Happy Holidays!

I had hoped to do a few posts next week, then sign off for the holidays but I have been so disorganized and undisciplined lately that I don't have any decent posts for next week. So, instead, I'll be leaving a bit earlier and will be back with new things in the new year. 

When I return, the first order of business will be a Mystery Hat Swap I'll be hosting! It will start around the 21st of January and run for about four-five weeks. I'll do a post on the 1st with more info and open the sign-up. In the meantime, keep it in mind. I'd love it if you joined in! 

I wish you a very happy end to 2014 and hope you are surrounded with love and warmth.

Yarn Along : Knitting and Reading

I’m joining in Yarn Along this week hosted by Ginny of Small Things. It’s a chance for those of us who love knitting and reading to share what project is currently on our needles and which book we have our noses buried in. And I personally add what music I've been listening to as well.

Knitting :  It's very possible that every knitter and their dog has made a pair of Hermione's Everyday Socks. I've finally joined the ranks and am working on them as my December pair for the Monthly Sock Challenge. So far, I'm almost done with the cuff and have a lot faith I'll complete them this month, despite the fact that the days seem to fly by so quickly.

Reading : Goat Song. I think it was a fellow blogger who recommended it to me a while back and I am glad to finally get into it, as I'm very much enjoying it. I always prefer these more intimate, personal accounts of life with farm animals to flat, reference books.

Listening : I'm a little obsessed with The White Buffalo again. Particularly the album "Hogtied Revisited." Even more particularly the songs "The Woods," "Damned" and "Sweet Hereafter."

What are YOU knitting/crocheting, reading or listening to?

Tante Emmy's Singer

I currently have four sewing machines. For the last 10 years or so, I've been using a very basic model, no bells or whistles, one of the ones you buy at a big box store for around $100. It's a Euro-Pro and I've only had it fixed once. (And for years, I was using it nearly everyday.)

The first machine I learned to sew on was my Grandma's Singer. It's probably from the eighties and sits under my sewing table as a back-up. A couple years ago a friend gave me a vintage New Home machine that is nestled in a small cabinet. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.

The fourth, the one I want to share here today, is a Singer from the '50s. It originally belonged to my Grandmother's cousin, who we called Tante Emmy, who had helped my Grandparents when they first came to America. She handed it down to my Mother who then gave it to me. I was a child when Tante Emmy passed away, so I have many memories of this machine cabinet shuffling around different rooms in our home over the years, holding TVs, house plants, various knickknacks and picture frames. For a brief while, it was my desk. I remember scraping bits of the finish off the top with my nails and the smell when I opened the drawers. In the top drawer, a collection of attachments and a built-in bobbin holder amused me and then there was a bag of oh-so-eighties teddy bear fabric and a couple patterns in the bottom drawer, leftover from outfits my Mom had made for my twin and I as toddlers.

The last time I tried using this machine was years ago and, while it started up and ran, it didn't catch the bottom thread. Someday, I'd love to experiment and experience using it to actually make things, but for now, it's sentimental worth and beauty is enough.

PS: I've been inspired to sew again lately and am spending a bit of time in my studio working on a few projects.

Knitting Two-at-a-Time

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As of this fall, I've been knitting steadily for three years. Looking back on those dish cloths I made in the early days, I can’t believe how far I've come. There are a few tips and techniques that have been immensely helpful and I'd like to share them in a future post but today I just want to talk about knitting two-at-a-time (also called knitting two-at-once.) Since there is a lot of sock talk around here and two-at-a-time is my preferred method, many people have asked me about it and I see a lot of comments on each other's blogs about it.

The reasons why I like two-at-a-time are because I don’t like having to knit the exact same thing twice in a row. And I make any modifications to a pattern, I can keep them even from one to the other. I just completed a pair of fingerless mittens and, for whatever reason, my tension was was off for the second one. If I had done them at the same time instead of a month or so apart, I wonder if I would have had that problem. Another reason is that when I'm done, I'm done and get the satisfaction of having two socks/sleeves/mittens completed right then and there!

This article here explains how to do this technique very well for cuff-down style patterns. And this one shows how to start toe-up socks two-at-a-time via Judy's Magic Cast On (scroll down to the photo that says "sock 1 and sock 2.")  While I enjoy knitting two-at-a-time, I don’t actually like casting on two-at-a-time. So often, I’ll cast on for just one sock/glove/sleeve, knit a handful of rows, put it on scrap yarn, cast on for the second, knit the same number of rows and then combine the two on one long circular to work two-at-a-time. This helps me avoid twisted stitches and wrestling with excessive yarn while trying to set up for working in the round. Also, not every pattern is suited for two-at-a-time knitting. (The reason I worked those fingerless mittens separately was because they required colorwork and I worried four strands of yarn would have become a tangled mess.) Not only do I cast on separately but I also tend to do the heels and other tricky parts separately as well (transferring one to scrap yarn) if working two-at-a-time is too confusing or simply won't work. If you'd like to try this technique, Knit Picks has a free tutorial that will walk you through knitting two-at-a-time socks.

Do you knit socks at the same time or separately?

(The first photo shows the sleeves of my Clairette Cardigan. The second project is the start of my Hermione's Everyday Socks.)

Chicken Diary : Winter Challenges

Winter has only just begun and the challenges of keeping animals in colder months are becoming apparent to this newbie. I know with time I'll learn more about what works best for myself and my chickens and I, too, will become more acclimated to the cold, but for right now, I'm stumbling through with cold fingers, mumbling many curses and fending off worries. When I first got the chickens, a lot of people have asked me what I'm going to do to keep them warm in the winter. I'll admit, before learning more about chickens, I had the same fear---How will they keep warm!? But, I'm a human and require outside sources of heat and layers of materials to keep myself warm. Most livestock is built to stand the cold much better than we are. For starters, the chickens are eating more, throwing more fuel on their little internal fires, plus, their layers of different feathers insulate them very well. That doesn't mean I can rest easy. As we sink deeper into the colds of winter and the temperatures plummet, I will have to keep an eye on how they are faring and perhaps supply a little warmth for the coldest of nights.

Water, on the other hand, will freeze. I have two waterers, one in the run and one in the coop. I had come across those base heaters but got sick at the thought of spending $50 for one. Luckily, the Chicken Chick had a great DIY. And even more luckily, I scrounged up all the pieces needed in the barn and have a dear friend who was an electrician in his early days. I only had to put out for the thermocube outlet (which turns on when temperatures drop below 35F and off when they go over 45F) as well as a few craft brews as a 'Thank You.' I only set it up on nights I know its going to dip way down below freezing since inside the barn and coop it doesn't get as cold. Luckily, with two waterers, I can (and do) have the option of rotating them: bringing one inside to thaw overnight and then swapping it out for the frozen one in the morning. It's very important to make sure chickens (and all animals) always have access to water for the obvious reasons. Plus going without water for even a short period of time can affect their egg production for weeks.

Another issue in winter is snow. While they are pretty good at handling the cold, chickens are prone to becoming "snowblind." My Grandma and others warned me about it but, of course, I had to learn the hard way. We had a big, heavy (albeit beautiful) snow on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the next day, in between setting the table and helping guests off with their coats, I ran outside to let the chickens out of the run. They made a sharp turn into the honeysuckle and hid under the eaves of the barn, where the snow was sparse. I chuckled and figured they wouldn't stand for it and go back into the run. (Being a bunch of chickens and all.) So I went back inside and had my fair share of turkey, sweet potatoes, wine and pie and forgot all about the chickens. Until dark, when I went to close them up for the night. Only four of my ten birds were safely on their roosts. Luckily, I found four of them clustered together in one spot. Unfortunately, that spot was deep in a pine tree and digging them out was not how I planned on spending the evening. Considering he isn't a big fan of my chickens, I was very thankful that my brother grabbed a flashlight and helped me hunt for last two. He spotted one in the shed and finally I found Chuck hiding by the silo. So I crawled down in their, in my pretty dress and tights, and scooped him up. 

Needless to say, lesson learned. As long as the ground is covered in snow, the birds are staying in the run. 

Monthly Sock Challenge : 4 of 12

I originally planned on knitting these socks in December, as they are a holiday gift for someone. But I bumped these up to November since I knew I could complete them rather quickly and gain some extra time for other projects. (Thank you, bulky yarn!)

Since I have eight pairs left to make in this year-long challenge, I have a feeling these Woodsman's Socks might make another appearance. (Maybe a pair in a worsted weight for myself.) They are perfect for the intended recipient---a classic design, simple design that is thick and warm. They were knit in a superwash wool since ease of laundering was a necessity. Back in the summer, while researching various yarn bases for my dyeing, I learned a little more about what exactly superwash wool is. (Ashley did a post on superwash recently that is very informative.) Since then, I've been avoiding it for myself because I have a sincere love for pure, natural materials and because I feel a difference when knitting. But, unfortunately, most people prefer the ease of caring for a synthetic material. So, either I find a secondhand synthetic or compromise with superwash when it comes to knitting for others. Anyone else have similar trouble when knitting gifts?

More details about my November socks on Ravelry. What did you knit? What are you planning to knit in December?

Gratitude

Things have been quiet on the blog. I simply find myself with very little to say here lately. Thanksgiving is just days away and I'm slowing down and honoring this holiday season the best I can by focusing on what all I have to be grateful for in my life right now. And with that said, I'm going to take this week off from blogging and return in December with some new posts.

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving! Even if you aren't in the US, I hope you find many things your life to be thankful for this time of year!