Friday, January 31, 2014

Northern Shadows Cowl ~ Free Pattern & Stitch Tutorial

Last year, for my birthday, my sister gave me a bagful of lovely yarns. Among them was a skein of Colinette Art - a beautifully soft wool-bamboo blend, with muted sparks of blue and rose and lilac shining out from a wintry grey-green base. Like northern lights, only softer ... hence the name Northern Shadows.

Such a beautiful yarn calls for a simple stitch pattern that will highlight it, not compete with it:

I call this stitch pattern Floating Single Crochet Clusters. Inspired by the technique used for Solomon's Knots, each Floating SC Cluster consists of two stitches: a base sc, and a second ("floating") sc worked into the left vertical strand of the base sc.

Stitched in the round, using a large hook and gentle tension, Floating SC Clusters yield an eyeleted, waffle-weave-look fabric with lovely diagonal lines. Simple back-loop-only slip stitch rounds at either edge complement the diagonal texture and give a neat finish.

Floating SC Clusters can also be worked flat, in back and forth rows, for a different look:

I think the spiral rounds look nicer. :)


The Northern Shadows cowl is a very quick make - I finished mine in just 2-3 hours.

Size: 7" x 22"  (easily customised - see Notes below)

Yarn Requirements: approximately 125 yards worsted weight yarn
(Pattern will also work with any weight yarn and an appropriate size hook)

Gauge: 7 clusters and 11 rows = 4" in pattern stitch

Yarn I Used: Colinette Art, colour Monet

How Did the Yarn Behave? Wonderfully. Colinette Art is a soft and smooth Z-twist yarn that glides easily over the hook. It stands up well to repeated frogging (very handy for those of us who can never make up our minds just how big we want our cowls to be). The finished fabric is light, warm, and very comfortable.

Hook Size: US K/6.5 mm, or hook that gives desired fabric characteristics. Choose a larger hook than recommended on yarn label.

Notions: Darning needle; stitch marker (optional)

All crochet terminology is American.

Abbreviations/Special Terms Used:

Sc - single crochet
Base sc
Floating sc
Floating Sc Cluster
Yo - yarn over

  • Cowl size can be easily adjusted by increasing or decreasing the starting chain.
  • Keep your tension gentle for best results.
  • Each Cluster is made up of 2 stitches: a base sc and a floating sc.
  • Base scs will have looser tension than floating scs (this is as it should be).
  • When working in a continuous spiral, new clusters are always worked in a base sc from the previous round. (Floating scs are always skipped.)
  • Video tutorial and phototutorial on Floating Sc Clusters can be found below.

Northern Shadows Cowl Pattern in (mostly) Plain English

Leaving a 6" tail, loosely chain 76 (or any even number).
Starting Edging:
Row 1: Turn; starting in 2nd chain from hook, slip stitch 75 in back loops only. Do not turn.
Round 2: Bring ends together, being careful not to twist chain; slip stitch 75 in back loops only to form a ring. Place marker if desired to mark first stitch. Cowl will be worked in the round from here on.
Round 3: Continuing in spiral round, slip stitch 75 in back loops only; slip stitch in both top strands of next stitch; chain 1, turn. (Reverse side of edging will show on the right side of cowl.)
Round 4 (RS): Start pattern stitch. Insert hook in next stitch, draw up a loop, grasp working yarn near base of loops, yo and draw through both loops while still holding strand (base sc made); insert hook between yarn strand and rest of sc, draw up a loop, let go of strand, yo and draw through both loops on hook (floating sc made); first Floating Sc Cluster made. *Skip 1 stitch, make Floating SC Cluster in next stitch. Rep from * around = 38 clusters. Do not turn.
Rounds 5-19: Starting in first base sc from previous round, make Floating Sc Cluster. *Skip 1 stitch, make Floating Sc Cluster in next stitch. Rep from * around, working in continuous spiral rounds, to equal 16 pattern rounds (or to desired height of cowl). On final pattern round, replace final Cluster with plain sc; sk 1, sl st in next base sc, ch 1, turn.
Ending Edging:
Rounds 1-4 (WS): Slip stitch 75 in back loop only. Do not turn. Work 3 more continuous rounds of back loop only slip stitch; cut yarn and invisible join to next stitch.

With starting yarn tail, close the small gap in the starting edge. Weave in yarn ends. Block if desired.

Video Tutorial for Floating Single Crochet Clusters

Photo Tips for Cowl and Floating Sc Clusters

For the starting edge, chain 76, or any even number (the last chain is the turning chain):

Turn, and slip stitch in the back loop only to other end of chain. This will give you an odd number of stitches.

Bring ends together, without twisting work, and continue to slip stitch in the back loop only for 2 more rounds.

Slip stitch in both strands of next stitch.

Now you're ready to start the pattern stitch.

Chain 1, TURN. Insert hook in the next stitch, and follow the photos to make your Floating Sc Clusters:

That's it! You've made a Floating Single Crochet cluster. Pretty simple, isn't it?

Remember to keep a very gentle tension as you work this stitch pattern. It's okay if your base scs are a little loose - the stitches will even themselves up as you work.

Skip 1 stitch, and make another Floating Sc Cluster in the next stitch.

When you have worked all the way around, do not turn. Just keep making new Floating Sc Clusters on top of the old ones, working in spiral rounds. Don't forget to skip a stitch between clusters.

You can use a stitch marker if you like at the beginning of each round, or you can just follow the diagonal cluster lines to see where your rounds start and end.

Work in spiral rounds until your cowl is as tall as you like.

On the final round, replace the last Cluster with a plain single crochet.
Then skip 1, and slip stitch in the next base sc.
Chain 1, TURN.

For the ending edge, make 4 continuous rounds of back loop only slip stitch, working with the wrong side facing. (The wrong side of the slip stitch rounds will show on the right side of the cowl.) Remember to keep a gentle tension.

When you finish the final round of slip stitch, cut yarn and join with an invisible join (click for tutorial). That's it!

With the starting yarn tail, sew the little gap in the starting edge closed. Weave in both yarn tails and block if desired.

You can do whatever you like with the items you make from this pattern, but you may not sell the pattern or reproduce the text without permission. (Links to this post are welcome.) If you do make these cowls for sale, please credit the designer. :)

If you have any questions about this pattern, ask away in the comments box below, or contact me in Ravelry.

Thanks for viewing, and happy crocheting!

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014


All my life I have loved these ornaments:

I remember carefully hanging them on the Christmas trees of my childhood, admiring their sparkle and the bright happy colours. When I grew up and left my parents' house, I harboured secret hopes that one day they might be mine. Though tarnished and scratched from years of use, they were always beautiful in my eyes.

When my sister and I were in California earlier this month, packing up my dad's things, we each chose a few keepsakes from among the possessions he no longer wanted - and the little box of glass ornaments fell to my share.

I carried them home from California in my backpack, tenderly tucked between skeins of yarn for protection from travelling bumps. When I got back to Wisconsin, I pulled them out to show Mr. M. We exclaimed at the price ($1.89!), and wondered how old they might be. Then I turned the box over, and saw that my dad had written something on one end - something I'd never noticed before now:

Is it silly that I cried when I saw this? Perhaps. But now these little glass ornaments are more precious to me than ever. I will hang them on my own tree this coming December, and think of my parents celebrating their first joyful Christmas, just days before the birth of my oldest brother.

Thanks, Dad.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Walk on Huntington Beach Pier

Here in Wisconsin, snow has been falling steadily for hours. We're heading into another cold snap; wind chill warnings are in effect, and all the area schools are closed for the next two days.

It's hard to believe that just over a week ago, I was strolling along a California beach where girls in bikinis were playing volleyball. And since I skipped my Sunday walk today (opting instead to stay indoors for tea and knitting), I will share some photos of that warmer walk. :)

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My sister and I had spent a frenetic week sorting and packing my dad's belongings, engaging a moving company, and dealing with unexpected family problems. Things finally slowed down on Friday night. The moving van had come and gone; the family problem was, if not resolved, under some sort of control. We felt we had earned a break, so we headed off to Huntington Beach for some ocean breezes and a walk on the pier.

We were lucky enough to get there just in time for sunset. The air was beautifully clear, and Catalina Island could be seen floating like a jewel on the horizon:

Flags fluttered in the strong breeze...

...and as the sun sank lower, the oil rigs began to twinkle with light.

Silvery ripples kissed the sand...

...and surfers lingered, still hoping to catch that elusive wave.

Sea birds (probably brown pelicans) wheeled and dived, sometimes singly...

...sometimes in amazingly coordinated groups. I tried to get a good diving shot, but they were too fast to catch on camera.

This bird, however, was happy to pose for me:

We looked northwest, towards the Palos Verdes peninsula, and watched the lights come up like tiny stars on the shores of Long Beach:

Then turned westwards to watch the sun sink over Catalina:

All at once it was dusk, and the lights of Huntington beach were shining out behind us.

With spirits refreshed and lungs full of salt air, we headed back down the pier, passing a kite shop selling delightful spinners:

Then it was time to say goodbye to the ocean and head inland.

The next morning, we flew home.

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Now that my dad has moved to Wisconsin, who knows when we'll see the Pacific again? I'm glad that our last view of it was such a lovely one.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Word of the Week: Plenishing

Welcome back, after a much-longer-than-intended hiatus, to....

This week's word is Plenishing.

Plen·ish·ing (plenˈishˌing), noun*
Household furniture; stock.

Used in a sentence:

"My father's plenishings are on a moving van, somewhere between California and Wisconsin," said Mrs. M.

Most recently seen or heard in:

Anne of Avonlea, by L.M Montgomery:
"In a week's time Mrs. Rachel Lynde would move to Green Gables .... she had sold all her superfluous household plenishings by auction...."
Why I like this word:

It has a soft and generous sound, delightfully suggestive of cushiony sofas in firelit rooms, or long curtains gently billowing in a warm breeze. Based on the Latin root plenus, meaning "full", the word plenishing gives me a pleasing sense of comfort and plenty.

I see Plenishing as a softly-rounded lady, middle-aged, but still youthful at heart. She wears a ruffled apron stitched by herself, and trots busily between the kitchen and sitting room, carrying plates of freshly-baked cookies to a gate-legged table where sits a steaming teapot. Plenishing is a generous soul who pours cream with abandon and presses you to have another slice of cake. Her sitting room is light and airy, furnished with taste and simplicity, and adorned with embroidered cushions and crocheted throws (also stitched by herself). Wouldn't you like to have tea with her?


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*Plenishing is also the present participle of the verb "to plenish", itself a lovely word meaning "equip, fill up, or stock".

Have you plenished anything lately?

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Unexpected Journey, or, from the Prairies to the Mountains to the Ocean

No, I didn't take a trek to the Lonely Mountain with a wizard and a baker's dozen of dwarves in search of gold. But my sister and I did, at very short notice, fly out to the Golden State last week to pack up my dad's belongings and start them on the road to Wisconsin. (My 87-year-old dad, after a very bad fall last month, has made what his nurse practitioner calls "an amazing turnaround", and will shortly be moving to the Dairy State to be near us. Hooray for Dad and his determination to get better!)

We had such a busy week, there were very few photo ops. But I did take some on the flight out....

My sister casting on in the Madison airport as we wait for our first flight:

(Doesn't everyone travel with yarn?)

Meahwhile, I pulled out this gorgeous stuff (a birthday gift from last year)...

...and with my sister's help, wound it right there in the terminal. A family nearby began to laugh and comment on our yarny activities, and when the ball-winding was done, my sister struck up a knitting conversation with one of them - a gal in a gorgeous Stephen West scarf. We found that they had once lived in Southern California (small world!), and were taking their 90-year old dad to Colorado for some skiing. ("He's not allowed to ski alone any more," said the knitting daughter.)

Next stop, Denver, where we changed planes. As we waited on the tarmac for our second flight, Tallulah climbed out of my purse and gazed wistfully westward towards her birthplace:

Another plane takes off, with Denver and the mountains in the background:

Then it was our turn to head west over the Rockies - which were so clouded over we could only catch glimpses of the foothills on either side. On the western side of the range, the clouds began to break:

Then on over Utah, with its amazing rocks and rivers, buttes and bluffs, and many-coloured landscape:

I'm always amazed at the beauty and diversity of this great land in which we live.

After colourful Utah, Nevada seemed rather brown and featureless (at least the bit we flew over):

Then, before we knew it, the mountains of our childhood were in sight and the SoCal sprawl was beneath us (under a layer of smog):

We had safely arrived in Orange County, where palm trees line the airport entrance.

It was a beautiful day. After a visit with my dad in the rehab center, we headed over to his home.

His lemon tree was loaded with sunny-looking fruit:

A good start to what turned out to be a very stressful week. (Which, I am thankful to say, is now over.)


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