I was at Shepherd’s Hey Farm recently, and blueberries were in season.

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I left with enough blueberries to eat every single day for breakfast. YUM. But what to do with what is left over which I should have frozen right away but didn’t? (And while they are still OK, they feel a little wilt-y to me).

I LOVE muffins. I try not to eat them too often because they are not exactly figure-friendly. But sometimes, I do indulge. So when I do make muffins, I don’t try to make them healthy. I just go for it and try to give them away faster than I can eat them.

When I lived on the Upper West Side, Good Enough to Eat was a favorite brunch spot. I’ve not gone there in years, but I still remember the crunchy topped muffins that they used to have (and probably still have…I just haven’t gone in years).

My favorite blueberry muffin recipe is a heavily modified version of the blueberry muffin recipe that appears in the Good Enough to Eat cookbook….I have taken that recipe as a base and played around with some ingredients and ratios. It is most definitely not diet-food — but the buttery, cakey dough with a hint of lemon is perfect for blueberries (or black raspberries!) and the crunchy top is very reminiscent of the Good Enough to Eat muffins.

Part of the reason why I love this recipe is that it is made in a bowl with nothing but a wooden spoon!

The muffins freeze well, and once defrosted, I like to peel the paper off the muffin and stick it in the toaster oven.

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My Favorite Blueberry Muffins
(yields 12 muffins; adapted and modified from The Good Enough to Eat: Bountiful Home Cooking)

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 to 2 cups blueberries, depending on size of the berries
zest of 1 lemon
sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F, line muffin tin with baking cups.

In a bowl with a wooden spoon, cream butter with sugar.

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Add egg and vanilla extract, mixing after each addition until incorporated. Add cream, a little at a time, and beating into the batter after each addition.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated. The batter will be a relatively stiff batter.

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Mix berries and zest into the batter gently. Divide evenly into 12 muffins.

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Dust top with some granulated sugar.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

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Enjoy!

Remember that beautiful yarn from Elsawool that I was scared to dye (but did)? It has now been knitted with natural white and natural dark grey cormo yarn into a sweater.

The pattern is Ravello by Isabell Kraemer, a casual stripy number in fingering weight yarn.

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I wanted a sweater that I will reach for all the time…I seem to love stripes, and knit in a light weight yarn, this ought to be a 3 season sweater. The sleeves are bracelet length, a bit on the shorter side, so I don’t have to worry about them getting in the way as I knock about. There’s absolutely no shaping in the body, so this will be a true sweatshirt replacement.

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It’s a beautiful summer day outside, so I will have to put this sweater in a closet for now and wait for a bit of cool weather.

I am particularly excited about the single red stripe on the sleeve…

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…which was only added because I was too anxious to see what the watermelon red yarn would look like knitted up against the dark grey. And it looks just like Neapolitan Ice Cream!

Now I think I will concentrate on some garments I can wear in warmer weather!

To me, a lace shawl is not a finished object until it is fully blocked.

I know why some people do not like blocking — it’s a bit tedious. And on a big shawl, I have been known to crawl around the floor blocking for over an hour only to stand up with what seems like a permanent crouch (lesson here: as with anything else — move around/stretch every 20 minutes or so!!)….so contrary to popular belief, blocking is not one of my favorite activities.

But, as my friend Trish says, “Blocking is magic”. It is, I think, the single most transforming thing you can do to a knitted lace garment. The nasty spaghetti that comes off your needles suddenly transforms into a lacy, gossamer, beautiful thing.

Would you rather put this around your shoulders:

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Or this?

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It’s the same shawl, Red Rock Canyon by Romi Hill (knit out of Old Maiden Aunt Merino/Silk 4ply).

IMG_3298I’m not a blocking expert by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years, I have literally blocked hundreds of things. So, here are some thoughts (and opinions) about how I block a lace garment, using a sample shawl, shown here in the pre-blocked state (you cannot see the lace motif very well, the edges are not straight…)

Step One: Weave in ends, but do not cut the tails of ends. This is probably pretty obvious, but if the goal with blocking is stretching the heck out of it, then the ends that you’ve carefully hidden will likely pop out. (The ends will be trimmed after blocking).

Step Two: Soak the garment in wool wash (I like Soak, Kookaburra and Eucalan and have used all. If I had to pick one, I would pick Soak because the other two products have lanolin in them and I knit shawls out of 100% silk too) for 15-30 minutes. Why wool wash? Because your hands have been all over your lace shawl, and the shawl is dirty. Why 15-30 minutes? Because that allows the fibers to be completely saturated and become as malleable as possible. I have, by accident, left an item soaking overnight, without any apparent damage — but I really try not to do this!

Assemble your materials at this point: Blocking boards, covered bed, wires, pins, thread, measuring tape, spray bottle…whatever you are going to use.

Step Three: Gently squeeze the water out of the garment, and roll it up in a towel like a burrito. (At this point, if this were a sweater, I would stick the burrito and put it through a spin cycle. With a lace garment though, I do not — only because it dries fast enough without.)

Now the fun can begin.

First, a little about the surface to block on. It needs to be a flat surface that you can stick pins into. I have foam blocking boards which fit like puzzle pieces. I do recommend these if you plan on knitting many lace shawls because they are convenient, but it is not necessary. I am very curious about the roll-up blocking mat with a grid surface on it because I think it may make achieving exact measurements easier, but I have not yet tried one out. I have enough open surface and enough of the boards to block a relatively large garment in my apartment, but I know many people who have blocked on their beds. I have also supplemented edges which have eked out of the blocking surface with dog beds and rolled towels. And, for large square and circular shawls, I’ve made a square donut with a lone block in the center to secure the center of the shawl.

Once the blocking surface has been identified and pets shooed away (my dogs know that yarn and fiber are for humans and not for dogs — “leave it” is a very essential command in their repertoire as you can imagine having to walk through streets of NYC), the actual garment manipulation can begin!

IMG_3314Step Four: I like to start by laying out the piece in the approximate shape on the blocking surface first, to make sure that I have a plan of action (and that I’ve laid out enough foam blocks to accommodate the shawl). This example is pretty easy because it’s a triangular shawl — but even with a triangular shawl, you want to make sure that you know what dimension the shawl should be…i.e., the depth of the shawl vs. the width of the shawl. The sample here should block out to exactly half a square, which means that I should block the depth of the shawl at half the width of the shawl.

Step Five: Secure the “main” straight edges, if any. I like using blocking wires for squaring off any edge that should be straight on a shawl. This cuts down on the measuring, and makes holding a straight line easier. I have many different kinds of wires, from flexible wires to extra long wires, to extra thin wires, but the set I use the most are the cheapest, sturdiest set of wires that are about the diameter of the cable on a knitting needle. In the case of a triangular shawl, the “main” edge would be the top edge of the shawl. For a square, it would be the diagonals or the edges (I usually pick an edge to start from). And, of course, for a circular or a crescent shawl, there isn’t one.

IMG_3316The trick with using blocking wires is to make sure that it is threaded evenly and often through the edge of the garment. I generally weave through every stitch, because I put a tremendous amount of pull (I don’t say I block like a thug for no reason) on the garment and I want that force to be distributed evenly throughout a straight edge.

 

IMG_3317Secure the wire (and not the garment) onto the blocking board. I usually put the pins in at an angle away from the direction that you will be pulling on the shawl. I love using U-pins for this.

 

 

You can achieve a similar effect by threading a smooth thread (like crochet thread) through the stitches and pulling it very taught across the straight edge. I used to do this before getting wires, and if I ever knit a king bed sized lace thing, I can see myself using thread again — it works!

Now, if you don’t have wires and just have pins, I would pin the garment as straight as possible, and use a straight edge in the final stages of blocking (not yet though, you’ll be moving these pins around at least once.)

Step Six: Work on the edges of the shawl. Many people use blocking wires through the points of the shawl, but I actually like the flexibility of using pins

IMG_3319First, I pull out the center point. I’m pulling the shawl taught, but not really hard (yet).

 

 

 

IMG_3322Then, I pull out the point on either side about half way from the top edge of the shawl to the point. I like to pin out several points equally on the left and the right of the center line first to get balance on the shawl.

Next, I pin out one side,

then the other.

All this I do with just eye and feel. The lace pattern should be very evident now, and now, you can start REALLY blocking.

Step Seven: Channel your inner thug. Adjust all the pins, pulling the shawl as taught as it will go in all directions.

IMG_3324When it feels like the shawl cannot be pulled any tighter — and this will be evidenced by either pins starting to pull out or the blocking board starting to curl off the ground — take out the tape measure and make sure things are pretty even. Then, make sure all the pins are secure, and if the blocking board is curling, weigh them down.. and let dry.

 

 

IMG_3325Sometimes, particularly with lace weight yarn, the shawl will almost dry during this process. A spray bottle filled with water is handy to wet down the garment if this happens. (Happens to me all the time with large shawls).

 

 

 

IMG_3326Let dry completely. When you unpin and take the wire out, it’s likely that the shawl will rebound a bit.

 

 

 

Trim the woven in ends, and voila!

 

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Strategies for different shapes: It would be impossible to cover all shapes, but there are some things I like to do with certain shapes.

  • Circular shawls. Once the first series of pinning is completed, I like to have a length of string or yarn that is secured at the center of the shawl, and use it as a guide to make sure each point that is pinned out is equidistant from the center. I used to put the metal loop at the end of my tape measure though the central T-pin, but I find that a piece of string is a lot easier to manage.
  • Crescent shawls. Usually, if you pull the points out hard enough, the spine of the shawl does not need much stretching/pinning. This is the shape that I probably do the most free-form blocking on, and depending on how the edges of the shawl is knit.

I hope this helps!

 

I was recently asked whether I had ever finished the sweater I was knitting out of Cambridge’s fleece.

I thought I had posted these photos! The Kingscot cardigan is finished!

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Here it is, on a “photo shoot” with the ewe herself. I love this photo not only because it’s kind of cool that I’m holding the sheep that gave me the beautiful fleece, but because of the onlookers in the background. Makes me laugh every time!

I saw Cambridge recently, and she is very busy growing my next fleece. You can already see, I think from above, but it’s looking a bit lighter in color. She is just CRANKING out the fleece, after a bit of a tough start I’m guessing because of the harsh winter, and I would not be surprised if her fleece was close to 10 pounds. (…of platinum to grey and GORGEOUS. Can’t wait.)

Yes, hawk-eyed friends, that IS a double pointed needle holding the cardigan shut.

Since then, I purchased some buttons made out of deer antler (as an homage to Lucy’s Great Adventure).

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The sweater is softer than I imagined it could ever be — Cambridge’s fleece has been a big surprise on that front, I must say — and it almost looks shiny because the fibers are so lustrous.

I still have another big batch of her fleece left, which was just washed recently —

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— and I am contemplating what I should be making with this fiber. I’m wondering if I can engineer a zipped vest with pockets that will take the place of the felted merino vest that I wear all the time to walk my dogs….to the drawing board….

I am, most decidedly, a lover of the color grey. Almost every article of clothing, yarn, fiber — the first thing I reach for is grey.

And in the ocean of grey, there is another color that makes a pretty frequent appearance in my wardrobe. (No, not black — that’s just another shade of grey.) I love orange. I think it’s such a happy color.

And, it goes well with grey. Of course.

I must be missing an element of happy recently, because I’ve finished two projects in my happy color.

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First, Carpino, by Carol Feller. It is a sweater from the Wool People 6 collection — the collection that I had a bit of a preview of, at Knitter’s Review Retreat last November. Of course, I promptly fell in love with every single piece of that collection, in a way that I never would have had I seen it in only in print, as beautiful as the Wool People Look Books are.

This little sweater is very flirty and a little bit retro. It has an i-cord edged ballet neckline, 3/4 length sleeves which are fitted. The front is a fun bubble like lace pattern (which is very easy to memorize).

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I knit this sweater in a singles yarn. I knew even before I cast on, in my brain somewhere, that this is probably not the greatest strategy for a long lasting, well wearing sweater. But I did it anyway. Why? Because it was the perfect color, Del Rey from Neighborhood Fiber company.

I have already worn the sweater a couple of times…so far so good. As long as some naughty canine that I live with does not hook her little paws into the lace in front of the sweater!

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Have you ever had a “O.M.G. I have to spin this/knit it right now” moment? Of course you have. The second project was one of those things. I purchased a beautiful commercially processed Shetland top from the UK at the Feederbrook Farm booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool. It is charcoal grey (surprise!) in a way only nature can produce, I knew exactly how I wanted to spin it, and as I was spinning the fiber — I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it.

I spun the fiber woolen, from the fold. I wanted lofty, squishy, and light in weight…a shetland version of LOFT.

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The urge was so great that as soon as I plied a skein and the twist was set, I wound the skein and cast on — while the rest of the yarn necessary to complete the project was still sitting on the wheel.

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Then, for contrast, I wanted a bit of….Orange! And I looked in my Pigeonroof Studios non-Superwash grab bag that I had in my stash…and voila. A few little bits of rusts, oranges and yellows. I wasn’t sure what the fiber content was (I think it is Polwarth/silk but I’m really not sure.), but I only needed a bit over 100 yards so I was sure it was going to work.

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The shawl that this yarn was destine to be? Kelpie, by Jared Flood (Who else?).  It’s a take on the Classic Shetland Hap Shawl, a bit citified. My gauge was bigger than the stated gauge of the pattern, so I knew this would be a large shawl.

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It is large, 74″ across with a 37″ drop. I didn’t think the shawl would grow to quite this size, but it is soft, light, very squishy, and the orange in the feather and fan border makes me smile.

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I am looking forward to wearing this often. (It sort of matches the sweater too!)

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I think I’ve gotten the Orange out of my system for now! Better go find some grey yarn.

One of the best mementos of another fun filled weekend at Shepherd’s Hey Farm is this photo.

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Doesn’t it look like Lucy is belting out a tune and the poodles in the back are doo-wopping in the background? This photo has been making me laugh all day and I’m sure it will make me chuckle every time I see it, imagining how I would caption it.

I was not the one who was trying to make a photograph happen here, so I got to observe one of the funniest photos develop.

We were approaching the house, where we had left all dogs except Finn (who got to push some sheep and was very proud, but his adventures and another installment of Lucy’s Excellent Adventure coming soon to a blog near you).

As the dogs were milling in the garden, my friend Lee tried to take a photo of the dogs behind the beautiful purple salvia.

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Of course, her dogs, Bridey and Fargo heard her. Right away. And knew what to do. (Look at their approaching Human with a camera pointed at them).

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Jack, the other poodle, eventually realized what was going on and joined in.

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Eventually, Lee got the shot. That’s Bridey, with her sons Jack and Fargo. The poodles are looking good!!!

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Note where Lucy is in all these photos. It’s like “Where’s Waldo”. Do you see her? Ruining every frame? I have a feeling some body part of her’s has been cropped away from the above photo.

Looking through the photos (judging from where the poodles are, it happened not long after the above shot) later that day — we found it. THE shot — well, for me, anyway. So funny, and the advantage of having a digital camera (in this case attached to an iPhone) on you all the time.

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The dog trainer in all of you will note how Bridey and Fargo held their positions throughout this photo shoot. And one little very busy border collie, who really finds it difficult to stay still,  jumped in for one second and stole the day.

Funny Lucy!

I used to not be the biggest fan of knitting swatches.

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It seemed like an extraneous step. Since the items that truly need a good gauge match is a sweater, I had always started sweaters with the sleeve, using it to make sure that my stitch and row counts would not produce a garment that was too big or too small.

I was also convinced that a gauge swatch “lied”. The tension on my knitting, while it does not vary wildly, do change due to mood, what’s on TV, weather, anything. From that viewpoint, a swatch was not very useful. While there were many who sang the praises of a large (8″x 8″) piece of a test fabric in order to overcome the variability in your knitting due to environmental factors, I was not convinced.

I still think all of these things.

And I think much of what I disliked about swatches was rooted in the “you must” part of the “You must knit a swatch” part of the sentence.

I started changing my mind a few years ago about knitting swatches. I’m not sure what the actual turning point was. I think I was trying to decide between two different yarns for a project, and they varied wildly in fiber content both from each other and from the suggested yarn in the pattern. This was the first time I knit a swatch to get a feel for what the knitted fabric would be like, rather than a test to see whether I needed to alter a pattern.

I think that thinking about knitting a swatch as part of the creative process was really helpful. It wasn’t a waste of time, but a part of the project itself. Somehow, this changed the status of a swatch as a “must do” to a “want to do”.

And then, while bopping around on the Internet, I saw this photo. (It’s Jared Flood, of course.) THAT’s a SWATCH???? It is beautiful, isn’t it? Of course, the cynic in me says that the piece was knit for a photo, but I think not. If you do a search for “swatch” on that blog, you will see many many examples of these “swatches”. They are each beautiful — knitted beautifully, blocked perfectly, and clearly used to look at the textures, the fabric, the color — and very much part of the design process.

And then, of course, there’s The Swatch Queen of the World, and what she thinks about these knitted pieces of fabric. Clara Parkes tests yarns for all of us, knitting swatch after swatch, “wearing” these swatches, and road testing yarn after yarn.

If that wasn’t enough, I started spinning. I cannot tell what a yarn is like in the skein. I have to knit it at different gauges, block it, hang out with it, before I know exactly how the yarn is going to act in a garment. It appears I am well on my way to joining the swatch brigade.

So, here I am, and as I am hosting a bit of a Knit-Along with a couple of my friends, to impart some swatching “tricks” that I have picked up along the way.

1. Knit a swatch that’s big enough but not too big. For me, this is a fabric that is somewhere in the vicinity of 4″x 4″ or slightly bigger. i like to make it big enough so that if I feel up to it, I can sew up a few edges and make a little pouch out of it. It’s nice for gifts or housing reading glasses. 4″x4″ also makes a pretty nice sized coaster.

2. Border the swatch in garter stitch (from Jared Flood’s photos). It will keep the fabric from rolling, and it makes me feel good that the swatch looks less like a swatch and more like a little object on its own.

3. Either make purl bumps or pair yarn-overs and k2tog for as many stitches as the size of your needle. (from Elizabeth Zimmerman) This way, we don’t forget what size needles we used on the swatch.

4. Block the swatch. There are some yarns (cormo, Brooklyntweed yarns, super wash merino) that drastically change on the introduction of some water and drying time. It really is well worth it to block your swatch (soak it, squeeze it dry, pin it to dry)  to see what the fabric will end up looking like. There are people who recommend that you weight the swatch to see whether the fabric will have memory in a garment…I’ve not done this, mostly because I have already learned the lesson about knitting a sweater out of 100% alpaca (as in, don’t do it unless you mean to have a dress).

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5. Measure the gauge by counting whole stitches on your swatch, measuring it, and doing math to get to the right unit of measurement to compare your gauge to the stated gauge of the pattern (from Amy Herzog). What was that? Amy has you outlining a piece of your swatch (the area you are counting) with a contrasting piece of yarn, which I have found very useful. Then, all you have to do is measure the dimensions of the area, translate it to what the # of stitches or row/4″ would be.

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So, in the above swatch, I’ve marked off an area that is 21 stitches wide and 27 rows in height. The width of the rectangle marked in yellow is 9.8 cm and the height is 7.5 cm (equivalent to 3.86 inches and 2.95 inches, respectively). This gauge would be equivalent to 21.7 stitches (21/3.86 x 4) and 36.6 rows in a 4″ square.

The stated gauge for the garment that I want to knit is 24 stitches x 37 rows. At 22 stitches and 37 rows to the same size, I have a few decisions to make. Do I like the fabric of the swatch? To me, I would not mind the fabric being a bit denser. If I liked the fabric, then I would adjust the pattern to fit the fabric (by knitting a different size, or adjusting the pattern to exact measurements, taking into consideration that I have a border of a lace pattern that needs to fit within a certain multiples of stitches.).

Will I knit another swatch? Probably not. I will start the garment with the sleeves though, so if I’m still more than a stitch off gauge, it won’t be too painful to rip out.

Happy knitting!