Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter is here

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To be filed under Be Careful What You Wish For—it snowed.  A lot.  And as the wind blows, I keep having to move the same four-foot drift of snow away from the chicken house door as my glasses fog up and my back reminds me of my advancing years.  But it sure does look pretty!  Dean and I sat beside the window in a cafe yesterday, drinking hot coffee and sharing a crossword puzzle as the huge flakes drifted down against the gray landscape.  The whole world outside that window was dripping with snow, the trees laden and drooping and frosted.  Spectacular.  And then we came home and shoveled some more.   I asked for some winter, and hoo boy!  It came.  Best enjoyed from the warm side of a steamed-up cafe window. 

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This is the Infinity Cowl from this book, made yesterday in support of this.  If you’re looking for a way to let them know you care, check it out.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Tidying

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Post-holiday, my thoughts turn to de-cluttering.  We are somewhat short on square footage here at the Cozy Things cottage, and in direct proportion to the number of college students in residence, the stuff, especially the bathroom counter stuff, begins to multiply. 

What do I do?  I fight back with knitting! 

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These are the Stripey Washbags (which sounds like an inventive insult along the lines of so’s your old man, and which is also a good name for a band—the Hilton/Bloomington is pleased to welcome The Stripey Washbags!) from this book.  You hang them on the doorknob and then fill them with all the loose stuff that gathers around the sink; brushes and hair ties and contact lens solution and toothpaste.  Brilliant!  

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Hopefully, these will help keep us from turning completely feral.  The end of the year is so indolent around here, with cookies for breakfast and too much tv, and there’s always someone scavenging in the kitchen, and I got so lazy yesterday that I forgot about a dentist appointment (Kath, I’m so sorry!  I will reschedule!) and thank goodness that always ends in a burst of renewed motivation to Get It Together for the new year.  Starting now, with washbags.  Tidy that bathroom. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tonal Color Block Blanket

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It’s windy.
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And it snowed.  (Yay!)
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I finished a blanket.
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Like I said, it’s pretty windy.
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Dark, too.  December in the North.
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And that’s when my teeth started chattering.  Let’s go inside.
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This blanket was born purely of my personal need to have something to knit that I didn’t have to look at so I could watch Christmas movies.  Tim Allen!  I love you! 
I wanted to work with color, but didn’t feel like doing a lot of thinking or planning or math-ing.  I thought I could just choose two skeins of worsted weight yarn in colors that looked good together and work stripes in stockinette until they ran out.  Then I’d choose the next two colors and do the same thing, and keep doing that until there was a blanket, working in a leisurely fashion over the course of the long dark season, with the comfort of knitting always at hand and cozily across my lap.  What I did instead is choose all eighteen colors in one trip to the yarn store and then race to finish it like I was being chased.  I suppose that is my way.  So here it is already. 
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Beginning with the red and deep pink pairing, I cast 100 stitches on a US 7 circular needle and worked eighteen total stripes of eight rows each in stockinette stitch, breaking the yarn at each color change and weaving the ends in at the back as I went to save (a lot of) aggravation at the end.  I made three color blocks per panel, and three panels total.  I even—are you ready for this?—kept track of which yarns I used.  So I can tell you that, for once.  Here’s the list:
Patons Classic Wool Worsted #00230 “Bright Red”
Patons Classic Wool Worsted #77531 “Currant”
Berroco Vintage #5120 (turquoise)
Patons Classic Wool Worsted #77219 “Seafoam”
Berroco Vintage #5121 (gold)
Berroco Vintage #5111 (butter)
Ella Rae Classic #19 (light purple)
Ella Rae Classic #157 (lilac heather)
Patons Classic Wool Worsted #77223 “Lemongrass”
Vanna’s Choice #170 “Pea Green”
Plymouth Galway #169 (light peach)
Plymouth Galway #67 (orange)
Plymouth Galway #170 (pale pink)
Ella Rae Classic #54 (medium pink)
Berroco Vintage # 5167 (wine)
Ella Rae Classic #43 (fuschia)
Plymouth Galway #187 (faded denim)
Berroco Vintabge #5117 (medium denim)
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For the single crochet and picot border, I used Patons Classic “Winter White”, Ella Rae Classic 03 (tan) and Plymouth Galway #172 (light blue) and a second ball of Plymouth Galway #170 and Patons Classic “Lemongrass”.
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That edge curled up like a cinnamon roll until I gave it a big blast with the steam iron and showed it who was boss. 
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A cozy new blanket, just in time.  Brr. 

[edit:  Somebody asked about how this is pieced together and I totally lost the email, so I'll add that info here--this was knit in three big strips, with only two long seams joining them in the middle.  I started with the red/deep pink pairing and when that yarn ran out, I just joined in the first blue and kept going.  At the end of that strip, after the purple section, I bound it off and set it aside, and cast on for the yellow pairing, and so on.  When I had three long, wide strips, I sewed them together using mattress stitch and then added the edging.  Then I steam-blocked the edges (a LOT; this thing really wanted to curl up) and steamed the sewn seams to make them lie nice and flat.  That's it!  Thank you for your question.  :) ]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When you get to Craftyville, turn left

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My thrifting pal Michelle and I saw this project in Country Living magazine, or maybe it was Country Homes and Interiors; I can’t remember which, and we both thought it was completely bonkers but also a little bit awesome.  It is—are you ready for this?—a Christmas tree made out of lampshades. 

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Right?  It leans way more toward crazy if you add all the ball fringe and other doodads you know you have lying around the place:

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Man, that makes me laugh so hard!  It looks like a wedding cake I decorated with my feet.  Honestly, I can’t decide whether this thing is a complete failure, or whether I love it with my whole being.  It is totally insane.  Ridiculous.  It is lampshade skeletons covered with junk.  And yet, it is making me smile. 

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As if it isn’t way too crafty around here already, now I have this thing, which is smothered in furbelows, squatting on the table beside the front door.  Goodness.  But I laugh my head off every time I look at it, which is not for nothing, you know what I mean? 

Because I am who I am, I already had some thrift store lampshades about the place, and the boy was more than happy to peel the yucky fabric off them to reveal their wire skeletons for me.  I wrapped fabric scraps around the bones, tying on a new piece when I came to the end, and when all the metal was covered, I stacked them up.  Then I decked it out in every kind of scrap trim I could scrounge and fell over laughing at myself.  It felt pretty good. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Solace

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Sometimes, there is no solace or comfort.  After the terrible events of last Friday, I curled up with my yarn basket and hid from the news.  All I can do is send love, which feels like it is not nearly enough, and to wish you all, everywhere, peace and joy. 

Nearly-finished blankets are in abundance here at Cozy Things.  I’m thinking about edgings now, which is a good sign that the finish line is in sight.  Also, I’m assessing the stash for balance, and I find I am shockingly low on green.  What?  Must buy yarn. 

There will be knitting here, and crochet, and probably Barbra Streisand singing that frantically happy version of Jingle Bells, and cookie baking, and they tell me it may snow.  I will hug my safe and healthy children and be blessed. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Temptation

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My honest plan for the day is to clean the house.  Really.  I have a bucket all ready, and I’m going to clean this place.  Any minute now.  Just let me finish my row. 

I’m having about ten ideas for a striped sweater using blanket leftovers.  Tunic-length cardigan with giant shawl collar and crochet edging!  Long coat with hood and bell sleeves!  Tight cardi with three-quarter sleeves and jewel neckline! 

Stop it.  I’m cleaning.  Today.  Seriously! 

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It’s too tempting.  Maybe I’ll clean tomorrow. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lazy Blanket, part one

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I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again:  I really need to knit.  I have concluded that no matter how many hatssweatersscarvesblankets I have, and even though I don’t need any more, I will still knit them, and this is not the guilt trip it used to be.  I am not capping my capacity for blanketing, not any more.  I will buy the yarn and I will knit things, and I will crochet up the leftovers into granny squares and other doodads and there will be no guilt, because this is what I do.  Not only are there more good ideas for things to make with yarn than there are blackberries in the bramble, but the plain old need to be knitting something is tremendous around here.  Do you feel this too?  Do you continue to make beautiful things you don’t need?  Is this the line between craft and art? 

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This is the laziest blanket design I could possibly have made up.  In fact, it is so lazy that it scarcely bears discussion.  It totally sacrifices form for function—the function in this case being the focus of my need to be knitting something, and, come to think of it, the laziness itself is a function of this design, too—and I realized way early on in the process of this two things:  first, I have chosen a pattern that requires by design that I buy a bunch of new yarn, and second, that I could have gotten a lot more bang (both in design and in economy) if I had only taken four seconds of time to plan a little.  And yet, I powered forth with the knitting, because I am—and I mean this in all sincerity—absolutely compelled to knit.  Compelled.   I can’t even stand to wait four seconds.  And in my mind, as I knit, I considered the other idea that I could have used here if I had spent four seconds in planning and realized that there is much yarn and with luck many years yet left to me, and all blankets will eventually be knit.   That next one will probably be really amazing and I’m really excited about it, which spurs me to knit madly on this one in pursuit of the opportunity to start the next one, which then isn’t lazy at all, but rather more, um, maybe focused is the word I’m looking for?  I keep thinking that at some point I’ll lose interest in all this yarn, but so far, there’s no sign of that. 

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I am already—and I realize this is ridiculous—halfway done with this.  It is half done.  I know. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fairy Tale Jacket

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After waiting three days for the rain to clear so I could photograph this sweater (what, is this Seattle or something?) I gave up and trudged helplessly into the gloom with the camera.  Such flat, gray light.  Which, it turns out, is adding considerably to the already ethereal quality of the project.  It is sucking all the color out of things, but in rather a dreamy way, and I’m a little bit okay with it.

The decision to re-knit the mistake sleeve was the right one.  It hurt at the time, oh yes, but I’m glad I did it.  This design is such an elaborate confection of elements, such a riot of things to do and stuff to look at.   From a technical standpoint, there’s a bit of a challenge in the contrast between the two fabrics.  The knitted parts are very soft and drape-y, and the crocheted bodice feels, by comparison, a bit dense and thick, so making the sleeves fit nicely in the armholes required some thinking.  In the original, Sidsel joined the squares as she went, which goes a long way toward ameliorating the typically firm qualities of granny square crochet.  I decided to join the squares by crocheting them together on the wrong side, and the result is quite sturdy, but I think it all drapes together very nicely.  It’s in the blocking, friends.  It’s all in the blocking.   

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Goodness, I love it.  It’s like Sgt. Pepper Joins the Circus.  Or Sgt. Pepper Gets a Package From His Mom.   Or Sgt. Pepper Falls Asleep in a Room Full of Industrious Elves.   (There’s a collection of short stories in here somewhere.  A future children’s holiday classic, I’m pretty sure.  Feel free to take this idea and run with it.) 

As I’ve said before, this pattern is only available in Norwegian, and I think only in hard/print copy as well, which is why I undertook the challenge of trying to adapt it on my own.  I simply applied what knowledge I have accumulated in the course of my lifetime of knitting and crocheting, and built a garment based on Sidsel’s brilliant and beautiful design.  She tells me she hopes to include this pattern in a forthcoming book, which will (fingers crossed) possibly be published in English.  Let us all hope very hard!  If it happens to be published in a way I can get my hands on, I can tell you my closet will shortly thereafter be bursting with color.  Have a look at her website, even if you can’t read Norwegian.  So inspiring. 

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Doesn’t that just look fantastic?  This should be the cover shot for my imaginary upcoming album “a Cozy Northwoods Christmas” with eight-piece all-elf backing band, and featuring me on the autoharp.  Songs include “It Must Be Snowing Somewhere” and “Is That the Last Piece of Kuchen?”  (Who am I kidding?  I can’t stop knitting long enough to do that.  You should, though.  Another free idea, if you want it.)

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I used Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool in Oatmeal (this comes in huge skeins, and I used two) on a US 7 needle for the knitted parts, and worsted weight scraps in a whole bunch of unidentifiable colors and yarns on a US F hook for the crocheted parts. 

I’d like to wear this over a knee-length jersey dress, with cabled tights and red clogs. That is so cozy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pom pom wreath

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Inspired by this and this, I finally knew what to do with my overflowing bowl of pom poms. 

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The pom poms and the little bundle of silk flowers are sewn on—nothing is glued.  So when the rose leaves wither and I decide to take this down, the pom poms can be rescued and recycled. 

Right after I hung it on the door, it started to snow. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In Which Ann Patchett makes me knit the same sleeve twice

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Oh, I had this thing all figured out.  I crocheted around the armhole.  I picked up and knit.  I made a sleeve cap using short rows (thank you, Wendy Bernard).  I did a bit of ciphering to figure out how many stitches I would need, and when I had that many, I made coffee, picked up my book, and started knitting.

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This was the scene for most of the day.  The sleeve grew, the book absorbed my attention.  When my thumbs started to ache, I did what any sensible knitter would do and went to the kitchen to make a Sticky Lemon Cake.  Then I came back and knit some more.  When the sleeve was long enough, I put the book down and started to attach the crocheted granny square cuff, and that’s when I noticed I had knit the whole thing without adding the eyelet pattern.  I had gone about eleven inches too far.  I purely forgot about the eyelet pattern.  I put the thing on as it was, and stood in front of the mirror, hoping.  There was a little bit of a back and forth at that point, between me saying “Who cares?  It’s just for me anyway, right?  It looks fine!  It looks fine, right?” and Dean saying, “Well if you don’t care, I don’t care,” and then me saying, “Well, I think it looks fine like this,” and then him saying, “Sure, it looks fine.  If you don’t care.”  And then I thought of coming back here and saying, Well, you know, I goofed it up, but who cares, right?  And then I ripped it all out, all the way back to the sleeve cap, a whole day’s knitting.  Because I care.  I do, I care. 

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Finish book.  Then knit. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Easy

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One of my big roadblocks in this life is figuring out what’s for dinner.  “What’s for dinner?”  makes me kind of cringe.  I always think What, again?  Already?  Didn’t we just eat dinner yesterday?  I don’t know, I’d rather just eat leftover Chinese takeout straight from the carton.  I’m kinda lazy.  So I was pretty happy when I came up with the most genius post-holiday dinner idea ever:  Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner Mashed Potato Soup.  It’s just all your leftover mashed potatoes, plus some broth, plus a couple chopped up leeks, plus a little bit of sour cream and the last of the milk before it goes bad, plus I fried up some bacon and crumbled that in, which is when it started to get really heavenly, and then I shredded about a cup of cheese and stirred that in, too.  Salt and pepper.  It was so good!  I just ate it, thinking, That’s what I’m talking about.  In case you want a real recipe, here’s mostly what I did:

Lazy Girl Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner Mashed Potato Soup

1/4 cup olive oil

2 leeks, chopped

2 or 3 cups (leftover Thanksgiving Day) mashed potatoes

2 cups (leftover Thanksgiving Day) chicken broth

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup (leftover Thanksgiving Day) sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch dried tarragon, if you feel like it

6 strips bacon, fried crispy and crumbled

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Saute the leeks in the olive oil until they’re soft.  Dump in the mashed potatoes, and add the broth.  Add water if it needs more liquid.  Stir it up good and bring it to a boil.  Let it bubble for awhile, until everything is nice and hot, then turn the heat down to a simmer, and use an immersion blender to whip it all smooth.  Stir in the milk, sour cream, salt, pepper, and tarragon.  Crumble in the bacon and stir in the cheese.   Easy, and delicious. 

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One night last week, I came home to find the girl and her BFF sitting around the table making needle-felted animals from little kits they’d bought, which honestly made my heart leap around with comfort and joy.  The craftiness around here does not end with me.  The next day they were casting about for something to do so I put them to work on pom poms, which are also easy.  They happily made these, amid much giggling and narration.  They made tea. They posed for goofy pictures. 

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Then Dean made a huge pan of cinnamon rolls from scratch, and we ate them and decorated the Christmas tree, listening to a lot of Nat King Cole on Pandora.  Crafts.  Soup.  Friends.  Cinnamon.  Life is so good. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Finishing the body, and a note about gauge

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A couple smallish road trips will do wonders for getting your knitting done.  I had this on my lap during a snowstorm as we drove in the back streets of suburban Buffalo, NY, and with the flakes sprinkling down around the streetlamps and the cozy golden windows and holiday lights and the hot coffee and Andy Williams on the radio, all things conspired to put me in a soft and happy frame of mind. 

The body of this, my adaptation of Sidsel Hoivik’s “Candy Jacket” (pattern published only in print copy and Norwegian, but forthcoming in a new book, according to Sidsel herself.  Stay tuned and keep checking Ravelry) has so far been the easy part.  At the bottom edge of the granny square bodice, I single-crocheted a few rows, working the last through the front loops only, leaving the back loops free for picking up knit stitches.

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I picked up one stitch for each crochet loop and hoped it would be close to the number of stitches needed to fit me.  Here’s where you really have to do a gauge swatch.  I can hear you all sighing; I know, gauge swatches are annoying—they take up time when you really just want to get to it, and what’s worse, they will totally lie to you.  I know.  Gauge swatches can lie like a rug.  But they’re the only chance you have, apart from wild guessing, at getting an end result that will fit you.  To do this, I knit a small sample in stockinette stitch, using the yarn I chose and the needle I hoped would work—in this case, Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool in Oatmeal and US 7—and then used a ruler on it to find out how many stitches I was getting per inch; 4.75.  [Don’t round up or down—that extra .75 of a stitch happens every inch, and if you multiply that by something like 40 inches, which is the distance around some part of most people, you’ll be either adding or subtracting 30 stitches in total, which will cause you big problems and make you hate your sweater in the end, and make you think you can’t knit, which is madness because of course you can, all you need to do is swatch and do the math!] 

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Okay, so once I knew how many stitches I would get per inch if I used this yarn and that needle, and I knew how big around I was at the part of my body where this waist join would hit me when I wore the jacket, I knew how many stitches I would need to pick up here.  So I did that, and then just started working my way toward the hem, increasing at the sides every few rows to accommodate my own increasing circumference as you go down toward the hem, and to create the skirt shape.  After awhile, I added the simple eyelet pattern, switching at that point to working the increases at the front opening edges so as not to disrupt the pattern, and then at the end, a couple rows of stranded knitting to add the little beads of color.  [Remember, this is Sidsel’s original design—none of this is my own.  I’m just working by the seat of my pants in poor imitation.]

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I steam-blocked it at this point, to give me an idea of how it would drape.  More sighs!  Well, I am hardly ever going to tell you not to block something, because it honestly makes a huge difference in your work.  Here’s this piece before:

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Not too bad in this stitch pattern, a little bunchy maybe.  Some stitch patterns at this point will look like an egg carton.  Anyway, here it is after I blasted it with a steam iron:

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See?  It matters.  Blocking is key.  If you’re going to spend all that time and money on a project, you want it to look its very best, and blocking is the way.  Steam blocking is nothing more than hovering the hot iron full of water over the project and letting the steam whoosh out over it.  I smooth it with my hand as I go—carefully, the steam is very hot—maybe pulling the piece into place here and there.  I’m not pressing the piece; the iron doesn’t really touch the yarn at all. 

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Sleeves next!  Should I start at the cuff and work up, or pick up at the armholes and work down?  Hmm, a puzzle. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mod knitted belt

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Thank you all for sharing my enthusiasm, Monkee-wise.  It was a huge thrill to sing with them, and I am still floating a little.  Fortunately, almost all my ongoing projects are at the point of mindless progress, so I daydream a little and make rows happen, and daydream a little more. 

I did manage to fire up my brain cells long enough to make this very 70’s belt, which is another pattern from this fantastic book.  The yarn is recycled, and I think it was Cascade 220 superwash in its original life, in some kind of dark wheat heather gold color; I don’t know exactly.  The plastic buckle thing came from the crafty thrift shop, and the jacquard ribbon is another like this, bought a few years ago with no project idea in mind, but it was so pretty. 

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I think this would be so great over a clingy, jersey-knit dress in some kind of tawny color, a dress the color of lions.