This is the best thing to wear for the day, you understand.

I love, love, love my new Opposite Pole. Joji Locatelli, the designer, is a freakin’ genius.

front 3

Attempting to pretend I spend most of my time standing in front of scenic lookouts while wearing fabulous cardigans.

Opposite Pole is just a gorgeous pattern through and through. Looking through other Ravelry users pictures, I would say it is one of those rare designs that looks good on everyone, and that is almost impossible to make badly.

Once you get established with the cabling pattern, it is really straightforward and simple. I love things that look hard but are actually not that difficult.


Minus 3 with strong winds on the shore of Lake Ontario – but my Opposite Pole is keeping me warm.

I used a new-to-me yarn – Cadena from Americo. I am absolutely nuts about this yarn, and can’t wait to use it again. It’s an alpaca/silk blend, crazy soft and warm, and appears to be incapable of pilling. I have been wearing this cardigan every day since I finished it. It is so warm I have been wearing it as an outer coat, even though winter is finally settling in with snow and strong winds.

I am thinking of re-making Wisteria in Cadena. I love the pattern, but sadly chose to make it in an impossibly pilly yarn. My Wisteria has now been downgraded to something I only wear while gardening or hiking. Cables really pop in the Cadena, and it has a lovely drape that I think would work nicely on a form-fitting pullover. Yep, pretty sure I am going to revisit Wisteria with a little Cadena.

The errata walk of shame.


Thanks to the eagle eyes and good sense of the knitters on ravelry, I have just discovered I made a few boneheaded errors in my Countess of Landsfeld pattern. Big sigh. I have updated the file on, as well as on my original blog post.

The big source of wrongness was the last row of the lace before the garter stitch short row shaping. Among the many errors was the fact that I had mislabeled the row as 59, when really it should have been 57.

This row should have read as k tbl, k2tog, k 10, *ssk psso, k11* rep from * 18x, k to 3 stitches before end, SSK, ktbl (241 sts); or, for the chart readers, k tbl, k2tog, k10, then continue with row 57 of chart, k to 3 stitches before the end, SSK, ktbl (241 sts).

I even got the final stitch count wrong. The shame, the shame!

Well, this is why we love the internet. Crowd sourced knitting errata is really pretty cool.

The Countess of Landsfeld

The Countess of Landsfeld: a lace shawl for those who don’t enjoy or have not yet tried knitting lace, or who struggle with the wearability of shawls.

Worn like a cozy, cozy scarf

Worn like a cozy, cozy scarf

countess of landsfeld back shawl (2)

Worn like a cozy, cozy shawl

Like many people, I do much of my knitting in public. I have a large handbag, and whenever I have a few minutes free I get knitting. Sadly, this situation means that anything requiring concentration generally gets neglected.  As a result, my designs lately reflect a goal of creating garments that look complicated (because I am apparently very, very needy and adore astonishing people with my mad knitting skillz), but are actually really simple – easy enough to do while yelling “Clear! Clear! HONEY YOU’RE OFFSIDE!!!” (ask a Canadian) or while watching subtitled Norwegian thrillers (Hodejegerne – fun movie! Watched while working on the Countess! Even the scenes with the astonishingly handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were watched while knitting!).

The Countess of Landsfeld Shawl is the happy result of my attention-deficit and attention-seeking knitting. It is named in honour of Eliza Gilbert, a woman who famously took shortcuts to get what she wanted. Lola_montezRather than submit to her 19th century choice of either a suitable marriage or genteel poverty, she ran away from family and convention, changed her name to Lola Montez, and presented herself to the world as a Spanish dancer – despite not speaking Spanish or, apparently, being much of a dancer. She blazed across the theatres of Europe, Australia, and America, counting among her admirers and lovers King Ludwig of Bavaria, who was so smitten that he ignored all advice and gave her the title of Countess of Landsfeld. Well, yes, this granting of a title did indeed lead to his eventual abdication, and, well, yes, the revolution of 1848 too, but my point is this: taking short cuts and breaking rules can sometimes be a really efficient means of getting what you want.

The Countess of Landsfeld is a celebration of shameless knitting shortcuts. The short cuts begin at the bottom with a no-tail long-tail cast on (never guesstimate your long tail ever again), and a traditional lace pattern – a 4 row variant of feather and fan – that forms its own scalloped edge, so you don’t have to fiddle about with more than one lace. This lace consists of a repetition of 3 rows of easy-peasy stockinette and one simple, rhythmic, unchanging row of repeated yarn overs and decreases. Well, yes, stockinette in which every 14th stitch is always knit or purled through its back loop – but it’s still easy. Afraid of missing that stitch? Use stitch markers – easier still.

Close up of lace detail, and picot cast off at the top of the shawl.

Close up of lace detail, and picot cast off at the top of the shawl. Seriously, that gorgeous lacy complexity is created by 3 rows of stockinette and one unchanging row of yarn overs and decreases.

This is lace that is, in truth, easy enough for a first lace project, but looks complicated enough to amaze and astound all those who see it. The whole thing is finished with nothing more than a picot cast off. This cast off is applied the top as well as to stitches picked up along the sides. It was chosen because it provides stretchiness and visual interest without distracting from the gorgeous complexity that is the main lace. You and your gift recipients don’t want to look as if you are wearing a doily, right?

Now that I have convinced you this is a mad easy shawl, suitable for beginners or the constantly distracted, I should probably let you know it does involve 4 to 1 decreases – but don’t panic! The pattern includes some mad easy solutions to the decreases that drive other, less plucky knitters away screaming in fear. Really, you should be happy these decreases are here. These decreases probably prevent this lace from being more widely known, so not only will you come away from this shawl with new weapons of mass decreasing in your knitting arsenal, but you will have a finished object that will make knitters gather round you, wondering how you did that.

countess of landsfeld back

The one row that does all the work (because the other three are always stockinette – amazing, right?) involves decreases that are typically referred to as k4tog and k4togtbl. To those who see these abbreviations and, quite rightly, say “Seriously? – those are really, really hard to do – I cannot get my ding dang needle through 4 stitches at once. Are you crazy? You said this was easy!” I say “Hah! The pattern explains no less than 5  alternatives that produce exactly the same results, and are way, way easier!” Indeed, with all the power invested in me as some random person with a blog, I propose a re-christening of the knitting terms k4tog and k4togtbl.  I dislike these abbreviations because they prescribe a technique (which I reject on behalf of all tight knitters with splitty or ungiving yarn, or unslithery, non-ninja-like needles, or fading eyesight, or arthritic fingers) when really, what the terms should describe is an outcome: namely, a decrease reducing 4 stitches to 1 that slants to the right (dec4R) and one that slants to the left (dec4L). How you get there should be your choice.

countess of landsfeld side view (2)

The yarn used in this project is’s 70% mink, 30% cashmere 4-ply DK Chamonix. This yarn – which is made with brushed mink (they just brush them! The mink are fine, and live long, happy minky lives!) – was chosen for its delicious warmth, softness, drape, halo, loft, stitch definition, and best-ever-gift-giving-properties. This is yarn that makes you excited about the approaching cold weather. And really, don’t you think Lola would have wanted mink? Having said all that, of course, substitutions are fine.

Like my Sweet Spot Socks, the Countess of Landsfeld was created to keep me amused, and relies on a standard knitting model (in this case, a short row bottom up shawl) with a standard lace stitch, freely accessible in myriad stitch dictionaries plunked in. In other words, “Hurray! Another free pattern!” With that in mind, I am not precise in the yarn amounts. Working amounts out precisely would require some test knitting, and then it would be work, and purchasing of more yarn, and then I would have to expect payment.  I know it took me about 2 and a half of the 230-yard DK skeins, which would be about 600 yards. It is fairly long, so if you would prefer to be a bit more frugal, go for 460 yards and just cast on fewer of the lace repeats.

Click here to open the pdf: countess of landsfeld – Oct 2013 update 2. If you decide to make one too, let me know. I look forward to seeing some Countess of Landsfeld Shawls around!

My friend Suzanne - world's best shawl model ever.

My friend Suzanne – world’s best shawl model ever.

Sweet Spot Socks

Anyone who has ever worn a pair of homemade socks knows what foot heaven is like. The experience is akin to… well, having your feet kissed by butterflies. Or Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and/or Olivia Munn (the Happy Home Economist is inclusive).  Now, if you or anyone you know is somewhat arthritic, as is the Happy Home Economist, double that happy foot feeling. If it helps, imagine Nikolaj Coster-Waldau/Olivia Munn on one foot and Johnny Oduya/Christina Hendricks on the other.

And now that you have imagined this heavenly foot rub, here is the other rub: hand knit socks take time to knit, and you need hand knit socks! Lots of them! You, your whole family and all your friends need some damn hand knit socks!

Now, a nice thing about socks is that busting out a few in simple stockinette should not take too long. However, for many of us, the temptation to gussy something up, give it a little something something, earn the oohs and ahhs of family, friends, and random strangers passing by, is irresistible. And so we find ourselves slowly working away, patterns open on our laps and glasses on our noses, through spectacularly cabled, or richly stranded, or ornately lacey socks. Maybe we will never wear them with anything more glamorous than a croc, but in our minds we will wear them with kicky high heels and we will look adorable.

The economics of knitting design encourage these complicated projects. The basic structure of a sock is fixed – feet are generally similarly shaped, and there are only a few ways to do a heel, toe and cuff, all of which are easily and freely googlable – so if you have made one sock, you can make more, without need for a pattern. In order to sell a design, therefore, designers must come up with a design that is both beautiful and complicated enough to provide a compelling reason for a purchase. Generally, this is a win-win situation: designers are rewarded for their labour, as they should be, and knitters get some damn fine socks.

But what if you need lots and lots of socks? Quickly, because winter is coming in? And you keep losing your cable needle, tangling your bobbins, and winter is just too damn cold for lacey socks anyway? And you can’t get the requisite gauge with your new 40 inch 2.25 mm Addi Turbos and if you don’t change your needle size the socks will never stay up, but you don’t have a smaller size and Addi Turbos don’t grow on trees?  And the only time you have available for knitting involves either public transit or a subtitled version of the complete box set of Once Upon a Time in China and you are in the middle of the legendary fight sequence between Jet Li and Donnie Yen? Should you consider that pride is a deadly sin anyway and just crank out some stockinette socks? Well, yes, when I write it that way, I guess that does indeed seem a reasonable answer. However, that is not my answer.

Instead, I suggest the Sweet Spot Socks, so named because the twisted stitch used in the pattern occupies the sweet spot between mindless, simple, gauge-ignoring knitting and fancy looking results. Best of all, the design is gender neutral, and customizable to easily fit children or adults. It looks just as good peeking out of the top of a hiking boot as it does a high strappy sandal. Just use whatever yarn you have kicking around, start at the toe, increase until the sock fits the intended foot, figure out what arrangement of six and two stitch twisted rib panels works in your unique stitch count, then start knitting and keep going until it is time for the heel, and after the heel keep going until you feel like you are done.

For her - with kicky high heels. Made with Classic Elite Alpaca Sox.

For her – with kicky high heels. Made with Classic Elite Alpaca Sox.

As you can tell from the above paragraph, this is not really a design that merits payment. Expert sock knitters with knowledge of twist ribs (or access to a stitch dictionary) can take one look at the picture and duplicate them without any need of opening my humble pdf. Accordingly, I thought it might be more fun just to write up this design as a sort of toe up 101. The pattern is written up as a tutorial on Judy’s Magic Cast On, loop increases, short row heels, Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, and of course the right twist stitch. For those sock experts who only want to figure out the right twist stitch, save a tree – all you will need is page 3.

For him - made with manly Cascade Superwash 220.

For him – made with manly Cascade Superwash 220.

The pattern does assume some familiarity with double pointed needles (DPNs) or magic loop; however, if you haven’t used these methods before, don’t worry – they’re actually pretty simple. You’ll be fine. There are heaps of excellent youtube videos out there showing you how. Personally I prefer magic loop simply because I find that method is less likely to fall off my needles when I shove my project in my purse and then forget it there for a few days, but DPNs have plenty of fans too.

So, without further ado, here is the link to the PDF. I hope you enjoy knitting, and wearing them – if anyone has any questions at all, let me know… I’ll be around. Perhaps lounging in my sweet socks. sweet spot socks

Why yes, yes I did make matching socks for my entire family. No, I don't think there is anything odd about that.

Why yes, yes I did make matching socks for my entire family. No, I don’t think there is anything odd about that.

Harvester of Sorrel

I was delighted to discover yesterday that what I had thought was a pretty sort of clover growing in a shady flower bed next to my house (and which I very fortunately left unmolested for some odd reason – perhaps whimsy, perhaps respect for the bumble bees, perhaps laziness) is in fact not clover at all, but a tasty tasty treat called wood sorrel.

Hint: not clover

Hint: not clover

I have, in the past, eaten, purchased, and even grown a completely different plant, also named sorrel, with rather spinach-y looking leaves. To differentiate the two, the sorrel that has delightfully chosen to grow right next to my house is called “wood sorrel”. Like the other sorrel, it has a lemony taste, but I find it to be slightly less acidic and all together more interesting.

My daughter and I gobbled a few tart, delicious leaves right away while we knelt in the dirt. I gathered a few extras, leaving plenty to self-propagate in the garden, and strewed them on the salmon burgers we had for dinner. There they were in their element – sort of like a combination of salad and pickles all at once.

As it turns out, it seems that pairing wood sorrel and salmon has a long history in Ireland. The recipes I have encountered for it tend to feature salmon served with a sauce featuring wood sorrel cooked up with butter and heavy cream. I am thinking this might be the perfect dinner party dish to come out to my friends as a forager. I could pass the dinner off as a sort of tribute to my heritage, as opposed to a dinner consisting of me finding something weird in the weeds that could be gross or covered in dog pee or poisonous and making them eat it.

So… hey, speaking of poisonous,  I should probably mention that, in my browsing of online sites about foraging, I have encountered a few warnings about wood sorrel that suggest it should not be eaten because of its high levels of oxalic acid. So why did I eat it, let my daughter eat it, and consider feeding it to guests? Well, mostly because the whole oxalic acid thing is overblown and dependent on rumour rather than science. I mean, oxalic acid is present in high-ish quantities in spinach, parsley, and chives, and I don’t see anyone stepping away from the spanakopita, tabbouleh, or sour cream and chive potato chips.

Because I am pedantic – I can’t help it, I just am – I did my best to find out what the deal is with oxalic acid. I discovered that there is a whole heap of confusion out there, and, were I a food scientist or a toxicologist, an interesting research topic. I can certainly understand that even the whiff of toxicity is enough to make anyone with a blog continue to place a warning stamp on a plant. I mean, it must seem as if the two possible outcomes from eating wood sorrel are so uneven: in the best scenario, in which the plant is not toxic, you have a nice salad; in the worst scenario, in which the plant is toxic, you and your loved ones, for whom you prepared dinner, die.

In the case of wood sorrel, however, the presence of oxalic acid is absolutely insufficient to produce any dire consequences. It was a traditional food of the First Nations people, and, as I mentioned previously, the Irish. It grows around the world, and has been eaten, and turned into tea and drunk, for millennia. It’s good for you – it contains fairly high levels of vitamin C. Like many other vegetables (e.g. spinach) that contain oxalic acid, wood sorrel would need to be ingested in brobdingnagian proportions in order to be toxic. And if you are eating 20 lbs of wood sorrel in one sitting, I suspect you may have other issues that could also be contributing to your untimely demise.

Now, don’t go eating rhubarb leaves, however. Although they are the poster child for why oxalic acid is toxic, apparently their toxicity is likely due to other compounds present in the leaves, rather than just the oxalic acid alone. So – they probably are kind of toxic, even if the oxalic acid is not necessarily to blame. And I, for one, am not in such desperate need of a salad that I would tempt fate with rhubarb leaves. I will stick to my wood sorrel.

On a rampage

Ramps. Lovely, lovely ramps.

Ramps. Lovely, lovely ramps.

I live in a newly built suburb in southwest Ontario, which sounds, perhaps, like the last place imaginable for any indigenous species to inhabit. For those who knew me back in my day, it also sounds perhaps like the last place imaginable for me to inhabit, either. Fortunately, however, the town and the developers maintained a few acres of green space, in which beavers build, deer frolic, foxes stroll, and blue herons strike regal poses. The bunnies, however, just seem to nibble my garden. Little buggers. Perhaps they need to follow a few blog posts on the benefits of woodland foraging, and leave my damn lilies alone (shakes fist, would wave cane if in fact had or needed said cane).

Our suburban woodland.

Our suburban woodland.

It delights me no end that I can step outside my suburban home with a hand trowel, poke around under a few trees, and come home with dinner. I gain from the experience a deeper connection to the earth and our place in it. I may also gain a few deeply concerned glances from neighbours who wonder what on earth I am doing behind that tree, and if I am OK. If they stop to ask I am very happy to let them know.

I debated the wisdom of posting about foraging for ramps. On the one hand, they are delicious, and finding something delicious in the woods (that requires only digging – not, like, shooting) is surely a deeply satisfying pleasure we should all experience; on the other hand, their deliciousness leads to demand, demand leads to over-foraging for both personal and commercial use, and over-foraging leads to their endangerment in the wild.

Finally, I reasoned, the over-harvesting of ramps is the result of commercial operations. Businesses predicated on selling ramps already know all about ramps – my posting it on a blog that currently has perhaps about two readers – and one is probably my mom – won’t lead to any new businesses descending on forests like a horde of locusts. Right, mom? I’m looking at you, lady – no shady underground ramp harvesting operations for you!

Ramps are a woodland species, requiring the shade of trees and a rich layer of fallen leaves. They are harbingers of spring: you may spot them as you step around puddles left by melting snow, or peer around trees to see new growth. Their bright green shoots grow out of the carpet of decaying grey leaves long before any other spring arrivals. I hope that you too will head off to the woods early next spring to enjoy the earthy smells and feel the warming air on your skin, and that you have the good fortune to discover a patch of these earthy, garlicky, onion-y beauties peeking out of the damp ground behind a tree.

Their leaves are almost unmistakable – they are a brilliant green, with stalks that are usually a rich burgundy colour. Some stalks may be white. If you are not sure, of course, pinch off the tip of one of the stalks and roll it between your fingers. If it has a strong odour of garlic and onions, then congratulations: you will have a spectacular dinner tonight.

As a note on how much to pick when foraging, always leave the majority of what you find untouched.  Fortunately, ramps are strongly flavoured – a little goes a long way. Consider the rarity of the species and its germination time when you pick anything. The exception here, of course, is invasive species like my loathed enemy garlic mustard – for those I suggest a scorched earth policy is best.

This spring I went out twice. Of a patch of perhaps 100 ramps, I picked about 15. This was enough for 3 meals for two adults and one small child: ramp pesto with homemade pasta, bacon and eggs with fried ramps and biscuits, and ramp chowder. We fell on each mouthful like hyenas on a weakened wildebeest.

There are many ramp recipes out there, so I won’t worry about posting mine – particularly since I didn’t measure or keep track of of how much I was using. And by the time I thought to take pictures, the food was gone and the kitchen a mess. A better source would be Serious Eats, for example, which has compiled a list of some intriguing ramp recipes.

Finally, I will close with the words of Dr. Scott from Dinosaur Train: “Remember – get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries”. And pull up some freakin’ garlic mustard as you go.

A better buttonhole

The cardigan that launched my quest for a better button band

The cardigan that launched my quest for a better button band

In one of the best blog posts I have ever encountered, Techknitter discusses knitted button bands as a symptom of a delusion shared only by knitters, much like the shared delusion of opera fans. Unlike opera’s true believers, opera outsiders cannot suspend disbelief during a performance, and will see only the morbidly obese 65 year old tenor with bizarrely painted on eyebrows and a comb-over, not the 25 year old ardent lover he is supposed to be. So too, she wisely concludes, do non-knitters fail to suspend disbelief over handknits, and will see only the saggy button bands and soggy button holes we knitters ignore while we ooh and ahh over yarn choices and cabling.

As one who is no stranger to the achievement of ecstatic oneness with the universe via operatic performances, I will stick with her well-chosen metaphor, and declare that I want to achieve a Jonas Kaufmann level of hotness in my button bands. For anyone who clicked on the Jonas Kaufmann link just now, you’re welcome.

The project that started my search for a new button band was one I had made many times before – my Mary Anning.

Mary Anning

Mary Anning

I knew the pattern by heart, and since my daughter had begun to suggest she wanted a white cardigan, and I just happened to have a few skeins of a gorgeous white angora and silk fingering weight from Romni kicking around, I decided to make it yet again.

When I designed this cardigan, I wrote the pattern with a button band worked concurrently (i.e. button bands and holes worked as you go, knitting the whole thing up from the bottom). I designed it this way because the original design had a contrast colour on the cast on edge that I wanted to maintain in the button band, and, well, also because I can be very lazy. Why knit button bands if you can just do them at the same time as everything else? The best way to work concurrent button bands, of course, is to work out ahead of time how many rows the cardigan will be in your chosen size, in order to space the buttonholes evenly. However, the yarn I would be using was much lighter, and I didn’t want to bother doing a swatch in order to figure out how to alter the cardigan. You know, the lazy thing again.

So, rather than knitting the button band as I went, I decided I would pick up stitches along the fronts once I was finished, and just do a garter stitch button band. Adding to the button band requirements were the buttons themselves: Matilda wanted enormous, heavy, sparkly buttons, so I knew I would need a good sturdy button band and reinforced button hole. Who am I to deny a seven-year-old the opportunity to have enormous sparkly buttons?

At the same time, I was thinking about all the soggy button bands I had been seeing (and, only perhaps, making – the Happy Home Economist admits nothing…), so, with Techknitter’s dictum ringing in my ears, I realized this cardigan was the perfect opportunity for me to try something new. Since the button bands would be picked up and knit, if I screwed up in some way, all I would have to do would be to rip the button bands back and do them again. I had plenty of extra yarn, so I had nothing to lose by trying.

I worked both button bands straight, with no holes. After the whole cardigan was finished, with ends woven in, button bands completed, and seams seamed, I wet blocked it before getting to work on reinforcing the button bands and making the buttonholes.

I knew I would need some ribbon sewn on the inside of the cardigan to provide a sturdy platform for the enormous glittery button-like objects. I picked out a sturdy grosgrain ribbon in a lovely silvery grey, so that if the cardigan fell open there would be a nice neutral contrast colour inside. Grosgrain is generally delightfully inexpensive, which always appeals to the Happy Home Economist.

Every time I see a discussion regarding sewing ribbons to knitting, the author always suggests sewing it in by hand in order to create an invisible seam. I, however, am a terrible seamstress. After 60 minutes (which included 20 minutes of threading my needle. Apparently bifocals may be in my near future)…) of struggling and straining with my hand sewing, all I had achieved was a sore neck, sore eyes, and perhaps 2 1/2 inches of the crappiest, most uneven hand sewing I had ever seen. The stitches were so poorly done that the ribbon was sliding out of position and was slightly visible on the outside. I grabbed my seam ripper, ripped the ribbon off, and reconsidered my position.

I reasoned that, given my terrible hand sewing technique, whatever I did by hand would always be crappy. And take a million years. And (again) I’m lazy and don’t want to spend a million years sewing in ribbons by hand. The sewing machine, in contrast, would undoubtedly produce an even, secure seam, which, I decided would likely look kind of nice even if it weren’t invisible. I mean, it’s not like I am capable of creating a tidy invisible hand stitched seam anyway. So, if the seam is going to be visible despite my best efforts, then it makes sense to use the machine and make one that looks nice and is functional, regardless of the advice of whatever manuals, books and blogs had to suggest.

I pinned the ribbon on. Since the cardigan was quite stretchy and the ribbon, of course, is not, I spaced the pins fairly closely, pulling on the ribbon and the cardigan as I went. I threaded my machine with white thread to match the cardigan rather than the ribbon, since I didn’t want a noticeable thread running up the button bands on the right side. With a quick inhalation, I started up the machine, with the ribbon side facing upward. While the seams I made are not perfectly straight (as I mentioned, I am not a good seamstress), they are absolutely good enough. It looks cute on the inside, and the seam is invisible on the outside. All you see on the outside is a nice, firm straight edge that highlights the cast off stitches.

No sign of the machine sewn ribbon seam on the outside

No sign of the machine sewn ribbon seam on the outside

The next step was buttonholes, which I have never before made (again, pointing at self, terrible seamstress…). As I do every time I haul out my sewing machine, I got out the manual to figure out buttonholes. I also watched a few youtube videos on the subject, and read a few blog posts. Sewing buttonholes in knits, of course, is similar to steeking – I knew that if you sew up your knitting it will stay put when you slice into it, so I wasn’t too concerned about ruining my knitting. And again, I could always just rip out the button bands if it looked terrible.

I knit up a small swatch about the same size as the button band, sewed on a small piece of the ribbon I was using, and made a few practice buttonholes. I discovered the following issues, which may be useful information for anyone with the same lack of sewing experience:

  1. Large buttons with shanks will just pop out of automatic button hole sewing feet. I solved this by just using a large shankless button in a similar size. I tested the results by ensuring I could fit the sparkly shanked buttons through the holes I created  with the shankless flat ones.
  2. With my Janome machine, and perhaps others – I don’t know – whenever you complete a buttonhole you have to reset the machine by manually switching to some other stitch then back to the buttonhole stitch. I completely missed this piece of the instructions for an embarrassingly long time. Long enough for me to think that buttonholes were completely beyond my sewing abilities, or indeed that using a sewing machine was completely beyond my cognitive abilities.

At any rate, with those issues solved, I put a pin to mark where each button would go. The cardigan design was helpful for this – the garter stitch stripes across the yoke are equidistant, so I used those for the button holes.

The buttonholes were created with the ribbon side facing upward. After 3 lovely, firm buttonholes were created, I snipped through the ribbon and the knitting, and was soon aware that in all my years of knitting, these were the best buttonholes I had ever made. I don’t think I will ever use another method.

Finally, to secure the large shanked buttons in place, I used small flat buttons (grey to match the ribbon) sewn in position on the underside. For anyone who has never used this technique, it’s really simple and absolutely necessary in order to avoid drooping buttons. When you sew on your chosen button, simply insert the needle through the fabric – same as usual – and also through a small flat button held on the inside of the garment. Just keep sewing your button on, inserting your needle always through the inside button, the fabric, and the outer button.

The good-enough-inside seam, the delightful buttonholes, and the inside anchor buttons

The good-enough-inside seam, the delightful buttonholes, and the inside anchor buttons

Gratuitous picture of adorable child

Gratuitous picture of adorable child


Gratuitous picture of the cardigan and lacework. Delightful drape courtesy of Romni's silk angora fingering.

Gratuitous picture of the cardigan and lacework. Delightful drape courtesy of Romni’s silk angora fingering.

Foraging ahead

Last year, I got very excited about foraging. I had noticed a post on the facebook page for my neighbourhood, asking for help pulling out garlic mustard in our woods. Since I didn’t know what it was or what it looked like, I googled it. One thing led to another, as it often does with google searches and me: upon discovering that garlic mustard is a garlic flavoured member of the enormously nutritious brassica family, originally brought over by Europeans to, you know, eat, but now destroying native woodlands here because nobody is eating the freakin’ things, I thought it would be fun to find out what else is sitting in plain weedy view, deliciously and nutritiously awaiting consumption.

Evil garlic mustard, caught in the act of taking over a local ravine.

Evil garlic mustard, caught in the act of taking over a local ravine.

I discovered Tama Matsuoka Wong, and was soon making salads composed of purslane and lamb’s quarters. And here is an interesting fact about lamb’s quarters: while it is now considered to be only a weed, and a highly invasive one at that, it was actually cultivated by our early ancestors, and is closely related to quinoa. Next time you are pulling them out of your garden, stop and chomp on a few – I mean, if they haven’t been coated in alarming pesticides, that is. That is some seriously paleo eating. Taste-wise, lamb’s quarters are similar to spinach, and can be used interchangeably.

As for the garlic mustard, I will try it again this year. I will admit my first attempt at using it as food tasted… virtuous. And by virtuous, I mean “like the bottom of my lawn mower”. I will try it again this year – perhaps a goat cheese quiche, or smooshed up in pasta dough. Or in a kim chi. I am determined to eat my way through this invasive species.

I will post any future cooking successes I have with garlic mustard. In the meantime, however, I encourage everyone to keep these buggers in check. If you see one, pull it out! Even if you don’t eat it! They crowd out native species of plants, destroying natural habitats for flora and fauna alike.


Shake Your Bootie

Thoreau on spring: “This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side.”

Having purged my own winter-related fumes and indigestions, I feel it appropriate to return to work with a post on booties. What could be more spring-like than a celebration of new life?    My inspiration is my friend Andy, who has begun a project of knitting booties for babies in the hospital.  She asked me for advice on how to knit them; accordingly, I am writing up and sharing the blueprint I use for booties. This is a blueprint that has evolved over the years, becoming more and more efficient as my knitting knowledge grew. They are knit entirely in one piece, leaving you with only the first and last yarn ends to weave in.

The blueprint requires no math (other than an ability to divide by 3) and no particular yarn or needle size. Use whatever you have at hand (assuming, of course, that what you have at hand is suitable for soft tender baby toes, and that the needles you have make sense given the weight of your yarn). The booties are knit in one piece from the top down, and require only one teeny little seam up the back of the leg. They are worked back and forth, and can be knit on straight needles or circular.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED: non-itchy, soft yarn; needles (straights or circular) of a size appropriate to your non-itchy, soft yarn; one extra needle in the same size or smaller (in a pinch you can use a chopstick or any slender tapering object…); one tapestry needle.

  1. Cast on enough stitches to fit around the leg in question. In my example, I used worsted yarn and a size 5 US needle to cast on 18 stitches for a bootie that would fit a baby aged 3 – 6 months. The number will vary with your yarn, tension, needle size, and baby leg size. If there is a particular pattern stitch you wish to use for the leg, take that into account when you cast on. Make sure your cast on is reasonably stretchy. Ideally, the number of stitches cast on would be divisible by three. Even this is not a hard and fast rule, however, as will be discussed later.

    cast on as many stitches make sense for a leg circumference

    cast on as many stitches make sense for a leg circumference

  2. Work back and forth over these stitches until the length is what you want for the leg before the foot begins – later on, you will be seaming the sides together into a tube, but don’t worry about that right now. I  worked my demo bootie in garter stitch (knit every row), but of course you can use whatever pattern stitch you want: lace, ribbing, cables, colour chart, whatever. For those new to knitting, if you use stockinette (knit the right side rows, purl the wrong side rows) it will curl. The resulting rolled over brim could be a cute effect, but just be sure this is what you want.
  3. OPTIONAL: when the leg is long enough, you can add an eyelet row before you start shaping the foot. The eyelets are little holes through which you can insert a ribbon or an i-cord. For those who can read knitting abbreviations, an eyelet row would be written as k1 *yo, k2tog* rep to end. For those who do not read or speak knittingese, this means knit one stitch at the beginning of the row, then do something called a yarnover (abbreviated as YO). To do this, you just bring the yarn between your needles to the front, then lay it OVER the top of the needle in your right hand. Once it is on top of that needle, insert your right hand needle knitwise into the next TWO stitches, and knit them together. A yarnover makes a hole, as well as an extra stitch – that is why each one is balanced out with a decrease. When you get to the end of the row, if you have one stitch left over rather than two, just knit it and don’t worry about putting a yarnover in. It is probably a good idea to count your stitches again at this point – you should have the same number as when you started.
    The optional eyelet row - unnecessary, but cute and fun. Think of the ribbon possibilities...

    The optional eyelet row – unnecessary, but cute and fun. Think of the ribbon possibilities…

    Yarnover for (optional) eyelet row

    Yarnover for (optional) eyelet row


  4. Okay, remember how I said cast on a number divisible by three? It is time to start making the foot, and it is pleasingly symmetrical to divide the stitches into 3 equal groups –  a group for each side of the foot, and one group for the top of the foot You can totally fudge this however – just make sure the side groups are equal and then the top of the foot group can be more or less by one or two stitches. So here is what you do now:
  5. With whatever side you have facing at this point, knit across the first 2/3 of your stitches. Stop. Turn your work. Working in either garter stitch (again, knitting every row) or stockinette (knitting the right side, purling the wrong side), or your own choice of pattern stitch – the sample uses stockinette for the top of the foot but you don’t have to – work across the centre 1/3 only. Stop and turn again. In the example, I cast on 18 stitches – so that means that for this step I knit across 12 stitches, then turned and knit 6 stitches, and then kept working these 6 centre stitches over and over. Keep going, working only this group of stitches in the middle until you have created a centre strip that strikes you as being long enough to cover the top of the foot in question. Oh – for the next step you will want to pick up stitches with the right side facing you, so be sure to finish your centre strip with a wrong side row.

    Working on the centre panel to make the top of the foot

    Working on the centre panel to make the top of the foot

  6. Now that you have finished the top of the foot, it is time to pick up stitches along the side of the panel you have just created and re-connect to the sides. For the picking up stitches process, I have chosen a method that is relatively easy for non-bendy straight needles as well as circulars. OK – with the right side facing, knit across your centre panel. When you get to the end of your centre panel, gaze at the leftmost column of stiches running along the side of it. Give this left side a gentle tug, and observe the strands that connect this column to the rest of the panel. Take your LEFT needle, and insert it under one of the strands close to it. Continue to insert it under these strands, skipping one every now and again so that your left needle is basically woven through these strands. Pay attention to how many you pick up this way – you will want to duplicate this number on the other side.
    Needle is inserted into first strand to begin picking up stitches

    Needle is inserted into first strand to begin picking up stitches

    All the strands are picked up and ready to be knit

    All the strands are picked up and ready to be knit

  7. Alright – you are ready to knit down your freshly picked up stitches, so do that and then keep knitting through your neglected side stitches to the end of the row. From here on, work everything in garter stitch – no more purling. OK – now that you have finished that right side row, you need to work back on the wrong side. For those of you who say “Hey – I know I need to pick up stitches on the other side of the foot, and I know I can’t pick up stitches on the wrong side!” I say “Relax. All will be revealed, and by all I mean a method for picking up stitches invisibly on the wrong side.”
  8. So – on the wrong side knit across all your stitches to where the unpicked up cliff-like edge of the centre panel is. When you get there, turn your work so the right side is facing you. Now take your RIGHT needle, and do exactly what you did on the other side of the centre panel – pick up the strands that join the last column of stitches to the rest of the panel. Ideally you want to pick up the same number that you picked up on the first side of course, but judicious fudging by increasing or decreasing later can take care of any inequalities. Once those stitches are picked up, turn your work again so you have the wrong side facing you again. Knit across your newly picked up stitches – observe how the less-than-lovely seam from picking up stitches remains hidden on the wrong side where it belongs.

    Stitches picked up by picking up strands on the right side with the right hand needle

    Stitches picked up by picking up strands on the right side with the right hand needle

  9. This part is easy – just knit a few rows in garter stitch over all the stitches, back and forth, until you think you have a good height for the foot. This could be anywhere from, say, 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch or more.

    This looks about the right height to start shaping the bottom of the foot

    This looks about the right height to start shaping the bottom of the foot

  10. Okay, with whatever side is facing you, knit across the original side group of stitches, the picked up stitches, and ONE STITCH LESS than the centre group of stitches. Knit this last stitch together with the next stitch (through the back loop if you are facing the wrong side, and through the front loop if you are facing the right side). Stop and turn your work. Knit across your centre panel, again knitting the last stitch of this centre panel together with the next stitch, either through the back loop for a wrong side row or the front loop for a right side row. Keep doing this as you work down through the foot.
    k2tog tbl - knitting 2 stitches together through the back loops

    k2tog tbl – knitting 2 stitches together through the back loops

    K2tog - knitting 2 stitches together through the front loops

    K2tog – knitting 2 stitches together through the front loops

The bottom of the foot is taking shape...

The bottom of the foot is taking shape…

About half way down the foot, depending on how wide your bootie  is and whether you have an odd or even number of stitches in the panel, you could narrow a bit for a heel by just knitting some stitches together on the centre panel. You will need to have an EVEN number of stitches on this panel for the bind off, so be sure you decrease as necessary to have an even number on the centre panel before you get to the end. You probably don’t want to have more than, say, 6 or 4 stitches left on the centre, in order to have a nice small heel. Keep going until  the number of stitches left on the sides add up to equal the number of stitches on the bottom. For example, 3 on each side and 6 in the middle, or 2 on each side and 4 in the middle.

Here I have 3 stitches left on each of the sides and 6 left in the centre - time to bind off!

Here I have 3 stitches left on each of the sides and 6 left in the centre – time to bind off!

12. To do a 3 needle bind off of these stitches, you will need to slip the centre panel stitches to their own needle (with the yarn in position to begin knitting). Liberate the side stitches and observe how they must be joined together in order to start the seam that goes up the back of the leg. Join them on their own needle, again orienting them so that this needle is positioned to use the same yarn as the centre panel. This is easiest to do with double pointed needles, but can also be accomplished easily enough with regular needles.

The centre panel is on its own needles, and the sides are being pinched together before being slipped to their own needle

The centre panel is on its own needles, and the sides are being pinched together before being slipped to their own needle

The stitches are now lined up for binding off. Remember both needles need the same number of stitches!

The stitches are now lined up for binding off. Remember both needles need the same number of stitches!

13. OK – hold both needles parallel with each other. Insert a 3rd needle through the first stitch on the front needle AND through the first stitch on the rear needle. Pull a loop through both stitches – just like regular knitting – and pull both stitches off their respective needles. You now have one regular stitch on your right needle. Repeat with the next stitch on both needles. You now have two regular stitches on your right needle. Slip that first stitch over your second stitch, just like a regular bind off. Keep going across the remaining stitches, knitting stitches from both needles at once then binding them off. Work until your last stitch, then cut the yarn, leaving a thread long enough for seaming up the back of your bootie. Alternately, of course, you could also use a kitchener stitch to graft these stitches together instead of the bind off. Kitchener is more elegant, but I think there is something kind of fun about the chunky bind off on the booties.

Inserting the 3rd needle through stitches on both needles.

Inserting the 3rd needle through stitches on both needles.

The 3 needle bind off, completed

The 3 needle bind off, completed

The end: thread that yarn you just snipped through your tapestry needle, and begin seaming them together. Essentially, seaming is just inserting your tapestry needle up through a stitch on one side, then up through the parallel corresponding stitch on the other side. Then insert your needle up through the next stitch up on the first side, and across to the parallel corresponding stitch on the other. Remember that only one side gets the next up stitch, and the other side always gets the parallel stitch and you should be fine.

And voila – one little bootie made! I hope this post inspires you to play around with different knitting techniques, adding colour or lace or cables… or that it inspires you to join Andy in ensuring that babies in hospitals have booties!

Shaking my bootie

Shaking my bootie

My knitting habit

My grandmother once proudly informed me that the cardigan she was wearing was over 30 years old. “They don’t make jumpers like that anymore”, she snorted dismissively. “It’s all a bunch of junk these days”. I admit that at the time, with all the arrogance and social conformity of youth, I thought it was hilarious that she valued durability over 30 years of changing fashions. Certainly, in fairness to my callow youthful self, the cardigan in question was a rather surprising coral and gold combination in a style rarely seen outside of dance routines involving dancers with names like Bobby and Cissy.

Now, however, I find myself increasingly disappointed, disgruntled, and dismayed by the poor quality of commercial knitwear. Pilling, bagging, and ripped seams – these, I find, are what I can expect within the first month of use, regardless of the price paid. And of course, there is the problem with warmth: too few commercial cardigans are warm enough to provide much relief for our Canadian winters, thus increasing the temptation to turn up the furnace (bad for the environment) and to avoid going outside (bad for your physical and mental health).

Which leads me to my list of why everyone should knit:

  1. It’s easy. Really, really easy. Illiterate, uneducated peasants have been doing it for at least a thousand years. You, with all the limitless power of youtube and books, can learn to do it. Don’t be overwhelmed by the apparent complexity of finished garments – it is all just variations (all of which are explained in patterns, so don’t feel like you are supposed to know them all before you start) of the same knit stitch. I do not know all the different ways to cast on, for example – I know some, have never learned many, and have forgotten a bunch too. If a pattern requires a particular cast on and does not explain it, I just look it up.
  2. Seriously, what else are you doing with your hands? Playing Angry Birds? We all have moments in which we must sit quietly and wait, like at the optometrist or on the subway, and we all have moments in which we want to sit on our bums and watch The Mentalist, not because it is a great show but because Simon Baker is adorable. It happens. And yes, of course you could whip out that Man Booker shortlisted book you conveniently carry about with you exactly for moments like this. I applaud you if you do. However, I can totally see you from here. That’s Angry Birds and you know it.  So here is crux of the matter: spend hours playing games on your phone and you are left with carpal tunnel syndrome and a feeling of shame; spend hours knitting and you are left with a lovely cardigan. And, for those of you who really do read everything on the Man Booker shortlist, you can listen to the books on tape while you knit. And, for those who cannot resist the lure of Simon Baker, you no longer have to feel shame for watching The Mentalist. You have purpose: you are knitting. It’s not your fault if The Mentalist happens to be on at the same time.
  3. I must be honest. Knitting is not an inexpensive hobby. Contrary to popular belief, knitters do not knit because it is less expensive than buying knitting. Good yarn is, well, costly. However, what you will be able to produce – if you are buying good yarn and not acrylic novelty yarn (but that is another post…) – will be of a quality that you would never be able to purchase, unless you are a Kardashian.
  4. You have no idea, no idea at all, how deliciously warm handknit apparel and accessories can be. Warm, soft, cozy… you will look forward to the winter.
  5. As Sheldon Cooper notes “The entire institution of gift giving make no sense. Let’s say that I go out, and I spend 50 dollars on you, it’s a laborious activity, because I have to imagine what you need, where as you know what you need. Now I could simplify things, just give you the 50 dollars directly, and you could give me 50 dollars on my birthday, and so on, until one of us dies, leaving the other one old and 50 dollars richer. And I ask, is it worth it?”. My husband is currently engaged in a gift economy with his brother, in which they both give each other a Best Buy gift card in the exact same amount for their birthdays. This has gone on for a few years now, and I am quite sure that on at least one occasion the same gift card was passed on. Just imagine the joy that one of these brothers would experience if the other would just knit him a scarf.