Friday, September 28, 2018

Paintbox Yarns cushion + a giveaway!

 If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a serious fan of acrylic yarns. I use them for almost everything, but especially for items I crochet to use around the house. This includes blankets and decorative items. I find that the durability of acrylic yarns works really well for my household, allowing things to really get used in everyday life. I also like acrylic yarns for their affordability; my crafting budget is rather limited, but I love to crochet, so acrylic gives me the chance to make as many things as I want without spending a fortune. I love other fibers too, don't get me wrong, but I come back to acrylic yarns - particularly in worsted and double-knit weights - again and again for the kinds of projects I like to make.

I was delighted recently to be offered the opportunity to try out Paintbox Yarns Simply DK, sold on the LoveCrochet site. Are you familiar with LoveCrochet? You should be! LoveCrochet is a global hub for crocheters: a dedicated site where makers can find inspiration from our thousands of patterns, share projects and shop from the world's biggest stash of yarns. LoveCrochet's aim is to inspire everyone's inner maker, spread the joy of making and to make making a magical experience. Through their site, crocheters can connect with one another in forums, share their creations, download patterns and purchase yarns like those in the Paintbox line, along with brands like Debbie Bliss and MillaMia. They offer lots of free patterns and they regularly post tutorials and how to guides. When you shop with LoveCrochet, you'll get free delivery on all orders over $60 and 20% off orders over $100 with free returns on everything! For knitters, they have a sister website called LoveKnitting and an app for all your knitting needs. Knitters and crocheters alike will find lots of great resources and supplies on their sites.

Paintbox Yarns Simply DK comes in 60 beautiful and vibrant shades. LoveCrochet asked me to choose a pattern from their library to use with my yarns. I decided on the Daisy Cushion, a pretty granny-flower pattern designed to be made with Paintbox Simply DK. I opted to use Misty Grey for the main color, along with Blush Pink, Slate Green and Mustard Yellow for the flowers (I provided my own cushion insert and buttons to complete the project). My yarn arrived in a lovely organza drawstring bag. I got started as soon as possible and found that this yarn is very nice to work with - really soft and light, with very little splitting.

The front of the cushion calls for 25 flower squares. I made 13 pink and 12 green, all with yellow centers. I enjoyed making these little squares! The technique was new to me, and I thought the flowers looked very pretty with their pointy little petals. I did find the pattern just slightly confusing at times, however. It's written in both UK and US terms, which is good, but it took me a little getting used to. I always find myself getting confused between doubles and trebles! Some of the other language in the pattern took a bit of getting used to as well, but I think this may be a difference between UK English and US; nothing major, just slight wording differences, I guess you could say.

Once I'd made all 25 squares, I crocheted them together in strips of five squares with the colors alternated (the pattern suggests sewing the squares together, but I much prefer to crochet squares, so I did that instead). Then I crocheted the strips together to create a solid piece and got started on the cushion's back, which is just a big granny square, all in gray, with rounds joined in the corners (I was so glad to see they used this technique in the pattern, as it's my new favorite way to make a big square and it worked great here too). 

I also liked the construction aspect of the cushion, as in putting front and back together and adding closure. The cushion front and back are joined on three sides by a round of single crochet, leaving the fourth side open. Then the fourth side is worked almost in the round, by adding a button strip along the front and a solid edge on the back. The button strip is really simple but effective, made with four chain loops evenly spaced along the top edge. The buttons (I used simple varnished wooden ones) are sewn onto the back top edge and they're easily fastened into the button loops. Simple. 

My finished cushion! I'm really happy with it. I think the colors work well together and look nice in my living room. The cushion cover turned out just slightly large for my 18x18 pillow insert, which isn't ideal, but it's close enough and I don't think the size difference is very noticeable. I can only assume this happened because my crochet tension was a little loose. I don't mind, though. I think it's lovely just like this.

I love the back as well. It's just a simple granny square, basic and effective. You really can't go wrong with a simple cushion backing. I like it so much I would display it this way sometimes as well.

And I like the way my Daisy Cushion looks with the other pillows on the couch. It looks right at home! I'm really glad I chose this project and I absolutely loved working with Paintbox Yarns Simply DK. Thanks, LoveCrochet, for the opportunity to try it out and make something pretty for my home.

Daisy Cushion
Yarn: Paintbox Yarns Simply DK in Misty Grey, Slate Green, Blush Pink and Mustard Yellow
Hook: Clover Amour E/4 (3.50mm)
Pattern: Daisy Cushion by Paintbox Yarns,
Size: just over 18 by 18 inches square
Other materials: 18 by 18 cushion insert, four buttons (1 1/4 inch), thread
Made: August-September 2018


Would you like to try some of this yarn too? Scroll down for an exciting surprise!

LoveCrochet has generously offered to send one lucky reader TEN balls of Paintbox Yarns Simply DK in the colors of their choice! Aren't you so excited!? I know I am. I loved working with this yarn and I can't wait for you to try it for yourself. Then you could make this cushion cover too (twice!) and we can be cushion twins! Or make something else of your choice. No matter what you make, it will be gorgeous with all those colors to choose from.

Here's how the giveaway works...please read the following carefully.

To win my giveaway, you must leave a comment on this post (one entry per person). Your comment must include your intention to be entered in the giveaway (just say you wish to be entered). You also need to go to the Paintbox Yarns Simply DK product page, have a look around, and tell me at least one color that you really love from the product line in the SAME COMMENT. You can list as many as you want, of course!

I will draw the giveaway winner from the comments in two weeks, on October 12. I will then contact the winner via email (and subsequently announce the winner on my blog). The winner's email address will be forwarded to a LoveCrochet/LoveKnitting representative who will work with you to choose and send your ten balls of yarn. Your prize choice may depend on available stock. 

To enter (and win) my giveaway, you MUST provide a way to reach you via email. You will need to make sure I can email you through your Blogger profile, or provide your email address in your entry comment, or send me an email by clicking this link.  If you send me an email, you still have to leave a comment to enter the giveaway, okay? I just want to make it fair and fun for everybody. :)

This giveaway is open to readers in the US, UK and AUS/NZ.

Okay, go! Get that lovely Paintbox Yarns Simply DK for yourself!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Turn, turn, turn

Hello! I hope you're having a good week so far. Thank you so much for the comments and feedback on my last post, about our combined schooling situation. We're mostly very happy with our choices, but it's always good to stop and reflect on things periodically. I hadn't written about school at any length in quite some time, and with a few questions lately about how we do it, it seemed like a good time to revisit the topic. I also enjoyed reading about your approaches to education and why you chose them. I think it's a really interesting topic and I appreciate that you shared your thoughts, feelings and decisions with me.

Well, around here, fall is definitely setting in and I couldn't be happier about that. I realized lately just how bone-tired I've been. I've started going to sleep earlier and I'm feeling great with the extra sleep. It helps to have earlier darkness and later sunrises, both of which make it more difficult to get enough sleep in the summertime. I've realized that I get really overtired in the summer, actually; it creeps up on me and soon I'm totally exhausted. It's much cooler now too, even a little bit cold outside at night, which helps too.  Last night, I slept eight full hours with all the covers on, which is really saying something.

Are the seasons changing where you are? We're just starting to get some color on the trees and in the plants around the yard. The apple harvest was incredible this year; I'm running out of ideas for using them up, honestly. I've also been eating two apples per day straight off the tree. They're smallish apples but have a really good flavor and crispness. We've made lots of applesauce, dried apple leather, dried apple rings, apple crisp and apple cake. I think I want to try making apple butter with the last of the apples I can reach on the tree. I've said that in past years, and I do want to get to it eventually, but I'm enjoying eating the reachable apples so much that I may have to climb the tree to get enough apples to do anything else with - or have someone young and limber do it for me.

Speaking of which, the LB had a birthday over the weekend. We now officially have a teenager in the house! Whoa. I fully expect more teenagery behavior to kick in at some point, but for now, he's still the same sweet, agreeable and pleasant boy he's always been (if anything, I'd like to see some more opinionated behavior from him eventually; he might be a little too laid-back!). His voice is changing and he's taller than I am. He moves and talks just like his father. Our little boy is big.

We had a nice little birthday celebration, with dinner our at Jason's Deli (always his choice every year because he loves the salad bar), and cake, ice cream and presents back at home. I made a Funfetti-style cake like I did last year for the GB's birthday. I've been buying sprinkles in bulk lately, to use in a) the GB's birthday ice cream sundaes; b) the GB's birthday treats for school (Sugar Cookie Bars from Sally's Baking Addiction, which were so delicious); c) the LB's birthday treats for school (basic Rice Krispie Treats that he asked me to "make cool-looking," so I put sprinkles on top while they were still warm so they would stick on really well); and d) the Funfetti cake for the LB. I made a couple of changes for this latest Funfetti cake: I didn't use anyone's Funfetti recipe this time, just a basic yellow cake recipe with sprinkles added, scaled for only a single layer in a square pan, to reduce the sheer quantity of cake. As much as I love cake, this worked a lot better for us - we could enjoy the whole cake while it was still delicious.

In between keeping the sprinkle industry alive, I've been crocheting again. I finished a home decor project that I'll share soon. I've also started a new blanket. Yes, I know, I make so many blankets. But this one will be useful and it will finally guzzle up some of this worsted acrylic yarn that I'm still trying to plow through. I had no idea I had so much yarn. It's not even that I have a huge stash - it's actually really small by most serious yarn-crafters' standards. Still, it's plenty and I'm tired of storing it. So I've decided to replace my very first real big blanket, which I made around 2011. It's a Neat Ripple from Attic 24, and it was my first foray into doing something more complicated than row after row of straight double-crochet (which does eventually become a blanket, and I'd made several, starting when I was a teenager). I made it before I started my blog, but I did share some photos soon after I began blogging (like, literally, I think it was my second post to this blog; you can read it here).

I was really proud of this blanket and it was used to death, first on our bed and later in the family room. It's funny to look at it now. My color sense has improved a lot, as have my crochet skills; there are a lot of mistakes. I think the mistakes have a lot to do with the fact that this blanket is now falling apart! Stripes are actually separating from each other. It's full of holes. I've decided to crochet another Neat Ripple to replace it! I know, really going back to basics. But I have my reasons: I love the look, it's a timeless classic; I have plenty of yarn and I'm better at colors now, so I think I can make a nice-looking ripple; and it's almost mindless, which is the kind of project I like to have in the cooler months, to pick up and put down as I want. I've made lots of square-based projects lately and this is something a little different. I'm excited! It's giving me a peaceful feeling and just look at that yarn disappear.

What's new with you? I hope the rest of your week is good! Take care, my friends.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

School days, now

As we settle into the school year, and my children - now in fourth and seventh grade - become more independent and self-directed, I've been thinking about our school life. I've had some questions asked lately about our educational situation and I thought it would be nice to devote a post to discussing it as it stands today. I've written about our fairly unusual schooling approach before, when my children were younger. Most things about it are still the same - we attend an alternative school within our city's public school system that is designed to give students a combination of traditional classroom learning along with homeschooling. Our school has gone through some changes in the past few years that have taken it from a primarily 50/50 (classroom/homeschool) split to a primarily 80% classroom-based program. I think this has altered the basic concept of the school. We have persisted with the 50/50 program, shrunken though it now is, because we believe in it.

Why did we choose this program? There were several reasons (all of which apply only to our little family; I have no judgment of others' choices; I'm only saying what we've chosen). The Bear and I like the idea of homeschooling, but we do not feel that full homeschooling is right for us, mainly because we don't think we'd be able to provide the kind of social experiences kids need in addition to academic ones. We are both fairly introverted, as are our kids. Having them in school part-time lets us give them the outside connections they need, which are not always easy for us to provide. We like having them work with an adult who isn't one of their parents.

But we also like having some level of control over what they learn, which is to say that with our program we can direct much of it ourselves, supplement where we feel it is necessary, and dispel misinformation or myth if we have to (which does happen from time to time). We're both quite liberal in our attitudes about what kids should know and learn, and we don't limit them aside from what is age- or developmentally-appropriate for them. It's not that we wish to shield them from learning anything (we discuss it all around here, sometimes to my own squeamishness), it's more that we aren't always happy with what they're picking up outside our home, from kids and adults alike. I am always loathe to get into controversial topics on my blog, and won't be doing it now either, but it's an unpredictable world out there, as you well know.

The small Bears attend school Tuesday through Friday, for several hours each morning (Fridays are the long day, at about four and a half hours, the other days are about three and a half. We don't have school bus service to our school, since it is an alternative school, so we are required to drive them to and from school every day. This is a pain, though a fairly small one. I pick them up and bring them home to eat lunch and start on our homeschool, which usually takes us through most of the afternoon. They bring home assignments from the teachers, but they also have work that we devise for them. We make our own lesson plans and give them assignments in addition to whatever the teachers assign. We do our own homeschool plan year-round; both children have assignments every day through the summer break. This may sound draconian to some, but the summer break is so relentlessly long here. Having daily work helps fill the time and also aids skill retention. This is not a requirement of the school, and to my knowledge few others do it, but it's important to us.

We feel very fortunate and proud to have bright kids, though this comes with its own challenges, of course. The math curriculum at school is solid (the Bear has had a hand in some of the development of it, actually, another source of pride for me), but some kids reach a point where it isn't enough for them, which is now the case for the LB. He has completed the curriculum at school, so while he continues to receive review work in the courses he has completed, we have moved on at home. This requires us to buy textbooks for teaching him. If you're looking for a great math curriculum for students in middle school and up, I can strongly recommend the series known as The Art of Problem Solving by Richard Rusczyk. The LB has completed the Prealgebra book and is much of the way through Introduction to Algebra; the GB is now learning from the Prealgebra book.

The LB is also learning from the textbook Conceptual Physical Science (Hewitt, Suchoki and Hewitt, authors), to supplement the science curriculum he receives from school. We choose to supplement in science for a few reasons, namely that he is very interested in the topic, and also to build a strong science foundation for high school, which is coming in two short years. It's just around the corner, really, and the high school both kids will attend is very competitive and it will pay to be well-prepared. Miss GB is included in his science learning as well.

When they were younger, we spent almost all of our homeschool time together in the kitchen and family room, which are really one large, open room. I'd float back and forth between them; he was usually on the couch, while she liked to sit on the floor near the coffee table. Nowadays, she prefers to sit at the kitchen counter on a stool, while I stand nearby or sit on the other stool to work with her. As a fourth-grader, her independence is increasing, but she still needs a fair amount of guidance. I really like this age group, by the way. I enjoy working with her right now because she has a lot of confidence in her own skills but is still very welcoming of my involvement. She is practically my opposite as a student; she's willing to try again and again, and she doesn't demand perfection from herself. She wants to do well, and strives to, but she understands it better than I did: she knows that it's about what you learn, not the number in red ink at the top of the paper. She's an excellent student and I think it's because she lets herself make mistakes and then learns as much as she can from them.

The LB has opted lately to work alone in the living room. Our home is small and only one level, so it's simple to walk in and out and see what he's up to. He doesn't need very much hands-on help anymore, once we've finished a lesson in a textbook and its accompanying exercises. When doing schoolwork (or anything, really), he likes to spread out all over the room, including the coffee table, the floor, the couch and the nearby end tables and chairs. As long as he picks up after himself when he's finished, this is fine with me. We continue to work on organization and legible handwriting. As a student, he is less focused than his sister, and almost entirely unconcerned with grades or confining rules, but it's just his nature; he's one of those people who seems to float unruffled through life. Must be nice! We're working on some of this, but overall, he's a great student. He also possesses an incredible curiosity, which I think will take him far. It's interesting to see the differences between my son and daughter as students and learners. Having been a teacher (of high school English) before I had them, with many different kinds of learners among my students, I do see some of it as gender-based, but there is so much that is related to personality too.

I hope this helps answer some readers' questions; it was good for me to revisit my own thoughts and feelings on our school life too. I'm still happy with our choice, in spite of the changes that have occurred recently (which haven't always been positive ones, but in general they haven't affected us directly). I'm thankful for the opportunity to teach my kids at home, and to be very involved with what and how they're learning. It's good to look at what we're doing now that one of them is at the tail-end of his combined schooling experience; we do plan to send both children to our neighborhood public high school. This is not a decision we've taken lightly, but in the end, we feel it's the best way to meet their social and academic needs. Some of us are really looking forward to the school bus service, but I'm not naming names or anything...

Friday, September 14, 2018

A crocheted poncho

Miss GB turned ten last week and I had been thinking about making her a wearable gift for a while. She has a plethora of crocheted hats; I've made cardigans, dresses and skirts over the years. At ten, I don't think she's too interested in most of my amateur creations anymore (I'm not hurt or bitter, either; my skills are adequate for clothing the younger child, less so for older ones). I do know that she likes to snuggle up in an old woven wool poncho belonging to the Bear, so a poncho just for her seemed like a fun idea. I had a great time making one for her over a few mornings in mid-August, right after school started - when I finally had some time to crochet in solitude (and daylight - not an easy combination to achieve).

I searched online for patterns and came across a simple one on the Yarnspirations website (you can download it for free here or order a kit with yarn from that same page). The suggested yarn is Bernat Pop! gradient cake yarn, which is a worsted-weight acrylic yarn. I bought my yarn from Jo-Ann in a sale and found that two of my three balls had the pattern printed on the ball band. For some reason, that gave me a little thrill. It's like this poncho was just dying to be made. I chose the yarn colorway called Blue Blaze - a combination of minty green, teal, periwinkle, purple and dark blue. Miss GB's current favorite color is "seafoam green," she tells me, so this seemed like a good way to work in that approximate shade, with some other complementary ones for interest.

The pattern is so simple and it works up fast. I really enjoyed it. After the initial round of single-crochet worked into a ring of chains, it's all granny clusters, with increases at the center to create the pointed front and back. The pattern is designed to fit a girl of eight to ten years old. I knew this would work well for Miss GB, even though she's at the top of the age range, because she is very small for her age. If anything, I was concerned that it might be too large for her, but I wouldn't feel confident trying to alter the pattern, so I crocheted it just as written.

The Bernat Pop! yarn was really nice and a lot of fun to work with! It's soft and light, especially for a worsted-weight acrylic. I loved watching the colors pool as I crocheted. At first, the colors changed after every three rows, but as the poncho grew, the pooling became a little random, which I found to be really fun, just trying to anticipate how long a color might last before changing to the next one. The pattern called for three cakes, but I only used about two and a half cakes. Two of my cakes were wound exactly the same way, with the colors going in the same exact order, while one started with a different color in the center and worked outward through the color pattern ending on a different shade. I thought this was really cool, actually, and it gave a bit more interest to the rounds.

You just keep crocheting until the work reaches 16 inches from the neckline to the bottom edge, with no additional edging. I wasn't sure how this would look, but it turned out fine; granny clusters are a sturdy pattern and the work develops a nice weight. For the neckline, you crochet a long chain and thread it through the granny clusters to make a drawstring that can be tied in a bow. I ended up making my chain much longer than the pattern said to make it, simply because I could see that my poncho was going to be a little large for my girl; at least we could tighten it down if we needed a closer fit.

She loves her poncho! I was so glad when she opened her gift, then put it on right away. That's such a good feeling, isn't it? She was happy to model her new poncho for me a few days later on our back porch (pardon the unsightly chain-link gate; I needed to have her in a shaded place for decent photos). The poncho is a bit too large for her; I would have liked to see it come down to upper-thigh length, not the knees, but she's a bitty one and I look at it this way - she'll be able to wear her poncho forever. She might even get married in it.

I tightened the drawstring down as much as I could to make it snug enough to stay on her shoulders. I tightened it further at first and it just looked wrinkly and weird, so we'll keep it like this for now. Again, all the better to grow into.

I'm really happy with the drape. It's light and fluid, but should still be plenty warm and snuggly for chilly weather; she can wear it around the house or as a warm outer layer when she's outdoors. I think this yarn would make a fantastic blanket, especially a striped pattern. I've had my eye on a blanket pattern for a little while that I think would work great with this yarn, the Trio Blanket by Susan Carlson (Ravelry link), which uses Scheepjes Whirl cotton/acrylic gradient cake yarns. I loooove the blanket design, but the yarn is slightly pricey; this Pop! yarn could be a good substitute, but it's a much heavier weight so I'd have to account for that. I like working with this yarn, and it's rugged enough for the kind of heavy use my blankets invariably get, so I'll be keeping it in mind.

A successful project and an appreciated gift. Work it, girl!

Girl Bear's Poncho
Yarn: Bernat Pop! worsted-weight acrylic cake yarn in Blue Blaze
Hook: Clover Amour, size H/8 (5.00mm)
Size: made to pattern, girls 8-10 years old
Made: August 2018 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Slide into fall

Hello! It's good to be back here after a hectic few weeks. The beginning of this school year has taken it out of me, I have to tell you. There are some changes at school - most of them really good! - which have been a bit of an adjustment, and all the extracurricular activities started up in the past two weeks as well, so I've been getting back into the routines and adding some new things to them as well. This year, both kids are involved in math clubs, including MathCounts National Math Club for the LB, in addition to guitar lessons for both, ballet for the GB and computer coding club for the LB. Also, I was again locked in battle with the LB's medical providers, insurance and pharmacy regarding his medication, but that's nothing new - just a time-consuming frazzle. I just needed a little break, but I'm glad to be making time for my blog again.

So what's new here...Miss GB turned ten last week! I can hardly believe it. This sweet, brilliant and talented girl. She wanted to have ice cream sundaes instead of cake, and she picked all the fixings herself. We celebrated on her actual birthday here at home, with presents and ice cream, and the next night we went out for dinner at Red Robin (her choice; she picks it every year) and she got more ice cream from the waiters, who also sang to her. I made one of her presents myself, a crocheted poncho made with gradient cake yarn, which was fun to work with. I really like the way the poncho came out and I'll share it soon.

I've also been working on a small crochet home-decor project. It's been a real blast, I've enjoyed it so much and I'm looking forward to showing you that soon too. I'm also starting to think about another stash-buster project, probably a blanket for the family room (because there will never, ever be enough blankets in this house, apparently), but I haven't settled on anything for sure yet. I do know that I want to have a cold-weather project on the go and I'd like to start soon, to enhance the nascent fall feelings I've begun to enjoy.

Speaking of the season, it does feel like fall is beginning to creep in around here. The days still get very warm but the mornings have begun to feel crisp and it's pitch-dark outside before 8 pm, so we'll definitely well on our way. I'm so glad. Fall is my favorite season and I welcome the change every year. We're starting to do some fall things now, which has been delightful. We made a Dutch oven bread in the backyard last week, with hot coals under the Dutch oven and on top of the lid, and we roasted some green chiles on hot coals alongside the Dutch oven. I'm baking again; yesterday, I made an apple crisp and we all collaborated on apple fruit leather and dried apple rings, all of which utilized apples from our own backyard tree, which was prolific this year. I don't have many concrete plans for the fall, but I do plan to spend more time outdoors now that it's not so hot, and I want to get back into making soups, stews and baked things. I miss them so much in the summer.

How are you doing? Do you have plans for the new season? I hope all is well with you. Back soon. 💛
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