Knitted Stuff: Ponchos

My knitting is not to be compared to some of my fellow knitting/book bloggers, like BookWyrmKnits. The stuff she posts is just jaw-dropping.

This knitting project, on the other hand, is about the easiest gift you can make for a little girl (or three) if you just have basic knitting skills. For each poncho, I simply knit two identical rectangles, then sewed them together in the poncho shape. I used super-chunky yarn, large needles, and cast on 25 stitches for the larger ponchos (which fit a school-aged child) and 20 stitches for the smaller poncho (which I hope will be the right size for a preschooler). They are in garter stitch, which means I knit on the right side and the wrong side, instead of purling on the wrong side, which would have produced stocking stitch. The only thing I did that was slightly challenging was to use a different color of yarn for the border.

Ponchos are pretty forgiving (no tailoring), and if you have mastered the mechanics of knitting well enough to make a scarf, then you can also knit a poncho. You can add tassels to the corners (or the entire edge) using a crochet hook, but for this project, I didn’t feel the need.

Knitting Project: Mongolian-Style Hat

So, I’m going a little crazy with the animal print this winter.

I had so much left over after making my cave-woman costume. Counting the costume, handbag, and now this, I have done three projects with the same “fur.”

I wanted a hat that would feature this animal print, and would feature a knit using cream-colored yarn. When I started imagining the hat, I pictured it with a slight point on top, probably owing to all that time I had spent on Pinterest looking at pictures of traditional Mongolian, Tibetan, and Scythian costumes.

For this hat, I started with a basic ribbed beanie pattern, casting on 72 stitches. I worked 4 inches of 1×1 rib, then switched to a cable pattern for a few more inches. Then I started doing regular decreases, adapted from a pointy elf hat pattern. When finished, I sewed the fake fur to the underside of the four inches of ribbing. You turn up the brim to reveal the fur.

And here I am, standing in a chilly, windy, high-altitude place that is not so different environmentally from Mongolia. To look really authentic, I’d need long black braids coming out from the under the hat to complete the picture.

My whole life is about crushing on different ancient cultures, making costumes inspired by them, and then writing novels so you, too, can visit. You’re welcome.

Corn Cobs as Fuel

I wanted to know whether I could use the few pitiful dried corn stalks left over from my garden as a fire-starter. Poking around on the Internet, I stumbled across this blog post about burning corn cobs, which has a ton of fascinating historical information. My favorite part is the picture of a North Dakota housewife feeding corn cobs into her kitchen stove, with the baby in a high chair in the background, in 1940.

The Only Halloween Costume I’ll Ever Need

I went to the grocery store in this and got a lot of broad smiles.

I have the misfortune of liking costumes that look like people. Historical people, usually. It is always meant super sincerely — I really want to be that person — but can easily be taken the wrong way.

However, there is one interest group who still don’t mind if I represent them. Especially because, like the majority of people in the world, I am actually descended from them.


Faithful readers of this blog will object that, according to my own past posts, there is no reason to believe that Neanderthals carried clubs instead of more sophisticated weapons, or that they went around dressed in off-the-shoulder leopard skins. True. But a Halloween costume should be simple, iconic – a cartoon really – so that people can instantly recognize what you are supposed to be. So, I went with the off-the shoulder-leopard skin.

And used the remnants to make the handbag.

Neanderthal photo shoot

This was my dry run. The face paint was supposed to make my chin look weak, but apparently it comes off as a beard. Maybe on the 30th I’ll just give myself undereye circles and call it a day.

Also, you can’t see it, but there is a toy bone in my hair.


Should be able to use this costume for years to come.

Cattail Bonanza!

How do I love thee, cattails? Let me count the ways.

I didn’t actually love thee, not at first.

I was just writing this story, see, and in it there’s a young Native woman living all by herself near a stream. And she has a guest come to visit, and I know she’s eating game, but I wondered what she could serve him for a vegetable. Had a vague memory that maybe you could eat cattails. Put down “cattail roots” with an asterixis that let me know I needed to look it up later.

And when I did … boy howdy! My young lady had just hit the jackpot!

According to this article, cattails can provide nearly everything that a human being might need.

First of all, yes, you can eat them.

In spring and summer the young shoots can be picked, stripped of the outer leaves and eaten cooked or as a raw vegetable. The green immature flower stalks can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. Later in the summer months, pollen from the brown mature flowering stalks provide a nutritious flour supplement for cakes and flat breads. During fall and winter when there is no longer any foliage the roots may be boiled down for a starchy broth rich in carbohydrates. Cattail is very low in Saturated Fat. It is a good source of Iron and Phosphorus, and a great source of Fiber, Vitamin K, B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.

“Cattail,” by Henry Holly in the The Northwest Forager, ibid

Secondly, first aid. “Ash from the burned leaves [is an] antiseptic,” and the roots and sap have also been used in first aid. Now, my character did not need any first aid, at least not at that point in the story.

Thirdly, shelter. The leaves can be woven to make such things as hats, rain cloaks, baskets, mats, and for rain runoff on a roof. (This is similar to how coconut-palm fronds are used in Southeast Asia.) And – get this! – the “seed fluff” can be used for pillows, bedding, insulation inside moccasins, wound dressing, and even … diapers. Wow! My girl’s little shelter just turned into a palace with a water-shedding roof and a comfortable bed made of a cattail mat over cattail fluff. Bonanza!

Of course, having learned all this stuff, I had to try it. As you know, I’m a Luddite, although most of the time just a pretend one.

We have plenty of cattails here in Idaho. Here is some proof, with cattails growing along an irrigation canal and the mountains in the background:

According to this article, the cattail roots can absorb pollutants in the water. Also, digging up the roots, drying and roasting them, and pounding them into flour sounded like a lot of work for someone who’s only a Luddite part-time. Actually, even digging up the shoots sounds like it would involve getting my feet wet. All in all, the simplest project for a beginning cattail forager sounds like it would be using the seed fluff. Even I can find the seed heads. Here they are:

I cut a few off with my garden clippers, and soon had a small basket full.

That ought to be enough for at least one diaper, right?

Then it was time to pull apart the seed heads. This is easy, though messy.

Luckily, the seed fluff didn’t cause any itchy symptoms. (I guess it wouldn’t be so useful if it did.) In the end, those dozen or so seed heads gave me a pile of fluff that looked like this:

It was very fluffy and I worried that it would compact so much that it wouldn’t really be useful for bedding. But, as it turns out, it does not compact infinitely (just more than polyester stuffing from the craft store). Here’s a sample “diaper” that I made by sewing a little fluff into cheesecloth:

The sewing part only took me about 20 minutes. It would have taken less if I had ironed the cheesecloth first. I still had enough fluff left that I decided to make a small pillow. Out came the scrap cotton, and when the pillow was done, I stuffed it.

The seed fluff really tends to fly up in the air and then stick to stuff (that’s what it’s designed to do, after all). The pillow, once stuffed and pinned shut, ended up looking like this:

I used a lot of tape to get all the cattail lint off it.

And here is the finished product. Not super high, but a definite pillow. We’ll see how long the fluff lasts or whether it compacts a lot over time. Luckily, there is more where that came from!

This has been “researching books and pretending to be a forager” with Jen.

Hippie Project of the Week

The succulent has gotten too big for its tiny pot.

But the 80-cent terra cotta pot is too plain. We want to make it look dressier.

It’s going to look like this. Directions: turn it upside down on newspaper. Squirt acrylic paint on it in alternating stripes of white and black. Now take a stiff brush and smear the white and black paint together. Careful, don’t blend too much or you’ll end up with an even grey. Let dry overnight.

Here is Ms. Succulent in the new pot after transplanting. Since we do not have an oven to fire the paint in (and we probably used the wrong kind of paint for that anyway), the paint will bubble a little bit around the bottom whenever you water the succulent. But that is OK because we are only watering twice a month. The paint job might not last forever, but it will last a couple of years.