Iris’ Baby Leg Warmers + Beet Dye

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I’ve been trying to knit myself socks since I started knitting again, but more urgent projects (knit this or you’ll freeze to death) keep popping up.  After starting Iris’ cape, I realized that her ankles (or cankles, if we’re being honest) were sometimes chilly from her walk home from daycare.  In righteous indignation (stupid cold!  How dare you chill my baby!!!) I stalked ravelry for leg warmer patterns.  Two hours later, it became clear that I was just wasting time because a leg warmer is little more than a tube, and if there’s anything I can knit by now, it’s that!

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Fast-forward almost two months and I’ve finally finished the darn things.  So much for baby knitting projects only taking a day or two!  Part of it was my fault; being unable to commit to a pattern, I had to cast-on and knit a few rows multiple times before I was convinced I had made the leg warmers big enough (cankles, remember?).  Then I made half of a rather funky leg warmer that didn’t have the right number of stitches for a 2×2 ribbing, but powered through until the asymmetry and general ugliness forced me to rip it all out and start over.  I’m still a bit unhappy with a few features of these leg warmers, but at least they seem to work.  The real magical bonus though, is that I had to learn a new cast-off: Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast-off, which is just about the best thing ever, as far as stretchiness is concerned, highly relevant both for leg warmers and socks!

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I don’t suggest anyone use the following pattern for baby leg warmers (1. I’m not practiced at writing knitting patterns and 2. it’s unclear whether the heel hole does its job; Iris has already succeeded in yanking her leg warmers off by grabbing her feet), but in case I decide to base my next pair on the first, I thought it was worth writing down:

Iris’ Baby Leg Warmers

This leg warmer starts with a 2×2 (knit 2, purl 2, repeat) ribbing to hold it tight to a baby’s leg.  Part way up, there is a hole through which a heel can protrude.  If you want a more traditional leg warmer without a heel hole, simply omit steps 4 and 5.  Whenever you omit a step, just knit that row in normal stockinette stitch, which is all knit stitches when working in the round.  The booties that Iris wears outside are sort of loose on top, so I wanted the leg warmer to keep her upper foot warm too and figured the best way of doing that was to have her heel keep the leg warmer from riding up.  Going further up the leg warmer, we add two sets of two stitches (always adding in multiples of four stitches total for the sake of the final 2×2 ribbing) so that the upper third of the leg warmer is larger than the lower two thirds.  This is to account for Iris’ exceedingly fat calves (oh so squishable, if you must know), but for a less well-endowed baby, I might not worry about it and omit steps 7 and 9.  Finally, we finish up the top of the leg warmer with more 2×2 ribbing and a wonderfully stretchy cast-off.  These leg warmers were sized for a very large and tall 9.5 month old weighing 20.5 lbs with rather chubby little legs.  I had originally wanted them to be a bit roomy so that they would last all winter, but at this point I’m not optimistic and I may have to make another pair before spring.

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Yarn: Classic Alpaca (100% baby alpaca) by The Alpaca Yarn Company, color: 100 (creamy white), 50 g (~110 yards) skein.  Each leg warmer took 20 g.  The yarn label says it will knit up in 5.5 stitches per inch on US #6 needles (4 mm).

Needles: 4 bamboo double-pointed needles, size US #3

Pattern:

  1. Cast-on 44 stitches using a long-tail cast-on.  I used 16 stitches per needle on two needles and 12 on the third.
  2. Repeat [knit 2, purl 2] ribbing for 10 rows.
  3. Knit in stockinette stitch (all knitting) for 9 rows.
  4. Optional (for adding a heel hole): On the next row, knit normally except cast-off 16 consecutive stitches.  Since I had 16 stitches on a single needle, I just cast-off an entire needle.
  5. Optional (for adding a heel hole): On the next row, knit normally except cast-on those 16 consecutive stitches again.  Basically, you are making a large hole (16 stitches wide) through which a baby heel can protrude.
  6. Knit again in stockinette stitch for 13 rows.
  7. Optional (for fatter babies): On the next row, add two additional stitches by the “make one” method.  I chose to add mine above the heel hole, each one placed four stitches in from the sides of the hole (easy because the hole was as wide as the number of stitches on one of my double-pointed needles).
  8. Knit again in stockinette stitch for 3 rows.
  9. Optional (for fatter babies): On the next row, add two additional stitches by the “make one” method.  Again, I chose to add mine above the heel hole, but now each one was placed five stitches in from the sides of the hole so that they would be directly above the first two new stitches.
  10. Knit again in stockinette stitch for 3 rows.
  11. Repeat knit 2, purl 2 ribbing for 10 rows.
  12. Cast-off using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast-off.  If you use a normal cast-off, the top of the leg warmer may not be stretchy enough to fit over a fat baby calf.  Just sayin’.
  13. Sew in the ends of yarn using a large needle and block if desired.  I haven’t blocked the leg warmers yet, but I should, because the heel openings keep rolling up and it was a pain to force them into submission for photos.

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Finally, because Peter and I are on vacation this week and have nothing better to do, I tried my first natural dyeing project using the tails of yarn from the leg warmers after sewing in the ends.  I’m not very good at judging how much yarn to leave for the long-tail cast-on, so there were probably about four feet of yarn to dye in a total of four pieces.  I’ve been interested in natural dyeing for a while, since you don’t need special pots if you only use dyes made out of whole foods and goodness knows we don’t have any extra room for special dye pots in our new Cambridge micro-apartment.  After recently purchasing the stunningly photographed guide to natural dyeing The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar, I was motivated to save some beet water (from making the beet, avocado and pea salad from Plenty More; so good!) and boil an additional limp beet to make a bright pink dyeing liquid.  You might expect the result of dyeing with beets to be some shade of pink, but at least with protein fibers (alpaca), the result is more of a rusty orange.  And apparently protein fibers pick up more color from beets than cotton, which is the other white material I have lying around for experimentation.  As for instructions for natural dyeing with beets, I read these two, as well as the project using black tea from The Modern Natural Dyer.  And then failed to follow the instructions closely at all, haphazardly alternating between simmering and ignoring the yarn in the cooling dye bath for much of an evening.  The result after a gentle washing in cold water is rather stunning though, and while the color may not stay fast through even another washing, I don’t imagine knitted things need quite the frequent washing as clothes.  Goodness knows it will be weeks months before I wash Iris’ leg warmers, although if she keeps chewing on them, they may not last that long.

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A Baby Capelet

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This is the first wearable item that I have made for Iris.  I bought the yarn especially for her: a yummy and soft undyed organic cotton that is perfect for brushing baby cheeks, inside and out (Sprout in natural from the Verde Collection by Classic Elite Yarns, if you must know).  The original plan was for a baby sweater, but she already has a couple of those and sometimes it’s rather annoying to stuff her plump little arms through the sleeves, so a capelet seemed like a nice alternative.  Ideally, Iris can wear her capelet while she’s wrapped up in a down stroller bunting that I’m making for her out of a down comforter.  That way her shoulders will stay warm without dealing with wriggling arms syndrome first thing in the morning.

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Iris was also recently gifted the most adorable hand-crocheted baby hat from my friend Anna.  While Anna can’t remember exactly what yarn she used, it looks identical to the organic cotton I used for the capelet, making them an entirely accidental matching set.  Yes, those are tiny bear ears and teeny ear flaps!  Basically Iris is a polar bear cub.

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I somewhat followed the free pattern for the Baby Gaga Capelet by Gina Bonomo that I found through a search for baby capes on ravelry.  To ensure that Iris could wear the capelet for a while, I increased the number of cast-on stitches to 72 on size 8 double-pointed needles (18/needle), followed by just over an inch of 2×2 ribbing, before starting the suggested pattern for increasing the number of stitches gradually (add two stitches at four even intervals around the cape every other row).  Since I wanted the capelet to be a bit longer than the Baby Gaga version, I started increasing the number of rows between stitch increases, first to two (after ~2 inches, when I also switched to size 9 circular needles) and then three (after ~3 more inches).  The shape of the capelet was just what I had in mind: it starts off getting much larger and then tapers down to follow the shoulders with enough room for flailing baby arms.  By starting from the neck (unlike many of the baby cape patterns I looked at for inspiration), I could just knit until I used up two 100 g skeins of yarn.

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An Almost-Audrey Hat

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For my second knitting project, I decided to step it up a notch and try something that, before finishing my fingerless gloves, would have made me run screaming in the opposite direction.  But no more!  I declare my fear of knitting patterns good and truly dead.  Which is convenient, because there is a magical world of free knitting patterns online for anything you can imagine.  In this case, the only thing I could imagine was a hat to keep some distance between me and what was quickly becoming a nippy November.  Why does someone who grew up on the East Coast not own a hat?  Good question.

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After using cotton yarn for my fingerless gloves, I thought I would give wool a try.  After all, nothing is so wool like a winter hat.  To reduce scratchiness, I used a wool and bamboo rayon blend by Stitch Nation called Bamboo Ewe in the lovely grey shade Mercury.  I had a 100 g skein and didn’t use all of it.  For the pattern, I followed the Audrey Hat pattern from the Fringe Hatalong No. 1, mostly.  I didn’t have the right circular needle size/length, so I was forced to knit the whole thing on double-pointed needles, and after finishing the ribbing, realized that there was no way I would be able to add the suggested number of stitches without having a good fraction fall off the needles mid-knit.  After casting on 88 stitches (onto three needles) as called for, I added 8 more post-ribbing, one every 11 stitches, to end up with 96 total, which is evenly divisible by 12, the repeat length of the chevron pattern.  Then I repeated the pattern three times for a fitted hat.  Unlike the Hatalong pictures, my almost-Audrey hat clings to the head like a beanie.  I don’t mind, it will stay on better that way.

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By some miracle, my almost-Audrey hat and fingerless gloves both match one of my favorite scarves beautifully.  Almost all of my yarn was gifted from my mom’s extensive collection, providing limited color choices, but in this instance it worked out.  Unfortunately for the future tidiness of our apartment, my yarn stash is growing at a much faster rate than my knitting projects are completed.  In fact, since starting to knit again, I have pulled out as many knitting projects as I’ve finished (the ear-warmer headband was sacrificed in place of a proper hat and the boot toppers were too thick to fit between my calves and boots).  Oh well, it means I’ve practiced following a couple more patterns, learned that I much prefer knitting in the round to knitting on straight needles, and that I don’t know nearly enough about knitting yet to make up my own patterns.

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Ribbed Fingerless Gloves

IMG_3686 I was on vacation for all of August.  Oh glorious vacation!  It was likely the longest stretch of not-working that I will have for quite a few years, so I thought I would take full advantage of it by re-learning how to knit.  You see, I first learned to knit when I was in first grade (the joys of Waldorf school), and by the time I was in third grade I could knit on double-pointed needles in the round to make things like adorable strawberry doll hats with little black seeds (something like this).  Then I went to normal school and promptly forgot my knitting skills.  Thankfully it wasn’t all wasted: I still remembered how to knit and purl, and could sort of eek out how to cast on and off.  But I couldn’t follow a knitting pattern and I had completely forgotten how to knit on anything but two single-pointed needles.  Having learned how to knit without following a pattern herself, my mom insisted I start knitting from a pattern immediately so that I could regain my knitting skills and not be stuck struggling to follow a pattern as a very proficient knitter like she had been for most of her life.

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My first knitting project was a pair of fingerless gloves in a yummy cafe au lait colored cotton yarn.  They are knit using a garter rib pattern that stands out nicely with a solid color.  This is really my practice pair of gloves for fall and spring weather.  The second pair will be knit using a warmer wool blend for winter.  I used the Ribbed Mitts pattern from Knitsimple Gifts to Knit in a Weekend! without any crochet finishing.  I used worsted weight (size 4) 100% cotton yarn and four size 7 double-pointed needles.  The garter rib stitch is knit three, purl 1, repeat for the first row and knit for the second row.  The thumb hole is created by binding off some stitches (5 in this case) at the beginning of the round and casting the same number of stitches on again at the beginning of the next round.  The default sizing of 36 stitches cast on at the beginning (12 stitches per needle, three increments of the pattern knit 3 purl 1) and 6 inches until the thumb hole with a remaining two inches to cover the palm worked perfectly.  If I make some for Peter I would increase the number of cast on stitches (the circumference of the glove), increase the length over the palm, and make the thumb hole wider.

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If this pattern is too complicated for you, consider the following: knit a square, sew up one side to make a tube leaving a hole for the thumb, and you’re done!  It was when I told my mom that I was making another pair of these “square gloves” that she absolutely insisted that I had to use a pattern or I would never learn.  As always, she’s totally right, and I’m now smitten with knitting patterns.

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Another Recipe Roundup

There has been a flurry of cooking activity around here, but since baby Iris insists upon keeping us on our toes, there never seems to be time for picture-taking.  It would be cruel for me not to share the following goodies with you though:

  • The best salad I’ve made in a long time: spinach with dates, pita, and sumac, from Jerusalem.  Since I find spinach a pain to buy and wash, I usually just use a crunchy lettuce for weekday meals.  The true brilliance is the pita bread and almonds toasted in butter and olive oil, with a dusting of sour sumac and spicy red pepper flakes.  I’m pretty sure you could put the pita/almond croutons on anything and it would be amazing!  As proof of my love for this recipe, we recently bought an entire package of pita bread to put in the freezer expressly for making this salad (a frozen pita can be nicely warmed up under the broiler and then torn into pieces and toasted as described in the recipe).  This one is at the top of the list for a reason, people!
  • OK, it’s possible that I’m slightly obsessed with Jerusalem, because the second thing on this list of loves is their recipe for mejadra.  I found the serious eats post helpful, because oh man does the onion frying take forever!  And don’t do what I did and fry the onions the day before, stick them in the fridge, and then have them turn out all limpy and sad at the time of serving.  You see, the fried onions were absolutely delicious when freshly fried (in fact, a good number of them mysteriously disappeared in the kitchen before the frying was complete…).  This is comfort food at its best!
  • More dumplings!  And I used 1/3 whole wheat flour in the wrappers this time (yes, it was out of necessity; funny how keeping white flour in the house is nearly impossible when someone bakes two loaves of bread a week).  I made a stuffing of 1 lb. ground beef, 1 egg, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, chives, and salt (roughly trying to follow this recipe, but without most of the ingredients on hand).  They. Were. Amazing.  I even watched a number of youtube videos on how to fold the dumplings in different ways.  It may have gotten a little out of hand.  Usually we eat all the dumplings more quickly than is probably healthy, but this time I tried freezing them (raw) on a cookie sheet and enjoyed dumplings for lunch twice before Peter caught on and insisted we eat the rest of them for dinner so he would get to finally try them.
  • My mom made us lemon-ginger scones while she was visiting Peter and I baby Iris.  I always forget how much I love fresh scones and will now spend a couple days trying to forget again.
  • Peter’s mom and brother went to Europe, and all we got was a bag of Kamut!  Just kidding, they brought us back some other things too (like a packet of petersilie, errmm, that’s parsley in German).  The Kamut has been fun though!  We made a salad with carrots and avocado based on this recipe, mostly motivated by the fact that it involved chipotle.  Next time I will roast the carrots as suggested, and perhaps add more veggies.
  • This one is more of a first attempt: Ghirardelli brownies!  I found a recipe that seems to suggest that I could make them at home, without a boxed brownie mix.  As many of you might intuit, this made me crazy excited.  Until I realized that the one thing that makes this recipe different from my tried-and-true beau-catcher brownies is a specialty ingredient that I’d never even heard of before: ground chocolate.  But it’s not like it’s actually grated chocolate, because I think it includes some cocoa powder too.  My first attempt involved adding two ounces of melted Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate to the recipe and cutting down on the sugar only slightly.  The brownies were amazing, but they didn’t have the simultaneous fluffy and totally gooey thing going on that I was hoping for.  Maybe I should give up and just buy boxed brownie mix…
  • Finally, speaking of sweets, we have two more bottles of cherry wine left, and the first one is being made into cherry wine chocolate cakes (this time using coconut oil – an extra tablespoon, an extra tidbit of wine to make up for not including the jam, vanilla beans instead of powder, and baked for 30 minutes at 300 degrees F).  While I usually don’t share my healthy sweet baked goods with friends (not when the alternative is to have Jen make a chocolate and peanut butter dessert orgasm, David make homemade ice cream, or Rachel make any number of amazing non-chocolate desserts), this one is actually pretty good.  I know, a glowing recommendation.  I’ve made it a bunch of times (we did have a lot of bottles of sour cherry wine to use up!), and if nothing else, I don’t feel bad eating it for breakfast.

In other news, after literally months of neglect on my part, I’ve started planting things in the garden again.  Peter, the good sport that he is, continued to water everything even when I was too pregnant to feel like gardening and then recuperating from the big event.  Thankfully, almost everything survived, including rhubarb, strawberries, bush beans, numerous greens (I think Peter may have tried to neglect these on purpose, not that he would admit it), garlic, and two potato plants.  I’ve almost finished planting the whole rest of the garden already!  Mostly because I tell myself I need to get outside and get exercise, which results in marathon gardening sessions often ending in my receiving a phone call from Peter that Iris is awake and HAS TO HAVE FOOD NOW!  Oh babies, they’re so much fun:)

The Maxi Moneta

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Yet another version of the Moneta Dress by Colette Patterns.  This one inspired by the fact that it does sometimes get rather chilly here in the winter time (or just whenever the sun decides it’s had enough of us).  I tried two new things with this dress: lining the bodice and extending the skirt to make a maxi dress that would keep my legs warm on my walk into work.  Useful lessons learned include actually lining the bodice with the same color fabric as used on the outside (I’m forever tucking the lining fabric in so it doesn’t show) and the fact that after lots of stretching during the cutting and sewing process, it’s best to wash your dress before finishing the bottom hem (the length of the dress decreased by at least an inch after I washed it, which, in this case, was a good thing).  This is by far my favorite version of the Moneta dress, with the bodice lining making the top incredibly comfortable and the large skirt acting like a tent that I can curl up inside.

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Useful Things

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Despite relative radio silence, we have been busy making things, some of them more useful than others.

1)  One of my goals for this year has been to sew oven mitts to replace the foam-shedding ones we’ve literally worn to pieces.  Peter makes a lot of bread that requires handling some 450+ degree enameled cast iron on a bi-weekly basis, and, like any sane person, he likes to wear protection.  Unfortunately, my oven mitt prototype, while very comfy for a small-handed individual, is like a straight-jacket for Peter.  The overall design seems sound though, with extra reinforcement for the areas that I’ve noticed get the most wear in our commercial oven mitts (like the sneaky area between the hand and thumb that has led to both Peter and I accidentally burning ourselves while wearing what we thought were trustworthy oven mitts).  The outside is denim from an old pair of Peter’s jeans and the inside is many layers of cotton knit from one of Peter’s old t-shirts.  The entire oven mitt was stitched by hand, mostly because I didn’t want to subject my sewing machine to sewing so many layers of fabric together.  Now if only I can motivate myself to do it all again in a larger size, twice!

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2)  After making a hand bag inspired by the Colette Cooper pattern, I’ve been hankering to make a larger version that could actually be used to carry more than my laptop (amazingly enough, my first Cooper-inspired hand bag does indeed just fit my lap top; I clearly should have done some measurements first!).  This new bag is grey corduroy on the outside and an awesome child astronaut cotton print on the inside.  I tried to make the pockets deeper this time so that they would actually hold things, but otherwise just followed the instructions for squaring the bottom of the bag as shown on the Cooper Sewalong.  It’s intended purpose is for carrying around small articles of clothing and other odds and ends related to the third item on this list…

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3)  Which brings me to a project that has taken a full nine months to complete:

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