baby blanket (finished)

finished knitted baby blanket

After a marathon knitting session the past week, I finished the baby blanket. (I used a pattern from the Purl Bee for the chevron baby blanket.) A lot of other things got put on hold so that it would be ready by the time I left town for Christmas because I didn’t want to mail something so precious (read: sort of expensive and time consuming).

Now that it’s over, I can’t believe I made it. I mean, I know I did because I spent many hours knitting it and I ran out of yarn six rows too soon two days before my trip and the nice people at Purl Soho made a skein of yarn materialize out of nowhere to help me and I sent out text updates like “10 rows left!” to anyone who would listen. But when I look at it now, I don’t think about that. I think, wow, that’s beautiful. And it’s even more beautiful wrapped around my perfect, perfect niece.

baby nugget in knitted blanket

I’m not a very experienced knitter. Before this blanket I think I just knew how to knit and purl. I could knit or purl two together, and I could maybe increase a stitch or two after looking up how to do it on youtube. But for this baby blanket I learned two new stitches (kfb and ssk). And that was all it took to make a chevron stripe and the biggest thing I’ve ever knitted.

This is why I love taking risks on bigger projects. When I started, it seemed impossible. I messed up a few times, and just kept going. And going, and going, and going. And when it seemed like I would be doing these two stitches for the rest of my days, suddenly I was done.

And now I’m ready to move on to a bigger blanket, or a few new stitches. Who knows where it will take me or what I can make next. I wasn’t even sure I could do this one.

But now that I’m one blanket smarter, I would do a few things differently the next time around. It turns out I knit looser than this pattern really intended. This means that I ran out of yarn faster (I used Purl Soho’s super soft marino), and because this pattern used a whole skein for each color of stripes, I ran out of yarn before I was finished with each section. After this happened the first time, I left out a garter row of my last stripe for every color. This kept me from running out of yarn, but it means that my stripes are of varying sizes. As I’ve said before, I’m no perfectionist, so this was ok by me.

But if I were to make this blanket again, I’d make each color stripe only three garter rows instead of four, and I’d go ahead and buy an extra skein of white yarn from the get-go. So if you’re a loose knitter (which I know now that I am), I’d recommend those modifications. Another thing I learned about knitting loosely is that you’ll end up with a slightly bigger blanket than the pattern indicates. So if you leave out some rows, that would make up some of the difference.

But even with uneven stripes, I think it’s about one of the best things I’ve made. If only because I made it for my brand new niece.

baby nudson in baby blanket

You can see previous progress on the blanket at baby blanketbaby blanket progress (4 inches)baby blanket progress (a note to baby girl)baby blanket progress (11 inches), and baby blanket (a lot of inches).

(I chose this project and paid for the yarn on my own. I’m not affiliated with Purl Soho–I’m just a fan.)

top five fashion posts of 2013

I’ve continued exploring style this year. Not just for me–I’ve also imagined style for some of the character I’ve read about. And it’s been fun all year long. Here’s my top five favorite looks:

all blue outfit of the day

monochrome outfit: blue. I love pairing similar colors together, clashing or not. I think this outfit did it beautifully with cobalt and navy blue, and I love the leopard accent.

picnic outfit

welcome picnic and what i wore. My best friend got married this year, and what I wore to a picnic the weekend of the wedding was one of my favorite looks. Those pants are so fun, and I love the colors.

what would death wear on polyvore

what would death wear. I’ve been reading The Sandman comic book series and Death is a terrific character. She’s spunky and kind, and really not at all what I pictured Death would be. This was one of my favorite posts of the year because author Neil Gaiman saw it on Twitter and tons of people joined the conversation. Plus she’s just cute.

what i wore to breaking bad

breaking bad and what i wore. I had a super fun event to go to, so I dressed up with a top I stole from my mom’s closet and a teal skirt. I like how the colors don’t match exactly, but it still looks like it was made to wear together.

new pants outfit

new outfit: patterned pants. I like these pants so much, they show up on this list twice.

top 10 books I read in 2013

top 10 books

I’m on track to read 29 books this year. Maybe a few more if I can sneak them in before the clock strikes 12. Not a huge amount–I do have a day job, which is coincidentally also reading–but I’ll take it. My top 10 favorite books this year, in no particular order, are:

Saga
Written by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga was the first comic book I’ve read, and, man, was it a great introduction. The characters are sharp and funny, the art is gorgeous and modern, and the story focuses on relationships–that just happen to be during a war in space. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try out graphic novels but isn’t sure of making the jump. It convinced me to dive into the medium, and I’m so glad it did…  [see saga related posts here]

The Sandman  
…because then I picked up Sandman. Neil Gaiman’s epic is a tremendously fun journey that I’m still reading–two volumes left to go. It’s not too late to pick this up. In fact, now might be a great time to get started because there are reports Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to make it into a movie.  [see sandman related posts here]

Where’d You Go Bernadette (Kindle here)
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple was a delight. It’s a funny, touching look at a family’s relationship with a struggling woman who disappears for a while–like I’m sure we’d all like to sometimes. It’s a compilation of (fictional) letters and documents that Bernadette’s daughter puts together to try to track her down, but it reads like a charming story from beginning to end.  [see bernadette related posts here]

The Gift of Fear (Kindle here)
I recommend this book to everyone. It is a brilliant read and it helps me understand and feel better about fears that I and most women (and men!) face every day. Each chapter showed me new ways to look at fears, process them, and live safer. It focuses on women’s safety but can be helpful for anyone–it has chapters on the workplace and schools, as well as regular scary places like parking garages. Gavin De Becker also shines a light on men’s actions that can be scary without them realizing it, which can promote more understanding and safer lives for everyone. Seriously, read this book.

Boy’s Life (Kindle here)
Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon, was possibly the best book I read this year. (But…so is this whole list.) It encapsulates feelings and the imagination of childhood and could connect with even the most hardened adult. I live as a grown up in a big city now, but reading about Cory’s life in a small southern town still resonates.  [see boy’s life related posts here]

The Revolution was Televised (Kindle here)
I have loved getting more into television. I am devouring show after show–most recently Orphan Black–and Alan Sepinwall’s book on some of the best shows from the past decade (or so) was excellent. Even for the shows I haven’t seen, hearing his analysis gave me a fuller picture of the medium and more appreciation for the storytelling that I am able to watch. He is passionate about the subject, and hearing his views on show after show was like talking to my friends about great shows I just saw–and that’s one of my favorite parts of watching TV.

Joyland
Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, and Joyland was not as scary as the thrillers he is usually known for. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less quality. To me, Joyland was a perfect summer read about a young man’s summer love–with an amusement park. It has enough love and mystery to keep things interesting, but it’s not too scary or saccharine.

Never Let Me Go (Kindle here)
This novel, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is technically about a strange boarding school and a twisted reality I’m thankful we don’t live in. But it’s more about basic humanity than almost anything else I’ve read this year. This book touches on what makes us human and the importance of basic decency, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Its first-person narration was easy to read and felt so real and true to the young woman Kathy C. that I was shocked to remember it was written by a man.  [see never let me go related posts here]

Under the Dome (Kindle here)
Stephen King again. And a story about a small town again, like Boy’s Life, but this time in the Northeast. Although King often uses scary monsters in his books, the true horrors are what we face in real life: jealousy, anger, substance abuse, insecurity, power. These terrors can take hold of anyone, and they invade a small town that finds itself trapped under a dome.  [see under the dome related posts here]

Salvage the Bones (Kindle here)
Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward, was not what I was expecting. I heard this was a book about Hurricane Katrina, but the hurricane doesn’t make an appearance until the memorable closing scenes. This story follows a poor family as it prepares for a storm no one could prepare for while Esch, the only girl in the family with three brothers, faces a storm of her own. It’s touching and heartbreaking, and though they live a life very different from my own, Esch’s emotions are all recognizable.

(These books are my own choices, and I’m not paid for them. I am part of the Amazon affiliate program, so if you buy through my links I’ll receive a teeny bit of money for it.)

top 10 crafts of 2013

This year has been a wonderfully crafty year. I’ve tried new things and made some I am really proud of. Out of a lot of crafty posts, here are my top 10 favorites.

screen printed card

Screen printed cards. This was a really fun project. I used my at-home screen printing kit to make some fun, punctuation inspired note cards. I definitely want to do more screen printing in 2014.

mischief managed embroidery

Mischief managed embroidery. I have loved starting embroidery this year. I am so happy to have made them and have them hanging up on my wall. I definitely plan to keep embroidering next year. One of my favorites is one of my first, “mischief managed.”

Lying Cat from Saga embroidery

And of course, Lying Cat embroidery is another favorite. I totally enjoyed reading Saga this year and Lying Cat is a star. Plus, sharing this with the illustrator Fiona Staples over Twitter was super cool.

walter white embroidery breaking bad

Walter White embroidery. Breaking Bad was another story I spent a lot of time with this year. My friends and I would obsessively email after every episode, and I just loved it. This tiny tribute to Walter White is a perfect memorial for me.

cross stitch pillow

Cross-stitch pillow. I have loved having handmade items in my home. It’s so personal and fun, and I like that my house has original things you can’t find anywhere else. This pillow turned out great, if I do say so myself.

ka pow comic book inspired sweatshirt

Comic book sweatshirt. I have gotten into comic books this year, and it’s seeping out of my reading and onto my clothing. This sweatshirt was so fun to make and it’s super cute to wear when I need a superhero boost.

wedding project life pages

Wedding project life. This was the year of project life for me. It’s helped me document wonderful moments like the wedding of my best friend. I love looking at the pages!

wedding present embroidered hand towels

Embroidered hand towels. And my wedding gift was another one of my favorite crafts. Such a nice way to give someone something personal. Especially if that someone likes to be in the kitchen.

ugly sweater ornaments

Ugly sweater ornaments. There’s still time to make these before Christmas! Grab some felt and my template and you’re just about good to go. They are so cute on my tree!

baby blanket knitting

And of course the baby blanket. I’m still working on this one, but I bet it will be one of my favorite projects for a very long time. I can’t wait to wrap up my baby niece in it when it’s done!

 

baby blanket (a lot of inches)

progress on knitting a baby blanket

We are two weeks until Christmas, and my niece is already born. I need to kick it up a notch.

I’m into the third section of this blanket, and it’s going pretty well. I’ve knitted past the ruler, so I’d guess I’m at maybe 21 inches or so?

I think I knit looser than the pattern, so I run out of yarn faster. This can be an issue because the instructions use up a whole skein for each color of stripes. So, I cheated. In the last stripe for the red, I left out two rows. It’s a little bit of a bummer because it’s such a nice big project and I of course want it to be just right–but also, probably, no one will notice but me. And it would also be a bummer to have to buy three to four new skeins of yarn just to finish one or two rows. So here we are. I bet the baby won’t mind. I’ll see how it goes for the rest of the colors, but I’ll probably do the same thing. If I had planned on it, I would make the middle stripe of each color the one that was a little bit too skinny.

I’ve been trying to knit a row here and there when I have time, but my favorite way to knit is to settle in with a TV show or movie and get to it for while. I was watching Orphan Black, and that was the only time I really messed up a row. I think I was paying a lot of attention to the show (it’s really cool!) and definitely not enough to counting stitches. To fix that row, I cast stitches on until I had the right amount again. And then I just kept going. And no I won’t tell you what color it’s in, so hopefully no one can find it.

Alright. Gotta get back to work.

knitting baby blanket

You can see previous progress on the blanket at baby blanketbaby blanket progress (4 inches)baby blanket progress (a note to baby girl), and baby blanket progress (11 inches).

a to-read list for 2014

I don’t have a strict schedule to read books on Rae’s Days, but next year (and the tail end of this year) I am going to be keeping a list of what I’ll likely read next. I’ll plan on going down the list in order, alternating between novels and comic book volumes. But the list is flexible and I’ll add/delete/change the order whenever life calls for it. Like The Stand, for instance, I might bump down the list until I’m totally ready to commit, but I do plan on reading it during the year.

Books:

Comic books:

Got any suggestions? Let me know! Leave a comment, tweet at me, or email me at raesdays [at] gmail [dot] com. If you want to see what I’m currently reading (or what I have read), you can check out my Goodreads. The list will have a permanent spot here that I’ll keep updated throughout the year.

(These book selections are my own and I’m not paid for them. If I ever am, I’ll let you know. I am part of the Amazon affiliate program, so if you buy through my links I’ll receive a teeny bit of money for it.)

ugly sweater ornaments

snowman ugly sweater ornament

For a tiny apartment with a tiny Christmas tree, I sure do have a lot of ornaments. I can’t stop! They are miniature works of art and I love to look at them on my tree and in every holiday store or catalog. But good ornaments don’t just have to be professionally done. The best part of some trees is the handmade touches from ornaments you can make yourself. So let’s get to making some. And let’s make them ugly.

Ugly sweaters are one of the best parts of holiday fashion, right? People are even throwing ugly sweater parties. And if you’re a little unsure of your crafting abilities, what better way to hide any mistakes than by making something that should be purposefully ugly. Your first step for your ugly sweater ornaments is gathering materials.

felt and sweater ornament template

I started with a rainbow of wool felt. I like this felt from Purl Soho because it’s high quality wool and comes in really gorgeous colors, but I think any felt would do. Print and use the Rae’s Days Ugly Sweater Template to cut out the shape of the sweaters.

cut out sweaters for ugly sweater ornaments

After you have a few blank sweaters, use any materials you’d like to decorate them. I used felt to cut out shapes and hot glue them on. I wanted to use materials I had on hand, but if I had any sequins, you can bet they’d be all over these.

decorate and assemble your ugly sweaters

After that, step back and admire your work.

ugly sweater ornaments

I am no perfectionist, and these sweaters are no exception. I didn’t measure, and I didn’t worry about getting everything perfect. These are *ugly* sweaters, remember? But I have to say, they look pretty cute in the end. One of my favorites is the Santa sweater. If you wanted, you could use this same template to make Santa ornaments instead. All you need is some white felt for the accents, and some black buttons (I used my hole punch again to make the little felt circles). Once you’re happy with your collection, you need to add some string or yarn so you can get them on your tree.

cutting string for ugly sweater ornaments

I used some gray yarn I had on hand, and I cut it six inches long. On the template, there is a six-inch ruler you can use to measure your string. Then I made a loop with the yarn and hot glued it into the back of my ornament. The easiest way for me to do this was to use a spare piece of felt and glue that to the back to hold the string in the right place.

back of the ugly sweater ornaments

You could use any spare piece of material you have. I cut some into circles because I thought it looked like buttons on the back. Then, hang it on your tree!

ugly sweater ornament hanging on a christmas treechristmas tree with ugly sweater ornaments

Pick up the Rae’s Days Ugly Sweater Template here, and get started! If you make any, I’d love to see them. Please share on Instagram (I’m raenudson) or Twitter (rclnudson) with the hashtag #raesdays!

never let me go

never let me go by kazuo ishiguro

(The, um, situation that Kathy and her friends are in is slowly and smartly revealed throughout the book. The reader is a bit in the dark, just as Kathy was herself. I had no idea what this book was about before I read it, and I truly enjoyed going in blind. It’s several years old, so I expect most of you know what makes Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth different. But if you don’t know and don’t want to be spoiled, go read it and then come back and read this post because I talk about it up front right away.)

Just be yourself.

Such simple, honest advice. It’s easier said than done, but being honest with yourself and true to who you are is one cliche we all should want to follow.

But for Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go, being herself also meant being another person. Because Kathy, the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ghostly beautiful novel, was a clone made for the sole purpose of growing organs to donate to people who needed them.

Kathy was created to give body parts to humans.

Let’s try that again: Kathy, a young girl in love, was forced to have operations until she died so that other people–people who she never met, who were deciding her life–could live instead of her.

The worst horror in this book wasn’t about clones. It was about how people could treat other people as less than human. As a separate species, like a lab rat. That slow despair creeps in like poison fog* until you can’t feel anything else. And when it existed, hope–hope for a different destiny, hope to find out where you came from, hope your life means anything at all–was almost as cruel.

Our story starts when we meet a grown-up Kathy reminiscing about her time at a boarding school, Hailsham. She tells stories of her friends, Ruth and Tommy, that could be anyone’s stories while they are away at school.

But something is a little off. No one ever mentions parents or siblings. No one seems to have a last name. No one has any money, and no one ever seems to leave school grounds.

But the kids there are like any other kids. They fight and gossip and play. Ishiguro does an incredible job getting into the minds of young girls. I recognized myself and my friends–and sometimes people I didn’t like. He captured the insecurity of growing up, and what it’s like to fight with a close friend. Kathy can see Ruth’s hope, fears, and passive aggression as well or better than her own. And when they get older, they grow and learn, and try to fit in just as we do.

Except I imagine it’s much harder to feel comfortable with yourself when you have no family and no history. I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to not have anyone to help ground you, and I couldn’t. To have no idea where you came from or why. No one to care where you end up. And not even the knowledge that you were born because two people somewhere out there came together–if only one time, to make you.

So it’s no surprise, really, that the students at Hailsham became obsessed with finding their “originals.” This story is full of jargon to make it easier to swallow the horrors of this life: “donations” were operations to give organs, “completion” was dying from these procedures, “donors” were the people undergoing operations. But searching for your “original,” the person you were created from, is the scariest one of all. Can you imagine not being the original you?

Favorite character: Kathy, I think. Tommy was sweet but broke my heart so much I can’t think of him without cringing.

Subtly saddest line: “It would have made a nice spot in the summer for an ordinary family to sit and eat a picnic.”

Would I recommend it: Yes! Go read it right now and let’s talk about it.

Movie?: Yes! And I watched it right after I finished the book. It was also quite good, and I just really like Carey Mulligan.

New obsession: I guess I’m into clone stories now. I read this, immediately watched the movie, and I just started watching Orphan Black on TV, which also has to do with clones. Except they call them “genetic identicals,” which I like. Are clones the new vampires? You decide. (No, probably not.)

*I saw Catching Fire last week. It was good!

(I bought this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. But I am a part of the Amazon affiliate’s program, so if you buy through my links I’ll make a little bit of money off of it.)

characters’ christmas trees

christmas tree

One year in college I left our Christmas tree up so long it became an Easter tree (complete with Easter egg lights). For a few years in New York I lived in a 400-square-foot apartment, but I always made sure I had room for my boxes of Christmas ornaments.

Right now I have a small fake Christmas tree that’s roughly three feet high. The lights built into it burned out last year–I might need to retire it soon. For now, I just added extra strands of lights (including the Easter egg ones).

I don’t know what I like more: the twinkling lights, the bulbs of bright colors, or the sparkly garland.

christmas tree

My tree is a Doctor Seuss tree. Its ornaments are too large, and too small, and the giant glitter star at the top makes it a little lopsided. I use (and save every year) the tackiest, most colorful garland I can find. I only wish I could fit more ornaments and lights on my tiny tree (and figure out how to take a better picture of my narrow tree in my tiny narrow living room).

I love my little Christmas tree, and I think it does a good job of representing my unique brand of Christmas cheer–more is more and the brighter the better.

After all, your tree is a reflection of your style. Are you traditional? Modern? Minimalist? Tell it to me in Christmas tree. I love seeing my friends’ (ok, and strangers’) trees. It’s a peek inside their holiday brain–and sometimes there’s a bit of personal history in the branches. I assume this is true for fictional people, too, so what would some characters I’ve met this year have on their Christmas trees?

jon snow christmas tree

Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Jon Snow’s tree on the wall would be pretty sparse. They’d have crow decorations and black ornaments. Some books might be under the tree as a gift to Sam, and it would definitely be covered in snow.

delirium tree

Delirium from the Sandman. Delirium’s tree would be a delight–at least at first glance. It would be rainbow, like her speech bubbles, and it would have whimsical ornaments. I have a feeling Delirium decorated until something else came up, and then she promptly deserted her tree in favor of a new distraction. Or maybe she hit the eggnog a little too hard before she got started.

bernadette tree

Bernadette from Where’d You Go Bernadette. Once Bernadette was a great architect. She used recycled materials and wasted nothing. Her tree would be made of materials found around her Seattle home, and the blue glass would be a tribute to her daughter Bee’s trip to Antarctica and the glaciers she saw there.

So how do you like your Christmas tree? Whimsical like Delirium’s? Or maybe upcycled like Bernadette’s?