A Warm Welcome – Sitto’s Blanket

Sitto–my Syrian grandmother–taught me to crochet when I was eight years old. Sitto was the daughter of immigrants, the first in her family to be born in the US in 1912. Her brothers and her parents all emigrated from Syria and settled in La Crosse, WI, where my mother was born.


Sitto's high school graduation photo

Being Syrian has always been about welcome–about having something delicious to eat when someone arrived, about making room for friends, family, strangers, visitors. Sitto would joke, “If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake,” as she was pulling out homemade Syrian bread, tabouli, meat pies, along with midwestern corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, watermelon, cookies. Sitto didn’t speak a lot of Arabic around me and my brother, but “ahlan wa sahlan,” was definitely something we heard growing up. It means “welcome.”

Here’s how the website “Arabic Without Walls” at UC Davis translates the expression:

“Ahlan wasahlan comes from an old saying that shows Arab hospitality to strangers. Ahlan means ‘family’ as in you’ve come to stay with family, and sahlan here means a flat land or place where grass/food is abundant to be shared with visitors.”

The urge to welcome is deep in my DNA, and the reaction I have when welcome is revoked–when people are turned away–is visceral. I was so glad to hear that Jayna Zweiman, the amazing mind behind The Pussyhat Project has come up with another act of craftivism–this time a response to the idea of building a border wall. The new project, called The Welcome Blanket Project, proposes to create welcoming warm wooly blankets–enough of them to measure the length of the proposed wall. This is what crochet and knitting are for. For creating warmth, sharing love, welcoming. The finished blankets will be displayed at a museum in Chicago, and then distributed to refugees and immigrants along with letters from the makers.

Designer Kat Coyle from The Little Knittery designed a simple square with two contrasting right triangles. It can be used to create lots of great patterns. I offered to “translate” the pattern into crochet, and now my version of Kat’s square is up on welcomeblanket.org. You can also find it on Ravelry.

I also wanted to create my own square, in honor of Sitto, who crocheted so many blankets, mostly from scrap yarn in her 93 years. It incorporates a granny square, and it features green–a color of abundance, of “sahlan,” and blue–color of the oceans on which those freeing persecution must often travel. Creating those rounds in blue, I imagined easy, smooth passage. Creating the green corners, I envisioned safe harbor, welcome.

I’m still working on my Welcome Blanket, and I’ll post again about the fun with tessellations–arranging the square into a blanket pattern. Meanwhile you can download the pattern and get started. Please join the Welcome Blanket Project too.

Download Sitto’s Welcome from Ravelry


Alpine Frost Cowl: Crochet Along with Me

Model: Linnea Pearson

We have had a looooong winter here in Alaska, and we’re really enjoying it. There is still snow on the ground, even here at sea level, and the skiers and ice skaters are very happy. After a couple of years of not much snow, (my photo almanac tells me last year at this time, things were well into blossom), we have plenty. But as spring is “officially” here,  we’ve reached the equinox, and our long days are back, I’m happy to be crocheting something light and airy–even if it is still frosty and warm.

I created the Alpine Frost Cowl for my sweet friend Missy who’s the brilliant dyer behind Northern Bee Studio. She lives and works here in Juneau, and her colors are inspired by our surroundings. I love collaborating with her because my shapes and stitches are also inspired by the trees, mountains, water, and in this case, frosty windows.

I adapted my nearly decade-old design, the Alpine Frost Scarf, into a cowl because it’s the perfect combination of Missy’s squishy Targhee Baby lace yarn, and wearability–I’m all about cowls these days because they are so pretty and don’t get in the way like a scarf sometimes can. Of course–cowls are also quick projects–a plus when you’re trying out a new lace pattern. Alpine Frost is a great, easy beginner lace pattern. Since my friend Linnea both crocheted and modeled the version in the photos, I am getting ready to start my own cowl. Will you join me? We can post photos on Instagram and Facebook (hashtag #AlpineFrostCAL), and I’ll bet we’ll be done before spring gets too sprung.

Alpine Frost Cowl. Model: Linnea Pearson

New Ripple Page



NOTE: Hi Friends–this is a re-publishing of an old post called “Rippling Along” from 2012 that was experiencing technical difficulties.

“Like a blanket to wear around your neck,” we agreed. I’d been chatting with Melissa, who owns Seaside Yarns–the lovely little yarn shop here in Juneau. We are both crocheters from childhood and we have strong associations with granny squares and the popular zigzag patterns of the 1970s. My house has my grandmother’s scrap blankets on various beds and couches. We reach for them when we’re chilly or just need to feel comforted.

Missy and I wanted to have a fall project that would be soft and meditative, comforting. I had seen someone crocheting a ripple-stitch baby blanket the other day out of fingering weight baby yarn and that gave me the idea for a scarf. We settled on sock yarn–fine, washable, generous put up. And we picked a simple two-color stripe. It was serendipity that Missy had just gotten a new sock yarn into the shop–“Nordly’s Superwash” from Viking of Norway is a single-ply 75% wool, 25% nylon yarn with long color repeats that just begged to be turned into a stripy, ripply scarf.

Ripple yarn

So, join us, if you will, in rippling. You can use any yarn and hook you like. I’m using a US size F.

This is a one-row pattern that takes no time to memorize, so you’ll be rippling meditatively as you contemplate the color changes in your scarf or the ones out the window. Or, like me, you can listen to a book “on tape.” Mine is yet another vampire novel that I’m listening to via audio-book (A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, It was with this book that I discovered Amazon, who owns Audible.com now has the option of purchasing a bundled audio and kindle version of certain books, you can start reading, listen a bit, then go back to reading and your location is sync’d. The weird thing is, it’s cheaper to buy the kindle edition first and then add “voice narration,” than it is to buy the audiobook and subsequently add the kindle version. thank you, Marly Bird for the recommendation).

sc-bl = single crochet in the back loop of the stitch. This makes the yummy, scrunchy ribbed texture of this scarf that compliments the undulations of the ripple.
shell = 3 sc-bl, or 3 sc in the foundation row, in the stitch indicated. After the foundation row, the shells will always be worked in the center stitch of the shell from the row below.

The pattern is adapted from Jan Eaton’s wonderful resource 200 Ripple Stitch Patterns. It’s a multiple of 11 stitches +10. You can make yours as narrow or as wide as you like. I began with a chain of 54, (i.e. 44 +10)

How to Ripple:

Foundation Row:  sc in 2nd ch from hook, and each of next 3 ch, *[shell in next ch, sc in next 4 ch, sk 2 ch, sc in ea of next 4 ch.] Repeat from * to last 5 ch, shell in next ch, sc in next 4 ch, turn.

Pattern Row: Ch 1. Skip 1st sc, sc-bl in the next 4 stitches *[shell in next st, sc-bl in next 4 sts, sk 2 sts, sc-bl in next 4 sts.] Repeat from * to last 6 sts, shell in next st, sc-bl in next 3 sts, skip 1 st, sc in both loops of final st, turn.

Repeat the pattern row to grow your scarf. Change colors every two rows carrying the unused color not too snugly up one side of the scarf. A little note about changing colors: when you reach the end of the second row of a color finish the final stitch by pulling up the last loop with the new color. That way your turning chain will be in the new color.

Work the ripple, as Elizabeth Zimmerman might say, “until you can’t stand it any longer,” or until the scarf is generous enough to make several warm wraps around your neck or until you run out of yarn. I picked one multi-colored stripe and one semi-solid, and I’m already enjoying watching the shifts in color and the variations of contrast happening with my scarf. Yes, I’m easily entertained. Will we decide to add an edging or a fringe? Only time will tell. Let me know in the comments if you decide to join our ripple-along.

Turning a #pussyhat on its ear…

The nation’s fiber community appears to have gotten a bee in its collective bonnet. Or, rather, we’ve been grabbed by the urge to make pussyhats for the Women’s March–on Washington and all over the country. So much so, that there’s been a run on pink yarn across the country!

Actor and playwright Jeanne Sakata models the pussyhat she’s going to wear to the LA Women’s March.

Purrsonally, I’m tickled pink about the idea of so much craftivism happening all at once. A couple of things are particularly awesome about this project:

  • The idea of the pussy hat is striking–a sea of people, women AND men, standing up for equality by wearing fun, handmade hats. I love hats!
  • The folks at the pussyhat project conceived a super-simple construction idea–a rectangle, that when folded in half, creates a hat with auto-magically appearing ears. What this does is leave an OPEN CANVAS for knitting, crocheting, or sewing and creating that rectangle any way you want.

I decided what I wanted to do was crochet my hat sideways, so that I could easily create a rectangle with both ribbing and smooth fabric using the bulky pink yarn I had in my stash. I have several more hats to make–that I should mail ASAP, so I’m keeping this post brief. (If you want to see another cute take on a crocheted version–check out Kim Werker’s. I love it!)


Working on my second #pussyhat

Here’s a recipe to make my crocheted version. Grab a pencil and a measuring tape, along with your yarn and hook. Any yarn and hook size will work! This pattern is especially great for bulky yarn and turning out many hats quickly.

Measure your head. The width of the hat fabric needs to be 1/2 of this measurement, minus an inch or so for stretch (The bulkier the yarn, the less elastic it will likely be. you can wrap the hat around your head while you’re working to see if it’s big enough). My hat made with bulky yarn is 9″ across the front, unstretched. (Head circumference/2 – 1 = _________ [W])

Make a ch 17″ long, then add 2 ch.
(TIP: make your tail long enough to sew up one side–a yard should probably do it).

Hdc into the back bump of the chain for 4 1/2 inches across the ch. Count that number of stitches (for me it was 11). This will be your ribbing section, and you’ll repeat it at the other end of the hat. ________ sts [R].

Esc (extended single crochet) across until you reach the final ____ [R] stitches.

Hdc in those final stitches. Turn.

Work all subsequent rows as follows:

Hdc ____[R], esc across to final ___[R] sts, hdc to end.

This gives you a fabric that’s ribbed on each end and soft and flexible in the middle.

Work as indicated until your fabric is [W] inches wide.

Hat after seaming, before securing ends.

Fold the hat in half and crochet the side edge together with a slip stitch, loosely. Fasten off and repeat for the other side. Weave in ends. Make several and share with your friends!


Asteroflora Cures Fear of Charts


One of the things I love most about teaching a Craftsy class is the interactions I get to have from crocheters all over the world. Students are engaged and excited, and they pose interesting questions, and share beautiful examples of their work.

Today, I got a sweet note from Papitha, writing from New Zealand–a long way from Alaska. Papitha took My First Crochet Shawl, and her Asteroflora came out so beautifully that she wanted to display it in a fiber (fibre in New Zealand!) exhibition, and she asked me to sign her photo.

Here’s some of what she had to say:

Your class has helped me overcome the fear of reading and crocheting a shawl from the charts. I’m thrilled to showcase my first crochet shawl at the exhibition. Will send you the pics of the exhibition which happens from 21-25 June. Cambridge Creative fibre exhibition is considered as a big and an important event which generates money for our club. We meet up twice a  month to share our passion for fibre. Two weeks ago at the National exhibition I noticed no one exhibited crochet items. Something I’m planning to take on as a challenge.

I’m so glad Papitha now likes working from charts, and has challenged herself to exhibit at the New Zealand National Fibre Exhibition next year. I wish I could go! I’ve asked her if she would do a guest blog post after she goes to the Cambridge Creative Fibre Exhibition, and she’s agreed! So stay tuned for that later in the summer. Have fun, Papitha!

BONUS! In Celebration of overcoming fibre fears and taking on big challenges, here’s a 50% off coupon for My First Crochet Shawl. Enjoy!


Diving Deeper into Mod Waterfall

Diving Deeper into Mod Waterfall

A few weeks ago, I got to spend an afternoon with Meghan Garrison, a friend here in Juneau who works for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. I asked her to model because she seemed like a great fit for Mod Waterfall–it turned out she was a natural at modeling too. Here are some more of the photos from our shoot. (The slideshow will autoplay, but if you want to move through it, you can click the photo and it will change to the next one).

[slickr-flickr tag=”modwaterfall”]

Mod Waterfall was fun because it involved one of my favorite construction techniques–modular crochet–and also some very relaxing bits of crochet and knitting with a luxurious yarn. It’s not a calculator pattern–but it’s very easy to modify the fit and the length, and the pattern tells where to do that, so I’m hoping to see some fun variations eventually. I think a long–hip length–version would be really cool.

I spent the late fall crocheting and knitting Mod Waterfall, which was just released today in the spring-summer issue of Knitty in “Plays Well Together,” the column I write with Miriam Felton. Right now, I’m working on a second pair of slippers and I’m in the thinking and planning stages of my next design, looking forward to getting to needles and hook. But the days are getting much longer here, and I’m feeling the pull to be outside, so I’m guessing my mind will wander soon to real waterfalls, spring, and foraging.

Don’t worry, all your favorite things are good for you.

Don’t worry, all your favorite things are good for you.

The health benefits of knitting are in the news again. Back before Christmas, Betsan Corkhill was on To the Best of Our Knowledge talking about the mental health–and pain relieving–benefits of knitting. She worked on a large study of over 3000 knitters and she says, with scientists, “the ‘k’ word was the biggest barrier to this work.” Corkhill ended up calling the process by a more scientific name: “bi-lateral rhythmic phsycho-social intervention,” which suddenly got more scientific attention. (Before you ask, YES–crochet is also bi-lateral, rhythmic phsycho-social intervention. I feel the benefits of crochet all the time.)

Corkhill has a new book, you can get a preview here:

All that time I spent yesterday working my left brain on that slipper calculator got my right brain wondering about art and artists, and the supposed divide between logical and creative thought. I get totally engrossed and creatively excited working on the math parts of designing. For me, they’re just as much fun as the sketching, imagining, and creating. I know this is true for people in lots of different media. At the theatre where I work, there are lighting and set designers–even scenic painters–who need to use lots of quantitative thought to translate their creative ideas into reality. I suppose there are some folks who do the quantitative work just because they have to, but I think for many, it’s an interesting puzzle–a fun way to express ideas.

I would rather offer tools than rules.

Expressing ideas is kind of what I came to when I was thinking about pattern calculators. When I write patterns line-by-line as I sometimes do, it feels to me more like “instructions.” I don’t love following instructions, so I don’t love to give them, per se. What I’d rather do is find fun, creative ways of communicating an idea that allows others to express themselves. I would rather offer tools than rules.

Funny thing is, I had time to think about all this at first because I was knitting something where the instructions were laid out for me. The meditative quality of knitting that Corkhill talks about gave me time to think about the why of what I was doing and what I like to do. So it’s all a balance. What it comes down to for me is, I like the fiddly bits, and I like the relaxing bits of many kinds of work and play: music making, handwork, cooking. And like so many of my other favorite things–walking, chocolate, red wine–studies keep showing they’re good for you. (Check out Jane Brody’s recent blog post on the New York Times web site that lists several recent studies, she’s a knitter too.)

Instantly adjustable feet? A new slipper calculator.

No, not feet–but slippers. I’ve been playing with math so you don’t have to. Whenever you change something in knitting and crochet it involves a little math. But I’m excited because I found a WordPress plugin that will do the math for you. With this new toy I created a form that will do calculations, and you just need to enter your own measurements in order to have some custom sizing on a very simple pattern. Read on…

As I mentioned on Instagram, I’ve been knitting slippers.

Sometimes, when I’m knitting other people’s patterns, it’s restful–other times, it’s playful. This pattern, the Non-Felted Slippers by Yuko Nakamura is great! It’s clever, and simple, knit on two needles, so it’s easy for beginners. The pattern is written in just one size. Before you knit it, you don’t REALLY know what that size is because no finished measurements are given. So knitting it for the first time is a bit of a mystery. I didn’t mind the mystery, because I’d seen the slippers on Maggie’s feet, I knew they’d fit a foot near to mine, and I knew they were a quick knit, and really cute.

However, my sweetie, whom I just taught to knit this winter, wanted to make a pair for himself. His first actual not-a-rectangle project. So I also needed to adapt the pattern for larger feet. After I knit the first one, I realized it would also help to adapt it to MY feet.

I discovered that knitting at gauge (13sts/10cm), I got a slipper that was 26 cm long. This was the key missing piece of information. My foot is only 23.5 cm long. That’s not a big difference, in fact, it’s tiny for most kinds of garments, but these slippers are almost like socks. You basically want no EASE (or roominess inside) because they stretch to fit you. While I was doing all the calculations, I figured I could also add one in for gauge so you can make the slipper with any yarn, not just bulky yarn.

So, if you want to get started, first, go download the pattern, read it through to get a sense of how it works, make a 6″ stockinette swatch in the yarn and needles you want to use, then meet me back here! (Don’t forget you’ll also need 2 stitch markers).

Ready? Great! Enter your gauge and foot measurements and follow along the form to find out how to adjust the pattern for any size.

The remainder of the pattern–the cuff and the finishing can be worked according to the pattern instructions. You might note that I made a slight change to the increases, and I adjusted the stitches between markers to be an even number. It’s because I wasn’t quite sure why one wouldn’t add a stitch on each side of the foot in that last row (12 in the pattern), and it makes the scaling a bit easier. Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to have a tester for this calculator.

Thanks to my programmer brother John Markos for helping me tweak the calculator so that it can round to even numbers.



Tower of Song

I awoke with the voice of Leonard Cohen today, and resisting all urges to record a new voicemail message, I’ve been laying low, working on Juneau Fine Arts Camp, and catching up on all the Internet I missed while traveling for the theatre. I’m also planning on knitting the slippers I’ve almost finished, and reading.

The book that’s been languishing on my Kindle is Fates and Furies. I enjoyed the book last fall when I started it, but just fell off the novel-reading wagon. Here’s a preview. I’ve just learned that I can put these in the blog. Let me know how you like them.

Kid One is traveling for school, and Kid Two is home because of parent teacher conferences, so it’s a relaxed day, and being sick seems like a luxury, especially on a Friday when I have a weekend to catch up on the rest of life, laundry, and lists.

Seasoning with Thriftiness – Alaska Gomashio


I love gomashio — it’s a Japanese seasoning made with sesame seeds “goma” and salt “shio.” For years, I’ve used Eden Foods Organic Seaweed Gomasio which also has a few sea vegetables in it for flavor. But commercial gomashio is expensive, and I’ve been thinking about making my own for a while. Recently, I found I could get 5 pounds of hulled organic sesame seeds for cheap on Amazon.com, and I have plenty of sea salt. I’ve been wanting to harvest local seaweed here around Juneau for some time, but I haven’t made forays into that particular kind of foraging yet. What I do have right now is a jar full of dried nettles that I picked this spring. Nettles have a tons of vitamins, and a nice flavor that is slightly seaweedy. So I looked at my empty bottle of Gomasio for guidance on a ratio of sesame seeds to salt. I discovered today that Wikipedia says the range is between 5:1 and 15:1. Mine is about 1:16, and it is still pleasantly salty.

Alaska Gomashio

1 cup hulled sesame seeds
1 loose handful of dried nettle leaves
3 1/2 t. sea salt

Toast the sesame seeds for 2-3 minutes in a dry pan on the stove top until they start to turn golden and smell fragrant. Allow to cool.

In food processor, mix toasted sesame seeds, nettle leaves, and sea salt.

Blend until nettle leaves are crumbled. Store in an airtight container, and freeze what you won’t use up quickly.

You can sprinkle gomashio on just about anything. I love it in stir fry, on rice, and last night, I used it on salmon.