and what colour backing to make. So, I went online to look for an easy baby quilt pattern. There are so many great quilting blogs out there! I ended up spending hours browsing through them, and admiring all the beautiful quilts...I thought this Stacked Coins quilt by Crazy Mom Quilts was super cute and didn't look too hard, so I made it using some pretty blues and yellows I bought a while back.

So far so good. There are a couple of booboos, but I'm learning as I go. For one, it was a LOT harder to line up the coins than I expected...I thought I cut everything carefully and stitched 1/4" seams on each one, but they turned out as all different lengths! Plus, when I put the cream sashing on (the strips between the coins), I somehow ended up with very uneven edges that requiring some heavy duty trimming. In some cases I had to trim off a whole damn coin. Grrr.

I wanted to try free-motion quilting on this project, so I've been practicing on a little square. It's rather tricky...you have to control the fabric with steady hands and maintain a steady speed on the pedal. It's kind of like learning to drive again, trying not to accelerate or brake too suddenly and not jerk the wheel around. It's turned out pretty well, but I can definitely see my learning curve from one end of the quilt to the other. I have about 1/4 more to quilt, and then I'm moving onto binding!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baby Crossover Top

Here's another baby sweater I made for JJ, which I started some time back in November and only just finished seaming this week. It's a Debbie Bliss pattern called the Crossover Top from the Essential Baby book.

Knitting a DB pattern always makes me crazy, but the projects look so beautiful it's hard to resist. For some reason, they never seem to put any diagrams in the pattern to show you how the project is assembled. Considering everything is knit in itty bitty pieces that require outrageous amounts of seaming and weaving in ends, you'd think they'd make your life easier by giving you a schematic. Nope. You get weird, awkward directions on how to set in a sleeve, or attach a button loop, with instructions like "starting 4 rows up and 3 inches over from the first point of decreases in the left underarm, attach the band". That's not much of an exaggeration. Ugh!!

I knit the newborn size but my gauge was much bigger, so the sweater is probably closer to a 3-6 month size. I put it off this long because it didn't turn out as nice as the model in the book...the edging seems a little uneven after picking up all the stitches, and the underarm seams seem a little awkward. I'm not sure if it's because I knitted this in cotton (with leftover Jaegar Aqua from my Cherry cardigan), or perhaps because the contrasting yarn was a little thinner that the main yarn, but there's just something a bit off about it.

It's still adorable though, and I made a matching hat to go with it. Doesn't everyone wear matching hats to their sweaters? :)

Anyhow, here's another super sweet knitted baby sweater that JJ received at the shower...I didn't knit it, but it's so cute that I have to show it off. It was made by my friend Courtney in the most beautiful Sundara Yarn. I have only ever oggled Sundara yarns online and in other people's stashes, and now I find myself petting this sweater every time I go into the nursery. It's Elizabeth Zimmerman's February baby sweater without the lace stitches.

And there are booties to match! Too cute. Thanks Courtney!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mince Pies

Christmas treats were overflowing at our house this year. Shortbread, spritz cookies, caramel corn, pastries, cakes....and mince pies. I was introduced to mince pies and all sorts of other English treats when I met D, and have been eating them every Christmas since. His sister makes them every year, and when we visit Deep River we always look for the green tin (that's where they live) and sneak as many mince pies as we can throughout the day without being noticed. And then have a few more at tea time with everyone else. Did I mention they are delicious?

Since we didn't travel this year, there was no magic green tin of mince pies. So I emailed D's sister and got some instructions on how to make my own. Mince pies are little pies filled with a mincemeat - a mixture of chopped dried fruits (raisins, currants, apples), sugar, spices and traditionally, some sort of suet/fat. Mincemeat may have originally been made with meat, but these days the meat component is probably limited to suet. You can make mincemeat from scratch, or you can buy it pre-made in a jar - mine was a store-bought vegetarian kind. If you go online looking for mince pie recipes, you'll find that a lot of people seem to add extra chopped cooked apples and liquor to spiff up their fillings. I just used it straight from the jar. I'm not exactly a mince pie connoisseur, but I thought they tasted pretty good.

For the pastry, I just used the basic pie crust recipe on the back of a box of Crisco, except that I used a bit of butter instead of all shortening. Each pie was made from a 2" circle of rolled dough, topped with a star cut-out. I made them in a little cupcake pan, but if you are a serious mince pie maker there are special tins you can buy.

As for updates, I think my backlog of blog stuff is dwindling. I only have a couple more things to post about...a few little knitting projects I just finished up. My crafting to-do list includes some curtains (boring) and working on a quilt. D's been working a lot, and I've been volunteering. Plus we've had to run around getting all sorts of errands done. We had to get our chimney flashed because there was a leak. We had to get medical exams for our permanent residency application. This Saturday, we are hosting a book club (The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon...very gripping and beautifully written...) and I am cooking a gluten-free vegan dinner for that. Tonight we're having dinner at my volunteer boss' house.

Oh! We also went on our hospital tour of the birthing centre...the facilities were really nice, the staff seem great, and the program itself seems quite progressive and they offer lots of support to new families. Yay!

That's all for now!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Grey Tweed Cruiser Mittens

Now that winter is here, there has been lots of snow to be shoveled from our walkway - I decided the D was in desperate need of some hand protection this year, given he has been mittenless and gloveless for about 2 years in a row now. Of two yarn choices, and he chose the Plymouth Tweed in charcoal grey, which made a nice slubby texture in the mittens.

The pattern is called Cruiser by Cailyn Meyer (free download on Ravelry) and I cast on for the size large. I made a few modifications as I went along:
  • I started the afterthought thumb hole after about two pattern repeats (4" from the cuff) because I didn't like how the cuff looked when you started the hole earlier, and I left 7 stitches on scrap instead of 6.
  • I still picked up 4 stitches on each side. With decreasing, I decreased 3 stitches every row.
  • For the hand I had a total of 8 pattern repeats before decreasing the top, and I made my mitten a little pointier and left a total of 10 stitches at the end for grafting.
This is a really quick knit because of the aran-weight yarn. Even though I used US6 needles (to get a denser fabric), I think I started around Christmas and finished in less than a week, which is probably my record for fastest knit in 2009!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Box Bag

Wow! Maybe I should have resolved to "Update blog more often" for New Years because I'd totally be kicking ass on that already. Would that be cheating?

I've been spending some time getting re-acquainted with my sewing machine and over the holidays, I made a few knitting bags (I forgot to take pictures) and also attempted a box bag using a few different online tutorials, but mostly based on this one. They're great for stashing unfinished projects in, and make cute presents (if you can finish them in a timely fashion, that is. Easier said than done). Here's my box bag, looking a little rumpled from all the turning inside out and outside in:

A box bag is not at all difficult to make. The directions in the tutorial are easy to follow. Folding and sewing the corners is maybe the trickiest part, but with a little practice, you can get your seams looking nice and neat, too. However, I discovered that nearly all the online tutorials leaves you with unfinished seams inside. And most of the ones you buy are just finished with a serged edge, so that it doesn't unravel. This is all fine and dandy unless you are a neat freak about sewing (I sometimes am guilty of this) and think you can cleverly solve this problem. But I did eventually figure it out:

Ahh, nice clean enclosed seams...so happy....

Now I can tell you that I spent WAY too much time figuring out how to get my inside seams looking pretty. Unfortunately I did not take pictures and will not be writing a tutorial on how to do this given how big a pain it was and how many times I had to rip out the seams and try again. And it involved some hand sewing around the zipper part. To sum it up quickly, you basically have to sew the box corners of the lining and main fabric separately, then turn the whole thing inside out and close up the seam that is perpendicular to the zipper on the end with the handle. Blah! I'm just going to serge the edges next time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Vive le Croissant!

There is nothing like a warm, flaky, buttery croissant enjoyed with a dollop of strawberry jam and coffee. YUM!! Enjoying the above at a Parisian cafe doesn't hurt either.

Unfortunately, good croissants are still an elusive thing in this part of Pennsylvania (although an hour away in NYC you find some of the best French pastries in the world...if only there were a train connecting us to the city! sigh) If and when the real thing is found, they cost at least $3 each piece, and the inexpensive supermarket ones just taste kind of boring and leave a funny feel in your mouth.

Over Christmas, I learned why croissants made from scratch cost $3 each. They are a big, huge, pain in the butt to make, although worth the time and effort...and you get really sore arms. I'd been looking up different croissant recipes for some time now, thinking that I'd like to give them a try...and what better time for indulgence than Christmas!!

I used a recipe from Ciril Hitz's Baking Artisan Bread book, which has nice photos of each step as well as a DVD component that teaches how to make beautifully formed croissants. I had to make two components: the dough, which had flour, egg, milk, yeast, salt and sugar; and the butter block, which was a mixture of regular unsalted butter and a little flour (if you use European plugra butter, it has a higher fat content thus not needing any flour added to make it roll-able)

Laminating the dough was a fun process...you place the butter block inside the rectangle of dough you've rolled out, close it up like an envelope, roll it out, fold in thirds, and repeat. I think altogether there were about 27 layers of dough and butter. The dough it also going in and out of the fridge and freezer this whole time.

I forgot to mention that this process takes 2-3 days and requires some degree of patience. And, on baking day, rolling out the dough takes some major muscle work. I thought my arms were going to fall off and that I was going to break my rolling pin. I should have recruited D to help me, but I didnt' think it would take me 45 minutes to get the dough to roughly the correct dimensions. The elasticity kept making the dough shrink back, and it needed small resting trips in the freezer to gradually achieve the 1/4" thickness for cutting and rolling. In the end, I think my dough was still too thick, but I was too tired to care by then. I made my nice even triangles and rolled them up like in the video.

Not only did they bake up beautifully, they tasted as good as they looked. The frightening part was looking at the baking tray afterward and seeing the butter swooshing around on the pan. Yikes. As usual, we were too impatient to wait until they cooled, so we scarfed down some hot croissants, which were delicious, and then after they came to room temperature, we scarfed down some more and they were perfect. With great satisfaction, I peeled about my croissant and examined the dozens of delicate layers inside...beginner's luck seems to be my thing!

Final note: it took 2 days for my arms to recover.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy 2010!

Happy New Year, everyone!

2010! It's going to be a big year for us. I had really wanted to squeeze in one final blog entry for 2009, but the usual things got in the way....I fully blame pregnancy for that! But I do have a few new photos to share and lots of updates to chatter on about.

D and I experienced our first ever Christmas alone here in Bethlehem. It was was restful, pleasant, and very quiet. A pretty blanket of snow covered the town just in time for Christmas Eve.

The Saturday before, the doorbell rang and a large basket filled with delicious cheeses, sausages, bacon, exotic salt, olive oil and Christmas pudding surprised us on the front porch...a present from D's parents in case our stomachs got sad and lonely. We missed seeing our families and friends, but this year we didn't think that at 34 weeks my back would have done too well on an 8 hour car trip.

We had holiday lunch at the Hotel Bethlehem, roasted Cornish hens for dinner and opened some gifts. D got me a new sewing machine! I picked it out, so it wasn't a surprise, but it's fantastic and I can't wait to try out the quilting functions. It puts my old machine to shame...I never realized what bad condition it was in until I used the new one. Over the years, bits and pieces had gotten chipped, bent, and broken off during moves and I'd just learned to sew with wonky tension. The new machine purrs like a happy kitty.

A few days before Christmas, we got a new car. I was sad to say goodbye to the old big blue car, but it was starting to need lots of repairs and we just didn't think we could keep up with the unpredictability of things going kaput, especially in the winter and after JJ arrives. Here is our shiny new car:

Our nursery is also coming together... she has more furniture and gear than D and I, the lucky girl. The due date is Feb 18, but it's possible she'll arrive sooner, as early as 37 weeks instead of 40...

Not surprisingly, I am feeling even huger these days. My weight seems to have plateaued even though my profile keeps getting bigger. I can no longer see my shoes or do up my boots. When I feel JJ move now it feels like an elephant crashing around doing somersaults, and is more groan-inducing than cute-fluttery sensations.

Knitwise, I made this bunny hat with some leftover worsted weight Misti Pima Cotton (free pattern right here)

I have also been working on the Woodland Shawl for about a month now...it's taking forever and I'm not even halfway done! Pretty though, huh?

Stay tuned for pictures of...homemade croissants!! (and a workout like you won't believe)