Crochet, knitting, astronomy & life in general.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's the little things that matter...

Isn't it strange that the things I most enjoy making are the teeny tiny projects? Well, not that strange, I suppose, considering small projects are fast, and generally easy, and they provide that instant gratification that larger projects, like sweaters and scarves, just can't. Even so, the best-used and loved of my creations are the little ones. For example, I created this pirate beer cozy from a Lion brand pattern for my boyfriend and I think it's the thing he's used the most of all the stuff I've made him, including his hat and scarf. I have great plans to make more of these, in different colours and with different appliques. I want to make an astronomy-themed one for myself, and my boyfriend has been bugging me to make a fleur-de-lys one.

I've also made this Super Mario Invincibility Star at least half a dozen times to give to friends. Two have gone to babies. There's nothing like the squeal of delight when I give one to a geeky friend, and it seriously takes under an hour to make one.

Another one of my favourites is the case for my camera... instead of buying some sort of fancy case, I crocheted my camera a sweater! Based on the iPod hoodie, this was my first foray into Tunisian crochet. It was really fun and easy, and produced a fabric that looks knit, but is a lot thicker, thus providing more protection for my camera. The only thing I modified was to add built-up sides (to make it more like a box than an envelope) so that it would better fit the shape of my camera.

Finally, I made a little rose hair pin which I wear all the time. I really love it, and it was really easy to make! The rose pattern is from The Anticraft book as part of the "Briar Rose" pattern.

P.S. It's really hard to take good pictures of the side of one's head.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Breadmaker bread and naan bread

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into a retirement home, I inherited all sorts of useful things from her house, among them a breadmaker. For the last five months or so, I've been too lazy to even crack the recipe book open. However, yesterday, in a fit of productivity, I finally got around to making my first loaf. I followed the instructions with extra-special care, and started the machine up. Two and a half hours later, I looked through the little glass window at the top of the machine, and this is what I saw:

Oh no! The bread was trying to escape! I must have put too much flour. I had thought that my measurements had been meticulous, but then my boyfriend informed me that our measuring cup is slightly larger than a standard cup. I'll have to remember that for next time. Despite the largeness of the loaf and its funny top, it came out well, and tastes delicious.

While the bread maker was doing its thing, I thought I should get doubly productive and make some naan bread as well. I found this recipe online, and since it got such a high rating (who can argue with "This recipe makes the best naan I have tasted outside of an Indian restaurant."), I decided to give it a try. The only change I made to the recipe was to use olive oil instead of butter.

They turned out super well, just like the naan I've had in indian restaurants. The recipe really makes a lot too. I was left with over 20 naan breads, which should last me a little while. For anyone who wants to repeat this recipe, a few words of advice. I used a non-stick frying pan instead of a grill, and I found that it was easier to brush oil onto the rolled-out dough before putting it onto the pan and then buttering the other side once it started to puff up. Also, the thinner the dough, the more bubbles appeared. Finally, if using a frying pan, like I did, the heat should go no higher than medium or the naan will get burnt.

Too much fuzzy yarn

When my boyfriend and I first moved into our Toronto apartment, we didn't have a bathroom rug. This wasn't a huge deal, but it was fairly unpleasant walking out of the shower onto a slippery wet tile floor. I could probably have bought something satisfactory, but I figured that I'd make one instead. I went to my favourite yarn store, Romni Wools, and was somehow convinced to buy these huge rolls of fuzzy green and white acrylic yarn. This is what's left of them, even after having made a rug, and a few other things.

So of course, I made a rug, with this funky pattern, and it turned out really well.

Since then, I've started making the "Candy Apple Shrug" from the white yarn, though I've had to make a lot of modifications, and it's not turning out as nicely as I expected. I also made a bag bag, that is, a bag to hold all our plastic grocery bags (because they're taking over the kitchen). I made it without a pattern, and it does the trick.

I'm planning on making a baby blanket for a friend of my who's expecting, but that's about all I can think of. Maybe I'll just make a huge afghan. The problem with this yarn is that it's hard to crochet because it's almost impossible to find the stitches among all the fuzzy. Oh well... I'm sure I'll find something to do with it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Playing catch-up some more: Christmas Gifts

This year, for Christmas (Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Newtonmas, whatever), I thought I'd save a bit of money and make presents for all my friends and family. This meant that I spent the entire bus ride home, as well as the few days before Christmas, crafting like a madwoman.

For my friend Etienne, I made an adorable pink Ganesh stuffie with a mouse mount, which I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of before giving it away. I got the idea for this gift from this website. I couldn't find a pattern, so I made my own, though I didn't write it down at the time, so I can't share. It was very simple though, and I'm sure anyone with a little bit of experience could probably figure it out. Etienne is an ex-religion student, and so I thought this was perfect for him.

For my mother, I made the asphyxiation choker, and the Julie cuff. The former I had to modify to fit my mom's very small neck, and the latter, I used black crochet cotton, so I had to modify it to make it long enough to go around mom's wrist. They both turned out pretty well, though I don't think I'll make the Julie cuff again.

For my brother, a simple hat and scarf. The hat was that It's a Toque, Eh? pattern from Not Your Mama's Crochet, and the scarf was a simple garter stitch thing in a lovely chunky wool.

And for my dad, I also made a toque combo, only instead of a scarf, I made this nifty neck warmer, a first attempt with circular needles. I'm fairly happy with the results.

Finally, my good friend Liisa commissioned a berry bag from me as a gift for her sister. The end product turned out reasonably well, but, even having followed that pattern to a T, the bag seemed to be much too narrow. Fortunately, it's really stretchy... and totally adorable.

With the yarn left over from that project, I was able to make a little gift for Liisa, a cute little rose choker, which ended up being my second published pattern! (I'll talk about the first one some other time.)

A failed pie

My boyfriend's favourite pie is cherry. While waiting for an optometrist's appointment one day, I picked up a can of cherry pie filling at the local convenience store. Because I can't stand store bought pie crusts for some reason, I made my own. Making a one-crust pie is simple. If you mess up the bottom crust, you can always moosh it around in the pie pan to cover up any rips, and if it looks kind of wonky, no one's going to see it anyway. Two-crust pies are a different matter.

It only seemed appropriate that this pie should be a two-cruster, since the recipe I have makes enough for two crusts, and I only had enough filling for one pie... And a cherry pie wouldn't work very well as an open-crust pie anyway. Everything was fine for the bottom crust, but when I tried to put the top crust on, it tore in a couple of places, and try as I might, I just couldn't pinch the rips back together without more filling spewing out on top of the crust. I might not have put enough margarine (or maybe I should have used butter), and maybe whole wheat flour wasn't the best idea ever. Anyway, the poor pie ended up looking like this:

Here's a close-up of that ugly tear:

It still tasted pretty good though, even if it wasn't the prettiest thing to look at.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Playing Catch-up

I mentioned in my previous post that I've been crocheting for a year now, and I thought I might show some of my favourite projects so far. Please note that all of these pictures were taken with my laptop webcam, and so aren't of the best quality. Anyway, here goes:

My first project after completing those wrist warmers was a shoulder beholder from The Anticraft for a good friend of mine who used to be obsessed with D&D. This being my first project where I had to crochet in the round, there was a considerable learning curve, but the beholder turned out so cute in the end that I almost couldn't bear to part with it.

The next project, and, surprisingly enough given my novice crocheting skills, my first original, pattern-less creation was a little bag for my boyfriend. It was also my first stash-busting exercise given that I'd just gotten a bunch of scraps of yarn from my grandmother's stash, since she was becoming too blind to knit anymore. It was very simple, just a long rectangle folded to form a pouch, but it was also lined, adding another level of difficulty.

Always up for a challenge, I decided next to try my hand at crocheting lace. Armed with a teeny tiny metal hook at some brand new black cotton crochet thread, I decided to take on another pattern from The Anticraft, Asphyxiation. The first lace square I made turned out all loose and wonky, but after that, I seemed to get the hang of it, and the end product was fairly satisfactory.

After this point, my crafting output increased exponentially. I would start a new project as soon as the last one finished, and now it's gotten to the point where I have at least three projects on the go at all times. The increase in productivity probably started when I got a whole bunch of new crochet books, starting with Not Your Mama's Crochet by Amy Swenson. Though all the patterns were really inspiring, and her instructions in the first half of the book allowed me to become more confident in the craft, I've only actually made one pattern from that book (and this is only one of two patterns I've made from my numerous craft books). I guess I prefer the smaller and easier projects found online, but there's something nice about being able to look at patterns in a book. Anyway, the one project I've made from Swenson's book, and which I've actually made four times, is the "It's a Toque, Eh?". The first time I made it for myself, I used the recommended hook and yarn size. Had I stuck to the pattern, the toque, which is supposed to come down over the ears, would have ended up looking like a yarmulke. I had to add at least ten more rounds so that it would fit me. For subsequent toques, I learned my lesson and used a larger hook... but I certainly learned the importance of checking one's gauge!

Many many other projects have since been created, and I will likely talk about them in future posts. Looking back on it, I certainly have come a long way...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The beginning

Hello Internet,

Two years ago, I never thought I'd be starting a craft blog. In fact, two years ago, I didn't even know how to do any sort of yarn craft. However, this is now, I do know how to knit and crochet, and I am obsessed. It all started last winter when I was playing a gig with my now ex-band, Doppelgänger Effekt. We were playing in this old hotel turned hippy commune, and there was no heating. Now, I played violin in this band, and, for those who aren't musicians, cold fingers equals not being able to play, but gloves make it impossible to play as well. However, a girl there was kind enough to lend me some really neat wrist warmers that warmed my palms enough to keep me agile, while leaving my fingers free to feel the strings.

I was so impressed with the wrist warmers, that I decided to learn how to crochet (since knitting seemed much harder at the time) and make my own pair. Diving into my Mom's yarn stash for an appropriate skein, I picked out a nice black worsted weight yarn and begun my project from this pattern. There was much swearing and complaining (since it was a fairly complicated project for a rank beginner), but with the helpful guidance of my mother, I was eventually able to finish those gloves. I ran out of black yarn part way through the second one, so they ended up being a little mismatched, but I was very proud of my first project. I even embroidered a skull on one of them.

These fingerless gloves started me on a journey that would lead me to buy countless craft books, learn more advanced crochet techniques, eventually learn how to knit, and start writing my own patterns. I inherited my grandmother's yarn stash, giving me even more fodder for my idle hands, and, when I moved to Toronto in September to start my PhD in Astrophysics, I discovered the wide world of yarn stores, having had to rely on Zellers yarn in the small town where I grew up.

The idea of starting a craft blog popped into my mind a few weeks ago when I started reading Bittersweet, which is primarily a vegan baking blog, but has some fantastic knitting and crochet patterns as well. I figured that I can share, or at least chronicle for myself, the evolution of my crafting abilities, and keep track of all the crochet and knitting projects I've completed.

So, here, dear Internet, is the beginning of Off the Hook Astronomy.