Wednesday, July 30

Octopuss--a free cat toy pattern from Zoe!

Here's a new free cat toy pattern to try out. Zoe Stevens-Lavigne is the designer. She contacted me recently about Octopuss which she says was inspired by my cat toy patterns. Isn't it cute? Zoe doesn't have a blog or a webplace to publish the pattern so she asked if I would host it for her. I'm very happy to do so. Have fun knitting this! Let me know if you have any problems or find any errors in the pattern.

Octopuss — A Cat Toy

Knitting in the round on dpns
Picking up stitches
Increases (kf&b)
Decreases (k2tog)

~15 yards worsted weight yarn
4 or 5 DPNs, size 6 (4.0 mm) or 7 (4.5 mm)
3 stitch markers
A yarn needle
Poly fill or yarn clippings

Cast on 7 stitches using Emily Ocker’s circular cast on. If you don’t know how to do this visit this site.

Once you have knit several rows, pull the cast on yarn tail to close the opening. Secure, weave in tail, and cut off end.

Round 1: K2, insert marker, k2, insert marker, k3, insert marker (use a different color for the end of round). (7 sts)
Rounds 2-12: Knit, increase one stitch (kf&b) in the stitch before each stitch marker (increase three stitches each round). (40 sts)
Rounds 13-21: Knit, decrease (k2tog) on the last two stitches before each stitch marker (decrease three stitches each round). (16 sts)

Remove the stitch markers as you go. You will be knitting the tentacles from the 16 sts remaining (2 sts per tenty) in I-Cord. You could also crochet them if you prefer.

[Crochet instructions: Use these in place of Steps 1-6 below. Use 2 sts per tenty. Place both stitches on a crochet hook. Crochet 12 chains. Turn and slip stitch back up the chain. Join to starting 2 sts before starting next 2 sts. Continue around until all stitches are used up.]

Step 1: Re-arrange the sts on your DPNs so you have two stitches on one of the needles.

Step 2: Knit 10 rows of I-cord on these 2 stitches. You can make your octopus tenties longer if you’re so inclined.

Step 3: K2tog at the end of the tenty. You will have one stitch left. With your right needle, pick up 10 loops along the underside of the tentacle onto your needle plus one stitch between the tenty you just completed and the next one. The 11 picked-up stitches are after the last stitch at the end of the tentacle. (You will knit that stitch first).

Step 4: Knit up the leg, binding off as you go. When you are done knitting up the leg, you will have one stitch left on your right working needle from the last stitch you picked up.

Step 5: After knitting your first tentacle, there will be 14 stitches left on your DPNs (plus one on your working needle). Place the next two stitches on a free DPN. Knit 1 onto your working needle. Pass the previous stitch over the stitch you just knit. Knit 1 more stitch so you have 2 on your needle.

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5 until you have 8 legs and only one stitch left.

Closing the Bottom of the Head:
Pick up approximately 19 stitches around the inside of the octopus head with your DPNs. With the 1 stitch left from working the legs, you will have 20 sts.

Rounds 1-3: k2, k2tog around. (10 sts)

Cut yarn, leaving a 6" tail. Place yarn end through a needle. Run the needle through all the stitches on your needles removing them from your knitting needles.

Stuff the head with poly fill and catnip through the opening. Pull yarn tail tight to close, fasten securely, and cut off yarn end.

If you like, you can embroider a face on the toy.

© Zoe Stevens-Lavigne
June 2008
All rights reserved.

Monday, July 28

Endings and memories

Yesterday, was a day for endings and remembering.

I read in the paper that Randy Pausch died. For those who are not familiar with the name, Randy was a 47-year-old professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006. His "Last Lecture" (Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams) is great--both the You Tube video and the book version. It's hard to comprehend how a man so full of life could be gone. He leaves behind a wife and 3 small children.

Hubby and I attended a funeral visitation for the BIL of a work colleague of my husband's. Patrick Sawyer was only 40. He was hit by a car while riding his bicycle about 5:30 in the morning. It was a hit-and-run accident. The 21-year-old male driver of the car turned himself in 30 hours after the accident. (Does it make you wonder why he didn't stop at the time of the accident or turn himself in sooner?) Patrick had gone back to school as a nursing student after work related injuries forced him out of his previous profession. He, his wife, and 4 small children were living with their parents while he finished his degree. He would have graduated in August from IUSB's School of Nursing. (Donations for the family may be sent to: Benefit of Patrick Sawyer Trust Fund, c/o Key Bank, 202 S. Michigan, South Bend, IN 46601.) This is a senseless tragedy. It shouldn't have happened. Please, when you drive down the road, be more mindful and careful of the increasing amount of bicycles and other vehicles sharing our roads due to the rising cost of gasoline.

I also met my two SIL's at my FIL's house yesterday for a somber ceremony. Eleven months after my MIL died, my FIL was finally ready for us to go through her jewelry boxes. She had left behind explicit instructions on how to dispose of some of her possessions. That her DIL's go through her jewelry and take what momentos we wished was one of them. She loved wearing jewelry.

As each box was opened, memories unfolded. We laid the items out over her bed and carefully considered them. Some were things we remembered gifting to her on Mother's Day, her birthday, and Christmas; others brought memories flooding back of occasions when she had worn them. She treasured inexpensive costume jewelry as much as costlier pieces. I had come thinking I wouldn't take anything or maybe just one or two. I don't need objects to remember her by. My mind changed as we quietly talked. I pondered over what each object may have meant to her.

We found an old locket containing a picture that may have been her mother. (Her mother died of strep throat when she was very young. This was before antibiotics. She and her sister were raised by their father and grandmother.) I finally chose a small, flat, white jewelry box with golden tracings on the lid that I filled with memories of my MIL---small bits of inexpensive metal in the form of earrings, necklaces, and rings. I found myself feeling a bit guilty(?) for taking them, even though she had given her permission and no longer had a need for them.

For now, I will not wear them. The box will go in a safe place until I can bear to remove its content from their dark resting places and bring them once again into the light. I now have a better understanding of why it took so long for my FIL to let these things go. Too many memories...

Tuesday, July 22

Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair

Woo-hoo! The Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair was a blast! The fair was even bigger and better than last year. Read that to mean even more temptation than last year! LOL! The new venue was very nice with lots of free parking nearby. Some vendors were outside in tents though most were inside the buildings where it was cooler. No porta potties either.

Here's a pix of what I got: Wool and silk blend hand dyed skeins with one to dye myself, and wool and silk top to spin from Winterhaven Fiber Farm; Miss Babs Bamboo baby and 2 sock yarns from her booth; silk spinning fiber from Lonetree Wools; Corriedale and merino braids from My Favorite Things; batts with sparklies in them from Spinundrum; washed Coopworth locks from Lamb Lane; and rainbow dyed Polworth from JWrayCo.

I'm always looking for new breeds of wool to try out. The Polworth and the Coopworth are both unfamiliar to me. I'll have to find out more about them. Both are yummy and soft. I was severely tempted to buy a Coopworth cross fleece. They had a small lambs fleece and a larger one that almost hurt not to buy. (I have a card from the booth just in case.) Here's a closeup of a Coopworth lock. Doesn't it look lovely? I contented myself with a 7 oz bag of washed locks to try out. I also scored one of these at Miss Babs booth.

The only negative about this festival is the drive around Chicago. It was a 3 hour drive up in the rain and a 4 hour drive home. (Luckily, the rain stopped before we got to the fair.) Coming back it took 2-1/2 hours to get from Crystal Lake to the Loop in downtown Chicago! That's way too much traffic for me and lots of expensive gasoline being wasted sitting in lines at toll booths, merging, or in the inch worm traffic on the highways.

Friday, July 18

No time to knit

This week has been so busy I've only found a few moments to knit. Isn't that terrible?

Harvest time has arrived in our vegetable garden. Summer squash, green and wax beans, cucumbers, and peppers have to be picked every day or every other day. It's been a real challenge in the 90 degree heat we've been having this week. I go outside for 15-20 minutes to pick and then come in to cool off and drink water. Once it's all harvested, I use some of it for meals and prepare the rest for freezing. This week I've frozen 5 bags of wax beans and 8 bags of zucchini and summer squash chunks. I freeze the squash and use it in soups, pasta, and other recipes during the winter. Last night, with hubby's help, I picked a bushel of green and wax beans. They are waiting in the refrigerator for me to clean, blanch, and bag them up for the freezer. That's what I will be doing this afternoon.

The blueberries are about finished for the season. The heat and lack of rain is drying them up. I picked the last of them yesterday. I've frozen 4 quarts of berries. Earlier in the week, I made a batch of fresh blueberry muffins. Yum!

While I was cutting up squash for the freezer last night, I was also cooking a big pan of crook neck summer squash. It doesn't freeze as well as other types of summer squash. I used a recipe I got years ago from a former SIL's mother. It's delicious! Here's the recipe.

Southern Style Crookneck Squash
1-2 lbs yellow crookneck squash
1 yellow onion, chopped
a pat of butter and some olive oil
salt, pepper
a little sugar or brown sugar

Wash and cut the ends off the squash. If they are small, slice in 1/4" or thinner slices. If they are bigger, cut in quarters; then slice. If the seeds are still small, they will be fine. If they are getting woody, scrap them out with a spoon. Chop up the onion. In a large skillet, place the butter and a little olive oil. In a large skillet, place the butter and olive oil. Turn the burner on medium and let the butter melt. Swish around to combine. Then add the squash and onion. Stir occasionally as it cooks. Cook until the squash is soft. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in a little sugar and serve. Yum!

This recipe works best with the flavor of crookneck squash--not zucchini.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair in Crystal Lake, Illinois near Chicago with a van full of friends. I can't wait! We're leaving early in the morning and coming back in the evening. (I'll have time to knit on the way. Yippee!) Last year was the first year for this event. It was great! This year it has expanded, moved to a larger venue, and has a vendor list that makes me drool to read it. I'm setting myself a budget for fiber and yarn. Let's hope I can stick to it! LOL!

Sunday, you'll find me back in the garden picking more produce and getting it ready for the freezer. It's time consuming right now, but will be very much appreciated this winter.

Food prices are continuing to rise. One way to keep your cost low is to buy in season. Summer is a good time to go to farmer's markets and stock up on vegetables and fruits that you can freeze or can for the winter. The supply is plentiful, you know who you are buying from, and the price is cheaper than your local grocery store. Or put out the word to friends who garden that you are willing to take extra produce off their hands. Volunteer to help pick it and you'll get more than a few offers of free produce! LOL!

Stay cool!

Saturday, July 12

Current projects

Here's a peek at some of my current projects. Two spinning projects and two knitting design projects. The ball of roving on the upper right and bobbin under it are wool in a gray and bluey green colorway. This is a from a local farm in Indiana. The ball of combed top and bobbin to the left of it is a turquoise and green merino tencel blend from Pagewood Farm. Both of these are spinning up very fine and should produce a fingering weight yarn once plyed. I've spun half of each of these. It will be some time before I finish the second bobbins and ply them. They're both gorgeous!

The green scarf at the bottom is my newest lace design fresh off the needles. (Doesn't look like much yet, does it?) It's slated to be blocked later today. This is an easy garter stitch design that only uses one skein. For a closer look at the lace pattern, click here. [Sorry, if you're not a Ravelry member, this link may not work.]

I haven't decided on a name yet. Any suggestions? Post a comment or send me email on Ravelry. Remember, you'll get a free pattern if you name is chosen. Once the scarf is blocked, I'll take pictures, finalize the pattern, and put it up for sale.

The little blue thing on the far right is a new cat toy pattern. It will be called SquiddyCat. I have work to do on this pattern before it will be released for sale. Look for the debut of a new free cat toy pattern here soon. Zoe, a reader of my blog, contacted me recently about an octopus cat toy she had designed. She asked if I would post the pattern on my blog since she has no blog or method of getting it up on the web. Of course I said yes! LOL! [Thanks, Zoe!] I'm working with her to finalize the Octopuss pattern and get the pictures together that are needed. Hopefully, I will have time to get it posted in the next week or two. Knitting Zoe's octopus pattern inspired my squid cat toy. She designed a top-down, circular method for her toy that has I-cord legs. The round head shape she creates with this method is clearly an octopus. In contrast, my squid is knit sideways on straights to form it's pointy shaped head and is finished with simple crocheted legs.

Someone posted a negative comment recently on my blog criticizing me for selling my cat toy patterns. Sigh...I feel the need to address that comment. There is a lot of time and effort that goes into creating patterns. I put just as much time into the ones I offer at no charge as I do those that I offer for sale. Should I feel guilty for not giving them all away? No.

The number of free patterns offered on my blog is 23: 15 knitting, 7 crochet, and 1 sewing. I give away far more patterns than I list for sale. There are designers who would criticize me for giving away too much. I weigh a number of factors when deciding which patterns to post for free and which to sell. The prices I set for my patterns are very reasonable and affordable.

Some of the cash from my pattern sales goes to support Pet Refuge, my local no-kill animal shelter. This shelter receives no government aid of any kind. They are a volunteer organization that runs strictly on donations. Lately, they are struggling more than ever due to the downturn in our economy, the subsequent drop in donations, and the added burden of pets turned in by people who have lost their homes through foreclosure or can no longer afford to care for them. I do what I can to help out. :-)

Wednesday, July 9

Any new shawl or scrap links to share?

Would you like me to update and add new links to the Triangle shawl list and the scrap yarn list?

There are some changes that need to be made to pattern that link to the now defunct MagKnits. I have a few new links collected.

Yes, you can do an experimental pattern search by yardage on Ravelry. Though that only works if yardage is entered in the details on the pattern page. A lot of people are still using the list on my blog. It's a little easier than searching through page after page of patterns on Ravelry.

If you have any new links (or corrections) for either list, add a comment to this post or email SimpleKnits on Ravelry. I'll need the name of the item, yardage needed, and the URL. Thanks.

P.S. If I don't get enough interest in updating the lists, I may not do it.

Monday, July 7

A sea of green

Last week was very busy with hubby on vacation, my birthday, the 4th of July holiday, and a short trip out of town. Whew! I think I need a rest!

Our veggie garden is in wonderful shape. It's the biggest and best garden we've had in years. It contains sweet corn, okra, green and wax beans, tomatoes (from Juliets to Big Rainbows), sweet and hot peppers, cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, onions, lettuces (leaf, butter, and romaine), zucchini and yellow summer squash, winter squash, bok choy, eggplant, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, sunflowers, and a few herbs. Almost all of it we started from seed in the house or planted directly into the garden. Not a pesticide, herbicide, or chemical fertilizer has or will be used on our garden. We've weeded, added organic compost from our compost pile, mulched to keep down weeds and retain moisture, and protected plants from munching critters with wire cages and fencing. Now we can finally sit back and wait for the harvest to come in.

A couple of weeks ago we consumed the radishes. They were a bit spicy from the warm weather! I harvested the first 4 summer squash yesterday. The cucumbers have blossoms and little cukes all over them. Won't be long! We ate a wilted lettuce salad on the 4th using some of our garden lettuce. Our neighbor told us it would be bitter from the heat but it wasn't in the least. There are some early peppers to pick and tiny green tomatoes forming. The bok choy needs to be picked. We may have a squash and bok choy stir fry for dinner tonight.

That's the fun of having a vegetable garden. You walk out to the garden every day and see what's ready to be picked. Whatever is ready becomes part of dinner that night.

Have you ever seen fennel get this tall? It's growing on either side of my wisteria. (I may have told you the story of my wisteria. I brought a start of it from my parent's house when I married. My mom planted a start of it from her mother's wisteria at her new home when she married. It's kind of a family heirloom. :-)

We have a few fruit trees too. Our pear tree is covered with tiny pears this year. The branches are already dipping to the ground. Our apple trees are full of apples. We need to find a safe way to protect the apples from worms. Our blueberry bushes have already produced 2 quarts of berries with more to come.

I guess you could say we have more of a farm than a yard. LOL! I'm a little old fashioned that way. I like to grow some of my own food. That way I know where it came from, how it was produced, and what was used on it. I won't have to worry about any salmonella bacteria on tomatoes from my garden. Grow your own! It's fun and the taste is great!