Archive for the 'children' Category


My new favorite yarn

As with our anniversary, Jan and I generally don’t buy each other birthday or Christmas gifts, either. When Sylvia turned two last May and really “got” the idea of getting (and opening!) presents, we decided it was time to modify this practice a bit in order to teach her about gift giving, too. So for my birthday (also in May), Jan took Sylvia out shopping for a gift for me, and for his birthday (later in May—yes, we are all three born in May) I took her out to find something for him. In both cases, we asked for specific gifts, and Sylvia helped purchase them at the store and wrap them.

For Christmas this year, we decided to expand her participation in this process and let her choose the gifts herself (within some parameters, of course), both for us and a few other people. This was an interesting experience, because she often gravitated toward stuff that she liked, which offered opportunities to discuss how gift giving is all about choosing something that the recipient might like. She’s not an expert at this yet, but after a while she definitely got a sense of how it all works. Some of her choices were quite charming, such as a carved, blue, wood tree ornament for her grandmother, “because Nana likes blue!”

I suggested to Jan that he take Sylvia to the yarn aisle at Michael’s and let her choose a skein or two or yarn for me. She’s well accustomed to my knitting and knows that I like it. I told Jan, “If you can, try to gently steer her away from the Fun Fur…but you know, if she really wants to get that for me, that’s fine.”

So late last week, the two of them went out to the store in great secrecy. In this case, “great secrecy” is defined as Sylvia loudly promising, as she and Jan are putting on their coats and I’m in the next room, that “We’re going to get Mommy a present, and it’s a surprise.” They came back with a puffy-looking bag, and Sylvia was fairly bursting with the news. But she didn’t tell me! Well, not quite…

As we opened our gifts on Christmas morning, Sylvia chose her two gifts for me to open first. I picked one up and said, “I wonder what this is!” She replied, “It’s yarn!” then looked at Jan and said, “Is it okay if I tell her?”

pc258918yarn.jpgAnd here is the yarn she chose for me. Jan tells me that when they got to the yarn aisle, Sylvia quickly picked out the Wool-Ease, announcing, “Mommy likes brown.” (Brown does indeed happen to be my favorite color.) Then she saw the Jiffy Thick-and-Quick, and its bright colors (including purple, which happens to be Sylvia’s favorite color) instantly captivated her. She declared that I would like that yarn, too, and so they bought both.

Yeah, I hate pretty much all acrylic yarn. Loathe it. But this stuff? It’s my new favorite yarn.


Preparing for Christmas

pc158670treehat.jpgOur tree is up. We’ve baked five different kinds of cookies (with lots of help from Sylvia, who is an expert stirrer and cookie-decorator…so what if the sugar-cookie snow man’s buttons are in the middle of his face instead of his chest, right?). All cards and packages went out in the mail last week. And I finally finished this Christmas-tree-shaped hat for Sylvia. I love this pattern (though in future renditions I think I’d make the red border at the bottom a bit longer) and the yarn I used (I heart Lamb’s Pride bulky).

I knit all of it last winter but had the hardest time keeping the I-cord evenly spaced while attaching it to the hat, so I put it aside out of frustration. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago, and after about five attempts managed to get the I-cord “garland” on the tree nicely. Sylvia wore the hat last weekend, when we went to a local farm (it’s a county park that’s a working farm—one of our favorite places to visit) to see Santa. She was a bit wary of Santa, but utterly enamored with the candy cane he gave her.

In addition to holiday knitting, I’ve also been playing Christmas carols on our piano a lot lately. We have a few Fireside books (Folk Songs, Favorite American Songs, and Song Book of Birds and Beasts; interestingly, that last one was collected and edited by Jane Yolen, whose Owl Moon is one of Sylvia’s favorites) but, aside from a few pieces in those books, didn’t have much holiday music.

When Jan was growing up, his family had a book called A Treasury of Christmas Songs and Carols that he loved. So we poked around online and managed to find a used copy on sale. It arrived a few weeks ago, and we’ve really been enjoying working out way through it. It’s a retired library copy, so it has the library binding. But the pages are totally pristine. Our copy is the seventh printing of the first edition, from 1955, so the composer dates always make me do a double-take. “The Three Ships,” for example, has “Alfred Noyes (1880- )” and “Colin Taylor (1881- ).”

There’s a huge variety of songs in this book, which is divided into sections: “British and American Carols,” “Carols from Foreign Parts,” “Christmas Hymns and Chorales,” “Especially for Children,” “Christmas Solo Songs,” and “Christmas Rounds and Canons.” I’ve found lots of old favorites in here and made some new friends, too. But the one that always brings a smile to my face is this one, penned by Henry W. Longfellow to a traditional tune:

“Nuns in Frigid Cells”

Nuns in frigid cells
At this holy tide,
For want of something else
Christmas songs at times have tried
Let us, by the fire,
Ever, ever higher
Sing, sing, sing
them till the night expire

I mean, really: who doesn’t think of nuns in frigid cells when they think of Christmas, right?


Memories of my childhood

Not long after my daughter was born, my parents started opening up boxes in their basement. Their contents: toys that had belonged to my brother and me.

The first one, a three-foot-tall stuffed dog, arrived with my parents, when they drove out from Illinois to meet their one-week-old granddaughter. At the same time, they also brought my white wooden rocking chair.

Most of my old toys joined our household bit by bit, either on the times when my parents drove here, when they shipped a box of stuff, or when we visited them in Illinois and carried some small things home in our suitcases.

pa087816tos.jpgDuring my visit to Illinois earlier this month, my parents really outdid themselves: as we walked through the door, we saw arrayed across the family room floor a whole collection of Fisher Price Little People toys. Now, these aren’t the Little People of today–all round and cherubic. These have far more simplistic forms and are made of hard plastic, not rubber. (You can read about the history of Little People–and see photos, at the top, of the old-school figures I’m talking about–here.)

My parents saved the schoolhouse, the town, the airport (the airplane has been at my home already for several months), and the way-cool camper. I loved seeing those toys again. I remembered every single piece and how my brother and I used to play with them together. Jan was astonished at the very fine condition all of these thirty-year-old pieces were in. And Sylvia–she just went nuts playing with them.

(The toys stayed at my parents’ house after we left–something for Sylvia to play with whenever she’s there.)


How I spent my summer vacation

p8146263.jpgI bought the yarn for a Wonderful Wallaby for Sylvia several months ago. In late spring I started one sleeve but, about a third of the way up, decided I didn’t like how it looked, so I frogged it and turned my attention to other projects. I brought the yarn with me to Vermont and managed to finish the whole thing in just over a week (thanks to Gina, who lent me her size 8 Denise needles after I realized I’d left mine at home). It was done just in time, too: the day after I finished it, cooler weather moved in, so Sylvia got to wear it right away. Fortunately, she loves her new sweater–she’s particularly fond of the kangaroo pocket in the front, which she filled with rocks, leaves, and sticks during this hike.

p8146266.jpgI really enjoyed knitting this sweater. The yarn I used (Rowan All-Seasons Cotton, in Native) is a delight to work with–I want to make something for myself with this stuff!–and the pattern is very well written. The section on picking up stitches to start the pouch wasn’t completely clear to me at first, but luckily for me my friend Beth (who has knit several Wallabies herself) was around to help me figure it out. I made a few changes to the pattern: I increased the below-pocket length by an inch; I eliminated the ribbing on the bottom hem (I don’t like tops that bind at the waist…it’s been years, I think, since I last tucked in a shirt, and that was probably for a job interview) and used a simple rolled stockinette edge instead; and after increasing the hood a few stitches on the second row (as called for), I also increased by several stitches on the third row, creating a fuller hood.

The Wallaby is a nearly seamless sweater. You have to graft (Kitchener stitch) the top of the hood (which is knit flat) and the armpits. I had a little trouble with that, as the last stitch in each of those rows all ended up large and loose. Hmmm. Also, the bottom-center of the placket stretched out a bit (you can see it in the first photo). I suspect this is partly because I knit a size 4T sweater, which is a bit large for Sylvia (who’s just 27 months), so it hangs from her shoulders a bit. But Beth tells me this is a problem she’s seen, too, and isn’t sure if it’s avoidable. I’ll have to do some poking around to find a solution for this before I knit another one.

Yarn: Rowan All-Seasons Cotton, 6.25 skeins
Color: Native
Needles: #6 DPN and 24″ circular, #8 DPN and 24″ circular
Size: 4T
Start: 5 August 2007
Finish: 13 August 2007


Great moments on the Street

When Jan and I decided to introduce our daughter to television a couple of months ago, we thought that Sesame Street would be a good choice. But not the Elmo-infested crassly commercial stuff on the airwaves today–we wanted the old stuff. (My hatred for Elmo, a.k.a. the Red Menace, burns hotter than a thousand suns. He’s like Wesley Crusher and Rachel Ray combined. [shudder])

So we went to the video department of our local Barnes and Noble and asked, “Do you have a boxed DVD set of Sesame Street episodes without Elmo?” The clerk looked at us funny, and said, “Gee…I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.” He tapped away at his computer (and may I just mention here how incredibly annoying that B&N doesn’t have publicly accessible search terminals in the store, and instead they force you to track down an unfindable employee if you need help with anything?) for a few seconds, then said, “You’re in luck! They recently released something called Sesame Street Old School.”

We were indeed in luck. Sesame Street Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974) includes the first episode (in its entirety) from each of the first five seasons, plus several “greatest hits” segments from that period. The gems include songs by Bud Luckey (“The Alligator King,” “Ladybug Picnic,” and “Martian Beauty“), Listen My Brother singing about counting to twenty (with a cowbell!), and Johnny Cash singing about “Nasty Dan” to Oscar. For Jan and me, this DVD set is a real trip down memory lane–“Oh! I totally remember this song!”–and we’ve really enjoyed sharing it with Sylvia.

One of our (all three of us) favorite segments is the one called “Handclapping Number” on the liner notes:
So clever! And creative! And exciting! No one does this sort of thing any more, it seems. The new programming targeted to children these days seems be to all CGI or bad cartoons, with quick editing (I think of it as the seizure-inducing Wang Chung Effect) and aggressive marketing tie-ins. There’s something so pleasant about a conversation or a song or a camera shot that takes its time and really tries to get kids interested in what’s going on rather than lull them into a semicatatonic state.

How many puppeteers do you think are working here? One set of four in three different shots? Jan and I keep trying to figure it out, and we can’t. As a magician, Jan is especially good at looking at physical movement things like this and knowing what’s going on that the viewers can’t see, but even this has him stymied. Now that’s some good puppetry!

I have the “Handclapping Number” on my mind today for two reasons. One is that for the last week it has been Sylvia’s favorite and most-requested (“I want to see the clapping, please!”) scene. The other is that I just came across (via Ze Frank) what struck me as a grown-up version of this number. But with one person. Take a look.



Several months ago, I checked out Zoe Mellor’s Knitted Toys from my local library. I loved it so much that I immediately added it to my Amazon wish list, and at the end of last month I broke down and bought it for myself.

My first project: a doll for Sylvia. While I had the library copy, Sylvia looked through the book and more or less asked me to make everything in it for her. Lately, she’s been increasingly interested in imaginary play with her stuffed animals and her friends’ dolls, so I thought she should have a proper doll of her own. Neither Jan nor I are keen on most of the rubber/plastic dolls on the market today, and after poking around for alternatives I was all set to make her a Waldorf doll. Simmy has a great tutorial here, but that requires sewing, and, well…let’s just say that my very first sewing project (a snazzy tote bag!), which I started at the beginning of this month, remains unfinished because I can’t figure out how to put the stupid bobbin into the machine properly. (Sigh.)

p7235603sm.jpgI did find in an online shop a pattern for a knitted Waldorf doll (and may yet end up giving that one a try one day), but decided to start with the item in Knitted Toys that Sylvia liked the most: the fairy doll. (It’s pictured on the back cover, which you can see if you click on the “See inside this book” link at Amazon.) As you can see, my doll lacks the waist sash, the tutu, the wings, and a proper face. I may at some point knit a sweater or a dress for her, but for now she’s running around in her birthday suit (which really is a suit of sorts). I left the face off because I have no idea how to add eyes and a mouth after everything is put together. Sylvia noted the lack of facial features immediately, but then decided that the doll has a “pretend eyes and pretend mouth,” so if she’s happy the way things are now, maybe they will stay off altogether.

p7235623sm.jpgI used yarn that I had on hand (mostly worsted KnitPicks Yarn of the Andes) for the body, clothes (which are actually built-in so are really part of the body, too), and head. The brown hair is a skein–an entire skein–of YotA that Gina gave me for this purpose. (Thanks again, Gina!) All together, the knitting, putting together, seaming, and stuffing took me about six hours. Not a huge amount of time–so I knew I wouldn’t be terribly upset if Sylvia hated it. (Besides, it’s impossible to predict what will strike a two-year-old’s fancy anyway.) It was a lot of fun to watch this take shape as I shoved more and more polyfill stuffing into the forms. This was the first time I’d stuffed anything, so I didn’t have a sense of how much filling to use. A few times, when a limb starting to look like a sausage about to burst out of its casing, I took out some of the stuffing. The head is oblong and not as round as the original, but the rest of the body looks more or less on target.

p7235617sm.jpgSo what do you think? Does she like it? Maybe just a little bit…


Pinwheel sweater

Last Sunday afternoon I decided I really wanted to knit a child-sized pinwheel sweater using the free pattern from Elann. I’d never made one of these before (though I’d seen a similar one, based on a Vogue Knitting pattern, worn by an adult friend), but I’d come across the pattern the day before and found myself possessed by an insane desire to knit one of these things immediately.

The pattern calls for Elann’s own worsted-weight 100% wool yarn. I’ve never used it before, but I did have several balls of KnitPicks Wool of the Andes worsted on hand. So I planned what I hoped would be an eye-pleasing combination of colors and cast on. A few hours later, I was already in the middle of the third “donut,” right at the spot where the first armhole is created. For some reason, the pattern tells you to start a new ball of yarn here. I couldn’t quite understand why, but I did it…and then once I had cast on stitches for the other side of the armhole, I realized that starting a new ball of yarn was completely unnecessary. So when I got to the second armhole, I just kept plugging along with the ball of yarn I was already using, and everything worked out just fine.

I did have some trouble with the crochet provisional cast-on, though. This was the first time I’d ever done one, and when I went to pick up the stiches for the sleeves later I found that I hadn’t cast on to the correct loops of the crochet chain. So instead of unzipping like the top stitching on a big bag of rice (anyone out there know what I’m talking about?), the yarn refused to budge. I had to remove each loop from the crochet chain separately. Fortunately, there were only eighteen loops, so this didn’t take very long.

This is a very interesting sweater. The child-sized version is supposed to fit someone as small as six months old to someone as large as four years old. My daughter, who’s modeling the sweater here (with some coaching from her dad, who helpfully shouted, “Now point to the stove and the refrigerator at the same time!” as I took the first photo), is two years old. You can see that the sleeves are rolled up a bit, so she’s got plenty of room. (And because the bottom two-thirds of each sleeve is done in k1p1 ribbing, it stays put when it’s rolled up–very helpful if you want to put it on a short-armed baby.)

The sweater has eight sections, and the sleeves are separated by two sections one way and by four sections another. (This layout is very visible in the third photo here.) So, depending on how the sweater is put on, you get either a long sweater with a short collar (the first photo) or a short sweater with a long collar (the second photo) that could even be used as a hood for a small baby. In both orientations, the sweater kept sliding off of Sylvia’s shoulders–especially in the long-collar-short-sweater direction. (Note that this sweater has not been blocked. I guess it’s possible that blocking might help with this problem.) So I’m thinking about putting some I-cord ties or maybe even some sort of button in the front. If I stick a closure right in the middle, across from the armholes, it should line up properly when the sweater is worn in either direction.

This sweater was a pretty fast knit in #9 needles (#8 for the ribbing on the sleeves). I started it on a Sunday afternoon and was finished (including weaving in the ends!) the following Saturday evening. It also didn’t use much yarn: I used less than one skein each of the red, blue, and white and just under two skeins of the gray. Wool of the Andes is $1.99 per skein, so this sweater cost under ten bucks to make (and there’s still plenty of red, blue, and white to knit a donut of each in another sweater!). (I should point out, though, that I decided to omit the funky I-cord loop edging that the pattern calls for. I seems like the sort of thing a toddler would get caught on everything and end up pulling on the sweater.)

At the end of the photo shoot, once Sylvia had finished identifying all the major appliances in my kitchen, I spread out the sweater on the floor for one last photo. Sylvia rushed to get her own camera and lent me a hand!


Review: A Guy Who Knits

When I first saw two of Lucinda Guy’s books of handknits for children in a catalog, I was utterly charmed–so much so that I bought one of them, Handknits for Kids, sight unseen. Last week, I finally got my hands on its sequel, And So to Bed…, thanks to my local library.

Both books are beautifully designed and feature patterns for clothing, blankets, and stuffed toys suitable for ages two to five or thereabouts. The designs for girls are girly, but mostly in a heavy-on-the-pink way and not in a frilly-curlicues way; similarly, the designs for boys are boyish but not obnoxiously so.

Handknits for Kids is divided into four “chapters,” each defined by a season. Each chapter includes a blanket (one has trucks and cars on it, and one is completely pink, but the other two aren’t gendered), a stuffed toy (dog, bird, mouse, cat), and a sweater for a girl; three chapters also include sweaters for boys. The designs are clever and fun–stuff I could actually imagine children wearing (and enjoying!) without looking ridiculous. You can see photos of all the projects in the British version of the book here. (It contains the same projects and has the same design as the American version; only the title and surely some spellings are different.) Look at the Jack Frost Jacket in the last chapter–isn’t that adorable? I’m giving serious thought to making one of those for Sylvia…maybe even in the pink that the pattern calls for. (I am not a big fan of lots of pink, so that’s saying a lot about how much I like this design.)

And So to Bed… is equally charming in its presentation (like Handknits for Kids, all of the illustrations are photographs of the knitted objects against cartoon drawings–there are no photographs of people wearing these handknits). The projects here didn’t appeal to me as much, though. They’re all bedtime-themed (clever idea!), and include blankets, pajama cases, robes, and cases for hot-water bottles. (All of the projects can be seen here.) But, aside from the Dream Cardigan and the stuffed owl, I had a hard time imagining myself knitting any of this stuff.

I should mention that this book is from Rowan and thus features only Rowan yarn. Beautiful stuff, to be sure, but holy cow is it expensive. The Dream Cardigan I mentioned would cost about eighty bucks if I used the yarn that is called for. Ouch. Unless I can score an exceptionally good deal on eBay, when I’m ready to start these projects I’ll definitely be substituting other yarns.

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