The Morehouse Farm dragon scarf is really, really popular. It's so popular, in fact, that I'm making another one. This one is for a little girl and her dad asked me to make her one in pink. I said, "Barbie pink? Pepto-Bismol pink? Baby pink?"  I don't think he realized that there were options.

After looking around his office and finding an appropriate pink on a poster, the deal was struck. I would make a dragon scarf for his daughter but would make is shorter to better fit an almost-5-year-old's neck.

I stopped at my local yarn shop a couple of days later and found this amazing pink heather. It's not exactly what he'd asked for - the pink is a little darker - but the heather pattern in the yarn just makes me smile. I
couldn't imagine a little girl not liking it. Thanks to technology a decision was made on the spot. I snapped a photo of the yarn choices with my phone and emailed them directly to my friend so he could decide. He picked the heather (yea!) Two skeins later and I was on my way.

The pattern went really quickly since it's my third run through it in the last 9 months. This time, however, I needed to truncate the pattern so that the body of the dragon would be short enough for a little kid. I accomplished this by cutting short each sequence of spikes by one. So, for example, if the spike sequence was supposed to be repeated three times, I repeated it twice. If it was twice, I'd just do one. I was worried that it would distort the progression of the body (the scarf gets wider with every spike sequence) but it didn't. The finished product looks as perfect as the earlier versions, just about 7 inches shorter!

Because I shortened the pattern, I ended up with a ton of leftover yarn - probably an 1/8 of a skein. Plus I still had the second just-in-case skein. In a moment of shear madness, I decided to try to make a dragon hat to go with the scarf. I didn't have a pattern - just an idea of how it might work. So, I knit up the dragon tail as if I were going to make a scarf. At the end of spike #6, I took some double pointed needles and picked up a bunch of stitches down both sides of the tail. Then I started knitting in the round.

At first, I just knit. But after a few inches I decided that I didn't like the way the garter stitch looked so I ran a "lifeline" through the original picked-up stitches and ripped back. I also started checking patterns to see if I even had enough stitches to make a hat for a 5 year old. I'd kind of forgotten that the hat actually had to fit. I chose 77 stitches since that seemed to be pretty common for a small child's hat. This meant that I had to increase by 20 stitches - which I did as I started doing the body of the hat in moss stitch.

Moss stitch is awesome. It has a great texture and it's crazy easy to do. I like that the body of the hat kind of looks like dragon scales now. At Cassandra's suggestion, I did moss stitch for a little more than half the hat and then moved to rib stitch to finish the "rim" of the hat. My only concern now is that the hat may not be big enough. I've had multiple people tell me that it looks too small.... argh.  We'll see.

There's still a lot of yarn left. I'm thinking she may need some mittens to go with the set now. ;)  I'll keep y'all posted.

- Alex

The Comfort of the Familiar

This is a picture of my lap yesterday afternoon. As you can see, this is not the doll sweater I had been working on. For the health of our relationship, we are taking a break from each other. I need to rip back and do some neck hole shaping on the design and, this past weekend, I frankly didn't want to work that hard. I wanted to be spoon-fed a pattern so I could just enjoy the simple act of knitting.
Lucky for me, I have quite a queue of projects ahead of me that need to be completed before the holidays. These are the must-be-done:
1. The doll sweater, pants, and superhero cape to make for completed doll #1.
2. I ordered another kit to make doll #2, for son #2, last week. 
3. 2 little cabled sweaters for my boys.
I also have a "hope-to-be-done" list. But that is a post for another day. Let me focus on "must-be-done" item #3. The cabled sweaters. 
A few months ago I took some time and really scoured Ravelry for the perfect cabled sweater pattern for a little boy. Two patterns were on my short list - Sherwood and Master Charles (see photos.) 

Sherwood by Angela Hahn

Master Charles Sweater by Kate Oates
But in the end, the Provence Child's Cabled Pullover won my heart. 

Photo by Classic Elite Yarns
I love the all-over cable pattern and the cotton yarn. I even went so far as to order the exact yarn the pattern specified, rarely the case with me. Last year I knit wooly cabled sweater vests for my guys and they roasted every time they wore them, so I was hoping to go cotton for this holiday if possible.
My goodness, I love this pattern so far. I can't believe I found it for free. It's a very simple cable that knits up so knotty and fun. I have the back of one sweater done and about 75% of the front accomplished. I can't wait to show everyone the finished products! The pattern repeat may seem monotonous, but sometimes that's just what I need...
– Cassandra

Soup's On

Autumn came unceremoniously to Wisconsin - as it often does. There were a couple of "transition" weeks thrown in there where it rained and got a little cooler but, for the most part, it was summer one day and not-summer the next.

This season is bittersweet. I hate that summer is over because I love the sun and the warmth and the activity. Plus, the end of summer means that winter - my most hated season - is just around the corner. (Argh!)  But there's something lovely about autumn too. The crisp feeling in the air. The smell of crumbly leaves. Wrapping up in a favorite sweater. And, for me, the return of comforting soups.

Now, don't get me wrong - I eat soup year round. I'm a huge fan of cold soups in the summer with Cold Cucumber Soup being my favorite. But there's something so nest-y and "mom" about a good, solid hot soup that I think of autumn and the subsequent unmentionable season as the seasons for this particular food.

There's also a nice dovetail with soup and the dreaded "garden clearing." The last of the tomatoes (which look kind of puny), the overgrown and flowering basil/fennel/oregano/etc., the squash, etc. all need to be dealt with. They're generally not nice enough to stand alone at this point so they need to be cooked into some lovely concoction and soup is the perfect vehicle.

Coincidentally, Bon Appetite Magazine's September edition has a really nice article about a woman who taught herself to cook by making soups. It's a fun story and I recommend it for both the treatise on soups and the provided recipes.

So, to kick off your autumn the right way, make a big pot of soup this week! Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. One uses up the last of the garden and the other is a fast and easy soup created from canned beans. Enjoy!

Squash & Tomato Soup

3-4 large tomatoes or the equivalent in medium to small tomatoes, skin & seeds removed, chopped
4-6 cups of various cubed summer squashes (eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, etc)
1/2 a large onion diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, diced
2-3 T olive oil
Basil, oregano, thyme, (or Italian-blend seasoning) to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
(optional: diced bell pepper; kale; spinach; cabbage)

Heat soup pot on medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute for one minute. Add chopped squash. Saute for a few minutes - until squash is a bit soft. Add chopped tomatoes. Stay with the pot, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down enough to make a broth. If your tomatoes don't have enough juice to make a broth, add a small can or two of diced tomatoes with their juices. Add your herbs. Once the consistency is sort of stew-like, lower heat to simmer and cover. Let it cook for thirty minutes or so and check that the squash is done. As soon as you're happy with the consistency, salt, pepper, and cheese to taste. Serve hot with a cheese to sprinkle on top.

This is the base soup. You can add many different veggies to this (see "optional"). Any vegetables you add, just saute for a bit before you put the tomatoes in. Common sense says that harder veggies (eggplant, carrots, celery, etc) should cook a little longer. Softer veggies like spinach and summer squash need less time to cook so plan your sauteing accordingly. :)

Three Bean Soup

2-3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small head of green cabbage, chopped
2 cans of garbanzo beans
2 cans of canellini beans
2 cans of black beans
Stock (preferably vegetable) to cover
1 Bay leaf (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add cabbage and stir well to coat cabbage with oil/onion mixture. Cook until cabbage is wilted and a little soft. Add the beans and mix well. Cover with stock – I use vegetable stock but chicken is also good. The use of vegetable stock means no additional fat is added to the soup. Add bay leaf and salt if desired. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for one hour. I usually cover it to ensure less splatter but if you simmer uncovered, the soup will boil down a bit and be thicker.

Buon Appetito!

- Alex

Well Begun is Half Done

I'm a big fan of Mary Poppins. That's how I know the expression above. This is what she says as a segue into the "Spoonful of Sugar" song, her lesson to the children for grumbling about having to tidy the nursery. Mary is practically perfect in every way. If she were to design a doll sweater, I bet it would go smoothly. I, however, am no Mary Poppins. *sigh*

Here is where I am at right now:

The little guy is trying on the sweater to make sure that the sleeve is going to fit just fine. And, for those keeping score at home, this is my second attempt at that sleeve. On the first go round, it was far too tight because the hole I left for it was too small. So, I ripped it back, and undid some of the side seam to give the sleeve more ease. I chose to construct the garment by sewing the shoulders and the sides of the front and back together. Then, pick up the stitches for the sleeve with double-pointed needles and knit it to the cuff in the round. I am actually feeling pretty good about how this sleeve method is looking.

One of the obstacles to making a sweater for a doll is the disproportionately large head. I need to make sure the neck opening is large enough for the head to get through, but not too big that the collar looks odd. I have concerns about this right now. I plan on picking up the stitches around the neck and making a ribbed collar. I just hope that it doesn't look too bulky in the end. This is my greatest fear with this garment. I had decided to design this without neck hole shaping (inspired by a sweater pattern I am knitting for my boys right now), not thinking about the fact that this little fellow does not have a neck. This could really be the rub. But, I am going to think positively!

I chose to use size 8 needles, because I liked the way the fabric came out on the swatch that I knit up last week. In retrospect, I might have chosen to go with size 7. I think the colorwork would have come out a tad crisper since this is such a soft yarn. I've only done stranded color before with 100% wool and it always looks so nice and sharp. This looks fine, but I think it could be better.

I have a chart created for the front and copious notes for everything else so far.

Recently, I heard about a few good sweater design books that I think I am going to consult for some assistance. I was trying to approach this really fresh - to see if I could creatively come up with a pattern, with the experience I have, by simply using patterns. It's not going badly, but I think it could be better. I will keep plugging away... until it is right. After all, "in every job there must be done, there is an element of fun!"



“Craft is the word of the decade,” says Murray Moss, founder of the design gallery Moss in New York. “It went from having the most pejorative meaning to being embraced.”

photo courtesy of Die Hipster Die!
Crafting has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. Some view it as a desire to connect with our past, or a movement to a 'softer' aesthetic, or, simply, an extension of the hipster milieu - like ironic facial hair on men. There are, as with all things that reach a tipping point, myriad theories for "why."

Perhaps it's our attempt to hold on to something "real" as our society moves farther and farther into the world of information and technology. Crafting recalls our history. Crafting results in a single, finished, imperfect product and adds a bit of beauty to the world. Crafting creates something that can't be digitized or duplicated. 

Our great-grandmothers did these activities out of necessity. Frugality was the primary reason to learn to cook, bake, sew, knit, etc. But there was also a cultural need. Cooking and baking were part of the woman's "job" and women used crafting as a way to stay busy and to socialize. Sewing, knitting, or quilting in a group was a great way to spend an afternoon gossiping with the girls.

Today, frugality doesn't even come into the equation. It's rarely, if ever, cheaper to make something by hand - including a meal. Cheap knit goods from China, fast food restaurants on every corner, and mass production, means that crafting today is exclusively about aesthetics and the pleasure of creating. Interestingly, this dynamic has also created a  big gap in the perceived value of  hand-created items. A "non-crafter" has no real sense of the time, effort, and cost associated with that gift they just got or that cool piece they just saw at the shop. For the crafter, that misunderstanding of the "value" of the finished item can represent a huge blow to the ego. When you spend three months knitting a baby blanket for someone ("every stitch is knit with love!") it's tough to see it given the same reaction as the one purchased from a big-box store.

I'd like to think that, as crafting becomes more widespread and legitimized, more people will recognize the beauty and value in hand-crafted items. I got my first taste of legitimacy when I saw the movie Handmade Nation at our local film festival. But, it was an indie film with a narrow release so it really wasn't changing too many perceptions. Today, however, the Wall Street Journal Magazine helped us take a great leap forward. In the story titled "A Gripping Yarn," the WSJ editors explore the phenomenon of neo-crafting in regard to home furnishing and interior decoration. It's an intriguing article in both the subject matter (knitted chairs??) and the validity it gives to the crafting movement.

For me, personally, this article represents the moment that my hobby became bonafide - legitimate and beyond scorn from those who give me "the look" when I knit in public. Now, if the NY Times will just do an in-depth article on the cost and effort to create something from scratch, maybe my sister will stop looking at my "homemade" gifts as though they're dead rats.

– Alex

Night Night

Happy Friday everyone!

I am still in sweater design mode over here at "Chez Ooo! Shiny!". The design process is going well and I'm really glad I chose a project of this size to get my knitwear designer feet wet. Hopefully, next week I will have something fun to show you! And if all goes well, I plan on having the pattern available as a free download too. Stay tuned...

Today I'm going to take a break from posting about the doll sweater to talk about a charitable crafting opportunity I recently discovered. It never ceases to amaze me how handcrafted items can bring comfort to those struggling.

Project Night Night 

 Project Night Night

Here is an excerpt from their site...

"Project Night Night donates over 25,000 Night Night Packages each year, free of charge, to homeless children who need our childhood essentials to feel secure, cozy, ready to learn, and significant.  Each Night Night Package contains a new security blanket, an age-appropriate children’s book, and a stuffed animal -- all nestled inside of a new canvas tote bag.  By providing objects of reliable comfort, Project Night Night  reduces trauma and advances the emotional and cognitive well-being of the children we serve."

They accept newly handmade "crib size" blankets. The blankets can be quilted, knitted, crocheted, no-sew or purchased. Book donations should be appropriate from age 0 to pre-teen. And stuffed animals should be smaller than 30 inches and new. Way more information is available on their site. There is a lot of room for creativity under their guidelines.

I just love the thought of making a cozy blanket and stuffed animal that can bring a smile to the face of a little one in chaos. It's just a small thing to me, but if it can help a child through rough times...it's priceless. Also, I ran across this book the other day and thought it was a neat resource for making a little doll for this care package.

Please remember that this is but one way to "craft for charity." My blog-mate, Alex, and I have also done projects from the Knitting for Peace book by Betty Christiansen and we're planning a sewing project to make dresses that will be donated to children in Haiti.

Thanks for stopping by. Please feel free to email us with comments or questions. We'd love to hear from you!


Back in the Saddle

At the end of last winter - March, I think - Cassandra and I attended the Madison Knitter's Guild Annual Knit-In. It's a one-day event with vendors and classes and speakers. We shopped and learned and we got to hear the Mason-Dixon Knitting gals speak, which was not only fun but also the inspiration for starting this blog.

A lot of good things came out of that day. We met some cool people and got to know others better. We bought some gorgeous yarns and patterns. I even went overboard and bought my favorite, but expensive, piece of jewelry - a sterling silver needle gauge.

It's always fun to be around a bunch of like-minded folks. I just wish there were more knitting men. Sometimes all that estrogen can get overwhelming. But I digress...

In the marketplace that day, one of the vendors had finished samples of the patterns she was selling. This was a brilliant marketing ploy because, if you liked the item, you could buy both the pattern and the yarn it was knit with right then and there. I fell in love with a particular shawl. It didn't hurt that the pattern was by Two Old Bags which is, in my world, a trusted pattern source. But honestly, if I'd had to buy it based on the photo on the pattern, I never would have. I didn't like the color or the ruffled edge.

The sample was made in a color I love and with a piquot edge. The real conundrum came with the yarn though. The sample was knit with a raw Irish wool that was so scratchy it felt like an SOS pad. This yarn gave the shawl the weight and shape that I loved but I couldn't imagine having that wool against my skin. So, I bought the pattern and went on a hunt for the right wool.

Fortunately, I didn't have to look very far. At the second yarn shop I visited, I found a wool that was almost identical in color and had a stiffness that would mimic the Irish wool a bit.

I started the shawl in May, but only worked on it for a few weeks. It's tough to knit with 100% wool in the summer. It's just too hot to have sitting in your lap and touching your hands. I got about 40% of the project done before it was retired for the season. But now, with the weather cooling off here, I'm feeling the call of the shawl and will be picking it back up starting today.

Here's my progress to date:

Hopefully, I can knock out the rest of it in the next month - just in time to wrap myself up against the brutal northern winter. I'd also like to be able to wear it to the next Knit-In so I can show it off to the vendor (who I'm assuming will be back.)

Next blog from me will be a progress report and any tips/tricks on the "features" of this pattern - eyelet and piquot edge. Keep your fingers crossed that I don't get derailed by a warm front.

- Alex

My New Design Process

 I am a knitter with a decent amount of projects under her belt. I'm comfortable with cables, stranded color, and a host of other techniques. But, please note, I have been a strict pattern follower. I follow the directions and marvel at the technical expertise the pattern writer must have to make it work just right. However, inside, I've always had a yen to design knitwear. And here comes the perfect project to try! The sweater for my little boy Waldorf doll. Small in scale and very manageable.

It is not in my nature just to cast-on and wing it. I have broken down the steps that I think will help in planning the design for this project.

Using a similar process to how I approach a graphic design project, I dove in with some sketching...

I should also mention that I had found some fun colors, in my yarn stash, that I thought I would use for inspiration when concepting. In the end, I came up with 3 concepts that all had a little something different about them. The one I'm going forward with is the one with the F on the front. I have such a thing for initials. Plus, I think it is sporty and boyish.

My next step was to work out some measurements...

I measured the doll, and with adding some room for ease, came up with what I think is the proper measurements for the actual sweater. Then, much to my shock, I knit a gauge swatch. I am a very guilty no-gauge-swatch knitter. But, it had to be done to make this process work properly. I didn't end up using my stash yarn, because for this design I wanted colors that had enough contrast to really show off the arm stripes and the letter. This little sweater will be knit in Spud & Chloe sweater yarn in the colorways Turtle (green) and Splash (blue). The suggested needle sizes for this yarn is 7 thru 9. I went with 8 because it made a nice flexible fabric but it was tight enough to show off the color work crisply.

Progress has also been made on the chart for the color work on the front with what I think will be the proper stitch counts. I realize completely that I may have to rip back, here and there, to make something bigger and smaller once I start knitting. This is my first design project and I don't want to get too cocky with what I think are my final measurements.

I plan on picking up stitches around the armhole once the front and back have been sewn together and working the sleeve in the round with dpns. It seems easier than knitting them up and setting them in later. We will see on that one!

In my next post I will share my wins and my fails on this project. I have never taken a class on designing knitwear, nor have I read anything that really would help with this process. The way I am approaching this is my own, egads! I'm totally open to getting helpful tips and reference suggestions. I know I have a lot to learn...and this is babysteps.



Maybe I'm being too hard on myself with the title of today's blog. Or maybe I deserve your scorn. You be the judge!

About 10 days ago, I blogged about my trip to Atlanta and about finishing my dragon scarf for the weekend's festivities. I also might have threatened to send live blog posts from the convention.


Fail. And fail.

I did, technically, finish the scarf. I finished the knitting portion of the project during the last panel on the last day. I did not, however, add the felt eyes or the smoke/fire for his nose.

This is me in the registration line on Thursday - knitting away.

You might note that I'm still on the tail at this point.... Why I thought I'd have this done by Friday, I'll never know. I did work on it every day while I was there - while in line waiting to hear celebrities talk; at lunch; at night while watching tv. I was a knitting fool. And, interestingly, knitting in public really brings out the best in people. Everyone talked to me. Everyone wanted to see what I was working on. And everyone had a knitting story to tell - mostly about their wife/sister/mother/best friend who knits.

The not-quite finished project actually came out really well. The stitches are much more even than on the first one I made and, since I already knew the pattern, I was able to correct some pattern problems on the fly.

Here's where it is today - no eyes, no fire coming out of his nose. But he looks pretty good nonetheless, even unblocked on my crappy faux wood desk.

My other fail - not blogging from the convention - is one that I'm okay with. I tend to forget from year to year how completely intense the weekend is. Forty thousand people squeezed into four hotels with programming from 10 a.m. until midnight each day. Needless to say, I'm too old for most of it. I'm definitely too old for the all-night parties. Generally, my energy runs out after about 12 hours. But we do a lot while we're there and we do it at a breakneck pace.

Some highlights included seeing the stars of Heroes, True Blood, I Dream of Jeannie, and Eureka. All did Q&A panels about their shows and their other projects. Barbara Eden is still beautiful and tells great "old Hollywood" tales. Most of the celebrities I saw this year were humble and grateful and fun to listen to. Makes you want to be friends with them, instead of just a fan.

My one real regret was not getting to see Adam Savage speak. I've seen him before and he's an outstanding presenter. Unfortunately, the bulk of 40K people thought the same thing and I couldn't get in the room. I also wish I'd spent some time in the SteamPunk rooms learning more about that phenomenon. There's a very appealing aesthetic to the entire movement that makes me want to be a part of it. It's crafty and creative like we here at Ooo! Shiny!

In the great scheme of things, I suppose my fails are pretty minimal. And, really, if we learn anything at all from crafting, it's that fails are good. They teach us patience and perseverance and that nothing can't be overcome.

So, fail away my friends and celebrate not being perfect with me.

- Alex

Cute as a button!

He's done! He's done! He has blond curly hair and blue eyes. I just love him!

I actually crocheted the dreaded little wig and it didn't kill me. For whatever reason I have an aversion to crochet. I knit like a fiend but a crochet hook gives me a shudder. I looked at the directions and a few youtube videos, trying to figure out what I was doing and it was no use. I ended up having to [humbly] ask a work acquaintance who crochets for some help. She started me off on the right foot and in no time I had a little blond wig all done. It was easy! I was so surprised that there wasn't a tutorial video specifically for this on youtube. I think I might have to make one and stick it out there at some point.

Embroidering the eyes and mouth was a cinch and I was so proud to be all finished. I conquered my shark! The hard part is over. I have to tell you, this little guy has a very nice weight and because of the lavender in the stuffing, smells awesome! The cotton knit supplied in the kit is so incredibly soft. This little guy is so cuddly.

Now on to the clothes! The kit came with some clothes patterns (mostly for girl dolls) that include simple elastic-waisted pants. I have some light tan baby corduroy in my fabric stash that will work nicely. For a top I think I'd like to knit a little striped sweater. I checked Ravelry for patterns and didn't see anything that tripped my trigger, so, I'm going to design my own. I've never done that before so I'm pretty excited to start on it! I also plan on making him a little superhero cape. Then, he will truly be finished...

Have a great weekend everyone!


Please, Fasten Your Seatbelts.

Air travel can be a wondrous thing. For the leisure traveler, the smell of diesel fuel and the roar of a jet engine hold the promise of adventure - or, at least, of something different from the day-to-day grind.

It's too bad that, in our post-9/11 world, air travel is now synonymous with cranky security people, long lines, cancelled flights, increased (or all-new) fares, and *shudder* taking off your shoes in a public place. In very short order, the airline industry has gone to shit and taken all the pleasure out of getting on a plane.

I'll admit that a lot of things were wrong with air travel prior to 9/11. Flying to one's destination had become as commonplace as commuting to work. Airfares had dropped to the point where anyone could fly and, as a result, everyone did. This brought us the era of flip flops, sweat pants, and giant shopping bags acting as carry-ons. Planes got smaller (somehow) and service got crappier. However, we still loved the anticipation.

Through it all, I've managed to retain that thrill of flying and I've been anticipating my Labor Day weekend trip for days. It helps that I'm excited about my destination and that (so far) my experience with AirTran has been great. But I still mourn the loss of the air travel of my youth. I miss hot, delicious meals served on china with a real knife and fork. I miss smiling stewardesses handing out plastic wings to clip on my lapel. I miss dressing up to get on a plane. Dressing up meant that the trip was something special. We could wear our pajamas when we travelled by car, but we wore dresses on an airplane.

Regardless of the sorry state of air travel, I'm grateful that I have the means and the time to take a trip. I'm pleased beyond belief to be headed to the great city of Atlanta to visit friends and attend Dragon*Con. And I'm thrilled to have hours of captive time to work on my dragon scarf. (You never thought I'd get there, did you??)

Here's my progress to date: I have two sequences of "spikes" left to do before I transition to the body pattern. I can't believe how quickly this one has come together compared to the purple one I made for my friend. I think that, with concerted airport knitting, I might just get this thing done before the convention actually kicks off on Friday morning! Keep your fingers crossed.

Oh...and wish me luck tomorrow morning. I'm flying standby and I have to be at the airport at 5a.m. It'll be interesting to see if I can keep my sunny outlook about flying in the face of that.

- Alex