Sunday, 29 November 2009


This is a perfectly respectable term, really. I even looked it up in the dictionary, just to make sure. It simply means 'love of books' and I do love books - the weight of them, the potential in them, the feel of them and yes, to be honest, the having of them. I have had some great craft book luck in recent weeks that I wanted to share.

Stitch 'n Bitch: the knitter's handbook - ah, the classic. Admittedly published a good six years ago but hey, better late than never. There is lots of good basic information in here that will be of great help to anyone I might teach to knit (think of it as an investment). I bought this for $2.99 at Value Village over in Redmond on a family shopping expedition - what a way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Sew U: the Built by Wendy guide to making your own wardrobe - also not particularly new but a great book to have as a reference that uses contemporary language and styling that I can relate to. Built by Wendy patterns were something that I had only read about on craft blogs when I lived in Melbourne, so I was very curious about this book when it came out. I won this in my beloved knitting group's stash swap (we have a broad definition of stash). I would really like to get hold of the stretch sewing version too.

The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns: basic designs in multiple gauges & sizes - more investment book buying, how could you go wrong? Today's purchase at Value Village in Capitol Hill, again for $2.99. Now I can knit a mitten in every imaginable gauge for any possible size. Or a glove, or a beanie or a jumper (sweater). Also a great book if you want to design or reverse engineer something yourself. (And bonus - this book came with two Minnowknits patterns in the back storage pocket.)

These reviews are pithy because, of course, I haven't actually had a good close read through any of these. Bibliophilia is love of books. I do also love reading but it takes considerably longer than the actual handing over of your three dollars (and besides, I'm too busy book shopping).

the envelope please

So here is what a shrug looks like without its sleeves but with its (miles and miles and interminable miles) of ribbing. It's just an envelope really.

What did I last say about this project? Oh, that I was about to start the ribbing. That would be right, it took a full week - 322 stitches of 2x2 ribbing for 2.5 inches, increasing to 482 stitches of 3x3 ribbing for a further three inches. Ugh. The pattern actually calls for the ribbing to be done in the round but I have trouble with that final cast-off stitch when you knit in the round. Sometimes it's ok, but not with ribbing.

Anyway, am now having some sleeve dilemmas. As I knit the body section significantly smaller than the pattern calls for, instead of the armhole falling at the mid-forearm it falls at the mid-upper arm. This means that the sleeves would need to be considerably longer than the pattern directs. I am not sure whether long sleeves are really what will suit this snugger version and besides, I am almost out of yarn.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

the cheque's in the mail

Truly, they still use cheque books here in the US (ok, check books). Yes, the classic fob-off line is actually valid here!

But honestly, Di, there is a package in the mail for you. Today's educational activity has been a trip to the post office. We went to the PO in the University District which is quite an impressive 1930s structure with lovely lettering but I dared not take a photograph of it, being a federal building and all and times being what they are blah blah. Here instead is a tantalising glimpse of what is inside:

some knitting notes

I have had a couple of queries lately about knitting with recycled yarn.
May I begin by saying that I cannot recommend this practice enough - you can get great yarn (cashmere, silk, angora, camel, merino, you name it) that no-one else is knitting with, knit an entire garment for under $10, keep garments out of landfill, recycle and get a completely unique knitted item.

There are several excellent resources on-line regarding re-/up-cycling yarn. I started with the tutorial over at Neauveau Fiber Arts and have written up some notes of my own. I also highly recommend the UnRavelers group on Ravelry for information, support, sharing and inspiration.

There are a few common concerns about knitting with recycled yarn, one of which is the kinkiness of it, that is, the kinks in the unravelled yarn. I have rarely found this to be a problem. Usually I just unravel from the garment straight onto my ball winder, perhaps winding it twice, keeping the tension pretty tight. And then knit with it and that's fine. On occasion I have found that the residual kinks have affected the knit-ability of the yarn (namely with the yarn that I used for my Sunrise Circle Jacket and the Columbia Beret). With that I did go to the trouble of winding it into a hank, soaking the hank for a while in warm water, then letting it dry. I'm the first to concede that this is laborious but I find rarely necessary.

And of course one of the major bonuses of knitting with recycled yarn is that you can often knit an entire garment piece - sleeve, even the back - all with one strand of yarn. Yes, that's right, many less ends to weave in!

Monday, 23 November 2009

the balla(r)d of goodwill

It's quite a few months since I last went to the Ballard Goodwill. I've always found it vaguely disappointing there, with only my wooden sewing box as a stand-out purchase (and that dates my most recent visit to last April). Anyway, we went today to help some friends collect a desk they had purchased and spent a bit of time shopping - what a change a few months can make! Either they have been getting some really good donations lately or Goodwill's central distribution system has decided to favour Ballard - either way, they are really well stocked and I came away a happy shopper.

My strategy for collecting J Crew woollens in the trust that eventually I will find duplicate garments and be able to confidently knit myself something (more) from recycled yarn came to fruition. Out of this size medium and the identical size small that I bought some time ago, I would definitely have managed a garment. Alas, I have already repurposed the size small into a dress for little miss bear, which gives me the opportunity to show off a finished object dating from mid-October.

It started with making leg warmers from the sleeves of the garment, but when left with a truncated sweater what I saw was the potential for a little dress. I gathered the neckline slightly with some elastic and took in the sides to shape the dress a bit. There were also two spare lengths of sleeve left over after making the legwarmers, so I unravelled these to give myself some yarn to work with. The dress sleeves themselves I edged with some machine stitching and then, after turning the hem under, finished with a line of crocheted stitches. With my hook still handy, I also crocheted some motifs to adorn the dress. The larger one is from a free pattern that I found on Ravelry, the two smaller are just a simplified version thereof.

The entire dress took less than a day to make and will keep little miss bear comfy and warm. It is also 100 per cent machine washable as that is the way that I treat all of my woollens the minute I get them home from the thrift store. If they pass that first test I know that they are good for life. As to what I'll do with the size medium now ... umm, another dress? a jacket? wait for the next one to show up?

I also today very happily purchased a pair of Hanna Andersson pyjamas (brand new as far as I can tell) and cardigan and a book for little miss bear, a book on heirloom embroidery for myself, two other books, a vintage sewing pattern, a wooden toy high chair perfect for teddy to eat his breakfast at and, surprise, another J Crew woollen which I am hoping will deliver up enough yarn for Tim's first sweater. Thing is, I went to bed way too late last night, considering the relative benefits of knitting either Jarrett or Beau for Tim. Beau was winning out, being at a looser gauge with heavier yarn, and lo and behold, there was the yarn today. Ok, slightly twisted up in a few cables but that's just the way I like it for $7.99. (The entire Goodwill haul came in at less than $50 and included two decorated light switch covers which at a craft market I might consider kind of cute but not bother to actually spend money on, as opposed to 99c each for which you can try out just about anything. I love thrift shopping.)

Saturday, 21 November 2009

blocking and pinning

I finished knitting the patterned portion of the pimlico shrug a couple of days ago, blocked it out yesterday and let it dry overnight. I am now ready to start on what I am sure promises to be an interminable amount of ribbing.

To be sure, I have taken some major shortcuts with the pattern thus far. To begin, I knit eight repeats of the eyelet pattern (as pattern directs last repeat knit to only row 11 instead of 16). As such my knitted panel measured only 17 inches in depth, rather than the 34 (!!) called for in the pattern. Now, I know the pattern notes tout this shrug as a 'cross between a cardigan and a shawl' but that would have been way too shawl for me. Besides, I only measure 17 inches from back neckline to lower waist. And in addition there's 10-odd inches of ribbing to go ... so, it blocked out an extra inch or so and I'm hoping to get the fit that I desire. Let the ribbing commence.

Elsewhere, I seem to be channeling Dame Westwood in the stitching department at the moment. What else to do with a stylish and reasonably sedate woollen check than to stick some (safety) pins into it? Inspired by my pyjama pants I drew some paisley motifs onto my maud with tailor's chalk but after three days of being draped over the back of a chair the chalk was wearing thin. I meant to do some rough outline stitching over the chalk lines but feared that the chalk would be all but gone in the time that would take, so pinned instead.

Unfortunate consequence is that I now can't wear the maud until I have indeed outline stitched those motifs for fear of turning myself into a voodoo doll.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Ok, I don't think that these are the handles that I am looking for but they happen to be some handles that I already have (and which have recently reached us across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean along with some other Australian possessions). The receipt is conveniently there alongside in the bag showing that I have been treasuring (read, carefully hanging onto until I think of something wonderful to do with them) these since August 2003 and that I paid ... oh my goodness, how did I ever afford that?

Anyway, I purchased these bag handles at Margo Richards Antiques in the Rocks in Sydney I recall, in the company of my brother who was visiting at the time. The handles above are the more recent pair, two separate handles. I have no idea what wood either pair is made from, or in what era actually - any ideas?

These ones below are older with lovely carved details. The two halves are hinged with that wooden clasp to keep the pair closed. And the little holes for attaching the bag.

I did attempt early in my crafting career a crocheted bag in some burgundy yarn but it wasn't very successful (and not very good yarn either). I'm glad of this because I now have much better ideas and skills as to what I might create. Another felted jumper bag of some sort maybe - an old-fashioned patchwork sewing bag - yo-yos from recycled fabrics - tweet tweet. Yes, thank you for reminding me, one thing at a time.

five little birds ...

... went out one day, over the hills and far away ...

Ok, I know that it's five little ducks but I haven't embroidered any ducks so there you go. We sing a lot of songs about five, including a couple about cheeky monkeys and bumps on the head and crocodiles and ... no, I haven't embroidered any crocodiles either.

Here are the five little birds that are to be affixed to my felted jumper bag which is still hovering there in the wings, awaiting completion. Actually, I'm a tad annoyed with myself. I have managed to get into that situation of having too many things on the go at once, such that nothing is getting completed and I am feeling distinctly irritated. These birds have actually been finished for a good couple of months but I lost one for a time (it eventually turned up in a bag of knitting which I guess I had with me the same day) and that obstacle was enough to stop me from any further work on it while in the back of my mind I pondered what to do about the lost bird. Thankfully I pondered long enough that I found it, but that was a good few weeks ago now too.

Anyway, all I really need to do now is stabilise the embroidery with a bit of glue on the back of each birdie to keep all the threads in place and then it will be time indeed to affix them. I am still stuck as what to do about handles though. I would dearly like some tooled leather straps and have been searching through the handbags at thrift stores in order to recuycle some but to no avail. Maybe some wooden handles? Suggestions gratefully received!

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Ok, so I got around to it pretty quickly. I have so far completed about two and a half of the 16-row repeat on the pimlico shrug, this time using a 4.5mm circular needle. I'm enjoying the knitting, it's pretty mindless and seems to be what I need just now. I also have the eyelets mastered and although I'm not entirely certain that I am doing them 'the right way', I am happy with the way that they are turning out.

I plan to knit eight repeats and then take the fabric off the needle and block it out (with a safety line in there to prevent unravelling of course!) to get a better idea of eventual size and shape. Then I'll clasp it all together with my trusty mini-hair clips and make decisions about whether any further knitting is required. I am aware that for many people this garment turns out way too big so I am going to be very conservative in the sizing, although of course I will only be able to change how long it is (from neck to waist) and not how wide (those 161 stitches are remaining 161 stitches whatever I do).

Friday, 13 November 2009


Tapestry yarn - Persian tapestry yarn.

Shade 967.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

where do ideas come from?

I have often pondered this. Why do you suddenly know what colour and yarn to knit a garment from, and at other times are completely stumped? Why when I think about decorative surface embroidery on a checked stole (my maud) does paisley come to mind?

Paisley is a motif that originates in India and Persia and seems to be completely at odds with a checked fabric which I associate with Scotland. Now, I know that tartans and certain checked fabric patterns have very specific origins and that not everything checked is a tartan and so on, I'm just talking about associations here. And it is called a maud. But of course, Paisley is a city in Scotland which gave its name to the design motif that originated on shawls from Kashmir.
More associations and connections.

And why should I think of decorative surface embroidery at all? Well, my maud was originally prompted by my Oilily wrap and Oilily is a brand known for its, well, slightly gaudy aesthetic. Floral embroidery on stripes, riotous prints, bright colours. My wrap is in a reasonably subdued red and blue colourway with quite a bit of pattern and was woven in ... India.

So, if I ever get around to it (because I am calling the maud finished for now) I think that I would like to do some paisley embroidery, just in a couple of corners. I had a search around the internet for some basic outline paisley images. Then I did some tidying up about the house and came across my pyjama pants - lo and behold, paisley. And just the simple shapes and layout that I think could work, in a burgundy wool thread and a burnished gold perhaps, maybe a bit of black as well.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near;'
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late;'
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear;'

And the lily whispers, 'I wait.'

Maud, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I am not much of a poetry buff but this is one of my all-time favourite stanzas of poetry. There is so much magic and mystery in it. Not being a buff I've not read the rest of it, I'm just happy with this bit.

So, maud the noun, not the poetical person - Shandy has been kind enough to direct me over to Needled where Kate has written a post about a traditional Scottish wrap worn by shepherds called, wait for it, a maud. Unfortunately, I had already cut and sewn my fabric before I read about mauds but, nevertheless, that is now the name of my checked wrap.

A few details - the fabric that I bought is 100 per cent wool and 60 inches wide (apologies metric friends but when in Rome ...). The dimensions that I was aiming for were 22 by 68 inches and I decided to make my wrap, or rather my maud, from a double layer so I bought 54 inches (one-and-a-half yards) of fabric. I had thought to make the maud longer by attaching the extra eight inches or so to the 60 inch width but, alas, the checks are not square and didn't match up.

Instead I cut the extra eight inches into two equal widths and sewed one to either end of the maud. Then the unravelling began - some 90 by 8 inches of thread pulling. Unh, it took a while. The colours in the fringe don't line up with the checks either but for me this is ok.

I folded the fabric plus fringe in half and sewed it up, followed by some top stitching. What I have now is effectively a 60 inch tube of fabric with a fringe at either end. I had thought to run a few lines of stitching down the centre to keep it all together, and then I thought, well, why not a few lines of decorative stitching? and then I thought, well, why not some decorative surface embroidery? Where do these ideas come from? Topic for another post.

ps The portrait of Tennyson is by George Frederic Watts and is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Australian friends of a certain generation - do you remember the ABC's The Curiosity Show? I do - kyuuu-ri-O-si-tyyyyy.

Anyway, have been doing a bit of curiosity casting on recently - just patterns or yarns that have long been bugging me, that I wanted to quickly try my hand at. The Pimlico Shrug was always a stand-out project for me from Mel Clark and Tracey Ullman's Knit 2 Together: patterns and stories for serious knitting fun. It was also one that was a bit tricky in the sizing department as evidenced by a quick look at various projects on Ravelry (seems to
easily end up way too big). But I have long wanted to try it and the serendipitous availability of some Koigu Kersti (the yarn used in the book) was just what I needed to give it a go.

I actually didn't even end up casting on in the Kersti because when I got it home from knit night into the light of the next day I found that it was too murky a green for me. So, to find a yarn to knit in ... no appropriate 8ply/dk weight yarn in the stash so I actually went shopping for yarn. This is quite an unusual phenomenon because I almost always knit with recycled yarn or something that I already have. I was quite stumped. Usually I have a clear idea of the {pattern}x{colour}x{fibre} combination but this time I drew a complete blank. I wandered around Weaving Works and just felt overwhelmed (which is certainly an experience that I recommend).

I eventually came to my senses later at Stitches which has a limited (and thereby manageable!) range of Cascade Yarns and was able to make a choice, a mid-green heathered (shade 2100) hank of Cascade 220 which is a strange weight of yarn (or at least it confuses me). It is supposed to be a 10ply/aran weight yarn but behaves more like an 8ply/dk weight. Perfect though I think for the Pimlico Shrug which calls for an 8ply/dk weight yarn to be knit at a gauge of 19 stitches to 10 cm (kind of 10ply/aran weight).

I cast on for the smaller size (small/medium) and knit about ten rows which covered one row of eyelets. The eyelets were hard! There are some odd stitch instructions, particularly K1B, which I would usually interpret as knit 1 through the back of the stitch but in this instance involves knitting through the back of the stitch below (as in, from behind the work). I am happy with the eyelet pattern. Many people have substituted a different eyelet pattern, or even an entirely different stitch, but I find this one to be large and modern.

Which brings me to some more thoughts about this pattern. Like Eowyn, this is another one of those conceptual patterns that you could do so many different things with. It is basically a rectangle so you could do that any length and width you want, in any gauge yarn, in any stitch really. Making the rectangle into a garment is about folding the rectangle in half and sew up some of the side seam to create armholes. Then add ribbing.

So, the outcome - on 5mm needles I found my gauge to be too loose so I am going to frog and try again on 4.5mm needles. When I get around to trying it again.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

1(67) things to make for children

Continuing with my love of 1970s craft books is the Better Homes and Gardens 167 Things to Make for Children. Alas, I think that the title is a misnomer because really, there's only one thing in there that I would consider making - and some of the projects are downright hideous like the doll with a shrivelled apple for a face.

The project that I have made is the Artist's Vinyl Apron. I posted a little while ago about the iron-on vinyl that I discovered and this is the project that I used it for. I'm delighted to confirm that the apron is now complete (although still under wraps until Di receives it).

Of course, one of my favourite things about the 70s craft book is the (rather ridiculous) copy:

There's a little bit of the artist in each of us, but children especially love to grab a paintbrush, dip it (or their fingers) in a paint pot and express themselves artistically.

But before they begin, outfit them with this vinyl apron. Then, just stand aside and watch your budding Picasso create his masterpiece without a worry about splashes and spills.

Funny, I never could imagine Pablo in yellow and white gingham.

(Oh ok, make it two projects because I do love that crocheted granny square dress on the cover too.)


Oilily is a spectacularly expensive brand of children's and women's clothes that hails from the Netherlands. They used to have a distributor in Australia but this arrangement ceased a couple of years ago and they had a big clearance sale. I bought a couple of heavily discounted (but I admit, still ridiculously priced, t-shirts and socks for little miss bear) and a woven woollen stole in red and blue for myself. It's a great size, super warm and gets a multitude of compliments every time I wear it so I consider it worth every cent.

So, I saw this burgundy checked fabric at Stitches here in Seattle some weeks ago and was quite taken with it but really had no idea what I would do with it. I wasn't sure about wearing a garment in a check like this (unless maybe a coat but that's a tall order) and didn't want to sew anything for myself anyway.

Then I recalled a post on wisecraft about making your own scarf from a piece of fabric and fraying the edge to create a fringe. That is what I am going to do with this fabric, of which I bought a yard and a half. I'm going to make it up to the same dimensions as my favourite Oilily stole. Stay tuned

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Oh I wish (kind of). Just more armchair travelling, well, the Japanese garden in the Arboretum which is a few blocks from where we live. Yes, those conifers in the background of the picture below are a bit of a giveaway.

I have actually been to Japan three times - for a nine-month stint in the year after I finished high school and two trips bookending my first trip to Europe. That first nine-month trip was just long enough to teach me how unutterably unknowable Japan was to a tall, fair foreigner with size 9.5 feet. A dear friend who was there a bit longer than I (and at a different stage of her life, married to a Japanese man) recently said it was only after a year that she started to feel like she could have, I don't think fitted in but become more part of the culture.

And of course it is only more recently that I have become interested in Japanese craft books. Another friend's mother is currently in Japan for three weeks and we have passed on all sorts of department store names and fabric shop details to her. I also recently borrowed a couple of books about zakka (which I take to mean household goods) from the library and it (almost) makes my feet itch a bit.

It is certainly getting colder here in Seattle, so unfortunately the ornamental carp have already gone into hibernation and there is no more fish feeding. We must go back in summer when it is spectacular to see them roiling around in the water in a feeding frenzy.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Well, scary actually. Scary the number of pre-fabricated, all-in-one costumes that so many children were wearing for Hallowe'en. Half the fun of costumes is putting them together - either making them or finding something in the back of the wardrobe or at the thrift store (although, disappointingly to me the thrift stores here are full of brand new merchandise at this time of the year in the shape of precisely the all-in-one suits that I'm complaining about).

Ok, so I rant a little; I do know that not every parent has the time nor inclination to make a costume but I think that it is a fantastic opportunity for children to do so themselves and to use their imagination. It also helps to make the occasion less exclusively about getting stuff. That said, there were a few hand-made costumes where we went trick or treating - an awesome rocket ship, a fabulous yard waste bin, a beautiful cotton woolly cloud.

Little miss bear wore a red corduroy cowgirl vest and skirt that was (apparently) mine as a child with a checked shirt from her wardrobe, a cowgirl themed t-shirt purchased at Value Village and her yellow gumboots. Yee-ha!