My dad and I were at the farmer’s market this summer and he purchased the alpaca for me to knit this vest for him. I finally got around to making it. The pattern is an adaptation of a basic Penny Straker pattern for a pullover vest. I turned it into a button down vest, and added a pattern so that it was a little bit more interesting. The alpaca fiber was sport weight, and I ended up knitting the vest on size 4 needles to get the appropriate gauge.

The pattern is made by knitting three, purling one, for the first row. The second and fourth rows are purl (or knit if you are working in the round). The third row is knit one, *purl one, knit three, repeat from * until 2 stitches remain, knit two.

The 1 x 1 ribbing at the bottom, and around the arms and front is a ‘raised rib.’ Created by knitting into the back of every knit stitch, and purling the purl stitches as normal.

For the button band, I picked up three out of four stitches up the fronts, and then when the decreases started, I switched to 7 stitches out of 8. This seemed to be a good formula, and the button band isn’t too tight or too loose. I followed the same plan for the armholes, picking up one for one at the cast off edge. Without counting, I ended up with the exact amount of stitches that the pattern called for around the armhole. To finish, I sewed on little wooden buttons.

I find it fascinating that materials for this vest grew in right outside of Brighton, IA, on a lovely little farm called Dutch Creek Gardens. They have 12 alpacas, fruit trees, native prairie, and a vineyard. My dad and a friend and I went to the farm to visit the alpacas, and let them see the vest!

Mr. Bojangles, the first alpaca we met, posing for the camera!

The vest was knit with fiber from Star Gazer. She was the first alpaca born on the farm! Here she is chatting with my dad.

Talk about buy fresh, buy local! The alpaca fiber traveled to Morning Sun to be spun into yarn , and then back to the Brighton, and then to the market. Then it came home with me, and was knit into the vest. That is it!

Here is my dad with Star Gazer and her baby, Morning Light. Maybe they detect a bit of alpaca. They definitely were sniffing the vest, although they might have been looking for food, as we were feeding them..


January 23, 2011

This is the dress out of the fabric that I purchased at Home Ec. Workshop in Iowa City. It is a linen cotton blend, made in Japan. I fell in love with the print, and the piece of fabric itself. (I had the strip of fabric lying on my floor for several days, trying to decide if I wanted to cut into it or not. I decided to cut.)

The dress is pretty much the same as the last one. The material is quite a bit stiffer and this changes the shape/drape/fit of the dress.

And there are helicopters, polka dots, checks, and stripes. Maybe a bit too much, but I think that I like it anyways.

Once again, I haven’t hemmed the sleeves. They seem to roll up nicely, and I like the idea of leaving something unfinished!

Now I need a new sewing pattern to try out! Or maybe I need to find some old dresses, and make my own patterns.

I started this sweater in the summer. It was almost finished, and then I was worried that it was too short, and that I would never wear it. It ended up in a ziplock bag until yesterday, when I needed a short sweater.

I have recently gotten back into sewing, and found a pattern for and made a little green dress. The bodice (I think that’s what it is called) is short, and when I tried a normal length sweater over it, the skirt rumpled up kind of funny. I dug into the knitting pile in my spare room this morning, found the unfinished orange sweater, tried it on, and it worked just about perfectly! The sweater sleeves are a little bit tight over my arms and the corduroy sleeves, but I think that I can manage, and maybe the wool will stretch a little.

The sweater is knit with Malabrigo lace weight yarn. I ended up using a little over two skeins of yarn, so have a bit left for another project…I knit the sweater on size six needles, starting at the top and knitting down. I added seed stitch at the bottom, sleeve edges, and around the front, instead of ribbing and stockinette. When I picked up stitches around the front, I think that I picked up a few too many at the bottom. The border extends down, making little points. I am actually growing used to them though. The seed stitch (on size two needles) was taking so long, and I didn’t feel like ripping it out, so I kept it.

The good thing about using such thin yarn is that you get a more delicate sweater, and it costs less. The three skeins of yarn cost about $8.20 each, so the total sweater cost was around $25.00. Not too bad if you ask me!

The dress was from a pattern that I picked up in Iowa City. I also purchased some pretty fabric to go with the pattern, but as of yet am unable to cut it. (I have a hard time cutting into new pieces of fabric.) I had some fine whale green corduroy (already washed and dried) sitting around, and used it to make a prototype.

I cut and laid out all the pattern pieces, and marked them with my new white fabric pen. Then I managed to sew everything together, mostly correctly. Only ripped a few times…

The front is made up of two pieces, with plackets on the back side (shown above). It is a simple, effective design. No buttons or other fixtures used! The back is one piece, and I very slightly gathered the sleeves and sewed them in once the front and back were attached at the shoulders. Then the skirt front and back. With reverse box pleats. Two in the front and one in the back (below).

When I tried the dress on to show my mom, we decided that we liked it longer, and she had the thought to run a band around the bottom to add a few inches. I tried this and liked it. The material is going in the opposite direction, and it creates a nice edge effect.

That’s about it. A quick and easy sewing project. I am happy with the fit, and am planning on making another one with my new fabric…maybe over the weekend. I had forgotten how fun sewing can be. And it goes very quickly, which is quite satisfying!!

warm, fuzzy hands

January 13, 2011

It is really cold today. Perfect inspiration to make some mittens. Slightly bulky, and two color, which means extra thick and quick to knit!

I made these mittens with one strand of Rowan Cocoon, and one strand of Rowan British Sheep Breeds Bulky. A good combination. The cocoon is super soft and shiny, and the strand of British Sheep Breeds is soft, fuzzy and warm.

I took the basic pattern from a Lion Brand Pattern, and adjusted it so that the mitten fit…and the colors lined up well. As I was knitting, following the pattern I kept on having to rip and re-knit to adjust colors and sizes. Finally I stopped following the pattern, and made up my own. It worked out better that way.

The overall stitch pattern of the mitten is offset, alternating blue rows and blue and white rows. On the thumb there is a subtle difference, and the white dots line up, creating vertical as well as horizontal blue stripes. It worked out better this way with the thumb gusset increases.

I made the top decreases on either side to create a bit of a pointy tip, and kitchener stitched the last 16 (I think) stitches together with blue.

I used size 7 needles for the ribbing, and 8 to knit the mitten, so that the material was dense. It will felt a little with wear, which will make the mittens extra warm! These pictures are all pre-blocking, and the mittens are drying on my hearth now. I was chastised by Emmy for not blocking them, and so stuck them in the sink at the store for a few minutes. Now they are a little bit fuzzier, softer, and the stitches have come together. If only they would dry already!

brambles hat

January 12, 2011

I was looking for a fun smallish project to teach cables at the store. While browsing I came across this hat, or tam, or something in between, depending on how you block it.

The hat is knit with cables. There is a simple 2 by 2 cable that goes up the sides, and then becomes the decrease at the top of the hat. The other cable like thing is a curvy shape with seed stitch. At the top, the cable opens up and there is a whole bunch of seed stitch.

It fits well, and I shaped it into a hat more than a beret or tam. The pattern suggests shaping with a balloon, or even a dinner plate. I knit it with cascade 220, again…and was again happy with the results.

I didn’t want mine to be too big, so I hung it on my fireplace tools holder where it was shaped nicely…and dried very quickly. It is basically a slightly loose hat, quite comfortable.

The finished hat is soft, and a little bit floppy, and fits nicely on Heli’s head.


January 8, 2011

Lablabi is a traditional street food of Tunisia. According to my (Heli’s) friend Sarah, it is available at all times of the day and night. This version of the recipe comes from the Mahjoub family, who produce all of the Tunisian products that we carry in the store.

The base of the soup is made of chickpeas cooked with garlic.

I find that lots of garlic is especially good this time of year. It warms me up.

The chickpeas are best cooked slowly. I soaked them overnight and then put them in a pot with minced garlic and brought everything to a boil. Then I placed the hot pot on the woodstove to simmer slowly, until finished. I was thinking that they would take hours and hours, but the heat of the stove kept them at a tidy low boil and they were finished quickly (maybe about an hour, or a little longer??).

The fun of this stew is in the condiments. Basic chickpeas, and then little dishes of toppings.

Pickled lemons are preserved in salt, and set out in the sun for 6 months to cure. They are packed in brine with a hot pepper for a little extra zing.

Harissa is a paste made from sun dried peppers and tomatoes, mixed with garlic, cumin and olive oil. It is my favorite condiment, delicious with so many things. Its spicy-ness adds flavor and depth! Heli taught me to mix the harissa with water and olive oil, “to open up the smoky flavors,” and to ensure that it mixes into the soup thoroughly.

Meski olives are packed in olive oil and Harissa. A few are fun floating in the soup.

Capers are salted and dried. Gathered from the wild in the mountains. I chopped them up a little bit.

The sundried tomatoes, which come in sheets (an entire tomato) packed in olive oil, are chopped up.

To top off the soup, add a little bit toasted and ground cumin.

The soup is traditionally served over stale bread, but I didn’t have any, so I served it with a loaf of fresh bread. And a side of cucumber feta salad that my mom made. And a beautiful black pepper, poblano pepper, parmesan cheese cornbread that my dad brought over.

And endive and fennel with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. My favorite winter vegetable combination-something to remind me that plants are still green and growing somewhere…



January 4, 2011

I feel like this should be my grandmother’s recipe. But it isn’t. I found it in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. A babka, from my understanding, is a cake made with a rich yeast dough, and filled with various things. In this case, almonds, cherries, etc.

I started with the dough. It is a simple yeasted sweet dough, with a bit of sugar, sour cream, butter, and eggs. I mixed it with my mom’s Polish dough whisk, which is my new favorite kitchen tool. By far! The way that it incorporates the wet and dry ingredients is almost magical, and so much easier. I think it has to do with the way the wire is shaped. And the handle is lovely to hold, too. So well thought out!

I set the dough aside to rise, in a buttered bowl, covered with a tea towel. In a cold room, as I was going out for a little bit too long. I never seem to be able to match up my rising and baking times with when I can actually be home to let the dough rise, shape, bake, etc…

I made up the dough and filling, went out for a bit, and returned to a balloon of dough in my red bowl. It punched down nicely, and I shaped it into a large rectangle.

The filling is made up of finely chopped toasted almonds, chopped dried cherries, an egg, sugar, vanilla and almond extract. Oh, and butter!

I spread out the filling and sprinkled the cherries on top.

Then rolled the entire thing up into a log, and made a crescent.

And covered with a tea towel and set to rise again. This time more quickly, right above the fire.

And then into the oven. Bakety bake bake bake. I was tired, so I set the oven timer and went to bed, thinking that I would wake up when it dinged. I am not sure that I did… When I got up, it was still cooking, and ‘nicely browned’ on the top.

This years babka might be a little bit drier and crisper than last years, but still quite yummy. I need to have some coffee for it!