Hyperbolic crochet ball

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that my pregnancy prompted an almost obsessive desire for crafting baby things.  This was, of course, accompanied by an almost obsessive amount of reading up on things that would help my son developmentally.  I was wanting to make all kinds of baby toys, and I saw many many posts of balls.  Great, I thought.  I can make those and stuff them.  But, it also occurred to me that it would be a while before he would be able to hold spherical objects, and would probably just end up accidentally throwing them across the floor, much to everyone’s annoyance.  This is when I came across the concept of hyperbolic crochet.  Despite it’s somewhat intimidating name, this is actually really really simple.  It just involves doubling the number of stitches per round.  (Being a nerd, I feel like exponential crochet would be a more apt name, but what can you do?!).  The simplicity of it makes this a great project for anyone, regardless of crochet skill level.  So, armed with a nice bright color yarn and the recommended size crochet hook, I dove right in.

What you’ll need:

Yarn (your choice of color) – for the best contrast, go with white and edge it in black, otherwise just go for something bright and colorful.

Crochet hook – since my yarn was a size 3 (light weight), I used a 3.5mm hook, but you can adjust this to suit your needs.  If you wanted a small ball, go with thread and a small hook, for a bigger one, chunky yarn and a bigger hook.

Stitch marker (optional) – I worked the ball in spirals rather than joining at the end of each round, so a stitch marker was helpful.  If you choose to join at the end of each round, you can get by without one.  If you don’t want to buy special stitch markers, a paperclip works very well.

To make a hyperbolic ball:

Round 1: chain 6, join to the first chain with a slip stitch

Round 2: sc in each chain around (6 sc)

Round 3: 2 sc in each stitch around (12 sc)

Round 4: 2 sc in each stitch around (24 sc)

Repeat this process of 2 stitches in each one until you have a ball of the size you want.  Mine was about 9 rounds in total.  Finish with a round of 1 sc in each stitch (using a contrasting color if wanted), fasten off and weave in the ends.  Don’t worry about making it fold – it’ll do that all by itself, leaving you with a great texture covered in folds that are perfect for tiny hands to grab on to.  If you make this for your little one, I’d love to know what they think of it!  I had to wait until mine was asleep to take a picture of it, seeing as he rarely puts it down!

 

Crocheted plastic bag plastic bag holder

No, that’s not a typo you see in the title.  This is my plastic bag holder that I crocheted using plastic bags.  You know, the kind that you get 800 of from a trip to the grocery store where, if your local store is anything like mine, 2 would have been sufficient.  Despite my best efforts, we too frequently grabbed a few items on the way home from work without enough forward planning to have taken reusable bags with us.  And so began the mountain of plastic bags that ended up in our pantry.  My original plan was just to make something to store them in, but while rooting through my yarn stash I remembered just how versatile crochet can be in terms of it’s starting materials.  I originally learned to crochet because I wanted to make a flower to go on a bag that I was making, and I definitely got bitten by the crochet bug.  Despite spending years watching my Mom and Grandmother knit at what can only be described as the speed of light, knitting just never worked for me.  I never really understood shaping, and while I can get a half decent square or rectangle out of it, I just couldn’t get my head around anything more complicated than that.  Crochet on the other hand was a completely different story.  There’s something about it that’s inherently easier for me to understand, whether it involves changing the shape, changing the stitch styles, or a combination of the two.

Early on in my crochet journey, a friend mentioned something to me about crocheting with old t-shirts, allowing you to mix up fabrics and colors without spending a fortune on yarn.  It had never even occurred to me that something like that would even be a possibility.  So, when I started looking into how to make a plastic bag holder, it occurred to me that maybe I could kill two birds with one stone, and upcycle some of the bags by using them to make a holder for the others.  While looking around on the internet, I discovered that this is apparently not a new concept.  It’s typically referred to as plarn – plastic yarn.  I’ll admit I had my doubts.  After all, how many times have you come home from the grocery store and found the bag barely holding together because something ripped a tiny hole in the side which rapidly grew into the size of a small crater?!  But it turns out that this stuff is actually much sturdier to crochet with than it is to make bags out of. The reason is that it’s cut into small strips which end up being used at double thickness once they’ve been attached together.  This does, however, have a downside – it’s not particularly easy to work with because it isn’t that flexible.  I remember having to put it down and take a break at times because the plarn was hurting my hands.

Making the plarn on the other hand, is really really easy.  Take your plastic bag and cut off the bottom and the handles, leaving you with a tube.  Leave the sides in tact.  Then, fold it or roll it to make it easier to work with, and cut it into strips about 1/2 – 1 inch wide.  The exact width doesn’t matter, as long as they’re more or less the same, so don’t worry about trying to measure or be exact with it.  Unfold each piece – you should now have several circles.  To make one long piece, start joining them together.  Lay one on top of another and pull one end of the bottom circle through the top one.  Pull the top loop back through the bottom one, and gently pull them until a knot forms (sorry if that’s not the best explanation, hopefully the pictures will help!).  Keep joining more and more loops onto the end, giving you one long strand of plarn.  At some point you’ll want to start rolling it into a ball to keep it all under control.  If you start turning it into a center pull ball, then you can keep adding to the outer end while rolling from the inside.  I found this particularly useful, since I had no idea how much plarn I would need, so doing this allowed me to add extra bags as I was going.  There’s a good tutorial on how to do this here.  Now you have a ball of plarn, it’s time to start crocheting!

To make this plastic bag holder, you’ll need:

Your ball of plarn

2 elastic hair ties (you can use rubber bands if you want, but I find hair ties are easier to work with)

Crochet hook – the size isn’t too important, just make sure it isn’t too small because the tighter you make this, the more difficult the plarn is to work with.  I wouldn’t go with anything smaller than 6mm, but bigger would be fine.  It depends on what size you want, how tight you crochet and how pliable you find the plarn.

Row 1: Crochet around the first hair tie with single crochet.  My hair ties were old and getting a little stretched out, so for me this ended up being 18 sc.  The numbers I’ll use from here on are based on this, but if yours are different it isn’t important, you can add or remove stitches as necessary.

Row 2: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in each stitch around (36 dc).

Row 3: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in next stitch, repeat around (54 dc)

Row 4-18 (ish): chain 6 (counts as 1 dc and chain 4), skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch, *chain 4, skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch* repeat around.  From here on you’ll be working in spirals.  When you get back around to where you started row 4, there will be some overlap between the first and last set of chains and dc – just keep counting in 5s and working your way around to create a mesh – you want the dcs to be staggered from one round to the next.  Keep this going until you have a tube of the size that you want.   For me, this ended up being 15 rounds.

Row 19: dc in each stitch around (54 dc)

Row 20: dc2tog in each stitch around (27 dc)

Row 21: dc2tog in first stitch, dc in next stitch, repeat around (18 dc)

Row 22: sc in each stitch, crocheting around second hair tie

Row 23: chain required length for hanging loop (for me this was 14), sc in next stitch of row 22.  Fasten off and weave in ends.

And there you have it – an upcycled plastic bag holder that’s totally customizable for your needs and preferences.  Seeing as I already had all of the materials, this project cost me absolutely nothing!

Please note: you’re welcome to use this pattern for your own use and to make items to sell, but please link any posts back here.  Thanks!

Toad in the hole with onion gravy

Of all of the things that I did during my final weeks of pregnancy, the one that I think was the best use of my time and somewhat limited energy was to stock my freezer with pre-made food.  And when I say stock, I mean really stock.  I had to give up on making a good portion of things that I wanted to make because I had filled every inch of available space (although that has as much to do with the size of my freezer as the amount of food that I made).  Why was this the best thing that I did?  When my son arrived and we had almost no sleep and even less of an idea of what we were doing, we didn’t have to even think about cooking.  And when I only had what seemed like minutes in between feedings, feedings and more feedings, I could grab something to eat that would be ready in seconds.  Between our freezer and my wonderful friends at church bringing us meals, we didn’t cook dinner from scratch for at least a month, and didn’t end up living on take out with the nutritional value of the box that it comes in.

Anyone who knows me knows my obsessive need to plan and organize.  Never has this been a more useful thing for me than with my pre-baby freezer stocking.  I started with a spreadsheet of meal categories (breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinners etc) and filled it with lists of items and links to online recipes where I didn’t have my own.  There were gallon bags filled with meat and vegetables to go into the slow cooker, stuffed breakfast biscuits, meatballs, fruit portioned into bags for smoothies… The list goes on and on!  It worked so well for us, that I now spend a few hours restocking once a month or so, to limit the amount of cooking that we have to do during the week.  Having moved to the US from England, I love to make traditional English food for my husband, so one of the things that we currently have sitting in our freezer is a pre-made toad in the hole.  My husband still has no idea what this actually is – I think he’s worried that I’m planning to feed him actual toads for dinner!  For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, it’s basically sausages baked in a batter, typically served with mashed potatoes and some kind of vegetable.  My version of it contains onions and some extra seasoning, and I also like to serve it with onion gravy.  If it’s part of my freezer stocking plan, I bake it in a disposable foil loaf tin so it doesn’t take up too much space and is just big enough for the 2 of us, but in terms of scaling it up to a bigger size, the sky’s the limit (or rather, your oven’s the limit!).  Here’s what you need to make it for 2:

2-4 sausages (depending on size and appetite); if I was in England I’d be using either Lincolnshire or Cumberland sausages, but seeing as those aren’t so readily available here, I use decent sized bratwurst which are easy to find in my local grocery store.

3 heaped tbsp plain flour

1 large egg

3 oz milk

2 oz water

Salt and pepper

Optional: 1/2 onion,diced, 1/2 tsp mustard powder and 1/2 tsp dried thyme

How to make it:

Heat the oven to 400 F.  Part cook the sausages by baking in a little oil for about 10 minutes, just to get them starting to brown on the outside.  If you’re adding onion, saute it until it’s starting to caramelize, and add to the pan with the sausages.  To make the batter, whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl to break up any clumps.  Make a well in the center.  Lightly beat the egg and add it to the other wet ingredients, then pour into the well and whisk everything together.  Pour the batter over the sausages in the hot pan, and put it back in the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden brown.  If you’re freezing it, let it cool, then cover and put in the freezer.  Really easy, and not a single amphibian to be found!

As I mentioned, this is delicious when served with onion gravy.  Here’s what you’ll need for that:

1 tsp olive (or other) oil

1/2 onion, diced

1/2 tbsp plain flour

3/4 cup chicken, vegetable or beef stock

Salt and pepper

Optional: 1/2 tsp dried thyme, Worcestershire sauce

Heat the oil and saute the onion over a low heat until caramelized (at least 10 minutes).  Add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually add the stock, stirring to make sure you don’t get any lumps (other than the onions).  Add the Worcestershire sauce and seasonings, and simmer for around 10 minutes to thicken.  The longer you simmer it for, the richer the flavor gets.  If it gets too thick, add more stock to thin it out.  If it’s too thin, either simmer it for a while longer until it has reduced, or mix a small amount of flour with some stock and add that to the pan (I really do mean small – if you add too much, it’ll turn into a brick).

My apologies for the lack of photos – I’ll make sure I take some the next time I make it!  In the meantime, if you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it turns out.

 

Stuffed acorn squash

So far I’ve mostly posted things I make to keep everyday life with a baby running smoothly.  Today, I’d like to post something a little different that is an absolute necessity for keeping me running smoothly – a healthy dinner recipe!  I made this for my husband last night, and he ate the whole thing without complaining that it was 90% vegetable, or that there was no side of rice with it, and was even considering using the leftover filling to stuff peppers with!  When he actually suggests eating vegetables, that is a successful day in our house, since he typically eats like a 12 year old unless I do the cooking!

So, here’s what you’ll need for this recipe:

1 acorn squash (or several bell peppers if you prefer)

1lb ground beef

1 onion

2-4 cloves garlic, depending on your personal preferences

1 14oz can of chopped tomatoes

8 oz mushrooms (whichever type you prefer)

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp each ground cumin, ground coriander and dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)

A splash of red wine and balsamic vinegar (optional but adds a nice flavor)

2-3 tbsp chopped pecans (or walnuts, or whatever nut you like)

 

To cook:

Roast the squash whole at 350 F for about 45 minutes or until it’s tender enough to slice in half.  Scoop out the seeds and slice a tiny piece off of the bottom so that it stays level.

Sautee the onions in olive oil or your cooking oil of choice for about 20 minutes over a low heat, until they’ve gone from white… to this lovely caramel color…  I’ll be honest, since the baby was asleep, I used this step as my opportunity to go take a shower – you really do want to cook them for that long.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the ground beef.  Cook until almost brown, then add the garlic and the mushrooms.  Once the meat has fully browned and the mushrooms have softened, add the rest of the ingredients.

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Cover and simmer for as long as you can (ideally at least an hour).  Pile the filling into the squash (depending on the size of your squash, this might actually give you enough to fill 2 of them), top with the pecans and put it back in the oven for about 30 minutes.

 

Eh voila, tasty homemade dinner, and not a processed carb in sight!  Ah, happy happy days!

Baby name plaque

While heavily pregnant and wanting to do nothing other than make baby things and take naps, I had a thought that I’d like something to put on the wall of the nursery, especially since we’re renting our apartment and wouldn’t be able to paint the room at all.  I spent a long time browsing on pinterest, where I spend a great deal of my web surfing time (big shock, I know!) and what I came up with was a set of 3 plaques with contrasting colors, animals, his name and what it means.  I did find these on sale on etsy for $45-50, but I figured I could make a version of it myself.

So, off I went to my local craft store armed with a coupon and a pretty well formed idea of what I wanted.  What I came home with was:

Three 8 x 10 inch wooden plaques, 3/4 inch thick

Two yellow chevron sheets of scrapbook paper (12 x 12 inch)

Two grey sheets of scrapbook paper (12 x 12 inch)

White paint

One 2 oz bottle of modge podge gloss

With the coupon, all of this came to approximately $24 – half the price I could buy the finished product for, so happy mama!

My trial run was to take a sheet of regular paper and figure out the letter spacing, and to get some practice with the lettering style (I was working from a calligraphy book).  Once I was happy with that, I set to work!  Firstly, I had to cover the plaques – 2 of them with the yellow chevron paper, and 1 of them with the grey.  This is not something you want to rush, as you want to make sure you don’t get wrinkles or air bubbles under the paper.  I marked the outline of the plaque onto the back of the paper and applied a thin(ish) layer of the modge podge to that area of the paper.  Before gluing the sides, I used a ruler to smooth the surface of the paper, just make sure you do it gently so that you don’t tear the paper, as being wet from the adhesive will make it more delicate.  Then, I creased the paper firmly along the edges of the plaques and set to gluing those down all around, again using the ruler to smooth everything.  Then came the most difficult part for me – waiting until it was completely dry.  I can get impatient with this kind of thing, and this is definitely not the time for that.

Once everything was dry, I used printed animal templates to cut out a giraffe and an elephant from the remaining sheet of grey paper, and used modge podge to glue these onto the yellow plaques.  Finally, using my trial run as a guide, I marked out my lettering on the grey plaque with a pencil, and filled it in with white paint.  Once the animals were dry, I used a small amount of the paint to add a line to distinguish the elephant’s ear.  After all of the paint was dry (I left it overnight, just to be absolutely sure), I covered all 3 with a thin layer of modge podge to seal everything.  And that was it!  My husband hung them on the wall using velcro command strips, but they would also look cute with these triangular picture hangers and some co-ordinated ribbon.

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If you give this a go, please let me know how it turns out!

DIY Wedding flowers

I know this is a pretty drastic detour from the baby posts, but this is something I really wanted to share with you all.

When my husband and I got married, I decided to do a lot of the more decorative components myself.  Partly to save money, and partly because I can get really particular about these kind of things, and was really concerned about the idea of somebody else getting it wrong, and getting paid for it, when I then wouldn’t be able to fix it and have it exactly the way I wanted.  I know… bridezilla much?!

Anyway, our whole color scheme was determined when I found one flower that I decided I absolutely HAD to have – these stunning blue dendrobium orchids.

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I had a couple of concerns with using these for DIY flower arrangements.  How would I get them into the foam so that they can get water?  Would they end up being so fragile that I had to buy twice as many, to account for all the ones I destroyed in the process?  So let me start by laying those concerns to rest.  They are not that fragile – we broke each flower off of the main stem, and they all survived just fine.  The small flower stems separate very easily from the main stem.  The water issue we solved using water picks.  If you’ve never seen them before, they’re basically small plastic tubes with a lid to keep the water in and spike to insert into the floral foam.  One per flower – honestly, a monkey could use these with complete success!

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With the major logistics figured out, next came a test run.  I had already decided to offset the blue with white roses, so I went to my local grocery store and bought a couple of bouquets each of orchids and roses.  I soaked the floral foam in the holder I was planning to use overnight, and then set to work inserting flowers, one ring at a time.  Since I had a couple of friends offer to help assemble the real ones, I was organized enough to take photos as I was going for instructional purposes!  I started with a complete circle of roses, then filled in the spaces in between them with orchids, another circle of roses, more orchids to fill the gaps, and so on until the whole thing was full.

Surprisingly, my first run at these went pretty well.  If you’ve ever considered doing your own wedding flowers and have been too afraid of how complicated it’ll be, let me assure you that this truly couldn’t have been easier.  From my trial run I figured out that I definitely needed more roses, and that each bouquet would take me about 30 minutes to put together.  In the grand scheme of wedding assembly, 2 hours for 4 bouquets was totally manageable for me, even without help.  So when it turned into 5 bouquets and 3 of us to put them together, it really wasn’t a huge amount of work.

 

Now, I will stress at this point, that this was 90% of the work we did on flowers.  We had a beautiful venue, the majority of which was outdoors, and so we could get away with doing very little in terms of floral arrangements.  It ended up being 4 small bouquets, 1 larger bouquet, 8 boutonnieres (which were even easier than the bouquets!), and 8 centerpieces.  This amounted to a total of 159 roses (of course, the exact number will depend on how big they are), 18 orchid stems (assuming they each had 6 usable flowers on them) and 32 stems of bear grass.  And so, a few days before the wedding, large volumes of flowers arrived at my apartment, and I spent several days trying to keep the cat from destroying them!  The bouquets were assembled just like we did with the practice one, just making sure all of the gaps were filled.  You really don’t want to overdo it with the orchids here – a little goes a long way.  The holders that we used had a hole in the end of the handle, so we took the 4th of the small bouquets (I had 2 bridesmaids a maid of honor, so the 4th was spare), and hung it upside-down from the archway that we used for the ceremony.  I would suggest if you plan on doing this, to fix the flowers in with floral adhesive, as a few of them did fall out over the course of the day.  And I warn you, these are heavy, so if you plan on throwing a bouquet at the end of the night, make an additional hand tied one so that you don’t give anyone a concussion!  Please note:  all of the photos of the finished flowers were taken by our wonderful photographer Johnny Dao (http://www.jdaophotography.com) and as such I ask you not to republish them elsewhere.  Thanks!

For the boutonnieres, I started with a rose, laid the orchids on top, wrapped a stem of bear grass a few times until it formed loops, and used floral tape and color coordinated ribbon to hold all of the stems together, which itself was held in place with pins.  These I didn’t put together until the day, so that the orchids wouldn’t die, and we stored them all in water picks to keep the roses hydrated.

The centerpieces were incredibly simple but really beautiful.  We took large glass bowls and put in a couple of bags of small stones which I got at the dollar store.  We wrapped 3 stems of bear grass around the inside of the bowl and filled it around 2/3 full with water.  Then, just floated 2 rose heads and 2 orchids in each.  Seriously, they were so easy that even with all of my bridezilla-everything-must-be-perfect-or-I’ll-have-to-punch-someone things going on, I entrusted these to other people.  There’s honestly no real way to mess it up at all.

And that’s really all there was to it.  Yes, it takes some time, but it honestly doesn’t have to be the all consuming, will take you a month if you haven’t had years of training, type thing that a lot of people think it is.  So if you’re thinking of maybe doing your own wedding flowers I would love to encourage you to at least have a practice run and see what you think.  And before you start with the “oh, but I’m not artistic or creative enough” lines, let me tell you that I have the artistic skills of a 3 year old!  As long as the colors work together and you don’t try to do anything horrifically complicated, a few hours and a few friends is plenty to make it work.

All purpose baby balm

While writing my post on my homemade baby wipes, I mentioned my love of coconut oil.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many things I use this stuff for!  I love it for moisturizing my skin, my hair, my child, not to mention cooking and baking.  In part, I love only having to buy one thing instead of 6.  Especially when that one all-purpose thing actually works!

Since my son hit around 3 months old, he started drooling.  I know, big shock!  There are days when we’ve gone through 2 or more bibs just trying to keep his clothes dry.  My big concern here was obviously not his clothes – it’s really not a big deal if they get wet.  They’ll dry, and no-one will ever know the difference.  The thing I was concerned about was his skin.  In the same way that babies get diaper rash from having wet diapers in contact with their skin, they can get drool rash from having the skin on their face and even their chest (if they drool like mine does!) wet for too long.  So, once I saw a red bump or two starting to form on his face, I felt a need to jump into action to make something to treat it with.

Enter my favorite coconut oil!  In this instance, coconut oil provides a couple of benefits.  Firstly it acts as a barrier to keep moisture away from the skin.  It also has antimicrobial properties to help clear up any infections that might take advantage of damaged skin.  You can read some of the research on this here.  I added some aloe vera gel and a drop each of lavender and chamomile essential oils and there we have it – a balm that works wonders on his drool rash.  Just make sure you dilute the essential oils enough – 1-2 drops per tablespoon of carrier oil for babies.

Now, you’ve probably noticed that I call this stuff “all purpose baby balm”, but all I’ve talked about so far is drooling.  If you have babies you’ll know how sharp their little nails are, and have no doubt felt the pang of guilt when you get them up from a nap and see yet another scratch on their face, since they managed to wriggle their way out of the mittens you so diligently put on them when you put them in the crib (side note – I’m thinking of trying to “alter” a pair of our mittens to see if a homemade addition will make them slightly more baby-resistant, so stay tuned for that!).  Well, this stuff really helps with healing those little scratches.  Because the products are natural, there’s no concern about putting them on open scratches, and the moisturizing and antimicrobial properties of it help to speed up the healing process.  The healthier the skin is, the faster it will heal.  We haven’t had any diaper rash since we started using the homemade wipes, but if I see so much as a hint of it, this stuff is going straight on there too!

 

Update:  We started using this on our son’s cradle cap, and it worked wonders – put it on at night, and then brush it out in the morning.  It also worked really well treating some dry skin that he got from sweating in his sleep sack overnight (we had the swaddle ones, but were just wrapping the swaddle around his abdomen because he started rolling so we can’t swaddle his arms anymore).  We just applied a small amount a couple of times a day (typically when getting him dressed in the morning and undressed in the evening), and it cleared up the dry skin in a couple of days.