I am not an accomplished quilter. To be honest, I do not find quilting to be particularly relaxing. However, I really like making fun blankets for my family. I say fun, perhaps I really mean nerdy. The last quilt I pieced was a Star Wars quilt. (The quilt kit was available from Keepsake Quilting. They are clearly licensed for Star Wars, so while this particular "Force Awakens" quilt is no longer available, they have more Star Wars fabrics and quilts...right now the kit is for "Rogue One.") I chose a red minky fabric for the back to make the quilt extra snuggly. My oldest son and my husband use it as their "lounging around on the couch" blanket. My mom was generous enough to quilt it for me on her longarm...which turned out to be WAY easier than my latest endeavor, which naturally was supposed to be really quick and ended up taking forever. FOREVER. But in the end, it was well worth it.
I felt a little bit like a cheater getting my mom to quilt the top for me- even if she was excited to use her longarm. My mom is a very accomplished quilter: she gets excited over quilting like I get excited over knitting. To each their own. I decided that my youngest son also needed a fun blanket and chose a panel quilt thinking it would be very straightforward to piece and I could focus more on the quilting. I wanted to stretch my horizons on my little sewing machine and do something new...but not overdo it. I wanted to quilt this one myself.
Well, right out of the gate, I completely messed up cutting the border fabric. It was a directional fabric and I cut the short piece before the long piece and then didn't have enough. So, I decided I could make some small adjustments to the pattern and keep on. Adjusting the pattern turned out to be a little trickier than I thought, but I managed to make all the borders work (and go in the right direction) by adding little orange accent lines.
The top was pieced, the bubbles cut, all I needed to do was quilt the top. I have a picture of what the quilt was intended to look like once quilted- I pinned the fun bubbles on the border to get an idea of palcement before I quilted the blanket. I watched an online course by Jacquie Gering on creative quilting with a walking foot. She did a really wonderful job with her lessons and should you be interested in walking foot quilting, she would be a great resource to look up.
I learned that slow and steady wins the race. I like slow. Slow is nice. However, I moved very, very slow. Like a knucklehead, I decided it would be fun to try multiple techniques on this quilt, one of which was a curved echo with the walking foot on the ENTIRE border. I am very pleased with the results, but man did that take a long time. My biggest struggle was with quilt bulk management as I quilted. There is a lot of fabric that has to be hauled, pulled, squished and turned as you go. Walking foot quilting, unlike free motion quilting, is a one direction operation. You travel in straight lines (or slightly curved lines) but the foot itself only trudges forward on your quilt with a double feed-dog system to "walk" your quilt on both the top and bottom. It produces very nice, consistent stitches, but that foot knows what it likes and you would be silly to try to convince it otherwise.
When I finally finished the quilting, I decided to leave off the bubble flaps and simply appliquéd a few accent bubbles in the corners. It felt cruel to put so much work in the border quilting and then cover it up with a bunch of circle flaps. With that said, it is safe to say my quilt looks nothing like the quilt I thought I was going to make when I started. And what I had intended to be a quick, throw together panel quilt took months for me to finish. The important thing, though, is that my son loves it. I backed it with a nice bright orange minky. (Minky is really very soft and my kids really enjoy its texture. It also washes really well. The Star Wars quilt is over a year old and has been washed many times. It has endured the best efforts of a three-year old to snuggle it to death and it is still a nice bright red. I have high hopes for the orange, too.)
I hope I am not setting a precedent for the rest of my fiber crafting year, but somehow, half the year has almost gone by and very few fiber crafts have been finished. Especially this spring- pretty much nothing has gotten done. Nothing by way of knitting needles, anyway. I am happy to report other things have been finished, but somehow they don't really count in my head. That seems totally unfair of my brain. While feeling bogged down and behind in all of my knitting and weaving, my husband and I, with the help of our two favorite tiny people, made a flower garden in a crate palette.
I am not sure what the correct term for this is...I'll go with up-cylcing. Many home improvements stores will give these palettes away for free if you ask, which is what we did. Generally speaking, I think they get so many, they are happy to see a few of them towed away in a minivan. Nine times out of ten the wood from these palettes is oak, too, which is pretty nice considering the price of hardwood. With some ingenuity, the possibilities seem endless. I've seen pictures online of people who have made deck furniture, headboards and end tables with this wood. It is remarkable. We were not, however, pioneers in creating art from palette wood. We turned ours into a planter by stapling some garden cloth to the back and sides. Less impressive, but still a nice addition to any porch, patio, or deck.
It's still early in the season, but so far, so good. The idea is that these flowers will start to cascade down the palette and really create a wonderful waterfall of floral color. The whole project, flowers and dirt included, probably cost about $40. If you feel compelled to create your own palette garden, there are a few things I learned as the process was underway.
Staple the garden fabric with abandon. You don't want any of your dirt falling out the sides or, worse, out the back. The stronger your fabric, the less worry you have when you prop it up against a wall or rail. Also, fill the palette to the brink when it comes to dirt. You want the flowers you plant in there to be snug. Try to allow as little dirt to show through the holes when the plants are in as possible. That means you want to choose plants that are happy growing in close quarters. If you space your plants out too much, the dirt will fall out the front (which I guess reduces the stress of it falling out the back or sides).
Lastly, and this is the hardest tip to follow, leave the palette with the plants in it laying flat on the ground for about two weeks. I know, I know, you want to prop it up right away. But it is worth waiting to allow the roots to all settle out and grow together to help hold everything in place. I waited just shy of two weeks and did not have any dirt spill from the openings. (I did have some dirt come off the wood where I was messy when planting, which tidied up the whole look from the front.) If you do need to tip it up earlier, maybe give it a steeper slant. A little dirt lost probably won't hurt anything.
My children and I go to the public library once a week, each time refreshing our haul of new books to enjoy for the next seven days. (After the library, we go and get a couple of donut holes. It's always a good time.) My oldest son is especially fond of books. For example, instead of having a stuffed animal to snuggle with when he lays his head down at night, he has a stack of his favorite books next to his pillow. Reading is important, and my husband and I have tried to emphasize it in our family as something to love. So far, so good. This post, however, is not on the merits of reading. This post is for me to geek out in excitement about children's picture books that have some kind of knitting theme.
I'm crazy, I know. But these books make me very excited for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it is an easy way for me to share my love of knitting with my young children in a format that they, too, enjoy. Yes, they see mommy knitting away and I allow them to assist when practical, but they are still a little young for me to really teach them about the craft. We are at exposure age, not knitting age. These fun knitting themed books are nice because my sons get excited because they are about knitting. "Like you, mommy!" they gleefully giggle at me as we pick out our books.
The second reason I love these books is because they encourage inter-generational exchange. I learned to knit when I was a young girl from my great grandmother. She didn't speak english and I didn't speak german, but we figured it out nonetheless. She gave me a priceless gift. These books often include charming tales of older people teaching younger people. Even if this exchange between generations is not directly in the story and a young child or a grown adult is simply knitting, it could spark inquiries in real life about where and whom to learn the craft from. Knitting is an old art. I sometimes think of it as the ancient oral traditions where histories and lessons were handed down from one generation to the next. I love that these books introduce small children to the art with great illustrations and memorable tales. A small child might not want to pick up knitting needles right away, but it could plant the seed for a later date.
So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the next time you are in the market for a book for a young child, consider a knitting themed book. (The two I have pictured here are lovely, if you need a suggestion.) It may seem like a topic that would not interest tiny tots, but just think of what hand crafts are usually all about- love. Any story about love and taking the time to share it has to have some merit, don't you think? And just think, if you buy a knitting themed book, you are likely supporting a knitter somewhere out there. Perhaps you're even encouraging the birth of a new member to the craft.
You know two things that go really well with tea? Tea goes great with knitting and reading. Perhaps drinking tea, knitting and reading all at the same time might be too much, but if you can do it, that's amazing. If you need a good book recommendation, I'm currently reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke and am really enjoying it. If, however, you are looking for a book with significantly less than 800 pages, you should read my book! I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow, January 19, 2017, is one of my Amazon "free book" days. This means you can get my book, Half Veiled, for free! Yay for free things! So, if you have a few minutes and at least a mild interest, you should follow this link to my book on Amazon. Thank you so much for your support, and as always, thank you for reading this blog!
I would assume anyone who reads this blog (and I hope somebody does) is a creative force. I assume this because you are reading a knitting blog and knitting is a creative art. Creativity can eek out in many ways; my knitting needles catch a lot of my creativity. However, some of my other imaginative juices have flown into a book. It is a lighthearted fantasy designed to make the reader laugh, or at the very least smile a little. Perhaps lighthearted fantasies are not your thing, but if they are, or you are just looking for a quick beach read, I would really love if you chose my book for the honors. It is entitled Half Veiled and is available for purchase on Amazon for $2.99. That's cheaper than most knitting patterns! I have included the book cover and link to the Amazon page for your convenience. The book is published under my maiden name, Rachel Reese. I thought it had more of a ring to it. Something about those double r's.
I hope this new year allows you many outlets for your art. As always, keep knitting! And thank you so much for making my blog a part of your meanderings.
No matter what holiday you celebrate, I wanted to wish everyone a merry Knitmas. I hope everyone is able to spend time with people they love and they find warmth and joy in the company they keep. I look forward to the new year and the possibilities it brings. I am hopeful in my knitting life, too, with a whole slew of projects already in the queue. I am grateful to anyone who reads this blog and hope you feel the warm fuzzies I send your way. Thank you for being part of my community.
As I pick up my project bag and head to my seat
I say Merry Knitmas to all,
Whether you knit flowing great shawls,
Sweaters or hats, trinkets and bobbles or socks for your feet.
Needles in hand, a yarn over or two,
warm wishes are made especially for you.
Warning, the recipe that follows is DANGEROUS. It is quick, it is easy, and the results are so yummy you may end up eating far more of the delicious little bites than you ever intended. At least that is what happened to me. These no-bake cookies reminded me of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I was first drawn to the idea because I thought it was a great way to make cookies with my toddler- he could eat all the dough he wanted and I did not have to fret about salmonella poisoning. Win/win, right? And the fact they tasted even better than I thought they would is yet another win- except to my waistline. However, the holidays are right around the corner, and for us that means visitors. These are a great little treat to keep in the fridge for any guests you might have that have a sweet tooth. And if you have small children coming to visit, this is a really fun kitchen activity.
I feel like "no bake" is a little misleading. It is very true that you do not have to bake anything, but you do have to use the stovetop. However, it is much faster than having to bake batches of cookies, so I'm not complaining. Right up front, I will say I swapped the smooth peanut butter for chunky and reduced the amount of sugar in the original recipe. People seemed to have trouble with the cookies setting, but I placed mine to cool on the counter for half an hour and then put them in the fridge overnight. The next day they were more than ready to be moved to a sealed container in the fridge.
The recipe is adapted from the Food Network Kitchen Peanut Butter-Chocolate No Bake Cookies
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup peanut butter (I used extra chunky)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 pinch kosher salt
1. Line two baking sheets with wax or parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar, milk, butter and cocoa to a boil. Make sure you keep an eye on this and stir occasionally. Allow the mixture to boil for 1-2 minutes. Remove it from the heat. In the same saucepan, add the oats, peanut butter, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine.
3. Using a teaspoon or small scooper, drop the dough on the prepared baking sheets. You will want to do this while your mixture is still warm.
4. Allow your cookies to cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. If your baking sheets will fit in your fridge, cover them with plastic wrap and set the cookies in the fridge overnight. If baking sheets do not fit between the leftovers, as was the case in my refrigerator, wait about an hour and then gently transfer the cookies in a single layer to a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and allow at least four hours before you move the cookies to a sealed container.
The cookies should be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container. They are at their best if eaten within three days. However, we munched on ours for a week and there were no complaints. Toward the end of the week, however, the texture of these little delights did suffer.
I am a big advocate of shopping local when possible. After all, it is the local shops that give a town its charm, its unique voice, and are run by the very people who live in a particular community. I know sometimes cost and practicality can be prohibitive. I love my local yarn shop, but I cannot afford to buy all of my yarn there. The prices and selection online can be alluring, especially if you need to buy a large quantity of yarn. However, when I can, I shop at my local yarn shop, and it's not just for the yarn.
Of course a yarn shop will have your yarns and notions, but that is just what a yarn store sells, what it gives away for free is far more valuable. Yarn shops across the country, and likely across the globe, provide community. This might not sound like a big deal, but it's huge. We owe a debt of gratitude to the yarn shop owners that run what is hardly ever a lucrative business to support the outlet so many of us seek in knitting. Whether we knit to feed our creativity, relax after a stressful day, or challenge ourselves, the fact that you are reading this post suggests that knitting is important to you. The proprietors of knitting shops know and respect that. They are there to help decipher patterns, start projects, run knitting groups, put the pot of coffee on...the list is fairly long. But more than any of that, they play host to a support group that requires nothing but your presence.
We all struggle with things. There is a huge range of struggle, and perspective is helpful when dealing with the small stuff. However, we feel what we feel and sometimes it's hard to get past the small stuff. I have had two children and am about a year removed from the birth of my second son. What I have personally been struggling with lately are the changes that have happened to my body. I breast fed for a year and struggled with one breast being significantly larger than the other, to the point my shirt pulled awkwardly to one side. And while I've lost the baby weight, my stomach muscles were stretched, along with my skin, and I do not feel great when I look in the mirror. And now that I've stopped breast feeding and my hormones are shifting once again, my face has broken out like a teenage girl. Shouldn't having two children give you a free pass on acne? I am extremely lucky, I have a supportive husband who thinks I am beautiful no matter what. And I can acknowledge that these problems I am struggling with are SO small compared to the struggles of others, but that does not boost my self-esteem when I peek in the mirror and am shocked by the angry red bumps on my face, my now crazy hair, and my strange stomach skin.
Why do I mention any of this? Because when I walked in to my knitting store last week, I found a group of ladies sitting around a table, knitting and chatting, who made me feel GOOD. Many of them knew exactly how I felt, and we were able to joke about our spreading hips and changed sizes. They understood. Simply sitting with people I knew had gone through something similar helped me. I didn't need much, I just needed a little boost. And I am confident even if I had a problem none of the knitters at that table had experienced, they would listen, help, offer advice...whatever I needed. Sometimes we need someone to tell us we are being ridiculous, sometimes we need somewhere to go where we can cry over an empty nest or the loss of gluten in a diet. And it doesn't have to be a struggle that pulls up our chair to a knitting table, it can be achievements and joys, too. Having a baby? Knitters love babies. Getting a puppy or cat? Knitters love pets, too.
My point is that without a knitting shop, there would be no place for this kind of unique community. Knitting tables at the back of shops across the globe host people from all different age groups, background, ideologies...but people are brought together by a craft and that craft opens doors to communication. With two toddlers, I do not get out much, but when I do, I love the feeling the yarn shop gives me, the strength it lends me, the understanding it provides. But this community cannot exist without support. If we fail to shop at our local stores, they go away. The owners are generous, but they need to eat, too. And when a yarn shop's doors close, you are not just losing a retail store, you are losing a wealth of knowledge and experience that could have been shared. So next time you are able, perhaps you have a birthday coming up or a little extra cash in your purse, stop by your local yarn store. Buy some needles, some yarn, some cute project bags- whatever tickles your fancy. Then, sit. Sit and talk with the ladies and men that are in the store and get lost in a group that asks very little of you but is willing to give you so much. And when you get up to leave, thank the owner of that store for providing a safe place for this kind of creative community to exist.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it takes a village to raise a knitter. Let's help keep those villages alive.