Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Kicks for My Sister


Last year my foster sister Gayle asked me to make her a pair of sneaker slippers she'd seen on Pinterest. I told her I wasn't going to be able to get to it until this year, and when she groaned about having to wait, asked her what had happened to the pair I made her the year before. She told me the heels were out of them.

I planned to get to the sneaker slippers in April. But just as I was nearing the halfway mark on the project before it, Gayle was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The day we were waiting to hear if the tumour was cancerous, I went about the house reminding myself to breathe. It was some relief that the test results indicated that the tumour had a 95% chance of being benign. Gayle was scheduled for neurosurgery on May 1st. I set aside my current project and began the slippers so that Gayle could have them in time for her hospital stay and recovery at home.





I bought the pattern, which was Slipper Socks, by Rea Jarvenpaa, and I asked Gayle what colours she wanted her slippers to be. She told me black and white. I had some "winter white" worsted on hand, so I bought a skein of black worsted and also a skein of gray craft yarn for the soles, with the idea of making these slippers more durable than the last pair, which were made entirely of worsted yarn.





And here, much frustration later, are the finished slippers. The instructions were woefully incomplete. The pattern gives no details on how much yarn is required. Half of the instructions for knitting the black socks that serve as the base for this pattern are simply missing -- there are no instructions on how to work the heel, turn the heel, pick up the stiches along the side, shape the foot, how long to make the foot, or shape the toes. There are separate instructions included for the socks included in the pattern, but as they required a different stitch count from those I'd begun knitting from the slipper instructions, they weren't much use. The pattern doesn't tell you how many stitches to pick up for the edges where the lacing goes. The instructions for the medallion for the ankle are missing. I was not at all happy that I'd paid €5.00(EUR) for a pattern and then had to write a third of it myself. I won't be buying any more patterns from Rea Jarvenpaa.

I also had a problem with making the soles, as they turned out too wide, though that is not a fault in the pattern, as I had used craft yarn for the bottom to make the slippers harder wearing and it was too bulky. I could have more or less fixed this issue by working only four of the five rounds called for in the instructions for the sole, but by the time I figured out that the sole was too wide I didn't have time to undo hours of work and do it again before my deadline. I went on with the job and put the slippers together as well as I could, finally finishing them the day before the surgery was to take place.





Then on the morning of May 1st I went downtown to the hospital where Gayle was to have surgery. I made sure to be there before her check-in time of 10:00 a.m. as I didn't want to miss my chance of giving her the slippers and seeing her for at least a minute or two before she was whisked away for the procedure. Gayle was delighted with the slippers. Her three daughters had brought her fancy ball caps (one had pink sequins!), and her ex-boyfriend a Rolling Stones bandanna to wear over her shaved head during recovery, and we joked that between her head gear and her kicks and having all of us for an entourage she'd be the most street patient in the entire hospital. She was checked in, given two wrist bands (I asked her if they were also going to microchip her), changed into the hospital-issued nightgown and robe and shower-cap-like slippers (her street-style accessories would have to bide their time until after the surgery), and set up with an IV. Then we waited with her. The surgery was originally supposed to be at 12:30, but we were told it would be delayed for a few hours. The extra waiting time did Gayle's stress levels no good whatsoever. It didn't help that she'd had nothing to eat all day, that the IV tube was hurting her hand, and the IV fluid was necessitating frequent runs for the bathroom. When she was finally wheeled into pre-op at about 2:30 p.m., she began sobbing.

And then at 3:00 p.m. we were told that the surgery would have to be postponed to another day because, though the surgical team was all ready to go, there was no ICU bed available for her post-op. Poor Gayle. She left the hospital with her new accessories and her long blond hair intact... but with no surgery date. I hope having the slippers are at least some small source of pleasure and comfort to her during the lead up to the next surgery date.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Reincarnated Handbag


Back in 2016 I decided I could do with a dark brown handbag, and I couldn't seem to find one I liked for a price I could afford. Dark brown isn't in just now -- it's all about the butterscotch browns. So I thought I'd make a smallish dark brown handbag in vinyl to tide me over until I could find a suitable handbag to buy, but I'd then make sure any handbag I bought was a larger size in order to have both a small and a large brown handbag rather than two the same size.





I found this bag in a secondhand shop on Bloor Street for $20. As you can tell, I bought the bag for the purse frame and handle alone. In the months it took me to get to this project, I kept seeing the bag in the chest where I keep my materials, and every time I opened the chest to take something else out, I'd think, "Man, that thing is as ugly as sin."

Once I had the frame, I bought some brown vinyl. I already had a suitable lining fabric on hand. I re-used the old bag's cardboard insert and also used a heavy interfacing to give the new bag some stability.





I wasn't crazy about the daisy detailing on the frame -- it's a little too girly and fussy an effect for my tastes -- but I decided I could live with it. I was unlikely to find a purse frame online for $20 or less.

The first step in the bag-making project was to take the purse completely apart so that I could use both the the outer fabric and the lining as the pattern for the new brown vinyl bag.






Here's the finished bag. It's definitely much less of an eyesore than the previous incarnation.





The purse also has a chain that can be tucked inside the bag if not currently wanted. I had to tie a slip knot in it to make it the right length for me.





A side view.





Bottom view.





The lining with its pockets. The old bag had only one small pocket, but I improved on that.

And a few weeks ago I finally found a nice, new-to-me brown leather shoulder bag on eBay. It arrived in the mail last week, and I've finished this smaller bag, so now I'm all set for dark brown handbags.

I've also had a hard time finding dark brown shoes, but alas, I am no shoemaker, so I'll have to keep looking for those.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Wardrobe Malfunction Insurance


Sometime back I decided I wanted a sewing kit that I could keep in my suitcase in case of any possible wardrobe malfunctions that I might experience when away from home. They sell such kits at Fabricland and at craft and dollar stores, but I never felt inclined to buy any of those kits because they weren't attractive and often didn't appear to have decent quality items. I know from experience that commercially made sewing kits sometimes have very poor quality thread. Then one day when looking for fresh knitting post shares for my knitting blog's Facebook page, I caught sight of some of the homemade sewing kits on Pinterest (I seriously cannot believe what some crafters can do with old Altoid tins), and decided to put my own little kit together.





First I bought this eyeglass case from Value Vilage for $1. I picked a coppery brown one because it matched my brown-checked luggage set. Then I made a list of all the things I'd like to put in it: scissors, a thimble, a measuring tape, a stitch ripper, a thread card, and a needle book containing pins and needles.





I bought the scissors, the thimble, and the tape measure as a kit from Fabriclands. I got it 75% off, and even at that I was still paying too much for it, but it *is* such a perfect and pretty little set of tools for my purpose.





I got the stitch ripper at a discount at Fabricland too. The thread card I made myself out of an old greeting card and a selection of the threads I had on hand. I tried to include every reasonably possible colour. Then I just needed to make a needle book, which is something else Pinterest has a jaw-dropping array of.






This is the needle book I made. For the sake of accuracy, I might as well say that this is the *second* needle book I made. The first I made out of a scrap of gold-embroidered satin I had left over from an ugly old secondhand purse I took apart so I could use the handle. Hideous as that satin was when part of a purse, it was the perfect fabric to go with the rest of the kit. And the needle book turned out pretty well except for one thing: I used glue to attach the felt pages to the embroidered satin cover, and the glue showed through the satin as black smudge-like marks. It ruined the look of the needlebook, and I had no more suitable pieces of that embroidered satin.

For take two of my needle book project, I hunted through my fabric remnants to see what I had that would go with the rest of the sewing kit. The best I could do was some pieces of red velvet. I decided to link it to the other things by detailing it in gold. So, as you can see, I made little gold embroidery thread ties, and added two little gold beads to the end of the ties -- the last two of that kind that I had left in my box of beading supplies. I also embroidered a little floral design on the front in gold embroidery thread, even though I'm not much of an embroiderer -- it had been many years since I'd done any real embroidery, and I never did know more than a few basic stitches. My stitches look a little crude, but I suppose they'll have to do.





I also stitched the felt pages together with embroidery thread. And this time when it came time to attach the pages and the cover, I used sewing thread to tack the outside page and the cover together at the corners and in the centre. I was taking no more chances with the glue.

There are much cuter and more artful hand-assembled sewing kits on Pinterest, but this one is presentable enough, and will certainly prove as handy as any other sewing kit should I ever have to deal with a popped off button or ripped out hem while away from home.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Frost to Flame Pullover


This project plan began to form when I happened to see these two skeins in my box of worsted yarns, and was struck by how well the shades went together. I thought a third shade in a different shade of orange or teal would really pull it together, as well as making it possible to knit anything I liked. I've had these skeins a long time and their ball bands are long gone. I am almost certain the orange yarn is Patons Classic Wool Worsted in burnt orange, but I don't know what the teal yarn is, though I do know it's pure wool.





I searched Ravelry for a pattern that required 100 grams of two contrast colours, and found this one, which is Frost All Grown Up, designed by Unnur Eva Arnarsdóttir. Then I went to Romni Wools and bought 500 grams of Diamond Galway Heathers yarn in teal. My colourway, instead of being the stark, wintery colours of the sample, would be in the warm and vivid tones that look best on me.





And here's the result. The pattern was pretty well written and the sweater knitted up with no problems. I was a little disgruntled that the project didn't require nearly as much yarn as the pattern said. I used about 315 grams of the teal heather (the pattern called for 500 grams) and about 25 grams of the dark teal yarn and approximately 20 grams of the orange worsted (when the pattern called for 100 grams of each). This means that this project, which was supposed to reduce my stash size, increased it by 40 grams -- I can at least return one skein of the Galway Heather. I do love the resulting sweater, but I didn't really need it, and the lesson learned is that I need to be more careful about planning my stash busting projects. I should have realized that this sweater would use up less yarn than specified, and I also need to avoid buying a lot of yarn to use up a small amount I already have.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Alegria Project, Part Deux


Back in 2016 I knitted a sweater out of some reknitted green DK wool and this Manos del Uruguay Alegria, pictured above with a ball of the green yarn. The project turned out to be a huge mistake, as the green DK utterly refused to spring back the way reknitted good quality yarn usually does and the finished item consequently looked awful. I knew right away that I would never wear it and that I'd now have to come up with a project plan for *two* lots of stash yarn instead of one. That first stash busting effort had spawned two further stash-busting projects. Good thing that I really loved this Alegria yarn for its own sake.





I searched Ravelry for a pattern that called for 200 grams of fingering yarn and came up with this one, which is Trestle, by Grace Ann Farrow. It only required 100 grams of the contrast colour, but I decided that would be fine as it would leave enough Alegria to make a pair of socks. My next step was to visit Romni Wools and pick out a main colour. I decided on 400 grams of Alpaca Merino Fine by Estelle Yarns in colour 411, which is a beautiful dark olive green.





And here's my finished sweater. I'm pleased with it. The yarns work together well, and though I don't have any skirts that will go with this piece, the sweater will look good with jeans, olive khakis, and a certain pair of olive velvet trousers that I made some years ago. Though I left the look of the sweater unchanged, I made a few technical modifications. I have the Ravelry users who also made this item to thank for saving me some knitting time, because when I checked their project pages I noticed that so many of them complained that the waist band was too tight and that gussets that were inserted under the arms were unnecessary and made the underarm area too bulky. I sized up my waistband and skipped the gussets accordingly. I also shortened the body of the sweater by two inches, as it would otherwise have been 25" long, when 23" is the perfect length for me. Good thing I did, as I would have run out of yarn otherwise. I had just 30 grams of the Estelle fingering left, and I doubt that would have been sufficient to make the body of the sweater two inches longer. I also used 130 grams of the Alegria rather than the 100 grams the pattern specified, but fortunately I had the two skeins of it.





Both the Alegria and the Estelle were lovely yarns and a pleasure to work with, but they do have one shortcoming each. I noticed that the Alegria faded rather significantly when it was washed (I'd run the Alegria and spring green sweater through the wash twice in an effort to get the spring green yarn to rebound). There was a dramatic difference between the ball of Alegria yarn that had been used to make that ill-fated sweater and the ball of Alegria yarn that hadn't been used at all yet. I didn't think to get a picture of it at the time, but the difference is visible in the detail shot above -- I used up the pre-used yarn first, and the chevrons at the top, which have been knitted with the virgin yarn, are noticeably more vivid than those below it. I assume the old and new yarns will more or less match after a few more washes.

As for the Estelle fingering, it turned out to be one of those yarns that are prone to attracting hair. As I knitted I was constantly picking my hair and my cat's hair off it, which doesn't bode well for future wearings. Oh well, I'm still glad I made this piece. This really is a beautiful sweater design. As I've often said in my knitting design reviews, garter stitch projects tend to look like beginner projects, and it takes an accomplished designer to create a garter stitch project that looks professional and sophisticated. And, like the Amande Tee design I made in 2016, it's a contemporary sweater with a certain 1930s vibe.

When I completed this project, I had 30 grams of the new Estelle yarn left, and had used 130 grams of the stash Alegria yarn, which amounts to a net stash loss of 100 grams. Not bad, and I think I have enough of the two yarns left to make a pair of socks.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Lure of the Poppies Dress


Some months ago I was browsing in Fabriclands when I came across this poppy print jersey, on sale. I loved those vivid, impressionistic splashes of colour on the fabric, and the dress was going to be quite inexpensive to make -- about $25. I'm trying to get away from buying things because they're nice and a good deal, and stick to buying things that I actually need, but this was one of those times that I was tempted and gave in. In my defense, I will say I find jersey dresses to be incredibly useful, as they're comfortable, easy to wear, and appropriate for many places and occasions, and that I didn't have a winter jersey dress.





The pattern I chose for the dress was Vogue Pattern's V1314, which Vogue Patterns' website aptly describes as: "Pullover, close-fitting, lined dress has ruched sides, long sleeves and narrow hem." It's one of those dresses that are supposed to suit every figure.






And here's the finished dress. I made the usual fit adjustments that I always have to make for my dresses: the top is a size larger than the bottom, I added four inches of length to the bodice because flowing over my chest takes up so much of the fabric vertically, and I shortened the skirt by six inches: four to compensate for the extra bodice length, and an additional two because I wished the skirt to sit just above my knees rather than just below them. I also moved the ruching down four inches, but I think I should have only lowered it two inches. It looks okay, though.

The dress didn't photograph terribly well. On the form, the ruches collapse into folds, making the dress look like what my sister might call an "old lady dress", but it doesn't look like an old lady's dress when I get it on, because it is rather form-fitting. I'm going to wear it with my caramel brown leather pumps and handbag.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Piecing Together Memories Pincushions


When I was a little girl, I learned two crafts from my grandmother. One was the craft of making juice can footstools, and the other was the craft of English paper piecing. Though I doubt Grandma Swan ever knew that she was teaching me English paper piecing. She didn't call it that, and she may never have heard the term. For us, the craft was simply a way to make a patchwork pincushion out of scraps of fabric. I've made many of these pincushions. I made one for my mother for Mother's Day the year I was ten. She still uses it 33 years later. When I was eleven and my mother was making a bridal gown for my brother's fiancée, I made a pincushion from scraps of the white satin of her dress and my mother's old rose mother-of-the-groom dress and gave it to my new sister-in-law for a wedding present. Twenty-one years after that, when my brother and sister-in-law's daughter was getting married in her turn, I made my niece a pincushion from scraps of the only two dresses that were made for her wedding: her younger sister's pink junior bridesmaid dress which my mother made, and my own spring green silk dress, which I made myself. I've also made quite a few pincushions over the years as gifts for friends of mine who sew and craft.

It wasn't until I was in my thirties and I posted some pictures of pincushions I had made to Facebook that a friend of mine told me the craft's proper name. Then a few months ago, I read Tracy Chevalier's The Last Runaway, in which the English-born female protagonist, Honor Bright, is a skilled, disciplined, and artistic seamstress and quilter, and I recognized her style of quilting as English paper piecing.

Before I began work on this post, I took forty minutes or so to search Pinterest and the internet at large for English paper piecing, and as I had come to suspect, there was much more to the craft than the very limited form of it I learned from my grandmother. Though the hexagon shapes we used were indeed the most common building block, English paper piecers use all sorts of shapes and fit them together to make quilts, cushions, tote bags, placemats, art work and more with an incredible variety of visual effects. I doubt very much that I will ever go so far as to make a quilt with this craft -- I'm not a quilter, and don't even particularly like quilts -- though I think at some point I might use the craft to make some other, smaller items.





But let's look at the latest two pincushions I've made. I wanted to make one for a friend of mine who is just getting into knitting and crafting, and I also decided to make a second one for me, since the one I was using was about 25 years old and rather the worse for the wear. The first step in making these pincushions is to cut out 37 little paper hexagons from any old scrap paper, then 37 larger cloth hexagons from whatever fabric you want to use. I like to make my pincushions from two coordinating colours of fabric, which means I cut out 13 hexagons from one fabric and 24 from the second fabric, but of course you can use as many fabrics as you want in whatever configuration you like.

Next, baste the fabric hexagons over the paper hexagons as I've done from the basted hexagons on the right in the picture above. To do this, you'll fold the fabric over the paper and stitch one corner at a time with one stitch each.





Then sew all the hexagons together by hand. To do this hold two hexagons flat together, right sides in, and stitch one side of the two together. Unfold the two joined hexagons, and stitch a third hexagon to the two of them, holding it flat against each of the first two in turn, and working one little seam at a time. I start with the centre hexagon and work my way out in circles, re-threadng my needle with the appropriate colour thread as necessary. Make your stitches small enough that they can't be seen from the right side, and sew through the fabric only, not the paper.





Next, cut out the backing of your cushion, using the top as a template for it. Then remove the basting stitches and the paper pieces from your patchwork cushion top.





Pin the top of your cushion to its backing, with right sides together. Machine stitch the top and the bottom pieces together, leaving the middle two hexagons of one side open so that you can turn the cushion right side out. You'll need to situate your stitching line just below the end of the hexagon seams on the outside layer.





Once the cushion pieces are sewn together, turn them right side out. Stuff them firmly. Slipstitch the opening together. And then... you're done. I'm looking forward to giving my friend her cushion -- hers being the tartan and white one on the left -- and I even bought a little box of pins to go with it. I wanted her to start out her crafting life with some suitable accessories.