Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prelude to Winter ~ A Warm Cowl

As a knitter I rarely purchase any winter accessories as I prefer to make my own.  But last Winter I saw a super cute hat that I just had to have even though I knew it was made with an acrylic yarn.  And while I like the look of that hat it provided virtually no warmth and wearing it in an icy wind was like wearing no hat at all.

I mention that hat because I think it is a shame that many people will not wear wool thinking that it is too scratchy to wear against their skin and thus are missing out on the superior warmth that wool imparts. It's true that some wools can be scratchy but today that is less often the case as wools are more refined than they used to be and are often blended with softening fibers making them a pleasure to wear.  Such is the case with the cowl that I'm wearing, which is a blend of wool, baby alpaca, and silk.

Another reason that I believe many people shy away from buying wool garments is because they are concerned about ruining it in the wash, which is a valid concern.  But with a few precautionary steps wool is easy to wash and that should not prevent anyone from wearing wool.  Here are a few of my wool washing tips:

Mr. Puffy's Wool Washing Tips

As a preface, you should always follow the washing instructions on the label and defer to those instructions when in doubt or there is a conflict with any of the following tips.

1.  Before you put a drop of water in the sink, measure your garment and write down the measurements!  This is important because you will need to know what dimensions to reshape the wet garment (which can stretch vastly when wet).
2.  Use a mild soap in the water (and only use a small amount).  I have used dish soap which works just fine but I do prefer to use a special wool cleanser such as "Kookaburra Wash" or "Soak."  You can also add a touch of hair conditioner to the rinse which will help soften a wool that is scratchy.
3.  Allow the garment to soak for 10 minutes and then gently squeeze the soapy water through the item to remove any dirt.  You do not want to vigorously agitate wool as agitation can cause wool to felt which will ruin your garment.  But, rest assured, I've washed many items and never unintentionally felted any of them.
4.  Drain the sink and refill with rinse water.  Gently squeeze the garment in the fresh water to rinse out the soap.
5.  Drain the sink and roll your garment into a ball.  Place the wet item onto a towel (still in a ball is okay) and using your full body weight press out as much water as humanly possible.  Repeat as long as you are still pressing out moisture.  The more water you remove at this stage will quicken the drying time.
6.  Lay out a fresh dry towel where the garment can rest until dry (not in direct sunlight) and gently unroll your wet garment onto the towel and shape it back into the measurements that you wrote down before it was washed.  It might take some patience to reform it into it's original shape.  As it dries you can continue to work with the wool to ease it back into it's original shape.

Depending on how heavy the item is it can take a day, or as little as a few hours, to dry.  There!  Now there is no excuse not to buy wool and enjoy it this Winter.

By the way, I'm wearing a newly finished (and washed) cowl.  It was a pleasure to knit and I've already worn it and love it!  I did do some blocking to achieve this shape but that is a topic for another day.

Particulars:  Lush Button-up Cowl by Sweater Babe; 2 skeins Organik (70% organic merino,15% baby alpaca, 15% silk) by The Fiber Company; US 10 needles; no modifications whatsoever but I did cast-on using the cabled cast-on method (as no cast-on method was specified).  The yarn I substituted was slightly more dense than what the pattern calls and gave me a firmer fabric which is what I wanted.  The buttons are 1" spalted maple tree buttons, handcrafted by ARemarkYouMade.

Simcha's Recovery

For those of you concerned for Simcha's well being, you can rest assured that he's back in form and ready to play, and play, and play.  The verbal instructions taking place during this picture went something like "slow down boy, easy easy, that's close enough, okay, sit, sit, DOWN DOWN DOWN."   All of our training is finally starting to pay off as I'm happy to report that he stopped short of wrestling the camera from me.

Until next time, be well and love well and may all of our homes be filled with love, joy, and thanks this Thanksgiving holiday!   

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cranberry Gloves and Cranberry Swirl Coffee Cake!

I love immersing myself in the rhythm of the Seasons. The colors and flavors of Fall particularly resonate with me. There's just something about this season that touches the inner Pilgrim in me. I know that Steve would disagree, but I'm sure that I would have made a good Pilgrim. For example I could have made all my own clothes, like the gloves that I'm wearing!

These gloves are not what you think, though. There is no knitting involved. They are my own design and I made them with my own handmade felt! While handmade felt is very popular in Norway and other European Countries (probably something to do with the climate) it is rarely seen or used for clothing in the United States. For those interested, I'll be explaining more about the process of making handmade felt in upcoming posts and I'll explain how gloves like these are made. But I want to see how well these wear and any changes that I need to make before I do that.

Particulars: Cranberry Felt Gloves (my own design); handpainted merino tops purchased from Ingermaaike on Etsy; this is a seamless design using a resist; the cuffs are embellished with sheep locks. My inspiration for making handmade felt has largely come seeing the beautiful designs by Ingermaaike who writes Daily Felt and Sherry who is known as Pink Knitter on Flickr and Ravelry. For a great beginner resource that I found helpful I recommend Uniquely Felt by Christine White.

P.S. If you love wearing fingerless mittens as much as I do, then I recommend you look at the beautiful selection of free knitting patterns for fingerless mittens just published by Theresa at TDoesWool. I'm having a hard time deciding which one to make first!

Cranberry Swirl Coffee Cake

It is the practice in American college towns for the local residents to open their homes as informal Bed & Breakfasts to handle the influx of visitors that descend on game day and for graduation events. My parents flew to South Bend, Indiana to see me graduate from the University of Notre Dame, School of Law, and stayed at one such B&B where they served this Cranberry Swirl Coffee Cake for breakfast. It's a taste of the American Midwest and I hope you enjoy it!


1/4 C. Butter (unsalted) - softened (1/2 stick)
1 C. Sugar
2 eggs - well beaten
2 C. All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 C. Sour Cream
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
* *
8 Oz. Whole Cranberry Sauce 
1/2 C. Chopped Walnuts 

Garnish: powdered sugar (optional)


1. Cream butter and Sugar together. Add beaten eggs and mix well.
2. Combine dry ingredients. Then add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream stirring with wooden spoon after each addition (begin and end with dry). Stir in Almond extract.
3. Add 1/2 batter to a greased tube/bunt pan. Swirl 1/2 of the cranberry sauce over and into the batter. Sprinkle 1/2 of the walnuts over the sauce. Repeat layers once more. 
4. Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees 55 to 60 minutes. Start checking after about 45-50 minutes as you don't want to over bake this.
5. Cool for 10 minutes in pan and then turn out on a wire rack (you may have to loosen with a knife). 
6.  Garnish with powdered sugar, if you wish.

Serve warm with fruit and coffee.

Until next time, be well and love well ~ and look around and enjoy the bounty and beauty of the harvest ~ Fall is here and will soon be gone.

P.S. Thank you for all your comments and concern about Simcha. His surgery went very well and he is doing great. He had a somewhat unusual condition where neither testicle descended so his neutering required abdominal surgery, but I was very motivated that he be neutered for a variety of reasons. I have my fingers crossed because if this doesn't settle him down I don't know what we'll do!