Friday Finds: Little Free Library

Most crafters are readers - at least in my experience - and, generally, supportive of bookish things. Cassandra and I both use our library cards a lot. There are books (on shelves and off shelves) in every room of my house. And, while I own and love my Kindle, sometimes you just need that paper in your hands.

One of my favorite finds of all time is an organization started by a couple of guys here in Madison. When I met them three years ago, they were just getting the idea off the ground. Now, a dear friend of mine is working for them and the concept has gone nation-wide.

Behold, the Little Free Library!

So, the idea is that you make (or buy) one of these, put it in your front yard, populate it with some books, and people can take or leave books at their leisure. Some folks put reading benches next to their Little Free Library. Some have mostly childrens' books. Some have only non-fiction. Your Little Free Library is as individual as you are. It's an amazingly lovely way to promote reading and build a sense of community in your neighborhood.

The organization has been featured on NBC Nightly News and NPR and they estimate that there are Little Free Libraries in 30 states and 20 countries!

Join the literacy bandwagon and put a cute little library in your front yard. :)

- Alex

The NeverEnding Story

Like Brenda Dayne says on Cast-On....I need to talk about my knitting right now. Sigh.

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had picked up some old projects during a bout of spring fever. Anxious to have a sense of completion and clearing the way for new ideas. (I'm not really good at having too many unfinished objects, they sort of weigh me down creatively.)

One of those WIPS that I've been trying to "power through" is the Vineyard Wrap I January 2011. This is a project I have actually picked up and put down many times. In between holiday sweaters, embroidery projects, or anything else that can be worked on from the couch, you will usually see this wrap in my hands.

This is long-haul knitting.
For most projects on size 10 needles, a little bit here...and a little bit there...knitting will usually add up enough that eventually you are surprised that the project in finished. Yeah, not so much with this one. Since putting down my last major project a few weeks ago I have knit like a fiend on this sucker. And it is still not done. Right now it is about 60 inches which means according to the pattern, I have 10 inches left to go. Unfortunately, I think I might want it a little longer than the recommended 70 inch wrap length though. That means more knitting.

But hey, don't misunderstand me, I think it is turning out beautifully and I can't wait to wear my finished wrap. I am actually pretty excited to see what the lace pattern looks like after blocking. It's just the monotony of this type of project. This situation is much like Alex's "NeverEnding Shawl". That project nearly killed her with its mixture of miles of stockinette and random yarnovers, but it turned out stunning. I have no idea why I never see her wearing it.

I truly do love the look of the lace pattern repeat.

This is all reminding me why I don't knit scarves. Sure, they were great when I was learning to knit (and I love wearing a hand-knit scarf). But the process is a killer for me. The same pattern, over and over for a couple yards is too much for this Mighty Distractible gal.


Designing Your Own

The shift happened slowly. One day, I picked up my pointy sticks and thought, "I can make a hat without a pattern. All I need is a couple of inches of ribbing, some stockinette, and a decrease." So, I (sort of) made a hat without a pattern. My first few attempts were pretty lame because I didn't have a good sense of how to decrease correctly. Some had weirdly flat tops or tops that were too shallow. Eventually, I figured out that, by referencing other hat patterns, I could develop my own method of decreasing and have a hat that looked pretty good.

Not too bad. Added icords & pom-pons.

When Cassandra and I submitted our pattern idea for the book, What (Else) Would Madame DeFarge Knit, I had been experimenting with making simple things without a pattern for about a year. Cassandra hadn't done anything off pattern that she can remember. We took a great leap of faith and, with unfounded confidence, decided to design a pretty complicated item (which ya'll get to see in a few months!)

The process was actually one of the best parts of designing something from scratch. We knew we wanted the item to have a retro look so we scoured old knitting patterns that Cassandra had inherited from her grandmother. We picked design elements we liked and then modified them to fit our purposes.

Next, we dug through a number of different stitch pattern books for stitches that would provide us with look we wanted. If you've never looked at a stitch pattern book, run (don't walk) to your nearest library or bookstore and sit with one for an hour or so. If you're not inspired by all the possibility, I'll eat one of my poorly-designed hats.
Awesome book of just edging.

Loads of great stitch patterns in this book.
Finally, we started putting it all together. Our design has multiple pieces so Cassandra tackled the largest and I took the two smaller ones. Our process for writing the pattern itself was very different. I visualized what I wanted and wrote down how I THOUGHT the pattern should read. Then I knitted it and corrected as I went. Cassandra did the opposite. She started knitting, and wrote down what she was doing as she went - correcting both the knitting and the pattern at the same time. Both ways worked and I think that it's really a matter of attacking it whatever way makes the most sense to the individual.

Our very best tip for designing your own knitting patterns is this: TEST, TEST, TEST, TEST.... etc.

I'm not kidding when I tell you that, with every single test knit, we found ways to make the pattern better and/or typos and/or general errata. It's frightening to think that, if we didn't have a deadline, I could tweak this darn thing forever.

Once you've designed your own pattern you can sell it on Ravelry or give it away on your blog or just wallow in the fact that you are now a bonafide knitting pattern designer! Whatever you choose, I can promise you that the rewards are fantastic.

I may never be Debbie Bliss or Ysolda Teague but I sure am proud of the work that we've done and I absolutely can't wait to design our next project.

- Alex

Friday Finds: Lady Business

Dear readers,

I am not sure what political side you're on, but if you swing to the left you might want to knit a vajajay and send it to your congressMAN. Yes, your lady business in worsted weight.

Knitted Womb by MK Carroll. Pattern on

There is a group called Government Free VJJ that is rallying for the cause of women's rights. What do these good women stand for? I quote from their site:
  • We are women, we are strong, we are smart.  And we have a sense of humor.
  • We do not need government interference with our doctors or our healthcare.
  • We do not need government probing our vaginas to help us make decisions about abortion.
  • We do not need government to give us guidance about whether or not to take birth control.
  • We do not need misogynistic pundits calling us sluts and prostitutes.
  • We are half of the population and we will not be treated as children or a disenfranchised minority.
  • Tell your male government representatives:
    “Hands off my uterus! Here’s one of your own!”

Government Free VJJ encourages us knitters to pick up our pointy sticks and some pink yarn for the cause. They have free patterns listed on their site as well as directions on how to send your finished mysterious lady part to the right person.

Courtesy of Government Free VJJ

Don't just sit back...get crafty and political! Gloria would want you to....


Completely Distracted

I know we talk a lot about being distracted here at Mighty Distractible but, folks, I have to to tell you... 80 degree weather in March, in Wisconsin, is the equivalent of being stoned. I can't focus on anything!

I'm plodding through work and, about every 10 minutes, I stare out the window and think about how badly I want to be raking my garden.

I walk outside and my brain fizzles at the feel of a WARM breeze hitting my lungs.

I meander around the block with my dogs and the ground is a riot of color from early blooming crocuses and now daffodils.

My brain simply can't handle the dichotomy of May weather in March.

The cynics around me keep saying that they're "waiting for the other shoe to drop" - a stupid euphemism for the expectation of another snowfall soon. However, I simply refuse to believe it.

This past Sunday morning, I took down the winter, insulating curtains and put up the summer shears. My living room was immediately transformed from a cozy cave of darkness to a sun-filled paradise - and I could see every speck of dust that had accumulated over the last six months. I spent the day dusting and vacuuming (hoovering for you @pinkundine!) and generally ushering in the Spring. That made it official. I nearly moved on to my closets and to put away winter clothes but thought better of that. While I don't believe it's going to snow again, I do imagine I'll need sweaters (occasionally) for a couple of months yet.

This weekend I'm tackling the yard - as long as the weather holds. My cherry tree has leaf buds ready to burst and my flowers are breaking through the fall mulch.

Welcome Spring and thank you Global Warming. I've never been happier to be a Wisconsinite.

- Alex


The other day Alex and I were turned on to something new. It's called Craftsy. Sort of like Ravelry but multi-disciplined. Along with knitting and crocheting there are projects for quilting, sewing, jewelry making, paper crafts, and more. I know, right! I've also been waiting a long time for this concept to show up on the interwebs.

{As a graphic designer, I will say I'm a fan of their brand. It's retro but not over-done.}

I have set up a free profile for myself but haven't had a chance to add recent projects or patterns in yet. It's going to be fun to have profiles for my quilts, embroidery, etc. There is more to my life than knitting :)

I couldn't find an actual launch date on the site, but some of it is still in Beta so I assume it hasn't been around that long. There are a few areas that I think are sort of weak, but I assume those things will be hammered out in due time. For instance, I want an easy way to search (by name) for my friends who also joined Craftsy and be able to see what projects they have going. You can "follow" crafters once you've found their page, but there is no people-finder search option. I have no idea how to find Alex who is also a member. Marco....

Craftsy project search bar.
The absolute coolest thing is the online class hosting they provide. Wow! If you want to learn how to knit socks, make wire wrapped jewelery, or machine quilt they have a class for that...and more. Each class is priced differently but $29.99 and $59.99 seem to be the norm. There is a preview of the class to give you a taste of what it is like and once you've registered for a class it will always be available for you to replay the lessons. You have access to the instructor and according to Craftsy, they will respond in 1-2 days. I am all over this class thing. As a mom who is often tethered to her house, the ability to sit down and take my class at midnight is really appealing.

Online classes splash page.
On a less-expensive note, their "Workshops" tab is a neat idea. Tutorials on any project under the sun for somewhere between $12-$15. And, like the projects section...users can submit their own tutes for purchase.

Let's face it, no one has a better online experience than Ravelry. User-friendly and seemingly unbreakable. They have us spoiled. But I think I like this Craftsy idea. And kudos to them for trying to find their own way of doing things and not just ripping off Ravelry's format. I'll give them a whirl.


Friday Finds: The Mason Jar

Fair enough. I didn't "just" find Mason jars. As a matter of fact, I started using large-mouth Mason jars years ago after I purchased a vacuum sealer that had a jar attachment. With it, you could fill a large-mouthed Mason jar with anything (liquid, dry good, etc) and then suck all the air out, keeping the contents fresher, longer.

However, once I had a box of various sizes of Mason jars in the house, I managed to find a LOT of uses for them.

Besides the obvious - storage of food items - I use Mason jars for decorating (vases, tea light holders), storing non-food things (craft items, dog treats, seeds for the garden, nails/screws/washers), planting (terrarium, seed/plant starting), and sometimes even to eat or drink out of. Here's a great list of Mason jar ideas.

And my favorite Mason jar-related Friday Find is this:

The "Cuppow" - why didn't I think of this??
The Cuppow turns an ordinary canning jar into a travel mug. It's a decidedly hipster-looking thing to be drinking out of a Mason jar (and the website does everything possible to support its hipster appeal - just check out the photos. LOL) But a good idea shouldn't be shunted because of silly marketing or possible connection to the most current fashion trend. You do not have to grow 1920's facial hair or wear retro glasses in order to enjoy the elegant simplicity of this product. And best of all, it's pretty cheap!

So, let's raise a Mason jar and toast the mind that came up with this brilliant idea.

- Alex


It's 65 degrees outside here in Madison. Consequently, I have ants in the pants. My unfocused mind cannot bring you the sewing machine tutorial on stitches I planned for today. Sorry about that!

All I can do this afternoon is dream about stuff I want to tackle: clean the house, finish up old projects, and start a few brand new ones. Here are a few of the things on my to-do short list:

1. I already have some killer Amy Butler fabric in my stash so I can sew myself a Frenchy Bag for a summer purse. I've been meaning to do this since last summer.

2. As Alex showed you on Monday, I bought some awesome fingering weight yarn in my signature (ochre) color so I can start a nice lightweight springtime knitting project called the Ishbel Shawl by Ysolda Teague.

Ysolda herself modeling Ishbel as a scarf.

3. More, and more, and more cotton pajamas for the littles. Home-made feels so much snugglier.

Simplicity 8493 has been the bomb.

4. The Easter Bunny might bring some little ducks or chicks.

5. My head is swimming with ideas for fabric designs and embroidery patterns. I need some serious alone-time to exercise those spirits.

And then...I have some super-secret knitting going on. Alex and I are putting final tweaks on our pattern to be included in the upcoming What (Else) Would Madame DeFarge Knit book. Plus, we are working on a submission idea we are pretty excited about for DeFarge Does Shakespeare. You have never heard us giggle and squeal the way we do when designing knitted objects. I think we were meant to do this.
Another sneak peek of our upcoming design.

So, what I need is: a clean house, some peace and quiet, my sewing machine, and my knitting bag. That is the cure for my ants in the pants. Until I get the bug to get outside in the dirt....


Total Immersion

Every year, around this time, the Madison Knitters' Guild hosts the annual Knit-In, a one-day event that rewards knitters of all stripes with total immersion into the craft. So, last Saturday Cassandra and I joined hundreds of knitters from around the country and took advantage of the opportunity to bathe in the luxury of knitting all day.
The Knit-In offers morning and afternoon classes, lunch, and a large vendor room. The cafeteria becomes the defacto knitting room with large, rounds tables filled with friends, old and new, knitting, talking, laughing and generally enjoying some fiber-filled leisure time.

The Guild always manages to snag some pretty great main guests. In the past, I've seen The Mason-Dixon Girls and the founders and staff of Ravelry, among others. This year, the featured speaker was Kate Gilbert from the Twist Collective and her talk included a fashion show that I hear was exceptional. Neither Cassandra and I made it to her talk. Instead, we opted for spending some time and money in the vendor room.

At first pass, nothing jumped out at Cassandra as a "must have" item. I wasn't so lucky. I was completely enamored of a multi-colored hand-spun Alpaca and some super-cute drawstring bags. Plus, I kept seeing patterns that I just HAD to make. After a quick run through the vendors to see what was there, we left, empty-handed, for the cafeteria and lunch. A yummy spread of "make your own tacos/burritos" and ridiculously good desserts (they know their audience) was followed by some frantic swatch knitting as both Cassandra and I forgot to do the homework for our afternoon class - Conquering Kitchner Stitch.

I don't knit socks so Kitchner doesn't show up too often in my patterns. However, it does show up and I've never, ever been able to do it successfully. I figured a three-hour class on nothing but Kitchner would probably change me from a Kitchner failure to a Kitchner winner. And, boy, did it! The instructor, the author Ann Budd, was patient and kind and insistent that there was nothing to fear. By the end of three hours we had learned to perform successful Kitchner Stitch on stockinette, garter, K1P1 rib, and K2P2 rib. She opened up a whole new world of joining!

Look at this mess...

Except for some tension issues, pretty good!

Once our class was over, we wandered back to the vendor room to see if anything was calling out to us. I ended up with three skeins of the alpaca that I loved, a skein of angora, two drawstring knitting bags, and two patterns. Cassandra got a couple of skeins of lovely yarns in her "signature colors". Fortunately, this event is always right around the time I get my tax return. LOL

Cassandra's booty

Honestly, there's nothing much better than spending the day surrounded by like-minded, lovely people. Everyone was wearing some wonderful creation - shawls seemed to be the "garment du jour" - and there was an air of  fun and relaxation. I wish there was a Knit-In every quarter, instead of just once a year. :)

- Alex

Friday Finds: Tiny Cheesecakes

You may recall my excitement over pies in little jars?

My little pies made last fall.
I've got one better...cheesecakes in little jars! Be still my heart! There is an awesome tute I discovered on the wonderful The Italian Dish blog. These will be made at my home very soon.

Photo courtesy of The Italian Dish.
Have a great weekend!


Vacation Creation

If long plane rides and airport layovers are good for nothing else, they give crafters (whose craft supplies are allowed through TSA) time to work.

My glamorous view of Dallas.
During the worst of the post-911 TSA craziness, one never knew, from trip to trip or even from airport to airport, whether knitting needles would be allowed. My solution was to print out the current TSA regulations on knitting needles from their official website and carry them, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, in my carry-on. I loved whipping that out whenever they gave me crap. :)

I never had to use the envelope and eventually stopped carrying it. I was only made to take my work off needles once - which was the incident that prompted me to become a TSA educator on the subject.

So, as Cassandra and I have mentioned, our original design was chosen for inclusion in the book, What Would Madame DeFarge Knit: Volume 2. (Here is a link to Volume 1.) Needless to say, we're over the moon about the opportunity. But... Whew! It's been a bit stressful! Our finished object has to be turned in by April 1 so I've been using my plane and airport time to test knit the pattern one, more, time. Believe it or not, even after multiple tests, I still found two "typos" (sounds better then "mistakes".)

We're not allowed to divulge any details about our project but I can tell you that, between the lace border and picot edge, it's pretty fancy and super fun to knit. I hope you all will buy a copy of the book this summer and try it out too.

Here is a peek!
Back to knitting for me. I've got an hour left at Dallas-Fort Worth and I can probably finish the piece I'm working on.

- Alex the Traveler

Loved and Abandoned

The feeling of spring is getting into my bones. I'm dreaming of flowers, open windows, and all the lush green that ushers in the summer. Oddly, this spring fever that compels me to start cleaning or planning my window boxes also drives me to finish current projects that are lingering. Last week I finished up some pajamas for the boys that had been sitting in pieces and picked up the shawl that I hadn't touched since October. It feels great to be checking tasks off my list.

You may vaguely remember (about a year ago) I started working on a design for a knitting notions case. Begun with such gusto, it's shocking to me how I had set it to the side to start new projects. Maybe it was the construction details that got complicated or my fear of failure. Who knows? Anyway, I picked it back up and it is done.

This notions case is padded with batting (it feels so soft), has pockets for stitch markers and scissors, padded felt area for sharp needles and a place to secure darning needles. My vision was to have it be a machine-sewn piece but with enough hand-details that it looks a bit rustic. I was really excited to find the buttons that actually look "woodsy" at JoAnne Fabrics.

I am generally happy (80%) with the way it turned out. However, there are some definite tweaks I want to make before the pattern is written up for distribution. One of which is an original design for the embroidery on the front (I wasn't really doing that myself back then) and another is roomier pockets with a place for a small tape measure.

I'm a big fan of that button.
This process of revisiting something I started a year ago is so eye-opening. With every stitch I sew or knit...I have been learning. So slowly that I never even knew it was happening. I have better solutions for techniques I thought were a good idea last January. Wow, kinda awesome. This old dog learns new tricks. I'm excited to share this design really soon.


Friday Finds: CHEESE!

When one is from Wisconsin, it's imperative to love two things - beer and cheese. Technically, you're supposed to love the Green Bay Packers too but I get a pass because I know nothing at all about football and, frankly, don't care to learn.

The perfect storm - Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup (with popcorn garnish)
Sadly, I can't tolerate beer so I'm often critized for my lack of Wisconsinism. However, I believe that I make up for it with my extreme love for cheese (and most other dairy products as well.)

Also sad is Cassandra's lactose intolerance as this means that she can't properly nuture her cheese jones.

For today's Friday Find, I'd like to introduce you to one of my all-time favorite brands - Wisconsin Cheese. This division of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (yes, there is such a thing) has made a religion of all things cheesy. As an advertising professional, my love for this brand goes beyond my love for dairy itself  and extends into the amazing marketing. The ads are clever and beautiful which is a tour de force that makes even the non-cheese lover drool over their product.

Enjoy them on Pinterest, Facebook, and online at Wisconsin CheeseThe Cheese and Burger Society, Grilled Cheese Academy, and Wisconsin's Cheese Cupid. You'll thank me (maybe) - at least for adding to your recipe collection.

Oh... and every year around this time they do "30 Days, 30 Ways" which is 30 different mac & cheese recipes in one month. It's to die for.

Buon Appetito! 

- Alex