December 20, 2013

Snowmen and such

Not exactly sure how it got to be Friday, the 20th of December, already. The speed at which December has flown by has, however, not left me completely frazzled.  At least for the last day of school before Christmas vacation, I was prepared.  It was a day of high fives for mom!

Although I forgot to take a picture of the cupcakes for FBLA, my Thursday ended with 18 cupcakes frosted in white with blizzard blue and irridescent white "snow" (sugar) and candy snowflakes on top.  There was also a 2nd and 3rd pan of peppermint bark (btw, go with the Ghiradelli instead of the Hersheys; the result is a gazillion times more reliable and will likely result in far less swearing from the chef).

And, the piece de resistance, 29 snowmen in cake pop form! Some have ear muffs with white iridescent sugar hair. Some have bright blue hats with blue sugar and white candy snowflakes.  A few have a "charcoal" nose, but most have orange candy coated sunflower seeds for noses.

You know what else there was? A GIGANTIC learning curve for those cake pops.  I followed the Betty Crocker recipe for snowmen cake pops to the letter, folks.  And five hours at the kitchen counter later, I was just finishing the blue caps.  Do you know why it took so long?  Well, let me tell ya!  Betty Crocker said to use meltable candy coating, both white for the head and blue for the hats.  On closer examination of the picture that went with the recipe, Betty Crocker, however, elected to NOT FOLLOW THEIR OWN DIRECTIONS and went with the much more attractive and significantly EASIER and time-saving fondant, which was wrapped around the cake instead of trying to dip cake balls upside down on a stick into hot melted candy coating.  With fondant, you also don't have that unattractive issue of dripping or little errant cake pieces making your snowman lumpy.  Like I always say, that's what I get for following the directions! And you know what you can't find much of during the Christmas season?  Pastel circular confetti sprinkles.  I had to pick out the pink ones from the fun confetti mix. Regardless, my cake pops were the hit of the party and more than one mother gave me that look as we stood around the snack table.  You know the one.  (The one that makes you want to do your own end zone victory dance.)

But there was also the finishing of Christmas projects.  The last of Rocket's scarves is done. (And P.S., I continue to despise Sashay.)

And there was the hat for Scout #2.  The hat is the Earwarmer Hat pattern, and though my kid is more about the fashion than keeping his ears warm, that 3-inch band is double-stranded and will keep his ears warm in our just-cold-enough winter weather. He's supposed to fold up that ribbing, but I'm glad he prefers not to because the wrong side of ribbing isn't as attractive as the right side.

And after way too much time driving kids around today and the whirlwind of Scouts getting ready for a winter campout/hike this weekend in the mountains, I'm all done in for this week!  I'm down to a half-completed mobius cowl that will surely be done tomorrow and 2 pair of socks.  Movies and knitting … that will be my weekend.

Now if we could only get some snow instead of the forecast temperatures in the 70s to put me back in the winter knitting mood.  Farmers' Almanac, don't fail me now!

December 18, 2013

December Whirlwind

I think I may have, for the first time, done it.  By "it" I mean that I have gotten the Christmas cards out in time to arrive BEFORE Christmas--that almost never happens.  I have put together (it took about 4 months of canning) our first Cedar Hill Farm Company gift baskets and they are shipping out today to family and friends on literally every border of the U.S.  My Christmas shopping is DONE--two weeks earlier this year than last--and all but the few presents still to arrive (I think Bass Pro and Justice may be the SLOWEST shippers of goods in the history of the world!!!!) are wrapped, shipped, or under the tree.  The tree was up by the 5th of December this year instead of the 21st of December like last year. The lights were up by the 15th, and we even have a new mantel on which to hang out stockings.  I feel like I've won the lottery, though I didn't actually and I'm a little miffed about it right now, and this year is a definite testament to the power of "The LIST".

But for as impressive as all of the above is, the Christmas knitting spreadsheet is coming up a bit short and I am a bit stressed (ok, SUPER stressed!) about the knitting left to be finished up.  It's been coming together so much more slowly than what I had scheduled that I had to take some time to make myself a few gifts for new inspiration.  Of course, I also made about 16 new ones for my Etsy shop, too, so go check those out if you also feel the need to give yourself an inspirational knitting gift.

This was where I was yesterday:

Three pair of socks (four if you count the completely invisible one that I knit for Honey and then had to tear out completely and start over with 7 days in which to knit a pair of man socks) are finished.  Two are on their way to someone else's Christmas tree, and I wasn't bright enough to photograph them before I wrapped them.  One pair, Honey's socks, are pictured (and wouldn't you know that he wants me to tear them down to the heel to make the foot "just a little more snug"). The partially knit pair and another I've yet to cast on are for the boys, and Lady Luck is on my side because they are A) going to be gone all weekend and I can knit on them in secret on the front porch swing (going to be in the 70s?! this weekend) and B) they are going to be gone until after Christmas--that shared custody thing REALLY sucks at the holidays--so that gives me an extra week of frantic knitting.  But since I am done with all of the other prep-for-Christmas duties, all I have to do around her is clean, bake, take care of animals, and knit anyway.

A last-minute request for a wool beanie in hand-painted cadet blue and dove grey from one of the boys is pictured with the ribbing done (plus 5 inches of invisible knitting because the pattern was a little small for his big head and I've had to re-group).

One pair of Urbanista Gloves in hand-painted BFL for my mother-in-law, finished.

One 54-inch mobius cowl cast on and begun for the step-daughter (I'm loosely following a pattern but does that little circle of red really look like it's going to be 54 inches?!). The thing about mobius knitting is that you never really know what it's going to look like until you cast off.  I will be knitting nervously all the way.

One ruffle scarf begun in black/silver for Rocket (raise your hand if you HATE fake knitting with SASHAY as much as I do!), one already finished (pictured), and one bulky Tunisian crochet scarf in pink heathered with turquoise and purple finished.  This last ruffle Whew!

And I should be knitting instead of blogging, so see ya! May your hands be swift and your last-minute Christmas knitting be done before Christmas!

December 05, 2013

Back to Square One: A Sock Drama

I keep reminding myself that there is no crying in knitting because it is, after all, not the end of the world if you make a careless mistake or, say, two weeks of careless knitting mistakes.  Those man socks … the pair that I am (was) knitting for my Honey … let's just say the adventure is gone and now it's just a matter of stubborn knitting to meet the deadline.

I'm not really sure what possessed me to knit all the way to the toe decreases before it occurred to me to have my Honey try them on, even under the guise of them being someone else's gift.  I'm not sure why I elected to follow someone else's pattern and then not check after the initial ribbing to see if I was getting gauge.  I'm not sure why I didn't double-check the CO math against the gauge.  But I will say this about a pair of socks that are now back to pre-cast on stage:  If we had a Yeti that needed a pair of thick, warm socks, they would have been smashing!

So it's back to the drawing board.  This time, before I ripped out 3 hours here, an entire Saturday afternoon of heels and 2 weeks there, I measured my gauge so that I could calculate a realistic cast on number for the next time I cast on, which really needs to be in about 3 minutes because I now have exactly 10 days to re-knit a pair of man socks.  The other pair on the needles is going to have to be ripped out, too.  Although I did use my brain enough to take down the cast on number by 8 stitches (1 inch, gauge-wise) on the other pair because I was using a less heavy yarn, on closer inspection it turns out that I'm still coming up with about 1.5 inches too much in the leg width (which will translate to a behemoth heel later on) and that's just not something I can decrease out. There are many expletives floating around in my brain at the moment that I won't share here, but the reality is that this is all my fault.  I was so focused on the deadline and my knitting schedule to hit the finish line with an record-setting amount of last-minute knitting done that I carelessly disregarded ALL of the rules of knitting.  Let that be a lesson to you.  Honor The Rules.

And the icing on the cake to all of this is that while removing the needles from the socks to rip them, one end of the fixed cable detached itself from a needle and now I'm down a pair of circs. Crap.

December 04, 2013

Knitting Plain

I have reached the point of boredom with my current Christmas gift sock projects.  I'm knitting man socks, too many man socks.  The problem with man socks for my guys is that they are not "fancy" sock wearers; they like plain ol' socks. And the other problem:  I could knit two pair of socks for me for every one pair that I knit for a man/boy in my household.  They are just that big. Man socks, therefore, are the equivalent of hours and hours and hours of mind-numbing plain knit stitch.  In circles.

But this knitting plain stitches is not as easy as one may think if one happens to be a newbie knitter or a "thrower".  The thing about plain stitches is that you can't hide your gauge and tension issues in a cable or a moss stitch or several inches of ribbing.  Your stitches are out there for all the world to see.  You have to knit perfectly even stitches, one after the other, row after row.  Mine aren't machine-knit perfect, but at a glance they are pretty darn close.

When you are knitting in the round, you don't have a wrong side on which to pull in your tension a little to compensate for loose knit stitches, either.  So, what's the trick to even knit stitches every time?  Well, there is one, and I try to teach it to my knitting students from the get-go, though there is often a great deal of argument and fussing on their part.  The secret is … knit at the tip of the needle.  I like to bunch up as many stitches as possible on the left needle and knit them at the very tip of the needle.  Not only does this improve your tension, but it makes you a faster knitter, even if you are a "thrower", which I am not.  I like to knit in a Continental style, holding my yarn in my left hand like I would if I were crocheting, so that the right needle needs to make just a slight movement to catch the yarn and pull it through the loop.  Doing it my way, I am also able to pick up speed by slipping the worked stitch off the left-hand needle as I am pulling the working yarn through that same stitch.  But this post is not about speed, it's about tension.

The other thing that is extremely important in maintaining an even tension is that you keep a consistent taughtness (is that even a word?) to the working yarn every time you make a new stitch.  If you knit like I do, then that's controlled by the left hand that is also holding the left needle (by the way, if you knit like I do, then there is no "left hand holds both needles while yarn is wrapped around the right one" going on--you never have to let go of either needle).  If you "throw", then you adjust the tension of your stitch after every stitch.  This needs to be automatic, as in you tighten the new stitch before you knit the next one.  If you don't do this, then you have to go back along your row and pull the working yarn of the new stitches, one stitch at a time, to work out and even tension across the row and pull out excess yarn among stitches.  That's very time consuming.  It's better to just tighten each stitch after you make it.

So if you find yourself knitting plain stitches in a circle for hours on end, try knitting at the tip of the left needle.  I'll bet it makes you and your knitting better friends.

Update:  One pair of 14-inch circumference man socks finished, two more (one slightly less in the circumference, hallelujah!) on the needles and one of those is knit to the toes.  I've worked out that I have 12 days per sock to get all 4 pair finished by Christmas, though the one closest to completion is actually a before-Christmas birthday present.  Funny story … I think I am going to have to rip it back to the leg and re-do the heel.  I did a short-row heel and it looks wonky.  And I think the ankly is too wide.  I might have a sock-knitting breakdown over this pair.  You know what I think the problem is?  I actually followed a pattern for this one by someone else who isn't me and I think her CO number was WAAAAY off!  I'm going to have to be sneaky and get Honey, for whom these socks are being knit, to try one on.  I told him I was making it for one of the boys, so maybe he won't suspect otherwise.

There is also supposed to be the knitting of a slouch for Rocket and gloves for my mother-in-law and the gargantuan cowl (something like a 5-foot circumference DK weight mobius cowl with lace stitches) that my step-daughter saw on Pinterest a few days ago and, apparently, desperately needs me to knit.  I'm thinking the cowl might be belated because as it is I will have carpel tunnel so badly that I'm going to be in twin wrist casts by Christmas.  You wouldn't believe it, but I did plan ahead for Christmas--way back in August I had the projects all mapped out, last-minute cowl request excluded--but somehow didn't get around to starting my projects until November.

December 02, 2013

Giveaway Winner(s) & Cyber Monday Free Shipping

The giveaway for a printed copy of the Knit Picks 2013 Bulky Collection pattern book ended yesterday.  There was a slight glitch that I didn't realize until this morning with the entries: some of you followed directions and posted your comments on the blog post; some of you didn't follow directions and posted your comments on the FB page.  Luckily for you all, I'm trying to get into the holiday spirit earlier than usual, so here's how we'll work this:

The winner of the printed pattern book goes to someone who posted on the blog page:

#5 is Angela Stumpf.  Please contact me with your email address and I will send it right out!

For those of you who opted for FB, the winner of that group of comments receives a digital copy of the pattern book:

#4 is Dianne Askew.  Please contact me so that I can reply with your electronic pattern book.

And now that this business is concluded, it's Cyber Monday and I'm going to give everyone free domestic shipping today on any order from my Etsy shop.  Use code CYBER at checkout.

I hope your holiday projects are zooming along!  More later this week on how my lengthy list is knitting up.


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