Sunday, October 25, 2015

Freezing Thyme....

Which is sort of a play on words. Obvious, yes - but who wouldn't want to freeze time every now and then? That's why many of us take photos: to capture a moment, a thought, a sight, before relentless time whisks it away forever.

I wish I could freeze time in another way right now. I've been crocheting my wrists off to meet a November deadline and I could sorely use some extra commitment-free days. Anybody know how to temporarily stop the clock?


I have been freezing actual thyme - also parsley, basil, and chives - because October is Freezing Time in Wisconsin.

The first hard frost has finally come, killing off any lingering garden hopes. Though it happens every year, it's always a sad event. You walk outside one morning and find blackened, shrivelled leaves and flowers where all before was colour and life. But the loss is easier to bear when you've stored away bags of herbs in the freezer - sprinkles of Summer for a winter's worth of eggs and potatoes, pizza and soup.


Today I went for a bike ride - the first in two weeks. A frantic work schedule combined with less-than-perfect weather, plus a sore shoulder, have been keeping me indoors, but the day was too beautiful to waste.

It's been a spotty Autumn so far. The trees have been changing reluctantly and out of order, with oaks turning red and russet while maples are still half green, and many of the the walnut trees losing their leaves before others have even begun to change. Some of the birch and aspen have refused to turn anything but brown before dropping sullen leaves to the ground. (Perhaps they're still feeling the effects of the 2012 drought?)

But the frost which killed the garden has finally kicked the fall colour into high gear. Even a spotty Autumn has its beauties.


It's a scarlet-and-blue-and-gold day, an October-poster day of sunny skies and cool breezes. Autumn winds have already stripped the leaves from many trees, opening glimpses into further layers of colour beyond:

Now that frost has ended the 2015 Wildflower Count, my eyes are free to look up rather than down. Here's the upward view: oak trees glowing russet and red and bronze against an impossibly blue sky:

And the sideways view:

A faint haze in the air renders this pine forest a place of mystery and soft enchantment:

Sandhill cranes have been gathering for weeks to discuss their winter travel plans; I pass at least a hundred of them, scattered in dozens over this and neighbouring fields:

An oaky avenue of colour:

A small tree with rosy leaves leans affectionately against its much taller neighbour:

I don't know what type of tree it is, but the leaves are beautiful:

Red oak under a stunning October sky, all gloriously reflected in the silvery marsh beneath:

One more red oak photo, this time from below, with the sun shining through the leaves:

What colour would you call them? Scarlet? Crimson? Vermilion? Breathtaking?

This is the beauty that reconciles us to the year's dying; these are the images we store up in our minds to carry us through the long white months ahead.

A good ride on a colour-filled day.


P.S. Almost forgot the thyme! :)

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Binding Off Knitted Projects with a Crochet Hook, Part 5: Icelandic Bind Off

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This series was developed for crocheters who knit,
and for knitters who have never bound off with a hook.
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Welcome back to our series on using a crochet hook to bind off knitted projects. Here's what we've covered so far:

Part 1 - Basic terminology (crochet yarn over vs. crochet yarn under), recommended hook types and sizes, and Basic Crochet Bind Off.
Part 2 - Suspended Bind Off.
Part 3 - Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, or JSSBO.
Part 4 - Miraculous Elastic or Lacey Bind Off

Our previous tutorials have focused on bind offs suitable for stockinette, pattern stitches, and/or ribbing. Today, we'll switch gears and learn a simple bind off suitable for garter stitch projects: the Icelandic Bind Off.

The Icelandic Bind Off is not the only garter-stitch-appropriate bind off*, but it's the easiest to work with a hook.

*I very much wanted to feature Annie Cholewa's Knitsofacto Bind Off, a lovely twisted-purl bind off that gives a beautiful finish to garter stitch projects - but it turned out to work better with needles than with a hook! If you're interested in exploring alternate bind offs, do check out her tutorial.

And now, our feature presentation....

Icelandic Bind Off

The Icelandic Bind Off is fast, fairly straightforward, and looks great on garter stitch fabric. (I've read that if used for stockinette, it makes a rolled edge, but haven't tried this myself.)

To work the Icelandic Bind Off, you need to reach through one stitch to knit another. This can feel a bit awkward at first, but with a little practice you'll find it's easy to develop a rhythm.

Why it works so well for garter stitch: Garter stitch fabric is ridgy on both sides. Because the Icelandic Bind Off tips slightly forward, it tucks neatly into the ridges below, while rolling its own WS ridges up to form a slightly bumpy top edge that blends right in with garter stitch.

Here are some advantages of the Icelandic Bind Off:
  • Looks great on garter stitch projects
  • Is moderately stretchy without distorting the edge of the fabric
  • Adapts well to a crochet hook
  • Uses only knit stitches
  • Encourages good tension by keeping a previous loop on the needle as the current loop is worked
  • Can be worked with a hook smaller than the knitting needle
The Icelandic is another bind off so simple that the steps can't be minimised - which is a Good Thing!

Icelandic Bind Off Video Tutorial

Icelandic Bind Off Photo Tutorial

~ Try using a hook 2 sizes down from your knitting needle; experiment as necessary to find the best hook size for your project.
~ Don't forget to yarn under when working a knit stitch with your crochet hook.

1. Insert hook purlwise (from right to left, in front of the needle) into the first stitch.
2. Hook the second stitch with the tip of your hook.
3. Rotate hook back and up, bringing it knitwise through the second stitch; this will pull the second stitch halfway through the first, creating an "X".
4. Yarn under, and...
5. Knit the second stitch only (the new stitch will come up through the legs of the "X")
6. Slip the stitch off the needle (bringing the other stitch with it).
7. Insert the tip of the needle into the stitch you just made, and...
8. Slip the stitch back ON to the needle, keeping the crochet hook in front.

Now your hook is in the right place to work the next stitch.

To continue the bind off, repeat Steps 2-8. Pretty simple, huh?

If you make a mistake, and need to frog the Icelandic Bind Off:

Remove the hook, and slip the top stitch off the needle:

To frog, remove hook and slip top loop off needle....

Now turn your work around. With WS facing you:
pull on the working yarn to release the stitch,
pop the horizontal loop off the vertical loop,
pick up the vertical loop by inserting your needle from right to left and front to back:

On WS, pull the working yarn out of the stitch, pop the horizontal loop off, and pick up the stitch.

(Pull, pop, pick up. It's a nice alliterative frogging mantra.)

Tips for maintaining good tension: As you work this bind off, don't keep the stitches all tightened up at the tip of the needle and the neck of the hook. Instead, keep them down on the barrel of the needle, and move your crochet hook freely back and forth, so the stitches encounter the full thickness of both needle and hook.


And that wraps up the tutorial portion of our series on binding off with a crochet hook.

In the next and final post of the series, I'll review what we've learned, give tips for converting other knitted bind offs for use with a crochet hook (and for deciding whether a hook is the right tool), and offer more helpful links for those interested in exploring alternate bind offs.

Until then, happy knitting and crocheting and binding off!

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Many thanks to the Knit Freedom website for helpful information and a great tutorial on knitting the Icelandic bind off.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Bright October Ride

Sunday was a day left over from summer, kept in hiding by Autumn and brought out to surprise us when we least expected it.

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It's tantalisingly warm (hot, actually), with a strong South wind. Scarlet banners of sumac flutter and dance in the bright sunshine:

Most of the flowers are gone, but here and there a few still bloom. Queen Anne's Lace glows against a background of Virginia creeper, like a marriage of summer and fall:

I pass a flourishing patch of Butter-and-Eggs (yellow toadflax) looking strangely springlike:

Behind the flowers are a field of dry corn and some picturesque barns and silos:

I'm hoping for some autumn colour today, and here's my first glimpse of it - on the left, a maple just bursting into flame; on the right, an oak tree sparkling with colour as the first tints of fall mingle with the green:

My destination today is a favourite wood, a magical place where the trees are deep and the silence deeper, punctuated only by the occasional calls of birds I don't hear anywhere else.

The road curves around a stand of pines sending out waves of spice-scented breath; beyond the curve is a place of wonder and beauty. In summer it's a cool green tunnel, roofed and shadowed by overarching trees, but today it's dappled with rainbow light dancing through the changing maple leaves.

After a mile's gentle climb, the trees open up to show a sky glowing blue above golden birch and bronze oak:

This is my turnaround point; now I get to enjoy the astonishing beauty again, from the other direction.

October in Wisconsin is a good place to be. :)

A few miles on, I pass a field of cattle, black and white. Some graze with concentration, keeping their heads in the grass, but others stare as I take their photo:

(In fact I think the one on the right is saying "hello".)

My road winds through field and wood, with here and there a torch of maple burning above the still-green undergrowth:

The sun is dropping quickly in the west as my shadow races me home.

When did the days become so short? Not long ago we had nine o'clock sunsets, and now it's dark by seven. In a few weeks more, the clocks will change, and Central Daylight Time will become Crochet in the Evening Time. (There are compensations to cold weather, after all.)

How's your weather? Are you enjoying the changing season?

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Friday, October 9, 2015

A Project for Me (!) and a Winter Link Party

For several years now I've been making projects for gifts, projects for magazines, and projects for the blog - but seldom a project just for me, just because I want to. I have ideas and materials aplenty, but what I lack are organisational skills, self-discipline, and follow-through. (Which is a roundabout way of saying I can be pretty lazy when there's no outside pressure to get things done.)

But now, thanks to Jennifer at Thistlebear, I've found the perfect excuse, and the proper motivation, to start and complete a project for myself. Jennifer is kindly hosting a Winter Project Link Party, with the laudable purpose of helping participants stay enthusiastic and excited about projects that might otherwise lose momentum as winter progresses.

More than 20 bloggers have signed on already. Many of them seem to be making blankets, but I will be the first to admit I haven't the stamina for anything that large. (Why do you think I design mainly accessories? Two words: Instant. Gratification.)

Instead, my ambition is much humbler: to crochet a top for myself.

I have the yarn (Planet Penny Cotton in the delicious new Ice Cream Colour Selection, to be supplemented with a soft taupe rayon-blend from from my stash):

Planet Penny Cotton Club Yarn

I have a design (sketched on a crumpled piece of scratch paper - see what I mean about a lack of organisation?) - a simple cap-sleeved shell with colourwork center front panel and solid (or possibly finely striped) side panels and back; to be worn by itself in warmer weather, or over a tee in cooler weather:

I'll probably make the one on the right....

I even have a swatch, which may or may not represent the final stitch pattern of the center panel (too many ideas, but now that I'm publicly committed I'll have to settle on one soon):

With all these, plus the accountability and motivation provided by Jennifer, even I should be able to finish my custom crochet shell by the end of winter. And who knows? A top this winter, a blanket the next? Perhaps this will be the step that finally sets me on the road to Afghan....

Thanks, Jennifer! :)


Click here to see all the Thistlebear Winter Project Party links.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

From Summer to Fall

A blog is like a garden, bearing weeds as well as flowers. One of the most persistent weeds is guilt: guilt for not posting as often as you think you ought, guilt for not visiting your bloggy friends, guilt for falling behind on a series, guilt for being too busy or tired or disorganised to keep up with it all.

Weeds must be pulled, or they'll take over the garden. So out of this plot, my blog, I pluck this weed, guilt. Then I throw it on the scrap heap, and turn my attention to the flowers.


What do you do when you're behind on posting? Do you play catch-up and try to cram in everything you've missed? Or do you skip to the present and let what's past fall into oblivion?

This blog being in part a sort of Wisconsin Cyclist's Country Diary, I think I'll play catch-up. During a transitional season like fall, two and a half weeks can bring a lot of change to the countryside.

Tuesday Evening Walk to the Park

A windy, golden evening in mid-September; the tail end of summer. The inner pond at our local park is surrounded by a wealth of wildflowers and ornamental wild grasses, including New England Aster (purple), Cardinal Flower (red), Cut-Leaved (or possibly Columnar) Coneflower (yellow), and Purple Coneflower (bright mauve), all seen below:

At the park exit, hammered-silver water stained orange by the setting sun:

A lovely walk.

Last Ride of Summer

Summer's heavy green mantle is beginning to look faded and torn; the woods and fields are raggedy-edged with the approach of autumn. But asters still shine palely from the roadside:

I pass a local campground and finally take a picture I've been meaning to take for months:

"Redneck Flamingo Farm"

Dee, these photos are for you. I think of you every time I pass this spot. :)

A few miles on, the road kisses these train tracks:

I linger here for several minutes, hoping for a train, but no luck.

A gravel drive leads across the tracks to a lovely barn. Beyond the curve is a house hidden by trees; whoever lives there gets to enjoy the thunder of the rails several times a day.

Up the road is a rather gorgeous marsh, with satin-rippled waters reflecting trees caught changing into their fall garb:

Tallulah sits patiently in her basket while I take pictures:

Back on the bike, we round a corner and head down a seldom-ridden road. A flock of geese flies low over the woods, calling goodbye to summer:

Aster grows in white drifts like snow along the fence to my right. I park the bike and climb through the ditch for a closer look:

This variety is called Heath Aster, and features thyme-like foliage and myriad tiny white blossoms.

While taking these photos, I hear a train whistle. It's only five minutes since I left the tracks. Sigh.

Miles later, in a field at the top of a high bank, we see three sweet-eyed ... donkeys? Mules? I'm not sure which. Then out from behind some trees come two others. They're all as interested in me as I am in them:

A sunny, still-warm ride; but fall is just a few days away.

First Ride of Autumn

A week goes by before I'm able to ride again. Autumn has officially arrived, but temps are still warm and I haven't yet put away my sandals. This Sunday is cloudy and breezy; the wind has gone round to the east, giving a hint of the chilly temperatures to come.

Hoping to see some milkweed, I turn down a short dead-end road just outside town (where I've seen milkweed growing in previous years). A few hundred yards later something blue catches my eye. From a distance it looks like bellflower, but it turns out to be Great Blue Lobelia, a flower I've never seen before (and, as it happens, a member of the bellflower family):

The blossoms are a deep, intense blue. They look both alpine and exotic to my eye, and are absolutely gorgeous. Another new flower for the list - I'm glad I turned down that road!

Not far away is the milkweed I was looking for - gone to seed, and with a surprise contingent of bugs packed into the pod:

Research reveals them to be Red Milkweed Beetles (duh!). That little bright-red guy on the right is a nypmh; when he grows up he'll have the handsome red-and-black pattern of the larger beetles on the left.

A few miles later we ride past a marsh edged with bright-red-berry-bearing trees:

Common Milkweed grows here too - the leaves turn lemon-coloured in fall, making the plant look like a large yellow flower:

Down the road I spy a small clump of white blossoms. They look a bit like Pearly Everlasting, but later I find they're called Cat's-foot (according to my favourite wildflower website, their Latin name is Gnaphalium obtusifolium - which sounds like a sneeze to me - but other sites classify them as Antennaria). Other common names for this flower are Fragrant Cudweed, Old-field-balsam, Old-field cudweed, and Rabbit-tobacco. :)

Just overhead is a leafless walnut tree, with quite a few nuts still hanging on:

Around a few corners, a cluster of orange leaves catches my eye:

More glimpses of orange, at the feet of my favourite larches:

The last shot of the ride is Iris, my faithful vintage Cannondale, leaning against a rusty bridge railing:

It's the last Sunday in September. The year has turned the corner; soon the cycling season will be over.

Chilly Sunday Walk

This week was one of crisp clear days and frost-edged nights. A bright blue day in early autumn is cheering and invigorating; a chilly grey one is not.

Today, the first Sunday of October, is chilly and grey and damp. My cycling self, which may be said to have two natures (the Higher and the Lower), whispers conflicting messages to me. From the Higher, "You really ought to ride today. It's October, after all - not many weeks left in the season. Gather ye miles while ye may." To which the Lower replies, "Hey, this is a low-pressure cycling year. You took plenty of cold grey rides in the Spring. Cut yourself some slack and take a walk instead. You never know what might be growing at the prairie restoration site...."

Lower wins the day and I opt for a walk. Hatted and fleece-vested, I wonder what happened to the carefree days of tees and sandals. Already they seem part of the dim and distant past. I console myself with the reflection that when summer comes again, the cold will be as distant a memory as the warmth is now.

A few summer flowers are still blooming along my way; red clover, white campion, soapwort, aster, chickweed, and this tiny specimen, called Quickweed, which I've never researched or photographed until today:

Trees are still mostly green, but vines and creeper are decking them with red:

Goldenrod, now but a pale fluffy shadow of its former yellow glory:

Patches of threadlike red grass, with miniscule waving seeds, grow across a field:

In the next field is a honking flock of Canada geese, knee-deep in alfalfa:

The path turns left to cross the fields, and passes a small-leaved shrub:

In the spring, I marvelled at its tiny leaf buds, no bigger than a bead in my hand. Now the leaves have lived their short life, and soon they will fall to the ground, to become part of the earth from which they grew. (A grey Autumn day brings thoughts like this.)

The path turns again, to pass under trees already looking bare:

Around a few corners is the prairie restoration project, a vast field of native wild grasses and flowers that are as beautiful in fall and winter as they are in spring and summer:

A bit of down, caught on a lichened twig, flutters in the wind:

Over my head, dark berries hang from bright red stems:

A contemplative walk on a cold autumn day.


In the last few weeks, I've seen plenty of apples on trees and berries on bushes. It's been a fruitful year for these growing things, but how fruitful has my year been? I'm not sure. There are so many things I'd have liked to do but didn't: so many patterns I wanted to post; so many poems that never got written; so many trips that couldn't be taken. (I'd like to add, so much laundry that never got folded - but eventually it all did. It just sat around for a long time. There's a pile of it in the bedroom right now, waiting patiently for me to stop frittering away my time on the computer.)

How about your year? Has it been as fruitful as you'd like?


P.S. Current wildflower count: 140!

P.P.S. There are two more installments to our series on Binding Off Knitted Projects with a Crochet Hook. They're running a little behind schedule, but they should be up in the next two weeks. :)

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