It's Done

At least I think it is. Part of me keeps threatening to do some more hand quilting with embroidery floss. But the other part is telling me this thing is so busy that no one will even see it.

 I just love it. And my little bear does too. There was something really sweet about the way he hopped into bed and snuggled up underneath his new quilt as soon as it was done. Makes it all worth it somehow.

This quilt uses earthy tones (as did my previous quilt), but with more of an emphasis on orange/orchre. The blocks included are: log cabins, Dutchman's puzzle, pinwheels, Ana Maria's feather block, a large Dresden plate, and more. All of them were so much fun to make and I'm sure they will be showing up again in my upcoming quilts.

Speaking of upcoming quilts, the next one has begun...


PS - Happy Birthday Alex!

Not-So-Epic Fail

Recently, Cassandra entertained you with a the story of a project that was not as successful as she'd hoped. Of course, all failures teach us something and, in this case, Cassandra learned about accurate measuring and the value of knowing someone who is a size or two smaller than you who would really love that handmade "mistake". 

I'm here today to share my not-so-epic failure (of which there have been many but this is the most recent.)

As you may know, I've been knitting a lot of Yoda hats recently. And, because I'm a person who prefers to finish one project before I start another, I waited WAY too long to get going on a scarf for a friend's birthday. So, at his party on Saturday, I showed up with a 1/3 knitted piece and the promise that it would be finished soon. He seemed to like the color (it's his favorite) and, I'm pretty sure he'll be happy with the finished project. 

So... how is this a failure, you may ask?

Well, what happens when you rush is that you really don't think things through all the way. And here's where I failed (and learned stuff):

I didn't have enough yardage in the skein of choice to do the entire scarf so I decided to embellish with some stripes of a coordinating color. However, while I chose a great color in a complementary yarn type - the main part is alpaca and the stripes are merino - I allowed myself to believe that the sport-weight alpaca and the DK weight merino were close enough to "blend".

As I was working on the piece, I started to question the decision of using two different weights. But, as I mentioned, I was in a hurry and I thought, "hell, who's going to notice??"

Also, because I was in a hurry, and I wanted to show it to my friend at his party, I wove in all the ends at the stripes. *facepalm*  I can never take it apart now... 

My dear friend, D, who will always be honest, looked at it and said, "This doesn't look like something you'd knit. It's just not as good as your usual work." Ugh. And, of course, the alpaca is long discontinued so it's not like I can just go out and buy more.

Needless to say, I'm going to finish what I started and hope that my friend sees the love that I knit it with and will graciously overlook the failure in my work.

Keep calm and knit on, friends.

- Alex

Endings and Beginnings

My latest "big project" is almost complete. This would be a queen-sized bed quilt for my youngest boy. I dropped off the pieced quilt top and back to my long-arm quilter friend, Stitchlilly, a while ago and was so excited to find out it was ready. When I picked it up, I was blown away. Oh my! What she does is an art I tell you! If I may wax poetic for a's like I formed my creation, and she breathed life into it. Stunning. But, this a just a tease. I'm not going to show you the finished quilt today.

Here's a peek! I've been stitching and stitching.
Nope, I'm still hand-sewing the bound edges. Miles and miles of binding. Easy work, but there's a lot of it. I actually rather like this stage of the quilt process. You are at the end of the line with the project, yet, you are forced to slow down. Almost savor your way to the finish line. I'm excited for this long-haul project to be complete, but a little sad that it's over. Bittersweet.

I get to do something girly!
I'm drowning my sorrows in fat quarters. I have finished a new design and am diving into it this weekend. This time for my daughter. Gone is the boyish palette of earth tones. Her preferences lean heavily into pink, red, orange, and gray. It's going to be gorgeous. I sure hope she thinks so too!


Size Matters

I've been knitting hats. Lots and lots of hats. It started with the Baby Yoda hat (and kimono) that I made for a friend's new baby. Then, I loved the pattern so much, I made it again for a 1-year old and another for an adult.

One-year-old Yoda. Not too enthusiastic.
Sizing patterns has never really been my strong suit so I went online to try to find a size chart for heads. Unsurprisingly, I found one that I've been using and (so far) it has been wonderfully accurate. Of course, it stands to reason that some people have big or small heads and this won't be perfect for everyone but, if you want a good, average size, it works.

When in doubt, have the person measure their noggin and then you can make it to fit them exactly.

This is where you start. Adjust for fit (like if you want to cover the ears).

Bev's Country Cottage ( has size charts for hats, socks/slippers, sweaters, blankets, and even baby measurements. This is a treasure trove - especially if you like to create your own patterns. The only thing that's missing is an approximate number of stitches to cast on in order to reach the diameter you want. I'm working on capturing that, using average sized yarn (DK/Worsted) and needles (US7-8). Once I have a fairly good list, I'll post it here for download. Or... If anyone already has this, please feel free to put the link to it in our comments section.

I may be hat-girl for a while so I apologize in advance if my crafty pursuits get kind of boring. :)  It's winter and hats seem like a good endeavor.

Knit on!

- Alex

Hell in a Handcart

The project was started with such gusto. I sewed the work with such care. I even blogged about it. But..

Oh, I might as well just come out and say it. The Schoolhouse Tunic I was making for myself turned out too small. I measured myself and picked the size that seemed right, and I even cut the pieces out a little larger than needed (to allow for tailoring). As I sewed together the pieces and saw the garment take shape, it became pretty obvious, pretty quickly, that this tunic would be a little too snug.

I spent a couple days just looking at my dress form wearing the top portion of the garment. Feeling sorry for myself. But, in the end, it was my fault. The ladies would tell me no different.

Did I make a muslin? Nope. Will I make one next time? Damn straight. Lesson learned.

I ripped a few seams out to see if I could loosen it up a bit. Nope.
And then it occurred to me, my mom is small. This will fit her, it may even need to be brought in a little. So, it's hers. And I think she'll love it. I'm going to make lemonade here.

After a trip to the store for some muslin...I'll be back in the game. Cocky sewing attitude in check.


PS - I'm sharing this with y'all because I know it looks like this sort of thing doesn't happen to us crafty bloggers. We like to show you the sunshine and often hide the rain. Alex and I think it's important to show some of our fails because it's our way of encouraging you. I fell off the horse, and I'm getting back on. Making doesn't come easily to anyone, no matter how it looks. So never let your challenges stop you from keeping on.

Growing Garbage

When I was a kid, I had a book with Fisher-Price level "experiments" meant to stimulate an interest in science-y things. I don't remember anything from the book except for one thing, the "how to grow carrot tops" experiment. 

The line drawings in the book were perfect for a very young mind - simple, clear, and vaguely cartoonish - and the instructions were easy to follow. I was obsessed with the idea that I could take the cut tops of the carrots and grow frilly green bits from them. Somehow, I knew that I wasn't going to get actual carrots from the growth, just a cool garden of green.

The instructions said to place a layer of small stones (like the kind you put in the bottom of a fish tank) in a container and cover the stones with water. Then you take the cut carrot tops, preferably with some healthy green shoot left on it, and place on top of the stones. Place in a sunny window and, voila!, you get fresh growth. Endlessly fascinating. 

Sadly, I have no memory of my mother actually helping me do this experiment...

Perhaps that's why, lo these decades later, I still want to grow stuff from old kitchen scraps. Which would explain why THIS book is now in my house:

LOOK! Even the drawings are similar to the ones from my childhood book!! It was fate.

Basically, Don't Throw It, Grow It by Deborah Peterson is an expansion on the carrot top idea - grow decorative (not fruiting/vegging) stuff from the plant scraps you would normally toss out. Vegetables, fruits & nuts, and herbs & spices each have a chapter. Then, just for fun, there's a chapter on plants from Latin America and plants from Asia. I guess they assume that some of us have mercados and Asian markets at our disposal. The best part is that they kick off the book with a great chapter on the basics of growing plants, boldly proclaiming that there's no such thing as a black thumb. :)  While it's written for adults, I think that a precocious 8 year old could probably get a lot out of this book and maybe remember it 40 some odd years later. I'm just sayin'.

In retrospect, I wonder if my early exposure to that book on growing carrot tops was what started my love of gardening or if my obsession was an indicator of things to come. Either way, it's January and it's cold... and I'm thinking about planting. :)

Happy gardening, friends.

- Alex

Christmas Dinner

Yeah, I know it was a couple of weeks ago, but there's a story. Isn't there always?

A few days before Christmas I did a run to Costco. I needed a few things and, while there, realized that I could buy nearly all my Christmas dinner supplies as well - in giant quantities, of course.

For those of you with a Costco membership, I don't have to explain the wonder of their meat department. And, because it was just before the holiday, they were seriously stocked up. After debating with myself for a while between a beef roast or a lamb roast, I called my son and let him decide. We ended up with lamb.

So, the dinner menu consisted of roast lamb, artichokes, creamed greens (like creamed spinach but add swiss chard and kale), brussel sprouts with bacon, and roasted mixed fingerling potatoes. Yum!

On Christmas morning I started brunch by putting the bacon in the broiler. If you've never broiled bacon, give it a try - it's super easy and less messy than any other method I've found. I went about prepping the other items and about five minutes later I realized I wasn't hearing, or smelling, the bacon. Sure enough, the broiler and, as it turned out, the oven were both broken. So much for the lamb roast! I considered other cooking methods but none would work, for a variety of reasons. So, we had sides for dinner and the potatoes were mashed instead of roasted. It worked. We were full and didn't really miss the meat (too much).

The oven eventually got fixed and the roast got cooked. It came out great and has been enjoyed for three meals so far. So, for today, I thought you guys might enjoy a few of my Christmas dinner recipes - easy to cook and very satisfying. Bon appetite!

Lamb Roast

Feeds a small army

1 leg of lamb (I used boneless, 4.5 lbs)
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
8 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
3 T chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove any webbing that's holding the roast together. Rinse the roast in cold water and pat dry. Reshape the roast in your roasting pan and, using your hands, rub the lamb all over with the lemon juice. Pat the garlic and rosemary evenly over the surface of the meat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Place the lamb in the oven and roast for 30 minutes to brown. Reduce heat to 350 and continue to cook until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the roast registers about 145 degrees for medium-rare. Remove lamb from pan and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

4-6 servings

4 strips thick-cut bacon
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
1/2 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, then roughly chop. In same pan with bacon fat, melt butter over high heat. Add onions and Brussels Sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and toss bacon back into pan. Serve immediately.

OPTIONAL: My son is a big fan of bacon but not, necessarily, of brussel sprouts so I added diced apple for the last 5 minutes of cooking to add some sweetness to the dish.

Creamed Mixed Greens

4 servings

2 pounds fresh mixed, dark greens (spinach, kale, chard), washed and tough stems removed
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream

Chop the greens and set aside. Melt the butter in medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the greens and cook, stirring, just until the greens are fully wilted. Add the cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and cook until the cream is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

My Ladies

Over 20 years ago I was given my first sewing machine. It wasn't new (dated from about the late 1960's) but was seemingly never used and in perfect working order. I had such a desire to sew something but knew absolutely nothing about where to start. I needed help.

These were the days before YouTube and the Internet, and how-to books from the library read like stereo instructions. My best bet was personal instruction. I eagerly signed up for a "sewing 101" class at my local community college.

I still remember how excited I was on my first night of class. The room was full of a lot of other women my age (at the time that would have been about 22-23) that I chatted with in-between instruction. They were great fun and we all had so much in common. I left my class eager to come back the next week.

A few days later I got a letter in the mail. Apparently this class was too full and to even it out they were switching me to another class held by a different teacher. It was disappointing, but I figured the other class would be just like the one I was no big deal.

The next week I arrived at my new class and was more than a bit surprised. From the looks of it, no one in this classroom was below the age of 65 (including the teacher). When I walked in with my sewing machine in hand the entire room was watching. But the teacher came and introduced herself to me right away, and made me feel immediately at home.

I learned quickly that this class was going to be far different than the one I had previously attended. There was no step-by-step beginner instruction through our patterns as there was in the other class. The reason for that was simple. Every woman in that room was a veteran seamstress. When I say veteran, I'm not just talking about their years behind a sewing machine. They were expert tailors and some even had been costume mistresses. (And made a point to mention that they were NOT quilters. Ahem.) They used this class as their own personal garment sewing club. I was the only beginner in that room.

The weeks that followed were magical. I had a room full of kindly instructors who were more than happy to patiently stop their own work to give me guidance. Before long I was a really confident seamstress myself. I finished one project after another and eagerly signed up for another term with "my ladies" after the first one was complete. Those ladies gave me so much more than sewing skills with their encouragement.

I really can't recall why I didn't sign up for a 3rd term. Who when you're 23 blows you around like a leaf in the wind. So, I never saw those ladies again. But I've sewn on. And every time I begin a garment sewing project, I think of them. Always I do.

The reason why I'm bringing this up is because my mother just gifted me with a dress form and a couple books on tailoring. Last Saturday, as I was adjusting my form to fit my figure and cutting out pattern pieces, the ladies were in my head. I cannot remember their names any longer, and the faces are fuzzy...but their words haven't left me. The advice, the tips and tricks, and the encouragement. I want to get back to doing more garment sewing for myself this year, and they are definitely coming along for the ride.

Thank you ladies, wherever you are.