Yarn Mania

Matthew’s First Christmas–Forty Years Later

When my son was born on November 25, 1979, my mother gave me a needlework kit to make him a Christmas stocking. It might seem that the first month at home with a new baby (my first and only) would be too busy to think of crafts, but I found the needlework a relaxing diversion and finished the stocking in time for Christmas.

We have gotten it out every year since then as part of our Christmas decorations, though over time it has begun to show its age.

It’s hard to believe how quickly forty years have passed!

PeggyMatthew’s First Christmas–Forty Years Later
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Finished at Last

My granny-square afghan is finished at last.

Inspired by the granny-square afghan that came to me from my real granny, Grandma Ehrhart, I decided to make one myself. This was more than three years ago, before I launched the Knit & Nibble series–otherwise maybe I would have tackled a giant knitting project rather than crochet.

Grandma Ehrhart’s afghan featured random colors with black borders so I used that color scheme too. I love the afghans in that style because they seem to derive from the same impulse behind patchwork quilts: a way to use up leftover odds and ends–in this case yarn remnants from other projects. Not having a huge backlog of yarn remnants, however, I went to the hobby store and bought skeins of yarn in every color that caught my eye.

First I made the squares. Here’s an early batch. Eventually I gave each a black border, but it was so much fun working with all those colors that I did many middles first.

I planned for the afghan to be 15 squares by 20 squares, so the goal was 300 squares. Then I started sewing them together, using a yarn needle and the black yarn from the borders. They can also be crocheted together.

I sewed them together into sections that were easy to handle in my lap while sitting on my sofa. Eventually I had many sections and began to fit them together like a puzzle.

Near the end, I discovered I’d only made 299 squares, not 300!

So I made another square.

Eventually the project got too big to hold on my lap so I moved it to the dining room table. The strip draped over the chair was the final piece.

Since it is now August, we won’t be needing an afghan to keep us cozy for a few more months. So my new afghan is folded up on a trunk waiting for cold weather.

Granny squares are really fun to make and they’re the perfect portable craft project. It’s easy to find tutorials online or in how-to-crochet books at the hobby store.

In my post of July 23, 2018, “A Genuine GRANNY-Square Afghan,” I talk about Grandma Ehrhart’s afghan.

PeggyFinished at Last
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Darning Egg

My daughter in law found this antique darning egg for me at an estate sale. Like many utilitarian objects from the past, it’s made of wood and finely crafted–more of an art object now than something a person would use.

Darning eggs can be made of other things too, like porcelain or stone–or even gourds.

Darning eggs are still manufactured and can be purchased online, naturally. But in an era of cheap disposable clothes, who would take the trouble to darn a pair of socks? You can see though, in this picture, how a darning egg would keep the problem area stable as the darning proceeded.

People did take the trouble to darn socks once–women mostly. Picture a domestic scene before screens took over our evenings. A man and a woman are sitting before the fireplace listening to the radio. A dog is stretched out on the carpet. The man is wearing slippers and smoking a pipe. The woman has permed hair and is wearing a neat housedress. He’s reading the paper. She’s darning a sock.

Perhaps she learned this skill as part of the training young women received to prepare them for their future role in life.

PeggyDarning Egg
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Easter Bunny

Here’s one of my own creations. To make this Easter bunny, I used the directions for Cozy Cat that appear at the end of Died in the Wool. Instead of the simple garter stitch, though, I used the stockinette stitch, and just for fun I knit him from an ombre yarn in the wildest color combination I could find.

Instead of Cozy Cat ears, I gave him bunny ears. (Scroll down for ear directions.)

And I found these amazing eyes at a local bead store.

Of course he had to have a bunny tail. (Scroll down for tail directions.)

Here are directions for the ears:

Cast on 10 stitches. Knit 18 rows. On the 19th, begin decreasing one stitch at each end of each row until you have just one stitch left. Slip it off your needle. Cut your yarn, leaving a tail of a few inches. Thread the tail through the loop you slipped off your needle and pull tight. Thread a yarn needle with the tail and stitch along the edge of the ear for half an inch or so to hide the tail. Cut off what’s left of the tail. Using the yarn needle again, sew the long edges of the ear together just to where the decreasing started.

Repeat these directions for the other ear.

Sew the ears onto the head with the seam facing the back.

And for the tail:

Cast on 12 stitches. Knit five rows. On the sixth, begin decreasing one stitch at each end of each row until you have just four stitches left on your needle. Knit seven rows. Cast off. Sew the edges of the 12-stitch-wide section together to create a tube. Fold the flap down and sew its edges to the top edges of the tube. Stuff the tail with a bit of the same stuffing you used on the body of the bunny—see directions for Cozy Cat. Sew the tail on the back of the bunny body. Try to sew around the open edges rather than flattening the edges together and sewing straight across.

PeggyEaster Bunny
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Is This Handwoven Baby Blanket Old Enough to Be an Heirloom Yet?

My sister wove this blanket as a gift for her soon-to-be nephew when I was pregnant with my son, Matt. At that time (forty years ago!), my husband had abundant red hair and a luxuriant red beard, so we all thought that Matt might turn out to be a redhead, and the blanket’s colors were chosen as a reference to his possible appearance. As it turned out, he inherited my looks and has dark brown hair and eyes.

Another view of the blanket.

The blanket is about 30″ by 30″, not counting the fringe. As you can see, the pattern is an interesting irregular plaid.

The weaving technique my sister used created a twill effect.

And the ends are finished with fringe.

PeggyIs This Handwoven Baby Blanket Old Enough to Be an Heirloom Yet?
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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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