Works in progress

I’ve been thinking about mistakes. One of the many lessons I learned while training to be a teacher was this:

Mistakes are required.

Which is to say many things, one of which is is that the best way to learn a thing is to make the mistakes. Someone else can tell you a thing many times, but the lesson of trying the thing and messing it up is far more effective. Making mistakes, learning from them, trying again. This is how we grow, gain knowledge, become experts, become better humans. This is not so easy, though. Mistakes are uncomfortable. But perhaps it is only when we learn to sit with discomfort that we truly grow.

I don’t tend to love January as the beginning of the year (I’ve talked about this before — September is my preference), and in the past I’ve been not so great with setting intentions and following through. That “one little word” thing that people do hasn’t really resonated for me, for reasons that are becoming more clear to me as time passes. But recently, a message started repeating itself, over and over, louder, stronger, as I have tried to open my eyes and ears and really listen and understand what I need to learn:

Bloom where you are planted.

As I’ve tried to think about what exactly this means, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that this is something I must actively work to do. Accepting the mistakes as part of the process.

In some ways, this sweater is like a plant: it’s growing bigger and bigger, and it’s green. The analogy is imperfect; my plants grow without my direct work, though in my defense I do put in at least a bit of effort, but recently while researching the best way to propagate the monstera plant which is currently attempting to take over my living room, I stumbled across this line in a blog post that stopped me in my tracks:

Plants (like people) grow and grow, but they don’t (like people) always grow the way you want them to.

I can’t stop thinking about that line. In some ways, people are like plants. If there is something about our humanity we can count on, it is that we will continue to grow, even without our direct effort. The mistakes are inevitable. Trying to grow into better humans seems to be the collective challenge.

my unwieldy Monstera

As I grow this sweater, I think about all of the mistakes it contains, some corrected, some not. I think about how even the act of learning how to knit a sweater is changing me, growing me. I am changing, I am learning, and this sweater is a tangible piece of physical evidence that it is happening.

This wasn’t really why I started knitting, but then, when do we truly understand when we start to learn a thing how much we will really end up learning? This is the gift of creating. This is why the color green is really speaking to me right now.


This is why my sweater is like a plant, is like me. We are all creations. We are all works in progress.

Pattern: Nurtured Sweater by Drea Renee Knits / Yarn: Scout by Kelbourne Woolens


Tolt River Cowl

This year I picked up knitting with a zeal I’ve not experienced before; it’s normal for me to consider the odd knitting project around September and maybe make a baby sweater or cowl by March. But this past July, I went on a Maker+Stitch hiking and knitting retreat in Colorado that jump-started my annual knitting early. I continued knitting through the summer into fall and am still going strong. At this rate I may manage to make not one but possibly four things with yarn this year. WHO IS THIS PERSON? I don’t know but SHE CAN DO A LONG TAIL CAST ON WITHOUT LOOKING IT UP. Shocking.

tolt river cowl / made by rae

Andrea Rangel was the instructor on the knitting retreat, and the topic was colorwork, which for those of you unfamiliar with knitting really just means knitting with more than one color. In this case we used her soon-to-be-published Tolt River Cowl as a practice piece, and I’m quite thrilled with the boost my knitting skills have seen thanks to her patient instruction as well as how my cowl (above) turned out. Here are the other cowls that were made at the retreat, most still in progress:

tolt river cowl / made by rae

I’d love to tell you more about the retreat…I have so many thoughts about what I learned and why it was such a good choice for me this year, but for now I’m going to just share the reaction of the cowl’s intended recipient with you, for laughs.

tolt river cowl / made by rae

Let’s just zoom in on this a sec.

tolt river cowl / made by rae

Heee.

tolt river cowl / made by rae

I love that he’ll give me the pointed looks for the camera so I can capture it for posterity. To be fair, he said the wool was “too scratchy” and as a kid who herself spent a portion of her winters breaking out in hives from scratchy hand-knit items, I completely sympathize and was happy to pass it on to a more willing wearer:

tolt river cowl / made by rae

tolt river cowl / made by rae

I’m now currently into my second cowl; I decided to get Andrea’s book, Alterknits, from the library and attempt another pattern (sheep!) on this next one. I love that you can take any number of her patterns in that book and as long as your project has the correct number of stitches, insert her patterns into them as you like. Highly recommend the book (and it’s on my to-buy list, thank you library but I now need a copy of my own). Here’s some of the lovely samples Andrea brought along on the retreat from the book:

My next knitting goal now that Level: Colorwork has been unlocked is to try brioche. My friend Megan promises to show me how, and I’ve been eyeing a number of fun projects online and stalking Andrea Mowry on Instagram ever since setting my sites on brioche. Who are your favorite knitters to follow online?

I know many of you are knitters as well as sewists! Are you working on anything fun? Any new (or not-so-new) skills you’ve picked up that I should know about?

Striped sweater for the Hugonaut

I’m an annual knitter. This means that about once a year, when it gets cold, I see some cute sweater float across my Pinterest feed, and I pull out my knitting needles and chubby thread I mean yarn and try and remember the difference between a knit and a purl. Usually this involves watching video tutorials on the Purl Bee and getting my friend Giedra who is an experienced knitter to re-teach me the long-tail cast on again, which she patiently does, year after year. I know to those of you who don’t knit this may sound like I have some sort of mastery of the art, but trust me when I say my knitting skills are rudimentary at best.

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Then I begin the process of improv-knitting a sweater for the lucky, lucky child who will be this year’s new handmade sweater recipient. And when I say “improv-knitting” that is just a fancy way of saying that I make it up as I go. And yes you are right if you are thinking (as well you should) that it would make all kinds of sense to actually follow a pattern written by, you know, a knitting professional or something but here’s my general problem: it’s usually been about year since I logged into my Ravelry account (for you who don’t knit — this is THE epicenter of online knitting information. Sadly, Ravelry has no sewing-equivalent, though many have tried) so I’ve forgotten the password, so why bother trying to reset it when I could just make something up? And how am I going to find the perfect hooded sweater pattern that uses exactly the gauge yarn I have picked out? Better just to wing it. This always seems to make perfect sense at the time.

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There are a number of problems with this approach as you might have already guessed. Number one is that improv knitting almost always results in a sweater that does not fit. Clementine is JUST NOW growing into the pink and yellow number I made for her three years ago. Though that was crochet, but the general approach was still the same. And Hugo, as you may be able to see in these photos, is already busting out of the tiny sweater I made for him last winter like a delicious little baby sausage.

Mmmm. Baby sausage.

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The other problem is that I often start these projects mid-September with great zeal and motivation but then lose steam, forget how to knit, have to reteach myself how to knit, and then end up finishing them in late spring, or more often, the following year. Timing. If I lived in Iceland this wouldn’t be a problem. And actually this summer was so cold that he did end up wearing it a bit in July (JULY?!?!), so all was not lost. But soon this little sweater will be on its way to cousin Penelope. Lucky thing.

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I used Shepherd’s Wool yarn which is made here in Michigan (yay!). You can see the sweater I was inspired by here (I think mine turned out better ahem), and if you use Pinterest you can follow my Someday when I am a knitting superstar Pinterest board to see what other ambitious projects I intend to recreate. My “things-made-with-yarn” blog category contains my other mostly ill-fitting knitting projects.

Please do not pin or repost pictures of Hugo. Thanks!!!

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Crochet scarf with stripes

In keeping with my recent unofficial theme of posting many things that are made with yarn, here’s a new scarf I made for Elliot:

Crochet scarf for E

Crochet scarf for E

He picked out the yarn himself on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Michael’s, which means that not only is the yarn pretty low quality (I don’t mean that they don’t carry any nice yarn there — though that is debatable — just that E’s nose for a good yarn is less discerning than mine), but it also smelled strangely for months. I don’t know why JoAnn’s and Michael’s always smell like Old Lady, but they do. And don’t even get me started on the cinnamon pinecones at JoAnn. I have about a 3-month blackout period for JoAnn when I can’t shop there because they put out those stupid pinecones for the Christmas season, and they are so strong they make me sneeze uncontrollably, not to mention they stink up all the fabric in the store.

Crochet scarf for E

Wow I’m a total grumpus today, eh? I’m not sure why, because I really feel quite cheerful; the sun is out and it’s been quite a pleasant day, despite the fact that both my children are home today AGAIN with fevers and general droopiness. SICK AGAIN, OY!!!

Crochet scarf for E

Not much else to say about this scarf; I crocheted it in two-row stripes until I ran out of yarn. Not my best work, but he loves it, and it looks pretty nice with his favorite shirt! The striped Flashback-Tee-turned henley was made last year during Celebrate the BOY — no tutorial for that one yet but I’ve been working on a henley tutorial this week, so probably soon.

Crochet scarf for E

Please do not pin/use pictures of Elliot from this post. Thanks!

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Pink and yellow color obsession

I recently spotted the most adorable crochet jacket photographed on a toddler that was pale pink with a golden yellow trim and I JUST HAD TO MAKE ONE. I love it when inspiration strikes you crazy like that. Here’s the one I made for Clementine:

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It’s about a size 4, thank you dear Elliot for helping me verify. What a cooperative little boy. I love that he doesn’t even think twice about putting on a pink sweater. It’s a little small on him, though, and truly it was meant for Clementine in the first place and I think it will fit her next fall. He also mentioned he would prefer it with flowers, and I’m really not into crocheting scads of little flowers right now. I made up the pattern, just kept half double crocheting around and around at the width I wanted until it was tall enough and then picked up and crocheted in the round for the sleeves until they were long enough. The yellow is a single crochet trim.

The sweater was pretty cute with just pink, but it was stinkin cute once I added the trim, it just really popped with the contrast color. I superlovelovelove it. The yarn was from Joann, the pale pink is a wool blend from Martha Stewart and the yellow trim yarn was Vanna White or Deborah Norville? (You know, one of those 90’s TV blondes? I cannot keep them straight in the first place, and now they both have yarn collections. At Joann. To make it even more confusing).

I am seriously crushing on pink and yellow together. I remember a couple years back when JCrew had all their catalog models wearing pale pink and mustard yellow and I swore I would never like it. And now I love it. Hah! Here’s some more pink/yellow eye candy from my Pinterest boards for you to enjoy!

By the way, thanks for all of your interesting comments about my Pinterest-ownership-angst. I feel like that kind of post always riles people up and invites negativity onto the blog when I don’t mean for that to happen. I really just wanted to raise awareness a little bit more and talk about it because I think it’s a fascinating topic. I’m sure I’m too much of a naive optimist, but I think (hope?) Pinterest will get it all figured out in a way that’s amenable to everyone. A work in progress. No reason to scream the sky is falling the sky is falling at this point. And by they way, please feel welcome to pin any of my images that don’t contain my kids’ faces to your heart’s content. I promise I will try to do a better job making sure that it’s clear when I don’t want something pinned.

Oh and Clementine’s haircut? She got the cutest little bob. Can’t wait to show you!

Dear Knitting, I’ve been cheating on you.

I know we’ve been spending alot of time together lately. We even made big plans. But I need to be honest: there’s a new love in my life:

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CROCHET.

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I’m hooked.

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I still think you’re really swell. Can we just be friends???

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xoxo, Rae.

PS. If you need sometone to blame, blame this book, Meg for tempting me with all her crochet posts, or my Crochet Board. I feel strongly that all are equally culpible.

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(someone really needed to do a little chalk drawing himself after he saw me drawing those hearts)

We interrupt this series of knits…

For a little bit of knitting! A finished sweater for Clementine, who was not interested in cooperating for this photo shoot:

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But you just go with it, am I right?

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Actually, I really love pictures of Clementine when she is being a stinker *wracking brain for example of time when she hasn’t been a stinker…totally stumped*

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I started this sweater in November for Clementine and finally blocked it and sewed the buttons on it this week. I know it’s a bit odd to post about knitting in a month of knit sewing posts, but if you want to be really technical, a sweater IS technically made of knit fabric. Sneaky!

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The pattern is the Yoked Cardigan from Knitbot and after showing its humble beginnings in this post (also above), Laura sent me a link to this adorable version:


So now I am totally in awe. Not only do I need to figure out how to be a better knitter so I can make a version THIS CUTE, I’m also going to need to dye Clementine’s hair red.

KIDDING.

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If you haven’t seen yesterday’s KNITerview with Sophie yet, make sure you check it out. And, more knit posts to come!

Knitting, my holiday hobby

One complaint — perhaps the only complaint — I have with sewing is that it doesn’t exactly lend itself to holiday socializing. You can’t really put your machine in the living room when the whole family is over and chug away at projects while everyone else talks and eats chocolate covered pretzels. For one thing, if I try and talk too much while I’m sewing I usually mess something up. For another thing, the chocolate always ends up all over my project. And then there’s the issue of machine volume, which for some machines (like my serger) is enough to put everyone off conversation altogether.

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We go up north every fall with a bunch of Mr Rae’s friends and their spouses and families and each year I try to take a knitting project with me. This year I started this cute little sweater for Clementine and continued working on it in Florida last week, and now this week in Seattle. As you can see it’s still in the works. It’s fun to create something handmade without having to shut myself in a sewing room.

I’m not a full-time knitter. One disadvantage of restricting knitting to just a fall/holiday hobby is that I basically have to teach myself to knit again every year. Purl Bee‘s tutorials (right sidebar) help me with this, but it’s kindof like riding a bike; once I pick it up and do a few practice swatches, it starts to come back.

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One thing that has really helped me is when I ask for knitting patterns for Christmas or birthday gifts, I also try to ask for the YARN to make the project too. This really makes a huge difference for me when it comes to starting a project. If I have to go out and procure the yarn it’s way less likely to happen. I get so confused at yarn stores.

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This particular pattern is the Yoked Cardigan by Knitbot and the yarn is this Plymouth Tweed. Maybe someday I’ll get around to putting it on my Ravelry page (not even going to link it, it’s so pathetic), but sometimes I just get sick of keeping up all of my social media sites, don’t you? I really like this pattern though because it’s knit top-down on circular needles, so there are NO SIDE SEAMS. The thought of not having to stitch it up at the end is divine. I’ll be sure to show you how it turns out.

I also have this Jane Richmond pullover pattern(shown above) that I really want to make, but no yarn yet. So we’ll see if that happens this year or not. And then there’s my “Someday when I’m a knitting superstar” board on Pinterest where I dream about all the fabulous things I would knit if I had the time/ability. How about you? Is there a knitting pattern on your brain right now? Is it started or just a daydream yet?

By the way, I really do enjoy sewing and socialization together when it’s in the form of a SE Michigan Crafter Meetups (and there’s another one coming up, just next week: December Meetup!). There’s a big room full of machines and a bunch of crafty people and snacks, so it’s tons of fun. If you’ll be around SE Michigan next Thursday night, let us know you can come!

The (sad) tale of a sweater

I had this idea for a felted coat for Clementine made from one of my old wool sweaters. I called my sister Elli who knits and asked her for some help. She explained that (and this is the gist of felting) you can basically wash the sweater in hot water repeatedly until it is the desired size, and that the wool fibers will tighten up so that you can cut  up the sweater and not worry about it raveling.

So I got right to it. I stuck the sweater in the wash and then dried it on high and lo and behold it was just about Clementine’s size. Sweet.

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{these two sweaters used to be the same size}

Next up was the hardest part. But I took a deep breath, and cut it right down the middle with the scissors.

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Phew. Then I chopped the arms off:

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Not too hard. Maybe even easy! Next I cut the neck ribbing out:

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Easy peasy! I trimmed the bottom ribbing off.

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Looking pretty good! I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’m on a ROLL. On FI-YAH.

How about some pockets?

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NO PROBLEM! See, I’m good at this, I’m making it happen, I’m a WHIZ. Watch me make a coat from a sweater in a snap, yeah???

OK, time to add a button tab and a zipper. Little strip of sweater = Button Tab. Trip to Joann = 12″ Sport Zipper.

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So I hit my first bump with the zipper when the sweater started stretched way more than the zipper and looked weird. OK. But I can roll with that. A little unsewing, a little basting, a little try-it-again. The next attempt was better, but still a bit bubbly:

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But not too bad. I could probably just put this under the iron really quick, just steam it up a little, just flatten it out a bit. Right?

So…I put it under the iron AND THAT’S WHEN IT ALL WENT HORRIBLY WRONG. As I lifted up the iron I saw long red strings like hot glue. Seriously? No, joke, I had melted the zipper SHUT. Unbelievable.

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So that’s how that went. Learn from my mistakes.

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On the plus side, I can still get the zipper partially open. She can just wear it as a pullover, right? Kidding, sortof. Time to start unsewing again. *sigh*