knitting

little things

booties for my friend's baby girl

Oh, it's SO good to be back! Hello to all of you sweet people. Your words of congratulations and encouragement fill me with gratitude for this technology that connects us, despite the temptation to use it to escape from reality. It is my hope to continue to use this space to share our family's committment to (and often, our struggle with!) enjoying the present moment with our children. That the future is uncertain was branded on our hearts the moment we received Lachlan's diagnosis, but it has, in some ways, been a bittersweet gift. I hope to write a bit more about our healing journey in the coming months. I feel ready to open up about that and put down in words some of the mess of emotions which has characterized these last three years for me. 

In the meantime, there's a jar of sequins that has just been spilled on the floor of the kitchen that needs to be dealt with, and another request to help sound out a word. You know - the reality! 

A few things:

- I made the above booties for my friend's baby daughter who was born last month with HLHS. Baby Annie will be home very soon, thank goodness. I'm sure I'll have to knit another set for our little girl! The yarn is Madeleinetosh sock in the Night Bloom colorway, and the pattern is called Stay-On Booties. Dude, I'm going to have to start keeping up with things on my Ravelry account. It's amazing what opens up to you, crafting-wise, when you're expecting a little girl! It's ridiculous, really.

- I'm now on Instagram! Follow along at instagram.com/meghanmcelwee 


thanksgiving outtakes

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What a challenge it can be to gather. For a photo, that is. Two wiggly gigglies, dapper in their hot-off-the-needles Milo vests (plus a Huck Finn Cap that Lachlan was proud to wear). No shoes for one boy, no smiles from the other. 

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One had his eyes on the pie from the get-go. Mom says I was the same way. I suppose some things never change. Cream was whipped in a chilled bowl and plopped atop the apple cranberry pie. Books were read, trains were pushed, lego towers built. 

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In most ways, it was a typical meal at Mima and Papa's house. A little more fancy, perhaps. But what makes it special is the attitude we bring to it and how we remember it. And I was ever so thankful to be right there, among the family I love, on a stunning autumn evening. 


projects in progress

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:: Second Milo on the needles :: Snow Pixie hats on the cutting table ::

:: Other project-themed books ::

These handful of days have been off-kilter. Following an unprecedented string of good days, in which everything seemed to flow, the boys (and myself, no doubt) trudged through the last two days with low energy, sapped patience, and a general grumpy malaise. 

This time, though, I have a peace about it. I've come to expect these days, just as I expect the perfect ones. It even feels, dare I say ... comforting. I feel grateful to pass through very human situations together as a family; grateful to learn about each other and let each other experience a full spectrum of feelings. 

It also feels good to hop into a project in the creative space that opens up after a patch of ho-humness. There's plenty to do in the studio between now and Christmas, and the gift-making is kicking into gear. I'm also really liking my circular saw, and have my eyes on some of the projects in this book once the chicken coop is done.

And - I can't recommend highly enough Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert. It speaks to me right where I am as parent just starting off on the homeshooling journey, which can be totally daunting if you see all the ideas that can be done out there on the internet and all of the facts that can be passed on to a child. Here's an exceprt:

"Try to avoid pulling attention away from your child's project (his deepest interest) with random, one-off activities. Save casual field trips and similar activities for times between projects. The less you distract your child with random activities and interruptions, the more engaged and focused he'll be. You're giving him the opportunity to stay longer with what he cares about most; you're giving him the chance to build something really meaningful." 

Love.

Back to my projects. Have a wonderful weekend!


this is wool

Hey all! Meg here, popping in to share with you the work of a dear, long-time reader, Mary Jo of Five Green Acres. Shepherdess and fiber afficionada, wonderful mama and all-around cool person, Mary Jo is launching her This is Wool yarn tour today to coincide with the debut of her hand-spun, plant dyed fibers from her backyard flock of sheep. Take a moment to watch this beautiful video she put together documenting the "birth" of her yarn.

This is wool. First Harvest: Backyard from Mary Jo, FiveGreenAcres on Vimeo.

Meg: That video makes me want sheep in baaaad way, Mary Jo! :) Puns aside, what have you found to be the most rewarding and most difficult aspect of shepherding a flock in your own backyard?

Mary Jo: Ah, there are so many answers to this question.  Lambing is an obvious answer, as it's easily the most rewarding and by far the most difficult.  This spring left us with an orphan bottle lamb - Munson - and he surely fits the bill, entering our lives while we struggled, unsuccessfully,  to keep from losing his mother.  He's become so deeply bonded to us that he's now more like a pet dog than a sheep.  But this year, I'm inclined to answer this question with regards to the drought that defined our summer.  Our sheep normally spend more than half the year out on pasture, eating the grass and weeds that grow effortlessly, for free.  I strategically move them through the couple of acres, enclosed in a portable electric net fence, to let them chew down the grasses just far enough to stimulate their lush regrowth.  By the time they've made the first pass through the entire pasture, the grasses have cycled back and the loop continues, unless, of course, the grass doesn't grow back, due to a lack of rain.  This was the situation I found myself in this summer.  By the beginning of July, I had to locate some hay to buy (a very expensive alternative to feeding them free grass all summer) and worry about the impending shortage of hay to get them through the winter.  The basic question of how to feed my sheep consumed me all summer, and I took to watching the sky like a farmer, cursing the dry heat as it burned my pasture to a crisp.  The mounting stress and added expense called a lot of this endeavor into question and I found myself wondering more than once what it all was for.  Just as we were down to the last bales of hay we had for July, some friends called with an offer to let our sheep graze their back lot, overgrown and not accessible by mower.  "YES!" I shrieked, "ABSOLUTELY!"   So off they went, and we all heaved a sigh of relief, knowing they'd be fed for a few weeks at least.  But an eerie quiet descended on our Acres with them gone; it felt empty here.  I visited them every two days to move them to new grass, and we were mutually thrilled to see each other.

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A few weeks into this arrangement, I spent the weekend at a Sheep and Wool festival.  That weekend was steeped in all things fiber - I took classes each day, and the booths upon booths of gorgeous wool and fiber were tremendous inspiration.  But I found myself lingering the most near the sheep barns, strolling through each morning to visit the show sheep, whose baa-ing was the first sound I heard upon waking.  It made me tremendously homesick - not for home as it was, but our home with the flock intact, grazing out back.  I meandered without realizing where I was headed and found myself in the festival's lambing barn during each break between classes, and I felt that pang of longing for more lambs the way women feel the calling to have another baby.  It became abundantly clear that weekend that I wasn't interested in living without sheep, drought or not.  Soon after, the flock had finished their contracted work at the friends'  lot, and were blissfully reinstated at home.  Their first night back was euphoric - we enjoyed one of the last picnic suppers of the season with them milling about in our backyard. 

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Meg: How is daily life different for a family raising sheep? What do you do to care for them, and in what ways are your children involved?

Mary Jo: The day-to-day of keeping sheep is simple; I'd contend more so than having dogs.  Moving the fence or tossing a bale of hay,  providing fresh water are about all they need.  I was most surprised to learn that they don't need a barn to keep them comfortable through the winter - their wool is more than adequate - but that barns are more for the convenience of the shepherd.  There's shearing time, usually during the spring, which also includes some grooming, and lambing time, which is quite involved but for a short duration.  We include the kids in small ways wherever we can - Isadora (7 yo) has made it a personal goal to befriend and "train" (whatever that means) each of the sheep personally.  She's begun to understand how they think and move, and has become instrumental in helping us get them corralled when needed.  The firsthand exposure to the life (and death) process of our sheep emerged as a valuable experiential learning opportunity, and a great asset to us as newly-minted homeschoolers. Errol, a scant month older than Finn (3), seems to have a natural affinity for animals; the careful attention and tenderness he displays towards the sheep, in particular, makes my heart smile.

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Meg: Tell us a little more about how you learned to process that amazing fleece - did you learn how to card, spin, and dye before or after you welcomed your sheep?


Mary Jo: Oh, the fiber/sheep learning curve seems steep at times!  There is SO. MUCH. to learn, and so many filters to process the information through - i.e. distinguishing "conventional" practices from holistic.  The grace of keeping sheep, however, is that the information need not be all in place before getting them.  We brought home our four starter ewe lambs and while they contentedly mowed down the grass and casually grew their wool, I steeped myself in books, classes, and local connections to other sheep people.  Even after this First Harvest shearing, I took my time deciding what to do with it and how.  There's no rush - wool keeps indefinitely if stored properly.  It's all been quite experimental, and will continue to be, but this level of learning would not be possible without having the sheep physically here.  Fiber festivals like the one I mentioned abound and were the best way for me to learn how to spin and card.  There are also many local guilds for spinning and knitting.  Ravelry has several boards on keeping sheep as well as in processing the fleece, but many folks utilize small mills to do a lot of the processing, which is also a great option.

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Whatever the mode of instruction, from class to guild to youtube tutorial, I have found "fiber people" to be, without exception, exceedingly generous in sharing their knowledge and genuinely devoted to perpetuating their craft.  They are among the nicest people I have ever met!

Thank you for sharing your passion and your craft with us, Mary Jo!


it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

my creative space - it's a start

The yarn and the fabric stashes have been tamed, and my sewing studio is nervously making its awkward debut in cyberspace. It's quite primitive right now, but it's a start. It's functional.

The knitting stuff found its way into a set of built-in bookshelves, next to a charming window seat, which is opposite this view. A nice place to sit and have some creative chill-time. (Here's the post about my knitting needle mason jar organization.)

Aside from the gorgeous landscaping, the thing that really sold us on this house were the two wired, modular workshops, which would allow us to separate "home space" and "work space." One of the buildings holds all of our sewing pattern/book inventory as well as a simple shipping computer, and the other building houses my sewing space and Patrick's office. 

When the doors are open to the gardens, the setting is glorious. When the doors are closed (and they have to be unless the outside temperature is perfect) it is rather cave-like. I have just that one small window up there. I'm thinking that the first thing that will happen (after replacing the house's roof, the siding, covering the painted subfloors throughout the house, and fencing in a garden space!) will be putting a big window in where the bolts of fabric currently reside. Looking right out onto the (future) hen house. Of course, in order to start any of these projects, the Money Fairy has to come and fill our bank account faster than the "I'll-eat-everything-you-got" Medical Bill(y) Goat! Hee hee. Darn goat.

Goat or no goat, this space will eventually become exactly what I need, given enough time (and paint); a practical place of work as well as a peaceful, creative escape. A place where I can recharge. I'm looking forward to checking out this book for inspiration. This Flickr group is also a great place to stock up on sewing room ideas.

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Speaking of places to put your craft stashes, my publisher, Interweave, is currently holding their annual Stashbuster sale, and you can find lots of stuff there at great prices (including my first book.) Upload photos of your stashes to the Stash Bash Flickr group, where winners will be selected at random to receive a bunch of free crafting books from Interweave. 

 


this sweater is brought to you by ... the breast pump

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Ah, the pumping station. We have all sorts of medical equipment in this house that I try to disguise in various ways. Notice the blanket on the baby scale? And that's my breast pump in the big basket, its tubes and cords covered by a blue silk.

I have very mixed feelings about that pump. On the one hand, it allows me to continue to provide my baby with my milk, with all of its nutritional and immunological benefits. On the other hand, it is a huge pain. I have to sit in front of its swish swoosh, swish swoosh, four or five times a day to continue to produce the amount that Lachlan needs - much more than a typical baby because his one working ventricle is pumping blood to both his lungs and his body. Superbaby heart! Hats off to you, heart ... but man, could you eat a little less?

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This diminished appetite will come, but not until after his second surgery. Until then, he seems to have gotten the hang of feeding from a bottle, with the rest of his (huge) milk requirement going through his g-tube after he tires of drinking. He still breastfeeds, but it is more difficult for him. We will continue to work on breastfeeding (because, well, the pump sucks, both literally and figuratively.) It is a lesson for me in letting go and following the needs and cues of my child.

One of the ways I've kept my spirits up while pumping is doing something with my hands. And so - thanks to the long pumping sessions, I present to you the Oatmeal Pullover!

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silly sweater

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Yes, it was completed just as the thermometer reached 95 degrees. A funny time to be knitting a sweater, but I'm pretty pleased with it. I knit the size 36 with Quince and Co. Puffin in the Lichen colorway. I also used maybe a skein's worth of human hair. Hello, post-partum hair shed! Better in the sweater than clogging the drain? Anyway ...

Used size 13 needles to get the correct guage. It fits pretty well, and I'm betting that I'll like the fit even more once I lose the last bit of pregnancy weight come cooler weather.

Next keep-your-hands-busy-while-pumping project? Something for Finn, I think.

*** THANK YOU for your kind words about the book! I'll be showing off a few more projects from its pages in the coming week or so.***


knitting organization

Alas, no finished knitting project to show off (yet), but I did tackle one of the more pressing organizational tasks in my home when Finn and Patrick were away.

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You see, I'm the kind of person who needs to have an organized space - a clean slate - to begin a project. I just can't relax into a creative moment until everything is in its place. I've often thought that this need encumbers my artistic spirit, but I've recently come to terms with the fact that my artistic spirit is so visual that it requires simplicity, clean lines, and beauty in order to function. Either that or it's just plain OCD. Lately, the knitting side of this artistic spirit has been seriously squelched by a major needle disorganization. Needles would crop up everywhere - in unfinished projects, in the bottom of various baskets, and jammed into an ineffective needle storage roll. I could never find the fourth double-pointed needle for knitting a sock, and I could never find the size that I needed. Sometimes I ended up purchasing a set of needles that I already had, just because I couldn't find what I was looking for at the time.

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All of this meant that, since it took so much effort to start a project, I hardly ever did. Not so anymore!

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Admittedly, this storage solution isn't for those low on space, but it is pretty and cheery. Everything is housed in the jars - the collection of needles that I inherited from my great-grandmother, the stitch markers and the tapestry needles. I arranged them in wide-mouth mason jars on top of my yarn collection. Each jar contains a specific needle size (1's on the left, 10's on the right, and every kind of needle I own in the given size - double-pointeds, circulars, straights, etc.)  I need a few more jars to house the bigger sizes, but there's no rush. I have something cozy (for me!) on the needles right now, and all is right with the world.

 


I made something!

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Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles ... I actually finished a crafting project!

Such sky-high hopes I had of knitting up a storm while we were with Lachlan in the hospital. As it turns out, I had better things to do, like hold a baby and stroke his head when I couldn't hold him. Now, I don't know about you, but I cannot knit with one hand.

While this tiny baby surprise jacket sat curled up in its basket, not getting any bigger, the baby for whom it was originally intended kept on getting bigger and bigger. Why do babies insist on doing that so darn quickly? Deep down in my knitting heart, I knew that the jacket wouldn't be for Lachlan. But I kept knitting here and there. And, low and behold, once I cast off, seamed it up, added buttons, and tried in on the boy, he was bursting out of it in all of his fat-roll splendor.

No worries. Knitting is like that. (Especially when you knit slowly like me.) There's alwasy another cute baby that will come along who will be smaller.

Lesson learned. Knitters procrastinate. Babies don't.

This particular jacket found the perfect home with my dear friend's newborn daughter, who weighed in at 6.5 pounds.

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Chubster up there needs something else. Something bigger for this Autumn. Maybe if I start now it will actually get done by the time the weather cools down. If I want to be really realistic, I should plan on knitting something for Finn this Fall. That way, by the time I finish it two years down the road, it will be a perfect fit for Lachlan. Yes, that's what I'll do.

Baby Surprise Jacket in Knitting Workshop by Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Knit with Malabrigo Sock in Primavera and Tosh Sock in Twig.

Buttons here.


still waiting

baby surprise in progress

and knitting.

waiting for baby

Nothing much happening in the way of physical signs of Lachlan's arrival, but we're keeping busy otherwise. My parents are now in town. I've had some knitting time (as you can see). We're doing projects around the house. Tying up loose ends. And yesterday, Patrick, Finn and I went for a two mile hike.

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The weather is gorgeous, and it has me thinking of planting season. It's something else, isn't it? The perpetual optimism of the human condition. There's always something to anticipate with joy.

So now we wait, anticipating with both joy and trepidation the arrival of our second son. Knowing that the future will bring with it cycles of Winter and Spring, good times and difficult times, sadness and happiness.

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We saw some wild daffodils blooming on our hike yesterday. I took that as a good sign.

lachlan's pixie hat

Your pixie hat is ready for you, Lachlan. Come on out so you can try it on.

 

 


a blanket for the wee one

lachlan's blanket - the beginning

Back in October, my mom sent Lachlan a little surprise via Purl Soho: the Super Easy Baby Blanket kit in the Rugby colorway. I got to knitting right away.

But this blanket, while it's certainly easy to knit, is not what I'd call quick to knit. I tried to knit a few rows every evening, but my progress was slow. It wasn't until our post-holiday trip that I made the time to really go at it. One row of color a day was what I could do, but that meant that I was knitting all of the time (no complaining!)

knitting at sea worldFor example, if you are in Orlando, Florida and you find yourself with your in-laws at Sea World, convince them that you want to go to every "show" you can. Then proceed to sit and knit. Good.

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By the time we returned from our trip, I only needed to bind-off and block the blanket. At this time, I realized that I really stink at blocking. I usually knit little hats and socks, which don't need to be shaped. Note to self: Don't stretch out things while blocking. The blanket ended up with little scallops around the edges where there should have been none because I was over-zealous in my stretching and pinning. Sigh. I doubt anyone else in my house will notice, though.lachlan's blanket 2

lachlan's blanket folded

Other than those imperfections that you always notice in your own handiwork, the blanket turned out wonderfully. Its bold colors are so refreshing in a 70's sort of way, and the soft merino wool will be perfect wrapped around Lachlan's little body.

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I have Lachlan's Stella Pixie on the needles now. Before I finish that, though, I owe you a tour of the boys' studio. How about Monday? See you then!