Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Adventures in DIY Jewelry Making

When I was a tween/teen, I used to love making my own jewelry. I would go to my local bead store, which was called Nomadic Notions, and would buy way too many beads and charms. Mostly I made myself necklaces and earrings, and that crazy thing is that I never learned the right way to open and close a jump ring. It's true. Only recently have I learned this skill thanks to the folks at Solid Oak Inc, who share a handy free PDF covering basic jewelry making techniques here on their site.

Not to long ago, the kind folks at Solid Oak sent me a ton of goodies to play with, and I've been experimenting with different ideas over the last month or so. Nowadays, I don't wear a lot of jewelry, and when I do it tends to be something that's small and simple. My first (and favorite) project is this minimalist arrow necklace using a few pieces from their Estrella line:

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At first, I thought that the CZ arrow charm would be a bit too bling-tastic for my usual jeans-and-a-t-shirt style, but it turns out to add the perfect amount of sparkle. I used half a length of jewelry chain and these jewelry findings to make this necklace for just under $10!

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It's now my go-to necklace, and it's SO easy to make: just cut two equal lengths of chain to attach to either side of the charm with a jump ring, and then attach a lobster clasp and ring to the other end.

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Bam! Necklace!

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My next idea was to combine a couple of steam punk gears to create a single focal point. Similar to the arrow necklace, I cut two equal lengths of chain to attach to either side of the center charm; the trickiest part was linking both gears on either side with jump rings.

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For my third necklace project, I got a little wacky and attempted a layered look with two different chain lengths and a simple tea ball charm.

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I think the longer chain could stand to lose some length, so I might go back and shorten it. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with how this experiment turned out - and look, the tea ball really opens!

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Overall, I've been extremely impressed with the quality of each item I've tried from Solid Oak, especially for the price - each thing is super affordable. I still have lots of charms and chains to play with, so I will definitely be dreaming up more combinations to share with you soon!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Are You On A First Name Basis With Your Yarn?

Being a handspinner has its perks: you can create the exact yarn you want in terms of fiber content, color, and structure, provided you have the proper skill and materials. If you don't spin, you have to rely on the yarns you find in shops and at fiber festivals, which means that you can't always get your hands on a specific fiber, especially if it happens to be rare. The good news is that yarn producers are starting to get hip to the whole breed-specific thing, and now there are all kinds of unusual yarns and blends available to folks who might otherwise not encounter them outside of a fiber festival.

Over the years I've enjoyed exploring specific breeds of sheep, from Polwarth to Gotland and all points in between. Last year, I purchased some Shetland batts at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival from Whispering Pines, a small farm in Wisconsin that raises registered Shetland Sheep.

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My fiber came with a photo of their sheep and some stats on the specific one who donated their fleece to my project. Her name is Mustang Sally, and she was born on April 18, 2014; I happened to purchase her 2016 fleece, which had a staple length of 85mm (which is approx. 3.3 inches). That's on the longer side for this particular breed of sheep, which averages a staple length of 2-4.5 inches. I still struggle with super short-stapled fibers, so this ended up being the perfect length for me, and the fiber was downy soft - no hint of the hairy undercoat whatsoever!


I felt drawn to this particular breed of sheep after watching a very small and plucky shetland refuse to budge when its handler was trying to lead it out of the stalls to show during a competition at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool festival. It was hilarious!

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Shetland Sheep @ The Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival (where it's much warmer!)

These tiny little sheep are hardy, sassy and clearly have some grit - they'd have to, considering their native land is at a similar latitude to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Shetland Isles are even further than the Hebrides and Scotland! Hundreds of islands make up the Shetland isles, and only 15 are inhabited by humans. Only shetland sheep and ponies are brave and hardy enough to inhabit many more of those islands under subarctic conditions.

After washing my finished 2-ply yarn, it because even sproingier and softer than when it had come off the wheel - now I just have to decide what to make with it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How To Fix Live Mistakes & Dropped Stitches in A Knitting Project

There's no worse feeling than looking down at your work and noticing a mistake several rows back, or - worse yet - a dropped stitch! When I was newer to knitting, this usually meant that I had to rip back several hours or ever days of work; sometimes, I would even restart the whole project from scratch. I wish I had known back then just how easy it is to fix this type of mistake without all of that frogging.

The simplest mistake to fix is a dropped stitch in stockinette. While knitting on my So Faded sweater recently, I noticed that I'd managed to drop a stitch and not notice it for several rounds. Here's what it looked like by the time I noticed the problem:

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Notice that there is a removable stitch marker in the dropped stitch - this is to prevent it from dropping down any further until I could fix it, as I noticed this mistake while knitting on the go. It's always a good idea to have a few removable stitch markers in your purse or project bag for just such an occasion!

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I prefer to use a crochet hook similar in size to my working needle to fix dropped stitches because all you have to do is put the hook through the live stitch from front to back, and then pull the next row of yarn through the live stitch with the hook from back to front. Repeat until you are back to where you started!

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Of course, if you managed to knit several rounds without the dropped stitch, that means you will need to do some finagling to work the dropped stitch all the way back to where you're currently knitting. The good news is that any wonky stitches will probably block out just fine.

Not long ago, I Instagrammed a photo of a project I was performing surgery on to fix a dropped stitch in garter:

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A lot of folks commented that they'd never thought to use T-pins to secure each row of yarn. To be perfectly honest, it had never occurred to me until this particular project, and it happened out of necessity: I kept picking up the wrong strand of yarn as I recreated the knits and purls for the garter pattern. It was really frustrating, and then I remembered this technique that a lot of lace knitters swear by. It's great for non-lace projects too because there's no need to rip back several inches of work! With just a bit of patience and a few handy tools, you can fix just about any mistake.

You'll need:
  • crochet hook
  • t-pins
  • blocking mat
  • extra needle or cable needle

Method:

First, figure out which column of stitches needs to be fixed. It may be one, two, or more. In the swatch here, I need to add two purl stitches where the arrow is pointing:

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You'll want to work from the right side of the fabric, as it's easier to read your stitches. Mark the stitches 1 row below the one you need to fix with a removable stitch marker (this is to prevent dropping down too many rows).

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Now, slowly unravel each row one by one, taking the strands of yarn and pinning them as far away from your working stitches as possible; make sure to leave enough space for all of the rows you'll need to fix so that it is easier to rework them row-by-row for the next step.

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Once you reach the stitch that needs to be fixed, remove the stitch marker and put it on your crochet hook. Now it's time to work your way back up!

If you are trying to make a knit stitch, make sure that the strand of yarn for the next row is behind the live stitch. Insert your crochet hook from front to back and pull the strand of yarn for the next row through like so:

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If you are trying to make a purl stitch, bring the strand of yarn for the next row in front of the live stitch. Insert your crochet hook from back to front and pull the strand of yarn for the next row through like so:

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Keep going until you have worked all the way back up!

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Some of the reworked stitches may look a little wonky, but a good wet blocking almost always fixes that.

I hope this tutorial helps you avoid unnecessary frogging in your projects - and if you found it helpful, please do share it with a friend!

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