Friday, December 17, 2010

Physics Friday: Crocheted Mathematical Objects

I made a Klein bottle.

I used double crochet and worked mostly in rounds. I used double crochet so it would work up quickly and so the rows that are worked back and forth wouldn't stand out so much against the ones worked in rounds. I sort of made it up as I went. Here's my pattern:

Work in linked rounds, which means to slip stitch the last stitch into the third chain of the first stitch in the round. Start each round with a chain of 3 and count it as one double crochet. This happens every round so I won't mention it every time. Work in double crochet.
Chain 12 and join with a slip stitch to make a round
Rnd 1: double crochet each stitch around (12)
Rnd 2: work each stitch
Rnd 3: increase in every other stitch, double crochet twice in a stitch to increase (18)
Rnd 4: increase in every other (27)
Rnd 5: inc every other (40)

Rnd 6: work each stitch
Rnd 7: decrease every third. work every 3rd and 4th stitch together (30)
Row 8: turn work. decrease every 3rd (22)
Row 9: turn work. decrease every 3rd (16)

Rnd 10: work as a round slipping into first stitch across gap. decrease every 3rd (12)
Rnd 11-17: work in every stitch.

finishing: slip stitch to join. cut leaving a long tail for sewing. Invert start end and push it through the gap made by the rows. Sew to other end.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gift wrapping idea: painted gift box

I'll be taking presents with me on a plane this year. You're not supposed to wrap presents before hand so I did this instead. I won't seal the box until I get to my destination. I dismantled a box I received in the mail. Turned it inside out and glued it back together. I painted the inside white to cover all the stickers and where I ripped off the paint. I painted a red bow on the outside and a simple gift tag. When that was dry I wrote who it was to and from with pen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What kitchen supplies do you really need?

I don't have the best equipped kitchen in the world. I have what I was able to steal from my old apartment (my brother still lives there), what I was given by my parents and friends before moving, wedding presents, and a few things we bought after we moved. That sounds like a lot, but we really have a sort of random assortment of things.

I don't have any 8x8 or 9x9 inch square baking pans. Instead I use a 13x9 lined with aluminum foil to make it the right size. It's not pretty, but it does the job. The foil also makes clean up easier!

I don't have a mesh strainer. I want one, but in the meantime I can deal with it. I have a big colander that I can line with paper towels or clean kitchen towels for straining liquids. I have a small holed cheese grater that I can use for things that don't need to be as fine. I want a mesh strainer for sprinkling powdered sugar, but I haven't needed to do that yet.

Those are the only clever substitutions I've come up with so far.

Some things I wouldn't want to live without:

My kitchen aid stand mixer. It makes cakes super easy. I wouldn't want to make icing without it. I also used it for mixing yams on thanksgiving. I use it about once every two weeks, but I think it deserves a permanent place on my counter. I like it better than a hand mixer because I can use it for bread (if I ever make any) and I can leave it running without having to hold it. I can have it whip egg whites or cream while I work on something else. Hand mixers are alway too heavy for me and I don't have the patience to make whipped cream with them.

A big pasta pot with a colander insert thing for easy draining. I don't know what it's technically called. Making pasta is super easy and I don't have to lug a pot of boiling water to the sink and then try to get it all in the colander. This is much easier for me. I also used it when making broth. I put all of the vegetables in the insert and then just pulled it out when it was finished. I didn't have to fish everything out or deal with big cheesecloth bags or any of that hassle. Then I put the broth into a big pitcher for easy access during Thanksgiving.

An immersion blender. My mom just bought one for us, so I lived without it for a while. (She bought us a red one that matches our kitchen aid!) I prefer a hand blender to a countertop one. I like being able to blend a smoothie right in the cup I'll drink it out of. I've also had bad luck transferring boiling soup into a blender and then into another pot. This requires less pouring of boiling liquid (always something I avoid) and less clean up. I don't have to clean two pots and the blender. I just clean one pot and the hand blender. I love anything that requires less clean up.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I'm experimenting with twitter. I'm not sure if I like it yet. You can follow me @aasinanna.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Assembling a Fancy Cheese Plate on a Budget

My first job was in a fancy cheese store. I spent hours thinking about how to create the ultimate cheese plate.  Cheese plates can get pretty expensive, but they don't have to cost a lot of money to be impressive. The cheeses don't have to come from a fancy cheese store to be good. A cheese plate doesn't have to be fussy and confusing to be good. I'd argue that a simple and accessible one, where anything  goes is better.

This is a really word heavy post, so here's the gist if you don't want to read the whole thing.

  • Buy your cheeses at the nearest supermarket that has a good cheese selection. See if they give samples and check the sale bin for good deals.
  • A 3 cheese plate is a good place to start (and where I usually stay). Distribute the cheeses among the types of milk (cow, goat, and sheep) and among textures (soft but not runny, semi soft, and firm but not hard and crumbly) 
  • Get blue cheese or strong fresh goat cheese if you know your guests like it
  • Usually about 1/2 a pound to 1/3 of a pound per person is enough, but the amount is often dictated by the pieces available. It depends on how much other food will be available and how soon dinner will be, if dinner will be served. An after dinner cheese try can be wonderful too.
  • Wine is a classic pairing, but don't stress too much about specific wine and cheese pairings. If you like it, eat it.
  • Sliced baguette or crackers are almost necessary. I think bread goes farther for the money, but crackers can be less filling. 
  • Choose some of the following: grapes, dried fruit (like apricots or cranberries), nuts (like roasted almonds or walnuts), honey (especially with blue cheese), and olives (not canned ones).
  • Serve the cheeses totally unwrapped with a sign to indicate what type is which. Serve with butter knives, unless there's a cheese knife selection in the back of a drawer somewhere. Take the cheeses out of the fridge half an hour before they will be served.
  • Remove inedible rinds or at least remove part of the rind to allow guests access to the cheese. 
  • To store the cheese (if there's any left) wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, or put each into their own zip top baggie and squeeze out the air. 

Where to get cheeses?
Most supermarkets have a good selection near the deli. Fancy cheese stores are sometimes hard to come by and expensive, but most will give samples and suggestions which is helpful. Supermarket selections work just fine for me. Look for a sale bin. This is a great source for wonderful cheeses at wonderful prices. They might be expiring soon, so check for that, but even then they're probably fine (but don't quote me on that). Many cheese stores also have a selection of smaller pieces of cheese. These are usually thrown in a bin together. This can be a great way to try a selection of cheeses with one or two people or to have a mini cheese tasting to see what you like if the store doesn't allow sampling.

How many cheeses should you buy? 
I usually suggest a 3 cheese plate. This way there can be a good variety of tastes and textures without having an overwhelming selection. One or two cheeses can work too depending on the goal. If there are going to be a ton of other appetizers or it's a really small group, one or two cheeses might be all that you need. A five cheese plate can work, but I think it's overkill. Getting three or fewer cheeses can also keep the cost down, especially when it's not cut to order and there isn't much variation in the sizes of the pieces. 

How much cheese do you need? 
It depends on how many people the plate will be serving and when it'll be served. I suggest a quarter pound to a third of a pound per person. If there'll be a lot of other things to eat, you don't need as much cheese. 

What types? 
I like to buy a variety of textures and a variety of tastes. It's also fun to buy cheeses from all over the world, or to really explore one region, buy all Spanish cheeses or all Italian. For a standard cheese tray, I'd buy a soft cheese, a semi soft cheese, and a semi firm cheese. I'd avoid anything super ripe (runny and pungent) and anything too hard (difficult to cut with a butter knife). Know your audience. If you have adventurous eaters, get a blue, a goat cheese, or a stinky rinded one or even a really strong aged cheese. I'll break them into two categories, soft and firm, but try to get 3 that feel different. Either get two on the softer side and one semi firm, or two firmer cheeses and one soft one. Hard cheeses are really wonderful, but I would avoid them on a cheese plate because they are hard to cut and don't stick on crackers very well, but again go with your own tastes. I hope this post inspires enough confidence to throw everything I've written out the window and do what feels right. 
The soft cheese, choose one or two: 
Brie is always a classic. People like it and it's hard to go wrong with brie.
A soft goat cheese. Another classic. People know it and it's a fun alternative to a brie. Some come with herbs or other flavors. 
A camembert or a stinky rind cheese. These can be pungent and sometimes a little intimidating, especially when ripe, but the cheese is usually really complex and wonderful. Look for camembert, epoisses, and taleggio. 
A blue cheese can be a good choice. I love the complex flavors, but they're not for everybody. 
The firm cheese, choose two or one:
Some aged goats milk cheeses are a good choice. A firmer goat cheese tends to have less of the flavor that some people object to in softer goat cheese. A firmer cheese can be a good way to introduce a goat cheese if you're not sure of your audience. The drunken goat (this cheese sometimes goes by a different name) is a good choice. It's been soaked in wine and has a distinct purple rind. The wine gives it a great flavor and makes it a really fun party wine. 
Soft cows milk cheeses can be wonderful. Morbier is a good choice. It has a layer of ash in the middle to separate the layers of cheese. The ash is flavorless, but it makes it look cool. One layer is milk from a morning milking and the other is from an evening milking. They're supposed to taste different, but I can't tell. 
Sheep's milk cheese is really wonderful. I suggest including one on the cheese plate. The flavor is different than cow or goat's milk.
Cheeses to avoid: (again these aren't hard and fast rules, if you like them buy them)
I think it could be a fun challenge to make a cheese plate out of only things you've never tasted or buy the cheeses with the craziest names. I like to get types of cheeses that don't also come shredded in bags in the other part of the supermarket. I tend to avoid cheddar (although there are some really wonderful aged ones out there), swiss (although I'll never pass up a cave aged Gruyere), and mozzarella (although fresh burrata is heavenly if you can get it). I can't say it enough though, there aren't any rules.
If you're serving wine primarily, I'd avoid beer soaked cheeses.

What to serve with your cheese
You don't need all of these things with your cheese selection. Something to put the cheese on for eating is nice and sometimes fruit, nuts or honey make a nice pairing, but they aren't necessary. Sometimes too many options can be overwhelming. Wine isn't necessary. There are many cheeses that pair well with beer too and I'd dare say all of them go well without alcohol if that's not your taste.
There are books and websites devoted to wine and cheese pairing. People who make their livings by telling people what wines to drink with what cheeses. My rule is this: if you like it, eat it. Generally, milder cheeses are served with white wine and more robust cheeses with red wine. A blue cheese or a super aged cheese may be too peppery for a white wine. A nice brie may be totally overwhelmed by a red wine. If only red or only white wine will be served with the cheese course, then plan accordingly, but if guests can pour their own wine and choose their own cheeses, then let them eat what they like. If the cheeses are a focus of the dinner or party, it could be fun to look up a wine and the cheeses that pair with it. Then the combination of tastes could be discussed and compared. If the cheeses will be sitting out with other appetizers and not the focus of discussion, I wouldn't worry about it.
Bread or crackers? This is again a matter of taste. I suggest a mild cracker, but not a flavorless one, that will go with many cheeses. I think bread goes farther for the same amount of money, but it is also filling. If the cheese is supposed to tide guests over until a late dinner, I'd serve bread. Put a good amount of crackers or bread slices out, but have more ready and keep an eye out for a depleted supply.
Fruit can be a wonderful addition. Grapes, sliced apple (coated in lemon to keep from browning), and pear are really classic. Grapes require the least prep work and attention. I suggest red seedless grapes. Dried fruit and jams are often displayed near the fancy cheese selection. Fig jam is classic. Often dried apricot cakes are served with the cheese to be sliced and placed on top. These things can be very expensive. I suggest buying some dried apricots, figs, or cranberries and placing them on the cheese plate. I think this will be less expensive and easier to deal with than jam or a dried fruit cake.
I like nuts on a cheese plate. Fruit and honey are very sweet, so it's nice to have a savory option too. Marcona almonds are fabulous, but also pricy. Try them if you can, but you probably won't want to share them with your guests, they're that good. Roasted almonds are a good choice, walnuts can be wonderful, pecans can work in a pinch. I'd go with one of the three roasted and salted. Again, be mindful of guests. If any guests have nut allergies be aware of this. You know your guests better than I do; keep nuts in a separate container or don't use them at all. Avoid candied nuts, they're wonderful, but again the purpose of the nuts is to be savory.
Honey is fabulous with blue cheese, but I think it can be wonderful on anything. Honey comb is traditional but is also expensive, and not everybody knows what to do with it. I suggest plain old honey, you probably have some in your cupboard right now. If you have a nice honey pot, then use that and the special utensil that never gets used. If you don't, then put the honey in a small bowl or jar with a fork or spoon and let guests figure it out. Why not just put the bear out there? That's what I'd do.
Olives are another classic accompaniment. Avoid canned ones, and you should be fine. Be careful of pits. Many don't come pitted, so warn your guests. I wouldn't put the olives on the cheese necessarily, but they can be a nice thing to eat between cheeses.

How to serve the cheese
I think the cheeses should be left in big chunks and be totally unwrapped on a plate or platter (get one that suits the sizes of the cheeses, don't dwarf the cheeses with a huge plate). Get creative with presentation, a wooden cutting board or something can make a fabulous cheese plate.  Let guests take their own slice in the size they want. Special cheese picks are available for labeling cheese, but you'll probably only use them once. A toothpick with a piece of paper glued around it to make a flag works just as well. Write the name of the cheese on it and maybe the country of origin and the animal the milk is from if it fits. If you got some fancy cheese knives as a wedding present, dig them out of the cabinet now. If not, put a butter knife near each cheese and call it a day. If an accoutrement is better suited to one cheese than another (again, there aren't any hard and fast rules) then try to put them near each other. Make sure there are small plates and/or napkins nearby so that people can take the cheeses they want and walk away. The cheeses should be taken out of the refrigerator about half an hour before they will be served so that they can come to room temperature and be at their full flavor. Remove inedible rinds, or at least part of the rind. Wax rinds are inedible. Very hard rinds are inedible. Brie rind is edible. Many labels will say. It's sometimes a matter of taste. Although brie rind is edible, most guests dig into the cheese and leave the rind at a party. When the cheese course is over, wrap any leftovers tightly in plastic wrap individually (but not tight enough to deform the cheeses) or place each one in their own zip top baggie and squeeze out the air.

I hope this inspired you to make your own fancy cheese plate. Remember that anything goes. If you have specific questions or suggestions, email me or put them in the comments. Let me know how your cheese party turns out! 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Physics Friday: Thunder and Lightning

Hi All,

We all know what causes thunder and lightning, right?

Two clouds are heading toward each other. They're on a collision course.

They smack into each other making a huge spark and a very loud noise as shown below.

It's super simple. That's all there is to it.
Ok, not really, but I like imagining that's what happens. The truth is almost less interesting. You probably know most of this anyway, but here it is again. I also wanted to make a bunch of pretty pictures.

It's just like any other spark, only on a larger scale. It's the same principle behind a shock, like when you get out of the car and touch the door, or rub your feet in socks on the carpet and then chase your sister.

When you get out of the car or rub your socks on the carpet, the rubbing motion pulls electrons from one surface to another creating an imbalance of charge. Your body has more charges than it should and it's not happy about it (the carpet and car have a lot of charges, so it won't miss the charges as much). The next chance it has to get rid of them, it will, like when you touch the conductive car or your conductive sister.

So, you rub two non conductive things against each other, like socks and carpet, or pants and car seat. These charges can move through your body because it's conductive (that's how iPhone touch screens work) and they can move to other conductive things like metal or other people.

If you shock yourself in a quiet and dark place you'll hear a pop and see a spark. This is the same as lightning.

Clouds end up with unbalanced charges. I don't remember if they end up with positive or negative charges, but it's not too important. I'm going to guess that they're negative, but I don't know for sure. I'm assuming that they get the charges as things rub against each other in the atmosphere. When there are enough unbalanced charges, they want to get away from the cloud. The charges are all trying to get away from each other, resulting in a very unstable and unhappy situation.

The unbalanced charges in the cloud attract the opposite charges in the Earth (again a big thing that won't miss some charges or notice extra ones). It'll pull the opposite charge toward the surface.

Eventually the extra charges in the cloud will make a break for it. They'll rip through the air causing lightning. The sound that accompanies all of the charges breaking off is thunder.

There's a little more nuance to it, like the fact that positive charges don't really move, so a positive charge is created by negatives (electrons) moving away and leaving them unbalanced, but in principle this works. Scientists didn't know which charges were which for years, but the theories still work, so it's not crucial really.

Note: If you want to avoid getting shocked when you get out of the car, grab onto the metal door as you climb out. This way, charges you pick up from rubbing against the seat can move straight to the metal door without the shock. This is something I discovered, so I wouldn't quote me on it.

Disclaimer: I just want to note that all of this came from my memory, so it might not all be totally accurate, but the principle is there. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quick Knit Leg Warmers

The weather's getting chilly, so why not make some quick fun leg warmers. I wanted to make a knit item using different sizes of knitting needles to get different widths of fabric. I thought leg warmers would be perfect because legs taper pretty nicely. Most patterns I've found suggest knitting a simple tube, but my leg isn't a cylinder.

Step 1: Assemble your knitting needles.

I knit my leg warmers flat and will seam them up the back when I finish because I don't have enough different sizes of circular needles for that to work. Gather all your flat or circular needles within a reasonable range.
This is what I have:
sizes 3, 8, somewhere between 9 and 10, 10.5, 13, 15, and 17.

Step 2: Knit a gauge swatch.
I knit from smallest to largest because that made the most sense to me. Cast on over 2 inches worth of stitches in the yarn you'll be using (I'm using worsted weight acrylic). Knit about 2 inches with each set of needles. When switching sizes, just knit onto your new size from the smaller size. I used a stitch marker in the last stitch of each type to mark the spaces. I knit my swatch in stockinette. Figure out the stitches and rows/inch for each needle size.
switching needles

Step 3: Measure your leg.
Figure out how long you want your leg warmers to be. Mine should be about 18 inches to go from below my ankles to about my knee. I like them a little slouchy. Now measure the circumference of you leg at different points. I measured my leg about every two inches.

Step 4: Make your pattern.

This part will probably take some guess work to start. I started at the bottom of my leg and figured out how many stitches I would need to make the correct size with size 8 needles. (The size 3 needles knit up too tight for my taste and yarn)

I worked my way up and checked how many stitches I'd need with each progressive set of needles at each circumference change. Mine were all somewhere between 33 and 40 stitches, averaging about 36 stitches. The goal is not to increase or decrease any stitches. The shape comes from switching needles.

Once you know which needles you'll be using at each step, figure out how many rows you'll knit with each set of needles. I have increments of 2 inches, so it was pretty easy to figure out.

I decided on about 2 inches of ribbing at the top and the bottom and to work the rest in a checkerboard pattern. Each square would be 3 stitches by 4 rows. The squares will get bigger as the needles get bigger and help show the technique used. Stripes or other patterns would be good too.

The checkerboard pattern goes as follows:
Row 1: k2 *p3 k3* repeat until last two stitches k2
Row 2: p2 *k3 p3* repeat until last two stitches p2
Row 3: as row 1
Row 4: as row 2
Row 5: as row 2
Row 6: as row 1
Row 7: as row 2
Row 8: as row 1
Repeat these 8 rows.

Step 5: knit
size 8 needles
I cast on 37 stitches (about one stitch will be "lost" when I seam them).
rows 1-12 rows in k1 p1 ribbing
rows 13-26 rows in a knit purl checkerboard pattern
knit next row onto size 10 or 10.5 needles
rows 27-38 continue checkerboard with size 10 needles
rows 39-54 on size 13 needles
rows 55-68 on size 15 needles
rows 69-76 on size 17 needles
knit 7 rows of ribbing (might be good to switch back to size 15 or 13 needles to get a good fit. I used size 13)
bind off loosely but don't cut yarn!

Fold right sides together. I find it necessary to use stitch markers (or something equivalent) to mark matching stitches so it isn't seamed unevenly. I crocheted the seam using a slip stitch. It might be necessary to use different hook sizes when working on this project.

Cut yarn and weave in ends. Turn it right side out and you've finished one! 
here's a picture of the seam on the right side

Make two. I've got to knit my second one now so both my legs can be warm. I think this should be a one skein project. I'll let you know once I finish the other one.

Switching needles can be applied to many different projects. It can be used to make a fitted waist on a sweater. Using two different sizes of needles (one of each) can be used to make a sort of rippled scarf. I used this technique in the picture below with some yarn that changed thickness as it went.

I hope this inspired you to make some leg warmers of your own, or to experiment with the different sizes of knitting needles in your life. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

4 new pairs of earrings for $5 and some change

Hi Everybody!

This weekend, my husband and I were watching an old Christmas episode of The Office, when I realized that I don't have any holiday earrings. I told this to my husband and he looked over at our newly decorated Christmas tree and said something to the effect of "yes you do."

Of course! The tiny Target dollar spot ornaments we just bought! So off we went to Michael's for earring wires and some little ring things (yes I think that is the technical term, why do you ask?). I bought 8 earrings and a bunch of little ring things for $5 because they were on sale!

I came home and whipped up some sparkly holiday earrings in no time!

But now I had a new problem. I still had enough earring wire things for 3 more pairs of earrings, so I couldn't rest yet. I whipped up another pair of Christmas earrings from some jingle bells. They go really well with a ring (also pictured) that I got at Pier 1 a year or two ago. 
I love earrings that coordinate but don't necessarily match. I love how festive these are, but I didn't anticipate how loud they would be when I wore them. 

You know that book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Well, that's sort of how these next earrings came to be. First, I decided I needed a new sweater, but we don't have much money for frivolous things, so we went to Goodwill. I found exactly the sweater I was looking for (black, slightly off the shoulder, and it's cashmere for only $4!) except for the hole in the back near the armpit. I knew I could patch it since it was on a seam. After I repaired it, I decided to mend a button on a dress that snapped off ages ago. When I got out my emergency sewing kit and spare buttons, I thought of this next pair. 
It's super easy to make and it uses up buttons from sewing kits and the extras that come with clothes that I never end up needing. 

Ok, for those of you keeping track at home, that's 3 pairs down, 1 to go! 

I crocheted two miniature motifs using crochet thread and a size 00 hook. I think it's 3mm. I used a pattern from my favorite source book The Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches. I accidentally bought closed rings (that I had to cut open and pinch closed for the first two) but that worked out for the button and crochet earrings. I don't have to worry about the thread working it's way out. The only trick is to thread the ring thing onto the crochet thread before you start and then crochet it onto the edge of the motif as you go. I'm not sure if that made any sense, but maybe the picture will help. This keeps the ring securely in place. 
I have a black knit dress that I think would work well with these earrings. 

The earring wires simply bend up to hold the dangly part (again, I'm pretty sure that's the technical term) in place, so I might make more dangly parts and switch them out once in a while. I've still got a bunch of ring things to use! 

I made another version of the gift bow. I crocheted one using gold crochet thread. I think it looks a little more polished. I'm not sure what size thread I used, because I don't have the label anymore. I used a 00 hook. My starting chain was about 240 stitches. The rough pattern is this: Row 1: single crochet, row 2: double crochet, row 3: double crochet, row 4: single crochet. Anyway, you want it to have the same dimensions as in the other pattern. I didn't include the twists when making the loops, so this one was folded just like ribbon candy. The twists made it look really scrunched and awkward. I think I'll wear this one as a brooch. It's about 3 inches in diameter in real life. 

I haven't been this excited for Christmas since last year! We made gingerbread men too. My husband bought the kit at Michael's with baked cookies, candies, and frosting mix. He went on his own to get me some yarn for Christmas (yes we already opened presents, what's your point?) and came back with the kit too. It was really fun and took exactly the amount of time we wanted to spend on gingerbread men. 

Happy Earring Making! 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to knit a gift bow headband

I need a new Christmas accessory for all the parties and gatherings this season and I don’t know if I’m at the sparkly tree brooch age yet. I’m not sure I’m still at the bows on your head age, but I’m going to go for it. 

The inspiration: Every time I open a present with one of those sticky bows on it, I must stick it to my head or the head of someone near me. I must do it. The sad news is that they never stay on for long, so I’m going to make one that will. You could also make some to stick on presents this year. I’ll be making the band too, but you could stick one on an existing headband, or even turn it into a brooch by attaching a safety pin to the back. 

Step 1: Measure your head. 
Measure your head (or the head of the recipient) where you want the headband to go. Subtract about 2 inches from this measurement because the band will be stretchy. If you don't want to do this, you could always check the work periodically, but I like being scientific about it. 

Step 2: Knit

Knit two lengths of fabric. One for the headband and one to serve as "ribbon"

I used Red Heart Super Saver in Cherry Red for this project and circular needles in size 8. 

For the headband: 
Cast on 6 stitches (or about 1.5 inches worth), knit in garter stitch until it's the desired length (about 18 inches for me). It should look like the world's smallest scarf. Once finished, create a half twist (as inspired by this tutorial) and sew the edges together to create something of a Mobius strip. Weave the ends in and it's finished! 

For the bow
Make a length of knit fabric about 40 inches by 1 inch. I used circular needles and cast on 40 inches worth of stitches. I didn't want to turn the work as often, so I worked longways. I cast on 180 stitches and knit 5 rows in garter stitch to make it reversible and prevent rolling. Bind off. 

Step 3: Shape the bow

This is the hardest part to explain. You can't use the typical technique for making this type of bow with ribbon (lots of tutorials out there to see what I mean) because the middle would get too bulky and the loops would be inconsistent. Instead of wrapping the knitting around itself, fold the knitting to make something resembling ribbon candy. This will yield consistent loops without the bulky center. To make the loops better resemble those of a gift bow, create a half twist (like with the headband) in each loop. I skewered the twisted ribbon candy construction on a thin knitting needle to keep it in place as I worked. I was able to make 12 loops. I found that smaller loops looked better.

skewered twisted ribbon candy
I hope this makes the twists a little clearer

Once you've skewered all your loops, transfer them all to a length of yarn. I threaded yarn through a yarn needle and went through the end of each loop as I took them off the skewer. I like the skewer step because it helps make consistent loops and you can easily start again if it's not working out.

Pull the yarn tight to make the ends of each loop come together. They should start to resemble a bow now. Tie a knot in the yarn to secure. Fiddle with the loops until they have the desired shape. I found it helpful to sew a couple of stitches through the bow to secure the loops better. This is a matter of personal taste and styling. 

Now the bow is done (except for weaving in ends and such). You can secure it to the headband now, or you could put it on a present or anything you can think of. I ended up putting a safety pin through the back of the bow. It was easy enough to work through. This way I can pin it to the headband if I want or wear it as a brooch. Don't use this method if the headband will be worn by a child. If you secure it to the headband, I suggest sewing it over the seam to help cover it. If that doesn't work, then keep the seam in the back. 

I think you could do this with a crochet bow too. I would use double crochet to help keep the ribbon pliable. 

I hope this was easy to understand. If anybody's out there, I'd love to hear from you! Comment or email me. 

Happy Knitting! 

P.S. You really do need to make the bow about 40" long. I tried and failed with a band only 18 inches long (and knit in stockinette so it curled in on itself like crazy) and it didn't make anything resembling a bow.
this is an example of how not to make a bow

Friday, December 3, 2010

Physics Friday: Why do airplanes fly?

I recently graduated with my bachelors in physics.  I also tutored physics for a couple of years. I'm thinking of including short posts with quick fun physics explanations sometimes.

Air travel has been in the news a lot lately because of the new TSA regulations. I'm not going to go into it, although I would like to know for sure if I can take some knitting needles with me to keep busy in the terminal and on the plane, but that's neither here nor there. I want to take a moment and talk about what keeps planes in the air. I promise not to get technical, because the principle is really simple.

You've probably seen the illustration in Figure 1. The wing is curved on top and flat on the bottom. As it slices through the air, adjacent air particles are moved apart. One goes above the wing and one goes under then they meet up on the other side. The one traveling above the wing goes farther in the same time than the one that goes under, therefore it must have gone faster. Speed = distance/time. If the distance is bigger but the time is the same, the speed is bigger. If the air speed above is faster, then there is less pressure above the wing. Things like to move from areas of high pressure to areas of low, so the wing moves up. You can test this by holding two strips of paper in front of your face and blowing between them. See what happens. This can also be tested by running past a door, especially one that is relatively light. Try it, it's fun. The door should move toward you and the strips should move toward each other.
Fig. 1

This is all well and good, but there is no reason for the air particle on top of the wing to meet up with the one below it. They don't need to stick together. So why does a plane fly?

The simple answer is conservation of momentum as illustrated in Figure 2. The wing is angled as shown. As the wing moves forward, it hits air. The air is forced downward because of the angle of the wing. The downward momentum of the air must be conserved, so the wing must move up. Next time you're driving in the car, put your hand out the window. See what effect angling your palm different ways has on the direction it's forced.
Fig. 2

It's more complicated than that. If you watch the wings while flying, you'll see flaps moving up and down especially during landing, but this is the basic physics concept behind flight. 

If anybody is out there and you like this or don't like this feature, let me know. 

Happy flying! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cheap Home Decor: an apartment tour of sorts

My husband and I moved to a new state carrying only two compact cars full of books, clothes, wedding presents, and boxes of nostalgia (mostly toys). We had to buy all our furniture when we got up here, so we didn't have much money left for home decor, or bedside tables for that matter. Here are some pictures and tips for decorating your home frugally.

Make friends with scraps of paper. 

I used annoying magazine subscription cards to make temporary wall art above the bed.
Magazine subscription butterflies.
Once you tire of the butterflies, cover them with images from magazines and put them in a shadow box.

Old magazine pages and some origami helped me make a fun mobile

Maps from old road trips became faux wallpaper for our big blank dining room wall. It only cost as much as a box of tacks. 

Vintage recipe cards can become cool and inspirational kitchen collages. 

Framed postcards can be an inexpensive substitute for larger posters or artwork. 

Paint chips are free and versatile. 

Make it yourself.

My husband and I love the Native American art of the Pacific Northwest, but I couldn't find any we could afford. I used free clip art images from here, here, and here. We bought inexpensive canvasses and acrylic paint and made our own. These are not my design and I am not using the images for profit, just for making my house prettier. 

I embroidered more permanent wall hangings for above our bed. I used a white twin sheet from Ikea I had laying around and used embroidery hoops to hang the work. I borrowed the designs heavily from images I found on the internet. I looked for embroidered trees, deer, and birds. I added a little blue hedgehog too because I love them. I don't want to show the images, although I'm not using them for profit, because I'm not really sure if there are rights issues. The hedgehog came from looking at a bunch of images, but it's mostly my design, so I'll show it. 

I knit a wreath that is near our front door. I didn't hang it on the door, because I'm not really sure what the door is made of. I used a woven wood wreath base from the dollar store and used yarn left over from some tree decorations I made last year. I put it up before halloween because I think the colors are autumnal, but can also work for Christmas. 

Use what you already have.

We have a ton of books and a bunch of toys, so they have become prominent parts of our decor. Bookshelves are a good way of using up blank wall space. They're also pretty and functional. I grew up in a home full of books, so I really don't know what a home is without them. 

Bookshelves aren't just for books. I use photos as bookends sometimes or as storage for other decorative items. I like using groups of colored books to make a statement. 

A bunch of toys became wall art above our couch using square wall boxes from Target. Sorry for the blurry picture. 

Get creative with furniture. 

We didn't really have the money for bedside tables, so instead we bought some inexpensive Ikea picture ledges for each side of the bed. They hold exactly what we need without the clutter. They also don't take up as much space as conventional side tables. 

We couldn't decide on an end table for the living room. They all seemed too expensive for not enough function. We decided on an Ikea drawer unit in silver. It holds mugs and discretely stores papers and my knitting needles right were we need them. We aren't really desk people so we use this unit for what would become desk storage normally. I didn't know what to write on the labels, so I used names cut from paint chips. They add color and some fun to the piece. 

This isn't a cheap idea, but I love our coffee table. It's sturdy and has a good amount of storage underneath for coffee table books and coasters. 
But wait, there's more! The top lifts up making it a great surface for working or eating. This was really good in the weeks before our dining table arrived. 
I've been obsessed with lift top tables ever since my brother and I discovered one at a coffee shop in California. I think we were trying to move it when the top started to lift up, but I don't exactly recall. I'm really glad to have one of my own. 

I hope you enjoyed. If you have any questions or any ideas you want to share, comment or email me! 

Happy decorating!