Nerdy Knits & Crafts

Three blue knits…including a TARDIS pillow!

I’ve been working on two big knitting projects and one small one in the last few months. It just so happens that all of them were gifts, and all of them were blue. Now that they are all completed, I can share them with you!

A different kind of blue box: the TARDIS pillow!

Time And Relative Dimension In Space

I started watching Doctor Who at the beginning of November and I got totally into it (yes I realize I’m a little late to the party). My brother is also a fan and when I was home for Thanksgiving, he suggested I could knit him something Whovian for Christmas. I showed him the myriad of free patterns on ravelry and he chose this one by Rebecca Norton, a tiny tardis print. Interestingly, the only project on ravelry was the original, so I was going into uncharted (ha!) territory. But as the pattern says…Allons-y!

just a little blue box

This was one of the funnest swatches to knit. If you aren’t familiar with colorwork, this is not a bad pattern to learn on. The pattern was pretty easy to remember after a while, and even when I messed up the window placement on one row and didn’t notice it till the end, it was easily fixed with duplicate stitches to get the proper colors. The pillow uses the intarsia technique for each TARDIS, so I had a short bobbin of blue yarn for each. However, after knitting one side of the pillow, I realized I was going to run out of white yarn. It was stash yarn and I had no idea what it was or where it came from. So I improvised…

bigger on the OTHER side!

And came up with this pattern for the reverse side. I didn’t get too detailed here—no public notice, no “police box” lettering—but I think it came out really well for a TARDIS pattern I wrote on the fly! I used  garter stitch to create the illusion of doors, and each grouping of six windows only used a small bobbin of white yarn. I would write up the pattern but I didn’t save all my notes on it, but I did write down what I could remember on my ravelry project page. If you try to do it and it doesn’t work out,  trust me, there are like six million patterns on ravelry for some version of the TARDIS if you want it.

(EDIT: If you want another blue Doctor Who knit, check out my Tenth-Doctor’s-Sonic-Screwdriver-as-Chapstick-Holder knitting project!)

Baby blues: Newborn booties!

tiny feats for tiny feets

My cousin and his wife had a baby in December, and so over Christmas break I decided to whip up some of my favorite baby booties in the newborn size. Baby items are great because they knit up so quick. I also like making them in colors other than the traditional pastels. Previously, I have made them in a bright purple tweed:

Lelly's booties!

The booties are constructed with short row shaping, so they are knit on straight needles. In the past I sewed them up so that only garter stitch was showing, but this time I decided that having the stockinette part on the outside actually gave it a better shape.

no pastel colors allowed

I highly recommend this pattern, but I should point out that I have always modified the increases to be “knit front and back” because I’m more used to that. I don’t think it changes the pattern, just putting that out there.

Socktober blues: Magic loop toe-up socks!2013-11-24 13.58.18

Way back in October, I started making socks for my friend’s November birthday. I had this really cool sock yarn, the self striping kind, and I was eager to use it. And I also wanted to knit these socks at the same time. So I decided to learn the magic loop method for small diameter circular knitting.

Ever year I try to do a new knitting technique—it’s a slow learning process but it works. I could probably devote a whole post to what I learned and didn’t learn doing magic loop. First of all, you should NOT do what I did, which was 1) switch patterns more than once when I was part way through, so I was constantly readjusting. I initially started out using the free Knit Picks pattern  Two at once, toe up socks but I quickly discovered that it was going to be tough to follow for someone who was new to magic loop. Another thing you should NOT do is 2) connect several interchangeable needles to get the long circular needle needed for this technique, because the metal connecting piece will be a constant pain when you have to slide it through a bunch of stitches. Bite the bullet and buy the exact size circular needles you need.

harder than it looks

What I DO recommend you do if you are learning this technique is watch videos on how to do magic loop. My favorites were from KnitFreedom— Liat Gat’s 2-at-a-time toe-up socks video series. I’m sure it would be best if you were using her pattern, but I found them helpful regardless, especially the videos for casting on and the first increase round. I also suggest practicing magic loop with larger needles and yarn than you’d use for socks, because starting the toe is a bit challenging at first. Ok, a lot challenging.

socks in the sink

I wish I took photos at the start, because it would show you what looked like some pretty bad laddering at the sides that ended up being ok in the end. The Knit Picks pattern has an afterthought heel, and KnitFreedom’s pattern has a fleegle heel, but I wanted I heel I was familiar with, so I did short row heels using the technique described by HeidBears in part 1 and part 2 on her blog. Not a video, but I have done short row heels before and the illustrations were all I needed to translate it to magic loop socks.

2013-11-24 12.38.16

After blocking, you could still see the ladders on the sides of the socks (especially at the heel) and the loose part of the toe where I almost made the socks too big when I switched patterns (thankfully my friend has the same size feet as me and I tried them on and discovered the problem early). BUT despite all the problems and irregularities, I am really proud of these socks. The blue stripes are so cool! And most importantly, their recipient was happy with them.2013-11-24 13.58.02

Tweaks & Alterations, Yarn Dyeing

Blue yarn finished objects! Ombre waves cowl and custom v-neck sweater

It’s been exactly a year since I posted about my tutorial on how to dye yarn blue using black beans, and even longer than that since I wrote about the left-handed knitting challenges of a custom-fit raglan sweater. Now I’m finally going to show you the finished objects!

Blue yarn dyed with black beans –> waves cowl with ombre effect


I love the finished product! But it certainly was a long road to get there.

As you may recall, the blue yarn was separated into 1/2 oz. dye lots and one 1 1/2 oz .dye lot. As I mentioned at the end of this post, I went back and divided the larger blue yarn into three 1/2 oz. skeins and overdyed so that every 1/2 oz. was a different shade of blue. Way too much work!

IMG_0038IMG_0039 IMG_0182

When I finally had them all complete, I started making the Wave Cowl by Rebecca Hatcher, using a half ounce skein of a different hue for each “wave” from lightest to darkest to create an ombre effect. It worked great!IMG_0330But I still had two issues to solve. The first you can see in the above picture—the bottom kept rolling up, which was made worse by the tightness of this end of the cowl. The 1/2 oz. skein didn’t quite go as far as planned on the last wave, which was the biggest since it tapered up at the neck. So then I blocked the whole cowl.IMG_0312It was beautiful, and the bottom rolled up much less! But it created problem two—now the cowl had lost its stiffness and would not stand up when around my neck. After all that work! So I did what I assume most knitters would do. I improvised. Which basically involved overlapping part of the cowl and stitching together at an angle, increasing the tapering effect and allowing the cowl to stand up properly once again! You can see the seam in the second photo here:IMG_1950  IMG_1946

And now, one winter later, this is one of my favorite things to wear on a cold night.

Custom fit raglan pattern –>perfect fit teal V-neck sweater

Unlike the cowl, with this project I started with Pamela Costello’s customizable pattern and then went through my stash to find enough yarn to knit it! I know it’s technically “aquamarine” not blue, but close enough:IMG_1065As I noted before, the main difficulty I had with this sweater was learning how to do the raglan sleeve increases while knitting left handed. I had no trouble at all with the directions to make it a V-neck (I did an increase every 4 stitch for this depth), and I loved being able to try it on in stages as I made it:I will say that the estimated yarn was not accurate for me because at almost 5’8 but making a rather small size otherwise, I ended up with extra skein of yarn (Hayfield Grampian DK wool blend, if you are curious). I loved that I was able to make it long enough for my arms! I might have made the V-neck  even deeper if I’d known how much the ribbing would add back to it— here’s the non-blocked sweater before adding the neck ribbing, and the blocked sweater with neck ribbing:

IMG_0412  IMG_0727

And here’s a view of the back of the completed sweater (ironically taken on a hot summer day, hence the shorts!)

IMG_1068  IMG_1069

And finally, here I am wearing it more recently under a blazer when it was actually cool weather. I probably would not have bought a sweater this bright, but it turns out I really like the color.IMG_1883And that concludes the blue yarn finished objects!

Food & Garden, Yarn Dyeing

My first sourdough bread and a blue yarn update

Last weekend, I had one major goal—to make my own sourdough bread from scratch. And I did it! I’m not going to lie, it takes a LONG time to make. It’s not something I would do every weekend. But the results were delicious.

Here are the details on my sourdough bread making experience.

Sourdough starter

The starter I used was Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough starter—you can get it for free from Carl’s website. It came dried in an envelope, and I revived it used the instructions on the website. The most essential part is the following:

Get a small container.  Begin with one tablespoon of lukewarm water, stir 
in 1/2 teaspoon of your starter and let stand for a few minutes to soften 
the start granules. Then mix in one tablespoon of flour. Depending on the 
flour, you may need to add an additional teaspoon or two of water. You want 
the mixture to be like a thin pancake batter.  When the mixture gets 
bubbly, put it in a little larger container.  Then stir in 1/4 cup of water 
and 1/4 cup of flour.  When that mix rises up add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 
cup of flour.  When this bubbles up, you will have about one cup of very 
active starter that is ready for use or storage in your refrigerator.

I mixed it in glass jar with a plastic spoon. When I did, it looked like this:

Those spots are bubbles, and they’re a sign that the starter is active. I have to admit something here—using just water and flour didn’t give me bubbles. But I read in the Carl’s brochure that a little vinegar would kick the starter into high gear. After reading that, I realized it would probably be a good idea for me, since my tap water is both hard and alkaline, two aspects that starters don’t respond well to. A small amount of apple cider vinegar did the trick. I used anywhere from a few drops to 1/4 tsp depending on how much water I was adding, and I did this every time I added water to the recipe too.

The recipe

For my first attempt at sourdough, I chose a recipe from Carl’s website called  Simple Sourdough Pan Bread, Hand Mixed with a Low Knead Procedure. It’s the second on the list in the above link (PDF here). I chose it because it really did seem straightforward: four ingredients, two bread pans, and only a little kneading. I wouldn’t recommend making sourdough bread if you’ve never made bread before in your life, because many things are left to the baker’s judgement in this and other recipes. But you don’t need to be pro to do this either. I’d recommend baking some other bread first if you haven’t done so before.

Here’s the ingredient list for the recipe—don’t do what I did and almost run out of flour!


• 1 Cup Active Sourdough Culture

• 2 Cups Water
• 5 to 6 Cups Flour (divided)
• 1 Tablespoon Salt

The directions are rather lengthy at this point, but they are divided into sections, so instead of reprinting them all I am going to just write down the section and what time I started it, with photos.

It took longer than the recipe said because a) it is still cold here, and most of the rises require warmth and b) I have a life and could not always do each step at the exact time. Again, this is a long process—do it on a day where you have lots of random stuff to do around the house (for me, grading papers).

Baking bread, step by step

1. Make the sponge,  1:30am Sat

Before I went to sleep on Friday night, I made the sponge. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this stage. I remember that it was very bubbly the next morning, but when I mixed it it was the same thin pancake batter consistency of the starter. Recipe says do this 6-10 hours before the next step.

2. Make the dough, 1:15 pm Sat

I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by a “medium” dough, but this dough was really sticky, and I read that this is a good sign for sourdough.

3. Knead the dough, 1:45pm

No photos of the action because I was doing this by myself, but I used the technique in this video that I wrote about in my previous post on bread. The difference I noticed with sourdough is that, due to the stickiness, flouring your hands will not keep the dough from sticking to your hands. You either need to wet your hands and keep re-wetting them as you knead, or lightly oil them. I tried both and I prefer oil a little more, but I tried both and either works.

After this it had to rise by 50%, when it looked about like this:

4. Stretch and fold, 4 pm

No modifications to this technique—oiled surface made things go smoothly. After this step though dough needs to rise until it has fully doubled. I had to put it into a bigger bowl. Here’s the before and after fully doubled:

5. Shape the dough,  8:25 pm

Here’s where you divide the dough, let it rest, then put it in loaf pans. My bread pans are two slightly different sizes, which is why they look a little weird.

6. Final rise, 9:30 p.m.

Once the dough rose enough to touch the plastic wrap, I made expansion cuts and put them in plastic grocery bags for the final rise. It sounded weird but it worked well—this photo is from near the end of the final rise:

7. Bake the bread, 1 am Sunday

Finally, the baking part! While the recipe said 40 minutes at 375 degrees F, mine took closer to an hour. I blame the small bread pan and the fact that my oven runs hot, but since I don’t know how hot, I have to cook everything at much lower temps than suggested.  But with some watchful baking, I managed to get it to a lovely golden color outside, with lots of awesome little air pockets inside!

8. Eating the bread for breakfast! Sunday…brunch (ok it was after noon)

The best part about the bread, of course, is the taste! This bread has some of that nice sour flavor without being overpowering, and its spongy without being squishy or underdone. Sourdough is probably my favorite bread for toast, so I made toast with our homemade marmalade from Christmas, eggs (one over easy one scrambled cause I broke the yoke…), and tea with milk. It seemed a rather British brunch indeed:


Blue yarn update!

While this post is already quite long enough, I wanted to live up to the title of this blog and post about some knitting.

First, I finally decided what to make with all my blue yarn! I’m making the Wave Cowl by Rebecca Hatcher. And just to prove it’s actually a work in progress, here’s a photo of it on the needles!

(btw, that little spot of green in the corner is the subject of an upcoming gardening post :c)

I am probably going to end up making the Cranberry version of the cowl, with its flare at the bottom. I had been wanting a pattern inspired by either the sea or the sky because that’s what the blues of the yarn remind me of. I also needed something that didn’t require more than 1 skein, and preferably one that could work with small amounts of different hues. The awesome knitters over at Reddit (the knitting subreddit to be specific) suggested an ombre pattern that arranged the yarns from light to to dark. I thought that was the perfect idea! However, as you can see from the photos in my earlier post, I had a large chunk of the yarn that was all the same hue. So two weeks ago, I divided that  up into 1/2 oz. parts and attempted to overdye it to varying degrees to get some more color variation. Here’s the result:

I was going to write a post on how the overdying process went, but I think I can sum it up in one sentence: Unless you are desperate, don’t do it. It was a huge pain. Mordanting the yarns again turned their original blue-gray into gray. Then they needed to be in the black bean dye that was quite strong, and they needed to be in there a long time. It smelled much worse than last time. And for all of that, some of them came out with uneven coloring or hardly differentiated. In some good lighting, you can tell the difference, but even then it is subtle:

Those are the same three, in slightly different lighting. Gah, Too much work for such small results. At least I did get some different shades of blue out of it. But the best part was the fact that this time, I rinsed the beans right after soaking them for their dye, then immediately put them in the slow cooker with some chicken broth, canned tomatoes, onions and a bunch of spices. That’s right—this time I made black bean soup! And once the sourdough bread was ready—lets just say it was a tasty combination:

That’s right, I added peas and a lot of sriracha sauce to my soup. Laugh if you want, but it tasted awesome!