The First Four Weeks

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Philip goes back to work on Monday, and I’d be lying if I said that thought didn’t terrify me a bit. I’m so grateful for his time off though, and know that somehow Peter, Alice, and I will all get into a rhythm and routine and do just fine. The past four weeks have been by turns sweet and crazy. Here are a few things we did:

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Alice and I made Peter a two-week birthday cake and we threw him a party. Peter loved it.
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I became increasingly comfortable with a very disheveled house.
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We began Peter’s education.
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Alice continued to try my patience by refusing my attempts to groom her. 
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Alice serenaded Peter with soothing harmonica tunes and calming renditions of “Frere Jacques.”
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Peter looked cute and wore the clothes that fit his sister at 3 months…
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Alice continued perfecting her watercolor technique.
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I made slow progress on Philip’s “Christmas” sweater.

Not pictured: lots of bouncing and shushing and getting to know our little fellow, and lots of singing and reading and drawing of paper dolls with our little girl. I think we’ve finally figured out that Peter can’t sleep flat on his back and have borrowed a little rocker that seems to be working better, and I’ve figured out that any time during the day when someone doesn’t need me is the time to make dinner. I’m sure that in the coming weeks we’ll figure lots of other things too, and soon we’ll be humming along like we’ve always been a family of four.

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Welcome Peter Rex…and a Merry Christmas!

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Five days after his projected arrival, Peter Rex made a swift and uncomplicated entry into the world on December 20th. He weighed in at 9lb 5oz (!!), is 21 1/2 inches tall, has a delightfully thick head of hair, blue eyes which have rarely opened since birth, and is as sweet and adorable as a baby should be.

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Other than a tongue tie and a little initial trouble with eating that was taken care of early on, Peter has been thriving and seems to be adjusting well to his fresh life. He still needs to figure out that daytime is for playing and eating and nighttime is for snoozing and eating, but luckily for him, his parents were well trained by his older sister to be patient with baby folk.

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All of us are completely smitten- including Alice. A week in, I think she is adjusting very well. Of course, she is a two-year-old, with all the standard two year-old woes, but she hasn’t pinned any of her problems on baby brother. She likes to help pick out his outfits and gives him little smooches and has a very hard time not waking him up by touching his “tiny little nose! tiny little ears!” etc. She was looking at a picture of a baby the other day and told me that “I don’t need that baby. I have a baby- baby brother.” She also told me that he is a “good baby,” and I was pleased that he met with her approval. Her one stipulation is that she not be called a big sister, because as she firmly points out, “I’m Alice.”

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Our Christmas was quiet and snowy and lovely. My mother was in town before Christmas, and Philip’s parents are visiting now, but Christmas itself was spent with just the four of us. We actually made it out the door to church on Christmas Eve- our first and so far only excursion involving the entire family- and then Alice woke us appropriately early Christmas morning to open presents and eat oatmeal.

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I’m proud to say that we ate pancakes for lunch and macaroni from a box for dinner and that we truly took it easy all day. The day was spent playing with presents, singing Christmas carols with Alice, reading new Christmas books and donning new Christmas duds. The big hits for Alice were the toy farm from Grandma and Grandpa, the Daniel Tiger toothbrush, and the tiny cheese grater for her kitchen from Nana. But of course, the best Christmas gift in our family was this sweet little fellow.

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Wishing you all a Merry Twelve Days of Christmas, and the very happiest of New Years.

Baby Antlers & Advent Adventures

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A season of waiting indeed…this advent we’re waiting for Christmas and for a new baby. I wasn’t really planning on knitting anything else for the baby until we meet him, but I was getting tired of the seemingly endless sleeves on Philip’s sweater, so I whipped up a little tiny-sized Antler Cardigan for a change of pace.

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I used City Tweed DK and size 4 needles and knit the smallest size with a smaller gauge- I’d say it’s roughly a 0-3 month size, but of course that all depends on the baby. The City Tweed was in the “enchanted” colorway, which is deep and lovely. I’ve used this type of yarn once before on a cardigan for myself that was a huge flop- it was too soft to have much structure- but it is the perfect tweedy yarn for a baby sweater. It is a merino and alpaca blend and is incredibly soft.

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I didn’t space the buttonholes perfectly, but eh, it’s fine. It came out super cute and I’m excited that Alice and her baby sibling will match. Any day now would be a perfectly good time to try it on, baby!

Aside from the knitting, we’ve been having a lovely advent season. My mother is in town to play (and watch Alice while we’re off at the hospital) and Alice is thoroughly enjoying the extra attention along with all the festive holiday preparations. I don’t know why so many people are downers about December birthdays…aside from the struggles of putting on winter boots when 9 months pregnant (ugh) and the struggle of helping a squirmy toddlers into snowsuits and boots while 9 months pregnant (uuggghhhh), the most wonderful time of the year seems like a wonderful time to have a baby to me. There are so many pleasant distractions and jolly tasks to be done, and I think it’s nice for the older sibling to have fun things to think about and do other than just focusing on new-baby preparations. Here’s some photographic evidence of a few of the things we’ve been up to:

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It’s been snowing a little bit every day for the past few days and there’s snow in the forecast for 8 of the next 10 days. I just love this time of year! The cards are  in the mail, the few gifts we’re sending out are getting their finishing touches, the tree is bedecked with gingerbread cookies and my bottom dresser drawer is full of little secret gifts for Alice and Philip and the new baby. I’m hoping to finish a new plaid flannel dress for Alice and a sweater for Philip before Christmas too, but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. January is a nice time for flannel and sweaters too.

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Hope you’re all having a peaceful, cozy advent.

 

 

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!

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.