Monday, January 30, 2012

How to turn a hippo into a rhino

I began with Susan Anderson's hippo pattern from her book Itty Bitty Toys.  These modifications will only make sense for that pattern.  This is not a stand alone pattern.

I used the same yarn for Belisarius that I had for Ione - Hobby Lobby's Sweet Delight Twists.  Different colors, I had one skein of each left from baby sweaters I'd knit.  Ione was knit on size 4 needles, Belisarius on size 5's.  That made him slightly bigger.  If I'd not already knit Ione, and wanted him to be beefier, I would have knit on 4's, because I like the tighter knit for stuffed animals.

The body, head, and legs are knit as directed in the hippo pattern.  Ione's legs are longer, because I knit them longer than the pattern specified.  She is a water ballerina, after all.  The heads look different because I rotated the head for the rhino.  Instead of the kitchener bind off creating the horizontal line for the mouth, it is vertical, with the large horn emerging from it.  I also smooshed and pulled the shape a bit while stuffing to get it to look like I wanted and attached it further to the front of the body. 

I wanted stronger arms for my rhino warrior, so I cast on 21 stitches, 3 more than called for in the hippo pattern, and 3 less than used for the legs.  I knit them as instructed, decreasing an extra stitch on the various decrease rounds.

The rhino tail is 12 sts, knit to desired length, with fringe looped inside before binding off.  Belisarius has a two inch long tail.

ear, front
For the ears, I cast on 22 sts, 11 on each needle.  I worked them in the round, but holding two needles flat against each other.  The decreases are different for the front and back of the ear.  The semicolon in the instructions indicate where the needle change is.

CO 22 sts
K3 rows
row 4:  K4 (sl1, k2tog, psso) K4; k1, (sl1, k1, psso), k5, k2tog, k1
row 5 and 6:  knit
row 7:  k3 (sl1, k2tog, psso) k3; k1, (sl1, k1, psso), k3, k2tog, k1
row 8:  knit
ear, back
row 9:  k2 (sl1, k2tog, psso) k2; k1, (sl1, k1, psso), k1, k2tog, k1
row 10:  knit
row 11:  k1, (sl1, k2tog, psso), k1 - twice - same on both sides
row 12:  sl1, k2tog, psso, k1 - twice - same on both sides
row 13 - cut yarn, thread through both stitches, pull tight.  When you tuck the yarn inside, don't pull so hard that you lose the point on the top of the ear.

When you sew the ears in place, fold them into a U shape.  Do not stuff them. 

The small horn:
CO 12 sts and knit in round for an inch.
Decrease row:  k1, k2tog around
knit 1 row
decrease row:  k2tog around
Break yarn, thread through remaining 3 sts.  Again, keep the point.  Stuff with fluff.

The big horn:
CO 18 sts, join in round
knit 8 rows
Work a couple short rows to create a bend.  I knit back and forth over 12 sts, four short rows, ie, 2 turns on either end.
knit in round 4 rows.
Decrease:  k1, k2tog around
knit 1 row
k2tog around
knit 1 row
k2tog around
Break yarn, draw through remaining sts.  Once again, pointy end.

I knit and sewed the large horn in place first, positioning it to cover the less tidy end of the kitchener stitch on the head.  Then I placed the smaller horn above that.

That's it!  Give your rhino eyes and a mouth and done!  If you make a rhino, I'd love to see him/her.  Either here or on Ravelry. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Belisarius, a knitted rhinocerous

I knit a rhinoceros and named him Belisarius

I modified the hippo pattern from Itty Bitty Toys to make him.
I'll post details later.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

thoughts on: The Liberators

The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the HolocaustThe Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust by Michael Hirsh

Michael Hirsh spoke with over 150 Americans who were among the first to encounter Nazi concentration camps, sometimes mere hours after German troops had deserted them. They shared with him not only their experiences as young men and women witnessing hitherto unimaginable cruelty, but how those sights - and smells - affected them throughout their lives.

Many, but not all, of them did not speak about their experiences for decades after the war. Some just wanted to put it in the past. Others found that nobody wanted to hear about it. So why now? Many say they began speaking publicly about what they saw in response to Holocaust deniers and with the realization that soon there will be no witnesses left to speak out. These who saw atrocities against their fellow man that still give them nightmares speak out to anyone who will listen in the hope that learning about the past will spark a desire to prevent it from recurring.

That is the reason to read books like this. It is difficult to read about such monstrous hatred. It is honestly not something I like to think about, such pervasive evil, so much passivity to evil. I am a lover of happily ever afters, gardens in bloom, and laughing babies....but I know that ignorance does not create bliss. We need to know and remember and make sure future generations do, too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

thoughts on: Below Stairs

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" by Margaret Powell

Below Stairs reads like an oral history, though the edition I read makes no mention of a co-author.  Margaret Powell speaks directly to her reader, with little asides and references to how different times were then compared to now (1968, when her memoir was first published).  Her voice is so engaging:  intelligent, frank, and spry.

Powell's memoir is not an in depth accounting of the years she spent in service.  She doesn't gloss over unpleasant events or people, but they are not recounted in gory detail, either.  This is no soap opera retelling of employers' secrets and downstairs intrigues.  It is a recollection of one life, sharing bits about each of the places where she worked - some pleasant, some wretched - but mostly it is about how she reacted to the situations she encountered.  Circumstances never robbed her of her confidence or ambition, and it is her integrity that makes her memoir enjoyable to read.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Dunce Cap

I'm calling this My Dunce Cap because of all the stupid mistakes I made while knitting it.  The pattern was not poorly written; the mistakes were all mine.  A free pattern, Regina by Carina Spencer, I loved the vintage look to this hat.  It reminds me of 1930's movies and bathing caps.  To me, those are good things.  So I decided to knit one for myself, using some remnants of wools (to scratchy for chemo patients, but I like wool hats).

It is made by knitting the brim first, then picking up stitches for the body of the hat.  Knitting the brim went smoothly.  Then began the mistakes.

Mistake 1:  I didn't read the pattern carefully and missed that I was supposed to be slipping stitches.  I noticed this when I was almost ready to begin decreasing.  I decided I could live with it.  The verticals wouldn't be quite as smooth, not elongated, but there'd be vertical lines on a horizontal surface.

Mistake 2:  I ran out of yarn.  Remember, I'm using remnants.  The tan yarn I had left from the year I made helmet liners - ran out about 4 rows into the decreasing.  No living with that.  So I took apart that evening's knitting and was left with just the brown edge.  I made a mental note not to forget to slip stitches the next evening when I started over with this natural off white wool.

Mistake 3:  I forgot to change needle sizes after increasing the number of stitches around the brown edge.  I knit a couple inches before noticing that.  Using the small needles, it wouldn't have the slouch I wanted for my vintage bathing cap look.  I couldn't live with that, so I ripped back to the brown again.

Mistake 4, the big one:  In my enthusiasm for the vintage look of this hat, I neglected to consider whether it would actually look good on me.  Er, it doesn't.  Even my husband doesn't think this is a flattering hat.  I look better in hats with brims. 
This is the mistake I make over and over again when knitting for myself:  I buy colors of yarn I would not buy in finished garments and I choose patterns I would not buy in finished items.  

Having said that, I have worn this hat out a couple times.  It is very comfortable, warm, and matches my coat perfectly.  In my imagination, I look adorably chic in this hat, but when I see my reflection anywhere, the illusion is destroyed.  Yet, I'm okay with that.  At least for this week.

A dunce cap, for sure.

(Photos were taken by my husband.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Trio of Homespun Hats

Spiral decreases
I knit three hats last week from two remnant skeins of Lion Brand Homespun. The two red ones are slightly different. The one pictured above and to the right is a roll brim, with spiral decreases at the crown.  The decreases are hard to see in the Homespun.  In a less textured yarn, the spiral is obvious.  This is probably the easiest hat ever to knit.  In a different yarn, it was the first hat I ever knit, and I still wear that hat.  I wore it today in fact.  Don't you love basic, classic styles? 

The red hat pictured below is very similar.  When I was photographing these this evening my husband thought they were identical.  Close, but no.  This one has a short ribbed brim and concentric decreases.  I like those decreases better in this chunky weight.  The crown is less pointy at top because you can decrease over less rows.  In worsted and lighter weights, I've never had the spiral decreases result in pointy crowns, so I am assuming it's due to the thicker yarn.  I won't do another spiral decrease on bulky yarn.
The red yarn was left from a sweater I knit my daughter several years ago.  The purple, I have no idea how that entered the house.  I've never made anything with it, and it was less than a half skein.  I'm going to guess that it was given to me by someone destashing yarns they did not want.
Concentric decreases, more rounded crown.

Although I've pictured it last, the purple hat is the first one I knit from the Homespun yarn.  The pattern is offered free from Lion Brand.  The chemo hats I'd knit from other yarns all turned out slightly bigger than I'd anticipated, so I thought I'd make this one smaller than the pattern specified.  So I cast on 54 instead of 60 stitches. (I think I've mentioned before that I rarely swatch.)

Mistake!  It turned out child sized.  My daughter couldn't even get it on her head.  The edge was way too tight.  I thought about frogging it and making it bigger, but decided against it.  Children, sadly, are in need of chemo caps, too, and some little girl might love this purple hat.  I wish I had a child handy to model it, because it really is cuter than it appears plopped on my vase.

Now I've only tiny balls of Homespun left, not enough for another hat or anything else.  They're back in the yarn wagon.  If, after knitting up all my soft stash yarns, I buy more Homespun for future chemo hats, I can use them for contrasting brims or stripes or something.   I probably will, too, because a lot of people like the softness of this yarn.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Sock Hound, and lessons learned

I just finished this little puppy's face this afternoon.  It's the only part of him that I am satisfied with.   I needle felted a nose for him, then sewed it in place.  I love the nose so much, that I plan to buy more black wool roving for future animals.  It's hard to tell in the photos, but it has real dimension.  

My first non-monkey sock animal, I wanted to make a hound dog.  I bought an instruction book from the Fox Mill Sock Company  - the company that makes the red heel socks.  They have two dogs, a puppy and a dachshund.  Neither was exactly what I wanted, but this is more like the puppy than the doxie.  I wanted a dog that could stand up, so I put straws in his legs.  I'm not sure it was worth it.  He can only stand on surfaces with friction.  On smooth surfaces, his stiff legs splay out from under him, like Bambi on ice.

I didn't want him to have a red butt, so I sewed a dart over the red heel, leaving him a cute little white butt.  I am not sure about the tail.  I like its crazy longness, and its angle, but wish I'd reversed the colors.  

I am most unhappy with his neck.  Or lack of a neck.  I sewed darts there, too, to lift his head up higher, but I'm still not satisfied with it.  I was so displeased on Monday, when I was sewing him, that I tried to set him aside, but looking at his neck bothered me so much I had to make him a bandana. 

I briefly considered Not Finishing him.  Then, I reminded myself that this is a learning process, and even if I remained unsatisfied with him when he was done, I should still make the needle felted nose, if only to see if it worked.  I'm glad I did, because as soon as he had a face, I just had to like him, short neck, stiff legs, silly tail and all.

I learned two important lessons:  don't stick straws inside a stuffed animal and do make needle felted noses. 

Jeb suggested we name him Pest, but I said that was not nice, and we'd call him Alfie.

thoughts on: The Alzheimer's Prevention Program

The Alzheimer's Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your LifeThe Alzheimer's Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life by Gary Small

Dr. Small is a leader in Alzheimer's research, and shares the latest studies and their findings. His program to stave off Alzheimer's symptoms is based on this research, but is itself good old fashioned common sense: eat right, exercise, calm down, and use your brain. I loved that he included self assessments for all those areas, including two memory assessments, so the reader can see where they need to make the most changes. (Each category has sub-groups, so it is not just memory; there are various types of recall assessed.)

I found Small's tone very reassuring. He shared many cases where making simple lifestyle changes made a huge difference in patient's lives, and he continuously emphasized that everyone is capable of making changes that will improve their brain health, including those whose abilities are impaired by other physical or medical limitations.

Many different brain games were included in the book, and, I must admit, I found those either the most enjoyable or most frustrating things in the book, depending on the exercise.

Friday, January 20, 2012

thoughts on: Lost to the West

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western CivilizationLost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth

Covering over 1000 years of history in 350 pages, Lost to the West is a fascinating and enjoyable overview of the Byzantine Empire.  Focusing on the greatest emperors and the most significant events, Brownworth's love of the subject is contagious.  As he states in his title, his two main points are that western civilization would not have survived without the presence of the empire seated in Constantinople, and that we in the west have forgotten them.  The latter was plainly true for me, which is why I picked up this book.

Brownworth shows us an amazing and vital Roman Empire, seated in Constantinople, stretching from Italy to north Africa, which kept both classical culture and Christianity intact - codifying Roman laws; preserving Greek literature, philosophy, education, and art; protecting the doctrine of the church as well as its members throughout the empire - all while staving off assaults from invading barbarians, mongols, and muslims. 

It's history.  You know how it ends.  Still, reading about the sacking of Constantinople, the desecration of the Hagia Sophia, I was sad.  Sad about what happened, sad thinking that the west could have helped, but didn't, and sad that the same sort of thing happens over and over again. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

No Skein Left Behind

The chemo hat project dovetails nicely with another knitting goal of mine: down stashing.  I don't hoard yarns, but I do have a couple drawers full of odd balls, mostly skeins and partial skeins left over from previous projects.  For the chemo hats, I've decided to knit every soft enough yarn I have before buying anything new.

This pink Bernat Softee Chunky was a partial skein.  I'd knit a ponytail hat from it for my daughter a couple years ago.  I didn't know if there was enough left for another hat, so decided to knit it from the crown down.  That way, I could do the brim/cuff in a contrasting yarn.  When I realized I wasn't going to run out of yarn, I knit three cable twists instead.  I call this one "Just Enough is Plenty."

I'll definitely use this improvisational method again.  It was so nice to just pick up the yarn and knit, not having to follow a pattern.  I don't swatch for most things, so I just based my calculations on the ball band gauge and by eyeballing it.

The Fuzz Fez was knit from my last skein of Lion Brand Fun Fur.  I'd bought several of these years ago at the Dollar Tree.  I knit most of it into a bunch of scarves for little girls, but this one remained.  When I found the 'No-Hair Day' Chemo Cap pattern, it was destiny.  It reminds me of a hat or bathing cap from the 60's.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My theme must be love notes.

I never thought I was a person who decorated with themes.  My babies didn't have thematic nurseries.  I have never even aimed for a unified colour scheme.  I don't actually like having a lot of knick-knacks and things around me.  The exception:  I like elephants and briefly had an elephant theme in my living room in a former house, as a result of over zealous loved ones gifting me with elephant decor.

Today, though, as I hung this sign on my wall, I realized I do have a that explains the elephant room, too.  The theme is love notes.  Almost every decorative item in my house is a love note of sorts.  Either ones given to me, or ones I've made for my family.  Expressions of love, written or not.

This sign falls into the latter.  I made it for my husband.  "Made it for" meaning that although he claims no particular interest in the decorating of our home, I knew he'd like the sentiment.

I made my sign by tracing the letters on to map pages of the places we've lived, and, since we haven't lived that many different places, a few of the places we've vacationed together.  Then I glued them on a canvas I'd painted.  A love note, for my husband, to remind him that even though I want to live elsewhere, he is the most important reason for being anywhere.

It is hanging in a place where we'll see it every time we leave or enter our home - in our newly renovated laundry/mud room/entry from the garage.  It is also visible from our cozy hanging out in the kitchen/family room sofa spots.  This photo is taken from that view.

If you are not familiar with the phrase, it's a song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Monday, January 9, 2012

thoughts on: The Last Dragonslayer

The Last DragonslayerThe Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I have read all of Jasper Fforde's books, and have been waiting almost a year to read this one.  I was expecting to love it.  But I didn't.  My son, also a Fforde fan, suggested that it was the difference in audience, and I think he is right.  The Last Dragonslayer is written for children - middle grades - and it has a slower, easier to understand pace than his other books.  I missed that jump right in to another world and figure it out as you go along feel, and it took longer for me to be drawn into the story.

Having said that, I know I'll read future books in the series when/if they become available in the US, but I won't be awaiting them as eagerly as I am Fforde's next book in the Shades of Grey series. 

2012 Project Chemo Caps

On Ravelry, all your projects get names.  Some people use the pattern name.  For example, the pattern at left was Lace Edged Women's Hat by Julie Dentz.  If they make the same item again, they'll name it Lace Edged Women's Hat 2.   Very practical.

I think naming things is too fun to be practical about it, so I prefer individualized names.  For hippos or frogs, names come easily, but other items really don't call out their names.  So they often get named after the movies I watched or books or music I listened to while knitting.  At left, Notoriously Easy Chemo Cap.  I was watching Notorious.

At right, Blue Rhapsody Chemo Cap.  I was listening to Gershwin that evening, and the hat is blue.  (Darker than the blue in Notoriously Easy.)  The pattern, written by Tiina Kuu, is named Tähdellinen.  Both hats were free, downloadable on Ravelry, and knit up in a couple hours.

As you can tell by their names, they're for chemo patients.  My church's charity knitting group - Knitogether - is focusing on chemo caps this year.  There are so many patterns for hats - I am really looking forward to knitting lots of them!  I'm also looking forward to having time to knit fun things for my friends and family.  Last year's blanket project was draining by mid-year.  I'm hoping the hats will have opposite effect.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

thoughts on: The Introvert Advantage

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert WorldThe Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney

The first third of The Introvert Advantage discusses what researchers have learned about the differences in brain function between introverts and extroverts.  I found this part fascinating, and kept reading snippets aloud to my family.  I also emailed them all brain dominance tests, because I like to share.

The remainder of the book dealt with suggestions for introverts on navigating an extrovert dominated world.  Much of this I found skimmable, but it might be more helpful to someone who is young or struggling.  It seems like most middle aged introverts, like myself, figured out long ago that although they may never feel at ease in the outside world, they are nevertheless capable of dealing with it. 

I think the first part is well worth reading, both by introverts and by the extroverts who care about them.  Perhaps even more so by the latter, because, honestly, we know we seem odd to them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sea Waves Scarf

I bought a single skein of Cascade 220 handpaint from a clearance bin at least three years ago.  I loved the shades of blue in it, and it was such a bargain.  Then I could not think of anything to make with it.  Variegated yarn, lovely on the skein, often knits into blotches.  Some people like that.  I don't.  So this skein sat for three years until I stumbled upon this pattern.

A simple seafoam stitch, it shows the variations in blue to their best advantage, letting the color changes form waves, rather than the blotches I'd feared.  The pattern was a free download on Ravelry, "Drop Stitch Scarf" by Christine Vogel.

I wish I had taken before blocking photos, because it was interesting to see how the size of the scarf changed from short and wide to long and thin.  The seafoam pattern opened up with blocking.

However, the yarn did not soften with blocking, and I think it is too scratchy to be worn against one's neck.  I rewashed it, this time using hair conditioner.  I read that can help soften scratchy wool.  It is drying now.  I will update later and let you know if it worked.

(Trixie didn't seem to mind the scratchiness, but the recipient might.)

Update:  conditioner softened it nicely and perfumed it as well.

Monday, January 2, 2012

thoughts on: Wildwood

Wildwood (Wildwood Trilogy, #1)Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Meloy put together a fun adventure tale for middle grade readers. The plot seemed right for this age group - enough twists to keep them interested, but not so many as to lose them along the way. The first of a planned trilogy, he wrapped the story up neatly - no cliffhangers - but left plenty of room to develop future stories.

The back cover promised part fairy tale, part coming of age story. I agree only with the former. Meloy fell short in character development. This is not unusual in a children's book, but I lament it anyway. Wildwood could have been so much more if Colin and Prue had been treated less as stock characters and more as real children.

For me, the most outlandish circumstances are made believable when the characters are believable. Meloy did not achieve that. Prue's parents, in particular, defied belief, but Prue herself lacked the depth one wants in a heroine. I hope in future tales, Meloy develops more depth in his writing, because his storytelling is quite appealing.