Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Staying Home

The past few weeks have been troubled, to say the least. As an introverted homeschooling mom, I can't say the isolation has been personally difficult. My husband's job is unaffected by closures, and we live in a semi-remote area that hasn't been infected (for now). But I know it's much harder for many others, whether the frustration of cancelled vacations or deeper concerns about livelihoods and health. 

I'm grateful to live in a rural area. The turmoil and panicked frenzy of the news (which I mostly avoid) seem blessedly distant as the rhythms of a new season unfold. Cows graze and tractors till the dirt, while the trees put out their buds. It's ever changing, but there's a sameness and steadiness, too. 

I paused Little Man's Thistle sweater to whip up a pair of merino socks for Rosa -- I call them her "Royal Ryes," because the yarn colorway is "Royal Court" and the pattern is Tin Can Knits' marvelous free Rye sock pattern. I've only done the "light" version before, written for fingering weight yarn. But I had a single skein of superwash worsted weight from a yarn subscription box, and a quick project sounded appealing. Of course, I spent well over an hour knitting the heel of one sock over and over, because I couldn't find a wrap-and-turn heel that was just right. I never did find it, but after knitting the heel six times, I thought it was time to give both my yarn and myself a break, and settle for a perfectly adequate heel. They are just socks, after all. I'll find the perfect heel next time. Maybe...

These knit up so quickly, thanks to the small size and the thicker yarn/larger needles. It took less than three days to finish them, even with the extra time spent on the heel (and homeschooling, and housework, etc.). I'm hoping they'll wash well, too, because my experiments with non-superwash socks have resulted in more felting than I'd like.

I have another skein of this yarn in "Empire" (an all-blue colorway), and they'll probably end up as socks for Little Man.

We're well into the third and final term of our school year, and I'm trying to keep up momentum to the end. Little Man and Rosa are much more independent with their work now, which is so helpful! But Laddie's ready for more one-on-one attention, and I need to adjust my routines to accommodate that. Life is never stagnant with young children. They're ever changing, ever growing, and that's both a blessing and a challenge. 

I try to remind myself often that God's plan is being worked out, both in my own life and in the broader context of history. It's all too easy to become weighed down by the anguish of personal grief and the uncertainty of global pandemic. The mountains I see from my bedroom window every morning help me to be still and know. To breathe deeply. To remember. 

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will ponder all Your work,
and meditate on Your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God Who works wonders;
You have made known Your might among the peoples.
You with Your arm redeemed Your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

I hope you can find some stillness, friends, in the midst of a world that's chaotic even at the best of times. Let's look to the God Who redeems and works wonders.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sorrows Like Sea Billows

Six years ago, I shared about my first miscarriage in the hopes that it might help some other woman walking the same valley of grief. Five years later we lost a son, and we lost two more babies in June and November of 2019. I shared about each loss because it would have seemed that not sharing would somehow mean that they were somehow less important. By sharing, I've connected with other grieving mamas, and it has given me the opportunity to pray, encourage, and be encouraged. But as motherhood and homeschooling and life have limited the time I spend here, I feel my blog has morphed into a place where I share a project now and then, punctuated (too frequently) with yet another announcement of yet another loss.

As you may have guessed, this is yet another announcement of yet another loss.

We were blessed with another pregnancy just a month after our loss in November. This baby's due date was Rainbow Baby Day, just a few days before my own birthday. I'd finally been prescribed progesterone, and we saw our little one alive and well at 9 weeks. But our 13 week ultrasound was the same nightmare that we've lived on repeat for over a year -- no heartbeat on the doppler, no heartbeat on the ultrasound.

Our experience of loss has made me treasure my living littles all the more. I feel a bit guilty sometimes, longing for more children while some women are dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss without knowing if they'll ever cradle a living child in their arms. But already having children doesn't make losing a baby easier. I can (and do) acknowledge how blessed we are, while still aching for the babies we've lost. Gratitude and grief can coexist.

A blessing in the midst of the heartache was that our son was born at home a few days after I stopped progesterone, avoiding the need for hard decisions about medical interventions. I've always wished for a home birth, and it struck me recently that I've had three -- but all to babies who had already died in my womb. I hoped for a large family, and I am the mother of nine at the age of 31 -- but five of my precious babies will never call me "Mama." Sometimes, getting what we want doesn't look the way we expected.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, because Romans 8:22-23 tells us that "We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Living in a fallen world involves heartache, because sin and death have wreaked havoc on a planet that God created perfect and whole. The Bible teems with assurances of restoration (Acts 3:20, for example), promising a day when God will make all things new (Revelation 21).  Recurrent miscarriage has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to groan inwardly and wait eagerly. The strains of "This Will End" by The Oh Hellos echo through my mind sometimes (even though it's not a song about loss):

No, I am not afraid to die.
It's every breath that comes before.
Heartache I've heard is part of life.
And I have broken more and more.

Right now, I struggle to envision healing. Four of our children have died in the past 15 months, and I wonder how my heart can ever be made whole again. As loss follows loss, the grieving process starts afresh before I've even "finished" grieving our last baby. At some point this valley will end, this storm will be over -- but there's no knowing when, or what that "end" will look like. Even if modern medicine can find a solution to prevent further loss, on this side of eternity there will always be scars. I'm so grateful for the eternal weight of glory that I've been promised in Christ, because one day I'll be able to leave these scars behind forever.

If you've experienced pregnancy loss, you may have felt more/less grief than I've described -- every situation and person is different, and I am not suggesting that my experience is the norm, or the "right" way to feel following loss. Also, if you've had a miscarriage, please don't let stories of recurrent loss cause you anxiety; it is most certainly not the norm. Just putting that out there...

I've shared the song "Weep With Me" by Rend Collective before, but I thought I'd include the lyrics here -- it's a modern lament in the age-old tradition of David and the psalmists, a lament that aches deeply and hopes deeply, too. It captures the essence of grief, but I think it applies to so many situations. I hope it blesses you, no matter what burden you're bearing today:

Weep with me
Lord will You weep with me?
I don't need answers, all I need
Is to know that You care for me
Hear my plea
Are You even listening?
Lord I will wrestle with Your heart
But I won't let You go

You know I believe
Help my unbelief

Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise
What's true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You're good and You're kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
You weep with me

Part the seas
Lord make a way for me
Here in the midst of my lament
I have faith, yes I still believe
That You love me
Your plans are to prosper me
You're working everything for good
Even when I can't see

You know I believe
Help my unbelief

Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise
What's true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You're good and You're kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
You weep with me

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Winter Hinterland

I don't know how long I waffled back and forth about making a Hinterland dress. The pattern appealed to me, but I was worried I would end up with a shapeless sack that would loiter indefinitely in my closet before being donated or cut up for scrap. Indie patterns aren't cheap, folks. Plus, the "long" version requires over 3 yards of material, which is a hefty investment if you're looking for a decent quality fabric.

I finally decided to give it a go when I found a clearance deal on stretch flannel in "olive" from -- it's mostly rayon, with a little bit of poly (boo), and it was on clearance for $3.50 per yard. Which meant I was able to make a wearable "mock-up" of the Hinterland for under $13. The fabric drapes well, thanks to the heavy rayon percentage, the little bit of stretch is just right (and didn't make construction more difficult, thank goodness), and the flannel side has the loveliest brushed feel. I think I'm actually using the fabric inside out, though!

Overall, I really enjoyed this project. The first steps (printing, taping, cutting) were tedious because I did them in bits and pieces, but once I was able to invest time in a few good sewing sessions, everything came together nicely. I did have to do a bit of seam ripping, mostly because I was overly confident about my ability to figure out the instructions without actually reading them... Oops. Construction was relatively straightforward, but there were a few techniques I was unprepared for, and reading ahead a few steps would have been quite helpful.

This dress has pockets, and I'm loving that. I usually skip them because I've gotten used to not having pockets, and it's too tempting to just stitch up that side seam and be done. In fact, I was laughing at myself a bit as I pored over the pattern instructions -- pockets are not an advanced technique, but I'm not used to them at all.

The pattern itself seemed well designed -- things lined up where they should, etc., and I thought the finishing techniques were quite nice. I made the skirt as long as my fabric would allow, and also added a few inches of width to the front and back panels (I was worried it would be restrictive, especially since I was making it rather long). I'm not sure the extra width was necessary, based on my undeniably comical "tests" of how wide a step I can take... But it doesn't look too bulky, so no harm done. I think I'll stick to the prescribed width next time. Oh, and I added the optional waist ties, to help quell my "shapeless sack" concerns.

Having opted for a button-all-the-way-down-the-front dress, I didn't have to worry about getting the dress over my head and ended up taking 2" off the waist area by grading from the armhole to the waist on the side seams. Of course, in order to keep the buttons close enough on the bodice to avoid gaping, I ended up with SO MANY BUTTONS down the skirt. And where there are buttons, there are buttonholes... Speaking of buttons, I used some unique metal buttons that were in my mom's stash as long as I can remember -- I commandeered them when I moved out. There were so many that I still have at least a dozen left! I'm not sure the "Equipements Militaires" inscription matches the particular vibes of this dress, but then again, who's going to be reading my buttons? It would just be so awkward, wouldn't it?

I raised the neckline about an inch, but I suppose my biggest alteration was to lengthen the sleeves. I wanted this to be a winter dress, and felt 3/4 sleeves would be a nuisance. I cut the sleeves longer and didn't taper them, intending to add an elastic casing at the wrist for a more feminine look. It worked well (though the elastic is a bit annoying when it rides up my arms), and I think this dress will be the perfect winter staple. Most of my winter clothing is just summer clothing layered with wool, so I think I'll enjoy something intended for winter. Now that Spring is just around the corner. Great planning, Shannon.

This dress is admittedly plain, and it's just begging for a cowl or scarf or shawl -- and as it happens, I have a shawl in my Ravelry queue, so maybe I "need" to knit that soon...

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

March Yarn Along: Hiatus

It's been a while since I've joined up with Ginny's Yarn Along -- not since October, actually. It's been a challenging season of life, to say the least. I have been knitting and reading, but somehow the first Wednesday of the month was just not happening. The strange bit is that I've actually been posting to the blog more than I have been in recent memory (August through October were *just* Yarn Along posts!). But enough rambling on my inconsistencies. 

After finishing up a Lea sweater last month, I cast on a sweater for Little Man. It's been ages since I knit him anything, and I really wanted to try the Thistle sweater by Julie Partie. My one hesitation with this project is the yarn -- I used Brava sport from KnitPicks, which is an acrylic. I haven't used a synthetic yarn since I really started knitting (I did go through a phase of knitting scarves in vibrant eyelash yarns when I was a teenager, bless my heart!), and the internal struggle was intense. Far too intense for such an insignificant decision, to be honest... In the end I decided to give it a try, and 5 skeins of Camel Heather cost me $7 on sale. This sweater will be machine washable and dryable, and was definitely economical. 

But I just don't like it as much as wool or natural fibers. That's not really a surprise, I suppose! I think it will be a very serviceable sweater (and can hopefully be passed down to my younger sons, too), but I think it might be my first and last foray into the world of synthetic fibers. I've learned a bit more about synthetics recently, too, which further dissuades me from using them in future. 

Apart from my "fiber quandary," the sweater is coming along nicely (though relatively boring thus far). It's a great park/movie/audio Bible project, though I may cast on another project soon just to have some variety. The brown is a bit uninspiring after a while!

That "flap" is part of the waistband and will be stitched down with a button --
one of my favorite details about this pattern!

 I suppose I should move on to my current read. It's a charity shop find, and not something that would usually grab my attention. But the littles and I had just been (lightly) researching what happened to the Mona Lisa during WWII, because I was sure it hadn't been seized by the Germans but had no idea where it went during the war. Then I spotted Chasing Mona Lisa on the shelf, and thought I'd give it a try for a dollar. So far, it's not particularly my cup of tea (very action packed, and some "mild" romance), but I'm finding the historical aspect interesting enough to keep reading.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Lea the First

I finally finished up the Lea sweater (pattern by Marzena Kolaczek), which I started in mid-November. This one's actually not for me; it's the largest gifted knit I've done so far, which was a bit nerve-wracking. The recipient picked the pattern out of several that I recommended -- but I'd fallen in love with it, too, and ended up buying a different yarn to make one for myself! So I'll be knitting this pattern again, though I think I'll take a bit of a break first; the idea of knitting two of the same sweater in quick succession doesn't really appeal to me.

The shoulders don't look quite right on a dress form, but you get the idea!

The yarn is a beautiful baby alpaca and silk blend, Bremont "Carmen" in Olive. I signed up for a one-month membership to Bluprint through Swagbucks (referral link), because I ended up making money off the deal. They happened to run a super clearance sale on their Bremont yarns, and I stocked up -- the six skeins I bought for this sweater would have been $75 at regular price, and they ended up costing less than $15 with the sale/coupon. So I suppose I ended up spending money rather than making it... but I'm quite pleased with the yarns and the projects they'll become (I was at least wise enough to make sure I had a specific project for each yarn).

My Bremont "haul"

I had to restart the yoke once or twice, due to sizing issues -- for some reason, it seemed too small when knit with the recommended needle size. Did I swatch, you ask? Of course not! That would be far too sensible. Anyway, once I figured out the yoke sizing, everything moved along pretty smoothly. I do love the leafy lace pattern. . 

Overall, this was a lovely sweater to knit, and fingers crossed that it suits its new owner both in size and style!

Raveled here.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Jasper Tunic: Or, "Can Sweatshirts be Chic?"

 When I came across the Jasper sweater/dress pattern by Paprika Patterns, I was intrigued. Was it possible to make a feminine "sweatshirt" tunic? Drawn in by the neckline details, the welt pockets, and the princess seams, I decided to give it a go. I scored some clearance cotton/bamboo sweatshirt fleece from -- the khaki color doesn't have much "pop," but for $13.50 I would have a wearable mock-up (since, I'll admit, I had serious doubts about how this would turn out and didn't want to invest too much). Plus, all the other colors had a bit too much "pop" for my taste!

Those are my Tea and Scandal socks, peeking out from my Dalias

I had about a yard of fabric left over, so this really only required about 1 1/2 yds of my 60" fabric. Which was a good thing, because I ended up having to entirely re-cut the front piece because of the welt pockets. 

Honestly, I was so pleased with this pattern, EXCEPT for the welt pocket instructions. The pattern included a tutorial (which I didn't consult, because it wasn't convenient at the time), but the instructions did not say how far from the fabric edge to place the welt strip. I guessed, and guessed wrong. After finishing the entire pocket area, I realized that it wouldn't work and unpicked it. Peering closely at the pattern illustration, I could see that the welt strip wasn't right on the edge of the fabric, and guessed it belonged on the 5/8" seam allowance line. That worked, but I managed to put the pocket in upside down on my second try. Grr. In the end, I'm glad I ended up just cutting out a new front, because things don't look quite as crisp when you're using pieces that have already been clipped/graded. I just looked at the tutorial to see if it was any clearer, but nope -- no measurements for the welt strip (though it's easier to guesstimate from actual pictures). The rest of the pocket instructions were clear, and I'm pleased with how my welt pockets turned out. But I firmly believe a pattern should be clear enough to follow without having to guess where to put things.

Other than the "welt incident," the dress went together smoothly. I liked the unique construction (no "side seams," just princess seams), though it did make it harder to adjust the fit. It's a pretty forgiving silhouette, so not a big deal in the end.

I'll always be wearing this with thicker leggings, so I ended up shortening the tunic by about 2 inches before adding the hem band (I'm 5'5"). I'd always been concerned that this dress would end up looking like a fabric tube, and the extra length did make it lean in that direction. I think I also shortened the sleeves by about an inch? It's been a few weeks since I made this, but I was thwarted in my picture attempts on its first "airing," and then managed to get grease spots all over the front while making dinner than night. *facepalm* My very favorite thing is grease on a solid color fabric that should be laundered somewhat delicately... At any rate, I had to launder it before I could take photos, and here we are.

In the end, this is quite a cozy tunic. The cotton/rayon blend is kitten soft on the inside and quite breathable, unlike most poly "sweatshirts." A little bit of shaping makes it more feminine (though it's not really designed to show off the female figure!), and it's lovely to wear. I'll definitely make another in the future, now that I have the welt pocket figured out -- maybe the hooded shirt version? Now to figure out which of my littles needs something cozy made from the remaining scraps...

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Cozy January Socks

In need of a short-term project, I pulled out my skein of O-Wool O-Wash fingering in "Devil's Pool" and browsed my Ravelry favorites for a sock pattern. At first I started Maria Naslund's gorgeous "Lingerie" pattern, but it didn't take long to realize that without ribbing at the top of the socks, they were going to be too large -- even though I was using 2.0 mm needles! I didn't want this beautiful wool to end up as a pair of socks I couldn't wear, so I regretfully ripped out a few inches of lace work and went back to the drawing board. 

I finally settled on This Handmade Life's Cozy Autumn Socks, which is actually a free pattern. It has a bit of a lace pattern, but looked simple enough to be a relaxing knit. I used 2.0 mm needles again, because Medium sized socks seem to end up a bit big for me. 

And relaxing they were! I started these while recovering from pneumonia and (consequently) spending most of my time on the couch. I worked them two-at-a-time (two sets of DPNs), and they were finished in four days. Probably a record for me for adult socks!

This wool is absolutely delightful -- it felt wonderful to knit, and it feels wonderful to wear (I'm wearing these socks right now!). I can't wait to see how it holds up, too. I've always avoided superwash yarns, because of the chemicals and the negative effect on wool's natural properties. But I have noticed that the socks I've knit in "regular" wool do felt after a while. They're all still usable, but I'm eager to see if O-Wash's more natural superwash process is the answer to my dilemma.

This was just the pick-me-up project that I needed, and considering that I only used 60g of the 100g skein, they turned out to be a little more economical than I'd anticipated. 40g is enough for a small project -- in fact, I've already cast on a little pair of stay-on baby booties, because I just don't want to stop knitting this yarn...

I used a wrap-and-turn heel instead of a heel flap. I don't really like wrap-and-turn (it's a pain to keep track of, because I haven't done it much), but I much prefer the result! Oh, and I didn't decrease the toes as much (14 st instead of the 10 called for), to accommodate my wide toe box. This is a pretty standard adjustment for me, now that I've tried a few sock patterns.

I'm feeling much more comfortable with sock knitting -- I feel like I'm understanding the basic building blocks, rather than just blindly following a pattern. And keeping my toes cozy with hand-knit goodness is a highly satisfactory sensation!

Raveled here

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Handmade Christmas, 2019

I thought I should probably post these before January ended! While we didn't do much in the handmade department for Christmas this year, I did continue our tradition of new pajamas on Christmas Eve.

All of the patterns I used were free -- I so appreciate how many crafters have posted free patterns to the Interwebs, and many are multi-sized!

First up, the boys. I bought a yard of Dear Stella Supernova knit, thinking I could cut all of the shirt fronts and backs out of that. Well, I was a bit short! But by adding a yoke detail to the back in the same indigo rayon jersey that I'd bought for the sleeves/pants/neck trim, I was able to make it work. 

These went together assembly style, so it was really a pretty quick process! Ironically, both patterns I used are intended for girls... The shirts are made from the Girl's t-shirt pattern from Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom, and I don't recall making any changes. For the pants, I used the Made by Mermaids Bonny Leggings pattern. I did add some room to the leg/seat area, so that they wouldn't be quite as snug as leggings! It worked perfectly, and the stretchy rayon is quite comfy (so I hear).

 After finishing up the boys' pajamas far ahead of schedule in late November, I procrastinated with Rosa's and only finished a few days before Christmas! For her nightgown, I used Birch Organics Tree Stripes in "Sun," which I had in my stash (I'd mistakenly purchased it thinking it was a knit!). I was glad I could use something from the stash, not only to clear it out a bit, but also because I didn't need to spend more on fabric.

I used another pattern from Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom, the Peasant Dress pattern. It went together super quickly (obviously I couldn't be bothered to iron it, though!), and Rosa was thrilled. I didn't make leggings this time, since she already has plenty in her pajama collection.

It's been a whirlwind of a month, between celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary, visiting with family, and then dealing with various health issues over the past week and a half. But I'm finally on the mend, and I have a new project in the works (still in the taping/cutting out pattern stage) -- oh, I finished my Jasper sweatshirt dress, but haven't had a chance to wear it yet because I've not been feeling well! Hopefully I can give it a whirl and post some details soon.

Hope you're having a lovely New Year!