Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

And now for something a little different

It’s no surprise a lot of knitting goes on around here.  I love knitting because it’s so portable – a few stitches on the bus, before class, while waiting for a doctor – and soon something beautiful arises from those stolen moments.  It took me several years before I was good enough that I actually liked what I made.  Most of my early projects were “frogged” over and over because, in my opinion, they weren’t worthy of existing.

But during break I have time at home which means it’s time to set aside the knitting and pursue the crafts that aren’t as portable.  I love sewing because it’s faster and the possibilities are limitless.  Unfortunately, because I’m less practiced and almost entirely self-taught, I’m not often pleased with the results.  And unlike knitting I can’t just “rip-it, rip-it” and start over.  No sir – once the fabric is cut it’s a done deal, which makes sewing even more intimidating.  But only practice is going to improve my skills, so I’ve spent some hours in front of the machine and here’s what I’ve come up with:

I’ve made two pairs of mittens using this fabulous tutorial.

Here’s P’s pair, made from his favorite sweater that finally got too hole-y to wear.

I lined them with horse print flannel because his name means “lover of horses” which gives us no end of amusement around here.  As a side note – I took scrap pieces of the sweater and needle felted them on the wrong side of the hole-y bits and you’d never know there had been holes if you weren’t looking for them.

I put these in his Christmas stocking and he said that it was one of the best presents he’s ever received – on par with the quilt from his mom and grandma.  🙂

Here’s my pair, made from a thick, felted, thrifted sweater and lined with fabric from XL wool/cashmere pants I once found in a garage sale free pile (score!!)

I needled felted on some fall-colored leaves with green yarn for a stem.  I’m not thrilled with the needle felting job – but every little bit of practice helps, right?

You’d never know from looking at them how many times I ripped sections out to sew them again.  sigh.

I’ve been dabbling a bit in making stuffed animals.  Again, the photo hides it well, but my skills are seriously lacking.  It’s cute, but it’s not what I wanted it to be.  Alas – practice, practice.

I do love this little infant-friendly felted wool tail!

I made this little wristlet using this fantastic tutorial.  It came out so cute!  It’s the first time I’ve inserted a zipper, and I’m very pleased with the results.  This cute little bag will be going with me on vacation next week!

It even has three little pockets on the inside.  If I were to make it again, I’d probably make a pocket on the opposite side to hold my phone.

P and I bought new curtains for our front room to replace the old-lady lacy ones that came with the house.  We ended up with linen I*KEA curtains that you cut to your desired length and then use iron-on fusible web to “hem” them.  As a result we ended up with lots of long, narrow scraps of linen.  I used a few of those scraps to make… napkins!

It’s my first time doing fusible applique so I was just playing around a bit.  I cut the flower and leaves freehand and used cookie cutters to outline the rest.

You can tell from the “Minnesota” napkin that there is a reason the instructions tell you to cut out your images in reverse!  Ooops!

I used this tutorial to make this adorable little fabric basket (how did people learn to craft before the internet and people’s generous tutorials??).

I found one slight error in the tutorial – when you cut the fabric for the lining it says to cut a piece 9 1/4″ x 12″.  That was too small for my basket and I had better luck with a lining that was 10 1/4″ x 12″.  Fold along the 12″ side so the 10 1/4″ sides make the opening.

I think this will live on my nightstand to catch all the little bits that land there – earrings, hairbands, etc.

I’ve still got more knitting to show you, so I’ll be back soon!

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A Few Stitches

December was a whirlwind of knitting and crafting.  I entirely lost track of all the projects, and unfortunately, many of them slipped through my fingers without being photographed.  But they all were finished, blocked, boxed, and gifted.  Most were received with heaps of enthusiasm, which is always both gratifying and surprising.  I’m embarassed to say this, but homemade gifts were… looked down upon when I was little.  But, both times and people change and I’m happy for the opportunity to make things for people who love and use them.

P’s Sweater.  It’s an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern (Saddle-shouldered) with Kn*itpicks Tweed (70% merino wool, 20% alpaca, 10% acrylic).  If the sleeves hadn’t been too long for me, I may very well have kept it.  It’s so soft and cozy.

P’s hat.  This fall, when I asked him if he wanted a new hat, he said yes.  I was pleasantly surprised when he asked for a hat that was red and cabled!  He typically asks for things that are plain and grey (or black).  It’s a lovely splash of excitement to his wardrobe!  It’s this hat knit up in a merino wool.

This cute little bunny is knit up in a merino wool for a friend’s baby, due in early January.  It’ll soon be gifted with the blanket below.

I do love this baby blanket.  So simple yet so beautiful.

And here is where I’ll sheepishly admit I didn’t get photos of the two mohawk hats I knit for my nephews, the two princess hats (and wands) I made for my nieces, the cute little bear hat for another niece…  I do have a few more items around the house I can still photograph, so I’ll be back for another round soon.


Coming off the needles

A few things have come off the needles as of late.  That doesn’t mean they’re all finished per se, but close enough.

The calorimetry.  I must have knit and frogged this at least seven or eight times.  I didn’t like the short row holes and it took a while to figure out how to neatly finish the pattern without them.  But the ninth or tenth time was the charm.

See?  Are the turns purty?  The final time only took about two hours to knit.  This thick, toasty wool topper has been seeing a lot of playtime so far this fall.  Love, love, love it.

Ok, so this doesn’t technically qualify as knitting.  It’s the quilted blanket I’m making from my dad’s old flannel PJs.

I’m hand quilting it, so it’s going to take a while.  But now that is colder I don’t mind sitting now and then to stitch on a warm quilt.  If the applique looks familiar the birds are simply sized up from this book.  I added the moon.  I just love how the flannel squares look like a twinkling night sky with a new moon and the shadow of two birds on a branch.  It’s so quintessentially my dad.

I’m nearly finished with P’s EZ’s Classic Brooks Sweater.  It’s a merino/alpaca/tweed blend and the yarn is so soft to work with.  Love.  The arms came out a little long, but the rest of the fit is really nice.  I had to rip back the epaulets in order to lengthen them, but it’s just an hour or two away from being blocked.

The baby blanket is done and just needs blocking.  It’s lovely.  Perhaps it’sa teeny bit itchy for new baby skin, but it will make a nice lap throw for the baby’s wool-loving parents or a cover for the stroller.  Their babe is due mid-January so I have no doubt it’ll get a lot of love.

And this little lovey just needs a face.  It came out better than I was expecting.

The garden’s last sunflower.  The garlic was planted earlier in the week and will be mulched on the next sunny, warmish day.  I love planting the spring garden, I love the lushness of the summer garden, and I love putting the garden to bed in the fall.  It’s a little sad to say goodbye, but spring will be here soon enough.

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On the Needles

Winter is blowing in fast this year – we got a hard freeze last night!  I lost only a few squash at home, but the farm was hit hard.  In preparation for the colder months, I’ve been knitting at a furious pace.  I’ve also had a low attention span, so there is an abundance of UFOs floating around our house.

The Sugar Bunny is the closest to completion, with only a few more appendages to be sewn on.  But I’m not entirely happy with how this project is turning out, and so it sits, with the legs, eyes, and tail, in the bottom of my knitting bag.

I’ve been wanting a calorimetry for a long, long time.  I found a lovely, dense, wooly green wool at the Bayfield farmer’s market this summer.  I’ve since started the project three times and ripped it out each time.  I don’t like the holes from the wrap and turns.  I need to review Cat Bordhi’s conceal and wrap, but I just haven’t gotten time.  Some day, hopefully before summer rolls around again, I’ll knit up this lovely little project and have a warm, fuzzy half-hat for my head this winter.

I’m still picking away at the Cable Sampler Blanket.  It’ll be at least a year and a half before it’s done.  But hopefully it will get done because it’d be so cozy and purty.

And here is the third try for P’s sweater.  The first one I stole.  The second didn’t fit him well, so I gave it away.  Hopefully, the third time’s the charm on this one.

This is a 100% linen washcloth and face-towel set.  I’m doing the entire thing in linen stitch, so it’s taking an eternity, but I adore the feel of densely knit linen.

And, the most recent addition: the simple, elegant Quadrature.  I modified the pattern slightly to work it entirely in the round.  It’s for a friend’s baby, due in January.  For once in my life I’m getting a head start.  This is the first time I’ve knit something for a knitter, and it’s both scary and an absolute delight.  I’ve ripped out large sections several times, afraid a knitter will notice the imperfections.  But it’s going to be a deliciously warm and delightful blanket when it’s done, and, as a fellow knitter, I know she’ll appreciate just how much work and love went into each stitch.  If it weren’t so obviously a baby blanket intended for a sweet little one, I might have a hard time letting it go.  But it’ll get so much love and use, it’s a delight to make.

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Greatest Accomplishments

Over the past few days a f*cebook friend has been encouraging her readers to “like” her employer and post our greatest accomplishments on their “wall”.  In exchange for this modest act, the employer will donate a dollar to a wonderful charity.

I’d love to make a (free) donation to this particular charity but I can’t bring myself to swallow the bait.  Aside from feeling co-opted into boosting the FB credibility of business with whom I’ve had no particular experience, I don’t want to publicly post my greatest achievement.  It’s far too personal for the FB world.  And if I post something “lesser” and most socially acceptable, I feel like I’m denying my authentic self.  So, with that in mind, I’m going to post my greatest achievements here, and then make a donation to another very worthy charity – a scholarship fun for the kids I work with in the summer.  Having been in some of their shoes in the not-so-distant past, I know how much it means to have people believe in you.

1. Surviving years of trauma, abuse, and abandonment and coming out the other side as a compassionate human being.

2. Going to therapy and facing my demons.

3. Going back to school to finish a degree and find a better life for myself.  And succeeding more than I thought possible.

4. Choosing a spouse who is more than “not abusive and mean” but is kind, thoughtful, and endlessly supportive.  Not to mention funny and handy around the house.

5. Writing letters (and sending them) to my mom that hold her accountable for the sh*t she put me through.  Even if she never responds.

6. Learning to knit.  And getting pretty damn good.

7. Going to work on a farm, even though I was terrified and no idea what I was doing.  That job changed my life and helped me find loves that have sustained me.

8. Travelling around the world on a shoestring.  That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I never, ever regret doing it.

9. Not owning a car until I was nearly 30.  This one is just for fun.

10. Trusting myself enough to love others.  And letting myself love the kids in my life.  I don’t know how to say this without sounding weird, but here it goes: as a young child, the “love” I got from the most prominent adults in my life was perverse and harmful.  So learning how to be around kids has been hard for me.  How do I interact with them without being perverse and harmful?  I do not, in any way, consider myself a threat to children, but sometimes I worry too much about what to do, what to say, how to be appropriate.  Thankfully, this has lessened with time and exposure to other adults who are really good with kids.  I think I’ve learned a lot, and now I feel pretty comfortable with them, but it’s been a hard-won battle.

11.  Learning to cook.  And being a great bread baker.

12. Moving forward even when I want to stop.  Refusing to surrender to the anxiety and depression that haunt my mind.  Trusting myself and the future enough to keep moving ahead, even if it’s only a small shuffle.

13.  Learning how to garden and identify plants.  This gives me so much pleasure.

14. Allowing myself to dream.  Dreams are considered dangerous when you’re poor with no future, but I let myself dream anyway.  And many of them came true.

15.  Walking away from a faith that had, at one point sustained me, but wasn’t working anymore.  When it stopped being real and started being a facade, I swallowed my fear of hell and damnation and decide to try life as an agnostic.  I haven’t looked back.

This list, by no means exhaustive, is the current surface layer of which I am most proud.  To be sure, there are kinks and imperfections, and I haven’t achieved perfection in any one of these.  But they are the building blocks of the better life I live everyday.  Sometimes I weep, hard and long, when I contemplate my life had I succumbed to the statistics and uncertainties.  But for reasons I don’t completely understand, I didn’t.  In part it’s because I couldn’t, because a few people loved me and pulled me onward, because strangers whispered encouragement in my ear when I couldn’t stop crying.  In part it’s because teachers worked patiently to teach me, because pastors gently encouraged me, and because the when the sun shines it’s so very warm.  It’s because of nature and nurture, because of biology and mystery, because I had to keep moving for fear I’d freeze to death if I stopped.   But mostly it’s because a few people believed in me.  And for that I thank them daily, even if they can’t hear, even if sometimes the words get stuck in my throat and my breath is caught in my lungs.  But thankfulness, despite it all, is what feeds and sustains me.  So thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Finding Room For Beauty

When I planted my first community garden plot several years ago, the garden organizer suggested I plant flowers, too.  I couldn’t imagine planting flowers – what a waste of space.  If I couldn’t eat it, I wasn’t interested.

This year I planted my veggie garden with all the usuals – potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets… But I spent most of my early spring gardening busting sod for new beds of… flowers.

In went daisies and coneflower, cosmos and lobelia, oenothera and columbine.  I planted sedum and lamb’s ears, two varieties of baby’s breath, lupine, delphinum, and foxglove.  I started violas, bachelor’s buttons, and calendula from seed in my precious, limited seed starting space.  And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

They’re beautiful and I love watching them bloom.  Previously I couldn’t imagine taking garden space from plants with physical purpose, plants that help me survive.  Beauty was a luxury I didn’t dare afford.

But this year’s obsession with flowers has visually demonstrated a major shift in my thinking.  Beauty, comfort, and enjoyment are important, and I can make room for them in my life.  It’s not just the flowers, but a way of thinking that embraces intangible benefits.  It’s the willingness to feed my soul instead of just my body.  It’s an acknowledgement that I don’t need to simply survive…

…I can thrive.

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Unexpected Victory

Crying, sobbing, screaming.  Heavens almighty the last few days have been awful.  On Friday I felt the best I had in weeks.  The sun shined, I was productive, the magnolias started blooming.  Saturday was good, too, in a mute sort of way.  I transplanted hundreds of plants in a grey, warm greenhouse, listening to the rain hit the roof.  It was pleasantly humid and warm, the light comforting, the plants vibrant.  As I left the farm I found a perfect robin’s nest – with four warm, blue eggs.  I touched them before I realized what I was doing and the hope they contained settled into my body.

There was a sweet, thoughtful funeral for P’s grandma.  Then lots of time to catch up with family both near and far.  And later, I don’t know why, the sobbing returned with a fury Saturday night.  I could calm down enough to sleep only after P read me stories from Dr. Seuss.  On Sunday morning P made me Mickey Mouse pancakes at my request – with the syrup from our Norway maple.  Then I cried as P sent me off to work on Sunday morning.  I sobbed hysterically all the way to the farm, screaming and screaming.  Awful, godawful, I tell you.

My only moment of focus came as I fully inspected the bees Sunday afternoon.  I opened the hive and there they were, humming, piled four or five deep, working diligently.  I forgot my veil and worked only with gloves.  I moved slowly, intentionally, with a heart full of wonder.  The bees flared up occasionally, making my heart race, but I stepped aside until I calmed myself.  I pulled out three frames.  I gently knocked heaps of bees from one frame and marveled, absolutely breathless at the perfectly hexagonal yellowish comb they were pulling from the foundation.  It was miraculous how they, in such a crowded disjointed frenzy, created such perfection.  I held the frame skyward, the cloud-muted sun behind my back, and peered into the tiny cells.  And there they were – what I was looking for – miniscule eggs centered in each cell.  The queen had been accepted and was laying eggs.  The colony was healthy.  I felt calm and peaceful for the only time that day.

I went home early.  The fields were soaked, the greenhouse nearly maxed out, I exhausted from sadness.

And the crying, the heaving, the single-mindedness continued.  I, instead of school projects, read website after website about trauma and abuse.  I was trying to find sense in all the sadness.  I reluctantly called P’s attention to all the particularly salient details, over and over.  I wanted to give him a break, but I couldn’t stop talking. He eventually went into the kitchen to wash dishes.  I felt bad, needy, tense.  The combination of tension and banging pots escalated my anxiety.  I stood on a bleak and windy precipice.  I felt, for a fleeting moment, I had a choice.  Surrender to the escalation or shut down.  I, for the first time ever, surrendered.  I fell off a mental cliff, holding my hands to my ears, sobbing loud enough to drown out any and all noise.  It was dark, horrifying, endless.  I fell, and fell, and fell.  Soon I felt P’s hand on my head and I startled, but soon I went off again, sobbing and sobbing, trying to keep any sound at bay.  P sat down and fell out of my peripheral vision.  I screamed.  I couldn’t see him, I could feel a hand, I didn’t know where I was.  I leapt to my feet, grabbing a blanket, and slumped down, back to the wall, whispering, “no surprises, no surprises, please, please, no surprises.”

I woke up crying this morning, entirely overwhelmed by anxiety.  I realized I’ve been anxious almost continually for fifteen-odd years.  I just compartmentalized it, had different names for it depending how it surfaced.  When I felt it in the morning I thought it was because I had a busy day.  If I’d just get up and get to it, the feeling would go away.  When it surfaced as I got dressed I thought it was because I had been eating too much lately.  If I’d just get some control over myself the feeling would go away.  When the phone would ring I thought it was because I wasn’t very graceful on the phone.  If I could just be more socially capable, the feeling would go away.  When it would surface as I worked on homework I assumed it was because I was stupid, incompetent, or poorly organized.  If I could just get myself together the feeling would go away.  It would rise on the way to a social gathering and I wished I didn’t stutter, wished I were funnier, because then the feeling would go away.  As I cooked five things for potlucks and still felt it, I figured it was because my debts to others were so deep I couldn’t pay them.  If I could figure out a way to pay them back, the feeling would go away.  If it rose out of “nowhere” I knew it was because I had a phone call to return or a letter to write, or a mother to forgive.  If I would just get a handle on my life the feeling would go away.  As I lay down at night and my mind would race I thought I just needed to learn to relax, because then the feeling would go away.  But no matter how much I did, no matter how hard I tried, the feeling never, ever went away.  In fact it was escalating and getting more intense with time, putting higher, more intense, demands on me.

But this morning I realized none of that was true.  All day, every day what I had been experiencing was anxiety.  I compartmentalized and labeled it as a way to move through my day.  I took direct responsibility as a way to create a sense of control over that which I had no control.

I was washed out to sea this morning, on a turbulent tide of anxiety.  I couldn’t get out of bed.  I couldn’t breath.  I couldn’t even compartmentalize it anymore, and, therefore, I couldn’t find a handle.  I was paralyzed, horrified, completely overwhelmed.

But I did get up.  I got dressed.  I didn’t brush my hair.  I walked to the bus, paid my fare, and sat down.  I didn’t knit.  I walked to class and listened in a fog, fighting back tears, fighting back the darkness.

But the day kept moving.  I warmed up.  I found myself getting engaged in conversations, laughing, feeling the deep dark dissipate.  I called a friend to offer support that I didn’t think I had.  By the end of the day, I felt good.  I had a meeting I didn’t prepare for.  I admitted it and didn’t beat myself up.  I laughed with friends.  I did homework.  I didn’t feel anxious.  When P asked how my day was I said, “good” and I meant it.

Progress.  It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but it’s there.  Hiding in little corners and in quiet conversations.  It’s there lurking on cold, cloudy, hard days.  It peeks out, baiting me to move forward, tempting me with visions of what life will be like when I come out the other side.  I can do this, I will do this.  I won’t let the SOB win anymore.


A few things

I’ve got a pair of wool socks on the needles for P.  It’s another Cat Bordhi pattern.  I just love how flexible her patterns are and how nicely they fit.  This photo is a few weeks old.  I’m now just finishing up the leg.  They’ve been stalled, however, as my wrist has been awfully sore lately.  (the light and dark sock were NOT intentional – it’s from the same ball of  yarn!  They just ended up this way.  P is convinced they’re just going to hang out in the lost-mate bin because, looking so different, they’ll never be properly paired.  Of course I’m hoping they’ll be so comfortable he’ll always be looking for them…)

I think this lovely piece of the knitting is the culprit behind my sore wrists.  Cabling and knitting continental just don’t mix for me.  Something about the leverage and angles and tension… I need to knit English when I cable, but I loathe holding the yarn in my right hand.  Anyway, this beauty is the first of many, many pieces for the sample cable afghan I’m working on.  It’ll be ages until it’s finished, especially my wrists keep rebelling.

These fingerless mitts are for P.  They were suppose to be a Christmas present, but ended up being a January present.  It’s a lovely wool and silk mix and they almost shimmer in the sunlight (in a manly way, of course).  They’ll be so nice for springtime!

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A Homemade Christmas

We had such a lovely holiday.  We had mountains of delicious food, cookies galore, and so many dear friends and family from both near and far.  Many of the gifts given and received were both thoughtful and homemade.  Let me share a few highlights.

P and I made and decorated sugar cookies using this recipe.  So, so good.

We made mint slice biscuits using this recipe, but omitting the chocolate coating.  They’re pretty good, although they’re a lot of work.

P’s family did a holiday gift basket exchange instead of individual gifts.  It was so much fun to put together a single basket rather than running around town to buy gifts for a dozen people.  I made a basket with a “winter warmer” theme and put in a handknit scarf, brownie mix in a jar, homemade hot cocoa mix, alcoholic whipped cream, beeswax candles, and a bottle of irish cream.  It was the one of the most frequently stolen basket during the swap, so I think it was a hit!

I made the beeswax candles from beeswax I brought back from Peru.  They smell divine.

The hot cocoa mix is made using unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla sugar, salt, cayenne, and a little cornstarch.  I no longer buy commercial hot chocolate mix because this is tastier and more affordable!  The “brownies in a jar” recipe is found here.

My sister made this wonderful peppermint sugar body scrub.  I can’t wait to try it – yum!

My foster mom made these awesome pillowcases for everyone in the family.  Mine is this fantastic mushroom fabric.  I love it so!

P and my foster mom share a love of baseball, so it’s only fitting that his pillowcase is made from baseball fabric.

What were your holiday highlights this year?

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Knitting Wrap Up, 2010

I’m a process knitter.  That is, I enjoy the process of making something just as much, perhaps more than, the finished product.  I love how, with time and patience, a string can be become a useful, well-loved fabric.  I love how I can transform the essence of time itself, each knitted object holding long conversations, quiet bus rides, contemplative moments, tears, even holding and transforming anxious or angry moments into something beautiful.  Being more attached to the process and less attached to the product, I typically finish what I start.  There are very few UFOs hanging around my house.  And, let’s be honest, I’m frugal and refuse to buy new needles if I have a pair already, so those projects must get frogged or finished so I can move on to something else.  But this year I became a rather, uh, serious knitter.  What used to be a casual hobby became a near-obsession.  I’ll forget my keys or phone, but I never leave the house without a knitting project in tow.  Thus I now have more UFOs than ever.  And last week I got a wild hair about finishing them ALL before the end of the year.  Let’s do an inventory, shall we?

Ah, the dragonfly washcloth.  This is the most recent project, started in a moment of desperation when I needed a mindless project for some travels, but none of the others were travel-worthy.  A good hour and this will be finished up in no time.  No problem.


The thrummed mittens.  These lovelies are lined with twisted pieces of wool roving.  They’re puffy and delicious, so warm I want to crawl inside them.  I just have one thumb and general finishing to wrap these up.  I should get on it because I need these with the nearly sub-zero temps we’ve been having!


P’s sweater.  This is a funny story.  I made P a sweater earlier this year, but the neck came out a little feminine.  I decided that I liked it.  So I kept it and started another for him.  Afterall, it was unlikely I’d be able to replicate my mistake.  So I’ve been working on this for too long, all the while I’ve been enjoying my new super warm hand knit sweater.  All I need to finish is the neck and collar.  So close, yet so far away.


And here are the socks I started a few weeks ago.  As socks make such excellent travel projects, never becoming too bulky and taking a while to complete, this has been my bus knitting for the past several weeks.  All that remains is binding off.


So why don’t I just finish up all these projects?  Well, friends, it’s the fault of my Muir shawl.  This super snuggly 100% baby alpaca project has been looming all year.  It’s been ripped and reknit several times and this time I might actually finish.  But the 32 row lace repeats take forever, and I can’t travel with it because it’s such delicate knitting.  Everytime I take it from the house I mess up and have to frog several rows.  Grr.  So it’s been consuming all of my home knitting.  I only have 1-3 repeats left (depending on my patience) and final finishing.  It’s sooo close (comparatively) and I really want it done before I travel over winter break.  I think it’d make such a comforting, packable and warm shawl for a plane ride.


And then there is the top secret Christmas knitting that I haven’t even casted on yet.   Can I do it?  I hope so!  I want to start the year with a clean slate so I can cast on for the Cables Untangled Sampler Afghan.  It will be my biggest project to date!  What a process this will be.


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