Knitting Project: Au Naturale Knit Baby Booties

I am so excited for today’s project share with all of you!  I first saw these ages ago on – you guessed it – Pinterest, and immediately fell in lurv.  They didn’t have a name, pattern or any sort of copyright, so immediately I busted out my reverse engineering skills.

I love natural materials: wood, fiber, leather, etc.  This project combines ALL THREE.  It’s really straightforward… it modifies your basic mary-jane bootie pattern, and totally elevates the street value with just teeny additions of luxurious leather and wood. Once you show these babies off, your friends will universally acknowledge you as empress of the crafting universe.  I’d also promise that you’ll also physically turn into Shakira’s doppleganger, but seeing as I’m still waiting for my hips to stop telling lies, I can’t guarantee that last bit.

Knitting Project: Au Naturale Knit Baby Booties | Classy Crochet

You will need the following:

  • DK yarn (preferably something including wool, just so you can feel uber natural, like your entire project came freshly sheared off of a humble sheep, hand scavenged from your local forest, and um, nobly sacrificed from whatever animal your leather belongs to…)
  • This pattern
  • Size 5 (or 6) knitting needles
  • Teeny tiny scraps of leather for the straps
  • Wood buttons (or you can use felt like the original link)
  • Yarn needle to sew up bootie seams
  • Something sharp to poke holes in your leather (embroidery needle or small awl)
  • Sharp scissors to cut said leather

I wasn’t planning on using the exact same color scheme as the original source, but when I went to Joann’s to find some appropriate DK yarn, they just so happened to have Paton’s DK superwash wool, in taupe, on clearance, for $.97 a skein.  I mean, 97 cents, okay.  Honestly, I would have never chosen taupe myself since by itself it’s kind of a weird yucky color, but it works perfectly here.

Quick insert of The Leather Saga:  (bear with me, it has an awesome ending.)

I first saw these shoes, oh, about 15 weeks ago (says Pinterest). The reason why it’s taken me so long to get these made is that I didn’t have the leather.  I was in China without access to big box craft stores where I knew I could buy a patch for $3.  Of course, I could probably have gone on another all-day adventure to find some, but my desire to procure a 1/2″x 2″ scrap simply to make some baby booties was not that high.  Once I even walked by a leather stall in a random shopping area above a deserted Jinkelong, thought ooh, I should go back and beg a scrap sometime, but that didn’t happen either.

Then I came to the U.S. In my first few days I went to Michaels in search of leather.  Their aisle marked “leather goods and tools” only contained felt, pom poms, and googly eyes.  Fail, Michaels.  I’ll look somewhere else.  Turns out their aisles were simply mis-labeled, but fortuitous for me, because…

That very afternoon, I went home to my parents’ house, and whaddya know… there was a large pile of leather scraps sitting on their living room table.  You know, the kind with metal grommets that probably once belonged to a furniture store as their color samples.  It turns out a friend of theirs had bought them for pennies at a garage sale, never figured out a use for them, she bu de (there’s that word again – couldn’t bear to) throw them out, so she gave them to my mom when SHE moved back to China, and there they sat, because my own mom was she bu de to throw them away either.

Anyway, story summary: my mom had literally two pounds of free leather scraps, was never planning on using them, but was never planning on throwing them away either.  So now… THEY’RE MINE!! And they were ALL FREEEEE!  And when I say “leather scraps”, I mean… LEATHER SCRAPS:

Knitting Project: Au Naturale Knit Baby Booties | Classy Crochet

1) How many booties could I make with this??? 2) I started a new Pinterest board entitled “Leather Scrap Projects” and I need your input please.  🙂

Okay, end of story, back to project.

Start knitting your booties using this pattern.  The pattern says size 6 needles will net 6-12 month booties. I used size 5 and mine were about 3.5″ long, which was what I was going for.  STOP knitting after row 16.  Bind off and sew up booties.  They’ll basically be little shoes.

Obtain leather scrap by whatever means necessary.  You should be able to just use sharp scissors to cut it, no need for special tools here.

Knitting Project: Au Naturale Knit Baby Booties | Classy CrochetCut two long skinny strips for straps.  This took a bit of trial and error for me.  Make sure they’re thick enough to poke at least one hole to sew onto your shoe – I wanted it thick enough for two holes, so mine are pretty thick.

Second obstacle: poking holes into said leather.  After many days of searching stores for little teeny leather hole punchers or something of the sort, it turns out my mom also had a very random mini-awl that she picked up on the streets of Taiwan for like 60 cents.  You can probably just use a sharp needle and a thimble (so you don’t skewer yourself).  I wanted to use yarn for my sewing so I needed a bigger hole, but a needle will work just fine with regular embroidery thread.

Poke holes into leather on both sides.  I wanted four, but my leather wasn’t big enough, so I just poked two holes and did one stitch on each end.  Using yarn scraps or embroidery thread, sew one side onto the shoe, sew the other side through at least one (or all) of your buttonholes.  Step back, admire your work, and wait for the compliments to come showering in!

Happy knitting!

Knitting Project: Au Naturale Knit Baby Booties | Classy Crochet

Yarn Adventures in Beijing (Part II… and III)

Several weeks ago, my birthday arrived, as it always does around this time of year.  I didn’t have any huge plans, and I wanted to spend the day doing something that *I* wanted, and not feel obligated to anything else.  I’d recently been re-inspired by this post to find yarn in Beijing, and was determined to buy some (even though I have, on my estimation, approximately 100,000 yards of yarn in my spare room).  Whatever, it was my birthday, my party, I could buy pointless yarn if I wanted to, etc.

I’ve now learned my lesson when exploring unknown territory in China – I pack a large purse filled with water bottle, lots of small change, subway card, hand sanitizer, sometimes camera, and most importantly, snacks.  It’s pretty much like traveling with a small toddler, except said small toddler is me.

Anyway, snacks in hand, directions printed out both in Chinese and on a map, I hailed a taxi and was on my way.  The entire process was much easier than I had anticipated… I hadn’t realized that they had recently jacked up prices on taxis, which is a very minor con (at the end of the day it’s like $1 USD more per ride), but it has resulted in LOTS MORE empty taxis, because let’s face it, Chinese people are super cheap,  and in this regard I am a spendy American, so I’m thrilled.

I got to Wansha (no camera, I was trying to travel light), and it was exactly as pictured.  A woman latched onto me the minute I walked in, which was simultaneously super helpful and super annoying, but I reminded myself that this is service in China (it’s either completely nonexistent, or really, really, really, really overbearing).  She kept asking me what I wanted the yarn for, and I kept telling her I just wanted to buy yarn for the sake of buying yarn.  This concept is very foreign to the extremely pragmatic Chinese, but I persevered.  I made sure to examine every. single. skein. of yarn in the store, and have to say, didn’t really see anything I loved (most of it was simply too expensive for my China expectations), so I walked out with several skeins of DK wool of “Australian origin”, in some gorgeous fuschia/lime green that, sadly, my camera simply could not capture. (it turned the colors olive green and reddish purple, so I won’t torture you with that.)  The nice part was, I got 8 skeins of 100g merino wool for a total of about 125 RMB, or $20 USD, and I can’t complain about that price.

Turns out, yarn in China is mostly used for making actual clothing (What? USEFUL yarn?!  Surely not!) which translates to, most ‘yarn’ is actually ‘nice thread that you hold double’; the heaviest weight plied yarn you’re ever going to find is DK or sport.  Occasionally you’ll find bulkier yarn, but it’s usually novelty and has, in my opinion, unnecessary lumpy things worked into it.

Next stop: Wool City.  Now, I have heard many varying opinions of said ‘city’.  The first person told me they wouldn’t want to sell me yarn, they only would want to sell me clothing.  The second person had sweaters made and said she found yarn for sale just fine.  The third person said it wasn’t worth the trip and the yarn was extremely shoddy, filled with poisonous dyes that stained her knitting needles.  (She being an epidemiologist for the CDC, I was inclined to believe her and be very, very careful.)  And so on.  But, a friend offered me her driver for the day, and I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to head out there. *tip: if you ever live overseas, try your best to get a job with a soul sucking oil or aviation company, and they will hook you up with the nicest expat benefits packages ever.  Including a driver with a ginormous  minivan, who is at your beck and call to navigate these insane streets, find parking, and magically show up when you’re ready to go, massive life-size terra cotta warrior purchase in hand.* For the sake of adventure, and because I had a free, hassle/headache free ride out there, I was going to go.

I tempered my expectations accordingly (i.e., I was expecting even less than Wansha), and since I didn’t have to walk miles, packed my camera.  I tried to research Wool City online, and was the most intrigued by this article written for The Beijinger, a great magazine geared towards the multitudes of expats living in this marvelous city.  It is through the Beijinger that I discovered Jason Mraz was coming to concert here last summer, which was one of the saving graces that helped me through my move here.

Anyway, the article was well written, it had great pictures, and best of all, it stated that the particular store the author visited had enthusiastic employees who were willing to go out on a limb for those thinking outside the box.  I appreciated all of these things, since I, too, am tired of people who only try to push on you their most expensive item and sneer upon you if you don’t buy it, or outright scold you for going cheaper.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with this ‘city’:

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Yes my friends, no building in China is complete without a McDonalds at the bottom.  I figured at least it would be a good place to get a snack after my proposed morning of exploring.  Filled with determination, I ventured in, fully prepared for a warren of open stalls and screaming vendors and overwhelming, copious amounts of THINGS.

Instead, I was greeted with dimly lit, cold, would-be-sterile-except-it’s-China-so-they’re-nasty-dirty hallways, with small signs labeling each storefront and a practically hushed atmosphere.  It looked like a former hospital had been converted to a warehouse.  In fact, at one point I reached the end of a corridor, and through glass doors and the rest of the hallway, the signs turned from “yarn shop 133” to “microscopic lab” and “testing engineering room”, so I don’t think I was too far off.  Leave it to China to house both a yarn city and a laboratory in the same building.

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I peeked in a few doors as I tiptoed by.  Many were closed, several had yarn, and many were also filled with fabric and other such sundry items.

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I figured I would just start at Store 321, as per Beijinger’s recommendation.  Shockingly, it looked just like the pictures in the article!  Not to mention, the women were just as nice as the author had stated.  It was clear that they had gotten quite a bit of foreign business from the article, as the woman immediately offered me the option of a custom made Totoro hat.

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I refused, but was thrilled that I could ask her questions about yarn and quality and she actually did NOT try to push products on me.  When she asked what project I needed the yarn for and I said I was just there to look and buy, she laughed and stood aside.  This was a good thing.

The selection itself wasn’t too terribly different from Wansha (technically, Wansha had more ‘variety’), but I was pleased with their less expensive options.  And, true to the Beijinger, they had a million zillion buttons, which I also perused.

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After I made a few purchases (I had tried to discipline myself by only bringing 200 RMB or $31 USD), I went and poked through as many other stores as I could handle.

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Doesn’t the sight of this just make you want to squeeeeeeeee?

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One of them drew me in with several women knitting, and one of them was a beginner learning to make this hat.  I was intrigued by the fit – it looks like a super baggy toque/beret in front, but the design has puckered up the back so it doesn’t slouch, which is fabulous! I also loved the yarn, and ended up buying it in two colors, a gorgeous purple/green gradient and a blue striped one.

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Sadly, I don’t remember the store number but I’m sure you could find this yarn in other shops.  If anyone can figure out this hat pattern, please share!

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The mannequin head had that weird faux-hawk thing going on, hence the odd lump on the top

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At the end of my adventure, I wound up with the following:

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The yellow and red were to make this apple dress from Ravelry, but I was thrilled with the orange/yellow, because I have been looking FOREVER to find the perfect yarn to make THIS, which has been on my queue for months.

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FIRE HAT!! *insert maniacal giggle*

I immediately got home and cast on, and am pretty pleased with the results (the yarn is nice and springy and blocked well).  Total damage? 97 RMB ($16 USD) for 750 g of DK merino yarn, and 40 RMB ($6.50) for 200g of the gradient yarn.  WIN!

Final verdict: Wool City can be hard to get to (it’s a few blocks away from the nearest subway, most expats live on the east side of town and it’s on the west side), but for sheer variety and options, I would highly recommend it to any yarn-lover willing to embark on a small adventure to find some pretty cool yarn.

“In the round”… sweet, sweet knitting love

So, I’ve been knitting for a year now.  I’ve learned a *lot* of things.  I still have a million light years to go.  There is just SO MUCH terminology out there!  It’s literally learning a new language as well as a whole world of knowledge that is completely non-existent outside the yarn microcosm, and therefore nothing you’d ever just pick up by osmosis, like watching people play poker in the movies and knowing that if it were ever you, definitely don’t bleed from your eye when you’re bluffing.  That will always get you killed.

For example, I have yet to try anything beyond a long tail cast-on.  They all have these weird, foreign, fancy sounding names and it’s just too much for me.  I recently found a website that listed no less than eleven ways.  ELEVEN.  The titles included such gems as “German twisted”, “Turkish”, “Italian”, “Channel Island”, “Estonian”… can these Europeans just get their act together and agree on one way to do it?  With crochet, you tie a slip knot, and start.  The end.

Anyhoo, with the weirdness that comes with knitting, I’ve also learned a few key terms that totally make my knitting day:

  1. As the title of this blog implies, knitting in the round.  I still haven’t quite figured out the science of how knitting in the round = stockinette while knitting flat = knit and purl, and my rows are always, ALWAYS lumpy and leave weird garter gaps in the back.  But oh, if you can make anything in the round, it’s just so much faster and easier.
  2. Seamless: knitting in the round naturally leads to seamless items.  It’s not so much that I hate seaming (it’s actually really satisfying to stitch the two pieces together and watch your ugly curled edges magically disappear), but there is just something about knitting something flat, and then knowing you still have to wash it, block it, pull those stray yarns out of the drain like unclogging hair (gag), dry it, and THEN seam it that just makes the work so unfulfilling.
  3. Sleeveless: Okay, I have a caveat on knitting in the round.  The one thing I hate more than washing/drying/seaming/undoing stitches/picking out rows/picking up dropped stitches, is knitting on DPNs.  As I mentioned before, it’s just hazardous, and I still haven’t figured out the ladders.  So, anything sans sleeves = fabulous.

Here are two recent examples of seamless + sleeves = sweet, sweet knitting love.  Sorry, future knitting recipients – you’d better all be having girls since sleeveless tubes of clothing don’t *really* lend to boys.

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Also, to that end, here are some of my queued projects on Ravelry if you want to experience your own knitting nirvana. (Click on photo to open pattern in new window.)

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Welcome New Nephew!

The first grandchild on either my husband’s side or mine was born a few weeks ago.  You can envision the excitement this stirred in my husband’s family… imagine something like unto the Lion King when Simba is reverently held up to the sky.  His brother and wife were waiting to find out if it was a boy or girl, so I had a fun challenge trying to come up with gender-neutral items.  In the end I’m lucky it turned out to be a boy, cause apparently “gender neutral” means “boy clothing that doesn’t directly involve sports teams.”  But I had a feeling it was going to be a boy all along… hence the Packers mittens.  🙂

Welcome to the world, New Nephew!

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Fancy Schmancy Stashbusters…

We all have them.  Treasured in boxes, stored on shelves, lovingly collected, often taken out and admired, never used.  I’m talking about our yarn stash – and not just those random leftover balls of yarn from prior projects, but those precious one-time purchases from random boutique yarn shops, or travels across the country/world, or colorways that you bought thinking “this is AWESOME, I’m sure I can find the perfect project for purple/green/mauve/mulberry yarn!”  And of course, since you only bought one (because it was probably $25 and it’s not like you need two balls of purplegreenmauve yarn), and said ball of $25 yarn is, I’m sure, in a special dye lot, there you have it, that now lone ball that can never be multiplied, never turned into anything larger than a small scarflet or hat or MAYBE a pair of gloves.  It just sits on the shelf, enticing you with its possibilities, begging to be used but somehow begging more to be left alone and simply admired for the things that might be, but never are.  That’s how it is with my Malabrigo merino yarn, purchased in my home town in upstate New York on a quick three day leave from Beijing.  It’s so soft, so beautiful, so variegated, that I’m pretty sure I’ll always just keep it, a lone hank of wonderful yarn that I occasionally pick up and rub.  I know, I’m weird, but I have a feeling you yarners out there will understand.

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There’s a word in Chinese:  she bu de (捨不得), that best translates to “hate to do/hate to part with” that perfectly sums up my attitude towards my precious stash.  I am she bu de to use it up and commit it to something solid.  Sometimes I prefer to just look at the un-knit/un-crocheted yarn and simply consider the possibilities of ‘what if’?

However, today I’m here to not just wax poetic on really expensive fancy yarn, but also to submit my personal collection (across Pinterest, Ravelry, and Etsy) of potential she bu de yarn busters.  These all fast, almost all free, and yarn-budget-friendly, with simple stitches that showcase said yarn, and hopefully are pretty enough to deserve that skein you’ve been holding onto since 1998.  I’ve done some of them, others I’m still holding on to for future she bu de yarn purchases.  One can never have too many cowls… right?

(Click on picture to go to pattern link)

If you’ve REALLY got a lot of time, colorways, and desire to make sooper rainbow mitts, here you go.

I love pretty much anything from the Purl Bee, and their yarn is always gorgeous.  Plus, free patterns!

If you’ve got just a bit of extra luxurious soft yarn, whip up this hat for a baby.

First cowl of the day!  I love the wooden buttons.

So maybe this doesn’t necessarily need luxury yarn, but omg c’mon, this pattern is awesome.

This is one of the most popular patterns on Ravelry, and for good reason – it’s hard to find a very manly yet cool standard hat that any guy will be willing to wear.  Ask my husband.

I’ve had this one saved for ages, and even bought eight skeins of Bernat roving to make it.  I just got distracted by the forty other projects in the time it took the yarn to come in the mail.  #toomuchyarn

For your super bulky yarn, this one whips up in a jiffy and is gorgeous with the repeating leaf pattern.

So. Pretty!!

If you’ve got a bit of extra yarn, this baby jacket is wonderful.  It’s classic and works well for both boys and girls, and can be embellished to the nines with buttons or flowers or trim.

I could go on all day, but for the sake of your tired eyes I’ll stop.  What are some of your favorite patterns for fancy yarn??

Wittle Baby Cable Hat

I found this adorable cable baby hat pattern a few months ago.  Ravelry and Pinterest are my new addictions – any time I find myself with a spare minute/hour, I’m on one or the other.  This hat caught my eye because the photo was a super cute baby (see???) and the pattern seemed relatively simple enough for my novice knitting skills.  You can easily access it here.

I got really excited when I discovered this pattern used fingering weight yarn.  Not that I was actually excited to knit with what basically ends up being skewers and string, but that I had recently spent an inordinate amount of money buying almost every colorway of Lion Brand Cone Wool yarn – a “100% virgin wool” that came in something like 2000 yards for $20.  It was a steal in my book – until it came in the mail and I saw just exactly how thin ‘fingering’ weight yarn is.  Whoops.

Anyway, since I have no plans to spend my days knitting socks (because I am just not that good, nor am I dedicated enough to spend entire weeks of my life to items of clothing that will just get stinky and have to be washed after every wear), this pattern was interesting to me also because it promised to ‘grow’ with the baby.  What does that mean?  Well dear readers, let me introduce to you a Quick Lesson on Baby Heads.

Having never given birth myself, I always just assumed that baby heads grew at a proportional rate of the rest of the body – comes out tiny (usually about 12 inches around), a little bit the first year, a little more the second year, etc.  I had measured enough adult heads to figure the average to be aboooout 22 inches.  Imagine my surprise, then, when four years ago when I first started making hats, my coworker wanted one for her 12 month old, and measured her little skull to be 19 inches around.  19????  We were both boggled.  Surely it’s not possible for such a tiny creature to have a head that’s 85% of an adult.  No WONDER they have such a hard time rolling over and lifting that noggin up, learning how to stand, walk, etc.  That is some serious topweight these little tykes are carrying around.

(Another fun trick: have you ever lifted your arms above your head?  Yes you, lift them up and see how far they reach. The top of your head comes to about your elbows, right?  Now try it on a baby.  Go ahead.  Now chortle with amusement.)

Anyhoo, given the approximate EIGHT inches in diameter that a baby’s head grows in the first year, I end up having to be really specific about my hat patterns regarding how old the baby will be/season of the year/whether it’ll fit, etc.  Depending on the pattern, I sometimes end up having to make four sizes for a baby’s first year.  Here is where knitting has the upper hand – it’s sooper stretchy and therefore very forgiving.

When I *finally* finished the hat, I was pleasantly surprised.  It grew just like it promised it would, looked cute on a small head AND didn’t look ridiculous on a bigger one!  So excited was I, that I promptly made two more.  Well, by promptly I mean, slowly over the course of two weeks, but whatevs.  Here they are!

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See?  Amazingly stretchy just as promised!  The green head size is about a 0-3 month old.  The Hat of Many Colors is on a 12 month old.  It’s magic!!

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