Sunday, July 11, 2010

something homey

My husband is difficult to buy or make for.  He doesn't have a lot of hobbies and most of them require specialized knowledge.  It's much easier to buy him a gift card for a sporting goods store than to find out I got the wrong size/kind of arrowhead, fishing lure, etc.  Well, with money being tight, that's not an option, so I asked him what kinds of things I could make for him (for Father's Day in particular).  He had some sensible, practical suggestions, of course, being a guy.  At the last Chick's Night Out sewing session at Associated Sewing in St. Paul (shameless plug here), I made him a simple pillow cover for a travel size pillow.  It was actually the second.  The first one was a trial and intended to be an inner cover, as it was made out of a large scrap of thin white cotton - probably a recycled sheet.  The one I made Friday was of dark blue plaid flannel (someone else's reject/leftovers), nice and cozy.  He's been using it since.  One pillow is just not enough for him, but two big pillows are too much.  This seems to fit the bill.  I'd include a picture but he's napping with it at the moment. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Irish chain microwave potato bag = serendipity

I've been able to spend some quality time with my sewing machine, creating a couple of projects from scratch, beginning to end.  Today I finished my microwave potato bag.  I made a couple of these late last year but ended up giving them both away.  I have missed having one around, so decided it was time to make my own.  I wanted this one to be just right for my kitchen and also represent my love of quilting.  Now that this project is done, I realize how appropriate the quilt block design is. The first example of serendipity in this project is that I used Irish Chain just because it fit my parameters, but now that I'm writing it up it dawns on me - not only is this bag going to be primarily used for microwaving potatoes, but this is March, when everyone seems to think about things Irish because of St. Patrick's Day.  Part of my heritage is Irish, so I always pay attention to anything having to do with the Emerald Isle.

I put far more work into this project than you might think it deserves.  After all, it's only something practical and "homely" that's going to hang out in my kitchen.  Some people I know would say "For goodness' sake, why did you cut up perfectly good material into little pieces and sew them back together when you could have used one whole piece and had it done, lickety-split?"  Well, if I was on a deadline, or if I was making it for someone else (especially a non-quilter), I probably would have.  But I was making this for me and I wanted it to delight my soul.

I enjoyed the challenge of designing and constructing this.  I had to do a lot of research, paging through my collection of quilting books to find an appropriate design.  I also made use of the Quilt Wizard software.  Once I found the right block, I had to do a lot of math to adapt the instructions for a full quilt to just two blocks.  I wanted to utilize strip piecing but I didn't want it to be boring.  The final result is even better than I had visualized.  I made two blocks10" square and had to add a strip between them to get the length I needed for the bag (22").  When I turned it right side out after sewing the sides together (right sides together, of course), I found that I had unintentionally perfectly aligned the overlap, so it looks like I have two altogether different blocks.  Another example of serendipity.  I'm not able to name them off the top of my head, so that is a challenge for another day.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

and well worth the wait

Finished at last! My Christmas tree skirt, begun at least 22 years ago (or was it 30?) and moved at least 3 times when I doubted I would ever finish it, is 100% complete. Done, done, done. I hate to pack it away with the Christmas decorations. I pulled it out about a year ago and began to piece it using what I dimly remembered from a long-ago class. They handed me a pile of pre-cut batting wedges, told me to select a variety of Christmas prints and showed me how to tear my fabric into strips 1 to 2" wide. Yes, tear. This must have pre-dated rotary cutters. The batting sections had a line drawn across them at an angle. I guess I should have taken a picture of one before they were all covered. Oh, well. The narrow end was cut with an arc and the wide end was cut with a rounded V shape so that when they were put together they formed a round shape with a hole at the center and a widely scalloped outer edge. Any written instructions I received were long gone, so once I finished piecing ala foundation piecing (I remembered that part of the class), I took my pieces to Muriel at Associated Sewing for advice. She suggested putting piping between the sections because the strips had been sewn on in a random order and looked odd when they were joined directly. It looked much better with the piping. Then we decided to finish the outer edges with lace. Next I had to figure out how to put a backing on. I probably could have gotten by without it, but thought it would look more finished and last longer. I found a nice piece at Jo-Ann's on sale and struggled for awhile with how to cut such a large piece. In fact it languished in my WIP pile for a few months until Christmas was upon us and I decided I was determined to use it. It dawned on me to fold it in fourths and lay the skirt, likewise folded, on top to use as a template. Then I attached it using the envelope method (sew rs tog, turn). At this point it was ready to go under the tree for this year. I hadn't figured out how to finish the exposed edges (where I left it open for ease in putting it under the tree. Back to Muriel I went and we decided to use double-fold binding to cover the edges. Now I have to stop admiring it and move on to another project.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Advice to Newbie Knitters from a neophyte

Having recently learned to knit, I want to share what I have learned with fellow wanna-be knitters before it gets lost in the dim recesses of my mind wherever I stored the memories of learning to crochet and other skills I now take for granted. I'm not sure when - or how - the desire to learn how to knit got hold of me, but I know it goes back many years. So why didn't I learn earlier? More importantly, how did I finally master the basics? There were some things I did right and some things (okay, many things) I did wrong in the process of learning how to knit. It no longer matters to me that it took me so long to find my way. I'm just glad I did. So, for what it's worth, here are a few tips.

Don't listen to lies. For a long time I believed the popular myth that one can either crochet or knit, but not both. I learned to crochet in junior high and never forgot, even if I stopped doing it for years. My self-image for many years was that I was someone who "never finished what she started" and was not very well-coordinated or artistically talented. I know one of the things I did wrong years ago was typical of me - I attempted a project that was too ambitious for a beginner because I didn't have a mentor to give me advice. Then I got discouraged and gave up because I didn't have a mentor to encourage me and help me overcome my setbacks. This past year I found a knitting mentor - someone with the time and the patience to help me and who was very encouraging. She inspires me with all the simple but beautiful things she has made. A mentor alone wouldn't have made the difference. I also have learned to see myself as capable of learning knitting and other things. I didn't give up. I didn't listen to the tapes in my head telling me I "never finish anything" or "am too clumsy".

Learn all you can. I found some wonderful books to fill the gaps. I couldn't run to Nana's house every time I got stuck. "Knit Fix" by Lisa Kartus was a huge blessing. Her illustrations and explanations helped me really "see" how a knit stitch is constructed. Until I had that concept in my head, I felt rather insecure. It also has wonderful solutions for fixing knitting problems. I also found some videos on-line that were helpful.

Listen to your fingers. I also realize now that I didn't listen to my body or soul very well back when. My first project was not only too big (an afghan) but it was on giant (US35) hollow metal needles. After I truly learned to knit a few months ago, I tried again to use those needles and quickly felt the difference. I hated them. I hated the clanging sound they made, their cold, hard feel and the awkwardness of the giant size. I still have them and may use them in the future, but they also may just stay as a reminder to listen to my fingers. I tried the same project on large (but not quite so humongous) plastic needles, and found the project pleasurable.

Loosen up.
Another mistake I made was attempting to learn to knit using a kit that included very short circular needles. I think circular needles are a great idea because it is hard to drop stitches, but as a beginner my tension was way too tight. I struggled to get the stitches back on to the tips. I also found it frustrating to have so little wiggle room because the needles were only 16" long. I would recommend circular needles once you have learned how to keep your tension reasonably loose.

Find what works for you. Tension is a key ingredient in knitting, and this may be where the myth that crocheters can't knit and vice-versa comes in. I tried to control my yarn tension the way I do for crochet and it just didn't work. I tried quite a few methods that didn't feel right. Finally, one woman at a LYS told me to just pick up the yarn loosely with my right hand. That allowed me to get out of my mindset that wasn't working. I was able to look at how other people do it and come up with a way that worked for me which is like my crochet method but on my right hand instead of my left. I think that's when I was able to get a nice loose tension.

Keep it easy on the eyes.
Another tip I would give a wanna-be knitter is to be careful what yarn you use for your first few projects or when learning a new stitch. It should be pleasant to the touch and the eye so you want to keep working with it, but have a fairly smooth texture and not be a dark color. Why? So you can see the stitches you have formed. For goodness' sake, don't attempt novelty yarns until you are more experienced. I tried knitting with chenille after being warned that it is difficult and quickly gave up. After I have knitted some more, I will try it again. I have knitted with some fuzzy yarns, but had to switch to a smooth texture to get the hang of knitting in a rib pattern. With a fuzzy yarn I couldn't see if I had just done a purl or a knit stitch. With a little practice, I was able to try the fuzzy yarn, because I had mastered the rhythm of switching stitches and was more familiar with how they looked in a rib pattern.

There you have it. If you want to learn to knit, find a mentor and some good books, believe you can do it and don't give up. Find needles and yarn that are pleasant to work with and easy to see. If it just isn't working, change something and try again, but don't give up. It is worth it all to be able to pick up your knitting and make the world a better, calmer place, one stitch at a time.