Tuesday, 31 March 2009

more quilt stuff

Here is a fascinating photo of quilt batting stuck to the floor:

Yes, I have been working on my vintage fabrics quilt, which has actually been a lot of fun. I like to sew, I do, I really do ... really ... truly. Heaven knows then why I spend so much time procrastinating and putting it off. When I get around to it, I do actually enjoy it. Really I do.

The much needed impetus to keep working on the quilt came last Friday when knitting friends and I got together for some mutual sewing support, to finish things that had been sitting around for too long (or which had never even been started). It was very successful - I finished cutting out the fabric pieces for the backing for the quilt and even got it sewn up. Hooray, that was my major achievement for the day.

Then of course I was on a roll and decided that I absolutely had to get the quilt layered together and pinned. Wow, what a chore. I had no idea and it took me two pinning sessions because I ran out of pins. the next day I went and bought three more packets (65 pins per packet - that's 190 more pins) and still I didn't have enough. Those things are pricey too so I have decided that instead of buying more I am going to quilt some of the inner squares and the pins that I take off then I can use on the edges.

So yes, that's the batting taped to the floor to keep it taught. I'm not actually going about it the traditional way, that is, I am going to quilt just the top and batting together and apply the backing later, instead of quilting the top, batting and backing together. The batting is a length of mystery fabric (certainly at least some percentage wool) purchased at Goodwill in Burien I think, cut in half and joined together. It will be snuggy.

So what I have now is a punk quilt. The packaging for the quilters safety pins reads 'will not rust or tarnish and can safely be left in your quilt'. It doesn't specify for how long. Because the only problem with completing one step of a project is that you then have no excuse for not getting on with the next step - yes, now of course I actually have to quilt it. After all that pinning effort I'm kind of tempted to just leave them there. At least for a while (ha ha, like that wasn't going to happen anyway).

Friday, 27 March 2009

oh swallow swallow

I've never been quite sure what this line from Eliot is saying. Is it 'oh swallow swallow' as in 'oh name-of-bird name-of-bird'? Or is he addressing the swallow with an imperative as in 'oh name-of-bird order-to-do-something'? Or even 'oh order-to-do-something name-of-bird'? If only it were written in Latin, this would all be clear.

Regardless, my Swallowtail Shawl - gulp - I finished it.

The Vital Statistics

The Swallowtail Shawl by Evelyn Clark Designs.
I did 19 repeats of the budding lace pattern and three tiers of the lily of the valley border (the pattern only calls for 14 repeats and 2 tiers respectively). My finished shawl measures 146 centimetres wide and 64 centimetres deep (57.5 inches x 25.2 inches).

Yarn: This is yarn that I bought at the Lake City Way Value Village here in Seattle. There were six balls of it, white, the only brand markings being 'All Wool Hand Knitting Yarn'. I dyed it with the help of my friend Valerie of Actual Size Creations - thank you! I joined three balls together to make one hank and dyed it like that - turns out that the middle ball took the dye differently which has produced an interesting colour variation. It's not a fault, it's a design feature.

I figured that it was laceweight but after recently inspecting some 2 ply at a yarn store I am leaning more towards calling it cobweb weight.

Needles: 3.5mm Addi Lace
Start to finish:
21 November 2008 to 23 March 2009. Only four months! It has taken me longer than that to knit a pair of socks! I'm very pleased with this timeframe, especially considering that there was quite a knitting pause in there while I got over my initial nupp shock.

Comments: Where to start? This is a lovely pattern but I found that the charts in the downloadable pdf version were badly laid out. I actually ended up cutting them out and rearranging them and sticking them down so that I could follow them. Nevertheless, when I went back to the charts afte
r a few week's break, it took me a good half hour to understand them again.

This was my first real lace knitting project. I have done lacey knitting before but never to this scale and complexity. I don't think that a triangular shawl was actually a good place to start, the stitch increase each row just gives you one more thing to think about. I think the clue to keeping track of it all is to work out a method for recording where you are - with the use of markers, ticking row counts off on a list - and be rigorous about it. And count! It's easy on the non-patterned rows to just happily purl along but it is essential to count that there is the correct number of stitches in each repeat.

And the nupps- basically the nupps sucked. Yes, I got the hang of them but I certainly did not find them pleasant knitting. In future where nupps are called for I would consider making a bobble - same effect, less stress.

I was also saved, a number of times, by using a lifeline. I took a long piece of sock wool and, at the end of a repeat, threaded it through the stitches on the needle. I then continued to knit, leaving that length of sock yarn in place. This saves your life (or at least your lace) in the event that you discover a mistake and have to rip the knitting back. With yarn this fine and so many stitches, at a certain point to unknit is quite unbearable and if you rip back without something to secure the stitches at some point, you may well find yourself back at your cast-on edge. The lacey fabric is too wispy to hold its shape and it is very difficult to successfully pick up live stitches.

Verdict: While I hesitate to say that the shawl is perfect, I am very proud to say that the shawl is mistake free. There are no sneaky knit-2-togethers to deal with an extra stitch, or surreptitious make-ones when I fell a stitch short. I am absolutely delighted to have achieved one of my knitting aspirations. To knit lace is why I started knitting in the first place. So while the shawl itself only took me four months to knit, it has been about six years in the making.

I'm glad that I started doing this knitting thing. I may just stick with it.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Who are you? I think that the whole 'search-for-identity' thing is most keenly associated with the teenage years when it is often such a burning issue. For me though the search goes on. It's no longer a big issue but yes, it's still there niggling away. Which brings me around to thrifting (as often happens). I've written before that buying things, particularly clothing, at the thrift store allows you to a) try out things that you normally wouldn't wear (at a fraction of the cost) and b) find great stuff that you wouldn't come across otherwise.

As per a) above, this kind of clothes shopping gives you a chance to become a you that suits the clothes you find, rather than endless searching for clothes that suit you. But as I've realised lately, you don't have to become all of the clothes that you find. In recent thrift shopping, I have come across a couple of pairs of black suede jeans - excellent quality, great condition, my size, $20. I even went so far as to try one of those pairs on and they were a good fit. But still, no, I couldn't become those jeans. I don't like leather clothing. I did buy a leather skirt once from the Salvation Army store in Abbotsford but never was comfortable in it. I only wore it a couple of times and gave it back. It just wasn't me, or I wasn't it.

As per b) above, I did find something great though. For ages I have been wanting a t-shirt or sweatshirt with either a quirky allover print or drawing on it. Thing is, I rarely go into shops that sell that sort of thing and my appetite for new clothing (and new clothing prices) is non-existent. So, to my delight,
at Goodwill the other week I found a cornflower blue (good colour on me) long-sleeved t-shirt (I like long-sleeved t-shirts and short-sleeved blouses) with a quirky owl drawing on it. It had a crewneck which I do not find at all flattering so I just cut off the binding when I got it home and the neckline is now open enough to look good. The small bit of doctoring doesn't seem to have done the rest of the t-shirt fabric any damage - that stuff seems not to unravel. So, I've worn the top a few times now (with denim jeans) and I'm pretty much delighted with it.

Pretty much; the thing is, I think that it might actually be a pyjama top. An owl is a night-time sort of motif and the slight texture of the knit is a bit pyjama-ish. That's one drawback of thrift store shopping - on some things you can never be quite sure. So, I seem to be a thirty-something who wears a slightly refashioned pyjama top as a long-sleeved t-shirt. But not with black suede jeans.

I'm good with that.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

kind of blue

Why knit? Is it always to achieve a particular finished object that you want, or is it for the process of knitting something, of bringing something into being? (Something that is not necessarily destined to be a functional part of your life which is perhaps is why so many handknits are given away).

The prospect of knitting the Faux Russian Stole from Gathering of Lace was one of the things that pushed me through those last rows of the swallowtail shawl (blocking as we speak; so to speak). I have a lovely cotton/linen/silk blend yarn, probably a little heavier than lace weight, in a bright indigo blue that I recycled from a Ralph Lauren sweater. For some reason I had always had in mind to make the Faux Russian Stole from this yarn, I can't even remember how or why I reached that pairing. Anyway, I finally got to cast on for it yesterday and was filled with misgivings - do I really want to knit this? do I really want to knit this now? do I really want to knit it from this yarn? what else would I prefer to knit it from? do I have anything else that I would prefer to knit it from?
It is of course always possible to knit something a second time in a yarn that you prefer but at 521 rows of lace, 81 stitches wide (not counting borders), this would be quite a knit for just the sake of bringing something into being.

So I decided to just knit for a bit and see how it went, process knitting basically, knitting for the sake of the physical action. Anyway, I worked on the lower border yesterday evening and am sold on it. The original RL knit was in a 2x2 rib which made a rather dense, stiff fabric. Knitted up as lace the yarn is much softer and, as linen does, has lovely drape.

And the colour? I've decided that it's Prussian Blue. (Yes, I know that Prussia was not just a bit of Russia but rather covered a bit of Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium and the Czech Republic too. But for the purposes of being the yarn destined for this project it's good enough for me).

Saturday, 21 March 2009

95.6 per cent

Ok, this post is going to be a bit of a Ravelry(-related) rant. Those of you who don't use Ravelry may want to skip it, or may wish to continue for an amusing insight into a meticulous* mind, namely my own.

The particular feature that I take issue with is the little status bar that indicates your progress through a project. Here's a quick screen shot:

So, Ravelry is great and the progress feature is great but it causes me enormous amounts of angst. To begin with, how do you know how far you are through your project? Is it just knitting progress that you're measuring? What about blocking and seaming - how do they factor in? I mean, these things bother me.

The answer to all this is, of course, that you just guesstimate it yourself according to your own rules but, oh people, the lack of structure and boundaries leaves me in such a quandry. Not to mention that you can only measure your progress in intervals of five percentage points. Yes, you're either 25 per cent of the way through or 30 per cent; there's no in between. So how can I express that I am 95.6 per cent of the way through my swallowtail shawl?? 95.6!! Only four rows and the casting off to go. I am really excited.

Ok, on the topic of progress, where are things at around here at the moment?

diamond mittens (the second engagement) - I have started on these mittens again and am about halfway through the first one, according to a mental schema that I have instituted that divides each mitten up into four parts - rib, hand, mitten top, fingers. So half of one glove means about 25 per cent of the way through the project. I'm going to say 27 per cent, just because I can.

Baudelaire socks - I have made some recent progress on these, just a few rows here and there (well, one after the other but you know what I mean). I have finished the heel and am now just working on the leg. I have to work until I have enough yarn left to do twelve rows of ribbing? How will I possibly know when I have twelve rows worth of yarn left? This dilemma alone is enough to put these on the backburner for me.

black velvet floral printed skirt (the second) - Yes, I have two. This one is in much more autumnal tones and is finished (took in the waist, new waistband) but for the want of a hook and eye at the top of the zip. I'd say 97 per cent for this one.

black cotton floral printed skirt - Noticing a trend here? I worked on this one today and sewed in the gathers at the waist. I'll be doing the grosgrain waistband facing again and it will also be wanting a hook and eye at the top of the zip but that will have to wait until Monday. About halfway.

estate sale quilt top - I was fortunate to rummage through the linen cupboard and find a very large, dense cotton sheet that I picked up at another estate sale of sorts (except there was no sale - the bloke was completely renovating the house and wanted it cleared out; everything was free). I have tacked the quilt top to the sheet in order to stabilise it. Progress? I'd say about one per cent because there is a lot of mending to do. Anyway, it's all packed away now so that I can finish the long languishing vintage fabrics quilt instead.

Overall progress? 95.6% x big project + 27% x small project + 30% small project + 97% x sewing project + 50% x sewing project + 1% x huge overwhelming project .... umm, I'd say about 100 per cent crafting satisfaction.

* yes, that is a euphemism for obsessive

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

life is a bowl of cherries

I love needlepoint. Just the plain tent stitch type, not necessarily any of the fancy stuff. It's not something that I can see myself attempting in the near future as I already have enough on my plate but whenever I see a nice piece of needlepoint at the thrift store I snap it up.

I bought this piece of needlepoint at the Goodwill store in the University district here in Seattle. It was actually framed so I'm sure that it was made with love by someone who was very proud of it. I, however, didn't really want to hang it on the wall so I took it out of the frame, gave it a quick wash and made it up into a cushion cover. For the back I used some of the leftover black velveteen that I used for the yoke of my floral-printed black velvet skirt and also the zip
salvaged from said skirt. Yes, I brought myself to sew in a zip. The greatest advantage of having done this is that I definitely have to go out and get myself an adjustable zipper foot. You know I love the accessories.

I made a very simple cushion insert from a decorator fabric sample - just tore out a square twice the size of the needlepoint cover, folded it in half and sewed up three of the sides. The fabric came in a grab bag of decorator fabric samples that I bought some time ago at Value Village. I bought that bag for only one of the fabrics (which I haven't yet used!) but I did use another piece to make some covered buttons. The stuffing came from a small cushion also purchased at Value Village. I bought it because it was covered in dozens of shell buttons which I promptly removed and have used since on a couple of projects that needed buttons. Today I actually cut it open and used the stuffing in my cushion insert. Total cost? Umm, the needlepoint was $4.99 and the rest really came from stash, so yes, cheap cherries!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

blooming time

As in, about blooming time. Yes, I have finished the lily of the valley border on my swallowtail shawl. Hooray!! I did get a bit held up there about halfway through the first repeat and lost some of my motivation but the desire to get on with some other things in my queue and my commitment to the knit list (can't start any other project knitting until this is done) pushed me along.

I had also misunderstood how many rows of the lily of the valley border I would need to knit That was very discouraging because I thought that I was only some 30 per cent of the way through when I was really 60 per cent of the way - phew! And now with the border done I am a smidge more than 80 per cent of the way through.

I can't wait to block this out and see what it looks like when it's all evenly stretched out. And those nupps: I tell you what, I'm nupped.

Also as in, it's blooming time out there in the garden. Yes, spring is sprung (although we are still getting some snow).

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

real estate

Estate sales are a funny thing. They are more prevalent here (or in Seattle at least) than in Australia (well, Melbourne) where I have really only seen them for huge estates, mansions full of stuff. Anyway, they happen quite regularly here and I can't resist the opportunity to peer into someone else's life and maybe find myself a treasure.

The sales seem to fall into two categories - commercially run sales where someone has bought up an entire property (or I guess been contracted to sell it all) and sales run by the family themselves. The one that I went to last week was one of the latter and advertised itself as 'everything must go'. But that turned out to be everything except everything that I wanted. The little print in the old picture frame was her grandma's, she wanted to keep the spools of sewing cotton for something, the bicycle in the garage simply wasn't for sale. Ok, whatever.

What I did walk away with though was curiously the most amazing thing that I found - a quilt top.

It is machine sewn and very obviously hand done. I'm not sure how old it might be - there are some bold graphic fabrics in there but also some old-fashioned sackcloth prints. None of the corners match up and it's in pretty poor condition. Can you tell, I love it?

It's going to take a fair bit
of work to turn this into a quilt - there are tears in almost every block. I think that I'll have to put a backing on to stabilise it and start the mending from there. Any advice from quilters out there is most welcome. Then I am going to have a riot of a time choosing all the perfect thread colours to outline quilt each of the blocks. By hand. What an investment, eh? Pretty good for $3.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

cup of tea?

Baby bear knows that I have a cup of tea in the morning. When she sees me with my white mug, she asks, 'cup of tea?' In the newest issue of Mixtape (that's issue 8, out now!) I have written a bit about how you can't manage to do everything but how important and rewarding it is to do the small things, the things closest to you - like making pyjamas for your little girl. Yes, I did manage them.

I used Simplicity 8173 that I bought at the thrift store and re-used an adult pyjama top and a pair of adult pyjama bottoms for the fabric (similarly purchased). I love that tea cup print, it's hilarious. Again, I tried to use the existing features of the original garments as much as possible - the button placket there at the back and the elasticised waist in the pants so there was no need for a casing or new elastic.

Needless to say, baby bear adores these pyjamas. When she puts them on she says 'mummy made it'
and my heart just melts.

Friday, 6 March 2009

i talk too much

Well, a lot and wow, do I have a lot to say this week. It's actually given me pause to stop and look at my recent output and realise that I am being really productive at the moment. What is it - the approach of spring? the coalescence of ideas? heightened sensitivity to buzzing?

Speaking of buzzing, here's one that has really been bothering me. On 1 July 2006 I read this fantastic post over at Wardrobe Refashion about making 'sleeve pants' - refashioning the arms of adult t-shirts into leggings for an infant. I have been desperate to make a pair ever since.

When we were in Las Vegas last year I scored big time with an alpaca-wool blend long-sleeved knit dress. I unravelled it for the most part with the intention of making the Knitted Veil from Pyrenees Wool (Ravelry link) from Victorian Lace Today. Only problem with it was that the shoulder and arm seams were overlocked (serged) which meant no unravelling there. A spare pair of sleeves; hmm, what to do with them?

They're a bit rough as I just winged it with the pattern shape. I made the back seam longer than the front to help them fit in the crotch and then used the neck of the garment as the waistband instead of making a casing and putting in elastic. Only problem is that the buzzing has actually gotten worse on this one. I want to make more - many, many more.

ps. am I talking to myself? do leave a comment and let me know.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

i think too much

This is a common complaint among intelligent women (if you'll excuse the modesty) and it can at times be quite crippling. Take for example this Simplicity 8173 sewing pattern that I bought last December. I have been wanting to make some pyjamas for baby bear since then but have had some trouble with thinking too much. The problem was (or seemed to be) that the pattern is for size 2-3 and I know that you should never actually cut the pattern pieces out froma multi-sized pattern but trace them instead, just in case one day you want to use another of the sizes. And I wasn't sure whether baby bear would be best in size 2 or size 3 and I just couldn't bring myself to do any tracing and just thinking about it made my head hurt.

Until a couple of weeks ago when I finally decided on some action. I actually removed the pattern pieces from the envelope. Good start, eh? And lo and behold - it was not a multi-sized pattern. It's a medium, encompassing sizes 2 to 3.

There was only one pattern outline, so I cut it out.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

di, you'll never believe this

Look what I finished!

Not the whole skirt mind you - just the yoke but that took long enough. With the assistance of my lovely friend Di from Clementine's Shoes, I cut out the new yoke for this skirt (which I had bought at the Sacred Heart Mission op shop in East St Kilda - I remember the very moment) sometime previous to September 2007. That's more than eighteen months ago. Here's a bit of the pattern with, look, architect's handwriting.

I have many, many unfinished and unrealised projects on the go, mostly sewing ones because this is what I find most difficult to get around to. There's a bit of a list over in that right hand column labelled 'best intentions' but really, that's only partial. And all of these projects and ideas buzz around in my head as I try to find the time and sort out my priorities. It's not that I don't want to finish these projects (or get around to starting them in the first place), it's just that I have to attend to whatever is buzzing most loudly at any particular moment. Projects can buzz for (many) months until it's too unbearable to not to work on them. Sometimes just a little bit of work quiets them down again, other times they just have to be finished. Like this skirt. Finally.

Yesterday, after eighteen months of buzzing I just could not bear it any longer and voila, I finished it. Well, the sewing part at least - the yoke, the grosgrain waistband facing. I did some finishing today - the buttons, the crochet buttonband, the hook and eye, the press stud.

I am absolutely delighted with how this has turned out. A new skirt - hooray. And a whole heap of inspiration to keep sewing - I have already pinned up two other skirts that were just waiting for new waistbands in order for them to fit me. But really, thank goodness my clothing is 30 years out of date to begin with.

glam knits

In the introduction to Glam Knits, Stephanie Japel defines glam as, well, pretty much anything. It's in the yarn, it varies from person to person - whatever. The only thing that I found glam about this book was the styling, which is gorgeous and indeed glamorous - 1940s-style sirens with coiffed hair, porcelain complexions and serious eyeliner.

The only pattern that I liked though was the Romantic Bell-sleeved Cardi, a sweet little number in cashmere with a picot edging and. But the others?
Well, to be perfectly honest most of them are just dreadful - take the Trapeze Jacket in a bulky variegated thick-and-thin yarn with a lace pattern on the hems and sleeves that all but disappears into the mix. In short, a really unsuccessful pairing of pattern and yarn. Not glamorous. And as for the mustard-coloured dress on the cover ... sorry, ugh.

There is indeed a good range of garments - from simple accessories to full length coats with tunics, sweaters, shrugs and dresses in between - and a good range of yarns - super bulky through to 4 ply/fingering weight although, as per my previous complaint, I really can't see how anything knit in super bulky yarn could be glamorous. There is a tweed coat, a shrug and some lace that I think are ok but wouldn't be interested in knitting.

I could look at the book all day and dream of buying some liquid eyeliner but glam? No, lame.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


The vital statistics

Molly by Debbie Bliss from Junior Knits.
the smallest size which is 3-4 years.
Yarn: 60 per cent silk 40 per cent cotton recycled from a Boden cardigan that I bought at, where else, Value Village.
Needles: 4.5mm and 5mm.
Start to finish: 21 February 2009 to 2 March 2009
The pattern calls for an Aran/worsted (10ply) weight yarn knit at a gauge of 18 stitches per 10cm.

Verdict: This is a pattern that I have been meaning to knit for a long time. Debbie Bliss' Junior Knits was one of the first pattern books that I looked at when I stated knitting as there was a copy at the St Kilda library. It's lovely to realise something from so early in my knitting career.

It is still a bit large for baby bear - I guess that a brooch or pin to keep it together would be helpful but no, not on a two-year old. The pattern was reasonably straightforward. There is some short row shaping in the collar but no directions for wrapping and turning at the end of the short row or for then picking up the wraps. I did wrap the stitches at the end of the short rows but didn't bother to pick up the wraps as it was in the rib and they wouldn't be too noticeable. It was a nice break to work on some stretches of stocking stitch after having done so many lacey projects lately that required me for the most part to work from a chart. As there were no armhole seams the finishing was pretty easy too - just two long seams (side/underarm/sleeve) and the ends. Ah the ends, they never end but then, neither does the knitting!


The vital statistics

Pattern: Meret, the mystery beret, by Woolly Wormhead, accessed through Ravelry.
Yarn: a heathered red lambswool recycled from a mens Old Navy vest.
4mm for the brim, 4.5mm for the body of the beret.
Start to finish: 17 February 2009 to 25 February 2009.
Comments: I knit an inch in stocking stitch and then an inch in 2x2 rib and included four repeats in order to make it super slouchy.

Super! This is really what I was looking for when I knit Fern Glade. I think that I may have gotten the gauge wrong on that project or the yarn just didn't suit it. This one came together really well. I love the shape and the size. I also found knitting this to be really inspiring - the whole time I was thinking that I could use the basic parameters and substitute lace patterns, even gauge if I felt really adventurous. The pattern calls for an Aran/10 ply weight yarn that knits at 18 stitches per 10cm but I guess that you could do some maths and work out how many stitches are required to get the same brim circumference in a lighter weight yarn. I also thought that you could create a diamond/leaf shape by shifting the alternating pattern repeat along by half a repeat. That's hard to explain - might have to knit one up to show!