Thursday, November 17, 2011

my first etsy sale!

I finally made my first sale on Etsy!!!!!!!!!!

I know this might not seem like a 10-exclamation-point-worthy event to those of you who are unfamiliar with Etsy, or those of you who are Etsy sellers that have feedback on 50+ transactions.  But it's cause for celebration for me!  It motivated me to get a few more completed items that were just languishing in the "craft closet" up and listed.

I managed to take some decent photos but would like to build a homemade light box so I can get those nice "professional" looking shots as well.  I still want to take some photos with other backgrounds and with models as well.  I'd love to be more thorough about my progress on each project on my Ravelry account so that if people are curious what I'm making they can take a sneak peek.  I also like that I can make notes about pattern changes or how I came up with the design on Ravelry and not feel like I'm putting too much information - Ravelry is for geeking out.  Etsy shoppers may not always be as interested in all the minutiae.

I am hoping to get some more items finished and in the shop in time for people's holiday gifting.  It's tempting to turn right around and spend the money I made from the sale on something for myself, or for another knitting project, but I really need to work my way through this ridiculous stash spread out in three locations all over our house.  I do want to reinvest the profit in my "business" (I put it in quotes because it seems weird to call it that!) but instead of buying more materials I think I ought to wait and try to put it toward something like labels for the items or business cards or what have you.

Eventually my goal is to make enough from the sale of my hand knits, etc., to supplement our family's income so that I don't have to work as much (preferably at all!) outside the home.  It might be difficult to dedicate as much time to this endeavor as I'd like over the next few years while our babes are itty bitty, but because I love knitting and crafting it's hardly a chore to try.  And that is half the point; to be able to spend time with my children during these already fleeting years while they are young.

The worst that could happen is that I make a bunch of beautiful things and get to share them with some people.  Sounds pretty win-win to me...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

the changing light

Today was warm, and tomorrow will be warmer.

In fact, I might even go as far as to say it has been unseasonably warm for late September in Portland, despite the fact that this is less unusual than most of us think.  If you happen to be one of the climate-savvy few who is aware that it is actually the third hottest month of the year on average (according to the Wikipedia entry for Portland the avg. high temp. in September is 74.6 °F) coming in just behind August (avg. high temp. of 79.7 °F) and July (avg. high temp. of 79.3 °F), I salute your meteorological enlightenment and encourage you to lay the smackdown on anyone you encounter who complains about the weather going sour this month.  We have had a crazy-warm and -dry September this year with a few notable exceptions.  We harvested our popcorn yesterday for drying in the garage just in case the weather becomes wet again - they are supposed to dry most of the way on the plant but some ears were already threatening to rot. 

I, for one, enjoy the onset of the rains as I've mentioned here before but I won't beat a dead horse.  Suffice it to say, the unseasonable warmth doesn't fool me, doesn't lull me into a false sense of extended-summer-security.  Of course, I don't want to be fooled and there's the rub.  I am truly happy that the light is changing.  The angle of the sun is dropping in the sky, the light is taking on a different hue.  It is my favorite season, fall.

I know this time of year inspires many to craft, and that knitting is definitely a cool-weather activity for most, but nothing stops me from wanting to make things with my hands - whether the sun is beating down or there is nary a ray of light penetrating the mass of slate-colored clouds overhead, I am happy with a lap full of wool.  Having already checked Transit Tracker (an awesome resource for Portland-area public transportation users that uses GPS tracking of buses and trains to accurately project arrival times for individual stops so riders can get the most out of the system) I knew I had enough time before the arrival of my bus for a few rows of the baby hat I started yesterday.  I dove in to my project with zeal, happy to feel the warm sun on my back but not worried about breaking a sweat - to me that is a difficult balance to achieve, as "warm" weather is often just plain too warm for me.  Early fall days are the best for this.  I noticed as I was knitting the change in the light that foretells the short, dark, wet fate we are supposed to dread as denizens of the Pacific Northwest.

I say, "If you can't take the rain, get the hell out of the rainforest!"

Absorbed in my knitting and musing on the changing of the seasons I only half-noticed another rider walk up to the stop.  He barked his question so abruptly - "WHATCHA KNITTING THERE?" - that I actually jumped an inch or so off the bench.  He immediately apologized for startling me and I said it was okay.  I attempted to infuse my voice with a polite but firm hint that I wasn't interested in a conversation as I informed him that it was a baby hat.  He said, "I really ought to know better, you knitters are always counting and such.  I used to always do that to my grandma, too, I'd just run into the house and yell, 'WHATCHA DOIN', GRANDMA?' and she'd just about jump out of her chair."

I've also posted before about how usually I quite enjoy telling people about my favorite craft and will often end up sacrificing the precious little distraction-free time I have during my commute to devote to my knitting so that I can tell them all about my project and why I knit and the difference between knitting and crochet and why handmade things are so expensive now compared to the stuff you buy at the MegaSuperCorporateMart and blah blah blah.  NOT TODAY, however.  I wanted to lose myself in my knitting and forget about the rest of the world.

And for no small reason: In the wake of some unfortunate news regarding the failing health of a beloved family member and the need to change travel plans that were made months ago to make sure we can visit her before the inevitable, our little clan has been under considerable stress.  Not to mention the fact that I was down with a stomach bug over the weekend and have already missed 2 typically lucrative days at work, and will now be missing five more.  Finances out of whack + unexpected additional time off of work to visit terminally ill family member + spouse being stressed and distracted out of his mind by said tragic events + being pregnant + rowdy, completely oblivious to others' needs toddler child = plenty to worry and fuss over and very little room to relax.  So I nodded my head at this somewhat odd fellow but ignored the obvious plea to have a conversation.  I needed to spend some time soaking up that perfectly balanced warmth, luxuriating in the feeling of the fiber sliding over my fingers, marveling at the smoothness of my lovely polished rosewood double-pointed needles, and not giving two hoots about talking to any strangers.  Totally unlike me, to be honest, but everyone has their moments.

Thankfully no one tried to interrupt me on the ride downtown to ask questions or wax interminable about someone they know who likes to knit.  I truly enjoy my job, but I really didn't want to get off at my stop downtown.  I really didn't want to have to put away my lovely little knitting project, a sweet little baby beanie for our soon-to-be-newest-family-member made with some soft, springy fingering weight superwash merino yarn John brought back for me from Italy.  It's a gorgeous shade of yellow, reminding me of crocuses and daffodils, the very flowers that will be blooming right around the same time our little one arrives in February.  It also reminds me of the light that is changing, still warming and soothing but beginning to fade; the light that is prodding the trees to transform the color of their leaves and leaving us with cooler and cooler days and nights where sweaters and blankets are finally necessary, where baked goods sound even more delicious than usual, where the last tomatoes and peppers and summer squash are harvested and consumed or processed for storing.

Like the transformation of the precious energy that fuels our world, I feel a change in myself as a knitter with this project.  I am finally starting to feel confident enough to simply improvise a piece rather than follow a pattern.  For this hat I was impatient regarding gauge so I did take a few pointers from a pattern in a Debbie Bliss book that I have used quite often over the past ten years (Knitting Workbook, for those who are curious), but other than a general neighborhood for a beginning stitch count, I made it up entirely.  Much like the feelings that go along with pregnancy/childbirth/mothering, creating things with my hands gives me a wonderful sensation of purpose.  It is one of knowing that the thing you are creating truly originated within you, that it sprung from your desire to love and care for someone else, and that it is possible for you to follow through on that desire in a way that isn't just pretension or a well-meaning flash in the pan.  It is a commitment to something both within and outside of yourself.  An odd concept when you think about it.  And I do, probably too much sometimes...

But of course here I am wasting what little energy is left in me for the day.  Now that I'm home, fed, and the house is approaching something akin to a state of cleanliness, I want to get back to that baby hat.  Pictures when it's finished...

Monday, September 26, 2011

chocolate chocolate-chip muffincakes, I mean cupkins, I mean...

I have encountered a philosophical conundrum in the world of baking which I feel compelled to share with you.

Please consider exhibit A: Zucchinizilla, aka La Courgette Humongousse, the biggest summer squash we harvested this year from our garden:

This monster yielded 4 cups of shredded vegetable matter with which I was required to do something at least edible, preferably tasty. 

The power of the internet provided me with plenty of options as far as recipes containing the above-mentioned ingredient.  I was even pleasantly surprised to see a Ingredient Search Menu automatically pop up on the left hand side of the Google search page.  It conveniently allows you to indicate which ingredients you are interested in using in the recipe so you can narrow down the recipe options based on what you have on hand, or what you don't want in the finished product.  Personally I have no need for pineapple or cranberries in my zucchini bread, although I'm sure it appeals to someone out there...

I found this recipe on Epicurious for chocolate zucchini cupcakes and was pleased to find I had all the ingredients on hand.  Oil, though?  In a cupcake?  I mean, I understand that for some people butter is a serious allergy or dietary no-no, but I am not counting calories and really prefer butter in my baked goods.  I could not find a single edible-sounding recipe for zucchini bread, cupcakes, or muffins that used butter as the fat! 

Over at there is a friendly discussion about the difference between cupcakes and muffins and one poster mentioned the use of butter in cupcakes vs. oil in muffins (another entertaining theory involved the difference in sound that cupcakes and muffins make when you throw them against the wall).  Regardless of this supposed fundamental difference I have always sought out baking recipes that call for melted butter instead of oil - I just think they taste better. 

So I then searched for "substituting butter for oil in baking recipes" and found this totally rad affirmation of my desire to consume dairy. I immediately went to my Twitter and found @OChefTweets and subscribed - sites like and the Food Network site are great and all for general information or reliable basic recipes but sometimes I find they lack the oomph, the "I'm gonna say what I really think!" personality of a smaller site like

I tweaked a few more things in the recipe (more cocoa!  more sugar!  yeah!!!) and this is the amended version that I used to make some pretty darn good cupcakes.  Or muffins.  Whatever:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil melted and cooled unsalted sweet cream butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound zucchini, coarsely grated (1 cup)
  • 6 oz. package semisweet milk chocolate chips
  • Equipment: a muffin pan with 12 (1/2-cup) cups with paper liners


Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

I did this about 2 hours earlier than I ought to have but that's what happens when your toddler finally decides he's ready for some lunch in the middle of a baking project...

Whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

 I opened a brand spanking new container of cocoa and it was quite lumpy.  The recipe didn't require sifting but this is what my dry ingredients looked like without it, with small lumps of cocoa everywhere that the whisk just wasn't able to incorporate:

Something I've learned over the years with cooking and baking is to follow your instincts.  It is very rare that they are wrong.  So I sifted away.

And after sifting twice it looked like this:

HUGE difference.  If you ask me, anyway.  And this is my blog, dammit.

Beat together sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Like I mentioned, I melted a stick of butter and used it instead of the oil.  I guess I could have simply used it at room temperature and creamed it with the sugar and egg but I figured there was something to the viscosity of the oil and went ahead and melted it.  I certainly did not clarify.  That is way too complicated and there's already enough about baking that is complex - I try to keep things as simple as is humanly possible.

I also strive to be as much of a Luddite as is possible in the kitchen.  The recipe says to use an electric mixer - I scoffed.  Until it still looked like this after several minutes of beating with a whisk:

I succumbed and got out my hand mixer and beat for another couple of minutes.  It definitely was not thick and creamy, at least not like I figured it ought to be, until I used the machine.
At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.
Again, I simply stirred the dry ingredients in with a spoon.  I tend not to trust mixers when it comes to this stage of baking.

You can even still see some unincorporated flour on the sides of the bowl - I figured (correctly, I might add) that adding the zucchini and chocolate chips might take some work since the batter was fairly dense.
Divide among lined muffin cups and bake until tops spring back when lightly pressed, 30 to 35 minutes.

I cannot help myself.  I must alternate colors if I am using two different kinds of paper cupcake liners.
Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.

(Yeah, that's the recycling on the floor.  Kitchen photo fail.)

The finished product!  I honestly don't know if I would call these cupcakes or muffins - they are a bit crisp on the top (maybe could have been removed from the oven a few minutes earlier) but very moist and fluffy in the middle.  I wouldn't have thought to combine chocolate with zucchini but it is very pleasant.  I feel just a smidge better about eating and serving this to my family since it contains a vegetable.  Probably a misguided notion, but what the hey...

Now... What should I do with the other 3 cups of grated zucchini?!?!?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

knitting to revive my sanity

Today was a long, strange day at the restaurant.  I blame it on that mesmerizingly beautiful Full Harvest Moon.  Of course it couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that I forgot to set an alarm and my son didn't wake me up at the usual time, making me a half-hour late for work.  Or that I'm preggo and have "mommy brain" (that is the technical term, just so you know) and really struggle some days to keep my you-know-what straight.

I have the rare opportunity to forget about today's stress and unwind a bit right after getting home since my son is down for his nap.  I tell you what, I am going to pick up some knitting and turn on the television.  The television is for background noise, the knitting is what really helps me relax.  Knitting for me is like a good, hard workout for my mind - repetitious activity without the stress, a way to cast off the mental detritus of the last 8 hours and expend that reserve of nervous energy left over after a crazy day.  Lots of people prefer not to engage in a pastime that requires attention to detail after a demanding shift but I find it actually helps calm my nerves quite a bit.  It's either that or some form of intoxicant and being in the family way the latter isn't really an option!

I am hoping to work on a sweater I started about a month ago so I can move on to some other projects.  I have finished the back and now am starting the front.  The whole front/back thing with sweaters (and left/right with socks) always trips me up - I need to make peace with circulars and find some projects that don't involve such a convenient spot at which to abandon a project that doesn't have quite so strong a grasp on my interest anymore.  I really hate blocking and sewing pieces together, too.  In fact, most of the time I don't bother blocking at all.  It just seems so tedious, kind of like gauge swatches, but I have made peace with those after a few complex projects gone horrifically awry.  I am kind of ADD sometimes about my knitting and would rather be able to do a project start to finish than have to hack away at it 5 rows at a time and sew a bunch of stuff together afterward, worryin about if the seams are too obvious or crude looking and whether or not all the pieces are going to fit together properly.

I just felt the baby kick.  He's probably saying, "Hey ma, get back to work on my sweater already!"  I guess I'd better before I've frittered away his older brother's nap writing a blog post...!

Monday, September 12, 2011

is it fall yet???

It's not a popular sentiment, this frustration I am having with the lingering summer temperatures.

People in Portland complain a lot about the weather.  At least I feel that way sometimes.  It's always "too" something: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too muggy, too windy...  Me?  The only time I'm not *too* happy is when it approaches the upper 80s, and it's been at least that hot for the past couple of weeks.  I am ready for the rain, the drab 45 degree gray days that it seems like everyone else is dreading.

In the summer I am in denial.  I can be miserably hot and feel awful because of it but I behave as if it's November.  I still knit, I still drink hot tea and coffee, I still fire up the oven and bake.  I still clutch a blanket at night (which my husband *really* doesn't understand - he has a fan pointed directly at the bed from two different directions!).  I guess I just like to do cold weather things, like snuggle and sit around with a lap full of yarn.

And I hate trying to dress for the heat.  I always argue that when it's cold you always can put more clothes on, wrap yourself in a blanket, and turn up the thermostat.  But when there's no air conditioning,  there's only so much you can take off, only so many items of clothing without which it is acceptable to function in public.  This is particularly tricky when, like me, you're serving food to someone for a living.  I know I don't want to have someone's armpit mere inches from my face when they're delivering my food, even if they are working on the patio and it's 95 degrees.

So despite the cries of "Hush yer face right now!" and "You're crazy, this weather is great!" I am openly willing the weather to turn.  Of course it isn't working as quickly as I'd like it to but I'm willing to be patient.

Friday, September 2, 2011

muffin recipe

Did I mention there will probably be a lot of "off-topic" posts in this blog?  Well, it's true.

Tonight's fabrication:


3 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats (quick-cooking is okay but not instant)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (I used pecans but walnuts would work)

2 very ripe bananas (almost trash-worthy)
2 slightly less ripe bananas (still somewhat firm)
1 cup milk
1/2 stick (4 tbs) melted butter
1/4 maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 and grease 2 muffin tins.

In a small bowl, reserve 2 tbs of the rolled oats along with 1/2 cup of the chopped nuts for the topping.

In a large mixing bowl stir together flour, remaining oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and remaining nuts.

In another bowl mash 2 overripe bananas until all chunks are gone (you might even want to use a hand- or stand-mixer for this part).  Then mash in not-so-ripe bananas, leaving a few small chunks.  Stir in milk, butter, maple syrup, vanilla, sugar, and egg until well-mixed.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, mixing until just combined.  Spoon into muffin tins, top with reserved oat/nut mixture, and bake in preheated oven 12-15 minutes or until a pick inserted in the muffins comes out clean.


Thursday, August 25, 2011


Welcome to the Clotho Fiber Arts Blog!

It all started a several months ago when I finally decided to start up an Etsy shop.  So far it's been slow going, but that's because I generally don't hold on to finished items: I give them away as gifts.  (I am hoping that people will purchase my items with the same intent in mind; that is, to bestow them upon others [or maybe themselves, if they've been extra good!] as gifts.)  Currently I have 5 items in my shop, which isn't much inventory.

Building that inventory presents a challenge: between working full time and being a mom, I have struggled to find a regular time to get my knitting done.  Normally it is an evening activity for me, although I have been known to do it just about any time.  However, knitting at home isn't always possible.  My adorable 18-month-old son is very bright but he doesn't quite understand why he can't sit on mommy's lap and yank on the yarn while she's knitting.  So the third leg of my often 2.5-hour commute to work via public transportation is about the only time I have on a regular basis to knit.

That's right: I'm a bus-knitter.

It's difficult sometimes, though, to stay focused.  People are always asking questions.  I only have 20-30 minutes, and there are times I really want to tell them politely to mind their own business because I'm counting.  But I find myself answering their questions anyway, and more often than not just putting my project away to talk to them about why I knit, how I learned, and what sort of things I make.

That's because I realize that for so many people nowadays, the presence of handmade items in their everyday life is rare.  They are fascinated by someone who knows how to make something by hand.  Clothing and household items are something one usually purchases from a store, and when people are confronted by someone actually fabricating those items they are mystified.  The same often goes for vegetable gardening or any of the other lost skills our over-modernized and -industrialized society has seen fit to relieve us of.

I find joy in using these skills and learning new ones all the time.  Someday I hope to take my fiber obsession to the next level or two, perhaps spinning and dyeing my own yarn, or maybe even someday living on a sheep farm where I raise the animals that so kindly donate their fleece to my crafty cause.

I hope that you enjoy reading my blog about being a crafter, vegetable gardener, and mom, and that perhaps something I have made catches your eye and convinces you to purchase a handmade item for your next gift.  Please comment away and remember that the beauty of the internet is the opportunity it offers for community and shared knowledge.