These Days

Hi readers!

DSC00903I know it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been so busy in the past month with schoolwork, babysitting, fun outings around Paris, cooking, yoga, and knitting/other crafty pursuits that I haven’t had time to update you! But here I am, and I can’t wait to tell you what I’ve been up to.

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I usually feel a little down around this time of year (Christmas is just so far away!) but this spring I’ve been feeling energetic and inspired. I’m also loving the increasingly nice weather. I’ve been watching these pretty blossoms open little by little every day on my walk to work. You just can’t beat Paris in the spring!

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In the spirit of spring, I’ve started several new projects in the past month. First, I’ve finally taken the leap and taught myself to crochet! I bought the kit for Bohemian Rhapsody months ago, but I’ve been putting it off because I had been feeling a little overwhelmed by the 27-page pattern. But once I took the time to sit down and figure out what all the new (to me) crochet terms meant, I realized that it really wasn’t as hard as I had thought, and I’ve been addicted ever since! (This series of granny square tutorials was a great help to me in deciphering the pattern–which, to clarify, is extremely well-written, but understandably opaque for an absolute beginner like me).

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Chai and crochet on the balcony!

My  other big project recently has been my Etsy shop, AxisMundiJewelry, which just went live last week. I’m selling necklaces and bracelets handmade by me using wooden beads and semi-precious stones, inspired by Hindu and Buddhist prayer beads. It’s been exciting to see the number of views and likes on my pieces increase daily, and I can’t wait to get my first sale. Take a look!

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Click to see this amazonite lotus charm bracelet on Etsy.
Click to see this sandalwood and citrine bracelet on Etsy.
Click to see this sandalwood and citrine bracelet on Etsy.

I’ve also been cooking a lot more recently, especially recipes from Moosewood Cookbook, which I really cannot recommend highly enough. The recipes are simple, vegetarian, and healthy, but hearty enough to be filling, which my husband (who has a black hole for a stomach) greatly appreciates. The recipes are illustrated and hand-written in a colloquial style that makes you feel like a friend is walking you through the recipe. And needless to say, they’re delicious.

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My goal is to eventually make every recipe in the cookbook! I’ve been doing three or four a week. Here’s the fresh and flavorful lentil-bulgur salad that I made us for lunch today. Alexis’s favorites so far have been the broccoli-mushroom-noodle casserole and the March Hare salad. Mine have been the cauliflower curry and Kristina’s Potato Salad.

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I also made these Morning Glory muffins recently, which I love to eat for breakfast with my homemade fig-and-honey jam. This recipe isn’t from the Moosewood Cookbook–it’s just one of the many recipes that I’ve stumbled across randomly over the years and have come back to over and over, telling myself that one day I’ll write them all down in a notebook. I’m terrified that King Arthur Flour will take it down from their website one day!

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Other things that have been keeping me busy:

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  • Going out for sushi at our favorite spot in Paris
  • Going to a screening of independent short films organized by L’affriche Cinéma, including the première of an incredible stop-motion adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis made by my friends Fred and Louise
  • Drinking tea and eating soft-boiled eggs with baguette for dunking at L’Oisivethé
  • Planning my trips to Stockholm and Amsterdam with my sister in April!
  • Spending a perfect lazy Friday night eating homemade pizza, watching black-and-white French movies, and reading while Alexis falls asleep on my lap

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That’s pretty much it! I hope you all are enjoying the beginning of spring as much as I am. More updates soon!

Better Late Than Never: Maria’s Mittens

Hi readers!

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I’m sure that, if you’re a knitter, you’ve had experience with seemingly never-ending projects. We often call this the “second sock” or “second mitten syndrome”–by the time you finish one sock or mitten of the pair, you’re burnt out and can’t bring yourself to do the second one–but really, it can happen with any type of project. Once the novelty of a new stitch pattern or technique is gone, you’re ready to move on to the next exciting thing, and the prospect of repeating what you’ve just spent countless hours doing all over again can be daunting.

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This was the case with this pair of mittens. My mom got me to make these for one of her closest friends (who also happens to be the mother of two of my closest friends) for Christmas 2013. I started off with one idea, made a prototype, didn’t like it, decided to start over…needless to say, it didn’t happen.

But I did manage to finish them for Christmas 2014 (okay, a few weeks after Christmas 2014)! Instead of creating my own design from scratch, like I did for my sister’s København mittens, I decided to copy another knitter’s design–without a pattern (oh, will I ever learn?).

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The mittens you see here were designed by Kristi Jõeste, a talented Estonian knitter who is inspired by traditional folk knitting patterns and techniques. Her work has been featured in many exhibitions, and she has also published several books on folk knitting and teaches courses at the University of Tartu’s Viljandi Culture Academy. Ms. Jõeste doesn’t publish patterns for her designs, but she graciously allows knitters to copy them from photos. This is what I decided to do.

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For several reasons, I had to alter Ms. Jõeste’s design significantly. The cuff on her version is created using the faux entrelac technique, which gives the impression of a basketweave without the hassle of knitting in two directions. However, since the Shetland yarn I chose for the colorful elements in my version was a bit itchy against the skin, I decided to line my cuff in smooth madelinetosh sock yarn. For reasons that are too complicated to explain here, you can’t do a faux entrelac cuff if you start by doing a lining (trust me, I tried), so I was forced to do the cuff in true entrelac instead. Entrelac differs from faux entrelac in that it does involve knitting in two directions and in that it takes forever.

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Apart from entrelac, these mittens involve four other finicky and time-consuming knitting techniques: Latvian braids, stranded colorwork, beading, and roositud. I had done the first three before, but roositud was new for me and–surprise–I love it! Roositud is a kind of inlaid embroidery that you create as you knit, as you can see here. It’s surprisingly simple and satisfying to do, and a whole lot easier than doing embroidery on knitting after the fact. I think it looks beautiful, and I’ll definitely be incorporating this technique into my knitted creations in the future!

Ms. Jõeste uses very tiny knitting needles, as did the Estonian knitters who originated these techniques–we’re talking 150, 200 stitches per round. I used slightly bigger needles, which meant that I had to modify the roositud design a bit so that it would fit on the back of the mitten. I also did a gusset thumb instead of the more traditional peasant thumb.

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After much procrastinating, the mittens are finally done! It’s a relief, and I’m glad I didn’t give up on them. Check them out on Ravelry and tell me what you think!

Main yarn: madelinetosh merino light in Paper

Lining: madelinetosh sock in Candlewick

Colorful accents: Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift in Bottle, Cobalt, Seabright, Madder, and Plum

Needles: US 0 / 2mm double-pointed needles

Beads: Toho 3.5mm silver-lined crystal seed beads

My New Year’s Knitting Resolutions

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For those of you who don’t know, I’m spending the month of January in Boston, taking a letterpress class for credit towards my degree. I’ve been stocking up on yarn for upcoming projects while I’ve been in the U.S., but since I don’t have my swift with me, I’ve been forced to finally finish a lot of projects I’ve been procrastinating on for a long time.

Like these mittens, which were meant to be a Christmas present...in 2013. Now they're finally done (pictures to come soon)!
Like these mittens, which were meant to be a Christmas present…in 2013. Now they’re finally done (pictures to come soon)!

It’s been satisfying to weave in those last ends and update projects as “finished” on Ravelry just as 2014 has come to a close and as I’ve started preparing for a fresh start upon returning to France at the end of the month. In the spirit of the new year, I decided to set myself some knitting resolutions to help me be more productive and budget-conscious in 2015 than I was last year–so here they are, accompanied by some photos of my year so far.

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I love starting the year off with a hike! Here I am at Harper’s Ferry.

1. (MOST IMPORTANT:) I will not leave my knitting on the couch because, no matter how clearly visible it is, my husband WILL sit on it.

2. I will stop buying yarn seven projects in advance and USE the yarn I buy before getting more. I don’t have space in my apartment for a huge stash! Besides, I’ve already got plenty of yarn to be excited about and a new loom to play with.

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Just SOME of the yarns I’ve acquired during my stay in the U.S.: Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed, Caribou by Hikoo, Kibou and Silk Garden by Noro, and a few skeins of hand-dyed yarns that my mom gave me for Christmas!

3. If the temptation to acquire yarn is too great, I will look to the many wonderful ISO & Destash groups on Ravelry for my wooly needs.

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A “calling card” I made as part of an assignment for my letterpress class.

4. I will experiment with recycled yarns and new fibers like plastic, metal, hemp, and roving. Wool is still my main squeeze, but it’s time we started seeing other people.

5. I will finish my current works-in-progress, no matter how irrelevant they have become (I’m talking about you, stuffed-doll-I-started-making-for-a-little-girl-I-don’t-even-babysit-anymore).

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That’s it! I was going to add, “I will not stay up knitting way past my bedtime telling myself ‘just one more row,'” but let’s not get crazy here. We all know that’s not going to happen.

Finished Design: København Mitts

Happy New Year, readers!

Now that the holidays are over, I can finally show you a project I’ve been wanting to share for weeks: this pair of stranded convertible mittens I designed and knit as a Christmas present for my younger sister. DSC00506 My sister is fascinated by Scandinavian culture, and she’ll be wearing these mitts during her semester abroad in Copenhagen. So I wanted to give this design a traditional Scandinavian feel, but with some updated elements. DSC00550 I was initially inspired by stranded black-and-white Norwegian Selbu mittens. I knit my version in Artesano Definition Sock wool yarn with 2mm double-pointed needles, so they would be more sleek and fitted than the average Selbuvott. I added a picot edging on the cuff, beaded accents, and pink-and-red Latvian braids for a pop of color.

I started by swatching, measuring, and charting out the body of the mitten. I just played around with different motifs from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s book until I found something I liked! Then I designed a chart for the cuff that would echo the diamond motif in the body of the mitten. DSC00537 I wanted to make a glove, in order to show off the stranded motifs as much as possible, but I wanted it to have open fingers, so that my sister will be able to ride a bike, pay for a coffee, or use her smartphone without taking them off.

Convertible mittens aren’t as hard as they look! After knitting the individual fingers, I just picked up stitches along the back of the mitten and cast on the remaining stitches using a backwards loop cast-on. I knit the cast-on stitches in a 1×1 rib for a few rows, so I had to break and re-join the white yarn on each row until I started working the chart all the way around again. This wasn’t hard, just annoying when end-weaving time came around. DSC00562 I used pretty much the same technique for the thumb hoods, except that I did plain stockinette instead of ribbing because I found that the ribbing added too much bulk to the thumb. I did a gusset thumb instead of the traditional peasant thumb–again, to give the gloves a more sleek and modern look. DSC00496My sister loves the mitts, and I’m sure they’ll keep her hands nice and koselig while she’s in Denmark this winter! Please like my project or give me feedback on Ravelry. I’m busy writing up the pattern for København now and it should be available for sale on Ravelry soon. Keep an eye out!

Adventures in Color

Before I share my other recently-FOs, I want to talk about an amazing class I took with Stephen West last week at l’Oisivethé in Paris.

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First off, let me say that Stephen is probably my favorite knitting designer ever. He always does his own thing–creating textures, shapes, and color combinations that no one else would have considered. There are a lot of patterns out there that are gorgeous, but could have been written by any number of designers. Stephen’s patterns, on the other hand, could never be mistaken for anyone else’s. I’d love to develop a design style that’s as unique and distinctive as his.

I was so excited to have the opportunity to try on Stephen’s samples, and I left wanting to knit so many of his patterns! My favorites were Penguono, the dress version of Parachutey, the Amazing Technicolor Dreamsweater, and Stephen’s funky and fuzzy version of Exploration Station, which he’s modeling below. I also got his advice on color combinations for Reis, which is at the top of my Ravelry queue.

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This workshop was all about color: choosing it, combining it, and being more adventurous with it. I definitely need some help with this, because I’ve been a neutrals devotee for most of my life. Already at the age of three, my favorite color was black. My mom has commented that everything I knit is some variation of mushroom-colored. So I’m trying to branch out, and Stephen was definitely the right person to coach me.

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This was a little swatch I made using scrap yarns I brought to the workshop and novelty yarns that Stephen challenged us to use, including a copper bouclé from Bart & Francis. I had a lot of fun combining different textures and shades of yarn. I love the mixture of purples, grays, and shiny, sparkly yarns. I’d love to design a chunky garter-stitch cowl in these colors.

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© Solveig Hisdal

I left the workshop feeling super-inspired–not only for some new, colorful designs, but also to incorporate more color in my everyday style. I’m really feeling the combination of red and pink right now, and I’m getting inspired by Frida Kahlo’s personal style and Northern and Eastern European folk dress. I made a mood board on Pinterest to help me come up with some designs on these themes.

I can’t wait to take another workshop with Stephen when he’s back in Paris!

Au feu, les pompiers!

I’ve been finishing projects like a boss this week. I’ve got four–count ’em–four FOs ready to photograph and put on Ravelry. And I’m so excited to share them, but some of them are Christmas presents for people who might be reading this blog, so I’ll have to wait.

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One that I can share is this cute stuffed fire truck I made for a three-year-old I babysit after school. He’s OBSESSED with all kinds of vehicles, but especially fire trucks, and he loves to imitate the sirens (at full volume, of course). He’s got lots of toy fire trucks to play with, but no soft fire truck doudous that he can cuddle with, so I thought he would like this.

The pattern is by Jody Long, but it seems to be unavailable now. I hope it comes back, because I’m sure there are lots of future firemen and firewomen around who would love a stuffed truck to snuggle!

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I made this one in an inexpensive acrylic yarn from Phildar. There was a little too much sewing involved for my taste, and if I used this pattern again I would probably try to modify it to make it more seamless. Nevertheless, I thought this pattern was pretty clever–I love the blue signal lights and the ladder, which was made by sewing knitted strips around plastic straws.

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The truck is a lot bigger than I expected and very cuddly. Instead of stitching “FIRE” on the side like in the sample, I stitched the little boy’s name, which I think he’ll love (I didn’t photograph that side of the truck to protect his privacy). I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I give it to him on Monday!

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More projects to come soon!

Crochet Insanity and Tidings of Yule

DSC00093Leave it to me to choose a project with a 29-page pattern that uses 75 colors as my FIRST experience with crochet.

But Marylene Lynx‘s Bohemian Rhapsody is just so me, and this range of wool from Renaissance Dyeing (hand-dyed using natural plant dyes) is so pretty, that I just had to dive in. We’ll see how this goes!

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In other news, look at my cute Christmas decorations! A garland of pinecones, candles burning everywhere all the time, and a tree decorated entirely with owls (including a cute new ornament my husband brought back for me from a Christmas market in Bonn).

DSC00094DSC00091Now for the final stretch of schoolwork, babysitting, and holiday knitting before the Christmas festivities begin. Wish me luck!

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