Lovebirds: An Owl Pillow

What gift do you give to two crazy lovebirds (known to friends as the Owls) when they get married in a spectacular DIY ceremony in a field behind a farmhouse? Well, if you are me, you give them this:

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An Owl Pillow, complete with button eyes, a leafy tree, and the date of their wedding.

As with nearly all of my knitting projects, this one is cobbled together from several different patterns and adapted on the FLY. When a knit has to fit, I measure and gauge swatch and carefully plan everything out. When it doesn’t well—I WING it.

Pattern notes and bird puns below!

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To begin, I used this free calendar numbers chart to place the date at the bottom: 5 * 29 * 16. I was knitting from my stash, trying to use up the brown and green wool from Farmhouse Yarns that my aunt gave me nearly a decade ago (same yarn that I used for my Owl Mittens!). Since I had two dye lots of brown, I decided that the ground, tree and owls would be the darker brown, while the border and the sky would be the lighter brown. It worked. WHO is pretty good as guestimating yarn? I am.

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The main pattern I used was Dr. Owl from Rowan, which is available for free. But since I was doing colorwork and adding the date at the bottom. I had to make a lot of adjustments, let me tell you. The date at the bottom was stranded knitting, but the tree and the owls were intarsia. The leaves were knit separately and sewed on. And did I mention the original pattern is in the round and I knit this flat? Keeping track of all the various yarn balls and the altered stitches was not exactly a HOOT.

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Furthermore, I added a second owl to the pattern. I couldn’t have just one for a wedding pillow—I needed  a PARLIAMENT! When the piece was as tall as it was wide, I finished and blocked it. It was about 14 inches square—conveniently the size of a pillow form.

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Sewing on the leaves and eyes was pretty easy and really made this piece SOAR. However, I had no time or yarn leftover to knit a second panel for the back, so it was off to the fabric store for a pillow form and some brown fabric remnants.

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Confession: I am a crappy seamstress. It’s just not really my thing most of the time. But I managed to get two wonky looking back panels, which are held together with velcro, so that the whole pillowcase can be removed for washing if necessary. And it OWL came together a few hours before the wedding!

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And there you have it. The flappy happy couple texted me later to say that they loved it—sometimes it’s risky to make a knitted gift without input from the recipients, but in this case it worked out.

As a side note, I didn’t realize just how long it had been since I posted in this blog! I was thinking it had been 2 or three months, but it’s more like 7. I’ve been teaching a lot of courses and I just don’t have the time on the weekends that I used to in grad school. But I have a few more little projects that I will share here in the future!

2015: Out with the New and In with the Old!

2015-01-11_154351The title of this post pretty much sums up my goals for the making of things in the coming year. At its most basic, “out with the new and in with the old” means as much as possible, I’m going to try to use what I’ve got on hand or what I can get second hand to knit, sew, costume, or otherwise craft, instead of buying new materials. Not exclusively, but as much as is feasible. I already do this a lot, but I wanted to be more intentional about it. (I promise this won’t become one of those smug greener-than-thou sort of projects. If I need to buy new buttons, I’ll buy some new freaking buttons!)

Here’s what this kind of making has looked like this month:

Creative Stash Knitting

challenge: How to knit with what you’ve got when your yarn doesn’t fit the pattern.

2015-01-11_162626When you have been knitting for many years, you develop a yarn stash. Extra yarn left over from previous projects, yarn that friends or family gifted you, yarn that you bought for a purpose never fulfilled—they all live in the stash. My stash lives in a small underbed storage box.

I’m trying to get even more inventive with the ways I can knit from my stash. This hat is one of those projects. I knit with small amounts of a wool-and-mohair-blend yarn I had in a few colors in my stash. I used the quick and very lovely pattern easy ombre slouch hat by Paul S Neary. Well, sort of. I weighed the yarn on a scale realized I did have enough of the green yarn to do the full pattern. So I just did the colorwork pattern until I ran out of green. And it still looks good.

The only disadvantage to this strategy is that I’m going to have to be flexible with the outcomes. My hat came out far less slouchy because I omitted extra rows of the pattern. I’m going to soak and block it, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit over the sheer volume of my hair now.

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I think it may need to be a gift to someone else, and I’m ok with that.

Thrifted and Salvaged Crafts

challenge: How to make useful and beautiful things without buying new stuff.

2015-01-11_141850I think the hardest thing about trying not to buy new things is that I have to be patient. I have to forgo the instant gratification for the long game of keeping an eye out. It’s probably not a bad trait to work on. At any rate, being patient was what led me to find and refashion these chairs.

2015-01-11 12.38.25I had been using folding wood chairs in my kitchen for years when I spotted this guy and its twin at my dumpster. I hauled them inside just before a rainstorm. They were not in good shape. But my neighbor friend had assured me that wooden chairs with fabric covers are easy to re-cover.

2015-01-11 12.39.34-1I found my “fabric” at the thrift store. It was a large pillowcase with a green tree print that I bought for 60 cents.

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If you want to do this project, make sure you have a screwdriver that fits the screws on the underside of the chair, scissors, a staple gun, and enough staples. (I borrowed the staple gun and ran to the hardware store to get staples). A seam ripper and an iron are also handy if your fabric is being repurposed. And a flashlight or headlamp is a plus if your screws are hard to see.

2015-01-11_132940I didn’t “measure” exactly but I did make sure there was enough fabric to cover both seats.

2015-01-11_141331Stapling is the most fun part. Just make sure that you don’t cover up the holes where the screws are going to go back in.

2015-01-11_1528002015-01-11_1528082015-01-11_153222Screwing the whole thing back together is the most annoying part. Again, patience is key. Trim any excess fabric that is in your way.

2015-01-11_154512It’s kind of ridiculous that this whole project cost under a dollar, considering how much I like the end result.

Repurposing Unfinished Projects

challenge: How to revisit the incomplete objects from the past and find a place for them in the present.

2015-01-11_164450The dirty little secret of any maker of things is the UFO—the unfinished object. We all have at least one— a project that can’t be completed but also can’t be tossed. They are hidden away for weeks, months—or in my case, ten years.

If I am really going to go “out with the new and in with the old,” I have to revisit my UFOs. And I did. To do so, I first I had give up what I had planned for this piece to be back them and think about what it could be here and now.

2015-01-11_162953What you see here is the front piece of a completely imaginary argyle sweater. I knit it in 2005—specifically, in February and March during the weeks I was in the hospital after a really bad car accident. I must have asked someone to bring me some knitting needles and yarn from home, but I don’t remember. I do remember how I spent ages planning and designing and knitting this blue and green argyle pattern in my hospital bed while I was unable to walk. I was completely determined to knit myself a sweater.

2015-01-11_163006But this sweater was never going to exist, because I had no idea what I was doing. I was a beginning knitter and ravelry did not exist (neither did YouTube). You can see how my stitches were uneven, and how the blue and green yarns are thicker than the white yarn and did not stay flat. I also had no concept of how a sweater was constructed. And even I can’t make sense of my knitting notes now, although the argyle chart is pretty solid:

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2015-01-17 11.40.49So I knit this whole pseudo pattern, and then it sat, in a bag, doing nothing. As I got better at knitting, I became convinced it was unredeemable. It was a symbol of knitting failure. That is, until I rediscovered it while cleaning last weekend. This time it didn’t remind me of failure—I looked at it and remembered how much I had loved it and how it had been a bright spot in my life during a really dark time. I also still had the borrowed staple gun in my possession, and I had an idea.

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In keeping with “out with the new,” I went to the thrift store. I found a large framed image there for $2.50. The important thing about the frame was that had a removable back (those little black tabs around the back are always a good sign). I brought it home.

2015-01-11_164425I then lightly steam blocked the argyle piece, stretched it across what had been the print inside the frame, and stapled it into place. With some careful wiggling, I got it back into the frame and secured with the black tabs.

2015-01-11_172355Now my long abandoned argyle sweater project is a framed and mounted work of fiber art on my wall. And I can’t even describe how much joy I feel when I look up at it. Yes, I was crazy stubborn to try to design and knit my own sweater with no experience from a hospital bed. And yeah, it’s wonky and full of flaws. But I love it— I poured myself into it and I can see the beauty in it now. What was old suddenly looks new.

 

Green Knits for Spring, Remixed

Happy First Day of Spring! To celebrate the Vernal Equinox, I give you three green knits, each re-imagined in some way and ready for transitional weather:

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Fingerless mitts: Vancouver Fog

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This is my version of Vancouver Fog by Jen Balfour. Fun fact: this soft, blue green yarn used to be a different knit entirely. A long time ago, back in the loose knitting days I’ve mentioned before, I knit Calorimetry from Knitty’s Winter 2006 issue. It came out poorly:

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See how loose it was in the back? It barely stayed on my head, and that was before it stretched out. I even overlapped the ends and did two buttons to try to keep it in place, to no avail.

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Fast forward a year or so and I was planning to make some fingerless mitts for a friend’s birthday. She chose the Vancouver Fog pattern, with its beautiful cable pattern, and I just knew that this was the right yarn for the job. So I frogged Calorimetry and started remaking this muted, spruce colored worsted weight yarn into hand warmers.

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I remember being disappointed that there wasn’t a gauge for this project, but I had learned my lesson about my loose knitting—so instead of the recommended size 7 needles, I used size 3! I know! I also cast on 4 fewer stitched than recommended. Yes, I went that tight! But the results were spot on:

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These fingerless mitts were a good fit, and I got to practice some cool cabling techniques. I’m quite pleased with my decision to frog the original pattern.

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

Fingerless mitts are great for those times when it’s too cool out for bare hands, but not cold enough for gloves!

Leafy Skirt or Mini Cape: Entry Level Capelet

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This is a really old project, but the loose knitting didn’t matter with this very simple garment. It’s the aptly named Entry Level Capelet by Haley Waxberg. It’s a good pattern for a hand dyed variegated yarn like this one. The color pooling was not even, but that gives it an interesting self-spiraling effect at the top. (side note: you can tell how old the photo below is by how long my hair was!)

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However, I almost always wear my version in a different way now—as a skirt! The yarn was just a little too scratchy to be touching my arms/neck, so I made an I-cord and wove it through the top band, then tied the I-cord at my waist. I added some leaves because, you know, I love leaves—I have no idea where I got the pattern for them, but the standard knitted leaf pattern seen here.

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I still wear this skirt fairly often—it’s great with a pair of leggings, and it’s nice when it’s just a little bit cool out.

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Sweater in Progress: Mrs. Darcy Cardigan

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My final green project is still on the needles! It’s the Mrs. Darcy Cardigan by Mary Weaver in Knits that Fit (and unlike most of my knits, this one required checking out a book at the library).With a title like that, it’s only appropriate to do a lot of tweaks to the pattern, right? It may not be obvious from the photo above, but I’m making the arms much longer than the pattern calls for to accommodate my arms and shoulders. I wish I had known before I made these that to get the true twisted rib, others knitters knew to p1 to back on the wrong side, because the pattern doesn’t indicate this and the ribbing on the cuffs won’t look as sharp as it could.

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I’ve since moved on to knitting the body. You’ll have to forgive the blurry action shot here, but at least it captures the true green of the yarn! (It’s Cascade 220, in, you guessed it, Spring Green.) I decided that since I have a long torso that is quite wide at the top, I’d use ravelry user wakenda’s modifications to get a gentler slope on the cardigan’s v neck, which I think will still be quite striking.

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I’m always a little hesitant to blog about my works in progress, but this partway knit green cardigan is too verdant not to share, and cardigans are great for spring weather. Hopefully this post will inspire me to finish it soon!

*bonus postscript announcement* If you read this far, you might enjoy the fact that I recently added categories to the blog, and then went back and retroactively categorized every past post! I created the categories based on what I seem to write about most, so you can find similar posts without having to scroll through past years.

Leafy washcloths

Greetings. You’ll have to forgive the lack of posts over the summer, but teaching my first college class did not give me a lot of extra time for blogging. I did, however, finish some crafts! I’ll need to find someone to help my photograph some of the more wearable ones, but in the meantime, I give you three leaf washcloths:

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It came to my attention earlier this summer that I only own three washcloths, and one of those was slowly disintegrating. As you can imagine, they were always dirty. The easy solution would be to buy  a new pack of washcloths at the store. The knitter’s solution, however, was to make some in a cool pattern.

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If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you may have noticed I have a penchant for leaves. Last year I made a gray leaves shawlette scarf, a pair of peacock colored fern lace socks, and I even painted leaves on the square bowls I made in ceramics class. So of course, when I found a leaf shaped pattern for washcloths, it was my first choice.

This were a pretty easy knit—it required some attention, but I was able to watch a movie while making them once I got the hang of the pattern.  They curl a bit even after blocking—and I’m not sure why the orange leaf turned out larger than the rest! I used the same Bernat Handicrafter Cotton Solids & Denim yarn that I used for the washcloths, dish towels and pot holders that I made for Christmas gifts last year. I ordered a few balls since then because I was running low on some of the colors I liked, but I didn’t end up using them all.

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As you’ll notice, the leaf washcloths look right at home in my bathroom, where I already have a leaf print shower curtain and leaves on the bathmat. Yay for serendipitous consistency!

The leftover cotton yarn from this and my earlier projects will probably going into the making of this yoga bag pattern, since I think it would be a great use of a bunch of odds and ends to make some colorful stripes. Hopefully that will be yet another quick knit.

 

Gray autumn leaves: a shawlette scarf

I finished my other leaf-themed knitting project: Saroyan, the scarf-ish shawllette!I’m pleased with how this project came out. It’s somewhere between a tapered scarf and a shawl, which is great because I didn’t quite know what I wanted. I just wanted leaves.

My earlier hunch that light gray would be a good color for this pattern ended up being correct— the leaf edge stands out really well.

 The only modifications I made were adding two extra repeats in the middle section to make it a wee bit longer. I definitely made some small errors in a few places, but they’re not visible unless you are me so I will spare you the details.

These photos come from last weekend, when my friend and I took a walk around Village Homes, meandering among the scraggly late summer gardens and early fall fruit trees. It was a lovely autumn day.

My friend Sarah was nice enough to take a these photos of me wearing Saroyan. Which was awesome. (This must be what an actual photo shoot for a knitting magazine feels like).

As it turns out, all of her candid shots (when I did not think she was taking a photo) were way better than the ones where I was posing!  Well, except for this one I took, which I mainly include so you can see the leaf earrings I was wearing. That is all.

 

 

 

Socks, Bows and Cuffs

Socks!

I finally finished my fern lace socks! Just in time for Autumn too. Of course, it’s still in the 90s here, so it’s not quite sock weather. I’m hoping that will change soon.

It is really difficult to photograph one’s own feet wearing socks…let’s just say you need some flexibility. Anyway, I’m quite happy with how they turned out. It’s difficult to do justice to this color, which a fellow knitter described as “peacock.” It is quite vibrant, and looks either more green or more blue depending on the light.

Overall I’m happy with the way the pattern turned out. I already wrote about the sock pattern(s) I used in an earlier post, so I don’t have a lot to add. It did take a while for me to get the hang of lace knitting, but even with the few errors I know are in there, I think it looks great.

For me, the key to lace knitting was a) lots of stitch markers and b) patience. I broke two of my double pointed bamboo needles while making these socks before I figured out that second point.

As you may have noticed, I changed the top banner of my blog to knitted pumpkins in honor of Fall (free ravelry pattern here; I also wrote about making them last November). Since it is my favorite season, I  figured I would include two other smaller knitting projects that I’ve made in appropriately autumnal colors.

Bows!

Around this time last year, I saw the pattern for this moss stitch bow headband on A Common Thread and decided it was the perfect quick project. I also liked that it would give me a chance to use the very small amount of burnt orange yarn I had in my stash.

I think if I made it again I’d make it a little smaller—I have short hair and this is a big bow. But I do like that I can shape the bow to have it either lay flat against my head or stand up a bit.

The band does not show up as well with wavy hair, but there are actually three individual strands made with a crochet hook. You can either scrunch them together or separate them out depending on your preference.

Cuffs!

I really thought I posted this project before, but it looks like I didn’t —which is fine, because the colors are the most fall like of all.

This is the Pretty Twisted pattern  from Knitty’s first fall 2011 issue (free, of course). I made the “framed” version (the light teal one in their photo) and finished it with a two-toned wooden button.

This was a great way to use up a small bit of sock yarn in colors I liked. The linen stitch does a great job of lying flat and looking bracelet-like. However, I think next time I would use a yarn that is not so marled, because that kind of detail seems to get lost in the stitch.

I think the idea of a twisted loop pulled through a hole and then over the button is quite clever. It’s a nice detail without a lot of added work.

Sometime soon, I will post photos of other fall knitting projects—my leaves scarf (75% done), my custom fit raglan sweater (100% done, it’s just too hot to wear!) and my blue ombre cowl made from the black bean dyed yarn (95% done—it was finished but blocking it messed up the shape so I need to make a few adjustments)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glazed and confused: my first attempt at ceramics

This summer, I tried my hand at a new craft: ceramics.

I learned quite a bit along the way, but the main thing I learned was patience. This art form clearly takes a lot of time, skill and effort to master, not to mention a real artist’s eye if you want to make something beautiful. For noobs, that means a lot of flops. But the flops sometimes turn out to be endearing in their own way. If you can let go of perfectionism (and you must), it can even be kind of fun.

The specific class I took at the Craft Center was titled functional handwares. Translation: no wheel throwing, just handbuilding, and making things that are useful, not just decorative. I still have a few items to finish up, but here are the things I made, in the order I made them.

First batch

medium teal bowl:

This is a pinch pot—made, as you could guess, by pinching a ball of clay into a shape. While it didn’t come out even, I’m happy with the size of it, and I like the base. I also was pretty pleased with the glaze color for these two.

small teal bowl with leaves:

This is a coil pot, made by rolling out long thin pieces of clay and coiling them on top of each other to form the object. I did not like this technique as much—I didn’t much care for the rolling nor the blending required to make it. I did experiment with carving a leaf design into this pot, which you can just barely see.

winter tree:

Ok, so this wasn’t actually something I learned in class. Our instructor was gone during the second week, so I came into the studio, on my own. I saw that someone had built a little clay tree, and I basically copied it, albeit poorly. However, the cool thing about it is that I found a way to make it functional as a jewelry holder—right now it is on my dresser, with rings on its branches. I hope I get a chance to try this cool brown glaze again!

small periwinkle mug:

Ok—not my best work but I’m showing you anyway. This was the first mug I built, using slabs rolled out with a slab roller. I underestimated the size here—I’m told there is a 15% size shrinkage when you fire items, which made this mug child sized. It was also the first thing I ever glazed, and the glaze I chose was super thick–you can see the line where it overlapped when I dipped it.

large blue mug:

On the other hand, this mug is one my favorite things I’ve made so far. It felt gigantic when I built it but with the shrinkage it turned out to be a good size. The lines I carved out of the body are subtle but give it a nice shape, and the handle and rim on this one are less wonky. Also the glaze turned out great—a lovely color and the right thickness. I am drinking tea out of this mug right now.

“yellow” woodgrain impression bowl:

 

This was my first attempt at three things—shaping on a plaster mold, using a clay stamp(?), and underglazing. The shaping went ok except for the corner that droops. Keeping all the square shape does kind of make this look like an ashtray though. The clay stamp or whatever it is called turned out great—I love the woodgrain. However, the yellow underglaze I used did not turn out at all. Maybe I just put it on to thin? I used a clear glaze over it and really it just looks white. But I like it anyway.

blue and orange woodgrain pet bowls:

Combining a lot techniques here, I tried to make some short, thick bowls about the size of a food and water dish for a cat (or small dog?). I used the underglazes again here, and discovered that the colors come out very differently. I was not expecting such a deep blue or such a pale orange. Nevertheless I like them. Now I just need to find someone with a pet to give them to who doesn’t mind their homemade quirks, as my cat has an automatic feeder and waterer (we are both happier that way).

square bowls with leaves:

These are probably my favorite thing I’ve made so far. I did the wider one first, trying to get the hang of the technique—you have to measure and cut a square piece precisely, and then you have to cut kite shaped pieces out of the corners, then you reconnect the corners. Getting them to turn out even takes some skill.

The leaves are my favorite. I painted them before the first firing, then scraped out the design in the middle. The clear glaze lets the design shine through.

 

blue yarn bowl:

This is another piece that didn’t turn out as planned, and still worked great. Also, I’m combining two crafts here!

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a yarn bowl, the basic idea is this—when you pull from a ball of yarn as you are knitting (especially if it is not a center pull ball), the ball is going to roll around all over the place. However, if you can keep it stationary, knitting can commence without said ball rolling (sorry, yarn chasing cats of the world). A bowl with hole or a cutaway to pull yarn through provides this function.

So my yarn bowl turned out a bit, well, funky. First, the cut out part dried in an awkward way, separating at an angle. Then I was in a hurry to glaze it because they were doing the last glaze firings before closing the craft center for three weeks, and the blue glaze had not been stirred in many days. The result is a really swirly uneven glazing. If I’d know what to do then, I probably just could have dipped the not-well-glazed half into the glaze again. But since this is not a bowl that I will be holding or using for food items, I don’t really mind it. It even looks kinda cool, with the right mindset.

I doubt that ceramics will become a new craft in my life in the way that knitting is—after all, it takes a lot more equipment (kilns!) to actually do it. But it was a really fascinating artform to learn—and I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at a wheel eventually. After I find places for all these ceramic objects in my apartment anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olympics knitting: ferns, leaves, and a pirate mouse

I have been watching the 2012 London Summer Olympics most nights these past two weeks, and despite the annoyances of the NBC selective and delayed broadcasts, it’s been pretty riveting. It’s also been a good time to get a crap ton knitting done.

Some people do this officially—on Ravelry  there’s the “Ravellenic Games” group, knitters who start and finish complete projects during the Olympics. It has over 12,000 members. I do my knitting a lot more haphazardly and unofficially, but I do get some stitches done. Let me to show you.

Fern Lace Socks (50% done)

 

These were flying off my (admittedly tiny) needles in June and July. I’m using the Custom Toe Up Sock Generator from knitty because if there’s one thing I have learned about knitting, it’s this—when fit counts, use maths. Lots of maths. If you don’t want to do the calculations, there’s even a toe up sock pattern generator that will do it for you. All you have to do is input your foot measurements, needle size, and stitches per inch. The result of a customized pattern is a really well fit sock:

And yes, I know, I have ridiculously high arches—I have dancer feet. Anyway, the trouble with this pattern actually came when I tried to add a fern lace stitch to the top part. After about five attempts I realized two things—the pattern was really confusing, and it almost certainly contained errors. It was from a 1970s booklet after all. So I looked around and found this alternative fern lace pattern that happened to be for a sock of the exact same number of stitches as my custom pattern. It’s not as cool looking as the original one but it is straightforward and error free:

 

Leafy Scarf (30% done)

This tapered scarf is called Saroyan. It’s a really excellent pattern so far—quite adaptable, simple but pretty, and an unusual shape for a scarf. I did not intend to start yet another knitting project, but I found that the lace socks were too difficult to knit while talking to anyone. Since I do work on my projects at knitting groups, I need to have something I can knit while I interact with humans. The only part where I really have to pay attention is the edge of leaves. I have a thing for leaves.

Pirate Mouse Cat Toy (100% done)

As if these two patterns weren’t enough, yesterday I had the urge to knit a cat toy. And so I did. An awesome one:

This is Captain Cat Battler, a pirate mouse cat toy. I do not know what possessed me, but when I saw it, I had to make it. It’s a quick project to knit, though sewing it up takes a little bit more time. The pattern writers have exactly the sense of humor you’d expect from people who like pirates and cats. The pattern is free, but it was designed for the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an animal rescue charity in London, and you can donate your knitted mouse (or your pounds sterling) to help their cats. The only change I made was to add an I-Cord tail (the original tail was just a strand of yarn…which I figured would be destroyed instantly).

I loved this pattern. But what did the resident cat, Josephine, think of it? Let’s see…

I’d say they’re pretty much best friends now. Yarrr.

 

 

 

Natural dye tutorial: blue yarn from black beans!

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to post, but at least I have a really awesome fiber dye experiment to share! As you can see from above, we got several lovely shades of blue —a difficult color to achieve —in a process that took about 4 days from start to finish.

A little background: now that I have a spinning wheel(!) and some wool, I’ve been wanting to learn about natural dyeing. SInce blue is my favorite color, I gravitated toward information about natural blue dyes. Turns out there aren’t that many (indigo and woad are the main ones) and they sounded like a lot of work for a first time dying project. Then I came across web posts on black beans as a blue dye. My favorites were blog posts at waysofthewhorl and brambleberriesintherain, which then led me to the discovery that there is a ravelry discussion thread (login required) that is 2 years old and 24 pages long! Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with information. At the same time, no one post seemed to describe exact amounts of beans, water and yarn used, nor exact times for the different steps involved. The credit for coming up to the solution goes to Keith (who also took the photo above): he suggested a test run of blue dyeing where we recorded the important measurements. So that is what we set out to do.

Now as a caveat: not everything went as planned, record keeping wise. Two major problems arose:

1) I was keeping some notes on Stickies on my Mac, and last week all of my Stickies disappeared from my laptop (Just one of many issues, sadly. This computer is in its death throes).

2) My camera broke during the weekend the finished blue mini skeins were drying. It took a week for me to decide on a replacement camera, another week for it to arrive from Amazon, and several more days to get a shot of the yarn in natural light. So I had to rely on my memory for the things we didn’t write down.

Nevertheless, I give you: Dyeing yarn blue with black beans: a (mostly) scientific tutorial for beginners. What you will need (amounts will be determined later):

-black beans

-water (tap is fine and what we used, but see note at the end of the post)

-non-reactive containers for soaking and dyeing (we used glass and stainless steel)

-natural fiber yarn, white or offwhite (we used Lamb’s pride, 85% wool, 15% mohair, M-10 Creme)

-Alum mordant (Aluminum Potassium Sulfate—you can find this in the spice aisle of a well stocked grocery store)

-Cream of Tartar (also in the spice aisle)

-large non-reactive pot for the stove (We used a large enamelware roasting pan. Technically this should not be a container you’re going to use for food after this, and although Alum seems to be non-toxic, I played it safe.)

-misc. items: additional yarn to tie off your skein in sections, a rack or other place to dry finished yarn

Instructions

First figure out how much beans and how much water to soak them in by choosing a ratio from below.

Here are rough ratios of water to beans in each of our dye lots:

dye lot  # 1/2  = 7 to 1  (7 parts water to 1 part beans)

dye lot #1 = 3.5 to 1

dye lot # 2 = 2 to 1

dye lot #4 = 1.25 to 1

Next you should make sure that you have enough beans and water to create enough dye for your yarn. The dye lot numbers are how many cups of beans went into each. I strongly urge to get more than you think you need because beans absorb water at a higher rate than we bargained for. Originally we planned on 1 oz of yarn in each dye lot, but we had to reduce it it to 1/2 oz (.5 oz) of yarn in each.

At the start we filled each container with enough water to cover the beans plus 3 cups more. Our measurements were very odd :

#1/2 = 1/2 cup beans and 3.37 cups water;

#1= 1 c. and 3.4 c.;

#2= 2 c. and 4.125 c.;

#4=4 c. and 5 c.

And then of course, we lost some of that water when the beans absorbed it. [side note: I think the lesson is this—stick to calculating how much beans and how much water based on some sort of ratio between 7 to 1 and 1 to 1 based on the color you want, then make sure the amount of water you add is enough to cover your yarn and then some, because you will have less dye than water. Not completely scientific, but probably easier.]

We let each of these bean and water combos soak for 24 hours, stirring whenever we remembered. Then (and this is important), Keith strained out the beans, let the dye settle for an hour or two, then siphoned the water off from the top so that the bean particle matter did not make it into the final dye. From what I read, the pieces of bean tend to make the yarn more of a gray color than blue. Other people on the internet suggested spooning the water out and leaving the dregs.

When it was close to 24 hours, I started preparing the yarn. I separated it into four .5 oz skeins tied with bits of a thinner yarn to keep it from getting tangled, then unwound the skeins and soaked them in water for 1 hour.After soaking, I moved the yarn to large stovetop pot to mordant it using alum, along with some cream of tartar. Mordant is what allows the dye to adhere to the yarn and not just wash out or rub off.

I would go by Sasha Duerr’s Handbook on Natural Plant Dyes to calculate how much need: 8 percent of the fiber’s weight  for alum, 7 percent of the fiber’s weight for cream of tartar. For mordanting 2 ounces at once this comes to about 3/4 of a teaspoon each of alum and cream of tartar. I will admit that I was probably closer to 1 tsp each, because I couldn’t find my 1/2 tsp measuring spoon. It still worked.

I dissolved both into some hot water and add to the stovetop pot along with enough water to cover the fiber. Then I added the water soaked yarn and brought the pot to a simmer.**Important note: do not change the temperature of the yarn too quickly, it can cause felting** I simmered it for an hour then turned OFF the heat (I corrected this sentence—OFF, not on!). At this point you can either let it stay in the mordant pot overnight, or take it out.

I waited another 2 hours until it had cooled off, then removed the yarn and rinsed it off with clean water  that was the same temperature as the yarn to remove any excess mordant (using a little pH neutral soap is supposed to help). Finally, the fun part—adding the yarn to the dyes! As you can see, some of our dye lots barely covered the yarn, so we turned them upside down or right side up periodically to avoid unevenness in the color. We let them stay in the dye for 42 hours. I’m sure an even 48 hours would be great, but sleep comes first.

During this time, I discovered something that no other blog really mentioned: the color you see immediately can be quite different from the final color. Observe what the yarn looked like about 10 minutes after I put it in the dye: That’s right—it was a light purple color! At first I was disappointed that all our effort to get blue failed, but in an hour or two it started changing into the blue color you saw in the previous picture. I should also mention that this photo in the blue plastic jar came from round 2 of dyeing the yarn.

After I took out the four 1/2 oz. test skeins, I still wanted to dye the remainder of the creme yarn. So I soaked and mordanted the remaining 2 ounces of yarn, poured all four dye lots into the blue plastic jar, and let it stay there for 48 hours. Not very scientific, although hopefully you can see in the photos that it came out a slightly grayer and more muted shade of blue—one which I still quite enjoy.

After removing the yarn from the dye, I rinsed them with lukewarm water and hung them to dry on my laundry rack (I wish I’d taken a picture then!) Here are the differences in shades of blue when compared side by side, L to R from darkest (1.25 to 1 ratio) to lightest (7 to 1), and the extra skein made from all dye lots combined:

Even on a screen, I think the darkest one is a distinctly deeper shade of blue than the rest. The difference between the two lightest shades is less subtle here, but in person you can definitely tell. And the last one of course has a distinctly grayer tone. by the way, the undyed yarn next to that last big skein is my own handspun! I didn’t intend to include a photo of it but I’m glad Keith took it, its nice to see the blue yarn next to it.

The whole point of this experiment, besides just “for science!” of course, was to see how black bean dye might look on my own handspun wool. Now I think I have my answer!

Final notes

*The pH of your water will affect your the final color of your yarn even if you do exactly what we did. I did some research and found out our tap water is rather alkaline, with a pH close to 8. The second blog I mentioned above shows how acidic water might yield something closer to green. If you don’t know what pH your tap water is, you can use the red cabbage test to estimate it.

*Natural dyes like black beans won’t work on man made fibers like acrylic yarns, so make sure you know the fiber content of your yarn!

*Safety first! Cover surfaces in newspaper to prevent stains, and if using a mordant other than alum, read over all precautions about handling it properly.

*There are a ton of resources out there on natural dyeing in general. But if you’re like me, you might find yourself overwhelmed by all the information, especially when everyone has different ways of doing everything! Not to mention it feels like if you mess something up, everything will be ruined.  This added to the fact that the process takes a few days means it can easily become stressful. So give yourself plenty of time and go easy on yourself if you make some mistakes. Try to enjoy whatever outcome you get. And if if anyone has knitting pattern suggestions for 4 ounces of yarn or less that look good in varied shades of blue, send them my way!

**UPDATE FEBRUARY 2013** Here’s what I knit with these mini skeins of blue: an ombre cowl!

IMG_1950

For more on this project, check out this post!

**UPDATE MARCH 2014** Several people have asked me how colorfast this yarn is—that is, does it fade badly over time? Here’s what it looks like two years later:

2014-03-24 10.46.27

As you can see, the lightest sections of yarn faded the most, while the darker ones retain more of their blue color. Now the yarn is more of a slate blue-grey. I still love it!

How to make a Christmas wreath from your shrubbery

(That’s right. Your shrubbery. Or, you know. Branches cut from your Christmas tree.)

I helped my mom pick out this noble fir over Thanksgiving weekend. We always go to the same seasonal lot (Hopper Bros.) This year, they went a bit crazy with a craft I hadn’t seen before: wood and branch reindeer.

We got the tree up and decorated before I left that weekend. It looks like a pretty standard Christmas tree, but it was a Christmas miracle that I got a non-crappy photo of it all lit up with my camera.

When my mom had to cut off the bottom branches to get the tree into its stand, and I asked if I could keep them to make a wreath. I do this pretty much every year—but normally, I just cut a few branches of juniper or other evergreen tree/shrub from around my apartment complex. This year, I got to…well I was going to say branch out but that’s a terrible, terrible pun. So I’ll just say I got to use branches from three different kinds of evergreens (including mom’s juniper shrubbery), plus red berries.

I ecently realized that I don’t know anyone else who does this. Even though its easy, very cheap, and (at least in CA) evergreen branches are super easy to come by.

So I made a tutorial.

Rustic Wreath, Made From Shrubbery: A Tutorial.

Things you will need:

wreath form (this one is 12″)

wire (I’m use green 1/4 gauge wire)

clippers (that will cut branches and wire)

evergreen branches (between 6-12 inches is best)

red berries

[not shown: wreath hanger]

There’s no one way to do this, but I’ll show you what I do. First, gather everything outside, as you will make a mess. Then, gather a handful of branches of varying lengths/types together and wrap them together using the wire, about a few inches from the base. Leave a tail of wire at least a foot long to wrap them around the wreath form later:

For my wreath form, I made five of these bundles. Make sure they curve in the same direction. Once you’ve made those, start to attach them to the wreath form using the excess wire. Wrap the first bundle tightly around , using the wire to go over and under branches a few places to secure it to the form. After you do this to one bundles, place the next one so that it overlaps and covers up the wire from the first.

After you’ve placed them all, hold you wreath up and/or place it on your wreath hanger. Chances are you will discover two problems: there’s a few sizable evergreen gaps in the wreath, and there are some crazy branches sticking out way too far.

This is when you go back and add more branches to the bundles that need them (using more wire and arranging the branches as necessary). Once you’ve got that under control, hang it on the wreath form and use the clippers to trip rogue branches. I don’t do a lot of trimming because, after all, this is a rustic wreath made from shrubbery! But I do shape it a little. And when that’s done, I add the berries.

Before trimming and berries:

After trimming and berries*:

*Yes I know most people would place berries, or a bow, at the top and not the bottom. But this is just how I roll.

The wreath forms and wreath hangers are really cheap this time of year (I’ve seen them both for about $1 each), and the wire can be anything similar to the one in the pictures as long as it holds and you can cut it (the green is just awesome for blending it—it’s usually less than $5).

If you don’t have a yard to raid for evergreen boughs, just put the word out—when my mom heard I wanted some branches for this wreath, I ended up with an entire garbage back full of them. I do recommend letting them sit out for a day or two, just to see how well they put up with being cut. The noble fir was actually drying up much faster than the other two (juniper and…I didn’t ask what the other was, I believe it was cedar), so I put it at the back of the bundles.

And that is how I make wreaths from shrubbery!