Monday, October 23, 2017

Road Trip: Woodstock, Vermont

I have been thinking and thinking about how I want to write about this. It all seems so very much, but at the same time not much at all. Do I do this in one post so as not to bore people? Do I make it the longest blog post in history? Do I split it up? So I decided to just write a few posts about it, as while I write this blog for others to read I do enjoy going back and reading about trips or family events or cute little things the nephews used to say.

So, from the beginning. A few months ago, I ended a relationship I was in that, in lovely 20/20 hindsight, was not good for me at all. I felt restless and unhappy afterwards, and felt the need for...something to happen (but no idea what that needed to be). One morning, I was going through my emails when one caught my eye. It was for an Interweave Escapes trip to Woodstock, Vermont, to hang out with other knitters in a beautiful place, taking classes taught by Arne and Carlos (my Norwegian knitting boyfriends) and Lars Rains (Mr. Icelandic Sweater--he doesn't know I call him this). It hit that hollow spot in me, and I instantly knew this was the something I needed. It seemed a little  pricey, and I have a history of being quite impulsive, so I polled my advisors (my mom and sisters) and asked if I needed to go. They agreed it sounded like a trip designed specifically for me, so I signed up and spent the following weeks squealing intermittently and saying "I'm going to VerMONT to knit!"

Kids, it was amazing. We ate with the designers (all of the amazing meals were included in the package), made new friends (and some reconnected with old friends), learned some new techniques, and had a lot of laughs. By the end of the three days, I felt as though I had known some people for years and years. There was such a variety of ages, locations, and jobs represented (from retired teacher to wildlife biologist to NASA rocket scientist), yet we were all connected by that common thread that is our craft (we even had discussions on whether that should be categorized as a fine craft). We discussed gender views of knitting, how we all got started, the size of our stashes, and anything and everything else. I am almost entirely certain that I smiled from beginning to end.

I don't have many pictures from the workshops themselves (as every minute was used--and then some--on the topic at hand), but as I complete those projects I'll share them here.

So now that we're all caught up, want to take a stroll through town?

This is the beautiful Woodstock Inn and Resort, situated right on the village green (I don't know that I've ever been somewhere with a village green, so I must record that to remember that now I have been to such a place).

The town is not a large place by any means, but it's probably exactly what you'd think of if someone asked you what a Hallmark-designed New England town might look like. The weather was absolutely divine--vibrant blue skies, that fall smell in the air, and a bit of a nip that actually felt good when it hit your face upon stepping outside.

The court house was situated right next to the inn. I would not mind having jury duty if it was in such a building as this (unlike where you have to go here in Philadelphia where you leave feeling certain that part of your soul was sucked out of your body).

Every time I passed this place people were going in/coming out (it's the Norman Williams Public Library).


I imagine these houses on The Green cost the arms and legs of several people, as well as the promise of many first-borns.They remind me of the dollhouse I had when I was little.

The small white Congregational Church, where Laurence Rockefeller (son of John, brother of Nelson) was married to his lovely wife Mary.

I don't know to whom this house belongs. It might be famous, it might not. I just wish it was mine. I feel like I can see myself in one of those upstairs bedrooms, with the window open on a summer afternoon, while I lay (lie?) sprawled on my bed reading Nancy Drew for the zillionth time.

Soooo that's downtown. The thing that kept catching me off guard is that people actually stop for pedestrians in this town. And they're not impatient while they're doing it. At home sometimes it feels like you're literally playing a game of Frogger to cross the street. People barely slow down, and they certainly don't stop.

This pharmacy had a bit of a general store feel about. It reminds me of the Mayberry pharmacy from The Andy Griffith Show.

I don't know what it is, but I love small town post offices. They close branches in big cities, but these little buildings that once served as a big connection to the outside world are so endearing.

This old general store was a lot of fun to poke around in. They had a nice grocery section, as well as gifts, toys, and housewares.

It is so rare anymore to see an indie bookshop--everything is online or a major national chain. I didn't think I needed any books right now, but I went in anyway, and found something by a local author about growing up on a Vermont farm that I neeeeded. 

I had big plans to try and capture this shot at night, but due to a certain design duo at my table at dinner I completely forgot about it. That's OK, I'm sure it was pretty.

The Whippletree is the town's yarn shop. As attendees of the retreat we received a discount to the store. I was very well-behaved and did not overindulge. I needn't have indulged at all, as we received goody bags full of yarn, and there were yarn raffles each night, but it only felt right to buy some souvenir yarn. And a pattern. And a magazine. And a lotion bar (which I hear is an amazing thing). I'll be honest--I was a little underwhelmed by the yarn shop--not a lot of selection (but room for a lot more), and not the warmest employees either. The visit was actually a little off-putting, and I wasn't the only one. As we all shared stories around the fireplace (literally!) one of the common experiences was a touch of coldness in this shop. If I were a business owner I would be pleased that two dozen knitters high on inspiration were in town, but I guess not. Not that it means much from 350 miles away, but I wouldn't go back to this place (and no, I have no idea why on earth I gave them some of my money anyway).

That's enough for one day, eh? Next time we'll go to the farm.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Winner: Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch Giveaway

Well, there wasn't a record amount of interest in owning this title, but we do have a winner, folks!

And that winner is:

Congrats, Pam! I'll be sending you a separate email to get your info.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review and Giveaway: Feminist Icon Cross Stitch

Women, huh? Can't live without 'em, can't live without 'em (that's NOT a typo). When I try to imagine what the world would look like without a feminine influence, I shudder. We are the unsung heroes of history, the by-nature nurturers, the makers of pretty spaces, and the peace peddlers. We rise early, go to bed late, and cram a multitude of things (work, kids, home-making, and a million other tasks) into every available minute  of every day. We have brilliant minds that have given themselves to some of the greatest accomplishments in history. We are designed to grow an entire being within us, and are then bodily equipped to sustain that tiny human's life. We make it through our days whether with cramps or migraines, and sniff with haughty derision at the notion of a man cold. We are strong, and we are beautiful. Many of the people I admire most are women. Women who have had struggles both public and private, and have managed to come through with grace and dignity, and not a hair out of place.

When I was asked if I'd like to review this book, I immediately said yes because I loved the title. Feminist Icon Cross Stitch. It sounds like a feminist oxymoron--a quaint little craft that hearkens back to yesteryear, juxtaposed with feminism? Well, why not? Feminism isn't about eschewing our past or the things we may like because they are traditionally girly, but in recognizing that we have a choice to do those things, instead of being assigned those tasks because it's thought we can't handle anything more. It's the choice that makes the difference.

This book contains thirty designs to celebrate strong women. It's got a little bit of how-to, a little bit of history, and a good bit of patterns to choose from.

The very beginning shows you the assortment of patterns available to stitch--most are actual people, some are historic icons, and some are quotes.

Counted cross-stitch is one of the easier fiber crafts to indulge in, but in case you're unfamiliar there's a 'basics' section at the beginning of the book that discusses supplies and the stitches you'll need to stitch your way through the book (with some helpful diagrams as well).

Each woman in this book gets a brief write-up of the accomplishment(s) she is best known for.

After the bio, there is the cross-stitch pattern, as well as the DMC floss color numbers so you can get an exact match to the design.

And then a photo of the actual stitchery. Some of the designs could use a little more detail to make them more realistic (but then it crosses into the more advanced arena, which might make it less appealing).

Along with the book, I received a cute little accompanying box of goodies--magnets, buttons, and patches all based on designs from the book.

The first thing I thought of with this book was "What a great gift to give a young girl--it's a classic craft, and along the way she'll learn about a number of women who said 'You know what? Your way doesn't really work for me, so I'm going to do my own thing and absolutely kick butt, m'kay?'" I think it'd be a great gift to give a boy, too--the actual stitch-work might be difficult to convince him of, but there's plenty to learn within the pages of this book. We often try to convey that it's good to learn about other places and cultures, but in the words of Abigail Adams "Please remember the ladies."

Now for the giveaway--I've got a copy of this book to give away to one of you lovely folks. Just leave a comment about your favorite woman (famous or otherwise) and a way to contact you if you win (if your email isn't linked to your comment) and I'll have this book sent your way. Giveaway is open until Saturday, October 21st at 11:59 p.m, and I'll pick a random winner the next day. This contest is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the kit at no charge in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. For my complete disclosure policy, click here.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Baby Blanket for Nobody

Hello? Anyone still there? I swear I got up to get a cup of tea and here we are several days into October already. I've had nothing but sweater angst (I finished a sweater and then unfinished it and salvaged the yarn for a different sweater--you'll get the details if I ever finish it), but I completely forgot to share a baby blanket with you that I made over the summer.

I made this sweater with the sincerest of intentions--I delighted in how the yarn worked up, I filled each stitch with good wishes, I felt excited for its eventual gifting. And then....I had one of those situations where you can no longer give that thing to the person you intended it for without seeming like some kind of lunatic (see related theory: curse of the boyfriend sweater. And if you think it's all rot I'm now 2 for 2 when it comes to proving that theory correct).

But anyway. Babies will always be born. They will need something soft and snuggly. So I will carefully put this away until it is needed. So moving on to the blanket.

This blankie is a perfect one yard by one yard square. The yarn is Bernat Softee Baby in Gray Marl, and is such a divine yarn to work with. It's a baby-weight acrylic (easy wash and dry) and the color is just fabulous. It's a gray and white twist, so it works up with this almost silvery sheen from a distance, but lets you see the separate colors when you get up close and personal.

As I was stitching I frequently stopped and sighed, saying "Isn't this color great?" as I held up the thus-far blanket for everyone to see.

I used a 'G' hook on this, and your basic corner-to-corner instructions that you can find anywhere online with a simple search. The intended recipient was a boy, so I didn't want a frilly feminine border. I did a single round of half-double crochet, playing with the spacing until it was laying nice and flat without pulling.

I was curious if, after a wash and dry, the blanket would stretch beyond its one square yard starting point, but it did not. It came out of the dryer oh so soft and fluffy, but the same size as when it went in.

So while this won't be going to its intended home, it was made with love and happy thoughts, so hopefully those are transferable.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Boho Chic Embroidery

I have a habit that might be considered bad. I'll see someone doing something (usually on YouTube) and think "I want to learn to do that." That's not the bad part. What I do, before I even try the thing, is I go out and stock up on everything I could possibly need for whatever it is. Wanna learn to knit? Buy all the kinds of needles, right now (OK, that one worked out). Think you're going to learn how to paint even though you don't have the genetics for it? Buy every kind of paper, brush, and paint you can think of before you start. A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to learn embroidery. I've done counted cross-stitch plenty of times, so what wouldn't I like about it? Well, old me would have bought every kind of floss and fabric and seventeen books on the matter. New me decided to sit on it a little bit (kind of like waiting twenty minutes for a craving to pass). Then I received an email asking if I'd be interested in reviewing 'one of the following kits,' and lo and behold, there was an embroidery kit. What a perfect chance to see if I'd like it.

The kit that I chose is called Boho Chic Embroidery. It has a bit of a folksy flair to it (and you guys know how much I love my folk art), so it was a very impatient wait for it to arrive.

Now, I do love me a neat and tidy kit. And this one included everything to enable you to stitch twelve different designs and two projects.

Out of the box you get ten different colors of embroidery floss, two different needles (embroidery and millinery), iron-on transfer sheets, a hoop, some fabric, and a book of stitches and projects, all nice and neat.

Having never embroidered before, I was only familiar with the backstitch and the French knot, so almost everything was brand new to me.

Each stitch was explained in text and in pictures, and I had no problems following any of them. Many is the time I have turned to Google to clear up confusion caused by poorly written instructions. Twelve of the (I'm assuming) most common stitches are clearly spelled out.

The instructions are clear (though I didn't have the most fun I've ever had flipping back and forth between the stitch directions and the project directions). I went for the project above, as it had a large variety of stitches I've never done, so I figured it was a good learning experience.

So my iron-transfer skills could use some work, but I have one of those Frixion pens that disappears with heat, so I drew in any details that didn't fully transfer over. And then I just dove right in.

So those are my chain stitches and some stem stitches. Not bad for a newbie. I found this highly addictive and just kept going and going and going, not realizing it was taking me much longer than I thought it would.

I told myself I was not allowed to take out any stitches unless they were severely bungled. Imperfect stitches had to stay. I did this for two reasons: one so that I could actually finish the project this century, and the second is that when it comes to pieces like this I do love seeing that a human hand was involved in the making. Oh, maybe a third reason--I think it's fun to have something to measure progress against. When I look at early knitting or sewing projects, I chuckle at newbie me, totally unaware of how practice makes not-quite-perfect-but-tons-better.

This design had so many repetitive elements I could gauge progress on this one piece alone. For example, those hearts--those to the left of the photo were the early efforts, and those to the right were later on; you can see the improvement just there. I'm going to ask you not to look at the big red flower or the orange ones--blanket stitch is on my must-practice list.

Another thing I do is that I jump right into something without an actual plan, so I had this really cute piece without an idea. I figured I'd frame it (and when A-train saw it and said "That's really nice! Are you going to make it into a picture?" I took that as confirmation that was what I indeed must do).

I think you can tell that I thought this is a great little starter kit. If you're not sure if embroidery is for you, but would like to find out, I think something like this would be a good place to begin. You get everything you need to get a good idea of if you'll have the patience for it, or even the physical ability to do it (it's not easy on the eyes, and hand stitching for a long time is not great for the hands or the back/neck--but I don't do things in moderation so if you're a normal person who understands the importance of breaks and stretching you'll be just fine). The instructions were clear, and the little book is pretty comprehensive.

As 'luck' would have it I have an old book of embroidery stitches upstairs. It belonged to my great aunt (I think--maybe one of her daughters) but found it's way to me. I've kept it for nostalgic purposes, but now I can't wait to look at it and see what else I can fashion from needle and floss.

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the kit at no charge in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. For my complete disclosure policy, click here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Utotia in cork (and some advice if you want it...)

You folks know I've had an almost decade long love affair with u-handbag, right? It's where I've learned so many tips and tricks and has been a place for sourcing a lot of fun hardware and frames. Much to my immense chagrin, they are closing up shop at the end of October. I went on a bit of a pattern splurge when I heard the news (and possibly a bit of an all-the-other-things splurge, as well). One of the things I bought was an everything-but-the-fabric kit for their Utotia bag. (UPDATE: THEY HAVE JUST ANNOUNCED THEY ARE NOT CLOSING UP SHOP, BUT DUE TO CUSTOMER BEGGING WILL CONTINUE TO RUN AS NORMAL BUT UNDER A NEW MANAGER--YIPPEEEEEE!!!!!).

(Brief tangent): A while ago I made this wallet. My first idea was to make it out of that cork fabric you're seeing everywhere now, but had too difficult of a time matching up a binding and so on. So I held onto the cork fabric (with no idea what I was going to do with it as it wasn't very big of a cut). I bought the aforementioned kit (back to the main story now), but couldn't find fabric I loved. Then, in the shower (literally--does anyone else get great ideas in there?) I thought "Dummy! Use the cork for the tote!" Two problems solved at once. The cork was just a teeeeeeny bit too small for the pattern recommendations, but it's such a simple design I made the adjustments in my sleep.

This bag has a fair bit of things I've never used/done before, and you lucky folks get to read all about them (I can practically see you all chair dancing in excitement).

First off, my new bag (the smaller of the two sizes):

I wish you could feel the cork. It feels so supple and luxurious. I'm hoping I don't find out, but I'm pretty sure it could be wiped clean. A-train thought I drew those flowers on the fabric and was impressed (I came clean--I told him Aunt Leesh probably could, but not Aunt Bee).

The corners were pre-cut pleather pieces. I think I've sewn with pleather once, but never cork, so I had a touch of nervousness doing it. Though not inexpensive, it still is only fabric, so I just took my time and went for it.

There are only a few places (on the underside) where I hiccupped the stitching, but you can only see it if you turn the bag upside down (and who would do that, really?). Boxing the corners was not the most fun I've ever had, and it's not perfect in the alignment of things, but only my fellow members of Club OCD and I would notice anything amiss.

I am quite sold on the sheer fun of top-stitching on these kinds of fabrics though. Simple stitching surely stands out when using a thicker thread.

The lining. It's quite standard fare. I had started off with a different fabric entirely. My sister walked by a few times and looked at it. Then she came back and said "I'm sorry, is that what you're using? I don't think I can let you." I wasn't entirely certain myself, as it was looking quite different than when I had bought it, so I was glad for her input. I did have to trot back out to the fabric store, but I'm happier with the result (even if it's not ideal--whyyyyy do they never have the perfect fabric you've dreamed up in your head?). It was not easy finding a good match as the exterior is a bit muted, but I am of the firm belief that a pop of red never hurt anything, so I went with a solid.

Years ago I started putting elastic in the tops of the pockets for bags I made for friends, but never myself (I frequently sell myself short when I make things for me as 'I don't care'--I would like to state retroactively that I do care, as just that little bit of security at the top is so much nicer than plain fabric that tends to flop). The pattern called for a padded tablet pocket on the other side, but I went for a standard zip pocket instead.

The zipper is your basic suspension bridge installation.

I had bought some zippers from an etsy shop, and they included this pull with my purchase. It seemed to match the bag, so I popped it on (I usually use a piece of ribbon or sew a fabric loop). Instead of fabric tabs I used some fancy shiny hardware on the ends of the zippers. I haven't used the bag yet so I haven't road tested them to know if I like them or if they're secure enough, but I do like the way they look.


The straps are plain pleather affairs with matching webbing sewn to the wrong side. They are attached with something called Chicago screws--they serve the same function and have a similar look as rivets, but no hammering is required.

And there's a matched-up tab on the inside of the bag for extra strength--

This was the single most difficult part of the bag. It was easy enough to mark the spots and use an awl to create the holes. It was much more difficult, with all the interfacing and layers, to make that hole large enough for the screw to go through and secure the strap. The first one had me cursing and so tense my shoulders were up around my ears. By the time I got to the last one I had my method figured out and everything was much simpler. And let me tell you--when you feel the threaded end of the screw catch and things coming together, it is beyond satisfying.

I wanted the stitching to stand out so I used top-stitching thread (regular thread in the bobbin). I love it. I thought "Why haven't I done this before?" When I was cleaning up afterwards and tidying my mess of a thread bucket, I found several spools (unused) of top-stitch thread, so clearly I've had several intentions of using the stuff, but just haven't.

OK, if you're still here, here are the things I've never/rarely done and some (hopefully) helpful tips.

  • Cork fabric--this is a very thin layer of cork on a fabric backing. I added no interfacing to this. I used a Microtex 90/14 needle, and increased my stitch-length to 4.0 (my machine goes up to 5.0). I could probably have gone longer, but I would not go shorter. 
  • Pleather--I've used this once before (see here) and it was a fairly painless endeavor. As the pleather bits were a bit stiffer here, I used a top-stitching needle (with a long stitch length). I did not backstitch anywhere, but pulled the threads to the wrong side and triple-knotted them there for security.
  • Metal zipper ends--I've seen these and they certainly add some swag to your bag. The screws are very small, so if it's late at night and your hands are sore and you're all thumbs (like me) you might want to wait for daylight, or you'll be driven to lots of naughty words. Otherwise, they're very simple--just slip them onto the ends and screw them on tightly.
  • Chicago screws--as an alternative to rivets I love these (although sometimes hammer pounding is very satisfying). The problems I encountered here are the same I have with eyelets and grommets--your goal is to create a very small and precise hole without destroying your bag, or making the hole travel beyond the hardware. I used my seam ripper very carefully to get things started a wee bit, then switched to my sharp-tipped scissors. There was a lot of checking and resnipping, but eventually I prevailed. Maybe don't do these after a fresh manicure, though.
One final bit here--on interfacing. Interfacing is so insanely necessary for adding strength and structure to your bags. It gives them body and shape, and really helps them last so much longer than they would without it. I did not use interfacing on the cork, but I used woven fusible on the lining (if I was using regular fabric for the exterior I'd have used it there instead). I waffled on if I wanted to use the provided Flex-foam interfacing as the cork was quite stiff, but in the end decided to. I'm so glad I did--it's so lightweight but really gives this bag a scrumptious feel. It's not cheap, and it's off a narrow bolt, but for certain bags it really makes all the difference. Here's what it looks like--

It's a thin layer of airy foam sandwiched between two layers of thin fabric. It comes in sew-in, and one and two-sided fusible. I prefer the sew-in variety--I find I get some bubbling with the fusibles, and this stuff is very satisfying to cut so I don't mind trimming it from the seam allowances (very nerdy, I know). It gives a lot of body of structure to a bag, but also a nice level of squish. 

My other go-to is fusible fleece, which looks like this:

While thinner and more flexible, it's much denser and can be a little more bulky to sew through. While providing nice body and squish, it doesn't provide a ton of structure. So while these are my two favorite interfacings (three if you count the woven fusible), the choice really depends on the kind of bag you want--more or less structured, basically, as they both add body.

Modifications I might make: normally I'd like a bit of a longer strap, but I was limited as this is what came in the kit. I'd use purse feet on the bottom, which would work nicely with a rigid bag bottom. I'm not sure if the bottom will sag at all, so I might cover some plastic in the remaining lining fabric and stick it in the bottom of the bag for more support.

Whew. If you're still here, hopefully some of this was helpful to you. This was the last of the sewing projects I had lined up for myself, but then I got an order for five change purses. I've got everything cut and fused and ready to sew, so I might as well sew these while my nail polish is already destroyed (my nails never get out alive when it comes to frame purses). Look at me, sewing bags again, just like the good old days.


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