Monday, October 27, 2014

House hunting and soul searching

Dear Mrs. Crafty,

Let's talk about house hunting. We've seen so many houses: Cape cods with additions stacked on top and closets leading to the roof. Victorians updated in the '80s, with shag-carpeted bathrooms and Pepto-Bismol-pink walls. Mid-century ranches with updated kitchens but the original, 1950s-era furnace and aluminum-framed, single-pane windows. Bungalows with master bedrooms connected to nurseries. Suburban dream houses gone to waste in the downturn, stinking of moldy basements. Finally, we saw our future house but had our hopes dashed briefly: The traditional two-story house with a great floor plan, beautiful lot, and family-friendly neighborhood that got pulled off the market when we wanted to make an offer.

House-hunting led to some soul-searching for me. I'd gotten used to living in the city of Chicago, commuting by train and taking cabs for special occasions, strolling for miles through dense neighborhoods, never more than a few blocks from a neighborhood market, coffee shop or bus stop. I liked being a young, urban professional who tried new restaurants, went to street festivals, and popped in to the Art Institute on random days.

But this whole "return to my Ohio roots" is all about focusing on family, affordable living, a little bit of green space, and a comfortable life. I've been a married, self-sufficient adult for many years now, and I'm starting to see a lot of logic in (gasp) THE SUBURBS. Especially since my office is in the 'burbs, my parents live nearby, and we have old friends in the area. But it's hard to make that transition to a new sort of life.

My teenage self is all, "You're not cool!" And my current self responds, "Correct. I like baking, short commutes, and goofy faces to make my baby giggle." I'm recognizing that I can be a creative, family-focused person, and those two qualities don't contradict each other. Nor do they require me to live in a big city or in a dilapidated house.

Do I still want to try new restaurants and soak up local culture? Sure. But is that my routine five days a week? No. I'm in a pretty dedicated "family and domesticity" phase.

Along the way in this house hunt, I've asked, "How will I know when we find the right place? Will lightning strike? Will angels sing? Will I get a tingly feeling in my toes?"

Just when I was at my wit's end, a tiny glimmer of hope emerged. We grabbed on to the mythical beast called "Suburbia" and rode it to home-buying victory. We made an offer on the traditional two-story and added a heartfelt letter sharing our daydreams for our family. The sellers decided that they were ready to downsize and we agreed on a price. We're hoping to move by late November. It turns out I'm ready for the suburbs.

Dreaming of my future home,
Mrs. Snacky

Photos from the Library of Congress here, here and here

Friday, October 24, 2014

Satisfying a difficult customer: A pattern for "husband mittens"

On my first date with my husband, I showed him some of my knitting. He inspected it, asked questions, and finally told me how cool it was that I could make things. Clearly, an early indication that he was a keeper! Ever since that fateful day, he's asked me to make lots of things for him. Some are reasonable requests (e.g. sweater, hat, mittens) and others only allow me to stare at him with that not-a-chance look (e.g. snake hat that looks like it is eating his head, a complete suit, a life-size lobster, a sand worm from Dune).

His most recent request was better gloves.

I had made him a pair of gloves to his specifications three years ago:

  1. Super soft (made with baby alpaca)
  2. Fingertip-less (to use his smartphone)
  3. Black and grey to match his coat
All of that was a mistake (except the color) and totally my fault. I knew better.

In the end, the gloves became super fuzzy. Baby alpaca is not a great material for gloves because they rub a lot. Also, no fingertips left some seriously cold hands. His proposed (and rejected) suggestion: Knit tiny caps for all 8 exposed fingers. Once again, I just gave him the look.

This summer, I decided to ignore him and knit mittens for him that I *thought* would be versatile enough for taking the dog for a walk and doing stuff on the weekends.

My specifications:
  1. Soft
  2. Not fuzzy
  3. Mittens instead of gloves (easier and faster to make)
  4. Fingerless, but with a cap to cover them
  5. Exactly his size (a customized pattern)
  6. AND one of his specifications: Snug fit
I've been making mittens for quite some time now, so I picked out some yarn and threw it on needles. While perusing my local knitting store, I came across MillaMia, an extra soft merino wool. It was perfect. I bought black and decided not to do anything fancy.

The biggest thing that made these mittens truly customized was the distance between the top of the wrist and the thumb hole. For my husband, the distance was longer than mine and longer than most patterns I had found (granted the majority of knitting patterns I use are for women). So in Mrs. Crafty style, I just kept pestering him to put them on as I went along to get the correct size. Remember my personal rule: Measure never!

Overall he is pretty happy with them, and I really enjoyed making them. The true test will be winter. I'll do an update and let you know how they worked out.

MillaMia 100% Merino Wool, 2 balls of 50g
US 3.25 Double Pointed Needles 
9 stitches = 1" (I knit tightly!)
Yarn needle for sewing on finger cap, stitch markers, and crochet hook for correcting mistakes

  • Cast on 40 stitches.
  • Spread evenly over 3 needles making sure not to twist.
  • Knit 2, Purl 2 all the way around to form rib for 3 1/2 inches (or as long or short as you'd like).

Thumb Gusset
Here you have to add stitches to make sure you have enough room for the thumb.
  • *Knit 18 stitches, place your stitch marker, make one stitch, knit 4, make one stitch.
  • Knit two rounds.*
  • Repeat * section until you have 15 stitches for the thumb.
  • Then continue to knit in the round until the thumb to wrist height is correct for your hands. These mittens were 2 1/2 inches.
  • Slip those 15 stitches onto scrap yarn or stitch holder to be worked later.
Rest of Mitten
  • Knit for an inch.
  • Start rib pattern (K2, P2) for 9 rows.
  • Loosely cast off (beware, casting off tightly will prevent fingers from moving).
  • Pick up the stitches that you placed on the holder and put them on 3 needles.
  • As you begin, pick up one stitch on the inside of the thumb, to help close the gap between the thumb and mitten. (16 stitches)
  • Knit in the round for the length of your thumb, leaving 1/2 inch of thumb exposed when you try it on. 
  • To decrease, K3, K2tog, 3 times (12 stitches). 2nd row, Knit. 3rd row, K2, K2tog (9 stitches). 4th row, Knit.
  • Finally cut the yarn, leaving a long tail. Thread the yarn onto a needles and pull it through those 9 stitches, secure and weave in your ends.
  • Cast on 43 stitches. For a smaller hand, cast on few stitches.
  • Knit in the round for the desired length of your fingers. Approximately 25 rows.
  • Finish the top of the cap by K9, K2tog. Then on the second row, K8, K2tog. Repeat in this manner until you have 16 stitches. (If you leave fewer stitches, your cap will be pointed).
  • Cut the yarn, leaving a long tail. Thread the yarn on a needle and put it through the 16 stitches and tie off. Weave in your ends.
  • With the back of the glove facing you, sew the cap onto the mitten. Match 20 cast of stitches on the cap to 20 stitches on the glove. The best place to attach it is right at the bottom of the ribbing.
Good luck if you try this pattern. Let me know if it needs any corrections. I hope these mittens do indeed satisfy my difficult customer!

Monday, October 20, 2014

All day with the baby...

This comic from Kathleen Founds made me laugh.

The duality of my parenting experience is thus: Some moments you are bowled over with love and awe, and other times you just need to check your email.

Can anyone else relate? 

Kathleen Founds is a writer and illustrator who colors giant squids and obsessively revises her novel in Marina, California. Thanks for letting us share, Kathleen! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Get your knit on for Christmas gifts

With that first sip of pumpkin spice latte, I realize that Christmas will be here in no time. And unlike every previous year, I'm not waiting until November to start knitting. I've got a few big-ticket items on a my list to make, and I'm getting started early.

In my hunt to find awesome things to knit, I compiled my favorite sites for inspirations and patterns.