Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I Can't Stop Cross Stitching!

I've dabbled here and there with cross stitch in recent years, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite crafts for stress relief during the pandemic. It doesn't take a ton of brain power (at least, not the projects I've been making!), and it's immensely satisfying to transform all those little x's into a pretty picture.

Before the pandemic hit, I'd already been working on a project from The Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery called With Love, which was a fundraiser for the Australian Bush Fires. It became one of my first shelter-in-place finishes, and after finishing it up, I was hungry for more cross stitch!
While spring cleaning, I came across a small project kit I'd forgotten about and decided to use some of my own floss, sparkly aida cloth, and a nicer frame (so, basically, just the pattern....kinda defeats the purpose of a project kit I guess!!) to stitch it up:
Then, on Star Wars Day (aka May the 4th), I couldn't resist impulse buying this adorable project kit (which also came with cool Star Wars goodies) from Spot Colors. Baby Yoda was a super quick project that only took a few days' time!
Also filed under Things I forgot I Bought But Was Happy To Rediscover When Cleaning: a 3-pack of white aida canvases! I decided to experiment with dyeing them different colors using Rit dyes and my trusty dyeing crock pot, and was pleased with the results in getting a nice light grey and sky blue:

I used one of these dyed canvases to stitch up another small project from The Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery - this one's called PiƱata Party!
The only downside of the pre-stretched canvas is that it gets progressively looser as you work on the surface. Even though it's just a little bit of slack, I'm hoping that's fixed once I find a frame to put on this canvas. Regardless, I still have plans for the other two and will probably start my next cross stitch project soon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Face Mask Sewing Bandwagon

Let me preface this post by saying that my sewing skills are just so-so (sew-sew?) fact, at the beginning of March a friend had sent me a link about sewing face masks and all I could think as I read it was, "never in a million years could I do that!" But now, two months into our SIP, I have a new obsession: sewing face masks for virtually everyone I know.

It started with my sister, who lives in Portland, OR, asking if I would mind trying to sew her something she could wear on site visits (she's an architect) - she'd been wearing a bandanna because they live in a hot spot and face masks are in short supply. Since I own a sewing machine, I figured it was worth a shot, even if it was a huge disaster. So I dug out my meager fabric stash, found some elastic tucked away with my other notions, and watched some the video tutorial which accompanies this free sewing pattern. Then I dusted off my sewing machine to make her a mask....and while I was at it, I figured, why not make masks for partner and kids, just in case they needed them, too? These first 4 masks weren't perfect, but they got the job done and are much appreciated by the recipients.
The first 4 masks that started my obsession.

At first I really hated the process - I was horribly inefficient with each step, which made for slow going. Thank goodness I already had a really nice rotary cutter, ruler and mat from Olfa on hand, or else I don't think I would have stuck with it! But with each mask, it got a little easier, so I decided to sew myself and my husband a few masks so that we could have spares to wear when others were being washed.

My weaving table has been converted into a mask sewing workstation!

Then I was at my local coffee shop (Backlot Coffee), which has pivoted to also provide the neighborhood with essential groceries like flour, yeast, beans, etc (it's been a lifesaver!) I noticed that some of the employees were wearing bandannas on their face, and wondered if they might like some masks with thicker material (I've been using 3 layers of quilter's cotton). So I asked the owner if I could donate some hand sewn masks, and they said that they would love some! Less than a week later, I showed up with a bunch of masks and have been delighted each time I see an employee wearing one of them when I stop in for my contactless coffee/grocery run.

Thank goodness for Backlot Coffee & Bodega!

And from there, it's snowballed. I reached out to some of my friends whom I know don't sew, I asked my sister-in-law, parents, uncle and cousin if they would like some masks, I even offered to sew my neighbor a few masks when we ran into them outside of Backlot and they were wearing bandannas on their faces. I've started buying fat quarters specifically with sewing masks in mind. To be honest, it's been really therapeutic as I sit at home, feeling helpless while the entire world is a dumpster fire. It's a small thing I can do to keep the people I care about healthy and safe. I've even come to enjoy the process and have figured out a few things that have sped up the process for me. I haven't made the move to start selling them anywhere - basically, I just have to like you enough to sew you a mask (and honestly, I don't feel like my sewing skills are good enough to charge for them).

Top to bottom: Avengers fabric ready to be pressed and pleated; stash fabric, also ready to be pressed and pleated; finished masks using Tula Pink Homemade Seed Stitch Fabric and Bali Watercolors Blacklight, both from Thimbles Quilt Shop.

As of this writing, I've made just over 50 masks and I plan to keep going til I run out of supplies or there's no longer a need! Once I cover everyone I know, I figure I can put some masks out for our delivery drivers or reach out to local organizations to see if anyone is accepting donations. Worst case scenario, I have a ridiculous wardrobe of face masks to fit any mood or occasion. After all, it's way more fun to wear a face mask when you actually like the fabric!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Knitter's Resources for Social Distancing in 2020 (or, What to Knit During a Pandemic)

It wasn't my intention to go cold sheep in 2020, but I'm nearly through March and still haven't purchased a single skein of yarn. This was true before the global pandemic took hold, and now here we are in the midst of event cancellations, school closures, shelter in home orders, and the ridiculousness of a toilet paper shortage that has all become the new normal. My favorite yarn event of the year, YarnCon, has been canceled, and I'm hunkered down for the foreseeable future while we try to flatten the curve here in Chicago.

Everything seems to be hanging on by a thread right now. We're all scared and nervous and unsure of what's to come - and all we can do it wait it out and hope that once we get through to the other side, we can all pick up the pieces and start putting our lives back together.

The good news is that most people are pulling together and finding ways to support one another in a way I don't think I've ever witnessed before, from checking in on neighbors to buying groceries for those who aren't able to risk leaving their house, to sharing skills and resources as we all navigate these unusual waters.

In the yarn world, people are making a point to support their local yarns stores and indie makers, especially those who have lost revenue due to the cancellations of shows and fiber festivals. I've seen lots of great posts talking about buying gift cards to support makers and yarn shops right now, and I've even seen a few indie dyers close up their shops and tell folks to support other makers who depend on selling yarn to make ends meet.

I've personally seen an uptick in sales in my Etsy shop, which is greatly appreciated at a time like this (or any time, let's face it!). And for those of you who aren't able to support the community financially right now, don't feel bad - there are still ways to help out! Just spreading the word about your favorite makers and yarn shops is a huge help, and as you work through your stash, you can participate in virtual events like meetups or craft-alongs. Just remember to support these folks when you need to replenish your stash later on! :-)

To that end, I want to do my part and share some of the creative ways fiber folks are supporting the community as we all try to flatten the curve by staying home:
I'd love to keep adding to this list - please feel free to comment with a link to something cool that you have seen this month!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

On Substituting Yarns

Hey there, it's been a while since my last post. I'm still trying to get my blogging mojo back (and TBH, my everything mojo). I will try to keep sharing posts whenever I have something interesting to share, but I don't anticipate any sort of regularity going forward. I strongly recommend signing up to get new blog posts delivered via email (there's a link on the right-hand sidebar) or following me via Bloglovin to stay up-to-date. I also share whatever I'm working with here on Instagram, if you like to see works in progress.

Ok, now that that's out of the way....substituting yarns is another much-requested topic from my reader survey a few years ago. It's one I think about a lot, because it's rare when I use the actual yarn called for in a pattern, much less the color, and I have seen a lot of really great blog posts covering this topic in recent years (I link to my favorites at the end of this post).

Here's what I've learned over the years, mostly via trial and error:

Gauge: Correct gauge is critical, otherwise there's no way your finished piece will turn out well. While this is most important for something that needs to fit a specific way (i.e. a sweater or other garment), gauge is also important for other projects. I know that a lot of accessory patterns say that gauge is not critical, but if you have too much of a difference between the stated gauge and your own, you could end up with comically tiny (or large) finished projects that will end up in the frog or donate pile.

Last but not least, if you are substituting yarn in a sweater or garment pattern, keep in mind that your gauge swatch may lie. Even if you wash it, there's really no way to replicate the weight that a full garment has when it's completely waterlogged from a full wet block - and that can majorly distort your finished garment in a way that your swatch could never predict. In fact, I had that happen recently with a test knit in which I subbed in some yarn from my stash (the now-discontinued Louet Gems) and the sleeves grew to a length that would have better suited a gorilla. While it was wet, I was able to reshape the sweater to reduce the unexpected gain in length, but that did result in sleeves that were wider than I was planning on. And they were still a bit long (I had to fold up the cuffs). So, lesson learned.
Fiber Content: Not all fibers behave the same! There are so many variables at play here, too: how a fiber is spun, how much of another kind of fiber is blended in, the inherent properties of the fiber(s) themselves....all of these factors have a direct impact on how your finished project will drape and display stitch patterns. For example, substituting a linen yarn in for a silk yarn will lead dramatically different results. And if you've ever tried to sub in a wool yarn for a cotton yarn (or vice verse) you know that they will stretch (or not) in totally different ways.

Yarn Weight: At times, the stated weight of the yarn can seem arbitrary. I've worked with skeins that were labeled "fingering weight" which were clearly lace weight, and vice versa. The line between fingering and sport weight can be murky. DK/Aran/Worsted weight apparently mean different things to different people. At this point, I'm inclined to ignore the stated yarn weight entirely in favor of measuring it myself with one of my favorite new tools: the WPI Gauge from Nancy's Knit Knacks. All you have to do is softly wrap your yarn around the tool and count the number of wraps in the one-inch increment. Apparently, being able to turn the tool as your wrap (instead of keeping the tool static and wrapping the yarn around by hand) produces more accurate results.

Needless to say, if your yarn is mislabeled, you are in for some surprises. And even if you somehow achieved the stated gauge, your fabric is going to be a lot more dense if your yarn weight is heavier than what the design calls for, or airier if the reverse is true. Sometimes, this can be desirable; other times, a disaster!

Yardage: Especially for a design that requires multiple skeins of yarn, don't forget to compare yardage to make sure you don't run out. Simply going by weight or the number of skeins listed is a  sure-fire way to lose at yarn chicken. And if you are using a hand-dyed yarn or something that comes in a limited dye lot, do yourself a favor and get a safety skein. Getting 1 more skein than you actually think you need (or maybe even 2!) is never a bad idea. Plus, if you don't break into it, you can always use it to make a matching hat or cowl, list it for sale on Ravelry, or you might even be able to exchange it for a different color at the shop where you purchased it (many dyers and yarn stores will happily exchange unused, pristine skeins of yarn, but of course you should ask about the return/exchange policy ahead of time so you are not taken by surprise!).

Yarn Color: Variegated and speckled yarns are so pretty in the skein, but they can be challenging to work with. A pattern with a complex stitch pattern that is shown in a solid or semisolid colorway was probably designed that way for a reason: the details will get lost in a more complex variegated color. Case in point, I knit this gorgeous hat with a variegated skein of yarn that I simply couldn't resist - and the stitch pattern is completely lost (if you don't believe me, click here to see the hat knit in a non-variegated colorway!).

You can learn more about yarn substitution on these blog posts:

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

New Favorite Knitting Tools

Confession time: I have a fondness for clever gadgets, especially when they relate to crafting. And let's not even talk about the ridiculous amounts of needles, hooks, and other tools I have....because today I'm going to share a few of the latest knitting tools I've tried out recently!

A few months back, I spotted something intriguing in the Indie Untangled newsletter called End Minders. They are colorful little pieces of 3D printed PLA (it's a plant-based non-toxic material that looks like plastic) in the shape of bunnies, and the idea is that you could wrap your yarn ends around them so that they don't get tangled with your working yarn in a project. They were invented by Michelle of Crafty Flutterby Creations, and when I explored her shop a little more I noticed that she had some in the shape of sheep. Of course I had to give them a try!

I have used them on pretty much every project ever since. They really do keep my cast on yarn out of the way, plus they look super cute! In fact, I like them so much that I bought a few more sets for some of my knitting friends.

Another current obsession is progress keepers, which are essentially a removable stitch marker that you can use a couple of ways: first, as the name would imply, you can clip it onto a row of your knitting or crochet project so that you can see how much you've worked since the marker was attached. That's a nice function for anyone that needs a little self-gratification on a never-ending project, but also handy for any time you need to measure from a point that isn't your cast-on edge. My other favorite use is to clip one onto the right side of the fabric so that I don't get RS/WS confusion (that happens to me way too often).

A lot of progress keepers are made with fun charms, and I recently discovered that it's super easy to make your own with just a few basic jewelry making supplies! I made some holiday themed progress keepers to give as gifts over the holidays:

Of course, I kept the snowflake for myself!

When it comes to knitting needles, I'm a sucker for interchangeable sets, and Santa was very good to me this year - a SmartStix Holiday Gift Set was under my tree! If you haven't seen these needles before, they have one-inch markings on both the needle itself, as well as the cords. This allows you to measure your progress on the fly, sans tape measure, but it also can be used to gauge WPI of a mystery yarn (just wrap it around the needle over a 1-inch marking and count the wraps). I wasn't sure how much I would need to use the needles to as a measuring tape in my day-to-day life, but it turns out that I have been saved by it on more than one occasion.

Now, the needles are already pretty cool, but the packaging is also worthy of note! The needle tips come in a soft velvet roll, which is nestled inside a really cool little case that's made with faux vegan leather and ethically sourced wood. There is a matching zipper pouch for the cords and accessories, and an attachable strap if you'd like to wear it as a purse. Personally, I think it's fun to use it as a little toolkit, and at the moment I'm keeping my WIP in it (at least, until it's too big to fit inside - I'm knitting a sweater!).

Last but not least, I was gifted a custom-made needle organization case over the holidays, and it's pretty darn spectacular. I wish I remembered who made it (oops), but isn't it cool? The fabric has all of my favorite things on it (cats, tea, knitting) and it has my Etsy Shop/Blog Name on the front:

Then it opens to reveal all sort of compartments for needles and notions, including a folding case that is removable:

I've chosen to store some of my interchangeable tips inside of the folding case, which I think might be intended for DPNs. But since I really like my Della Q DPN Roll, I thought I would try storing some interchangeable tips in it, and it seems to work just fine for this purpose!

Did you get any fun crafting tools for the holidays? I'd love to hear suggestions for gadgets I should try out!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Only Handmade Gift I Made for Christmas

When I first started knitting, I made everyone in my family scarves for Christmas one year - that would be between 10-12 scarves by my count. Each one had a different stitch pattern, some of which were beyond my skill level at the time, but somehow I got them done in time. I definitely sweated it, but managed to meet the deadline with minimal drama, if memory serves.

Over the years, I have knit a lot of gifts for people, but the numbers have been steadily declining for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it's stressful to do! Besides worrying about making the deadline, you also have to worry about it fitting, or being something that they'll end up liking/using. I've found that my idea of what people will like and enjoy can differ from reality, so I've taken to offering up a bin of finished handknits and letting folks take what they want. Their selections almost always surprise me.

So, fast forward to this year. I wasn't planning to make any gifts, but then The Madalorian came out, introducing an adorable character that looks like a baby Yoda. Naturally, several knit and crochet patterns to make The Child followed suit, and I couldn't resist this one for a Baby Yoda-inspired ornament to put in Tyler's stocking. It turned out a little bigger than I was imagining (and I even used worsted weight yarn instead of the bulky weight the pattern calls for), but it turned out well and was simple enough to whip up in a few afternoons while Tyler was away at work.

He loved it - it even might have been his favorite gift this year!