Baby Doll Quilt

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Since we’re expecting a new family member in December I’ve been busily elving away in the evenings for several weeks, working on a few special Christmas gifts. This year Alice is going to be getting a baby doll crib that belonged to my grandmother, so while my father is busy refurbishing it I’ve been working on some accompanying bedding.

Alice absolutely loves her two baby dolls (Baby and Snoozy Suzy) and enjoys tucking them under napkins and dishtowels, and while I know she’d be perfectly content to keep using napkins, I decided it was a great excuse to make a tiny quilt. My mother gave me a bundle of sweet fat quarters this summer that I thought would be perfect for dolls, and I, not being much of a quilter, decided on a super simple pattern of triangles. I sandwiched in a very old, very holey, very stained tea towel to serve as batting and was delighted by the result. It gave it just a little bit of heft and puff while keeping it doll-weight.

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I have some very experienced quilters in the family….of which I am not one! While I have helped assemble and quilt a couple times, this is actually the first thing I’ve done start to finish by myself. I’ve known for a while that I really dislike cutting out quilt pieces. This is probably due in part to my tiny, bargain-sized vinyl cutting mat and my lack of experience with rotary cutters. Nevertheless, given that this project is roughly the size of a placemat (it is approximately 16×18), I managed to persevere and actually get it all cut out. I absolutely loved every other aspect of the quilt making process.

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My favorite task was the quilting, which I decided to do by hand primarily because I love a bit of handwork but also because I hear that both baby dolls and two-year-olds really appreciate such details. My binding job left something to be desired…my corners are particularly wonky and badly mitered. My only excuse is that my quilting book was upstairs and I didn’t want to disturb Alice during her “naptime” to go retrieve it, so I just fumbled along without really knowing what I was doing.

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I’ve managed to keep this project mostly hidden from Alice, so it should be a real surprise on Christmas (or Kiss-Kiss, as Alice calls it). Strangely enough, the day I unbundled the fat quarters to look at them Alice asked, “You making a dolly blanket for me, Mama?” and then proceeded to start tucking in her dolls with them. I’m so excited for her to have a little crib instead of a shoebox, and a tiny quilt instead of dishtowels!

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A couple months ago I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and have thought about it quite a bit in the following weeks. She believes that we should follow our creative interests because it’s what we are meant to do, not because we want be the best or to make money or even to “make the world a better place.” I completely agree, and since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I’ll just say that I’m so grateful that I have the luxury of quiet evenings, a happy family, and bits of pretty calico with which to make completely silly little projects like this one.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Northman Mittens

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This is one of the few times when I can honestly say that a project was created out of real necessity. I’ve been needing a new pair of mittens for at least two winters, and I decided to finally knit myself a truly warm and practical pair. This pattern, Northman Mittens by David Schulz, was exactly what I was looking for and I couldn’t be more pleased with a pattern. It includes three sizes as well as charts for both light and dark backgrounds, a rarity among patterns that I found very helpful.

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The mittens are seriously cozy. The outer mitten is knit in worsted weight at a very tight gauge for a dense fabric. I used Wool of The Andes in Tidepool Heather and Dove Heather, and I knit on size 2 needles. I have to say that this yarn, despite its scandalously low price ($1.60 per ball!!!) really exceeded my expectations. The colors are gorgeous, it has a nice soft-but-woolly feel, and it knits up beautifully. I’m already working on another project using this wool, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The best thing about these mittens is that they are fully lined….in baby alpaca. I used Andean Treasure in Prairie Heather. It is unbelievably soft but doesn’t make the mittens unbearably bulky. Philip tried them on and immediately requested that I knit him some alpaca linings for his mittens. The linings are knit by picking up stitches along the hem of the finished and blocked outer mitten and then knitting what is essentially a second mitten right onto the first and stuffing it inside. The lining is knit at a looser gauge so it is relatively thin and prevents the mittens from being overly stiff.

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Perhaps the most interesting thing for me in knitting these mittens was a little lesson I learned in color dominance. I knit the first mitten, put it away for a few weeks and then knit the second without paying any attention to what color I was carrying on top across the wrong side. Well! I knit the mittens in reverse color dominance which changed the look of the right from the left dramatically.

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I (very) briefly considered redoing one of the mittens entirely but I couldn’t choose which I liked better and then I decided that I’d rather have them done than perfect. Now that they are done and have been worn out for their first snow play session, I’m very content with my decision to just be okay with them as is.

Alice tried them on and told me she wants a pink and red pair. We’ll see…I have quite a few other items on my knitting list! For those of you who read for the baby pictures, here are a few shots of my photography assistant eating this morning’s snowflakes…

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Happy Thanksgiving week to you all!

 

 

 

Alice’s Winter Coat

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It’s been a very warm autumn around here, but knowing that winter will indeed arrive at some point, and that with a new baby in the house I probably won’t be getting a whole lot of sewing done, I went ahead and made Alice’s winter coat. I had so much fun making this, and it came out just as I had imagined it. It might just be the sweetest thing I’ve stitched up for Alice yet.

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I used Simplicity 1207, a vintage reprint pattern from the 70’s. I left off the optional detachable collar but otherwise cut a size 2 and followed the pattern exactly. It’s an excellent pattern and it came together beautifully. While relatively simple, it is fully lined and requires a moderate amount of handwork, so the project took me quite a while. I’m a pretty slow seamstress, however; I’m sure some people could churn this out in a few evenings.

My favorite elements are the peter pan collar and the scallops across the chest. I don’t own a french curve so I basically free-handed the scallops, but they came out quite nicely. If there had been more than three I think it would have been hard to make them look uniform without a more professional technique.

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The coat is made with wool my mother gave me to make myself a skirt (whoops) and is lined with anti-pill fleece I picked up at Joann’s. Dressy overcoats for toddlers might seem like they are of debatable practicality, so to justify the many hours I spent on this project I made sure to make this super warm and snuggly by lining it in a toasty fleece. I used a scrap of some unknown slippery fabric to line the sleeves for ease of use…let’s pretend it’s some lovely bit of silk. I backed the collar (and the insides of the patch pockets) with a calico fat quarter, both to reduce bulk and because adding sweet little details nobody will actually notice gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

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Speaking of little details, I added a little monogrammed wool felt tag on the inside…A is for Alice! I was strongly inspired by (a.k.a. I copied) the embroidered “A” I found on this charming blog post.

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I just had so much fun making this coat! I’ve made a couple of simple dresses for Alice this fall, and while they are cute and get lots of wear, I love making things I know will be worn almost daily and will keep her warm and snug. Making outerwear really isn’t any more difficult but seems like more of a significant contribution to her wardrobe. I’m torn between hoping that this will last her through next winter and looking forward to making another coat next year and keeping up the tradition!

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I told Philip this was going to be my last sewing project before the arrival of our new baby and I’m sure he was looking forward to getting the sewing machine off the dining room table…but I might try to squeeze in a little jersey playdress before I put it away. I got some pretty cute fabric when I bought the buttons for her coat, and I did just destroy her last playdress by washing it with something red…

 

Halloween 2017

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I can’t believe it’s already November!

Halloween has never been my favorite, but as with most holidays, it’s definitely more fun with a little kiddo around. Alice was very into all the pumpkins this year and she also understood the idea of dressing up and was excited to wear a costume. At first she told us she wanted to be an elephant and then changed her mind to a bear, which sounded much easier to me anyway. I know a lot of people like to go all out creating costumes, but I really don’t like to expend too much time or effort on them. Alice was happy with her white jammies and the little fuzzy ears I made her, and she carried Mr. Bear with her to help identify that she was a polar bear and not a lamb or bunny.

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We were invited to a party with all her little friends on Sunday, so on Halloween itself Alice and I stayed home and made monster cookies and carved our pumpkin. We got a handful of trick-or-treaters, including a little banana that Alice knows well and was excited to hand candy to. Alice herself got to eat her very first piece of honest-to-goodness candy and declared it yummy.

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November started out this morning with a chilly hike for Alice and I, with the exciting promise of a new washing machine to be delivered this evening, and with plans for lots of tea, knitting, and books in between. November will (hopefully) be our last full month as a family of three…how exciting!

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Fall Break 2017

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This past weekend was Philip’s Fall Break. We filled up our long weekend with lots of cozy projects around the house, which is just how I like my vacations best. Philip did some scraping and repainting work on the outside of our house, we did a little reorganizing inside (Alice moved into her big-girl bedroom this past week!), and we all got some extra time to play.

I was very excited to finally try some sourdough baking. I made my own starter last week and was thrilled that I caught some nice wild yeast in the first few days. The internet is great for learning new things, but in looking for information on sourdough I quickly discovered that people are pretty serious about their sourdough and I found all the technical terms and, dare I say, snobbery, discouraging, so I just followed the friendly directions in my trusty King Arthur Flour cookbook. They were much simpler and less anxiety-inducing. As it turns out, it wasn’t that hard! I made my first loaf over Saturday and Sunday (I let my sponge work a good 24 hours) and it turned out reasonably attractive and super tasty. I’m excited to try either more bread- or perhaps some pizza dough- with my starter this coming weekend.

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Alice spent lots of time during her Fall Break bothering Charley, taking her wooden caterpillar pull-toy on “neighborhood walks,” and playing with her paints and play-dough. Alice no longer naps (sigh….) and so also spent time each afternoon in her big girl room practicing “rest time”- not her favorite.

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I also got some time to start a new sewing project- a winter coat for Alice- and to get quite a bit done on a new sweater for Philip. I had hoped to make it for our 5th anniversary, which we celebrated last week, but my new goal is Christmas. I’ve only been working on it about a week and am already almost to the underarms, so I think it’s a goal I can accomplish. I also began reading a very interesting book by Bill Bryson called At Home: A Short History of Private Life. After a string of disappointing novels it’s great to be reading something really good.

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With the exception of a few chilly mornings it’s still been very warm here, but I can’t complain. We’re having a lovely autumn- hope you are too!

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Garden Notes- September 2017

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We’ve been having a brutal heatwave, the only silver lining of which is that my flowers still think it’s August. My garden had a slow start this year due to a cold spring and record rain, but I’m very pleased that it has still provided me with lots of armfuls of flowers during the later part of August and September. A few notes I want to remember for next year:

#1. Dahlias: This year I grew Cafe au Lait again, which were splendid. Last year they turned out pure white, but this year they were a mix of creams and pinks with a tinge of brown…gorgeous. I also grew Penhill Dark Monarch, which wasn’t as prolific but was stunning when I did get a few blooms. I’m going to try to save my tubers properly this year, but of course I also want to try some new varieties next summer….clearly I need more space (more on that later…)

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#2. Zinnias: Goodness I love them. So easy! So cheap! So glorious! I went with Benary Giants again along with a Thumbelina mix that was (disappointingly) basically all the same shade of pink. I also grew Zinderella Lilac, not all of which were scabiosa types but which turned out to be prolific and very pretty. I’ll save some seed but I don’t think I’ll buy any more. I grew a couple cactus-type zinnias this year, which I don’t really love. The spiny petals are interesting, but to me they already look like spent blossoms as soon as they bloom. I’ll axe them in favor of another variety next year.

#3. Cosmos: I grew Pop Socks and a Double Click Mix. The pop socks made nice, shorter, bushy plants and I like the little bullseye in the center. My Double Click Mix seemed to mostly wash away in all the rain, but I did get a few nice plants and of course the blossoms are lovely.

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#4. Palette: Clearly I love pinks and purples. I need a few more yellows and whites and greens next summer though. I’m thinking Queen Lime Zinnias and I want some white pom-pom type dahlias, but I’m not sure about yellows…any suggestions?

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#5. Edibles… I miss not having any tomatoes and greens and squash from the backyard. We have very limited space but Philip and I are planning to add in a very small raised bed along the grassy side of our house (currently I garden in the front beds and along the driveway) with the intent of growing some food next summer. We’re hoping to get that in this fall so I can plant the garlic. I think it will be fun for Alice to grow veggies too…and if there happens to be some extra square footage, I might just have to plant an extra dahlia or two!

#6. Seeds: I bought all my seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds and I bought my dahlias from American Meadows. I heartily recommend both- I particularly like Swallowtail Seeds because they don’t send me junk emails all the time. I direct seeded everything this year.

I’ll miss all the flowers once summer really ends, but it’s also such fun to plan out the next year in blooms.

Antler Cardigan

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As sad as I will be to wash and pack away Alice’s standby cardigan from last year, the arms are getting too short and she really needed a new everyday sweater. I got some hand-me-down yarn from my aunt by way of my mother and decided on the Antler Cardigan, designed by Tin Can Knits.

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The yarn, which I’m happy to report I have lots of left over, is absolutely fabulous. It is called Kathmandu Aran Tweed, made by Queensland Collection, and is a blend of wool, silk, and cashmere. I’m so sorry it’s no longer available because it really is lovely. It looks sturdy and tweedy, which I love, but is super soft (especially after washing), which Alice appreciates. I actually knit myself a beret years ago out of the same type of yarn (different colorway) but lost it on my honeymoon and have mourned its loss ever since.

As a complete aside, I know that everyone thinks of browns and oranges as the colors of Autumn, but I really think that purple deserves a spot the fall palette. We got married in early October and many people assumed I would want to dress the bridesmaids in goldenrod or orange and seemed surprised by my choice of purple…BUT! I was thinking of wild asters and mums, and I maintain that purple can be plenty autumnal.

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I always appreciate when patterns offer a broad sizing range and the Antler Cardigan is a pattern for babies through adult sizes. I can definitely imagine knitting one for myself at some point but will be very careful about the sizing. Alice at age two is pretty small, so I was hesitant to cast on for the 2-4 year size, but I had read several reviewers noting that the pattern runs slim so decided to go for it. My gauge was right on, but somehow this sweater came out snug across the middle for my 8th percentile toddler. I deliberately shortened the arms to the correct length for her, otherwise the proportions would have been even stranger.

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The cardigan is knit back and forth on a circular needle from the bottom up in a fairly standard sort of way. The pattern is clear and easy to follow and the antler cables are easy and satisfying. I feel that there are too many stitches in the buttonhole bands causing it to ruffle a bit, but clearly it wasn’t so bad that I bothered to fix it.

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While I’m not thrilled with the fit, I am generally happy with the sweater. It’s a good weight, it’s cute, Alice called it “cozy,” and it was fun to make. Things always get a bit bigger with washing, so I expect that it will last her a while even if it is a bit snug around the middle.

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We’re having such a good late summer/early fall this year…I’m hoping to squeeze in a general update post sometime soon.

 

 

Alice Virginia, 2 Years Old

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On Friday Alice turned two! The night before, as Philip and I were hanging balloons and wrapping gifts, we got a little sad about how fast she’s growing up, but two year old Alice is such a delightful, chatty, capable little person that it’s impossible to stay sad about that for long.

Two years old is the perfect age for birthday appreciation. Alice had been looking forward to it for weeks and had told us exactly what she wanted to have happen on her birthday…balloons,  party hats, friends, cake, birthday song. Happily, she got exactly what she had been hoping for. Alice helped make the cupcakes (chocolate zucchini with blueberry cream cheese frosting) the day before, and on Friday morning all her friends came over to help eat them up and celebrate with hats and balloons. After her friends went home we walked to the park, which is a daily occurrence but which she still thinks is the best thing ever, and then spent the late afternoon and evening opening her gifts and watching her enthusiastically playing with them. I made pizza for supper, and Alice had an early bedtime after which Philip and I drank our coffee and ate her birthday cake for her. It was a great day.

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Alice second year was such a good one, and we’re looking forward to another great year with our big little girl.

 

A New Sweater for a New Baby!

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We’re very excited to be expecting a new family member in December! While in Maine I cast onto the 0-3 month size of a sweater pattern I’ve been wanting to make for a while: Livingston, designed by Nadia Cretin-Lechenne. I used yarn I purchased in Maine a few weeks ago and I’ve since lost the label and don’t remember the brand, but it’s a lovely, super soft merino sport weight. I went for a misty tonal grey which I thought went nicely with the little seagull stitch pattern and which coordinated with the landscape…

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My favorite aspect of this sweater is the way the front unbuttons at the top to accommodate large baby noggins and I am very fond of the simple stitch pattern that looks like flying birds.

This sweater is knit from the bottom up, and while I think it was a well-written pattern I will say that joining the sleeves to the body on a circular needle (per instructions) is next to impossible. No stitches are cast off on the underarms prior to joining, so it’s simply too tight to knit on a circular. I put the whole thing on two sets of double-pointed needles (one was a size down, but I had to make do) and that worked okay. I wish there was a way to adapt the pattern to top-down, but I think it wouldn’t work with the stitch pattern.

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If this baby is anything like Alice was then the 0-3 month size will probably fit for a long time but likely will be much too large initially…and December babies really need itsy sweaters right away, so next up I’m going to make a truly tiny newborn size garment. Before that, however, I have a cardigan on my needles for Alice who kept coming over and asking “Sweater for Alice?” We don’t want sweaters to be the cause of any sibling rivalry!

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Maine & New Brunswick 2017

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We spent almost two weeks with family in Maine and New Brunswick this month. Alice was shockingly sweet tempered on the 10 hour drive, we had beautiful weather, and we had plenty of time to see many extended family members and hang out with my parents. We found treasures at yard sales, I made no fewer than three blueberry pies, Alice developed an interest in antique sports cars, we played on beaches and rocks and had picnics and tea parties. Philip celebrated his 30th birthday in St. Andrews where we spent several days exploring, relaxing, and feeling like rusticators.

I love living in town- the walking and parks and neighbors- but I admittedly do often dream of antique farmhouses and oceans and woods and more room for Alice to romp. I’m so glad that Alice will get all those things every time we visit her Maine family…and it’s always nice to get to wake up in the same room you slept in for the first 18 years of your life too.

Vacation pictures can be a bit deceiving…Alice spent her fair share of time not napping and being grouchy…but by in large our trip really was as lovely as the photos would lead you to believe:

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Now we’ve been home for a few days and I’m so happy to be back to my own little house and rhythms. As nice as vacation is, I think one of the best parts is coming home and feeling a renewed interest in your daily life. I’ve been picking armfuls of flowers, cutting out autumn dresses for Alice, planning new sweaters for the whole family, and have hauled out my paints with the best of intentions. Hope everyone is enjoying the last few weeks of summer!