Sewing


It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged.  My work life got pretty busy in the fall and I’m finally settling back into a routine that’s a bit more balanced.  This probably goes without saying, but I think life is better when I get to have some down time on a regular basis.

In addition to my crazy fall work schedule and trying to figure out how to get everything made/completed in time for Christmas (which didn’t happen, of course – I stink at knitting to deadlines), I was dealing with a sick bird.  Kira’s health had been declining since May, and after a very bad four days in December I asked to have her put to sleep.  It’s taking a while to get used to being without my beloved conure companion of 13 years; I’m probably more efficient at most tasks without a parrot in the middle, but it sure it a lot less fun around here.

I finished a number of projects in the last six months (including a hat that needed a complete re-working of the pattern charts because the instructions were off a bit on the stitch count for alternating rows).  It’s fun to look back at the lovely things I sent along to new homes where they will hopefully be worn and enjoyed.

After nearly 3 years of knitting, I’ve made over 40 projects – only 4 of which I’ve kept.  Given my inability to knit to deadlines and the stress of trying to create things with a date always looming ahead (just like at work!), I’ve decided that 2013 needs to be the year of selfish knitting.  As much as I enjoy making hand-made gifts, I want to be able to make some things for myself – projects that always get moved to the back burner because I need to get something else finished.  Of course, I’ve just completed and mailed out the last knitted Christmas gifts as of Monday so I’m already 3 months behind on making projects for myself.  Heh.  However, this week I’ve finally cast on a cowl in a lovely yarn I bought over two years ago.

Sewing is taking up some of my time again and I’m glad the mojo is back.  A couple of years ago I replaced my rather useless 15 year-old Kenmore machine with a Baby Lock.  Since then I’ve made some box bags, iPad covers, and tinkered with some small bags to hold note cards.  I finally saw a quilt pattern that caught my eye, and last summer I started picking up fabrics to go along with the main ones I wanted to use.  I cut out the pieces, got most of the blocks sewn, then got too busy with the job and packed everything up for a while.  Over the last few weeks I’ve started organizing my supplies (why didn’t I think of doing that sooner?) and this week I converted my spare bedroom into a proper sewing space.  I pulled out my “rainy day” quilt, finished trimming the sewn blocks, and completed the quilt top!  Actually, “tops” is more accurate because I ultimately decided that I wanted something smaller than the twin size I planned for and I split the pieces among 2 quilts (which I will refer to as quilts #1A and #1B).  Still haven’t found backing fabric so I may have to stop for a while and work on quilt #2.  And #3, #4, and #5 which I’m planning for the kids this (or maybe the following) Christmas.  Because, let’s face it, I’m a bit of an over-achiever and why shouldn’t I have half a dozen projects lined up?

Although I’ve just started working on my first quilt in the last year, I’ve been thinking about them for a long time.  The problem was that I couldn’t find the right pattern to get motivated – I admire most traditional quilts, but along with being gorgeous they’ve always seemed a bit fussy to me and I’ve never been particularly interested in making one.  But all of a sudden I’m discovering patterns I like … ones that inspired me to get started.  In February I attended the vendor/exhibition hall at the Modern Quilt Guild’s QuiltCon in Austin and realized that I am squarely in the camp of the modern quilt style.  After a few hours of viewing I was completely overwhelmed and energized; I came home with a ton of photos, one new pattern, and a few yards of new fabric (and much like my knitting philosophy, I have plans for each and every bit of fabric I purchased).  I’ll include a few of my favorite quilts from QuiltCon in case you’re wondering what it was that made such an impression.

As you can probably tell from this far-too-long blog, it’s been a busy few months.  I’ve been motivated enough to attend QuiltCon and to join the Austin Modern Quilt Guild.  I’ve organized my sewing and knitting supplies and finally set up a craft room so I can reclaim my dining table.  I’m knitting things I’ve been longing to knit.  And, for the first time since last March, I took an entire week off from work to do anything and everything I wanted – and it was fantastic.

For all practical purposes, 2011 was the year without a Christmas.  I didn’t put up any decorations, I didn’t send cards, I didn’t listen to Christmas music, and I didn’t watch my favorite holiday movies.  I wasn’t anti-Christmas – it’s more that I lacked interest.  In spite of the absence of holiday enthusiasm I spent the last couple of months working on Christmas knitting. (Since I haven’t mailed out all the packages yet I feel compelled to post only about the gifts that have been received so I don’t spoil any surprises.)

My primary concern was to find suitable gifts for the nice and nephews because I know that kids aren’t fond of receiving IOUs under the tree.  They love technology (as do I) but I can’t compete on the level of giving Nintendo 3DS and iPod Touch and Nikon cameras, so I try to focus on finding unique and/or handmade gifts. I decided to make box bags with fabric I purchased from Spoonflower (for more geeky fabrics, check out Studio Fibonacci‘s offerings) and added a hand-knit item to each bag.  I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response I received from my niece, nephews, and sister-in-law regarding the handmade gifts.  They all loved their box bags – and nephew #1 immediately filled his with all the technology gear he received from Santa.

For the boys, I made storm trooper hats – with a band of color that coordinated with their bags to help identify the owner of each hat.  After a frustrating few weeks of employing the Goldilocks Method of knitting  (i.e. first hat was too tight, second hat was ginormous), I finally hit the right tension for the stranded motif and successfully made two hats that fit.   I have to admit that when they opened their gifts and tried on the hats, I exclaimed “Yes!  They fit!” — an outburst that must have delighted nephew #2 as he kept reciting my quote to me the rest of the day (although I was disappointed that he didn’t re-enact the accompanying fist-pump).  What surprised me most is that my brother offered to take the hat that was too big for the kids – and it fit him perfectly.

For my niece, who asked me back in October to make her something for Christmas, I made a black bag with bright polka dots and included a Just Enough Ruffles scarf in purple with flecks of bright colors and a sweet crocheted lamb that I made from a Planet June pattern.  She wore the scarf for the next few days so I’m assuming she liked it.  My sis-in-law kept commenting on how much she liked that scarf, so I think I’ll make her one for her upcoming birthday.

Finally, I knew that nephew #1 wanted a scarf of his own and my original plan was to wrap one up with the hat.  Alas, the hats took so long (since I had to make 4 of them) that I ended up wrapping everything else and working on the scarf before and during Christmas.  I managed to finish it on the evening of the 25th and gave it to him the next day.  He was delighted to receive a scarf of his very own with plenty of orange – his favorite color – and wore it around the house for the next two days.

Christmas 2011 isn’t quite complete as I have a few finishing touches to put on some projects that need to be mailed out.  I’ve alerted my friends that Epiphany gifts are all the rage this year – and do hope to get them boxed and mailed this week.  I’m looking forward to sending out my first round of hand-knit items and hope that they will be appreciated — I love the process of choosing materials and patterns to suit an individual.

Guess I’m off to gather boxes, labels, and postage.  Perhaps I can get most everything in the mail by Friday morning <fingers crossed>.  Then I can start planning for Christmas 2012!

Time flies – how can it be mid-June already?   I kept thinking it was  time for a blog update and yet I was surprised to find that it’s been four months since I wrote anything.  Yikes.  Well, at least I’m staying busy.

Ishbel no.2

Ishbel no.1

I finished my first Ishbel shawlette and wear it occasionally (yes, it’s summer but I work in a cold office) – I love how it turned out even though I’m sure I made a bunch of little mistakes.  My  red/pink/orange choice was a bit unusual, but the colors grew on me as I worked and I find the end result to be rather cheerful.

Since I enjoyed my first lace project so much, I decided to make a second Ishbel for a friend.  I chose another hank of Malabrigo lace because these purples and greens intrigued me.   I was a bit disappointed to find that the color changes were more dramatic than expected and I wasn’t sure how that would work with the lace pattern.  I think the final result was acceptable, but decided that I prefer a more tonal approach to color as a subtle palette allows the pattern to take center stage.

Toe-up socks

 

Socks on rocks

Along with the two lace projects, I also finished my first pair of toe-up socks.  Fun!  Now I can say I know how to knit socks.  If I ever move to Canada or Scotland, I am confident that can keep myself warm.  However, since I live in Texas,  I will put these away in the cedar chest for about six months because it’s going to be yet another record-breaking summer of hot.   It was a bit warm just wearing them long enough to get a photo.  (Oh, and I apologize in advance for the pasty-white legs – I am Danish and Swedish and my skin has zero ability to tan.)

Central Park Hoodie

Have to ‘fes up and admit that I’m not quite finished with my first sweater (only the hood is left!) … and yet I started a second sweater project.   Unlike the Susie sweater  which is basically knit in one piece, The Central  Park Hoodie is knit in five separate pieces and seamed together at the end.  The cable pattern is much easier so I keep thinking this should knit up quickly if I can ever sit down long enough to knit more than a row or two at a time.  Also, in order to get gauge, I’m knitting this heavy worsted wool with US4 needles.  It freaked me out to cast on and start the ribbing on a US3, but I managed to get it to work.  I’m starting to call  this my “going to Scotland sweater” because I think it would be suitable for a place with actual weather.

CPH cables

Given that it’s been a month since I cast on and I’m still working on the same section, I don’t plan to start any new projects for a while.   Oh, I should clarify – no new knitting projects – as I am actively working to finish the first sweater and already started on a sewing project.  Then there will be new sets of greeting cards, as I am completely out for the year and it’s kind of freaking me out to not have a stack available for gifting.  Already thinking of  Christmas because I don’t need the stress of  the last-minute rush – life is better if have some ideas in place by summer so I have time to work on things.

Fat quarters everywhere

In any case, I should have plenty of crafty projects to keep me busy this summer.  I appreciate having something fun to work on when I get home from work and need to wind down.  I love the the portability of in-progress knitting projects that allow me to be entertained no matter where I am, the process of sewing little pieces of fabric into something usable, and the feeling of accomplishment when  I can wear or use or gift the end result(s).

Hopefully I will stay busy enough to warrant another update before fall.

My custom stitch markers arrived this weekend.  I placed a special order with  Jillian at WeeOnes after seeing the lovely birds she crafts.  These stitch markers are  amazingly detailed – especially considering that each piece is smaller than a penny.

Thought it might be fun to request specific birds that we know from Twitter, so I placed an order for a greencheek conure, a yellow-sided greencheek conure, a Congo African grey, a black-capped caique, a green Quaker parrot, and a grey cockatiel.

I also requested some wellie boots to coordinate with my WIP bag. They turned out quite charming – and I have  a zipper pull to add to the bag, too.

Still working on my Susie Sweater – approaching week 4 with 60 rows complete.  I replaced the generic white rings with the bird stitch markers on the last round and the project  seems “dressed up” now.

Susie Hoodie - June 27, at row 60

Enjoying the local knitting group – I’ve met with them twice now and everyone has made me feel so welcome that it’s hard to believe I’ve only met them a few weeks ago.  It’s  the first social group activity I’ve participated in since I moved here about 4 years ago – about time, I’d say.

The third meeting of Sweater  University is this week and  I’m hoping to be near row 100 by then.  Lots of knitting ahead, so  I’m off to start the next row.   Can’t wait to see how far I can get in the next two weeks.

I finished the Lazy Girl Designs Margo Bag this weekend.  The only change I made to the pattern was to increase the length of the handles by a couple of inches.  It turned out to be a little smaller than I had wanted, but it’s  still a great bag for knit & crochet works-in-progress  (WIP).

The fabric was purchased from Laurie  Wisbrun, a local designer.   Her Donkeys in Wellie Rainboots fabrics are available in her Scarlet Fig Etsy shop, and I’m very glad she still had some available when I found the right bag pattern.

To highlight the colors used in the Donkeys (front) and Wellies (inside pockets) fabrics,  I chose a chartreuse for the interior lining,  magenta for the exterior pocket lining (behind the donkeys), and blue for the interior pocket lining and bag bottom.   It’s a cheerful little bag, with a ton of pockets  to hold hooks, needles, and other tools.  The inset zipper is a great feature – it should help keep the contents of my bag intact (I’m quite skilled at tumping bags over in the car).

Once I became entranced with the wellies fabrics I ordered  a bit more so  I’ll have some on hand to make a few little notions bags and knitting needle / crochet hook rolls.  In the meantime, I have a fabulous long-handled bag to hold my works-in-progress.

Sewing has been one of my favorite activities since I was a teenager.   There’s something rewarding about taking big chunks of fabric and turning them into something you can wear or use.  Over the years I’ve sewed curtains, duvet covers, decorative pillows, jackets, skirts, PJs, robes, tea cozies – you name it, I’ve probably sewn one.  And if I didn’t have a pattern,  I figured out what I wanted to do and created  one of my own.

I bought my first sewing machine, a 23-stitch Kenmore, before heading off to grad school.  Lately I have been swearing at the machine more than stitching – it stops working at the most  inopportune times, requiring increasingly expensive maintenance which can take 2-3 weeks.   I spent weeks (months?) waiting to start a project because  I knew I’d get frustrated with the machine.  So after 17 years, I decided a change was in order – I walked into a store and walked out with a new Baby Lock.

New Baby Lock sewing machineAfter a couple of weeks of finishing up projects and commitments, I finally started sewing this weekend.  It’s amazing how sewing technology has changed  in the last 17 years.  This machine is computerized, weighs about half of what the old machine did, and cost just a little more than I paid for the Kenmore back in 1992.

I chose a small  project  to help me learn  the new machine.  A Twitter crafter (sorry – I don’t recall who!) led me to Lazy Girl Designs; I liked  what I saw and bought a few patterns.

This weekend I started with the Maggie pouch.  I’ve been looking for a small bag to hold greeting card sets, and after a slight modification I think I’ve hit on the perfect size!  I cut a template and have plenty of fabric to keep me busy for a while. These are great week night projects – it doesn’t take long to cut, stitch, and finish a bag.

First two MaggieNow that I’m getting used to the machine, I’m ready to tackle a bigger project.   I bought some fabulous fabric from a local designer and want to make a WIP (work-in-progress) bag for my knitting stuff.   The Margo handbag is a new pattern and I can’t wait to get started.  I spent the afternoon cutting the pieces (all rotary cut, which is new to me) and will spend some time this evening starting the assembly.    Here’s hoping that all my measuring and double-checking led to correctly-cut pieces.

I’m so happy to be off and sewing again – with energy, creativity,  and a well-functioning machine.