Costumes, Historical Knits & Crafts, Nerdy Knits & Crafts

The Oregon Trail game of your childhood, DIY style!

If you were in elementary school in the United States any time in the past, oh I don’t know, 40 years, you probably played the Oregon Trail computer game. The most old school version looked something like this: River Crossing at Big Blue

Several weeks ago, a group of my friends and I got the chance to recreate part of that Oregon Trail gaming experience, in live action form, for about 200 people (all grown ups, mind you!). And of course, we took a do-it-yourself approach to the task. Join me on an image-heavy DIY journey full of Bison Hunting, River Fording, Dying of Dysentery, and more! 1782479_10152423001246354_2419330697076540521_o

The Setting First, a little bit of background. We were part of an all-day event that could best be described as a moving/progressive party, with costumes, on bicycles. Everyone was in teams, the teams had themes (hence the co-ordinated costumes), and at each place we stopped for food and drink, one team hosted and the other teams competed in games. So as Team Oregon Trail, we needed to provide food, drinks, games, and of course, ambiance for our guests.

Since we were hosting at a rather rustic venue down an unpaved road, we took advantage of the opportunity to make it part of the trail, with painted cardboard signposts and gravestones: 2014-05-02 19.42.06 2014-05-02 19.40.46 2014-05-02 19.37.41

I’m so bummed I didn’t get a close up of the headstones, because I figured out a really cool way to make them look like stone: I found this speckled stone spray paint! I used gray primer and then gray stone spray paint, then we pasted printouts with epitaphs on them in courier font. To stick them in the ground, we taped them to those little signal flags—the kind you see to mark gas or water lines in construction sites—and pushed the metal parts into the ground.

Then of course, for the travelers who made it through alive, we needed a watering hole. So we made a bar! 2014-05-01 17.24.17

Using the backing of a warped bookshelf that was left at the dumpster and some acrylic black paint, we created this sign. Making the sign involved looking at some Old West style fonts online, blocking and sketching them out onto the wood, and filling it in with paintbrushes.

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Some of out team members had a tall table that was already rather DIY to begin with (the top was an old door), so we nailed the sign to the front of it.

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It made for a great bar! Not pictured is the table off to the right with lemonade and water. (If you were to re-create this event for children, I’d suggest sticking to those).

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For food, we had chili, cornbread, chips, watermelon, and trail mix (the last was my idea—I couldn’t resist the pun!) Have you ever wondered what chili for 200 people looks like? Would you believe that this isn’t even all of it??

The Activities  We debated what our official game should be for some time, but in the end, we decided that it would be hunting. Just like in the Oregon Trail game, you would have to shoot at pixelated animals. But with a twist! (or to be more exact, a twister.)

But first, a look at the animals:

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We had a rabbit, a bison, a deer, a squirrel, and a bird. All of them were done on cardboard with either acrylic paints or markers. For the pixelated style, they were filled in with squares of color instead of smooth lines.

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Ironically, from a distance they looked normal! They were attached with string to poles out in a field, kind of like a laundry line, but with animals.

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The actual “hunting”  game required players to shoot the animals with airsoft guns from a distance. To add an element of challenge to this game of skill, my idea was to add some possible handicaps based on all the bad things that can happen to in you in the original game—like dysentery, for example. Players from the competing teams had to spin the twister spinner and see if they would have to shoot with a handicap. There were eight such things that could happen, so I put all of them onto a twister spinner with my label maker, and then made list of their handicaps:

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Whenever possible, I made them roughly correspond to the disease or injury—for dysentery, you had to squat while shooting.

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But since not all 200 people could play the hunting game, we had a few other activities. First up: Fording the river!

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We made the “river” out of two blue tarps, held down by rocks on the sides (we changed the layout a little bit after the photo below to make it a wider river).We left out a sign, a few pieces of cardboard, and instructions for getting across (you can only have as many pieces of cardboard as you have people on the water, and everyone has to be in the river before the first person can reach the other side):

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Then we pretty much let people fend for themselves and do whatever they wanted. They could just play it like a version of “the floor is lava” and have a good time. I think everyone made it across safely…

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…But for those who wanted to see how they died on the Oregon Trail (and who didn’t?) we had the Wagon Wheel O’Death:

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The Wagon Wheel O’Death was exactly what it sounded like. It was made from an actual bike wheel (minus the tire and tube), mounted in the center to a piece of wood, which allowed it to spin freely. Each of the eight wedges (brown paper painted with acrylic paint) had one of the ways you could die on the Oregon Trail on it.

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Anyone could spin the rim of the wheel, and whatever the rattlesnake’s tail (i.e. the quick release lever) pointed to, that was how they died. And then they got a sticker! A really cool sticker.2014-05-25 22.17.29

Wanted to know how I died on the Oregon Trail? Now you know.

 The Costumes  No Oregon Trail game would be complete without travelers and their means of transport! Humans and bikes both underwent some nifty transformations in preparation for the journey. Here’s most of our crew at the start of the day:

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My costume included a bonnet, a dress, an apron, and a cotton corset top and shorts underneath (which came in handy because it was a hot day!)

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The dress was a thrift store dress that I altered—I wish I had take a before picture. It had long sleeves and huge, ugly silver button and trimming on the waist and wrists. I took off the buttons and trim, shortened the sleeves, and used the sleeve material to add a single hidden pocket to the full skirt.

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I sewed the bonnet myself, using scrap fabric and this tutorial a friend showed me. It was pretty useful, although it’s helpful to have some minimal sewing knowledge, like using interfacing and such. The tutorial only really lacks descriptions for two parts: how much and what kind of elastic to use (I used 6 to 7 inches of 1/2 inch elastic, guessing from the tutorial photos) and how to match the head part to the bonnet brim. To do that you need to do a basting (loose) stitch around the head piece, pull the ends of that threat to gather it, and then line it up with brim, so it looks like this:

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I made mine a bit too big (I went a little bigger than the suggested dimension because I have thick hair),but it worked. I opted for ribbon ties instead of fabric ones.

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Bonnets were a popular choice for the Oregon Trail team! The one on the left in the above photo was also homemade. Our assortment of bonnets and western hats proved quite practical in the heat.

Some of also stayed out of the sun under covered wagon bikes!

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The covered wagon bikes certainly made us stand out. I was not directly involved in their creation, but I can describe some of their basic construction. For bikes that had back baskets/racks and straight handlebars, the wagons were attached directly with clamps. For those that didn’t, two by fours attached to the bike held the wagon frame in place (a special, large drill bit was needed to drill a hole large enough for the wagon frame to fit):

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I should point out here that the bloomers above were also home made from a sheet! Anyway, the wagon frames were made from flexible thin plastic tubing. If you want to try this, you’d probably want to play around with different types of flexible PVC pipe—the tubing we had was freely available to us, but it was rather thin and not that sturdy, and the wagon frames tended to list to one side after a while.

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The wagon coveres were sewn from sheets. The front end had a casing a little wider than the tubing, kind of like what you would sew for a curtain rod. The back was simply gathered together. We discovered that they needed some vents in the sides so that the wind wouldn’t make cycling too difficult for the cyclist inside (I think it also helped with visibility on the sides somewhat). We also had a mini version of the wagon on one of the bicycle baskets:

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No wagon train would be complete without some beasts of burden! Some of us decorated our bicycles as oxen or horses using paint and cardboard (and one of our team members dressed as an ox as well!).  We all made these separately, so there was a lot of variety in appearance.  Some of them were realistic, like these oxen, Oxford Comma and Margaret Thatcher:

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And some of them were very simple and cartoony, like my oxen, Oxnard and his buddy (I forget if we named him—I call him Ollie Oxen Free):

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We even had a pixelated horse!

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We also got a few real life tumbleweeds from nearby fields and attached them behind bikes with string:

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Putting this event together was a lot of work, but it was also a ton of fun. It gave me a whole new appreciation of how talented my friends are in arts, crafts, and DIY endeavors! Here’s to Team Oregon Trail 2014!

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Nerdy Knits & Crafts, Quick Knits & Crafts

Animal knits!

I haven’t had a lot of time for new knitting —different large craft projects are taking over, but I can’t share them yet! So today will be a Throwback Thursday post of previously unblogged knit projects from the 2000s. All are either for animals or feature animals! (Sadly, nothing knit BY animals. Yet.)

Stashbusting Kitty Bed

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This is my version of the Princess Snowball Cat Bed. Next week is National Pet Week, and it also happens to be my cat Josephine’s birthday. I adopted Jojo nearly six years ago, and I quickly discovered that she loves to snuggle …and steal yarn.

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When I first got her, I often found her curled up on the sweater I was knitting, which gave me the idea to knit the cat bed. It’s worth picking up the Stitch N’ Bitch book from your local library for the pattern, though if you know how to make a large garter stitch circle, you could probably come up with your own pattern.

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I used this pattern as an opportunity to get use up a bunch of left over stash yarn. I held it double to get the extra thickness. I went with colored stripes alternated with white to use up the most possible stash yarn. Each section on the long rectangle is 9 rows. The sections on the circular base are either 6 or 7 rows each, corresponding to the increase/decrease sections of the pattern.

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I think the finished object has a rather nautical look to it, which was unintentional but I like it. I did not stuff or sew down the outer ring, I just tucked it under and it worked fine.

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The best part, of course, is that Jojo loves it. She loves it so much that I cannot show you a current photo of it, because it is absolutely covered in fur. It’s under a different chair in my living room now (she prefers it to be under something), and she hides there whenever an errant garbage truck or lawnmower comes too close to my home for her liking.

Cat Mat

I had a little less success making something for my mom’s cat Digory to sleep on, but I still think it’s a cool idea!

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This is my own design, and I don’t have it with me so I can’t check the stitch count or dimensions, but it’s basically a placement-sized mat in stockinette with a garter stitch border. I searched for an alphabet chart online for a pattern for the letters (see how many free ones are on ravelry!?) and centered them in the middle. This was a quick stocking stuffer Christmas gift, so I didn’t have time to make a full cat bed.

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Digory’s a bit of a stubborn cat, so he wouldn’t sleep on it right away, but I have since seen him on it. Sometimes.

Small Personalized Dog “Sweater”

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Can you tell I was on a “personalized pet knits” kick for a while? This was a dog sweater of sorts for my friend’s pup, named Barbara Streisand. This and the cat mat were both Christmas 2007 knits. Back then, Ravelry was brand new and in only in beta (and I had not even heard of it), so knitters had way less online resources for patterns! Anyway, this was another one of my own pattern creations. I basically measured/eyeballed the size, then did a stockinette rectangle with ribbing at all sides and charted “Babs” at the top.

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Instead of making armholes and dealing with that whole business, I just connected the rectangle with garter stitch straps—one fit under her stomach, one went under her neck. It was loose enough so that it wouldn’t choke her, but I would still keep an eye on any dog wearing something like this just in case it got caught on something, or else connect the neck strap with velcro. This faux sweater looked rather sweet on Babs! Sadly she is no longer living, but I am glad she had a cozy sweater while she was with us.

LOLCat Blanket Buddy!

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Moving on to knits featuring animals, I’m rather proud of my LOLCat version of the Bunny Blanket Buddy! The original pattern, which is suppose to be a child’s toy, has long rabbit ears and is pretty cute by itself—I made a half sized version for my friend’s baby shower, in fact:

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You can easily shape the ears differently to make a dog if you wanted to. Make sure to grab some stuffing for the head part if you make this!  For the LOLCat version, I shortened the ears and put “O HAI” onto it using a crochet hook and single crochet chains. This was part of a craft swap I did way back in the day, so I made other fun LOLCat themed things like a t-shirt and I-Can-Haz-Cheezburger? style word magnets:

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Oh the mid 2000s and their memes…

Fishy Potholders! (bonus crochet!)

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Who doesn’t love a good pescetarian potholder? Once again, this was for a craft swap back in the day, so I don’t have many photos. For the crocheted clown fish oven mitt, I used this Fish pot holder pattern, with the exception of the top fin, which I eschewed in favor of a full knitted thumb. For the bottom potholder, I just did a really long stockinette rectangle with a charted goldfish pattern that I found somewhere on the internets (I can’t seem to find it now, but you could substitute this one.) I sewed it up on all sides and then added I-cord loops to both so they could be hung up.

IMPORTANT NOTE! To make both of these items safe to use when handling hot dishes out of the oven, you need to line it with insulated material that is heat resistant. I used Insul-Brite, which has a thin metallic-looking layer in the middle that helps keep your hands from getting hot. I cut a slightly smaller version of the fish oven mitt, sewed it together, and slipped it inside. For the other potholder, I cut out a piece and slipped it in before sewing up the final seam of the square.

And that’s all for this Throwback Thursday!

Costumes, Nerdy Knits & Crafts, Tweaks & Alterations

Katniss Cowl: A Hunger Games Knit

Last week I finally finished my version of The Huntress Cowl by LollyKnits! Here is the finished item, which resembles nothing so much as knitted armor:

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I knew that I wanted to knit some incarnation of this piece since I saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire back in December. Non-knitters might not recall what Katniss Everdeen wore in the opening scenes (images here and here), but knitters were all over it.

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I started this project way back during the Ravellenic Games, but it felt like the odds were not in my favor—that is, it took forever to complete it to my liking. However, the two biggest issues with the fit ended up canceling each other out, which left me with a garment I’m actually quite happy with.

My Huntress Cowl

When I started this project, the charcoal gray colorway in the recommended type of Lion Brand yarn was long sold out, so I went with oatmeal instead. I then had to do a lot of adjusting to account for my loose knitting gauge and my long torso. I had never knit in herringbone stitch before and the pattern gives gauge in stockinette, so I wasn’t sure if my swatch was accurate.

cowl in progress

I ended up casting on 60 stitches on size 15 needles instead of 44 stitches on size 17s, and decreasing every other row to get longer, wider triangles for the front and back piece. However, this made the triangles way too long, so when I had about 30 stitches left I started decreasing on every row.

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Pro-tip: After wet blocking, you can tell that your item is dry when the cat decides to sleep on it. You can’t quite see it in this photo, but the piece that Jo is sleeping on came out a little bigger than the other one, because I got better at herringbone stitch as I went along. It worked out fine in the end though.

 

For the neck piece, I decided to use a make a different version from the original by using a tutorial called the Hob’s Collar. I just wasn’t sure about having a super stiff rope collar in a knitted cowl. The image tutorial has detailed instructions, but it basically walks you through weaving the yarn around three circles of fabric, cut from a small shirt.

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I ended up cutting up two shirts, one teal and one white, because my fabric was so thin. I think it worked best to have a white shirt because it makes it harder to see any parts that I didn’t completely cover with yarn. The results looked pretty great! The main downside was that it was even floppier than I imagined—it didn’t really hold this shape when it was around my neck.

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I was running low on yarn at this point, so after picking up stitches around this neck piece, I only increased to 80 stitches for the shoulder connecting piece, even though I have very broad shoulders. And even with loose knitting, it was very tight.

Soooo then I let these three pieces linger in my project bag for like two weeks. I am not a fan of seaming, and knowing that I had some wonky pieces to put together discouraged me. But guess what? When I finally picked up the sewing needle, I realized that I could tuck most of the shoulder piece stitches UNDER the collar, it would make the collar stiffer and take up most of the portion that was tight on my shoulders. There was still plenty of length in the triangles for the whole garment to work. So that is exactly what I did. I did end up sewing some rather wide triangles to a narrow collar, but it worked out pretty well.

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Above, I’m wearing the cowl with the larger triangle in the back. Below I’m wearing it with the larger triangle in the front. I think it works both ways, but I prefer the slightly larger triangle in the back.

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In both photos I’m using a cable needle to pin the pieces under my arm. At first it was because I was traveling and that was all I had, but now I kind of like it. When I wear it with the bigger side in front, I have to overlap the pieces differently to get a good fit.

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I had hardly any yarn left when I finished seaming, so if you’re going to make major adjustments bear that in mind! I realize that it’s Spring now and no one is really making wintry knit objects, but it was cool and rainy last week so I got to wear this more than once. If you’re willing to make the adjustments, it can be a really fun piece to wear!

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Nerdy Knits & Crafts, Quick Knits & Crafts, Tweaks & Alterations

Sonic Screwdriver Chapstick Holder!

My blog reached 10,000 views today! To celebrate, I’m sharing details about my most recent finished object—the 10th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, which I have conveniently modified to serve as a chapstick holder!

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(Yeah, that’s right, because making a TARRIS pillow was not enough whovian knitting for me…)

This project is a modification of a modification of an original pattern for a Doctor Who sonic screwdriver. That pattern was for the sonic used by the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), which is different in shape and size. I found this modification from user Cordetta on ravelry that changed the colors and some of the shape to be more like that of the 10th Doctor (David Tennant), which is what I wanted. I have to give a lot of props to her mod for helping me out! But I had to modify it even further to make it shorter and tighter to fit two chapsticks with just a little room on the ends.

To be honest, when I finished this project it was late and I did not record every single detail of my knitting. But I wrote down enough to tell you approximately how I did it.

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10th Doctor’s Sonic Chapstick Holder

materials:
-size 3 double pointed needles (set of 4), yarn needle.
-worsted weight yarn in black, dark gray, light gray, and blue
Cast on 9 sts in black, divide over three needles, and join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist stitches.
Rnds 1-2: k all sts
Rnds 3-5: p all sts
Rnds 6-10: p all sts
Rnds 11-12: k 1 grey, p 2 black*
Change to dark gray
Rnd 13: k all sts
Rnd 14: k1, m1, k to end of rnd (10sts)
Rnd 15: k all sts
Rnd 16: k5, m1, k to end of rnd (11sts)
Rnd 17: k all sts
Rnd 18: k9, m1, k to end of rnd (12sts)
Rnd 19: k all sts
Rnd 20: k2, m1, k to end of rnd (13sts)
Rnd 21: k all sts
Rnd 22: k7, m1, k to end of rnd (14sts)
Change to light gray
Rnd 23-35: k all sts
Rnd 36: k1, k2tog, k 2, k2tog repeat to end of rnd (11sts)
Rnd 37: k2, k2tog, k5, k2tog, k to end of rnd (10sts) 
Change to dark gray
Rnd 38: k all sts
Rnds 39-44: k1, p1, repeat to end of round
Rnd 45: p all sts*
Change to blue
Rnd 46: k all sts
Rnds 47-49: p all sts
Rnd 50: k3, k2tog, k3, k2tog (8 sts)
Cast off loosely.
With blue yarn and yarn needle, stitch a straight line lengthwise up the light gray section.
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*if you haven’t done colorwork before, consider skipping these two rounds and going straight to the gray section, it’s kind of annoying to do. If you chose to do it (I promise, it looks cool!), be careful to move the black yarn to the inside of the work at the end of the last round.

**at this point, if you want to weave any of the ends into the inside of the tube, do it now! It will be too tight to turn it inside out after the final section.

As always, remember that my gauge is looser than most—use your own tube of lip balm as a guide. The way I made mine, both ends are open but they are tighter than the middle section, so the chapstick naturally remains inside until I push it out. I’m sure there are ways you could make a closure at the top or bottom, but I found I didn’t need it.

The sonic screwdriver chapstick holder—it doesn’t work on wood or deadbolts, but it does work on dry lips!

Nerdy Knits & Crafts

Three blue knits…including a TARDIS pillow!

I’ve been working on two big knitting projects and one small one in the last few months. It just so happens that all of them were gifts, and all of them were blue. Now that they are all completed, I can share them with you!

A different kind of blue box: the TARDIS pillow!

Time And Relative Dimension In Space

I started watching Doctor Who at the beginning of November and I got totally into it (yes I realize I’m a little late to the party). My brother is also a fan and when I was home for Thanksgiving, he suggested I could knit him something Whovian for Christmas. I showed him the myriad of free patterns on ravelry and he chose this one by Rebecca Norton, a tiny tardis print. Interestingly, the only project on ravelry was the original, so I was going into uncharted (ha!) territory. But as the pattern says…Allons-y!

just a little blue box

This was one of the funnest swatches to knit. If you aren’t familiar with colorwork, this is not a bad pattern to learn on. The pattern was pretty easy to remember after a while, and even when I messed up the window placement on one row and didn’t notice it till the end, it was easily fixed with duplicate stitches to get the proper colors. The pillow uses the intarsia technique for each TARDIS, so I had a short bobbin of blue yarn for each. However, after knitting one side of the pillow, I realized I was going to run out of white yarn. It was stash yarn and I had no idea what it was or where it came from. So I improvised…

bigger on the OTHER side!

And came up with this pattern for the reverse side. I didn’t get too detailed here—no public notice, no “police box” lettering—but I think it came out really well for a TARDIS pattern I wrote on the fly! I used  garter stitch to create the illusion of doors, and each grouping of six windows only used a small bobbin of white yarn. I would write up the pattern but I didn’t save all my notes on it, but I did write down what I could remember on my ravelry project page. If you try to do it and it doesn’t work out,  trust me, there are like six million patterns on ravelry for some version of the TARDIS if you want it.

(EDIT: If you want another blue Doctor Who knit, check out my Tenth-Doctor’s-Sonic-Screwdriver-as-Chapstick-Holder knitting project!)

Baby blues: Newborn booties!

tiny feats for tiny feets

My cousin and his wife had a baby in December, and so over Christmas break I decided to whip up some of my favorite baby booties in the newborn size. Baby items are great because they knit up so quick. I also like making them in colors other than the traditional pastels. Previously, I have made them in a bright purple tweed:

Lelly's booties!

The booties are constructed with short row shaping, so they are knit on straight needles. In the past I sewed them up so that only garter stitch was showing, but this time I decided that having the stockinette part on the outside actually gave it a better shape.

no pastel colors allowed

I highly recommend this pattern, but I should point out that I have always modified the increases to be “knit front and back” because I’m more used to that. I don’t think it changes the pattern, just putting that out there.

Socktober blues: Magic loop toe-up socks!2013-11-24 13.58.18

Way back in October, I started making socks for my friend’s November birthday. I had this really cool sock yarn, the self striping kind, and I was eager to use it. And I also wanted to knit these socks at the same time. So I decided to learn the magic loop method for small diameter circular knitting.

Ever year I try to do a new knitting technique—it’s a slow learning process but it works. I could probably devote a whole post to what I learned and didn’t learn doing magic loop. First of all, you should NOT do what I did, which was 1) switch patterns more than once when I was part way through, so I was constantly readjusting. I initially started out using the free Knit Picks pattern  Two at once, toe up socks but I quickly discovered that it was going to be tough to follow for someone who was new to magic loop. Another thing you should NOT do is 2) connect several interchangeable needles to get the long circular needle needed for this technique, because the metal connecting piece will be a constant pain when you have to slide it through a bunch of stitches. Bite the bullet and buy the exact size circular needles you need.

harder than it looks

What I DO recommend you do if you are learning this technique is watch videos on how to do magic loop. My favorites were from KnitFreedom— Liat Gat’s 2-at-a-time toe-up socks video series. I’m sure it would be best if you were using her pattern, but I found them helpful regardless, especially the videos for casting on and the first increase round. I also suggest practicing magic loop with larger needles and yarn than you’d use for socks, because starting the toe is a bit challenging at first. Ok, a lot challenging.

socks in the sink

I wish I took photos at the start, because it would show you what looked like some pretty bad laddering at the sides that ended up being ok in the end. The Knit Picks pattern has an afterthought heel, and KnitFreedom’s pattern has a fleegle heel, but I wanted I heel I was familiar with, so I did short row heels using the technique described by HeidBears in part 1 and part 2 on her blog. Not a video, but I have done short row heels before and the illustrations were all I needed to translate it to magic loop socks.

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After blocking, you could still see the ladders on the sides of the socks (especially at the heel) and the loose part of the toe where I almost made the socks too big when I switched patterns (thankfully my friend has the same size feet as me and I tried them on and discovered the problem early). BUT despite all the problems and irregularities, I am really proud of these socks. The blue stripes are so cool! And most importantly, their recipient was happy with them.2013-11-24 13.58.02

Costumes, Historical Knits & Crafts, Holiday Knits & Crafts, Nerdy Knits & Crafts

DIY Halloween costume ideas

It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means: COSTUMES!

If I had my way, every party would be a dress up party. Because when I was a little kid, every birthday party WAS a dress up party, with a theme, and with costumes. Occasionally I have continued this tradition, as I did this year with a reprisal of my Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party:

2nd grade Alice
2nd grade Alice
21st grade Alice
21st grade Alice

Now that it’s October and more people are looking at my Halloween costume post from last year, I figured it was time for another round of crafty costume ideas. Lucky for you, I’ve done my fair share of costuming in the last year! This time I’ve organized them into individual and group costume categories for you. But I realized they could just as easily be categorized as “weird takes on famous individuals” and “characters from well known novels.” Enjoy!

(edit: There’s now a 2014 DIY Halloween costumes post as well!)

INDIVIDUAL COSTUMES

Historical Women With a Twist: Radioactive Marie Curie and Ballerina Annie Oakley

So I’m a fan of DIY historical costumes, especially for women. Whether it’s one of these bizarre vintage costumes from days of yore, or one of these awesome new interpretations from Take Back Halloween, I’m all for it. The latter website makes a great point that the vast majority of store bought women’s Halloween costumes fall into the “Sexy ______” category, limiting your options. But if you make a costume yourself, it can be whatever you want it to be.

And for me, that means adding a twist to famous historical figures. Like being a glow-in-the dark version of physicist Marie Curie for Halloween last year.

Marie Curie

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Marie Curie was a Nobel Prize winning scientist who did groundbreaking research on radioactivity at the turn of the century. Her papers are still radioactive and she literally described seeing the tubes of radioactive material glow in the dark. Which meant I got to get all kinds of creative with my costume. First, I found this awesome black dress at a thrift store. I have no idea what it was in its past life, but the poofy sleeves and the full skirt were perfect for the time period. Next, I bought an attachable white lace collar on ebay and sewed it to the neckline of the dress. The clothing part was complete.

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I actually wore this costume on two separate nights, and I did the make up and accessories a little different for each. The key was to make as much of me glow in the dark as possible. First, I needed my own test tube—I picked one up from a campus resale store, used glow-in-the-dark paint on the inside of it, and labeled it “radium.” For the rest of me, I used glow stick necklaces, glow in the dark face paint and green glow-in-the-dark nail polish. My recommendation is to get the nail polish at the drugstore if possible and the makeup from a Halloween store—the Halloween store version of the nail polish that came with the makeup in a kit was so clumpy it was unusable.

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Seen here with Melisandre from Game of Thrones (see below for more of those costumes!), you can see that I had a thick line of makeup near my forehead. The make up has to be thick to show up, so I ended up just outlining the circle of my face instead of pasting it all over. I also recommend you have someone help you if you want a design on your body using the paint.

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My dress had a dramatic open back so I had friends do designs there. The first night I went for a skeleton-like rib design and the second night I had the brilliant idea of using the radioactive symbol! It’s quite tricky to photograph these things, but we tried:

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IMG_1870I had so much fun in this costume, especially when I found a blacklight!

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Annie Oakley

Making the Marie Curie costume for Halloween inspired me the next time I was invited to a costumed dance party several months later. I had far less time to make this one happen, but I wanted to keep with my theme. I l also needed something I could dance in this time. So I came up with Ballerina Annie Oakley.

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Annie Oakley was a famous sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the late nineteenth century. But I wasn’t about to bring a real firearm to a party. So I did the next best thing: I found me some gun tights.

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You can get these on ebay for about $5. They totally made the outfit. And since they were tights, I figured, why not wear a tutu? So I borrowed this black leotard and tutu combo from a friend, who found it at a clothing swap. I already had the cowboy boots and the bandana, so all that remained to get was a hat and a western shirt.

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Both the hat and the shirt came from the thrift store, but believe it or not the shirt required a fair amount of alteration. It was the best one they had (it even had snaps instead of buttons!) but it was a size or two bigger than me. So I took it in on the sides and a little in the seams and then tied it above the tutu to get the fit I wanted. It was worth it! And surprisingly I still wear the shirt quite a bit. Perhaps I’m a cowgirl at heart after all.

Lady David Bowie

Sometimes, the clothes simply make the costume. Other times, it’s all about the makeup. Especially when you are invited to a David Bowie themed birthday party. I present to you two female David Bowies.

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This is David Bowie circa 1973, where we recreated the lightning bolt makeup from the Aladdin Sane album cover. You can buy Halloween makeup, but I used bright pink lipstick, dark teal eyeshadow, and black eyeliner. It stayed put really well, but be forewarned that your face may have some residual pink the next day! Not included but recommended: leather jacket and a bad ass expression.

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This is David Bowie circa 1972 as Ziggy Stardust. The key to this look was a really good cream eyeshadow in gold, which I used for the circle as well as my lips. For my eyes I used the reddest blush I could find and some black eyeliner. There was no way I was going to be able to recreate any of Bowie’s amazing clothing from this era, but I did find a gold leggings/shrug set at a thrift store and a gold sparkly top that matched it.

GROUP COSTUMES 

Game of Thrones

If you have a group of people who all want to do the same theme for Halloween, there are tons of great things you can DIY. Earlier this year, my friends and I did a team bike event that required having a group theme and costumes to go with it. We decided to be Team of Thrones.

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From left to right: A wilding woman, Tyrion Lannister, Asha (Yara) Greyjoy, a Stark bannerman (with banner), Arya Stark, Khal Drogo, Danerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Viserys Targaryen, Ygritte, and the Three Eyed Crow.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock/north of the wall this year, you’ve probably heard of the HBO show Game of Thrones, a TV show based on the epic fantasy novels of the Song of Ice and Fire series  by George R. R. Martin. The best part about this show is that there are so many characters that you can get as obscure and outlandish as you want with your character and costume.

We obviously made some adaptations to be able to ride bikes on a rather hot spring day, but I think there were some rather creative costume elements here. To name just a few examples: the crow has little messages tied to her legs, Tyrion has little half shoes strapped to his knees, and Viserys covered her bike helmet with that giant golden crown.

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I went as Asha Greyjoy (Yara in the TV series), Theon’s sister. I already had the black top, shorts and boots, all from thrift stores. I also happened to own a studded belt, sailing ship earrings and an octopus necklace…don’t ask me why on the last one but it worked beautifully. The little dirk knife and shield came from the dollar store, and I taped the Greyjoy sigil and motto, “We Do Not Sow” to the front of the shield. Also recommended: putting on the hardened face of a ironborn sea captain. (Showing off the forearm scar you got as a child helps too.)

Gatsby Girls

Not up for fantasy novels? How about celebrating the Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby with some roaring 20s costumes?

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There’s plenty of inspiration in the new movie adaptation, but there’s actually quite a range of outfits that work for this era. All of the above dresses came from thrift stores, from the light pink drop waist dress with lace (it originally had long sleeves that she removed with a seam ripper) to the bright pink sequin flapper dress.

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Accessories really help make these costumes work: among these four costumes we’ve got gloves, long beaded necklaces, hats, sequined headbands, feathers, flowers and even a cigarette holder (oh and the gun tights yet again!). Equally important is hair! You can’t really see it here but we’ve used two hair tutorials to get the styles of the 1920s, one that shows you how to fake a bob hairstyle if you have long hair and one that shows you how to create finger waves, which is a bit more challenging and works best with hair that already has a curl to it:

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I tried to do the finger waves on myself, and I didn’t quite achieve the full look. I would really recommend that you have a friend who is good with hair do this on you. The nice thing is that both hair styles don’t require much in the way of equipment—for the fake bob you need a clip, a pony tail holder and some bobby pins. For the finger waves, you need gel, a comb, and bobby pins. That’s it! Combine with 1920s style make up, especially the “cupid’s bow” lips, for the full look.

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Alice in Wonderland

Last but not least, we have the Mad Hatters Tea Party!

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Let’s start with Alice. I made this a low key costume since I knew I’d want to be comfortable all night. I used this strapless blue and white dress because it was a hot June evening, and paired it with these thigh high stockings that had card suits on them I got from a former roommate. The black Mary Jane shoes, red rose ring, and bow hair clip are things I’ve had forever, but they added a nice touch. I wanted to make a black bow out of ribbon, but I ran out of time.

I did, however, make the apron. To be honest, I didn’t use a pattern—I just tried on the dress, measured where I wanted the apron to come to, and used those measurements. The most similar free tutorial I’ve seen for how to make one like it is here. I used plain white muslin and a wide white ribbon instead of fabric to save time. I decided it should have rounded edges to match the top of my dress, and I think the effect worked nicely.

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If you’re willing to take it a step further with face paint and/or prosthetics, you can go this route. The Dormouse combined mouse ears and a tail with Halloween makeup crayons to recreate the mouse face. The Cheshire Cat sewed his ears onto a hat, and used pink and purple face face paint for the stripes, but also attached some pretty awesome prosthetics.

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Seen here with the Queen of Hearts, you can tell that this is a much more advanced costume project. But doable if you are adventurous! There’s actually two prosthetics, a cat nose and a grin, that he attached. He used spirit gum to attach the latex prosthetic to his face and liquid latex to blend the seam—you can get an idea for how to actually do this from this prosthetic nose tutorial. The effect, as you can see, is pretty remarkable.

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And that’s all my costumes from the last year! I hope these can inspire you to come up with your own clever ideas—if they do, I’d love to see the results!

Activity Knits & Crafts, Nerdy Knits & Crafts, Tweaks & Alterations

creative destruction: re-inventing t-shirts with scissors, paint, and thread

This summer, I took four old t-shirts and transformed them with stencils, cut outs, or both. I even altered the basic structure of two of them to get the fit I wanted. And thanks to my lovely friend, I now have pictures of myself wearing them. So if you want a DIY run down of how to cut, slash, and paint your way to a unique T, read on. (Bonus: Battlestar Galactica references ahead!)

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Stencils

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Let’s start with the least destructive activity—paint. If you read my post on nerdy crafts, you’ll notice I’m not new to stenciling. On that post I linked to the tutorial on stencilry that I use, but I’ll give you the short version here.

One of the easiest ways to make a clean stencil is to use the freezer paper method. First, pick a stencil image—in this case “So Say We All,” the “amen” of the Battlestar Galactica universe, in an appropriate font. Be sure to read the tutorial section on islands and bridges to make sure your image will work as a stencil—as you can see above, I had to add back in the “islands” in the middle of the “O” and “A” to keep the letters looking correct. Buy freezer paper, cut it to the size of paper your printer will accept, and print your stencil onto the non glossy side (some wrangling with the printer may be required). Cut out the stencil with an X-acto knife, and then with a dry iron, iron it directly onto the shirt.

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For the painting part, mix your preferred color of acrylic paint with fabric medium according to the directions on the bottle, then paint onto the stencil with a sponge or a brush. Make sure to put something between the layers of the shirt so the paint doesn’t soak through (and not cardboard, because I’ve notice the paint will stick to it—I used my X-Acto knife cutting pad). Let dry completely before removing the stencil, then follow the fabric medium directions for heat setting and washing the shirt so that the stencil will be permanent and clean.

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The process is somewhat similar if you have a permanent stencil, like this plastic alphabet one I used to make the phrase “Nothing But the Rain”—yet another BSG reference (its the phrase said by Starbuck to Captain Adama). The only difference here is being careful about getting paint everywhere when you move the stencil—I decided I didn’t care about the mess because I liked the splattered look, but you can decide for yourself.

The last option is to just trace simple shapes directly onto the stencil paper and then cut those out—that’s the easiest option, and it’s what I did on my pink shirt when I wanted to use up the last of the paint I mixed. I did a pattern of triangles to match the cut outs on the back of the shirt.

Cut Outs

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I had a strong urge to do something “destructive” to a few of the shirts I had. This pink shirt, for example, which my friend promptly dubbed the pink triangle (i thought she was referencing the Weezer song but she was not!). This shirt had been abandoned in my laundry room lost and found box for months, so it became the first guinea pig for my cut out and stenciling experiments.

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I don’t have any in-progress shots for the cut outs, but here’s what I did. First I looked at some photos and tutorials online for some inspiration—this listicle of cut outs has some great images, and photos # 5, 21 and 22 intrigued me.  I decided to do a simplified version of the triangle cut outs from photo # 22. That one unfortunately had no tutorial, so I decided to make a triangle template, trace it onto the shirt with chalk, and then cut it out with scissors. I did the stencils later with the same template.

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This mostly worked, but it was tricky to get the triangles all the same size and shape with scissors. So when I tried it on another t-shirt, I used my X-Acto knife to cut them out. Much easier! I think it works especially well for straight lines.

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I love the way that you can play with the placement of cut outs—for example, you can place them to reveal another shirt underneath and play with the contrast of colors and patterns. I think someday I’d like to attempt one of these two designs, especially the tree one.

Fit Alterations

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One of the most basic DIY t-shirt projects is also the one that requires the most patience and skill (and a sewing machine)—changing the fit and cut of a shirt. The above tank top used to be a men’s size medium crew neck tee that I found in a free pile.  The green shirt below that I stenciled on was a boy’s size large crew neck t-shirt, also from a free pile. There are many tutorials out there for doing this, but I am going to show you the easier way I know.

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First, you need to start with a  clean t-shirt that is larger than you want it to be ( in this case, green shirt).  Your’e also going to need a smaller t-shirt that fits you well that will act as a template (here it’s the blue shirt).  Both need to be true t-shirts—those made from the kind of material that doesn’t unravel if you leave raw cut edges, and that’s important. It’s also a good idea that they have about the same amount of elasticity—if one is super stretchy and the other has no stretch, the end result may be a poor fit.

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Iron out any wrinkles and lay the larger shirt on a flat surface, then place the template shirt on top of it (remove cat if necessary). Line up the top seams and trace the outline of the template shirt on top.

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Pin the fabric together at the chalk edges and sew along that line using a matching color thread. After sewing, try it on once to be sure it’s not too tight, then trim the excess fabric off, and shorten the sleeves if necessary.

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If the front and back necks are different, you now need to cut out the neck. You can either eyeball it or place the template shirt inside the other shirt and use pins to trace it by feel.

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Cut out the neckline with some good sharp scissors.

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…and try on the finished product!

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Making the tank top was even easier—the front and the back of the shirt had identical necklines, and I cut out the sleeves entirely. I first used this technique years ago making my very first re-fit, cut up, stenciled tank top, which you can see below. The stencil was an homage to my very first pair of lefty scissors, which I’ve had since I was a kid and still own. That’s right—I’ve been cutting it up Lefty style since first grade.

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Let me know if you use any of these techniques to (de)construct your own t-shirts! I’d love to see the results.