Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Three Pictures Ride

Last week the weather was casting a sentimental eye back at winter. "Oh, how I miss those sub-freezing nights and chilly grey days," it seemed to be saying. "Where are the cosy fleece jackets and the smoke rising from the chimneys? Where the sharp sleet and the flurries of snow? I'm not quite ready to let them go...."

The weather got its wish, but only for so long.


By Sunday things have warmed up beautifully, and I'm ready to hit the road. Between the recent inclement weather and a minor health problem, I haven't been on the bike for two weeks, and it feels as though spring is passing me by. This is my chance to catch up on events in the natural world.

Energy levels are low, so I promise myself an easy pace with no pressure to take photos. If I can get three good ones, I'll be happy.

The first thing to catch my eye is a white birch reaching pale arms to the sky, hoping to catch the moon in its branches:

Miles later, after a short swoop downhill, I pass a sandhill crane standing in a little stream. I turn around, hoping he won't panic and run (or stalk) away before I can snap his photo. He cranes his neck a bit (ha! bird pun!), keeping a wary eye on the strange creature pointing a little box at him, but stands still long enough for me to get several shots. This is the best of the bunch:

Soon after, it's time to turn around and head home. I pass an old barn and see a little calf standing on the sunward side, catching some spring rays:

The photo quest is fulfilled.


There are other interesting sights on the ride, food for thought (but not for photos):

A one-horse sulky pulls out of a farm driveway just as I pass. A man holds the reins, and next to him sits a little girl in a helmet. Does she have special needs, or just very careful parents? I wonder, and wave to them, and keep riding.

Four very handsome chickens cross the road ahead. Two black, two deep-russet colour, all beautifully healthy and as free-range as they come. Do their owners worry about them getting hit by passing cars? Or is that just a chance for a chicken dinner?

My shadow rides on in front of me, and I wonder why it always looks so much skinnier than I do. I wonder why the county doesn't keep this highway in better repair. I wonder why corners are always so gravelly, and why drivers can't keep their wheels on the road when they make the turns. (Don't they realise that cyclists have to ride through the mess they leave behind?)

I wonder when the wild plum will bloom, and whether the lilac crop will be good this year. I wonder if the calf by the barn is still standing in the sun, or whether it's gone to look for its mother. I wonder what has happened to the three horses that used to graze in a certain field. I wonder if I'll ever stop feeling nervous when a loud car passes me from behind. I wonder why the weather website said the wind was 6 mph and north, when it's obviously 10-15 and west-by-northwest. I wonder what the frogs are saying as they sing the marsh to sleep.

I wonder....

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What do you think about when you're outdoors? :)

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spinnaker Baby Hat - a Free Crochet Pattern

Are your crochet projects mostly girly ones? Mine are. But I never bothered to ask myself why, until Taci's Hats for Brazil came along. That's when I noticed: the sweet little lacy hats seemed to fly off my hook, but when it came to crocheting hats for boys, nothing looked quite right. Why should this be?

After thinking it over, I realised that to me, crochet just looks feminine. Even the individual stitches have a kind of willowy grace that suggests femininity.

So designing this little hat was in the nature of a challenge to myself. I wanted to see if I could come up with a boy-appropriate (but not boy-exclusive) crochet baby hat. And here it is:

Simplicity and texture were the keywords for this project. Spinnaker is made entirely of half-double crochets - what could be simpler than a one-stitch hat? But one-stitch doesn't have to mean one-dimensional. Spinnaker has plenty of interesting (and gender-neutral) texture, which comes from combining traditional hdcs with hdcs worked in the back horizontal bar.

A counter-clockwise swirl gives movement to the textured stripes and a satisfying symmetry to the crown.

Spinnaker features 2 band options: a striped band and a textured band. (Pattern for the textured band will be given in the next Spinnaker post.) The stripey band makes a great colour playground, and looks pretty darn cute with button embellishments:

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Some Technical Details

Spinnaker can be made in any size, from any yarn weight. But (for baby hats at least) I think it looks best in a sock or sport-weight yarn, especially the luscious Z-twist DesigningVashti Lotus yarn* used in the crown of Yellow Spinnaker.

Here are the stats for my sample hats:

Yellow Spinnaker, 14" x 5½ tall"
Gauge: About 5 sts and 5 rows per inch in back-bar hdc
Body: about 80 yards (1 Snack-size ball) of DesigningVashti Lotus (sport weight) colour Lala Yellow
Trim: about 18 yards each of DesigningVashti Lotus, colour White Blaze, and Elegant Yarns Angelic (sock weight), colour Sea Blue
Hook used: US G6/4mm, optional F5/3.75mm for final row of band

Blue Spinnaker, 14¾" x 6 tall"
Gauge: 5 sts and 5 rows per inch in back-bar hdc
Body: about 95 yards Elegant Yarns Angelic (sock weight), colour Sea Blue
Trim: About 20 yards each of DesigningVashti Lotus in White Blaze, and Cascade Yarns Heritage Sock, color Red
Hook used: US H8/5mm, optional G6/4mm for final row of band

*Yes, this is a Shameless Product Endorsement, but I'm not receiving any compensation for it. Last summer at the CGOA conference, Vashti kindly gave me two Snack-size balls of her lovely Lotus, a Z-twist yarn created especially for crocheters. Lotus is a cotton-rayon yarn that gives beautiful drape and amazing stitch definition to crocheted projects. I've been saving my Lotus samples, waiting for the perfect design to come along - and Spinnaker was that perfect project. Thanks, Vashti!

And now, on to the pattern.

Spinnaker Hat

All pattern terminology is American.

Stitch used: Half-double crochet (hdc)

Other techniques used: Working in the back horizontal bar, invisible join, optional mock invisible join.

Mrs. M's Special Spinnaker Abbreviations:
F = normal hdc
B = hdc in the back horizontal bar
(F,B) = work a normal hdc, then, inserting hook into back bar of same stitch, work another hdc (increase formed).

Pattern Notes:
  • Hat is worked Right Side facing at all times.
  • Crown is worked in a spiral; band is worked in joined rounds.
  • The swirl is formed naturally by the increase placement. To keep the "swirl" going all the way down the crown, be sure to omit the last increase on the final increase round.
  • Make sure you can recognize the back horizontal bar of the hdc.
  • To enlarge or shrink the pattern slightly, try going up or down a hook size, or using a heavier or finer yarn.
  • Use a stitch marker (a simple scrap of yarn works well) to mark the beginning of each round.
  • For an adult-sized hat, see the next post.

Spinnaker Chart
  • Chart shows 1 of the 8 segments that make up Spinnaker's crown.
  • To work increase, first make a normal hdc in the indicated stitch, then insert hook into back bar of same stitch and hdc in the back bar.
  • Don't forget to omit the final increase on the final segment of Round 9!

Spinnaker Pattern

Remember - "F" is a normal hdc, "B" is an hdc in the back horizontal bar, and "(F,B)" means you should work an F and a B into the same stitch.
Start with a magic ring, OR Knotless Chain 2.
Round 1: Working in ring, 8 hdc. Do not turn your work, but keep working in a spiral.
Round 2: (F,B) in each hdc around = 16 stitches.
Round 3: [B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 8 times around = 24 stitches.
Round 4: [F in next hdc, B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 8 times around = 32 stitches.
Round 5: [B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 8 times around =  40 stitches.
Round 6: [F in next hdc, B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 8 times around = 48 stitches.
Round 7: [B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 8 times around = 56 stitches.
Round 8: [B in each of next 2 hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 8 times around = 64 stitches.
Round 9: [B in each of next 3 hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, (F,B) in next hdc] 7 times around, THEN [B in next 3 hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, F in next hdc, B in next hdc, F in next hdc] = 71 stitches.
Rounds 10 and following: [B in next 4 hdc, F, B, F, B, F] around, working in a spiral.

Repeat Round 10 to desired length of crown, stopping about 1" short of total desired finished length. For striped band, finish as follows. (For same-colour textured band, see next Spinnaker post.)

Striped Band

When crown rounds have been worked to desired length: B in next 4 hdc, skip next (F) hdc, invisible join to next (B) hdc. (Click here for an invisible join tutorial.)
Attach new colour as follows: Inserting hook in BOTH back horizontal bars of any F (protruding) stitch, draw up a loop with new colour. (See photos below for suggested attachment method).
Striped Band Round 1: Ch 1 with new colour OR follow suggested method below (suggested method below counts as the ch-1). Starting in next stitch, hdc in each back horizontal bar around. Join final hdc to 1st hdc of round (skipping over the starting chain-1). Use any join you like; invisible join or mock invisible join (click here for a mock invisible join tutorial) will give the best appearance. Remember that the join counts as a stitch. Attach next colour as before.
Striped Band Rounds 2 - 5: Repeat Round 1, alternating colours as desired on each round.
Striped Band Round 6: With optional smaller hook, repeat Round 1, using the desired colour. (Or you can use the same size hook with a firmer tension.) Join with invisible join.
Weave in ends. Block hat, and embellish as desired.

Some Photo Tips for the Spinnaker Hat:

1. Make sure you can recognize the difference between the top two strands and the back bar of each hdc. Remember that "F" stitches will be made in the top strands, and "B" stitches will be made in the back bar.

2. When making "B" stitches, tilt the work towards you so you can look over the top of the stitch and see the back bar:

Note: On increase stitches, the back bar will tighten up. You may have to wiggle the hook a little to get it through when making the "B" portion of the increase.

3. After the first few rounds, the "F" stitches will be very easy to spot:

Remember that the top of each stitch is above and to the right of the stitch "legs". When working "B" stitches, be sure to insert hook into the proper stitch (it's very easy to accidentally insert the hook one stitch ahead or one stitch behind).

Note: Every "F" stitch should be above and to the left of the "F" stitch below. This is the key to Spinnaker's counterclockwise swirl.

4. Ending the crown: when the crown is long enough, make 4 more "B" stitches, skip a stitch, and invisible join to the next "F" stitch. (The invisible join will sit right on top of the skipped stitch.)

5. Joining new yarn for the Striped Band: insert hook through 2 back bars of any "F" stitch.

This is the method I used:
pull up a loop with new yarn,
with yarn tail, cast on Forward Loop above the loop you pulled up,
pull on yarn tail to tighten loop,
yarn over and draw through both loops on hook.

5. Here is the Striped Band in progress, with first round complete and second round being attached and stitched:

You can end each round with an invisible join, a Mock Invisible join, or use the join of your choice.

(I used the Mock Invisible Join, which allowed me to carry the unused yarn up the back, and left fewer ends to weave in. Not that it matters much on a 6-round band - using the invisible join on every round would leave 6 ends to weave in, while using the Mock Invisible Join left 4. Not much of a time saver when it came to weaving in the ends.)

I do like the way the Mock Invisible joins came out:

Final tip: Using a smaller hook on the last band round will give a tidier edge.


Stay tuned for another Spinnaker post, which will feature instructions for alternative textured band, and copious tips for sizing up the Spinnaker hat pattern.

If you have any questions about this pattern, or find any mistakes in the text, please feel free to ask (or tell) using the comment box below. You can also find me on Ravelry as MrsMicawber.

You may do whatever you like with the items you make from this pattern, but you may not sell the pattern or reproduce its text without permission. (Links to this post are always welcome.)

Thanks for viewing, and happy crocheting!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015


New life. There's always a bit of the miraculous about it, whether it be human, plant, or animal. For the nature-lover who lives in a land that is winter-bound several months each year, few things are more exciting than the first tiny outbursts of spring growth.

Some look like exotic green flowers:

Or miniature totems bearing pom-poms:

Or wee heads of lettuce dotted along a twig:

Some are upstanding, airy and delicate:

And some, sturdy and outthrust like this oak-bud cluster, scion of a gnarled tree:

Some are fanciful, with dancing dangles:

And some are simple, pure and sweet:

Some look like tiny beads, whether against the sky...

...or in the palm of a hand:

Some are fuzzy and fresh-green:

And some are positively bridal in their beauty:

Even last year's dried wild cucumber vines look good with a thoughtful bird perched atop:

("When are these things going to turn green?" he wonders.)

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Of course, for some of us, all this rising sap and burgeoning growth means lots of sneezing and watery eyes. But I think it's worth it.

What's your favourite part of spring?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Windy April Ride

Hello, strangers! How was your Easter? Mine started out well, but ended with a severe attack of the collywobbles. The Micawber innards were unsettled for a week, but by last Sunday Tallulah and I were ready to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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The Sunday after Easter is a day of sun and wind. Quite a lot of wind, as a matter of fact - 15 to 30 miles an hour, with gusting up to 40 - the kind of wind that makes a cyclist think carefully about her route. On the bright side, it's actually warm enough for shorts. After a careful shave (and the first nicks of the year), the Micawber legs are ready to stun the world with their blinding whiteness speed.

Several days of much-needed rain, followed by balmy temps, have brought a haze of green to the fields. The sandhill cranes have been back for a few weeks now; if you look closely you can see a pair in the photo below:

It's good to be out and about again, especially on a day like this. Old red barns show up spectacularly against the blue spring sky:

We pass an interesting-looking pair of sheep. (Yarn on the hoof, thinks the fibre-lover.) The one in the foreground watches me closely as I go by, but as soon as I stop for a photo it turns away....

... and quickly scurries to a place of safety behind its pal (who never stirs a step the entire time - obviously the braver of the two).

Fraidy-sheep may not be brave, but he's got an amazing set of horns that reminds me a bit of Snowcatcher's bighorn sheep.

We turn onto a road that runs through a marsh, and here we see the first catkins of the year. Some are pale green with tiny yellow tips:

Tallulah is rather taken with them...

...but I fall in love with these rosy-tipped beauties a little farther on:

Everywhere the soft tints of spring are slowly taking over from the browns of winter.

More catkins, seen through a screen of red-twig dogwood (with bonus hawk flying far above):

While taking the above, I get my first mosquito bite of the year. Yep, winter's over.

We turn another corner and climb up to the high prairie, where the wind fairly shrieks across the fields. Friendly cattle turn to look as I pass:

After battling the wind for a few miles more, we stop under a tree for a snack and a rest. The wind is at our backs (for the moment) and the overhead view takes a lot of beating:

There are blackbirds at the end of the road, enjoying Sunday meeting:

Clouds have been massing behind us, and the sky takes on a murky hue as we turn towards home.

We pass an old prairie school, now closed but still lovingly tended:

About five miles from home, the wind eases up a bit (whew!) and the clouds begin to break.

We pass through another marshy area and stop to listen to the frogs. Encouraged by the warm weather, they're a-courtin' with a vengeance. This quiet-looking pool is positively throbbing with amphibian passion:

Now that the sun is out again, we can take a shadow shot:

Then it's back on the bike and over the last few miles to home, where it's a relief to get out of the wind and into the quiet.

A good ride.

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How have you been?

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Things

A sunny morning and the first chives
Nature's down payment on pleasures to come

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Seeds in the mail
Flowery hopes and the promise of purple beans

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Spiralling increases
mathematical satisfaction

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Spring clouds flying over branches frothy with bud

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What Good Things are you enjoying this weekend?

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