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.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Darn Good Birthday Present

Back in 2014, the good people at Darn Good Yarn sent me the free sample of their product that you see pictured above. The skein of DK weight Roving Silk Yarn (for which there seems to be no Ravelry page) sat in my stash for two and a half years while I mulled over ideas for how best to use it. While I thought the yarn attractive, I don't wear (or look good in) pink, purple, yellow, or light blue, so that ruled out any projects for me. My grandniece Cauliflower does like and look pretty in those colours, so I first settled on her as the intended recipient, and then decided last year that this yarn would work well as a contrast colour in a sweater for her eighth birthday present.

I searched Ravelry's pattern database for a little girl's sweater pattern that required two colours of DK, and found the Color Me Pretty Sweater pattern, designed by Elena Nodel. It's really quite pretty, the shaping is good, and the cute floral fair isle pattern would showcase the variegated silk yarn nicely. Next, it was off to Romni Wools with the skein of silk roving, where I tried to find a coordinating main colour for the sweater. I settled on 350 grams of Loyal DK in pale blue.

And here's the resulting sweater, in a size 8. This was a an exceptionally well-written pattern -- very detailed and clear and easy to follow. I'm pleased with my version of the sweater on the whole, though I do wish I could have gone with a paler blue for the main colour, as some of the stitch definition was lost because the blue of the silk roving and the blue of the Loyal were too similar. Other than that minor complaint, the colours proved to be an attractive combination that will look well on Cauliflower, who has fair skin, blue eyes, and light brown hair.

With yarn to spare, I made a matching hat as well. The sweater, cap, and the dollar store colouring book, notebook, and box of crayons I bought to go with them should prove quite a satisfactory eighth birthday present.

I had 10 grams of the new Loyal left, and had used half of the 100 gram skein of Silk Roving DK, which means this project resulted in a net stash decrease of 40 grams.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wearing One's Heart on One's Pocket

In late 2006, I bought $40 worth of seconds acrylic bouclé cranberry-coloured yarn at Spinrite Factory Outlet in Listowel, Ontario, where $40 buys one a LOT of seconds yarn. Out of this yarn, I made first an afghan for my guest room, then a hoodie for one of my nieces, then a cowl-necked pullover for a friend (who has told me she loves the yarn so much she wants me to will her the guest room afghan). There was still 250 grams of the cranberry bouclé yarn left, but after three items I had no further plans for the yarn and tucked it away to await its fate. Then in December 2016 when I was thinking about what I could make for my friend's baby girl Olivia from stash yarn, I caught sight of the remaining cranberry bouclé and thought it might be enough to make a little jacket in size 12 months, and would also be an attractive colour on her -- Olivia has olive-coloured eyes, medium brown hair, and fair skin with a slightly olive tone to it (as you may have gathered, she was well-named).

I searched the Ravelry pattern database for an appropriate baby's jacket pattern in a bulky weight yarn. I found some designs that I didn't like enough to use, but their pattern pages at least confirmed that 250 grams of bouclé yarn should be sufficient to make the style and size of jacket I had in mind as long as I didn't try to include a hood, which was so much information gained. In the end I took a pattern already in my library, Smock with Sheep and Shoes, designed by Debbie Bliss (and shown in the Ravelry member project photo you see above), and adapted it.

The pattern called for DK weight yarn, so I kept my calculator and some scratch paper handy in order to rework the given numbers of stitches and rows as I went along. I didn't like the floppy collar, so I went with a flat collar instead. I didn't like the detail on the sleeves, so I made the cuffs in garter to match the bottom hem and knitted the rest of the sleeves in plain stockinette. I would have liked to knit the pockets into the fronts, but I wasn't sure I'd have enough yarn, so it seemed best to stick with the patch pocket technique the design called for to give myself the option of not making them when the rest of the jacket was done. In the end, there was enough yarn to make two pockets, but I made only one as I thought it looked better -- the two-pocket look is too symmetrical. And instead of knitting a moss stitch or garter stitch heart on the pocket, I made the heart in a cream yarn I had left from another afghan to brighten up the jacket's look a little.

I'm pretty pleased with the result. The jacket looks cute and fairly well-shaped and should prove to be an item Olivia is comfortable wearing and that her mother enjoys seeing her in. I don't knit with synthetic yarns very much anymore, but acrylic boucl&eactue; is one of the exceptions: it is amazingly light and cozy and a comfort to wear. But it can be a little frustrating to work with, as one can barely see any detailing one knits into it. It's best to keep patterns simple when working with bouclé -- I wouldn't go any more complex than I have with this jacket. As it was, when I was working on the latticed bodice, I felt like I was constantly squinting at it and spending long minutes trying to figure out which stitches were garter and which were stockinette, and which stitch was supposed to go on top of the other when they crossed. Then again, by the same token, when one is working with bouclé, one's mistakes also tend to disappear into the work, and it knits up very quickly.

Making this jacket took 235 grams of stash yarn, and I had just 20 grams of the cranberry bouclé left. At a tally of an afghan and three sweaters, I can't say I didn't get my money's worth out of that $40.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Boiled and Stabbed Slippers

Several years ago, after I launched this blog, I came across a picture of an irresistibly cute pair of slippers on Pinterest.

The slippers were the French Press Felted Slippers, by Melynda Bernardi. I already had a pair of rather nice slippers I had made out of a bulky weight wool yarn, but it didn't take me long to decide I much preferred the style of these. I then proceeded to take apart the first pair and knit up a pair of French Press slippers.

And here's the result. This yarn is Patons Classic Wool Worsted, in a colour called Tree Bark Mix. The slippers were knitted with two strands on 10mm needles. It amused me to remember that my pair of 10mm needles were the first pair of knitting needles I ever bought and that I'd used them exactly once before: to make my very first sweater, in a tragically ill-chosen candy floss pink yarn, when I was ten years old.

The knitting part of this slipper project went quickly and easily (last January!) and then the slippers spent nearly an entire year in my work basket, waiting for me to sew them together and then felt them. I had never felted anything before (not on purpose, that is), and kept putting off the task of finishing them the way I tend to do when I don't know how to do something. Finally at about 6:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve I started work on the felting.

I hadn't read anything on felting aside from the instructions in the pattern, which was a mistake, especially given that I wasn't felting the slippers in my washing machine as the instructions say to do. I have a front loading washing machine and didn't think it would work as well as a top loader with a central agitator. I thought I could do the felting in the kitchen sink. I was making some progress, but it was too slow, and as I was using my hands to agitate the knitting, that limited how hot the water could be. I then got the idea of felting the pieces in a measuring cup of hot water heated in the microwave, using a wooden spoon to agitate them. This worked better but I was having trouble keeping the water hot, so I switched methods again and began felting the pieces in a saucepan on the stove. Whenever I wanted to try the slippers on for size, I'd lift them out of the saucepan with tongs, douse them in a sink full of cool water, and squeeze the water out as best I could. This method proved fairly effective, but did it ever take a long time. I had initially thought I'd be done the job in half an hour (felting with a machine is supposed to take 20-25 minutes), but I worked on it for four hours, partly because I had taken awhile to hit on the right method, and partly because I made the mistake of doing the slippers in three parts: the straps by themselves, then one slipper body at a time.

Not only did doing the pieces separately make the process much longer, it also proved a bad idea because the colour of the felted fabric changed. By the time I was done the second slipper, I realized to my horror that I had two different colour slippers: one was a grayish khaki green, and the other was a dark olive green. However, it was 10:30 on New Year's Eve, I'd just spent hours standing over a boiling hot saucepan repeatedly stabbing my knitting with a wooden spoon, and I was NOT going to keep working and trying to fix that mistake that night. I turned off the stove and cleared up a little and left the kitchen to go relax for the rest of the evening.

The next morning I checked the slippers again and found that, besides being two different colours, they still were a little too large for me. I boiled both the slippers and the straps on the stove for an additional hour and a half, checking for size every half hour. After that hour and a half they were a perfect fit... and, thankfully, the same colour again. Though that's a grand total of five and half hours of felting time. I don't think I spent that long knitting the slippers.

As you can see from the above photo of one of the slippers with the leftover yarn it was made from, the finished slippers are a completely different colour from what they were originally. I'm still astounded by this colour change. How on earth did the colour become so much darker and richer? I would have expected it to fade if I'd expected any colour change at all, which I didn't. Fortunately, I still like the resulting colour. Unfortunately, the buttons I'd bought for the slippers looked terrible against this new colour, and I had to make a quick trip to Fabricland to get some different ones. Another problem arose: I was supposed to use unfelted yarn to stitch the end of the straps on, and the stitches were bound to show. I looked in my stash for a similar green but didn't find a yarn that would be less conspicuous -- green is a difficult colour to match. I settled for trying to make my stitches as hidden and inconspicuous as possible. They don't look as bad as I feared, and no one is going to look that closely at my feet anyway.

The instructions recommend spreading some puffy paint on the bottom of the slippers, for the sake of traction. I am reluctant to do this. Someone gave me a pair of those socks with treads on them for Christmas one year and the treads hurt my feet when I walked on them (Moreover, the treaded socks would not stay on but kept working their way off my feet -- I had to keep reaching down and yanking them back up. I wore them once, for about two hours, and then put them in the garbage.) I'm afraid the puffy paint will be uncomfortable to walk on. On the other hand, I have all wood and tile floors in my home and am very accident-prone. Perhaps there are other traction options.

I'm not sure there's any more felting in my future. I definitely won't tackle another project without first making sure I'm more informed about the process. Even without doing research, knowing about the stove top boiling method and doing all the pieces at once would cut my time in less than half... so perhaps.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Burnt Tomato Blouse

This project plan began when I decided I could use a blouse to wear with a particular, hard-to-match vest I had knitted for myself several years ago.

I took the vest to Fabricland to match it to the fabric. Then I picked out this pattern, which is Vogue V887 -- and decided to go with option F in the shorter length. And then there was the problem of buying buttons for it. Nothing matched this odd shade of... what should one call the colour of this blouse's fabric? Orange? Rust? Burnt tomato? After looking in Fabricland and every store on Queen Street that carries buttons, I settled for a pack of buttons that were a suitable colour, though they were larger than a blouse's buttons usually are. I also had to buy twice as many buttons as I needed.

Here's the finished blouse with a skirt that it just happened to work with perfectly. The only alteration I ended up making was to shape the blouse a little through the waist -- it was going to be too unflattering otherwise. The buttons still look too big to me when I look at the blouse itself, but judging from this photograph they won't to the casual observer. The blouse took much longer than it should have as I seemed to make so many mistakes. My first attempt at running the tucks was a disaster and had to be taken completely apart and done again. I had to redo the edgestitching on the collar several times -- it turned out the problem was that my sewing machine needle was too dull, which caused it to skip stitches. I also had some problems with the buttonhole and button bands. But in the end I prevailed. I like the blouse and am pleased that it will go with a number of other items from my wardrobe.

And here the blouse is with the vest it was specifically chosen to go with. They do pair well. I especially like how the necklines work together. But that dark brown skirt doesn't quite go with the vest, and neither do any of my other skirts. I think I might have get the vest a skirt too.