Peggy

A Yarn Christmas Tree

I found this wonderful Christmas tree at a tag sale last summer. It’s about nine inches tall, perfect to display on a shelf or table. 

I can’t exactly tell whether it’s knitted or crocheted, though I tend toward knitted. Up close you can see that the knobs look like a version of the popcorn stitch.

Here’s a view of the inside.

One of my friends saw it and at first assumed it was one of those ceramic Christmas trees that the New York Times says are enjoying a resurgence in popularity because of their nostalgia factor.

Today in the window of a shop in my town I saw another yarn Christmas tree, very obviously knitted. The knitter had created a scalloped effect that looked even more like one of these ceramic trees.

PeggyA Yarn Christmas Tree
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Another Thing to Do with Granny Squares

Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas decorations are up at the mall, so here’s a seasonal Yarn Mania post.

I found this at a moving sale a few years ago and loved the ingenious way the granny squares, which are indeed square, had been deployed to shape a stocking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PeggyAnother Thing to Do with Granny Squares
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A Genuine GRANNY-Square Afghan

When I was a child, a visit to my Grandma Ehrhart’s house in Quincy, Illinois, was like a visit to another era. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where everything was new. And it was the 1950s, so people wanted to be modern, and architecture and home décor reflected that aim. My grandmother’s house was a Craftsman Bungalow dating from around the time she married my grandfather.* My father was their first child and he just turned 100, so that house was built a very long time ago. Everything in her house seemed exotic to me because nothing was modern. I especially loved this afghan, which is now mine.

It’s quite large.

It came to me when she downsized and moved into a very pleasant retirement complex. It’s fashioned from individually crocheted squares in a style called “granny squares.” It’s a great style for the novice crocheter to master because finishing a square provides an instant burst of gratification, and a square only takes about fifteen minutes. Also a granny-square project can be very portable since you’re just making one square at a time, not carrying a whole afghan-in-progress around.

Another great feature is that it’s a yarn version of a patchwork quilt–a way to use up odds and ends of yarn left from other projects. You can see that this afghan uses a great many different colors, and often different shades of the same color.

I think my grandmother really was using up odds and ends of yarn when she made it because some segments were less moth-resistant than others. At one point after it was mine, several of the squares began to unravel as one color of yarn or another disintegrated. I retaught myself how to make granny-squares–I learned to make them long ago but hadn’t done it for years–and somehow patched in new versions of the disintegrated sections. I say “somehow” because at this remove I honestly don’t know how I managed it–since to make a granny square from scratch one starts in the middle and moves outwards, and each new color fastens onto the previous one. The outermost color could easily be replaced, but in the picture above, the neon orange in the square on the left is a section I redid.

I am now making my own granny-square afghan.

I’ve been at it for about three years and have made 300 squares. I’m in the process of sewing them together. They can also be crocheted together, which is the technique my grandmother used. I’m using random colors with black borders, just like hers, though one can also make solid-color granny squares and/or choose a particular color scheme for an afghan.

*The house I now live in, in New Jersey, is even older than my grandmother’s house.

P.S. My sister saw this post and sent me a picture of the genuine GRANNY-square afghan when it was still in my grandmother’s house. She took the picture on a visit to Quincy with her son Richard in 1979.

PeggyA Genuine GRANNY-Square Afghan
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Flea Market Bear

I found this bear at the Brussels flea market while visiting my Brussels-based sister. The Brussels flea market is a flea market extravaganza, every day of the week in a huge square, with offerings ranging from curated goodies set out in booths to random odds and ends laid out on blankets on the cobblestones. That’s the environment in which I found the bear, jumbled among what seemed dubious booty from an attic cleanout. The bear doesn’t look handmade, though he was certainly well-loved and I was happy to rescue him. (Information about the Brussels flea market is easy to find online if you’re a flea-market aficionado planning a trip to Belgium.)

His outfit must have once had suspenders, but all that’s left is one button. Perhaps the ensemble was meant to be an old-fashioned bathing costume.

His face is not too expressive.

At first I thought he was a cat, but I realized he has no tail–except for a random yarn tail at his waist on the left.

PeggyFlea Market Bear
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Heirloom of the Future

My mother is constantly busy with her needlework, and kits for needlework projects have become most welcome gifts. A kit usually provides more yarn than needed to complete the project, so a devotee of needlework kits ends up with masses of leftover yarn, good-quality wool in a dazzling array of colors. My sister Penny is also a dedicated craftsperson, and has found a use for the leftovers. Inspired by the Frugal Knitter’s Scarf I invented as a knitting project in Murder, She Knit, Penny (yes, she is the inspiration for Pamela’s daughter Penny in my series), created a frugal crocheter’s afghan.

Photo courtesy of Penny, with the unexpected bonus of Murder, She Knit waiting on the arm of the sofa for a cozy read!

Here’s another view of the afghan.


PeggyHeirloom of the Future
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Antique Kitten

I found this kitten at an estate sale billed as offering “Americana.” Indeed the owners of the house had assembled a collection of silver pieces that looked as if Paul Revere could have made them, as well as lovely old wooden furniture and folk art. I don’t think this kitten is handmade but she certainly is old. At the sale she was sitting in a highchair made of wood so aged it must have served many generations of babies.

She even has a tail.

And such a sweet face.

PeggyAntique Kitten
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Vintage Woven-Square Blanket

I found this interesting blanket at a tag sale. The color combination struck me as quite old-fashioned, and soon afterwards an article in the Real Estate section of the New York Times included a photo of a bathroom in a 1924 house featuring exactly the same color scheme: tile in the lighter shade of green with trim in the darker shade of green–and salmon-pink plumbing fixtures! I suspect that bathroom had been updated some time after its1924 construction–modernized to reflect the happening colors of the 1940s or 1950s.

The other interesting thing about the blanket is that it looks handmade, as if it was assembled from individually woven squares and then finished with a crocheted edge.

You can see in this close-up of the reverse side that the squares have been sewn together, leaving little yarn tails at the corners. I did a bit of online research, looking for evidence of weaving kits that people might have used for this craft in the past, but I couldn’t find anything. If anyone reading this knows of weaving kits as a bygone hobby, please tell me. You can get in touch by clicking on the “Contact” tab.  Thanks!

Since I posted this, I’ve received a very interesting response, from Barbara Minerd, a retired professor of visual communication. She wrote, “Your photo blanket was woven on a ‘Weave-It’ loom made by Hero Manufacturing Co., Inc., in Middleboro, Massachusetts. They also made knitting needles, crochet hooks, accessories, and gift kits. I have two sizes: the one which was used for your photo blanket 3 7/8″, and the other makes a smaller square about 1 7/8”. The larger square takes me about 15 minutes to weave, so you can imagine how much time it takes to weave and then sew the squares together, plus crochet the edge. I enjoy designing different color schemes as well as repeating patterns. It is small enough to take to the beach or anywhere to be creative!”

Thank you, Barbara!

PeggyVintage Woven-Square Blanket
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Hand Crocheted By …

I found this beautiful scarf at an estate sale in a neighboring town. The house was charming  and old, and it was obvious the occupant had been a devoted crafter. I love the rounded ends, the color combination, and the quite random stripes. And the best part of the scarf is …I like to think the creator of this scarf would be happy to know her creation is still being admired.

 

PeggyHand Crocheted By …
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June–Coconut Cream Pie

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Just like the blues, Caribbean music owes much of its power to African rhythms brought to the New World by slaves–in this case, slaves imported to work on the sugar cane plantations.

Rum was a by-product of the sugar-making process, and I knew this pie had to have rum. Who can think of the islands without thinking of coconuts? But most recipes for coconut cream pie omit that crucial ingredient.

I finally found what I was looking for in a Caribbean cookbook I bought long ago at a flea market. It’s from the Time-Life series, a wonderful cookbook series dating from decades ago, when travel and exotic menus weren’t such an easy part of our lives as they are now. Nearly every cuisine you can name is represented in the series, and each gets two books—a big hardcover with pictures of food and festivals, plus recipes, and a small spiral-bound booklet with even more recipes.

I have quite a collection of these cookbooks, assembled from garage sales, flea markets, and used-book stores. Usually I find either the big hardcover or the small booklet first, then have the thrill of finding the missing half of the set at some whole other venue.

Anyway, the Time-Life version of the pie is very labor-intensive, so I invented a variation that uses the same flavorings—dark rum, nutmeg, and vanilla—but substitutes boxed pudding mix.

The crust is a variation on one we’ve used before—very flaky and rich with butter AND lard.

Crust:

1-1/2 cups flour
6 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons lard, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the butter and lard. Use two knives scissor fashion or your fingers to mix the flour mixture and the shortening together till the result looks like coarse meal.

Add 4 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork till it clings together. Add more ice water if necessary. Flour your hands and gather the mixture into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for ½ hour or more.

When you are ready to roll it out, flour your rolling surface and rolling pin. Pat the dough gently into a circle an inch thick or even thinner—this makes it easier to keep a circular shape when you begin to roll. Make sure to use plenty of flour and rotate the dough from time to time, sprinkling more flour underneath to make sure it doesn’t stick to your rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.  Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork.

Bake the empty crust at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then check on it and pat the dough down if it’s starting to puff up. Bake it for an additional 10 minutes or more. It should be starting to turn slightly brown when you take it out. (You’ll be baking the pie again to brown the meringue so you don’t want the edges of the crust to get too brown now.)

Let it cool while you make the filling.

Filling:

1 box Jell-O “cook & serve” vanilla pudding and pie filling—not instant
2 cups milk
1 cup “sweetened flake coconut”—from the aisle of the grocery store where you find flour and other baking supplies
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Bring the milk and pudding mix to a full boil, stirring all the while. Turn off the heat and add the coconut and other ingredients. Let the pudding mixture cool on top of the stove while you make the meringue.  Stir the mixture occasionally. 

Meringue Topping:

4 egg whites
6 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until the egg whites are frothy, then slowly add the sugar, beating all the while. After a minute or two, the egg whites should become quite stiff. Continue beating until stiff peaks remain if you remove the beaters.

Meringue can be tricky. To make sure you aren’t beating a soupy mess forever instead of getting the result you want, make sure the beaters are perfectly clean and there are no specks of egg yolk or shell in your egg whites before you start. You can scoop extraneous objects out with a spoon. 

Turn the pudding mixture into the pie shell.  Spread the meringue over the top.  Make sure the meringue touches the inner edge of the crust–it has a tendency to shrink while it bakes and this will keep you from having bare spots around the edges of your pie. 

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the meringue turns a delicate brown.  Let the pie cool a bit and then refrigerate it.  Serve it cold, and refrigerate the leftovers.

PeggyJune–Coconut Cream Pie
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