Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cooking: Fettuccine with Sausage, Mushrooms, Peppers, Onion and Fennel

Do you ever make grilled sausages with sauteed onions and peppers? We sometimes we eat them on their own, with a salad on the side, and other times we've folded them into a soft sandwich roll and added some melted cheese. Yum! It's delicious and seems more indulgent than it is. Since it's still not quite Spring weather I thought why not try a pasta variation of this theme?

This dish is true comfort food. I love the sweetness of the onions and peppers, and fennel with sausage can't be beat!

Click for the recipe.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Crochet 3: The Chain Stitch (Tutorial)

Yarn: Lion Brand Wool Ease Grey Heather  Fabric: Premier Prints ZigZag Coral

(Thank you for the great feedback about this series! I've loved reading your comments and really appreciate the input about helps you are looking for. I'm planning on addressing your questions about more advanced stitches and how to read patterns, so please stay tuned!)

The chain stitch (abbreviated "ch" in most patterns) is the foundation all other stitches build on. At the beginning of every project you will need to form a chain of a specific length. The chain will either remain linear or be joined to form a loop for working in the round (something we’ll discuss later). It is simple to do, and the hooking, turning and pulling-through actions you make are the fundamental movements of crochet. So practicing chain stitches is good exercise!

But, lest you think it's pure practice, you can do something with the chain stitch alone. Such as, wrap it around your pony tail, or tie it as a bow on a package. Pretty. Handmade. Natural fibers. What could be better?

Click to read my photo and video tutorial on making the chain stitch.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Crochet 2: Holding the Yarn (Tutorial)

Yarn: Lion Brand Vanna's Choice Dusty Blue  Fabric: Liberty of London Seymour Poplin Patrick Gordon

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, one of the things I think makes crochet easier than knitting, is that the work is done with one hook, instead of two needles. I'm maintaining that, however, in order to do the work with the hook one has to hold the yarn in the opposite hand. Makes sense, right? And the way in which that is done does make a difference.

A bit of skill in the holding of the yarn will actually make the stitches look better! This has to do with yarn tension, which will make your stitches tighter or looser. I still think crochet takes less coordination than knitting but when I first tried figuring out the way to hold the yarn--weave it through my fingers to be more precise--I felt nothing close to coordinated!

So my advice to you is to try out the "yarn holding" method I illustrate below and if you can get comfortable with it for crocheting you will be that much better off. That's why I'm sharing it now, before teaching any of the stitches. But if you can't get comfortable holding it the "right" way, don't sweat it. I crocheted a couple years before I settled on a way of holding the yarn. But I will say that once I committed to this hold my work went more smoothly! It's definitely worth a try.

Click to view the photo and video tutorial for holding your yard.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How to Crochet 1: The Slip Knot (Tutorial)

Yarn: Lily Sugar'n Cream Yellow  Fabric: Michael Miller Ta-Dot Stone

I started crocheting as an adult, just eight years ago, and when I was trying to learn I just could not keep a straight face! I keep laughing at the awkwardness of my movements, the irregularity of my stitches and the lopsidedness of the hats I was trying to make! A fourteen year old was trying to teach me and I think she was trying not to laugh herself.  It was fun and frustrating and I think it was also really good for my brain. How often do we try to learn something new? Seems we do a lot of that as children and then we stick to what we know. Don’t miss out! Give crochet a try and be patient with it if you feel frustrated. In time you will relax, your hands will develop muscle memory and make the repetitive movements without you thinking about it, and your stitches will become even and predictable.

When you are starting out it’s best to plan on doing a lot of practice. Pick a medium weight yarn (cat 4 or "worsted weight") and medium sized hook (an “H” “I” or “J”) to play with.

The ideal way to learn this craft is to sit down with someone who can teach you. (I just taught my friend, Leon, a couple weeks ago and it was so fun! He is already working on an afghan!) The next best way to learn is to study videos, photos and illustrations and try to imitate what you are seeing. There are some amazing video tutorials out there and it seems most crochet books and magazines include a good how-to section. I will illustrate the core techniques here, but you should also check out some other sources--you never know which explanation will make it click for you.

First up is the "slip knot." You have to make one before you can do anything else! The slip knot secures your yarn to your hook to begin work. It also keeps the work you’re about to do from unraveling, which is important.

Click to view my photo and video(!) tutorial to learn how to make one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

FYI: Head-Over-Heels in Crochet

You’ve probably noticed that crochet has made a comeback. Likely because of the increased interest in DIY and all things handmade. I've love seeing it as trim on women’s dresses and skirts, adorning cute baby layettes, constructing market bags, children’s toys, and home accessories (beyond the ratty afghans you may have inherited from your grandma-- I have them too). I love the bright colored granny square accessories that I’m seeing all over as well as the vintage-pattern baby saques. And my latest fascination is crochet area rugs--so fabulous! Can't wait to try one.

It's safe to say, I'm head-over-heels in crochet! I love it! So I'm starting a series to include some how-to (for those of you who've might have penned "learn to crochet" on your list of resolutions this year), some new patterns, some guest perspectives and a giveaway or two. Are you in?

Let me gush on a bit more: crochet has rebounded because it is versatile, beautiful, always handmade (did you know that, unlike knitting, crochet can’t be reproduced by a machine?), and is a great way to incorporate some modern vintage or bohemian style. Plus, there are so many gorgeous fiber options available. We've moved way past the frizzy nylon yarns you may associated with crochet from years past.

I love having a project in the works and crochet is perfect for anyone similarly inclined, because you can make progress on a creative project while doing something else: flying, chatting with friends, watching tv, even riding (not driving) cross-country. And I find the handwork therapeutic. In fact, I think they've done studies on knitting and crochet and their ability to reduce stress.

One more plug: While I love knitting too, crochet is comparatively easy to do because:

• Crochet uses one implement (a single hook) rather than two (a pair of needles) and only has one active yarn loop at a time, both of which make it less complicated. You don't have to be quite so coordinated.
• Crochet is more forgiving! It’s easier to drop your project and pick it up again without losing your work (no stitches sliding off needles). It’s also easier to “fake it” as long as you fake it consistently! You can often make adjustments to fix past mistakes without tearing out your work. And, unlike knitting, there is no possibility of a line of stitches unraveling before your eyes.
• Crochet projects work up more quickly (great for the beginner and the impatient) because the “fabric” of crochet is more open—your stitches go farther.

Convinced?  Stay tuned.
This sort of bliss loves company.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Craft: Eyelet Tissue Pom Poms (Tutorial)

I've had a bit of a fascination with eyelet, lace, doilies, and somehow hobnail milk glass fits in there too (see what I've been pinning). I guess it's about shades of white and texture. I think it's beautiful. I've always loved a restrained  color palette and it doesn't get much more restrained than shades of white!

I thought it would be fun to try a variation on the ever popular tissue poms (I used them here in the colored variety). I wanted them to look even more feminine, if that is possible, and thought: eyelet.

Eyelet is so gorgeous, don't you think?  I've been thinking about a party with all of these great, girly textures, but I'm not sure which of my girls' birthdays might be the best fit. 

Then I thought, why not try this out for a little tea party? Say, for Valentine's Day... Well Valentine's is behind us, at least for this year, but this party is still dangling in front of me. Perhaps with hearts and all:

If you want to make eyelet pom poms for your own celebration click to read the tutorial.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Craft: Heart Doily Poms (Tutorial)

The most fragile things seem to be the most beautiful. I guess it's the fleetingness that captivates us. Paper hearts. Sometimes we have paper hearts.

For Valentine's this year I hung heart poms made from paper doilies. I had ideas for more--a rare Valentine's inspired brainstorm--but I didn't get to them. Maybe I'll go ahead and make some of them later anyway. A belated happy heart day.

I want to thank you for all your heartfelt comments on my last post. They were generous and beautiful and really did give me comfort. It's true that we all encounter heartache, and it makes me all the more grateful for the happy, pretty times. And I've realized (and am reminding myself again) that the heartache and the beauty often happen at the same time. You just have to lift up your eyes so you don't miss the beauty that is still there. 

So I made the hearts and hung them and my girls were thrilled to see them hanging over our kitchen table. We're going to have a happy Valentine's day. I hope all of you do too. If you'd like to include some doily heart poms, or take note for next year, click to read more and view the tutorial.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

FYI: This Life

I have always been taught that This Life is about gaining experience. About being proven: tested to see if I will make the right choices when the inevitable obstacles are encountered. And I have always understood that cerebrally. But, ouch, it's amazing how this life can still surprise...

As a child thinking about what I might be facing in years ahead, I imagined standing up strong in the face of earthly friction, but I saw it as temptations involving honesty (so easy!) or a matter of establishing the correct priorities (a bit more tricky). I had no idea that disappointment, loss and separation would have such a large part in it. I've realized they are the most difficult. For now anyway. Because you never really know what is coming, do you?

So we were surprised. And I have needed to take some time off from this lighter-hearted stuff. But we are ok--all of us--and I plan to be back. Thank goodness for our little ones to pull us forward.

All will be well.

My "FYI" posts share news or a perspective about something that's been on my mind. You can read them all here.
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