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!

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Apricot blossoms

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Spring is not quite here, but Mother Nature is working on it. This is the traditional day to plant peas in the garden, and I woke up to this:

It’s our apricot tree in bloom. This process is especially exciting this year, because this is our tree’s third spring — the first year we really might hope it could make some fruit. And to make it even more of a hopeful harbinger of the season, last week we had some very cold freezes — in the 10-degree range — just as the tree was budding. I was sure it wouldn’t manage to bloom after that, yet here it is.

Of course, here in Colorado, March is our snowiest month, and we’ve had snow as late as May (or even, on a rare dramatic occasion, June!), so we and our apricots aren’t out of the woods yet. But if … if … just imagine that wonderful fruit.

Sweater storage

Spring is just around the corner. That means it’s time to go through the closet, trade winter clothes for summer ones, and store away old sweaters. It’s also a great time for a flurry of cleaning, getting rid of what you don’t need to make room for a fresh season.

Storing sweaters

Any clothes you store away should be clean, of course. But sometimes with sweaters, storage is especially challenging. Especially for knit garments of wool, alpaca or other animal fiber, take extra precautions:

  • Take each sweater out and look it over to make sure it’s really clean. Sweaters are often worn, aired and put back in the closet because they weren’t next to the skin — but you wouldn’t want to store away that spot of cake on the cuff for the winter.
  • Give it a good sniff test and examination. Even skin oils can attract moths that will want to live the winter munching on your woolen goods.
  • Wash sweaters per the tag instructions. Some wool sweaters can be washed in the machine on cold water, but you do risk stretching the garment out. Don’t wash a wool sweater in warm water, and NEVER, EVER dry it in the dryer — it’s likely to come out sized to fit a child and with the wrong texture — felted! Best to hand wash in cold water (you can use a mild soap such as Dr. Bronner’s). Rinse well. Roll in a towel to dry, then lay flat, shaped as you want it to be when dry (this is called blocking). Be sure sweaters are completely dry before storing.
  • Store sweaters folded, in an airtight container.
  • Do not use mothballs. They are made with naphthalene, which is toxic to us as well as rodents and insects — and of course, they’ll make your clothes smell disgusting.
  • If you are concerned about moths, open your box and check your clothes every month. You’ll see live moths (probably the males) and maybe eggs, which look like little white flecks.
  • If you are REALLY concerned about moths, you can eliminate them by freezing your garments. Freeze the sweater for a week; remove it from the freezer for several days; freeze again for a week, and you will have killed moths and eggs that might be lurking in your wardrobe.

And for my fellow Gen-Xers out there, brighten up your Monday with a video of Weezer’s “Sweater Song.” (Sorry – they won’t let me embed it here.)

Did I forget something? Share your sweater storage tips (or nightmares) here. And tomorrow … ideas to do something with those sweaters you just aren’t that into anymore.

Friday wrap-up: Recycling @ work, green running and crunching transit costs

More e-recycling options

Toshiba will recycle your electronics for free — or give you credit for a trade-in. Visit the site to get an estimate or learn more.

Workplace furniture recycling

You know you can get a new sofa on Craigslist, but maybe not new furnishings for your whole office. Meanwhile, the company that downsized and moved a few blocks away might be unloading 20 desks. Enter FACILITYcycle — Colorado’s answer to industrial-size recycling of workplace materials.

Public transit grows

Riding the bus more these days? You’re not alone. Last year, public transit ridership was the highest in 52 years, up 4 percent from the previous year. Americans took a total 10.7 billion trips on public transit. If you’d like to find out how much you could save by riding public transit, you can use a calculator at publictransportation.org or at the American Public Transportation Association.

Unfortunately, you might find that public transit would cost you a bundle. In my case, my husband’s school and my daughter’s school are each 2.5 miles from our home (in opposite directions). If I commuted my daughter to school by bus, I would pay $1,434 more per 10-month school year than driving costs (assuming we both bought monthly passes to save; my daughter’s pass would be half-price because she’s a child). My husband’s commute would cost $583 more than driving costs (for 10 months of passes, because he’s a teacher).

That comes out to $2,017 per year, or $168 per month. Just $58 of that is my husband’s portion. If public transit saves you from making a payment on a second car, it can be worth it financially. If you own your car outright, you’ll have to think again.

Running of the green

Running can be an economical way of burning some calories, building some lungs and pumping up those legs. But it also has a huge environmental impact. Read all about it in Runner’s World (thanks to Thrifty Chicks).

Your rights if a debt collector calls

If you are struggling with getting your financial life on track — or juggling the monumental task of trying to pay bills after a layoff or two slashes your income — you could be getting calls from debt collectors.

Even if you’re not, they might call. On Monday night, I sat down to pay bills — and realized that the check I’d written weeks ago to my second-mortgage lender was still sitting in my bills folder. That’s OK; such a situation is part of why I pay bills on the 25th of the month, then do a double-check by the 10th, before my mid-month bills are due. The mortgage payment is actually “due” on the 1st and “late” after the 16th, so I popped the check in the mail and it will be fine.

But yesterday morning at 8:03 a.m., as I was about to hustle Mlle. (that’s short for Mademoiselle, for you non-Francophiles) Cheap out the door, the phone rang. “Hi, this is Linda with [Company] Mortgage, the holder and collector of a lien on your home,” she said.

You notice she said collector, presumably so that if I wasn’t going to pay, I was on notice. I told her what happened, that I’d mailed the check, and that it included my extra principal. She was nice, even saying, “Thank you for taking my call this morning.”

Some collectors aren’t so nice. The FDIC has put out its new issue of Consumer News, which includes an article about what to do — and your rights — if a debt collector calls. Among them: They can’t call before 8 a.m. Thus the timing on my phone.

Here’s the rest of what the FDIC article says:

When a Debt Collector Calls
Beware of unfair practices and scam artists offering to “help” with credit counseling and debt management

People who are late making payments on a loan, a credit card or other bills may eventually be contacted by a “debt collector,” a third-party hired by the original lender. Dealing with a debt collector can be stressful. But be aware that if you are overdue on a bill and get contacted by a debt collector, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that you be treated fairly and without harassment.

In general, the law prohibits certain unfair and deceptive collection practices. For example, the law prohibits a debt collector from calling you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., unless you agree. The law requires a debt collector to stop contacting you if you make the request in writing.

Also, within 30 days from the initial contact made by a debt collector, you have a right to dispute any of the debt you are told you owe. If you dispute the bill in writing, the debt collector can’t contact you again to collect the money until you are provided with proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill.

If you have a problem with a debt collector, you can report it to your state Attorney General’s office (listed in your local phone book or other directories) and the Federal Trade Commission (visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP, which is 1-877-382-4357).

Note that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers debt collectors but not banks or others that lend the money initially. However, under federal law governing unfair or deceptive business practices, banks cannot engage in abusive behavior when trying to collect a debt. If you have a question or a concern about your bank’s practices, contact its federal or state banking regulator. You have the right to file a complaint with the regulator if you believe the bank acted improperly or illegally. If you’re not sure how to locate that regulator, you can contact the FDIC for guidance (see Sources of Help and Information on Managing Your Money).

Also be on guard against scam artists who prey on people who are late paying their bills by offering to “help” by reducing or eliminating their debts.

“Consumers should be especially wary of promotions and unsolicited offers by companies that advertise credit counseling services or that promise to settle your debts with your creditors for less than you owe,” said Deirdre Foley, an FDIC Senior Policy Analyst. “While there are many reputable organizations that offer credit counseling or that help consumers manage their debts, other companies charge high fees for questionable services or for services that are never delivered.” (Also see When the Economy Cools Down, Financial Scams Heat Up for tips on how to avoid mortgage rescue schemes and a variety of credit-related frauds.)

Foley added that before working with any company or organization that says it will settle or negotiate your debts, check it out with your state Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau.

For more information about how to protect yourself when dealing with a debt collector or a credit counselor, read the consumer facts published by the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/credit/debt.shtm.

For guidance from the FDIC about how to handle difficulties making a loan or bill payment, see When Payments Are a Problem.

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

Great rechargeable battery deal at Walgreens

I just found this great deal at my local Walgreens and wanted to share.

Walgreens sells Energizer rechargeable batteries, size AAA, in packs of 4, normally $12.99. At my store (through 3/28/09), they are on sale for $7.99 per pack.

In this month’s EasySaver catalog, customers can get a rebate of $10 for buying two packs of Energizer batteries (or $15 for three packs). That rebate is increased by 10% (to $11 or $16.50) if you choose to have your rebate added directly to a gift card instead of sent by check. To claim a rebate via gift card, you can submit rebates online anytime during March. The balance can be added to your existing gift card automatically.

If I claim my rebate for these packages, I’ll ultimately get them for $3.13 a pack including tax. This is perfect as we are seeking to convert all our batteries to rechargeables.

I’m not sure if the sale is at all retail outlets — if you find out, let us know! But it’s sure worth checking. I don’t need any more AAA batteries, but I do need AAs, so I will be checking back before the sale ends just in case I can claim that 3-pack rebate.

As always with deals, YMMV.