Sunday, December 27, 2020


With Christmas and Boxing Day behind us, and a few days to go before I have to deal with a Zoom birthday for James, I chose to spend most of my morning working on matters of fitting. Probably the biggest mistake I encounter when knitters aren't satisfied with one of my designs is the failure to take time to deal with issues of fit. For instance, never assume that the armhole depth prescribed by a pattern is going to work for you (hear that, all you Buttonbox knitters?) Same goes for body and arm lengths, not to mention foot and hand lengths. In general, designers work with industry standard measurements, because that's what magazines and yarn companies want. Unfortunately, a lot of us aren't average. So, always take time to check out a pattern's finished measurements and compare them to your own. And fitting doesn't end there. Take my advice about wet blocking work in progress, and you'll be much happier with your knitting outcomes, trust me. 

First up this morning, my Penelope Mittens. These are really just "utility mitts", the kind you wear to put the garbage out and shovel the mound of snow the plough has piled at the entrance to your driveway before it turns to concrete. In other words, they're not fancy, they're easy to make, and they're thick enough that they don't always need a second layer underneath (especially if you're engaged in a vigorous physical activity). These jobs are not the ones you do wearing your precious Diamanda or Vinland mittens. Mittens are an example of an item that demands a proper fit. It's tough to get your house key in the front door or pick it up when it falls into the snow if there's an extra half inch of hand and/or thumb in the way. So, when possible, try mittens on their intended victim (in this case, that's me).

The advantage to mittens made in the round is that you have the opportunity to try them on as you approach the endpoints of the hand and thumb. When the hand reaches the tip of your pinkie (see above), it's time to start decreasing for the tip. This is similar to the rule about when to start decreasing for the toes of socks.

The bulk of my morning was spent on re-configuring the Wiksten Shift Dress into a version with a gathered skirt and inseam pockets. Wiksten's designer has a gathered skirt hack on her website. I loved the look immediately (it reminds me of these gorgeous dresses from Egg) and wanted to try it out, although I had concerns about the scale on someone of my petite size. I started off following the instructions as given, knowing that adjustments would be required. I used Size 0, the same size I made for the shift version, because I really like the way it fits in the neck, shoulders, and arms. However, I was right to anticipate that the overall width would be overwhelming. Good thing I cut the skirt to only 1.5 times the bodice width. 1.75 would have had me drowning in fabric. Even so, the width was stupidly ginormous on my 5'1" frame. My goal became to maintain the looseness and boho feel whilst reining in some of the width. The solution? Darts. I decided to treat my work as a muslin and fitted the darts while wearing the dress. Then I hand sewed them to double check for fit. I also decided to raise the waistline by half an inch to get a better looking proportion. Finally, after pulling the dress on and off more times than I could count, auditioning a multitude of lengths, I concluded that lower calf length was NOT A GOOD LOOK. I would have looked like someone masquerading in her big sister's clothes. A just-below-the-knee length was perfect. To be sure, I tried the sample on with Victoria (not yet published) and Ellerbeck, and really loved the look. I'm thinking about making the final version in black linen for a go-everywhere, dress-it-up-or-down garment (assuming we ever get to go anywhere again).

The moral of this story: take time to get fit right. Just right. A half inch can mean the difference between a piece you love to wear, or one that sits unworn on a shelf for the rest of its life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

To Ice or Not To Ice

This seems like a year to try new things. Instead of trying to carry on as if nothing is different, it's a good time to change things up. To that end, this morning I made and then froze these.

They're Gingerbread Cupcakes from "Moosewood Restaurant Favorites" (not the "Ginger Cakes" from the list of Moosewood's online recipes). There's a whole tbsp of ground ginger in them. I sampled, and they're winners, just like our other two favourite cake recipes from the same cookbook (Apple Bundt Cake, and Deep Chocolate Vegan Cake). Now the question is: should they be iced or not? Cream cheese icing would probably be nice, but I don't have any cream cheese. Ordinary butter icing might be too sweet. I think, once they thaw out on Xmas Day, I might simply give them a light sifting of icing sugar, and surround them with a few Medjool dates.

We're having a Zoom Xmas, with Isabel in San Francisco and James nearby on King Street E in his new attic apartment. I'll drop off dinner for James. Another change: no turkey. We're all (including Isabel) going with tourtiere this year. (Why does my spell check want to turn this into "torture"?)

There's some concern about snow on Friday, so I'm readying myself for a possible Xmas Eve drop off. This morning I roasted buttercup squash. Now it's mashed and sealed up in the fridge. One less thing to deal with.

And to make this "turning of the page" complete, I'm casting on for a new/old pair of mitts. If you're a longtime reader, you'll recogize these.

I made them at the same time as the Penelope hat, but never got around to publishing them. It's time to finally take care of that. This time round, they're going a shade paler in Quince's Puffin in Glacier.

OK, I admit that this is a highly impractical colour for mitts. After a couple of outings, they'll start to look grimy. But hey, I love, love, love this colour, I have a few skeins of it lounging around in my stash, and I'm going to live a little dangerously (at least as far as knitting goes). 

P.S. The weather forecast for Xmas Day has changed. Now we have a rainfall warning. Our non-winter continues. No complaints, mind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Gingerbread and Lace

The scent of freshly baked ginger cookies is surely up there in the "Best Smells Ever" list. These aren't really "gingerbread", but ginger crinkle cookies. No rolling required, plus they have a very slightly crunchy exterior combined with a soft and chewy interior. Truly, it doesn't get any better. I found the recipe in the Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago. It's a keeper.

Such a relief not to be doing any last minute gift knitting this year. Because of my fears of mailing delays, I completed all my knitting obligations by early November. Now it's just fun stuff to knit at my own pace (not very fast, I rarely spend even an hour a day knitting). My test of Victoria is done and ready to wear while I wait for the other testers to finish.

Wheatsheaves, the shawl, is inching its way into the fun lace charts. My knitting philosophy, as you probably know, is to get as much bang for my knitting time with as little effort as possible. As with Victoria, the Wheatsheaves lace charts are easy to memorize and require only casual attention. Perfect for audiobooks and/or CBC Radio or NPR (which, amazingly, is broadcast loud and clear from Cape Vincent just across the lake) or Netflix.

I generally try to keep favourite Calendars going for more than one year by printing off pages for the incoming year and taping them over the original pages. It now seems quite prescient of me to have chosen this little gem a year ago while on a trip to Picton during Isabel's visit here.

The illustrations made me smile when I first saw them and still do now, when a little daily smile goes a long way.

P.S. The best recipe for real old-fashioned gingerbread, the type that used to be served with butter before it morphed into cake in the late 20thC, is from the late James Beard's "Beard on Bread". A copy of it can be found here.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tutorial: Making a 3-Layer Mask

This is a post for Isabel. She likes the masks I recently sent her along with some fabric to make her own, so this is a step-by-step lesson aimed at her. If anyone else finds it useful, that's great.

1. Cut out the pattern. I use this one. It fits me exceptionally well. The 3/8" seam allowances are included.

2. Trace the pattern onto your pre-washed batik fabric (it's the densest cotton) using tailor's chalk and cut out three pieces from doubled fabric. You will end up with six pieces in total (each piece below is actually two pieces). I like to make one set out of a contrasting lighter fabric that will become the lining.

 3. Sew the long curved edges, then clip the curves.

4. Press the pieces open with the seams to one side. Press the seams in each piece in the same direction. It will all work out, trust me. Then layer them in this order.

5. Pin the layers together and sew the top and bottom. The top is the longer curve. It's pretty obvious.

6. Turn right side out so that the right side of the lining is showing. At first you'll think there's no way this will fit through the side openings, but struggle for a minute and suddenly it'll go. Press everything nice and flat.

7. Edgestitch the bottom. If you wear glasses all the time, go ahead and edgestitch the top. Your glasses will shape the top edge around your nose.

8. If you don't usually wear your mask with glasses, you can insert something like this.

This is the plastic-covered piece of metal (I assume it's metal) from the Stonemill bread I buy at Loblaw. It's perfect for this purpose. Insert it into the top edge and edgestitch as shown below.

 9. Turn the side edges under about 1/4", then about 3/8". No need to be precise. Edgestitch in place, backstitching a few times at the beginning and end where the elastic will put some strain on things.

10. Cut lengths of elastic. I use special mask elastic that I purchased from Fabrications. I cut 9" lengths because the elastic will shrink after washing. I use a blunt tapestry needle to thread through the side edges. You could use a small safety pin if your side openings aren't too narrow.

11. Tie off the ends. I recommend washing the mask before wearing. Everything will shrink a little, which for me results in the perfect fit.


Friday, December 11, 2020

Scarves, Shawlettes, Shawls

Does linguistic precision matter? Probably not. I'm prepared to grant licence to any knitter to call their knitting whatever they want, even when based on one of my designs, but for my own knitting I like to distinguish between SCARVES, bits of knitting meant to keep the neck area warm, and SHAWLS, designed to cover the shoulders and often much more. A scarf can generally be worn under a jacket or coat. A shawl must, by reason of its size, be worn on its own or possibly even over a coat. As for SHAWLETTES, if I had my way they would disappear as a category. Neither fish nor fowl. It's unreasonable for me to dislike this word, but I do. There, I've said it. 

These cantankerous thoughts arise just as I am launching into a reprise of Wheatsheaves, not as a scarf, but as a shawl. In other words, I'm blowing up this

to enlarge it into a full-scale warm shawl to wear around the house this winter. To accomplish this, I'm using this


along with a larger needle size. Not sure yet whether I'll need to work extra repeats. I'll play it by ear. That's the nice thing about shawls.

Rather warm here for December. Looking back at the blog for Dec 14, 2013 when it was minus 16C, I'd say we're lucky. Still able to walk outside without winter boots. No hat required this morning when I took this pic near the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, down the street from our place.


The building, designed by Norwegian architects, is such a lovely combination of the old and new, and seems to fit into the landscape perfectly. The soft colours of the old limestone and the new weathered wood are beautiful in the pale winter light.

Christmas tree up today (earlier than usual) and I strung lights along the front porch rails. Trying to stay cheerful as the darkness of the solstice descends.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Testing Underway

Sometimes things actually get accomplished ahead of schedule. While waiting for the internet guy this morning I somehow managed to complete the schematic for Victoria and insert it into the draft pattern.

The draft has been sent out this morning to testers. If you feel like joining in, just let me know on Ravelry. Snow coming later this week. After James' move, I hope. Only rain today. Where do pigeons go when it rains?

Apparently, nowhere. So depressing to see them out in front of the house in 4C drizzle.