Sunday, January 25, 2015

Weekend Sweater and How to Enjoy a Better Night's Sleep

My definition of a great weekend sweater is one that fits right, feels cozy and looks great on.  It's that sweater you pull on when you are going to a movie, a casual dinner out, or running errands on a cold day and you can wear it over and over again and never get tired of it.  It goes with jeans or can be dressed up with a skirt and boots and always makes you look perfectly put together. And, unlike with shawls, you won't finish knitting it only to discover that it's impossible to find an outfit that it looks good with.  Which is a big plus for someone like me who has drawers full of shawls (that I love) but never seem to look quite right with anything.

But knitting a sweater that fits well and looks good can be a challenge for knitters of all levels. Fortunately there are some easy steps you can follow that will help you knit a sweater that fits every time and I've previously blogged some of my tips in the post Knitting a Sweater and Tips to Achieving a Custom Fit.  Continuing with sweater tips in this post I'm going to focus on a finishing tip that will help elevate your sweaters from something that looks homemade into something that looks handmade and there is a world of difference between the two.  The culprit that can cause a sweater to look "homemade" instead of a swanky and sophisticated handmade sweater are bulky seams and here is my tip for eliminating bulky uneven seams.

Sweater Finishing Tip:  How to Avoid Bulky Seams:

After you have knit the main pieces of your sweater (front, back, and sleeves) but before you begin any finishing work, i.e. adding a collar, neckline, or button band, etc. (unless your pattern or yarn ball band directs you to do otherwise) the main pieces of your sweater should be washed and blocked to desired measurements.  When these pieces have dried completely use a hand held steamer and press along the very edges (approximately 1/4 inch).  Flatten all edges by pressing and steaming with your hand steamer.  I recommend a hand held steamer because irons and other steaming devices generally have a large surface area from which the steam is emitted that can make it difficult to press just along the edges.  You want to avoid steaming beyond the very edge because that will flatten and ruin the loft and texture of your overall fabric.  What you do want to do is flatten the edge (and reduce bulk) which also makes it easier to sew the edges together neatly.    The second part to avoiding bulky seams it to sew the edges together with a thread in a matching color instead of using the yarn used to knit the sweater.  By using thread instead of yarn to sew the edges together you can reduce a significant amount of  bulk from your seams.  

Particulars:  Not a Jersey Girl Sweater designed by Stephanie Steinhaus (Unwind Yarn in Burbank); US 8 circular needles; Ewe Ewe Yarns, LLC (9.5 skeins MC - Indigo no 64 / 1 skein CC - brushed silver no 97);  I have to admit this sweater required a significant amount of modifications by me to fit me the way I wanted the sweater to fit and for that reason I would describe this pattern as "advanced." Briefly, some of my modifications were to change the sleeves from drop to inset and downsized the body to be fitted (versus 4-6 inches positive ease); I knit both the body and the sleeves in the round and eliminated 1 row of cabling in the front.  With the neck I switched to CC and continued the ribbing (instead of knitting a "knit" round) and then I BO in pattern and on the BO row decreased 8 stitches (4 on each side) evenly over the shoulders to bring in the neckline a bit more over the shoulders. I love the yarn as it is very comfortable to wear next to the skin with a wonderful loft and knits into a beautiful garment but because it is great for showing stitch definition it also does show where decreases/increases were made so I suggest that you be extra careful with your shaping to use even and discrete stitches.

Incidentally I knit the scarf that I'm wearing in these pictures and subsequently gave it to Steve who kindly loaned it back to me to wear in these pictures!  It's one of my first blog posts from way back in 2007....A Scarf by Any Other Name.  In the second picture the cowl that I'm wearing was blogged more recently (2013) as Crazy Cowl and Urban Legend.  Both are great accessories that I highly recommend.

How to Enjoy a Better Night's Sleep ~

Who doesn't want to get a better night's sleep? For women as you age it's more important than ever to get your beauty rest.  But aside from that incentive (which is plenty motivating for me all on it's own) sleep is also important to mental alertness and general good health. Those are definitely secondary considerations, although admittedly important. I don't think there is anyone who doesn't already know that consuming certain foods in the evening like caffeine and sugar can keep you awake but there is actually something that you may unwittingly be doing that is even worse and is the cause of you losing both quantity and quality of sleep.

I'm talking about using ebooks with screens that light up to enable reading in the dark. It seems like such a great idea to be able to read in bed without having a light on.  Doesn't it?  And yet.  I've finally recognized that using my kindle was the cause of me losing sleep.  It turns out that when a light shines directly into your eyes it impacts you differently than a light reflected off a paper page. And that's only one of the problems.  The other problem is the temptation to read at all hours of the night. If I wake up in the middle of the night and my kindle is laying next to me I will succumb to the temptation to read instead of patiently waiting to fall back to sleep. And that's how my kindle was causing me to lose hours of sleep each night without me understanding why. It wasn't until I read an article that discussed the negative impact on sleep of a light shining into your eyes that I understood the problem.

Since turning off my kindle and reverting to reading traditional books both my quantity and quality of sleep has dramatically improved.  So if you are an ebook reader who is sleep deprived you might want to try shutting of your electronic devices and see if your beauty rest doesn't improve too.

If you are curious what I am reading these days, the book shown above (Serpent's Kiss by Melissa De La Cruz) is a fun and easy read if you enjoy paranormal and contemporary romance! It is the second book in a series and should be read in order.

Until next time be well, love well and may you have sweet dreams ~ perhaps of knitting your own weekend sweater!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Toy Monkey and Sweet Bread for the Holidays and Beyond ~

Toys are so much fun to make and if you haven't made one yet what are you waiting for?  This cute monkey is for a baby boy but really toys make a special gift for any age, young or old, as no one is immune to their charm.  I've even been known to make a toy for myself.

For those who have never knit a toy, I'm going to share some of my tips.  I think one of the keys to making a successful toy is using a very soft yarn as much of the appeal is the tactile pleasure and for this monkey that is heading to a cold climate (Chicago, Illinois) I also chose a warm yarn (a blend of baby alpaca and fine merino) so he is nice and warm to cuddle with as well.

When making toys I recommend using a stuffing mixture of polyester fiberfill which creates wonderfully soft and squeezable toys.  I also find it works best if you are patient and slowly add small amounts of fiber filling and shape it gently to give the toy character as opposed to grabbing a large handful of stuffing and shoving it into the toy and sewing it closed.  For example, I spent an hour stuffing the body of the monkey as I wanted the head to be a gradually rounded shaped with a slight indentation where I sewed on the mouth and I wanted the lower part of the body fat and squeezable.  Time shouldn't matter during the stuffing process as you are after all giving life to the toy and it's character and personality are being formed at this stage.

Lastly if you are making a gift for an infant, as I did in this case, the eyes should be embroidered rather than using buttons or commercial toy eyes to avoid a choking hazard.  Instead of using an embroidery floss for the embroidery I like to use yarn and for this toy I used a small amount of leftover handspun yarn (from these fingerless gloves) to give the eyes texture and help them standout rather than using one of the yarns he was knit with.  In fact, one of the best reasons to hang on to your left over yarns is that they add wonderful finishing touches to toys.

But most importantly have fun and don't be too critical with how you sew it together or if it is perfectly stuffed because it's the wonky and whimsical that make the most endearing toys.  

Particulars:  Jerry the Musical Monkey design by Danger Crafts; 2 skeins Blue Sky Alpacas (colorways North Atlantic 3515 and Lake Ice 3521) and a small amount of hand spun yarn to embroider eyes); US 5 circular needles (magic loop); 100% polyester fiberfill for the stuffing (sold on Amazon by Poly-Fil but be sure to check for the lowest price as it varies considerably); finished dimensions 18" tall.  This was a very easy and fun project and I did not make any modifications although I saw that some people have knit a rounded bottom for him to sit on which I considered but decided against as I decided to simply stuff him with a more rounded bottom and that worked great.  If you look thorough the notes on Ravelry you will find the notes on how to modify the pattern itself to create a more rounded bottom if you wish.  Since this is a gift for a newborn baby I embroidered the eyes rather than using buttons or commercial toy eyes.  I've knit a number of toys and if you are interested in seeing them here are links to an elephant; bear; Matilda the mouse; tiny mouse; monster; rabbitbunny and owl

Sweet Bread for the Holidays and Beyond ~

I found this recipe for Almond & Marzipan Roulade in Saveur magazine and it's wonderful! If you are a fan of Danish pastries then you will enjoy this I guarantee it.  It is a "wet" dough so don't add too much additional flour although I did add more flour than the recipe called for because I'm not used to working with a really wet dough and probably as a result created more of a traditional bread loaf, which was still wonderful if I didn't mention that already.  I also substituted almond paste for the marzipan so either work well if you just have one on hand.  A perfect Winter and holiday bread!

It's a wonderful recipe but I think you can make a "skinny" version as I did pictured above with the single slice and enjoy it just as much.  In the "skinny" version I used only 7 oz tube of almond paste (instead of 12 oz) and used an egg white wash with Swedish pearl sugar to decorate it rather than a glaze.  It is also quicker and I actually prefer using blanched sliced almonds instead of toasting and chopping whole almonds.

However, if you want the real deal then definitely add the full about of almond paste (12 oz); 1 cup of roasted chopped almonds and then for it's crowning glory substitute a royal icing for the lemon glaze (pictured below).  Now that's a bread that will knock people's socks off!

Royal Icing Recipe

4 cups unsifted confectionery sugar (1 lb.)
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tarter
1 tsp. lemon extract


1.  Wait to prepare the icing until your bread is cool as the icing sets quickly and the bread should not be iced until it is cool.

2.  Whip egg whites with cream of tarter until foamy.  Add the lemon extract and slowly add the unsifted confectionery sugar beating until smooth and forms soft peaks.  Spread over bread to desired thickness.  You will have excess icing left over and you can probably make half this amount and still have plenty.  It can be drizzled over the loaf or added as a layer as I have.

Until next time be well and love well and may you have a very happy and healthy 2015 with lots of fun knitting in your future!