Jul 032014
Starting point: rabbit sans clothes.

Starting point: rabbit sans clothes.

One of my favorite accomplishments in June was finishing up the knitted ballerina rabbit I started around Easter. After finishing the bunny, its sweater and ballet slippers, there was just one important piece missing . . . the tutu!

Ballet sweater, check. Ballet slippers, check.  Just missing one important element.

Ballet sweater, check. Ballet slippers, check. Just missing one important element.

And to my great luck, our local public library came to my assistance!


The library read my mind!

The workshop was led by one of the librarians who declares herself “obsessed” with making tutus. She makes them primarily for her collection of antique dolls and toys. The directions are so simple and require no sewing. I finished my tutu in about an hour.

The leader gave us a great design tip.  On smaller projects (like the dolls), using one color is often preferable.   When you get too many colors going in a small space, the visual impact can be overwhelming.  On the larger tutus designed for humans, multiple colors of tulle provided an interesting twist.  I started off trying to add in light and dark pink in my tutu but found that her initial recommendation was right on.  I switched to a basic pink.

The best part of the workshop, however, was the great company. The women were of varying backgrounds, including a fellow homeschooling mom and her daughter and moms of all stripes. We were all there to treat ourselves to a few rare hours of adult conversation and learning. None of us had met before but we were all soon chatting like old friends. There is something about group crafting that spurs conversation.

The leader told us about her son who just graduated from the University of Virginia “. . . and he has a job!” she proudly announced. We all congratulated her on her success and she told us that seeing her son graduate college was one of her proudest moments as a parent. It was fun and inspiring to hear about someone else’s successful parenting adventures.

When my rabbit was finished, the leader insisted that all good toys need names. She asked what my rabbit’s name was. I said I didn’t have one just yet. The inspiration for that was to come.

My ballerina left the workshop with an ultra-long dramatic tutu.

My ballerina left the workshop with an ultra-long dramatic tutu.

I left the workshop with my finished tutu as well as some extra scraps of tulle to teach my daughters some tutu skills. They were excited to make tutu hair elastics to wear around their buns for ballet class (or to use as tutus for their dolls as they saw fit).

My girls insisted the dramatic tutu needed to be cut down.  So, I started trimming.  Here was the first cut.

My girls insisted the dramatic tutu needed to be cut down. So, I started trimming. Here was the first cut.

There are two categories of television programs that seem to define my summers: mystery on PBS and ballet programs. In the latter category, PBS American Masters aired a profile recently of dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq. She is famous for many things, including, 1) inspiring two of the greatest choreographers of the twentieth century: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins 2) single-handedly changing the aesthetic ideal of a ballet dancer to someone who is more model-like, thin with long arms and legs; and 3) being cut down at the pinnacle of her success by polio.

Her story is both tragic and inspiring. I was moved by it and felt that my ballet rabbit would be a great tribute to this great dancer. Hence, my rabbit’s name: Tanaquil.

Introducing: Tanaquil!

Introducing: Tanaquil!

When you have a lot going on in your life, it is nice to have at least one small thing you can celebrate as “complete.” It helps to remind you that there is an end to every project and makes life seem just a little more manageable. I now have a ballerina bunny to remind me.

Apr 302014
My Easter isn't complete without a little knitting.  Here: a rabbit from Debbie Bliss' Toy Knits.

My Easter isn’t complete without a little knitting. Here: a rabbit from Debbie Bliss’ Toy Knits made from a remnant of beige yarn.

Making Easter outfits for my children has been one of my traditions in the last few years.

This year, my Easter outfits were inspired by a treasure trove of yarn samples. I ordered some wonderful hand-dyed yarn from Cheryl Potter this past fall during a terrific sale she was holding and was surprised to find that I was one of the lucky recipients of a free goodie bag for the first 200 orders.

Woohoo!  This was quite the goodie bag!

Woohoo! This was quite the goodie bag!

The exploded bag, full of wonderful yarns, buttons, patterns, stitch holders and crochet hooks and even a free sweater in my size!  I was blown away.  Cheryl Potter has set a new standard for goodie bags.

The exploded bag, full of wonderful yarns, buttons, patterns, stitch holders and crochet hooks and even a free sweater in my size! I was blown away. Cheryl Potter has set a new standard for goodie bags.

The free sweater!  A perfect fit!

The free sweater! A perfect fit!

So, I had all of this really cool yarn. Most of it was much nicer than the stuff I usually knit with. But the only problem was that I had just a random ball here and there to work with. Most knitting patterns need at least 4-5 balls of yarn in the same color. What to do?

Well, I decided that this yarn was just too awesome not to knit with so I decided for the girls that I would make a sort of tunic with knitted accents. Wherever the knitting ran out, I would sew the rest with scraps from my fabric stash.


My girls are infatuated with scooter skirts (skirts with shorts attached) lately. They love to wear them alone or with leggings underneath. They add a fun, feminine touch to just about any outfit.

I considered making my own scooter skirts for the Easter outfits but then I saw these for $5 and decided to take the easy route and just buy this part of the outfit. I wanted pink for both but had to settle for one bright peach and one pink in the sizes that were available.

Nothing better than a scooter skirt on sale!

Nothing better than a scooter skirt on sale!

Floral and Lace

The first yarn to inspire me was the purple cotton yarn. It screamed Easter. I looked around for a pattern to work with and I found a free pattern on the Rowan Yarns website from Zoe Mellor that was just perfect.

Of course, I didn’t have enough to make the entire sweater but all I really wanted was the flower motif in the center.

The knitted flower detail.

The knitted flower detail.

For the finished tunic, I created an apron-style tunic, added some lace accents and a tulle hem (inspired by the H&M catalog).  I loved how feminine it came out.

For the finished tunic, I created an apron-style tunic, added some lace accents and a tulle hem (inspired by the H&M catalog). I loved how feminine it came out.

The finished look.

The finished look.

The back full of gathered lace and tied at the neck.

The back full of gathered lace and tied at the neck.


Working with the peach color was a bit trickier than I was expecting. I decided on the yellow cotton yarn to pair with it and was pleased to discover that the yarn had flecks of orange, purple and green in it that worked quite well with the peach.

Generally I don’t do much patterning with variegated color yarns because it doesn’t show up very well. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with this yarn until I came across this pattern.

I loved the ruffle detail and thought I had just enough yarn to make the ruffle top. I had to alter the pattern slightly for my purposes. I changed how much it ruffled and added rows of crochet on the backside to keep the yarn edges from curling the wrong way. I also made the straps cross for more stability.

The finished ruffle dress with white body, gold sequin hem and gold satin accent.

The finished ruffle dress with white body, gold sequin hem and gold satin accent.

This outfit came out a little quirky/Coachella style unintentionally but I just decided to go with it. When paired with bohemian braids, it just seemed to work.



The tied-back braids pulled this look together.

The tied-back braids pulled this look together.



The Vest

I was ready to call it all done at this point when it suddenly dawned on me that I have another child to think about . . . my son!

I am so used to making frilly creations for my daughters that I wasn’t sure where to even start for my son. I only had two choices from the yarn stash that weren’t pink: gray with green flecks and beige. I also didn’t think it would work to make him a combination knitted and sewn outfit like the girls.

It took a lot of creative thinking but eventually I stumbled across this pattern

I matched up the gray and green yarn with a few other balls of remnant yarn from my grandmother’s collection: a green cotton, navy wool and another ball of similarly shaded gray yarn. I had to alter the pattern to fit my random yarns and to resize it for a toddler. Knitting like this requires a leap of faith. I didn’t know exactly how far I was going to get with the yarn I had and had to make several impropmtu adjustments to the pattern as I went. Amazingly, it all seemed to work!

The bottom ribbing and the extent of the gray-green yarn.

The bottom ribbing and the extent of the gray-green yarn.

The coordinating gray yarn I found from my grandmother's collection.  It wasn't an exact match but in most lights it was close enough.  I though the effect was kind of like the way the stone on the Washington Monument doesn't match exactly but it coordinates.

The coordinating gray yarn I found from my grandmother’s collection. It wasn’t an exact match but in most lights it was close enough. I though the effect was kind of like the way the stone on the Washington Monument doesn’t match exactly but it coordinates.

The finished vest.

The finished vest.

Ideally, I would have made the vest a few inches longer but I just didn’t have enough yarn.

The finished vest on my son.

The finished vest on my son.

My husband I thought that the vest was perfectly cute on my son. It took some convincing to get my son to put the vest on for pictures but after he had it on for a while he stopped tugging at it to get it off. Next year with a little more planning I hope to make him another that fits better.

So, now we were all dressed up with noplace to go . . . except we did have someplace to go . . . and I’ll tell you about it in the next post!

Sep 052013


It’s back to school week and this week we are adjusting to the new demands of our homeschool schedule. This month I will be devoting to educational topics as there are certainly a lot of organizing challenges that go along with school. But first, I wanted to briefly recap summer’s blog posts.

As with last summer, my children and I were busy traveling and participating in various camps and educational opportunities. Last summer, I had a great time with all these activities but simply found it too overwhelming to blog about any of it. This year, while I wasn’t able to keep to any predefined schedule, I did manage to blog about the interesting things we have seen. I am glad to have this as a record for our family and glad that many of you have commented that you were interested to hear about these adventures as well! I also learned on Twitter yesterday that Virginia set tourism records in 2012. It will be interesting to see if this holds for 2013 as well.

This summer was packed with various birthday and other celebrations for our family. While most of these events did not hit the blog, I shared with you the simple Father’s Day cards we sent this year. Having some simple, non-stressful homemade crafts up your sleeve is one of the best skills to develop as a mom and these cards definitely fall in that category. From the many amazing aunts and grandparents I have and have been fortunate to have, I have learned that taking time to remember all these small events–even when you are tremendously busy yourself– means so much more to the recipient than you will ever know. So, if you are one of those people who faithfully sends Facebook birthday greetings or emails or even snail-mailed cards during the holidays, and you aren’t sure if it is worth the bother, allow me on behalf of the universe to say that it has made a world of difference to someone to be remembered so kindly and thank you for your efforts!

I posted about our family room flooring project, replacing carpeting with stained-to-match hardwood flooring. Over the summer, as we did some entertaining in our home, we received several positive comments on how this project turned out. We are still allowing the floor to cure at the moment but are making grand plans for moving back in around Christmastime.

I gave a report of my first time ever visit to the homeschool convention sponsored by HEAV. I continue to benefit from so much of the advice and information I received there. I would highly recommend that any homeschooler ensure they are attending a conference like this once a year.

I also gave a report of my visit to the National Gallery of Art exhibit on Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. While you may or may not see a connection between the arts and organizing, I find the arts a tremendous source of inspiration. I also hope that my small efforts in blogging may encourage more people to incorporate more art into their own lives. In a prior post, I wrote about our visit to The Washington Ballet’s spring performance at TheARC.


This post was favorite-d and retweeted by The Washington Ballet on Twitter and I also was enormously thrilled to receive this comment on the post by one of the young male dancers in the show.

Yesss thanks for the compliment on my Technique nd how i was a standout

I reviewed the fantastic book and pattern book companion for The Broken Circle: Yarns of the Knitting Witches by knitter and author Cheryl Potter. Ms. Potter left a kind comment for me:

Thank you for taking the time to read my book and write a review. I love hearing what readers think of The Broken Circle and the patterns that go with.

It is one of the great rewards of a blogger to receive a comment like this. Authors and prospective authors, please take note that you can earn yourself tremendous goodwill by trying to comment, Tweet, etc. with appreciation for each positive review. I continue to be enamored of the Skye’s Traveling Cloak pattern from her book. Over the Labor Day weekend, Ms. Potter had a terrific yarn sale going on in her Potluck Yarn Shop and I picked up some amazing hand-dyed yarn from her Potluck Yarn collection to make it with.

In other comment news, it was fun to get a comment thread going on my old post about topiaries. A reader commented with a question about how to read Mike and Marliss Stribbling. Mike Stribbling himself commented:

We do not have a website but if you need info on Topiary drop us a line and we will give you all the help you need within 24 hours

Behind the scenes, I connected the reader with Mike’s email address. If spam weren’t such an enormous problem, I would post it here for everyone. Mike sent me a nice note that he enjoyed my post as well. It’s always fun to see how people connect with words that you have written.

So, while we still have 16 days until summer officially ends, we, like most families, are transitioning into a fall mode at the moment. This month will give you a little peek into how school works in our house as well as share some clever education ideas from others and discuss how our routines in general are changing with the seasons. Hope you enjoy!

Jun 302013


I receive quite a few pitches to review books, but when I received a pitch from Hunter Hackett with a book about knitting witches, I was intrigued. Knitting was my salvation during my diet and exercise experiments this spring. So being a sort of knitting “witch” myself, how could I refuse?

The Broken Circle: Yarns of the Knitting Witches is the first in a trilogy of books by author and fiber artist Cheryl Potter. Ms. Potter founded Cherry Tree Hill Yarns, selling unique knitwear designs and custom hand-painted yarns.

Anyone who makes things with their hands believes that their work imparts a sort of “magic” into the finished product. When you touch something handmade you can feel a bit of that magic—the love and care that went into it and the creativity and uniqueness of the maker. Handmade things make us feel special and indeed perhaps a little magical. Ms. Potter’s book takes that concept and expands it one step further…what if those handmade garments really were magical?

Ms. Potter has created an entire world, worthy of Tolkien comparison. There is a detailed map and geography to her setting and a deep historical backstory. There are 12 unique knitting witches, as well as many other characters as well. I am not always the best at keeping track of such details in novels and was a bit intimidated to begin this tale. However, once I got started, it was truly hard to put the book down and 361 pages seemed to fly by.

The basic plot of the story can be described in this quote from the book:


Ms. Potter has skillfully avoided the two dangers of writing a novel about witches. The magic practiced in the book is not dark or Satanic nor do the witches say corny spells. The witches are sort of like skilled chemists or professors, which makes them fascinating and complex.

As the story progresses, at the end of each chapter are patterns that you can make to bring the world of the knitting witches into real life. The patterns can be purchased in a separate companion pattern book or individually through her website.

Skye’s Traveling Cloak is currently very high on my to-knit list. After you read the book, however, you feel that such garments cannot be made of anything except hand-dyed (and maybe even hand-spun) yarns. So, I have to wait until I have a worthy yarn in hand. Perhaps a find from the Virginia Fall Fiber Festival this fall? I will never think of fiber festivals the same after reading Ms. Potter’s description of the Middlemarch World’s Fair.

If you are thrilled by this display of yarn from Black Twig Farm, you may be the target audience for Cheryl Potter's latest book.

If you are thrilled by this display of yarn from Black Twig Farm, you may be the target audience for Cheryl Potter’s latest book.

The book itself is a work of art. The pages have a thickness and weight to them that made me remember why I love reading real paper books instead of e-books. Each chapter has gorgeous calligraphy at the top with a subtle detail hidden in it, like a raven or a small cauldron. The illustrations by artist Frank Riccio are superb. Clearly someone loved doing the layout.

Believe it or not, this book does have several things to teach us about organizational strategy. First, from a business perspective, Ms. Potter’s concept of combining prose with knitting patterns and yarns was so incredibly smart but apparently not everyone was so thrilled with it. From her Acknowledgements:

“I began writing this first book of the Potluck Yarn Trilogy five years ago and abandoned it in discouragement a few years later, convinced that my desire to combine a fantasy novel about knitting witches with a pattern book that featured magical garments, was foolish. . . . [E]veryone I consulted told me my idea would not work. Then I gave up on the book completely. . . . Then I met the Visionaries. Without Cat Bordhi and the Visionary Authors Group, this book would never have been published.”

Secondly, on a more personal level, the book has quite a lot to say about the value of tangible things and the relationship between us and our “stuff.” One of my favorite quotes/concepts from the book is this one:


Do you own things “unchallenged?” Is there someone else who owns them or could make better use of them than you? What a good question to ask ourselves when we are evaluating whether keeping something around that enhances our lives?

Also, anyone who has a hobby or collection of any kind can relate to this description:


You don’t have to be a knitter to enjoy this book, but it certainly helps. There are many knitting-related references in the book. The book also skews toward a female audience. The witches are strong women, who may not be perfect, but have the confidence, sense of humor and wisdom gained with age. Some are a bit salty. Some will remind you of a mother or aunt in your life. They are all quite lovable.


Interwoven with the witches are stories of young adventurers, both girls and boys. The reading level for this book would probably suggest a minimum age of around 10-12. Some of the vocabulary had me checking the dictionary. Some of the words sound made-up but are real English, like mayhap and fossicker. Children who love Harry Potter will find this a worthy successor. There is even a reading guide you can download for free from her site for students and teachers (or homeschoolers!) to use.

Overall, this was just a delightful find. It was the perfect read during our stormy June weather. I am honored to have been chosen to review this book and await publication of Book Two.

*Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Broken Circle and companion knitting book.

Font used in quotes: PentaGram’s Callygraphy

Apr 282011

The world awaits the wedding of the century (and to be sure an amazing feat of organization!) tomorrow, between Prince William and Kate Middleton. We are all getting quite an education on the royal family in the news of late, furthering our fascination with these people who seem half-real, half imagined.  Below are some of my favorite news articles on the royal wedding:

Of course, the knitting article pulled at my heart.   Vogue Knitting also posted a link on their Facebook page to a similar free William & Kate knitted pattern from Galt Toys.

I decided my little girls needed a prince and princess of their own and set to work.  The only changes I made to the pattern were to cut it down to half-size so that the dolls were more pocket-sized.

Making the toys more special to us was the fact that I made them out of odds and ends of yarn inherited from my Yiayia.  My Yiayia was an incredible knitter herself and the one who taught me how.  I knew she would love that her scraps were used to make a princess for her own little princesses.

I made Kate first.

I went for a romantic Kate with hair down and flowing with flowers in her hair and a long lace train.  You may recognize the lace fragment as leftover from our Halloween costumes last year.

This was my oldest daughter’s first intelligent exposure to a wedding (although she served adorably as a flower girl at 2).  She wanted to know why Kate’s train was so long and found it very magical.

“Can she fly?”

I knew my little girls would love the Kate doll. My oldest is at the age where she makes clear distinctions between boy things and girl things with boy things being clearly less desirable.

“Would you like me to make Prince William too?”

I was expecting a “no.”  In an encouraging sign to the young princes of the world, she consented.  As I was working on Prince William, I at one point referred to him as a doll, not realizing that he too was magical in my daughter’s eyes.

“He’s not a doll!  He’s a prince!”

My William came out a little more like a postman than a military officer but the general idea is right.  The faces on these knitted folk are tough to execute.  Clearly, I need a little more practice but we are having fun with them.

We have had many interesting play sessions about the wedding.

So far, this is my daughter’s current understanding of marriage:

“When you get married, you wear a pretty dress and a big hat in your hair.  Then people sit and clap for you.”

Congratulations to the new couple! May all my readers find their Princess/Prince Charming and live happily ever after!

Will you be up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) to watch the big event tomorrow?

Apr 222011

It was a personal challenge to use up every last inch of the cotton yarn.  The Easter dresses and tunic ate up most of it but there was still a bit left.  It’s always tough to know what to do with little bits of yarn.  I get a bit nervous that I will start something and not have enough to finish.

In anticipation of our pending arrival, I decided to make a unisex striped baby hat.

I was sort of following a pattern but I made a huge error in the gauge along with so many others that I won’t embarrass the real designer with a credit.  The resulting hat is not really at all like what the pattern said it should be but I was too jaded to unpick it and start over.  I just finished up the best I could and ended up sewing it inside out because it looked better than the front pattern.  I guess this is the danger of forcing yourself to use something that you are not really inspired to use.

There was still a smidge of red and white yarn left at this point, so I made two more little flowers.

And that was that!  There was literally nothing left.  It was a relief to be done working with the cotton yarn.  I now have some fun summer clothes instead of some stale yarn sitting in my cabinet. I also gained a better sense of how much yarn I need for a given project.  I still have TONS of yarn to work through in my stash, including a particularly large cone of pink chenille.

I will need a lot of inspiration to get through this one!

Happy Earth Day!  May you find new ways to use and transform your own clutter into treasures!

Apr 222011

I used up quite a bit of my cotton yarn on the girls’ Easter dresses but still had plenty left! I decided to make something for myself. As I went looking for ideas, I came across this incredible Latvian vest designed by Kieran Foley for knitty.com.  I loved the colors and patterns. Also, since the overall effect was kind of a patchwork, it would be great for using up leftover yarn since I wasn’t exactly sure how far each color would go.  I needed to modify the look, however, to be more feminine.  Also, I wanted it to be appropriate for summer and warmer weather.  You don’t typically see these types of patterns on warm weather clothes but I was feeling adventurous.

I found the Sahara racerback tank pattern by Teresa Chorpeza for Tahki Stacy Charles that I used to guide the basic shaping for the top.  I changed the front to be a button front and added significantly to the length.  I then charted out Kieran Foley’s Latvian patterns to fit.  It was a bit of a challenge but fun to experiment as a designer!

The long part of the tunic was knit in the round and as I ran out of one color, I just tied on the next and kept going.

I was hoping to have enough yarn to make a dress but I needed about 6 inches to a foot more in length that I didn’t have.  So, the dress became a tunic that will look great with jeans. I am a bit of an odd-shaped model at the moment (a temporary condition to resolve in a few months!) but I like how the final result came out!

After all this knitting, I still had yarn left! Hmm….what do do? Click to see the final projects!

Apr 222011

Two years ago, I started the tradition of making Easter dresses for my girls.  At that time, I had a bunch of leftover white satin.  I invented a pattern on the fly and my tiny girls looked like little angels.  The dresses came out so well, helped me get rid of excess fabric that would otherwise be thrown out or donated, cost nothing and exercised my creativity that I decided to try again the next year.  I didn’t have any traditional Easter fabrics last year so one daughter was in a Victorian-style dress made from leftover yellow satin lining with white puffy sleeves from scraps of white linen and the other daughter in a dolman-sleeve khaki knit dress with a red fabric rose.  Again, they were unique dresses and I had a lot of fun making them while continuing to get rid of excess fabric.  (My husband calls this uncluttering very, very, very slowly.)

Since today is Earth Day where we all focus on the tenets of reduce, reuse, recycle, I wanted to share the results of this year’s dresses.

This year, my oldest daughter made a request.  “Mom, I want you to knit me something.”  she said.  I had not done very much knitting recently but this request reignited my interest.  In keeping with my Easter decluttering tradition, however, I decided to use yarns that I already had on hand.  I settled on some large cones of cotton yarn that have been sitting around for years!  I had four colors: red, blue, yellow and white.  Since I had to make two dresses, I needed a pattern that would work up quickly.  I found a great free pattern on the Lion Brand Yarn website for a simple knit sundress with pockets.  The pockets sold my daughter.

The pattern worked up very quickly and was really simple.  I made one dress red with yellow accents and the other blue with white accents.  After all the knitting was done, however, I discovered with horror that the dress would not fit over my daughter’s head!  it was too tight.  So, I made a little adjustment to one of the side straps to make it into a button tab.  Voila!  Problem solved.

For the second dress, I altered the neck shaping to start earlier so that I didn’t run into this problem and didn’t need the tab shoulder.

At this point, the dresses were done and were really cute, but they needed a little something to make them look more like Easter dresses.  Easter dresses generally have pinks and pastels.  My primary colors were a bit bold.  So, I did some thinking and again took a clue from my daughters who were thrilled with all the spring flowers coming up in the yard.  Knitted flowers!

There are a million patterns out there for yarn flowers.  A few are knitted, like the red rose above that came from Nicki Epstein’s wonderful book, Knitting Over the Edge.  But the really extraordinary (and quite frankly a little silly) flowers are crocheted.   The blue pansy above, the white “bluebell” below and daffodils came from Flower Garden Afghans by Carol Alexander.  Knitting purists may shudder at the combination of knit and crochet in these dresses but my girls LOVE the results.

Since the flowers are a bit over the top, I put all the flowers on safety pins so they can be removed if we want a plainer look or for washing.

It was a bit hard for my oldest daughter to wait for her dress to be done and she became impatient wanting to know why I wasn’t finished yet.  But she was a very willing model.

My other model was unavailable due to naptime so we present her dress below.

It was a ton of fun making the dresses and the look on my girl’s faces was worth all the effort!  At this point, I still had quite a bit of yarn left.

What to do with all the excess?  Read on for phase two!