Getting ready for February

As I have mentioned before, I don’t suffer from a case of January start-itis when it comes to crafting. Instead, I take January to breathe in all I have finished in the preceding year and finish up a few odds and ends I didn’t quite manage to get done the year before.

And then, in February, I find myself admiring this and ooh-ing over that and before I know it, I’ve started half a dozen projects and have my eye on half a dozen more.

But this year, I found myself selling far more pieces than in previous years and I had almost more work than I could handle in the lead-up to Christmas. So much so that crafting for family was put on the back burner and crafting for myself hasn’t happened at all for almost half the year.

It’s hard to fathom.

As 2016 wrapped up, I started taking a mental inventory of all the things I want to finish, or at least make more progress on. And then I went digging through my shelves to see what I had meant to start but not gotten around to in a while, and found all sorts of buried treasures. I suspect I have enough to carry me through the entire year if not longer, especially given that I am still getting commissions for other things and will be devoting time each week to those items and have less time than usual for my own crafting. So I am determined to at least make a little progress on some projects–some that have not been touched in quite a long time now.

The first of which is a fire truck that I thought a certain young man had long outgrown a fascination for, but it turns out he remembers that I had started stitching a piece for him and he has decided he wants me to finish it for him after all.

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Working on this piece, even for a little while, made me recall a few other cross stitched pieces half done and sitting in the cupboard, so progress on those would be lovely, too. A Christmas sampler:

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A lovely witch/wizardess/goddess piece that was gifted to me partially done and our girl B instantly claimed (so I could finish it on her behalf, of course. She’s generous like that). I think it was the fact that the lady in question is reading a book that caught her eye.

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And a gorgeous Teresa Wentzler that I started many years ago and had completely forgotten about.wentzler

Of course, before I get to those, I have a mermaid tail to finish up – it’s almost done, just weaving in the ends to do. Approximately 6 bazillion ends, and you know how very much I love weaving in ends. (I don’t. At all. Why I keep taking on crochet projects built from blocks is beyond me. Remind me, would you please, to stop doing that?)

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This mermaid tail is from a pattern by The Felted Button. She has the most colourful, textural, gorgeous crochet patterns – check out her site if you never have. Here a closeup of the tail so you can get a better idea of what the triangular blocks look like:

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The tail is done in sock-weight yarn (it’s skinny!) and the yarns all have either a strand of glittery metallic thread or sequins or both woven in to them. It makes for a lovely, shimmery, fish-scale effect that’s missing from the photos above.

Another crochet pattern I want to finish up is this:

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It’s a lovely lace-weight shawl that I started on the plane to Cuba and then never found the time to get back to. As it’s for me, it’s easy to put it aside for other people, but when I look at it, it has been over a year now since I set it down. The pattern is lovely and intricate with bands of colourful lacework in various stitches in the centre and a wide strip of Bruges lacework on either edge.

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It’s going to be a couple of months at least before I get my hands back into this one, but I’m hoping to finish it by summer. Then, maybe I’ll find the perfect pattern for this lovely yarn:

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It has been sitting in my “wishful yarn bliss” pile for a few months now. I’m not yet sure what it will look like, but it will be either a scarf or a hat to keep me warm in winter.

On the embroidery front, I’ve been working on another tree skirt project. This one is from a kit, but I will be embellishing heavily with embroidery, as I did with the Peace Joy Noel wall hanging a few years ago. You can see how thoroughly embroidery-encrusted I plan to make it in the Love Letters piece I did after taking Sharon Boggon’s class.

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Last, but certainly not least, I hope to get another 2 blocks finished on my crazy quilted and embroidered wall hanging.

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The currently finished blocks are on the right in the picture above.

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The two empty blocks on the left are pieced, but not yet embroidered.

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The blocks are 10-inch squares and I think the finished piece will end up being 3×3 blocks with a border of some sort.

So, an ambitious plan for 2017, but one of progress, not necessarily completion, given how many other things are in the works both with myself and for the kids.

What do you have planned for this bright and shiny new year?

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I have a crush

It’s true. I have a crush on someone. He knows it, too, and it makes him grin every time he looks at me.

One might wonder what, exactly, it takes for me to start crushing on someone. (Hint: it involves yarn.)

You see, for Christmas, a certain man we call Dad gifted me some yarn. A whole bunch of yarn. Skeins and skeins of it. A dozen, at least, in all different colours, weights, and fibres. One in particular was so wonderfully bright and cheerful and soft and lofty with just the most perfect amount of haze that it started making me smile before I even got it out of the package.

And then I cast on with it last week, on a gray and dull day, and my entire day was vastly improved within seconds.

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Seriously. Look at those colours. How can anyone not end up totally crushing on a man who brings you yarn in those colours?

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It’s Isaac Mizrahi Craft Sutton, and the colorway is Amsterdam. I love it. It’s amazing. Especially when modeled by The World’s Giggliest Knitwear Model while wearing a shirt that couldn’t clash more if it tried:

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Isn’t she beautiful? I love that dimple. And that yarn. Ohhhh, that yarn!

I’ve been wearing the scarf all week. It’s just a simple little garter stitch scarf where you cast on until it looks wide enough and then knit row after row until you run out of yarn (I only had 2 skeins of it, after all), and then you wrap it around your neck and remember how very, very much you are in love with the man who gave you the yarn that is brightening your days as March rolls in.

Teaching kids to knit

I have decided that teaching children to knit is, in fact, a very dangerous thing to do with kids. This realization comes many years after having taught my own children to knit, and about 7 months after having taught a group of 30 girl guides the fine art of finger knitting, so you might say I’ve got a little bit of experience with the matter.

Knitting is brilliant. Where else can you take a simple piece of string and turn it into a sock, or a sweater, or one of those pairs of mittens unique to Newfoundland that have not only a thumb but a trigger finger too?

And when you teach a kid to knit, they learn all sorts of great things about how difficult it is to learn a new skill, but how satisfying it is when you finally learn it. And how your brain might know what to do, but your hands might not be willing to get with the program until you’ve done wrong it a few thousand times in a row. And how if you want to make something worthwhile and not just another dish cloth, it’s going to take a while and you’re going to have to be persistent.

Knitting is also a form of meditation and brings with it all the mental health benefits of spending a similar amount of time chanting “om” while sitting in a complicated posture that really is just cross-legged with a twist, yet is practically impossible to achieve if you have knee problems or hip problems or dear-god-I-can’t-get-up-off-the-floor-after-sitting-like-this-for-an-hour problems.

In fact, knitting is so good for kids’ brains that teachers everywhere are starting to embrace it as a good thing to teach kids, alongside reading and math and how to stand up to bullies without getting sent to the office yourself because you punched someone.

You can, in fact, teach very young children to knit. I think my two were 5 and 7 when they first learned how to knit. They started out by making very skinny scarves for their teddy bears knit lengthwise, then skinny scarves knit width-wise, and then B went through a phase of knitting washcloths for Playmobil people.  Many, many washcloths.  And if you’ve ever seen how small the Playmobil people are, you’ll know exactly how tiny those washcloths were — about 5 stitches wide by 5 rows of garter stitch in worsted-weight yarn, if I remember correctly. They knit up really fast, which I think was the main attraction, especially after she tried her hand at making a scarf for herself and gave up about 30 cm in.

K was much more orderly about the whole process. He knit a skinny red scarf for his teddy bear.  Then he knit a skinny red scarf for his teddy polar bear. And one for his teddy lizard. Then he knit a skinny blue scarf for his teddy crow. And then he announced that he was done with knitting, having mastered it so thoroughly as he had.

And that was perfectly okay, because to my way of thinking, he had already figured out all the important bits of knitting; namely, not throwing it across the room in frustration when you realized that the 10 stitches you had cast on to make a skinny teddy-sized scarf had somehow mysteriously multiplied in the night and become 42.

So when I joined the Girl Guides of Canada this year as a Guider to a group of 30 girls, one of the things I had in the back of my head was that I should teach them to knit.

Because I’m clearly out of my mind to think that I could teach 30 girls aged 9 to 12 to knit in the hour and a half we have allocated to us each Thursday.

And then I did it, and amazingly, it all worked out okay.

I decided to simplify things a little and take the knitting needles out of the equation and teach them to finger knit. We had an entire bag of yarn of various fibres and colours stashed in with the craft supplies and I was confident that over the course of sleepover event, they could figure out how to finger knit.

And they did.

Oh good heavens, how they did! They quite happily made themselves a bracelet or two before we moved on to the next activity.  By the end of the sleepover, some of the girls sported bracelets from wrist to armpit on each arm, along with a knitted belt or two and a half a dozen headbands (all worn simultaneously, of course) and the yarn stash had gone from 7 oversized balls of yarn and a few dozen odd leftover bits to hardly anything at all.

When they learned the Christmas party was to be held at our house, they instantly sniffed out the fact that, since all the craft supplies were being stored in my basement, there must surely be yarn.

There was yarn, of course, since I had only brought twice what I thought we would use to the sleepover (I’m a firm believer in backup plans and extra quantities), and so there was knitting.

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Periodically as the Guiding year wore on, a girl would show up for a meeting with a new finger-knit bracelet and would proudly show it off.

But the most amazing thing was that originally at that sleepover, I had only taught a very few girls to finger knit. Five or six in all, as the others had chosen to try their hand at other things. But as those five or six had their first successes and started showing off their completed bracelets, others suddenly wanted to learn how.

I told them to ask their friends, and before you could blink, the finger-knitters were teaching the non-finger-knitters how to knit with their fingers.

It’s quite easy, you see, once you get the hang of it. And once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s hugely empowering to teach it to someone new.

At the Christmas party, girls who had not been at the sleepover were being taught by girls who had, who had were enjoying their leadership role immensely. And before the party was over, I don’t think there was a girl in the unit who hadn’t learned to finger knit.

Here at home, I kept finding bracelets and headbands scattered around like raindrops as B dove into finger knitting with a passion. Well into February, I would find little scraps of this yarn or that and I would smile every time I saw them. But eventually, passion faded and I stopped finding little bracelets here and there, and I chalked it up to a project mastered and left behind, as many such projects are.

Until last week.

Last week, I found this lying on the family room floor:

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When I unwound it, I discovered it was finger knitting made of a lovely, thick braided yarn that wanders gradually from orange to rust to almost brown. Curious, I straightened it out to measure it.

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It was over 5 metres long. It measured 17 feet, to be precise, and is almost 2 inches in diameter thanks to the thick and luscious yarn she used (which I had earmarked for a thick and cozy scarf, but somehow found its way out of my yarn stash and into hers).

So I asked B what, precisely, she intended to do with 17 feet of finger knitting.

B: “Seventeen? Seventeen?!!”

Me: Yup.

B: “That’s SO COOL!”

Me: So what are you going to do with it?

B: Shrug. “Nothing.”

I think I blinked a few times at that. Nothing? She had no plans at all? I couldn’t help but ask her why she had made it, and she gave me the most amazing answer of all:

“Because I wanted to see if I could,” she said. And then she immediately asked if I had any other thick and bulky yarn in my stash that she could have.

So this weekend, we’re taking the Guides camping in tents, and I’m planning on teaching them to weave a small patch of fabric between the branches of a forked stick. I bought yarn in glorious multicoloured skeins for the project, 6 large skeins of it, though weaving doesn’t take all that much yarn, and we’re making small little projects, but I do like having extra just in case.

I rather do suspect I’ve bought too much yarn, if such a thing is possible.

Or at least I did.

One of my co-Guiders came over the other night and saw the yarn, and after admiring the colours and agreeing they would be perfect for weaving, she said:

“And finger knitting, because you know the girls are going to want to finger knit.”

And just that fast, I knew I was in trouble. Big, BIG trouble.

In part because I don’t think I’m bringing nearly enough yarn at all. But mostly because now I’m thinking it would be cool if I brought the unit’s supply of knitting needles and taught the girls garter stitch, proving for once and for all that I have lost my marbles.

And that, my friends, is why teaching kids to knit is a dangerous thing indeed. For once you’ve seen them succeed at knitting, you begin to realize how amazing they are, how well they rise to the challenge, and how generous they are in sharing their knowledge and wisdom and experience with others. In short, you begin to think that with this new generation of kids, anything and everything is possible.

 

 

The joy of learning

One of my most firmly held believes is that learning should be both lifelong and well varied.  I’ve heard it said that to get a Ph.D. is sort of like taking a giant sphere of knowledge, picking one tiny pinpoint on its exteriormost surface, then milking every last drop of knowledge from that one tiny pinpoint. You’ll know that one subject with more depth than you imagined possible, but you will also have restricted yourself to an extraordinarily limited perspective.

I don’t have a Ph.D.

This is probably a good thing, as I suspect I would very quickly start looking outside of my little pinpoint of focus and, like a kid in a candy store, ignore the jelly beans slowly melting into a glob of stickiness in my hot little fist in favor of tasting a chocolate lollipop or filling my cheeks with gobstoppers.

Every year, I endeavor to learn new things. Often, these things are completely disconnected from anything I’ve ever learned before. Sometimes they’re academic in nature. Other times, they’re of the more hands-on variety. Some take only minutes to figure out while others take weeks of exploring and trying and backing up and trying some more.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself heading back towards learning knitting. Oh, I knit plenty, and I knit a lot, but I learned a bunch of different things a while back and then stopped learning more knitterly things for a while. I’ve never knit a sweater other than a baby sweater, for example. I avoid lace like the plague after a couple of disastrous attempts at shawls which were probably a little too tangy for my skill level at the time. And I pretty much stick to a few basic stitches done in a few basic configurations.

In other words, I’m a boring knitter.

I’ve always told myself that it’s because I like crochet better. That I’ve been doing crochet longer. That crochet just makes mathematical sense to me in a way that knitting does not.

It’s all true.

But it’s all wrong, too.

So this year, I’ve signed myself up for a knitting class and already I’ve learned the most gorgeously wonderful thing that I think is my new knitting BFF sort of thing: the linen stitch.

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I’ve only just begun, but it has solved one of my most aggravating problems with knitting.

I love knitting and crocheting with variegated yarns.  There’s something so enticing about yarns whose colours shift and change, going from orange to red to olive green, then with a splash of turquois thrown in for good measure. But when you start working with them, they often fail to satisfy. The colours clump and pool, leaving puddles of one colour and splotches of another.  Before you know it, that wonderful painterly palette you so admired in the yarn shop has become your most detested project ever.

Yet when worked in linen stitch, the colours fade into each other in a much more organic way, preserving the painterly look of the yarn as it lay on the skein.

The irony of it is that the class I’m taking is on knitting stripes with various different textures and techniques.  The instructor introduced the linen stitch with a variegated yarn simply to teach the stitch before then teaching how to work it in single row stripes, then wider stripes.

So here I am, taking a class to move my knitting skills further ahead and not wanting to move forward at all past the first 4 minutes of lesson 3. I quite like knitting the linen stitch in a variegated yarn. In fact, I like it so much, I can’t stop doing it.

I really should finish the class and try my hand at a few stripey variations on common knitting patterns, but as it is an online class, I think I’ll just pause here for a moment. Just long enough to make a scarf, I think.

Or maybe two.

A dashing young man

Having teenagers in the house is always an adventure. They’re at that age when they are striving to differentiate themselves from the crowd while simultaneously desiring nothing more than to fit in. They most definitely do not want parental help, thank you very much… except when they do, and then they need it instantly (and quite possibly yesterday).

And do not under any circumstances do anything that might embarrass them in front of their friends, like reminding them that going to get the mail in nothing but a t-shirt when it’s -38 degrees Celsius outside is probably not the smartest idea they’ve ever had.

Not that the teenager we love most around here has ever done such a thing, and especially not during that blast of bitter, bitter cold we had last week. Of course not. I must have been imagining it.

(Ahem. Where was I?)

They’re rather unpredictable, these teenage creatures. Especially when it comes to Mama-made things. Some, they love. Others garner huge quantities of eye rolling and maybe a little shake of the head that says “Mom, really?!? What were you thinking?

A little while ago I cast on Dashing fingerless mitts and hoped for the best. I chose a thick, warm gray wool and crossed my fingers that the end product would qualify as “plain gray or plain charcoal or plain black” which are, as K frequently proclaims, the only colours he likes.

Unless you count his favourite soccer team jersey (South Africa, bright yellow with green accents), his favourite Navy shirt (blue with bright yellow letters proclaiming NAVY), and his favourite (and more than slightly subversive) t-shirt which boldly proclaims “Dear Teacher, my kid is hereby excused from ever doing homework again” on a background of bright red.

But we won’t count those because they obviously just don’t count.

(Or so I’ve been told.)

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I presented him with his very own pair of Dashing mitts. I was expecting a brief “Thanks, Mom.” Maybe, if I was lucky, I would get a hug too. So I grabbed my phone in hopes of grabbing a picture of them in use before they wound up buried in the depths of his locker at school or cast casually aside in the mitten bin in the closet.

And this was the very first photo I got:

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He loves them.

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He loves them so much, in fact, that he has announced there is absolutely no way he can wear them to school because he might lose them in his locker like he lost his cache-cou last year, and that would be tragic.

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The pattern is a fairly straight forward 4×1 ribbing with the occasional cable twist to make it interesting and give it a lovely shaping around the wrist.

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I had made a pair for myself in purple a while back and found them extremely long, so I eliminated one repeat to make these significantly shorter. I also reduced the number of rows after the thumb opening from 18 to 4 which means they just barely reach K’s knuckles. If I do them again, I would probably do 9-10 rows instead to get a smidge more coverage of the hand, but that all depends on the wearer’s preferences too.

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Spring babies

Spring is for babies in the animal world. Cows calve, foxes have their kittens, bears have their cubs, and birds… birds lay eggs. Many, many eggs.

Which this mean Mama tosses straight into the compost these days, having deemed that we have quite enough birds in the house already, thank you very much.

Strangely enough, spring is also for human babies this year, and my hands have been oh-so-busy making.

Mid-February, the sweetest little boy made his way into the world to a pair of parents who couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s been a long wait and, being some of our very bestest friends (and an honorary Auntie and Uncle at that), I went kind of crazy in the making department.

I can’t help it. Auntie M asked for handmade goodies — owls, in a hoop, for the nursery wall. I was more than happy to oblige her.

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Not only that, she showed up at my door one afternoon with armfuls of yarn and instructed me to make her things. And I happily obliged her with a baby blanket and a bib, with a pair of blue baby socks/booties on the way. There is still more yarn left (she really did drop of armfuls) so I am sure there will be more hand knit goodies headed her way shortly.

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And, tired of knitting and hand embroidery, I sat down in front of the sewing machine with a fabulous pattern I found on Etsy and I made her a diaper bag with the cutest little puppy dog print fabric accents. I’ll show you the results and give you my review of the pattern next post.

 

A gift of time

My children are no longer small. It sounds like such a cliche to say that it seems like only yesterday they were babies, but it is true. The past 11 years have passed by in the blink of an eye — despite many moments that seem interminably long when you are in the midst of them.

At 9 and 11 (and well on their way towards being 10 and 12), they have lost all traces of the babies they were. Their faces are lengthening and maturing, and are often caught out in what I have to admit is a maturing expression. Their arms and legs have grown long enough to wrap all the way around me (and I am not a tiny slip of a woman by any stretch of the imagination. Short, but not tiny). Their heads are of a height where I can comfortably rest my cheek on top of them while standing up.  Soon, they will be as tall as I am.

Or taller. Lord knows my youngest siblings both tower a full foot over me.

I find myself missing their infancy of late. Not because of anything they’ve done, or anything I’ve done, but because all around me, friends are having babies. We have become the old folks in the crowd. The voices of experience — and our experience, I am sad to say, is on the verge of being sadly outdated, seeing as how quickly everything from car seats to baby wraps to current thinking on when to feed your baby meat change from year to year.

It is a distinctly odd feeling, knowing that we are a decade out from those baby days, and that so many of our friends are just newly or about to be knee deep in diapers and sleepless nights and first teeth and first smiles. I feel a little bit left behind, if the truth be known. Their lives are (or are about to become) a blur of small moments and the sheer drudgery of baby care that eats up so much time and energy, interspersed with small moments of the most incredible joy they’ve ever known.

My life, on the other hand, is a blur of homework battles and screen time battles and Important Conversations and music lessons and band practice and new sneakers and all the drudgery of making sure two young people learn to be organized and responsible and caring and kind and polite and respectful and all those other things, interspersed with small moments of the most incredible joy I’ve ever known.

And sarcasm. Lots and lots of sarcasm, as not one but two young people take their ever-changing senses of humor in a new direction yet again.

But the most unexpected thing about finding myself 11 years ahead of so many of my friends is that I have time. Time to visit and snuggle a newborn for a bit while their parents sit and chat and ask a million questions about how we did it when our kids were this age. Time to offer a hand when one is needed, or an ear for listening, or just a bit of grown up company when said parents find themselves overwhelmed by the huge influx of all things baby in every area of their lives. Most of all, I have time to knit and crochet wee little things to wrap around wee little people.

Usually, I crochet baby blankets. Sometimes I’ll knit one, but knitting takes ever so much longer. My crochet hook fairly flies through the yarn while my knitting needles plod along like dutiful little soldiers clickety-clicking their way through an endless desert.

Ahem.

It’s an odd thing, having time to knit. I’m not any less busy that before, but my children are becoming amazingly self-sufficient. Homework help can be given while sitting at the dining room table and knitting while they work. Lunches for school are packed with only a little supervision. Setting the table and shoveling the walkway and folding and putting away their laundry are all chores they are capable of doing themselves, and baths and showers haven’t required my presence for years now.

I have time, a little here, a little there, often multitasking with a bit of yarn. It is a gift. A gift that comes with having survived those intensely needy younger years.

Some days, I curl up with a book. Some days, I embroider things. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been knitting gifts for new parents and parents-to-be who as of yet have no real idea of how insanely busy and crazy and exhausting and wonderful their life is about to be. I am using my time to knit for people who are about to discover exactly how short on time their lives can possibly be.

Since I had time, I decided I needed to learn how to knit a sweater. Luckily, it is a baby sweater. A 5-hour baby sweater, to be precise. It’s only taken me about 8.236 hours of work to get it this far. I started it in one yarn, but I didn’t like how the colours were puddling and so I changed yarns after I had gotten through the yoke. I haven’t updated my Ravelry page with the new yarn yet, but I will. Eventually.

I love the new yarn so much. I love how it stripes just so. I love how soft it is, and how it feels like homespun with thicker bits and thinner bits built right in. I love the subtle shades of colour and the cozy fall feeling of it. I love it so much, I bought it in two other colourways, and I’ve started knitting a blanket, baby sized, in the most amazingly soothing shades of grey with just a touch of yellow.

Yes, I’m knitting it. It’s taking forever. Correction: it’s taking forever and a day to knit that blanket, even baby sized as it is. But I don’t care. I love the yarn so much that I could knit it from now until next year and not get tired of it. I think I’ve spent about 10 hours knitting that blanket already, and it is only half done. I could have knit a whole other sweater in how much time it is taking me to knit this blanket. Two sweaters, even.

It’s a good thing I’ve got more babies on the way to knit for.

That, and the gift of time.