Saturday, January 28, 2012

Crochet Class Number Two: Make a Scrunchie

Did you crochet along with us last time?

Today the girls will be getting together again, and the planned project is a hair scrunchie.   Scrunchies are endlessly variable...searching for "crocheted scrunchie" will bring up all kinds of patterns. 

The basic idea is this:  take a coated ponytail elastic, and in this case, cheaper is not better: you don't want the ends to pop apart in a week.  Make a slip knot with the yarn--any kind is fine, and scrunchies are a great place to experiment with little bits of novelty yarn.  Attach the yarn to the hair elastic, using a slip stitch; in other words, hold your slip knot against the elastic, bring the yarn over the hook, and pull that through both the elastic and the slip knot so that they hold together. It's really easier than it sounds, but if you have trouble, watch one of the videos linked below.

All attached?  The very simplest version is to single crochet around the elastic, filling it up as much as possible, just like last week's pipe cleaner ornaments. Slip stitch to end off, and work in the ends.  That's what I had the slightly younger group of girls do a couple of years ago, and some of them found it fairly challenging.  However, a much nicer scrunchie can be made by combining chain and single crochet stitches, for instance, chaining five in between each single crochet stitch.  If you're confident enough to do a second or third row, you can keep going and make an even bigger, loopier scrunchie.

Here’s a good video, except that she’s using double crochet instead of single crochet. Here’s another one I like:  (this one has a pattern of five chains, one single crochet; she also shows you how to add beads without stringing them on first). One more. (Notice that everybody has a slightly different way of getting the yarn locked on the hair elastic?)

One thing to remember from today's lesson is that chains are used in more than one way in crocheting.  When you learn to crochet, you're probably shown chains as just a base for learning to make the other stitches: you make a chain of a certain length, then you work crochet stitches into those chains (something we'll be doing in the next class).  But they're also used within the crocheted work, both to begin rows (getting the row started at a certain height by making one or more chain stitches) and to make spaces or loops.  Lacy doilies are full of chain stitches.  If you've ever seen something crocheted in a mesh pattern, or filet crochet, that's usually a combination of single crochet and chain stitches.

Another example of chains used to leave a space: when I crocheted a hat for a doll with a ponytail, I just stitched along to a certain point and then made a chain of about ten stitches, skipped over the same number of stitches in the previous row, joined the chain back to the work with a slip stitch, and then kept crocheting.  When I got back around to the chain, I worked ten stitches over the chain (just like crocheting over the hair elastic) and then just kept going from there.  That created a big "buttonhole" in the side of the hat.

Last example of chains as spacers:  last week I made a big "granny square" for a baby afghan.  The granny square has been a popular crocheting motif for years; usually you make a lot of small ones and sew them together, but I hate sewing things together so I made one big one instead.  Anyway, the pattern for a big or small granny square is the same:  you work, usually, in blocks of three double crochet stitches (double crochet is a bit taller than single crochet--you "yarn over" first, and then bring the loops off in two steps) with a chain stitch in between each group of three.  Corners are made, usually, with two groups of three double crochet stitches, and three chain stitches between those--that's what makes the square corners.  If you want to know more, check out You-tube videos on granny squares, or most basic crochet books will show you how they're made. 

Does all that sound like too much information if you're just trying to make a scrunchie?  Well, the point of this project is that you can think of the chains as loops to dress up the scrunchie, and the single crochets more just as "connectors."  Use whatever combinations you like with this project--you really can't go wrong.

And next time we'll get into the "real stuff": figuring out where the stitches go, when there isn't an elastic.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What's for supper? (Day before groceries)

Broccoli quiche, made with Parmesan cheese, yogurt, leftover vegetables, powdered milk, eggs, and a whole wheat pat-in crust
Leftover sausage and a bit of perogy casserole
Baked potatoes
Rye bread
Carrot and celery sticks, canned black olives

Peach crisp with milk or yogurt (canned peaches and peach jam)
Extra cookies and fruit, because we ended up having a friend stay to supper

Baby afghan, baby "stress toys" (crocheting)

Yarn: Red Heart Super Saver (mostly.  I think the dark brown might have been another brand--I bought that awhile ago).
Pattern: Just a big granny square
Photos: Mr. Fixit. Copyright 2011 Dewey's Treehouse.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's for supper? Sausage and things

Tonight's dinner menu:

Perogy casserole, made with shell pasta instead of lasagna noodles because that's what we had
Farmer's sausage baked with sauerkraut

Banana muffins and brownies

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's for supper? Chinese Beef Thing and Baked Squash Doughnuts

Sounds luscious, doesn't it?

Actually, this was the menu:

Rouladen-cut beef (we get it already flattened at the store--resembles minute steaks), cut in strips, cooked slowly in a covered skillet with hoisin sauce, beef broth, and a chunk of ginger, and with frozen green beans added towards the end
Brown rice

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts, but made with a mixture of cooked butternut squash and apple butter because we didn't have any canned pumpkin.  It worked fine!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crocheting check-in, and a note on gauge (now with photos)

Last weekend I posted some notes about our first crochet class. The girls (and a couple of moms who came) all did splendiferously. Later that day I went to Walmart and picked up a big skein of blue Red Heart Super Saver, and two smaller multicoloured skeins of the same. You'll see complaints about RHSS all over the Internet, but I like the colours and it's affordable (especially at Walmart), so I keep using it.

I decided to use some of the blue yarn to make a hat for the Apprentice, like the red one shown on the cover of that pattern book. I often do "forget" to do a sample swatch and check the gauge before jumping into a project (yes, I know it's one of the ten rules), but this time I wanted to be really careful. Good thing too, because it took three swatches and two changes of hook before my stitch size lined up with the pattern. But I got it worked out, and the Apprentice liked her hat fine. (Photo coming)

So I started a second hat, using the Primaries mix above. This time I didn't bother to check the gauge, since I had worked it all out the first time. And you can guess turned out bigger than the first one. Not miles bigger, but enough that I probably should have gone back to the original hook size. Same Red Heart Super Saver--but the multicoloured yarn was slightly heavier and also had a bit different texture (what RHSS critics call "scratchy").

Go figure.

Crayons said she would like that hat, even though it was a bit big, and she also requested a smaller one for one of her dolls.  The doll has a side ponytail, so I left a gap for her hair.

I also brought home some scrap yarn from the thrift store: the fuzzy, furry eyelash kind. I used it to make a long, skinny boa scarf--two strands held together to make a long chain and then three rows of double crochet. Almost three, because I ran out of yarn just before the end of the last row, but it's not too noticeable. Fuzzy eyelash yarn isn't a great choice for beginners, because it's really hard to see where your stitches are--I just guessed as I went along. On the other hand, it's very forgiving, even if you run short of yarn or have to work in a lot of ends (the yarn was in small balls and scraps that I had to work together), because mistakes just disappear into the fluff.

Did any of you try the bead bracelets or the snowflake ornaments? Have you been making anything else? Crayons has been making jewelery for her dolls this week. My friend Krakovianka does awesome things with thread--but if you want a lesson in that, you'll have to go to Krakow.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What's everybody doing today?

Just in case anyone was expecting a crochet lesson--our next gathering isn't until next weekend.  But maybe I'll post a "weekend update."

The Apprentice is at a weekend conference on the theme of Failure.  (Yes, really.)  Well, actually it's about interdisciplinary education, but the speaker topics are on failure.

Ponytails is going bowling with two friends from her improv comedy team.

Crayons is going to visit a friend that she met years ago in a dance class and who's now in the Saturday sewing/crochet group.  Turns out she lives only a couple of blocks away.

Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit do not have any meetings to go to or classes to plan for or anything else too pressing today. Mama Squirrel wants to go to the library.  Mr. Fixit will probably work on his clocks and radios.  And there are always groceries...and some snow to shovel...

How's your weekend shaping up?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Crayons' Year 5: A quiet Friday

On today's homeschool menu:

Singing "Holy Holy Holy" (not the Heber hymn, the Schubert Sanctus that I learned during a brief stint in the Presbyterian Church of Canada)

Singing "Ontari-ari-ari-o" (we usually sing something Canadian on Friday mornings)

Online math game

Reading about William Tyndale in Makers of the English Bible

Short keyboard (music) lesson

Plutarch's Life of Dion, half of lesson 4. King Dionysius keeps the philosopher Plato trapped in his palace in Syracuse, and sends Plato's older friend Dion off to Greece, because he wants Plato to be his (and only his) best friend forever. 300ish B.C. is not that far removed from the experience of some ten-year-olds!

(short break here)

Picture study: Mary Cassatt, Woman and Child Driving.

Cursive writing practice

Silas Marner, most of chapter 10, and written narration

Lunchtime:  reheated minestrone, bagels, and Magic Milkshakes (Mama Squirrel recently received the lovely gift of a Ninja blender, so we're making things we haven't had for awhile)

Helping shovel snow, and sliding down our hill

That's about where we're at now...some things left to do like laundry and cleaning.  Also we're going to work in a chapter of Ballet Shoes.

And it's the weekend!

Written narration by Crayons: Silas Marner

Silas Marner's comfortably isolated existence has been interrupted by the theft of all his savings.  Although the robbery devastates him, it also brings him into closer contact with his neighbours. This narration is from a section near the end of chapter 10.

Dolly Winthrop came to Silas’s cottage one afternoon with her little son Aaron and a basket full of lard cakes Silas greeted her a little shyly “I suppose you didn’t hear the church bells?” she asked “I did.” He said “but don’t you know this is Sunday?” she asked “I do.” He said “but you were working!” she accused “well I always do.” He said

“Um well yes…” she said slowly “I brought you these!” she handed him the box of lard cakes. “Thanks” he said then she talked for a while about church and then she said: “Well now Aaron get up and sing your song!” Aaron did and the only thing Silas thought he could do was give the boy a lard cake then she talked some more about church then said: “Well we most be going. Do consider church. Goodbye. Aaron, bow!” Aaron bowed and then they left Silas was a rather glad they had gone.

Illustration found here

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learn to sew like it's 1889: from a vintage Home Journal


I would like to make a practical suggestion, and tell exactly how I made of my own little girl an accomplished needlewoman. I commenced when she was eight years old by cutting and planning her doll's plain clothes for her, such as skirts and aprons, making myself the more particular things, such as dresses, drawers, sacques and bonnets. I taught her to hem, fell, overseam and gather. Early in life she learned that no really first class seamstress ever finished the making of a set of undergarments with uncovered seams. She was taught, as a little girl once said, to "gather like a lady," and always to use a double thread.

When her gathering had been finished, I taught her to lay gathers without the aid of pin or needle. I find many ladies who still adhere to the old time custom of "stroking" them, which is tedious and often injurious to fine, thin goods. For those who do not understand this particular "knack" I will explain. When the apron, or other garment, as the case may lie, has been gathered, draw up the thread as tightly as possible, stick in the needle and wrap the thread around it to prevent slipping. Now take the gathers in the left hand between the thumb and forefinger, and with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, pull tightly over the nail of the forefinger of the left hand, and if done according to directions, beautifully laid gathers will be the result. In this, as in everything else, "practice makes perfect."

For a number of years this little maid has taken upon herself the making of the pillow cases for "Papa's" night pillow, and receives for her work, from the aforesaid "Papa," a little money consideration, and from her "Mamma" a great deal of praise for well executed work. I cut and baste them for her, she then overhands them, hems and finally puts on the finishing touches in the shape of neatly worked buttonholes. A pillow case, by the way, is an excellent article to commence your instruction on, as it embraces the most important kinds of sewing, and is plain, straight work throughout.

When she was proficient in plain sewing I taught her to darn, first of all giving her a gay bright darning bag, to hold her unmended hosiery. This bag was supplied with embroidered flannel leaves containing some long slender needles. The pocket held a pair of scissors, thimble, cards of black, brown, navy blue and white darning cotton. This pretty bag I gave her when she was ready for her first lesson, with the request that when her work was finished the cotton, scissors and thimble should be put in the pocket, the needles in the leaves, and the bag hung on its proper hook. I gave her her first lesson on a pair of stockings very little worn. Seating her at my side I showed her how to go back and forth with her darning needle, until the hole was covered, then to cross it, weaving in and out until a smooth, flat surface was the result....

After she was thoroughly up in the rudiments of sewing she was encouraged to do some fancy work, which, from her knowledge of plain, prosaic work, will bear the scrutiny of close attention much better than if she had been allowed to commence with the ornamental first. At fifteen she is nearly as fond of her dolls as at eight, and so proficient has she become in the art of sewing, that she can make from a Parisian hat down to a pair of well shaped crocheted bootees.

It was not always "clear sailing" in these lessons of ours, little tempests sometimes arose that seemed likely to upset the frail bark, the thread would snarl or break at the most inopportune times, a pucker would sometimes appear in the heel of the stocking, but patience and perseverance, those wonderful elements of success, finally conquered. --Annie Curd.

From Ladies' home journal and practical housekeeper, Volumes 5-6, July 1889

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Teaching a crochet class: here are the rules, and here's how we're starting

This weekend Mama Squirrel has agreed to start teaching some of Crayons' friends how to crochet. (The same girls who usually sew together on Saturdays, only we're doing crochet for awhile instead.) We did something like this two years ago in a homeschool co-op, but the girls there were slightly younger. This time the average age is ten, plus there are a couple of moms who want to hang around and learn as well, so I'm hoping we can do a bit more than we did in the other class.

Want to learn along with us?  For the first class, you will need some worsted-weight yarn (not too dark a colour), a few pony beads to go with your yarn, a crochet hook somewhere between 4.5 and 5 mm (that's metric sizing--Americans need an H hook, or something around that size), and a yarn needle for weaving in loose ends.  Also some white yarn and a pipe cleaner, plus a cookie cutter for shaping the pipe cleaner into a nicer shape, plus some sparkly fabric paint or other trim of your own choice.

Here are Mama Squirrel's Rules for Crocheting.

1. If you make a mistake, go back and fix it. It’s easier to fix it NOW than to wish you had at the end.

2. Make your hook do the work. Don’t pull the yarn off the hook with your fingers.

3. Don’t work too tight.

4. Don’t let the yarn split.

5. Don’t work too long without a break—do something else and let your muscles relax. Otherwise you can hurt yourself.

6. If you’re following a pattern for something where size matters, make a sample swatch (test piece) first and measure the gauge (the size of your stitches). You might have to change hooks or try another kind of yarn. But if you are making a small item, or making up your own pattern, it’s not so important.

7. If you’re using a new skein of yarn, pull from the inside.

8. Ask for help if you’re not sure of something. If you can’t find someone right there who knows, there are lots of places to find crochet help online.

9. Don’t crochet while eating chocolate-chip cookies.

10. Don’t crochet in the bathtub.

In our first class, we're going to start by learning to chain stitch--what else?--but we're going to jazz it up a bit by stringing pony beads on the yarn first, and incorporating them into the chaining (slide them up as you want them). Instant friendship bracelets. We started doing this last summer at VBS, and the kids really liked it. Some of them chained with hooks, and some just used their fingers--it works either way.  Leave a decent-length tail at the beginning (for a wrist tie), then just start chaining--chain a few stitches, slide up a bead, chain a couple more stitches, slide up a bead, and so on until it's long enough.  End off (you can find out how to do that online--really simple), and leave a tail of yarn the same length as the other end.  Tie around your wrist.

After a break, assuming everybody's caught on to chaining, we're going to single-crochet around pipe-cleaner loops. The advantage to this is that you can concentrate on making the stitches without having to worry about putting them into chain stitches, which can be a bit frustrating for beginniners. If you've ever tried to learn to crochet, you'll know what I mean.  Make the pipe cleaner into a circle, attach the yarn with a slip stitch (look this up online if you don't know how--leave a bit of a tail), and start single crocheting around.  Keep going until the pipe cleaner is covered.  Join the two ends together with a slip stitch and end off, leaving a tail of yarn.  Either tie the two ends together in a bow for a hanger, or weave them into the crocheting with the yarn needle.

The pipe-cleaner loops will probably be finished for homework. Next time, or whenever they're done, we'll shape them around a snowflake-shaped cookie cutter, and then paint them a bit with glittery fabric paint. I had planned on using sparkly yarn for this, but couldn't find anything thick enough; so we'll just use plain white yarn and add the sparkles afterward.  I used two strands of white cotton yarn, which looked pretty good; but when you're just learning, I think one strand is a better idea.
If you don't have a snowflake cookie cutter and want to try this, you could use green yarn and call it a Christmas wreath.  Or use another shape--a heart would be nice, if you can find a cutter that is about the same size around as your pipe cleaner.  (Cut the pipe cleaner first if you need to.)

The nice thing these days about crochet class (or just about anything else) is that if you get home and forget everything you learned, you can easily find an online tutorial.  Ehow has good ones for basic crochet stitches.

Let me know if there's something you can't figure out!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Back to school: all we've done so far

I did have a schedule for today, but we seem to be going at it very slowly.

As of lunch, we have gotten through one chapter of Silas Marner* (first chapters of things are always slow), two pages of math, and one history lesson about what happened when the prairie people started doing all their business with the Americans down south, in the middle of the 1800's. (One factor that led to Confederation a few years later.)

Just call it quality rather than quantity.

UPDATE: In the afternoon, we watched a Wishbone episode, started reading a French story, and practiced some chords on the digital piano. Crayons also did some Pet Store Math with her dad.

*Yes, we are making the experiment of reading Eliot with a fifth grader. Or at least trying a few chapters and seeing how it goes. We got through Great Expectations last term, and that's really no harder.

Do we pick our mental mentors, or do they pick us? (and more long sentences)

Best thing I read in this weekend's papers:
“Who are these figures who take residence inside our heads,” Pico Iyer asks in The Man Within My Head, “to the point where we can hear their voices even when we’re trying to make contact with our own?”

“Who put them there?... “ Iyer adds, noting how, if he were to choose a “secret companion, an invisible alter ego,” he would select someone more “dashing” than British novelist Graham Greene. Greene, he admits, “is not a hero or a counsellor” to him. Instead, he is the ongoing presence who whispers the “secrets and fears” that burrow to the core of Iyer’s preoccupations. --Charles Foran, "He shoots! He waits! How a young writer found Samuel Beckett", in The Globe and Mail
For Pico Iyer, it's Graham Greene.

For Charles Foran, it's Samuel Beckett.  Foran doesn't try to write like Beckett, he says: "Much as I adore his mordant, cadenced prose, I’ve never tried to write like him. Nor do I have either the temperament or courage to address so frontally the strangeness, and unease, of being human. Most writers, it should be said, stop short of where Samuel Beckett starts."  For him, Beckett is more of a reminding voice, something that keeps him on track with where he wants to be in his own writing.
George Bailey: Well, you look about the kind of angel I'd get.
Do you have an imaginary "mentoring relationship" with someone you've never met?  Is it someone you "chose", or did they "choose you?"

P.S. Pico Iyer has an essay here called "The Writing Life: The point of the long and winding sentence." "Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker."

Friday, January 06, 2012

Pearl Bodine's Sweet Potata Pie

Mr. Fixit got a Beverly Hillbillies DVD for Christmas and we've been watching some of the early episodes.  I had a video on this post showing Cousin Pearl and her friend Homer Winch ("do this and I'll bake you a sweet potata pie"), but it's been removed from You-tube--sorry!

There are lots of ways to make sweet potato pie. This is the way I made one tonight, out of leftover mashed sweet potatoes. The recipe is actually "Squash Pie" from Food That Really Schmecks, but it works fine with sweet potatoes too. It's a lot less spicy than most pumpkin pie recipes, which I think some kids would like.

Pearl's Man-Catchin' Sweet Potata Pie (or Squash Pie)

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (I used a deep-dish pie plate)
2 cups milk (I used slightly less because I thought the sweet potato might be a bit wet)
1 1/2 cups pureed sweet potato or squash (if you've just cooked it, let it cool slightly--otherwise just use it chilled)
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
1 1/4 cups sugar (I used only a cup)
1 tsp. salt (or less, I used less)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Cinnamon (or cinnamon-sugar), nutmeg

Combine sweet potato or squash, eggs, flour, salt, and sugar; gradually add the milk. Pour mixture into the unbaked pie shell. (If you have too much filling, you could bake some in a separate dish without a crust.) Sprinkle with cinnamon or cinnamon-sugar and a bit of nutmeg. The recipe says to bake it at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until set; I gave it 10 minutes at 425 degrees and then turned it down to 350 for about 45 more minutes. When I took it out, it still seemed a bit jiggly, but it did slice without a problem about ten minutes later.

Homer would have been mighty pleased.

Linked from Four Moms and Sweet Thangs, Feb. 9/12

We celebrate Epiphany

The Magi
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.