Late Fall and Winter are such a great time for knitting. Having handknit items around, both those completed and those in progress, makes the steadily chilling air almost welcome. The challenge for me is to remember that I can't knit everything and that sometimes it is worth it to just buy a pair of mittens. Other times I come across a hat pattern so adorable that I just have to make it, even though there are at least 15 hats in our closet already. I recently made this hat for Juniper; it's the Vintage Pixie Cap from Hadley Fierlinger's Vintage Knits for Modern Babies. Jim said it kind of reminded him of the little caps the French kids are wearing in Alfred Eisenstaedt's classic photos of the audience at a Paris puppet theatre. The yarn I used is a bit thicker, but I think the result is still pretty cute:

I created a ravelry group for any sweetjuniper readers who want to learn to knit, or who already know how to knit and want to help others, or just want to check out what other people are making. The lovely DW (the woman responsible for the fact that I can't tear myself away from my knitting needles at night long enough to empty the dishwasher) has joined, and has already taught some group members how to knit cables. I'm also meeting with a wonderful group of ladies in my neighborhood for a weekly night of knitting. Already there are at least five other pixie hats adorning small heads at our playground each night.

If knitting is something you've always wanted to learn but were too intimidated (or frustrated) to try, I urge you to give it a go this winter. I always worry that by sharing my projects on Woodcraft it seems like I'm showing off, so I want to share something now that will hopefully dissuade anyone from thinking I'm naturally good at any of this. If you need some encouragement, take a look at the first thing I ever made from yarn.

Ten years ago I learned to crochet while I was living in China, and I made what I truly believed at the time was an awesome scarf for Jim for Christmas. You can't really fully appreciate from that picture how uneven this scarf is. There are parts that are 2 inches wider than other parts.

Here I am making the scarf with my friend Carissa Carmen (who taught me to crochet):

I think she may be repairing one of my many mistakes in that picture. I also added a pocket, thinking it was a clever touch. You know, for all those times that you need to keep. . .something. . .in your scarf. . . . I was really proud of that pocket:

Jim was nice about it when I gave it to him, probably summoning whatever enthusiasm he could from the well of relief that I hadn't made him a sweater. He even wore it once when we went touristing around Beijing (it helped that it was extremely cold that day). To this day he's bitter about that scarf strangling him in every picture I took of him in the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square:

He calls it The Scarf of Many Colors and despite his efforts to hide it deep in the basement every spring, I always manage to dig it out the next winter. Here's another picture of my friend Carissa, modeling the first hippie hat I ever made, with only a hint of forgivable trepidation:

I guess you could say I have come a long way since those days; but I went years without making anything because I didn't know where to start. If you want to give it a try, please join the ravelry group and let's get something made before the holidays!

Hey look! It's another Woodcraft post not written by Wood. . .

I know you probably come here because this is the last place on the site where you can escape my constant drivel. But she's been incredibly busy with work lately, trying to catch up after we were on vacation and making up for the fact that I was out of town last weekend.

About a year ago she started knitting seriously. In addition to that first sweater, she's knitted the girl a beautiful dress, a pair of felted slippers, two pairs of mittens, a pair of gloves, a sweater vest for the boy, and a blanket that's still not quite finished. I wish she'd be better about documenting the process and results of her efforts, and frequently complain that she's being too modest. So today I wanted to share the beautiful back-to-school sweater she knitted with yarn that the kid picked out at the Stonehedge Fiber Mill (she chose the buttons as well):

The girl has worn this every day since it was completed.

I asked Wood to send me an email about the sweater, reminding her that she while she claims she doesn't have time for a post, she probably sends about 100 emails a day, so I was pretty sure she could find the time to write me one about the sweater. Here's what she wrote:

I knew that I wanted to knit Juniper a sweater, and I knew that a cardigan would be best for her because she constantly fights with me in the mornings before school about wearing enough layers. A cardigan is so low commitment -- easy for her to take off if she gets hot -- so she is more willing to wear them. 

Her new favorite color is orange, and she picked out this beautiful yarn herself. It's called antique rose, but it isn't pink so much as it is coral. Up close you can see that orange and pink strands were spun together. I could not possibly love this pattern more. It's the small version of the Tea Leaves cardigan, and the directions are easy to follow, it is fun to knit, and it comes together beautifully. I think I'll be making more of these. 

I started knitting this sweater while we were at Squam Lake, and spent most of our afternoons and evenings by the fire working on it. Even though it's only been three weeks since we got home from our trip, it already seems like it was years ago. The combination of being very busy at work and the kids going to school (and the crazed, very early mornings that come with it) makes it feel like our relaxed lives at the Rockywold-Deephaven Camp were in a different life. My days are desperately missing the calm that I felt there, but every time I look at this sweater I remember working on it in front of the fire with Gram in my lap or at the lake while Juniper learned to knit next to me, and tell myself to relax just a little bit. Everything is going to be okay.

I am really going to make an effort to get Wood to share more of her projects. She is getting together with a group of women here in Detroit who all want to learn to knit, and because she's only been at it a year she'd love to have an online community of folks knitting with them. Any readers out there want to learn to knit? Leave a comment with an e-mail and we'll get a ravelry group together.

Naptime Quilt

Posted by Wood | Thursday, September 09, 2010 | , | 0 comments »

We dropped Gram off this morning for his first day of preschool. For weeks his sister has been talking to him about school to help him get ready. Despite that, it'll be a tough transition for all of us. Even though Gram is a little louder and bolder than his sister was at this age, he is still a pretty sensitive little guy, and picturing his tiny face at school this morning is still enough to make me tear up.

I made Gram a quilt for naptime. Knowing that he is resting (hopefully) in something that I made for him takes a little bit of the sting out of saying goodbye in the morning. I used old men's shirts I bought at the thrift store and even some old pillow cases for the squares in the quilt top:

I used gray flannel for the backing to make it nice and cozy:

I sewed buttons and buttonholes along the sides and bottom of the quilt so that it folds into a sleeping bag. Last year I made Juniper a quilted sleeping bag by binding two quilts together, but I wanted Gram's quilt to be a little more versatile, so that when he outgrows the sleeping bag it can just be a flat quilt.

Do other people ever put buttons on quilts? If all quilts had buttons, no one would need a Snuggie. Those things don't even close in the back.

I quilted it by sewing along all of the squares with yellow thread.

There you have it. Fingers crossed that he spent some of his nap time actually sleeping (and not screaming) today.

During our time up north, I convinced Jim to extend our already long drive home by an extra hour so we could go through East Jordan, Michigan and make a stop at the Stonehedge Farm and Fiber Mill. I've long been a fan of their Shepherd's Wool line of yarn, which is sold at yarn stores across the country. My local independent yarn store has a large selection, and I stocked up on it last winter during a sale. During our vacation, I finished a vest for Gram in Stonehedge ivy, so it seemed fitting that we would make a pilgrimage to the mill during this trip.

East Jordan was about an hour south of where we were staying, where the Jordan River empties into Lake Charlevoix. Jim pointed out that the town is home to the East Jordan Iron Works, a company that makes fire hydrants and manhole covers for municipalities all over the country.

The manhole covers the company makes for East Jordan itself are really cute:

We drove a few miles out of town and found the Stonehedge Fiber Mill and farm on a lovely hillside.

The best part about visiting the yarn shop and fiber mill was talking with Debbie McDermott, the owner. Years ago she and her husband moved up north to retire and keep horses, and slowly Debbie's passion for knitting and making yarn took over, and now the couple has sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens (in addition to their three horses). Debbie's husband is retired from GM, and he makes the mill's machinery and even sells the tools he makes to other operations.

Like most fiber mills still operating in the United States, Stonehedge offers a variety of services in addition to the spinning of their own yarn. They will card and spin your fiber for you in addition to turning the wool they buy from other sheep farmers into yarn. Inside the yarn shop, I was treated to the full array of colors available in the Shepherd's Wool line of yarn that's available in yarn shops from California to Maine:

The yarn store also carried un-dyed yarns spun from wool taken only from the animals at the farm. The label listed the name of each animal used for the yarn, which was an adorable and irresistible touch. How could I not buy three of each skein?

The yarn store also had yarn spun from the mill's "ends." Debbie takes the fibers, bits and pieces of what is left over from spinning jobs, and spins it all into "mill ends." I'm still a new knitter, but I'd never seen anything like it. It is ridiculously soft; holding this yarn in my hands helps takes the sting out of the end of summer, and makes me look forward to winter just a little bit.

I bought enough yarn to complete quite a few projects that I hope to share with you as winter approaches. After I made my purchase, Debbie let us wander around the farm a bit, and for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine us retiring to a nice little sheep farm in the hills.

We are the annoying people who come to your kid's birthday party with homemade presents. It's okay for now I guess, but in a few years, when your kid wants Legos and we bring hand-sewn madras shorts or something, it's going to be really embarrassing for our own children. For our daughter's best friend's fourth birthday birthday a few weeks ago, my wife hand-sewed a stuffed fox (sort of along the lines of the stuffed mouse she made for another 4-year-old last winter). The kid in question loves reading and watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox with his mom, so a fox was an easy decision and I decided to make a book to go along with the animal. The kids and I spent a beautiful morning wandering around the city taking pictures of the stuffed fox in places the birthday boy would recognize. The basic story we made up was along the lines of book/movie, with a Detroit fox who gets cramped in his tiny house, so he sets out to find a new one. This house was too big:

He eventually decides that he wants to live at the birthday boy's house, but he finds out he needs to bring the boy some chickens before he can live there. So he tries to catch a "chicken":

But he's just not fast enough, so he drowns his sorrows in a glass of cider at Slow's Bar BBQ (a restaurant owned by the birthday boy's family; we actually ran into him while inside and narrowly averted disaster by hiding the fox behind my back).

The fox returns to his neighborhood and sees his friend (the fox my wife made for our daughter) and she tells him he's been trying to catch pheasants, not chickens (and that chickens are easy to catch).

He can even buy them at Honey Bee Market la Colmena:

But instead, he chooses to follow his fox instincts and steal some chickens from the urban farmers of North Corktown:

With two chickens in hand, he makes his way to his new home. The last page of the book showed him on the boy's porch, and we hid the stuffed fox right by the door before reading the book to him.

Once we were done shooting the photos, we uploaded them to Shutterfly and used their software to quickly turn them into a gift book (full disclosure: Shutterfly has advertised on Sweet Juniper before, though this post and production were not undertaken as part of any advertising campaign or sponsorship---we just like the product enough to keep using it).

After less than an hour of taking pictures, we were able to create a really personal book where the character went to really familiar places like the birthday boy's favorite playground and even his dad's office (his dad, a realtor, is the one who helps the fox figure out where he's going to live). We were able to include a picture of his dad in the book, as well as get a small image of the recipient himself in there via the pictures on his dad's desk:

It involved some planning (the books take about a week to get printed and shipped) but it really didn't take that much time to get it all done. And the birthday boy and his parents were really appreciative. Wood highly recommends Kata Golda's book Hand-Stitched Felt for making these easy stuffed creatures.