Remaking a sweater

Yesterday I wrote about storing sweaters. But what if you look at your sweater collection and find a few duds that shouldn’t see the light of next season? Too small, too pilled, too short, too huge, just not right.

You would think sweater projects would be perfect in the fall — but in the fall, you’re going to want to USE those projects. Plus, it’s National Craft Month! Get one or two ready now, and they’ll be all set to use this fall. Store sweater projects as you would store the sweaters they’re made from.

Revamp it

My first step is one I’m going to take with a sweater I just knit myself. I’m new to knitting sweaters, and it turned out waaaay different than I anticipated. I wanted a cute little cardigan. But I couldn’t get the armpits to fit, and the wider you knit the shoulders, the wider the arms. Everything turned out much wider — even though I was knitting at the right gauge, followed instructions, tried it on multiple times as I knit, and got second and third opinions. And somehow, it sticks out in the back, making me look much wider all around than necessary.

I could tear it all out and start over … but I’m tired of the yarn, which did not cooperate through 3 tries with a different pattern, and ready to move on. Mr. Cheap suggested wearing it more like a wrap jacket, and belting it (this advice is a fringe benefit of marrying an artist). I’m going to knit a belt and call it done. It’ll be shaped a bit more like this:

Here are some great examples — and instructions — for other sweater remake projects I found around the Web.

Transform it into a different sweater

If this issue is that the sweater’s shape doesn’t work for today, you have several options.

You can just trim it down into a narrower silhouette, like julie-bird.

You can make it into a cute cardigan (suitable for spring!) a la Threadbanger (click over to see photos).

Trim it up and create a Nordic capelet like the one featured on this post, or visit the creator, Felted Finery, to buy one.

Or go edgy and cute with something like this sweater-vest-turned-dirndl-vest, featured in Craft’s blog:

Bag the sweater

You can also turn an old sweater into a bag, preferably after felting it, and preferably with a liner. I found several options, from the tote bag created by Perched on a Whim

… to a really cute bag with felted decoration from Karmology Clinic

… to a yoga mat bag made from sweater sleeves:

Make mittens

You can limit yourself to using the sleeve cuffs as mitten cuffs, or turn an entire sweater into sets of mittens. Instructions are here.

Make pillows

I have several sweaters set aside for this purpose, and even have some yard-sale pillows to go in them. Maybe this will be the year! MintBasil has posted a tutorial on her method here, with great tips for sewing the felted sweater.

Make critters

You can turn a sweater into a cute, cuddly creature.

Or you can make a hat with a creature on it, again from Karmology Clinic (and of course, you can add this kind of embellishment to anything!).

And if you’re really, really handy with the felting, apparently you can turn your Roomba into a lifelike marauding creature to amuse yourself and terrify housepets (at the same time). This one isn’t from a sweater, but someone inventive could work something out.

I’m inspired now! Have you made other things from sweaters? Share below!

Reader mailbag on bread

The post on Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day has generated a lot of comments — and quite a few questions. I’ll answer some of them here.

I’ve done no knead before, but not really happy with the results. Have you compared the two recipes side by side?

Not side by side, although I’ve written about both. Here’s my take on the no-knead recipe, last year.

If we compare the ingredients, we’ll see that they’re quite different in two key areas — yeast and salt.

No-Knead Bread (for one loaf):
0.25 tsp yeast (this equates to 0.08 Tbsp)
1.5 cups water
3 cups flour
1.5 tsp salt (this equates to 0.5 Tbsp)

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day basic boule (for several loaves):
1.5 Tbsp yeast
3 cups water
6.5 cups flour
1.5 Tbsp salt

The greater amount of yeast (9 times as much) is likely why the Artisan Bread recipe can rise and bake immediately (within two hours), whereas the No-Knead recipe first must rise 8-12 hours.

As for salt, it gives the bread flavor and affects its rising and stretching characteristics. The Artisan Bread boule has 50% more salt than the no-knead recipe. For a full, detailed expose on salt’s role in bread baking, check out this article.  For the quick view, this paragraph should suffice:

Besides flavoring the bread, bakers have long noted salt’s alteration of certain dough characteristics. Unsalted dough mixes faster, has little resistance to extension and feels sticky. Bakers who delay the salt addition during mixing find that once salt is added, the dough tightens, becoming more difficult to stretch, but also becomes stronger, and is thus capable of stretching farther without ripping. (Testing by cereal scientists confirms this seemingly contradictory observation: salted doughs are both more resistant to extension and more extensible once deformed.) During fermentation, salted doughs rise more slowly, an occurrence usually solely attributed to salt’s dehydrating effect on yeast. To understand how salt affects these changes, and to see if our assumptions hold true, we will need to take a look at the interactions within the dough on a molecular level.

In short: If you haven’t tried both recipes, give the Artisan Bread version a try — maybe it will work better for you.

The only problem I had [with a ciabatta] was the crust did not stay crusty after it cooled. What am I doing wrong?

The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book mentions underbaking as a possible cause.

Or consider this tip from Rose Levy Berenbaum:

Allow the bread to cool completely before placing it in a brown paper bag. If the loaf has been cut into, store it in a plastic bag and recrisp it in the following way. Place the loaf cut side down on the oven stone or baking sheet. Turn the oven to 400°F and check after 7 minutes. The crust should be crisp and the crumb will be warm.

Try using a baguette pan with perforations.  The dough rises and bakes in the pan – no stone needed. The bread comes out perfect, and the smaller size only takes 20 minutes to rest, 25 to bake. I get my pans used from a bakery supply company, but there are many for sale online.

I do indeed use a baguette pan (mine only has two “bins” — I think I purchased it at Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table years ago).  They work beautifully. Lately I’ve been finding that my dough sticks in the holes when the loaf is baked. I can twist it like an ice cube tray to get it out, but I’m going to try to remember to oil the pan next time.

I have tried this no-knead bread and it is good. I am still experimenting to get the right loaf though. My loaves turn out a little too moist in the middle so when I cut them they stick to the knife. Does the book include troubleshooting tips and high altitude adjustments? Just wondering.

The book does include troubleshooting tips. For your problem, it mentions that you might be underbaking the bread slightly. They say (and I do the same) that their bread, when baked properly, comes out with some black bits on parts of the crust that protrude.

As for high altitude, the authors do not include high-altitude adjustments. Here are some tips about baking in general at high altitude, but in short, experts advise adding a bit more liquid at high altitude to compensate for drier flour. I am baking at 5,300 feet, and that’s what I do. Generally, don’t be afraid to add some more liquid to make a dough more moist, if that is an issue. Just do it a little bit at a time.

But if yours is too moist, I would assume the liquid is sufficient and try baking it a bit longer. The dough is meant to be very moist, which gives it the delicious interior with nice holes and good texture. But the baked texture shouldn’t be soggy. Good luck!

Why are your Silpats not brown?

I have no idea, except that I don’t typically cook greasy foods on them, perhaps? I found this explanation in a review on Viewpoints.com:

The mats are wonderful except that while taking care of them as directed, we have never gotten one to last the advertised number of uses. We use them several times a week and take care of them as directed. After a while the mats start to turn brown. I wrote to the company and the reply was, “Unfortunately, what you’re experiencing is a normal stage at the end of the life of a Silpat. The Silpat is a fiberglass weave coated with a layer of silicone. This silicone is porous, and will begin to absorb the fat/grease from the items cooked on it over time. As the silicone absorbs more fat/grease, it fills the valleys between these peaks, and creates more surface area for the mat, causing more friction. It also will start to appear stained.”

You use the 1/2 recipe (so 3, 1.5, 1.5, 6.5) in the 2 gallon container?  How much does it rise?  If I do the whole 6,3,3,13 will it just need a 4 gallon or will it rise too much?

I just checked again, and my container is maybe one gallon. The dough rises up to about 1 inch below the rim at its maximum height. A 2-gallon container should be ample for the full recipe, but YMMV.

How ’bout some pictures of your dogs?

Let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

The Canines Cheap

The Canines Cheap

How to hang out laundry

Spring is here, and it’s a great time for all of us to create backyard replicas of those classic springtime images of clean clothes whipping dry on a clothesline.

(Why is there no ACTUAL image today? I tried, but the camera is not cooperating.)

Anyway … as you very likely know, hanging clothes out to dry has many benefits:

  • Uses natural solar and wind energy to dry clothes instead of electricity, natural gas or propane.
  • Adds that fresh, outdoor smell.
  • Does light sanitizing from the sun’s rays.
  • Saves $70-$80 per year if you can hang out laundry for 7 months (compared to using an electric dryer).
  • Eliminates 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions if you do it 7 months a year.
  • Gives you a little bit of exercise and a chance to get outside.

If you haven’t hung out clothes before — or haven’t done it for years — here’s a primer on how to make it enjoyable:

  1. Launder clothes the night before (if your climate doesn’t cause them to mildew by morning) or at the crack of dawn, then get out and hang up the clothes in the morning. I guarantee it will be one of the best parts of your day. Take them down in the evening for a few minutes’ respite. Breathe the fresh air, enjoy the sun pouring vitamin-D-generators into your skin, listen to birds, and be happy you are not stuck in traffic, sitting behind a computer, listening to babies cry or whatever comprises much of your time.
  2. Make it easy. Get the tools you need. Set up a clothesline (a traditional line, a retractable strung between home and garage, a line across your patio or a revolving “umbrella” clothesline).
  3. Get enough clothespins. The wooden ones are more eco-friendly and more lasting. Find them at dollar stores, large Asian markets like Har-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc. Put them in a hanging basket (even a milk jug cut out for access) to easily reach them.
  4. Save your back by elevating the basket. I put my basket on an upturned large flowerpot next to my umbrella clothesline. My former neighbors had put wheels on a basket so it rolled along their line.
  5. Fight wrinkles. Many garments — like linen — come out less wrinkled on the line, especially if it’s breezy. Give woven cotton garments a good shake (or three) before hanging to shake out wrinkles. Take a look after hanging to make sure a cuff isn’t turned up — it will dry that way if it is. For extra wrinkly garments, or “wrinkle-resistant” clothes that wrinkle on the line, throw them in the dryer for a few minutes while damp to get out wrinkles. If you’ve washed the garments several times, they should be fairly colorfast when they are nearly dry, and all colors can go in one load to conserve energy.
  6. Crowd synthetics. It’s not mandatory! But if you are running out of clothesline, remember that 100% polyester and polar fleece dry very rapidly and without wrinkles. In a pinch, I hang my daughter’s fleece PJs by one clothespin and crammed together — and they still dry faster than other clothes.
  7. Simplify socks. I pull socks out of the load as I remove it from the washer (or hang up the load and leave socks in the basket). Then I drape them over a folding rack instead of hanging them on the line. Somehow, working a clothespin onto every single sock just ups the annoying factor a little too far.
  8. Flip shirts over. I hang shirts upside down (from the hem) to minimize wrinkles and ensure that if there are any weird nipply things from the clothespins, they are at the hem instead of the shoulders. (There’s nothing like glancing in the mirror at lunchtime only to see that you have a knob of fabric sticking up from your shoulder.) Or, hang clothing on hangers — but for the broad- or narrow-shouldered among us, double check to be sure the shoulders lie smoothly on the hangers. For button-placket shirts, I hang the shirt upside down with a clothespin at each side hem. Then I lap the plackets over each other and clip the center, too.

My DIY yarn swift – made for $5

March is national craft month — the perfect time to focus on doing crafts … on the cheap.

This post is not so much a tutorial as an example of what we can do to re-use, repurpose, economize — and still enjoy hobbies, tools and skills. I hope it will inspire you to listen to that voice inside that says “I bet I could …” — and then make something great.

***

At my house, I am loaded with yarny goodness. I’ve knitted off and on over the past 15 years, but two years ago, at our local Renaissance festival, my mother-in-law bought me a drop spindle telling me that since everyone else was getting a souvenir, I should get one, too.

Once I started spinning with that drop spindle, I’d caught an obsession. Within a few months I had acquired a spinning wheel. Spinning gave me a new appreciation for yarns, and I got back into knitting again.

I have tried to economize where I can. I am proud to say that my pricey tools have all been acquired secondhand. But all the yarn I spin, and most of the yarn I buy, comes in skeins. These are long loops of yarn — easy to make after spinning, great for washing the yarn, and not very nice for knitting.

If you knit from the skein, you would soon have a tangled mess. So knitters use a ball winder to wind the skein into a ball. The tool to hold the skein for winding is called a yarn swift. Typically, swifts spread out like an umbrella to hold different size skeins. They revolve so the ball winder can neatly pull the yarn and wrap it into a ball. And swifts usually cost $50 up.

Then my neighbors put out a broken wood patio umbrella. Ah ha! Mr. Cheap had his doubts, but by purchasing a lazy Susan and some screws, bolts and nuts, I turned it into a functioning swift for $5. Here’s how:

1. I waited till everyone left me alone so I could work in peace. First, I sawed off the “stand” of the umbrella just below the part where the arms attach. Then I evaluated the umbrella. All arms were present, but two of them were broken — one at the hinge, one at the base.

2. I decided to cut the arms off at the hinge and sand off the rough spots. (Mr. Cheap did the sanding when he got home. He’s patient like that.)

3. I fixed one arm that had a broken connection between it and the wire that goes around the top of the swift. I was going for function, not form — and did I mention my lack of patience? I unbent a picture hanger and used a staple gun to attach it to the wood arm.

4. I identified one more spot where one arm was broken off so that it was disconnected from the hinge (a part where the metal rod should have been encased in wood to form a hinge).

5. I fixed this spot up with another picture hanger — this one brass to go with the rod. I wasn’t sure if it would need to move, so I made it “swingable,” but that wasn’t necessary.

6. The most important structure of this swift is the spinning mechanism. I bought a lazy Susan dial at the local hardware shop. It cost about $2. First, I measured and cut a square piece of wood that would fit the base of the swift. Then, I measured and cut another, rectangular piece of wood that would be long enough to go under the square piece of wood and extend far enough beyond the swift that it could be clamped to the table without impeding the swift’s spin.

I used a pencil to mark the exact center of the square piece of wood. First, I measured — it wasn’t precisely square, so I drew lines to indicate the edges of the would-be square. Then I used a straight edge to draw an X from corner to corner. (The lazy Susan mechanism would be sandwiched between the two pieces of wood.) Next, I drilled pilot holes for the lazy Susan, based on the instructions that came with the package. I messed up (I’m no woodworker!) and did it again. The mistakes didn’t matter, as they would be hidden inside the lazy Susan sandwich and didn’t affect the integrity of the wood.

7. I attached the lazy Susan to the wood square. Before attaching it, I inserted small screws into the bottom of the lazy Susan, which would attach to the rectangular piece of wood. The screws had to go in first to extend down through the rectangular base to hold it on.

8. I used a long screw (about 3″) to go through the center of the square piece and into the wood base and center pole of the swift to hold the “umbrella” structure onto the base. This was the only frustrating/challenging aspect of the project. I used a vice to hold the pole and enlisted help to hold the square piece while I used a drill to screw it together. I don’t have a photo of that step, but in this shot you can see the open center of the lazy Susan mechanism through which I drilled into the base of the umbrella. The screw went right through the center of the X.

9. I used a large drill bit to drill holes in the outside of the rectangular piece of wood. Then I drilled holes for the small threaded bolts (sticking up in the photo above) to go through. Then I attached the nuts to the bolts using a small screwdriver with a nut wrench included. The holes aren’t especially neat (did I mention I’m not a woodworker, and also impatient?), but they are unseen beneath the swift. One could even glue a piece of felt to cover the whole base, to disguise ugly holes and protect furniture.

At last, I was finished! The swift stands up neatly for storage:

To use it, I open the “umbrella” and plug the peg (attached to a chain) into the hole at the top of the umbrella (this might have been the bottom, previously), which holds it open.

I use these clamps to attach it to any surface I like. The clamps, of course, are useful for any number of other projects.

The yarn extends from the swift to the ball winder:

I have thought about getting some mini-clamps to make adjustable “stops” to  hold any size skein on the arms. In the meantime, I use clothespins.

The swift rotates smoothly, making ball winding a breeze:

If only it would also clean up my craft table when it was finished ….

How I shrunk the junk mail

Last year, I vowed to eliminate my junk mail. After fighting in vain to contact every catalog and junk mailer by myself, I looked into other options. In July, I subscribed to GreenDimes (now renamed Mailstopper) to unsubscribe me from catalogs, companies and other unwanted senders of mail.

For an overview of their services, see my original post here. Basically, the company promises to automatically unsubscribe subscribers from direct mail services.  Then, users can go online to the Mailstopper Web site and enter in junk mail as it arrives. The company will request on your behalf that you be unsubscribed.

The premium service I subscribed to allows you to include multiple names. That is perfect for us, because my husband has two names under which some companies send him mail; my daughter and I get onto lists; and we still receive junk mail addressed to the previous homeowner (who moved out 4 years ago) and her family. All of those names are being unsubscribed.

It also includes not only catalogs, but companies — like DirecTV and Big O Tires — that have extensive mailing lists.

The service takes some time. In October, I reported that in a two-week period, my junk mail — only the mail we didn’t need — weighed four pounds. At the three-month point, I didn’t see a huge reduction in junk — although, granted, the holidays were approaching, and every catalog company known to humanity was sending out piles of mail.

Now? It’s a different story.

The picture above shows our junk mail for the past two weeks. Total weight? 20 ounces.

And a lot of this mail isn’t strictly junk. The contents include:

  • A seasonal gardening catalog (weight: 6 ounces)
  • My AAA member magazine (3 ounces)
  • A membership promotion from the art museum and one from the natural history museum — both of which we’re likely to accept (2 ounces)
  • Coupons from four retailers I use and one I probably won’t, total savings of $34  (3 ounces)
  • Two bills (1 ounce) – just signed up to receive both electronically
  • Two promotions for programs my daughter participates in (1 ounce)
  • 5 pieces of financial information and promotions from a credit card company with whom we have cards (3 ounces)

Overall,  we’ve cut our junk mail by 75 percent. Some days, I get only one or two pieces of mail, and they’re usually relevant. A year ago, my mailbox was bulging every day.

Try a free option to cut back

Several readers have commented that they use Catalog Choice. They provide a list of all catalog merchants who have agreed to participate on their site. They don’t seem to include companies that Mailstopper does include. But for free, you can cut way down on the hassle, printing, recycling and shipping of all those catalogs you just don’t need.

Either way, you’ll also benefit from having temptation removed — if you don’t see that amazing gadget or cool new pair of boots, you won’t even know you want them.

Wrap-up: Save money with DIY, organic coupons

Some good ideas around the Web this week for saving money and living naturally:

Real Simple’s money-saving March

Wise Bread wrote about some of the ideas in this month’s issue of Real Simple for saving money. Some of them don’t seem very frugal to me (there’s absolutely no way I would consider meat that costs $5.99 a pound a “bargain,” especially if it’s not even natural/organic), but others are worth a look.

Cheaper oil change

If you’re interested in the tip from the article above about changing your own oil, Mother Jones has the lowdown on exactly how to do it. Note the caveats on cost and waste disposal.

I’ve never changed my own oil (honestly? I just reaaallly don’t want to), and I do believe in changing the oil every three months or 3,000 miles, approximately. (The vehicles I’ve owned and always followed the scheduled maintenance have been virtually failsafe.) I use coupons from the e-book or similar coupon books to cut costs. But most often I go online to mySubaru.com (my car manufacturer’s site), where for the price of free registration, we regularly get coupons for money off or discounted services. Often, we can find a coupon for a $15 oil change. Recently, I got a coupon for 15% off any service — which saved me $200 on a major maintenance-and-upkeep session in December.

Organic Grocery Deals site

I recently came across this site, Organic Grocery Deals, which offers searches and a forum for finding good deals on organic groceries. I haven’t used it yet, but it looks like it might be worth exploring.

Less lumpy laundry

If you’re trying to convert to more natural ways of doing laundry, but still using the dryer, the issues of static cling and fabric softening are sure to come up — whether in your own concerns or in conversations with your mother, neighbor or grandma.

We’ve long gone without fabric softener in our household — family members have some skin allergies that don’t get along with it. I really don’t notice any difference in terms of softness.

Ways to eliminate static cling and soften your clothes in the dryer include:

  • Traditional dryer sheets. Don’t use them! My stepmother uses them to repel mice from her trailer — a sure sign that they could be a little bit toxic. Wise Geek explains it well:

There is some concern among certain groups over the use of dryer sheets, as the chemicals they contain are known carcinogens. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved their use in dryer sheets based on the assumption that chemicals passed from clothes to the skin would not and do not penetrate the skin. Many believe this to be an outmoded notion, pointing to treatment “patches” such as the nicotine patch, which relies on chemicals passing through the skin to be effective.

  • Fabric softener in the wash. No no no. Same exact issues as dryer sheets — except you are pouring the chemicals into your wet laundry to be absorbed before being heated and set in the dryer.
  • Reusable anti-static sheets and/or baking soda and/or vinegar in the wash — These are natural alternatives to the chemical sheets and liquid, for freshening and odor resistance. It’s not clear to me what is in those reusable sheets. As for the baking soda and vinegar, I felt that vinegar left a bit of an odor on clothes … and really, the soap and water seem to get our laundry “fresh” enough. (Ask yourself, really: How “fresh” do you need to be?)
  • A ball of aluminum foil. This is the option I use. Aluminum foil is resource-intensive to produce. However, I use a sheet of foil every once in a while, and reuse it whenever possible. It’s also highly recyclable. I took a good-size chunk of foil, balled it up, and threw it in the dryer. It does seem to dramatically reduce static cling. I have used the ball over and over for at least a year — although I do hang out laundry sometimes. If it needs refreshing, I can recycle the old one.
  • Wool dryer balls. Some people swear by these to soften laundry in the dryer, although I’m not so sure about their static-fighting aspects. If you’d like to make your own, find a tutorial here. You can also find them made by individuals and for sale on Etsy.com or other online sites. They can be reused again and again, and theoretically could be composted at the end of their life.

Easy upcycled contemporary photo frames …

made from jars. Hoorah, a use for those random jars that might, just speaking purely hypothetically, fill up an entire milk crate in the laundry room of some people’s houses. (Not mine. I only keep useful items. Ahem.)

They look cute, and they’re easy to change. I can imagine a color copy of a photo in a jar being a great way to personalize a gift of some homemade bean soup mix or similar, too. In a big jar, you could squeeze in a pair of knitted gloves or a scarf, with a photo card showing through.

Thrift SCORE!

Do you ever find such amazing things at the thrift store that you’re just dying to share?

I’ve had a few of those experiences lately. They include books at the St. Vincent De Paul for $1.49, then marked half off …

A men’s Calvin Klein jacket, brand-new condition, for $4.99:

The yogurt maker, large Crock Pot, and brand-new games scored at Goodwill recently for 80% off retail (don’t have photos of those).

This copy of “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” for $2, complete with notes, additional recipes and loving homebrew splatters from the previous owner:

(we have our first batch of beer brewing as I write — watch for a post on homebrewing coming up)

This cookbook found at Goodwill on Saturday (watch for some experiments based on its contents!):

Then there are gently used shoes … I’ve purchased a pair of Keen sandals for Mlle. Cheap [note the new name: now that she is nearly 8, she finds “Little” offensive] for $2 (retail: $50) and recently bought a pair of child-size Doc Martens, the de rigeur footwear of my youth and an orthopedic classic, for $3 (retail: $60).

And I’ve saved my happiest score of all for last: I’ve been needing to replace a pair of clogs that I’ve worn extensively for two years. They go on sale periodically for around $50. But a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in at a new Goodwill on a whim and found these Danskos instead, for $4.99 (retail: $115).

They have white scuffs on the toes … which is something I always do to my own shoes anyway. If I get into a not-so-lazy/busy phase I’ll go find the shoe polish and cover it up. They are brown AND black, which is perfect for my wardrobe. And best of all, I’ve always wanted to try this brand, but didn’t want to spend that much when I wasn’t 100 percent sure they would be comfortable. (The verdict: They are comfortable after all!)

All of these finds are especially thrilling because I’ve been concerned recently that the growing popularity of thrift stores would mean declining quality in the goods therein — but not so, thrifty friends.

What are your favorite thrift “scores”?