Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A One Handed Manicurist Did Not Make These Flowers

So here's something. Last night I had a dream. I rarely remember my dreams but this one I did and felt the need to share it with everyone today. Not just you everyone...everyone everyone.

In this dream, I fell madly head over heels in love with a one-handed manicurist. I remember he had a daughter whose mother was not in the picture, and she was about eight, and he was an excellent father. This is all I remember, other than knowing that we had fallen madly in love after only knowing each other for a day (you know how you just know things in dreams? Like "It didn't look like Grandma's house in my dream but I knew that's what it was supposed to be?"). I'd love to know the symbolism of the (quite ironic) one-handed manicurist that I fell for. It was so intense I woke up feeling like it had actually happened, and had a bit of a "Wait....whaaat?" moment while becoming fully awake. Anyone have a dream book?

OK, so I do have something to share with you that I made. I have just been wildly fascinated by this dream for some reason. On Saturday I woke up and decided I was going to see just how many colorful bits of yarn I could turn into maybelle flowers. Do you ever get that urge that you just have to do that thing right then and there, even though it is not necessary or important in any capacity other than making your heart a little glad? That was how it was, and once I started I could not stop until I had an even dozen.

I used some leftover bits of Stylecraft and what was left of my bon-bons after making these flowers. These have got to be some of the most addictive bits I have ever made. Ever. I kept telling myself "Just one more and I'll get on with the day" but I could just not stop. I think I know what crack addicts feel like but y'know, on a smaller scale and in a healthier way. So maybe not so much like that...

The one on the left (above) I had to make oh-so-slightly different. I was determined to have a flower in that color (it's more aqua than the picture allows for) but I ran out of yarn with just a wee bit left. I had to frog and then tweak the number of stitches a little bit. I made it, but just barely. You can't even tell the difference in the pattern between the two. Good to know should such emergencies arise again.

I chained a length of yarn and strung these up on it to make a garland. I tacked it up over my closet doors to add a pop of color. I dig it big time. I have no picture, but I'm sure you can imagine these in a line.

I'm including this picture (and leaving Charlie's paw in) for two reasons. Number one: a wreath of rainbow flowers? OK. It reminds me of this project (still one of my favorites ever). And number two: to show you (as though this proves it) that the dog only has any sort of interest in me when I lay things out to photograph. He will ignore me sunrise to sunset, but if I lay something out for a picture, he is sniffing it, pawing it, laying on it, sitting next to it, and so on.

I've got one more project to share with you. All I'm going to say is I don't know how so many people all those years ago made so many doilies without having to be committed somewhere.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Crocheted Flower Wreath

Ever since I made oodles of flowers to hang on these branches, I have been on a small-scale project crochet kick. My sewing machine has had no appeal to me of late, but my crochet hooks sure have had some. I think I've hooked up more flowers in the last few weeks than I have ever grown successfully. When my mom was putting up her Easter decorations a few weeks ago she realized she didn't have a wreath for the front door for spring/summer. I told her I'd remedy that situation for her. After several nights of reading through books and following along online, I had a nice little assortment of crocheted flowers.

My original plan was for sunflowers and daisies, but that wasn't enough color so I picked up some orange and added some hot pink that I had on hand to pump up the color.

I made roses, marigolds, sunflowers, daisies, and a zinnia, along with bunches of leaves. Well...I'm calling them that. I didn't like the daisy pattern I found, so I made another in daisy colors and am calling that a daisy. There's a puffy orange one that didn't have a name, but it reminds me of a zinnia. The one that took me the longest was the sunflower--the center and the petals were done separately and then sewn together, with the center part taking almost as long as the flower.

I used a brown flecked yarn for the center--it reminds me a little of seeds. It's quite bobbly in there. The petals took forever, but they have this nifty curl to them so they're not all floppy.

I had bought a grapevine wreath as the styrofoam ones were too too small, and the ones made of what looks like straw or hay were a little too reminiscent of fall. It wasn't until I had everything sewn together and laid out that I realized that my plan A of hot glue was not going to work. So I wove a length of the brown yarn through the back of each flower, and then tied them (carefully but snugly) to the wreath.

These kinds of wreaths are fairly fragile and tend to have pieces break off as the wood gets drier. I didn't want the wreath to be in a shambles and the flowers still be fine, so this ended up being a good temporary method--I can rescue the flowers if the wreath gets too bad looking just by snipping the yarn. The wreath only cost a few dollars post coupon, so it wouldn't upset me greatly if it made it only through this summer.

For the bow I had bought a length of green burlap to go with my rustic sunflower look, which I had matched to the leaf yarn.  The thickness and stiffness of burlap made the bow quite easy to get into shape, and there was just the right amount for a just-right sized bow.

My mother likes things simple and not overly full, so there are only ten flowers to this wreath. I had made an even dozen, but my sister vetoed two of them (they were my least favorites too--I did not choose the colors wisely) when we were playing with the arrangement. So, are you ready to see the whole thing?

The roses came from an old Mollie Makes issue, and the marigolds and daisies came from this book, but the sunflower I made using this tutorial, and the 'zinnia' I made using this one. The leaves were courtesy of Attic 24. The yarn is all Red Heart worsted weight acrylic. I've already got ideas for the green, orange and yellow for fall, and white always comes in handy so my plentiful leftovers will be put to good use. The pink was stashed so I was pleased to finally move it on out.

These are some of my favorite kinds of projects to make. Kind of quick, but not instant, and looking mighty cute and perfect for display. You might think this would have fulfilled my need to crochet flowers, but you'd be wrong. More on that to come.

Linking up here:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Craftivism: A Review

I recently received a review copy of the soon-to-be-released book Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. When I was asked if I'd be interested, my attitude was one of "Sure, why not? Might be interesting." I was pleasantly surprised at just how interesting it is, as well as how quickly I devoured it. It's largely a collection of essays written by folks who use their craft to make an impact on the world, whether through providing blankets for warmth, pieces for political movements, or food for thought.

Loooove the way 'craftivism' is shown--

I want to 'write' a word like that.

The part that drew me in was the opening of the very first essay. I found myself nodding vigorously with agreement. Sayraphim Lothian makes pieces of art that she leaves in cities around the world (!) for strangers to find (and keep, if they like). Her philosophy is summed up in the first paragraph:
I'm a joyful optimist. I want the world I live in to be a wonderful place, a place where neighbors chat to each other over fences and people new to the building are welcomed with a plate of home-baked treats. A place where, if you walked along a footpath in the city, you might find a random piece of art hanging from a tree or a poem inscribed on a wall. I want the world to be a place where magical or surreal moments are commonplace, where you never know what's going to be around the next corner.
It brought to mind the story I read this winter about the person leaving scarves around the city of Ottawa with a note telling folks that it wasn't missing or lost, but was placed there in case the finder was in need of warmth. How delightful would life be if something fun, or even something that we needed, was just there, literally around the corner, waiting for us to stumble upon?

There's the tale of an art show where the pieces were sold for the hefty price of "ten random acts of kindness to a stranger." I often get criticized for how I price my goods. I don't charge nearly enough, and I so know it. Perhaps I'll attach a secondary price tag of random acts to make up the difference, and have folks pay it forward.

There's the story of the girl who leads workshops in making things ugly. Folks sit around a plethora of materials and make dolls or toys that are deliberately less than attractively formed. Not focusing on perfection not only makes the experience more fun, but also forces people to let their guards down a bit as there's no pretense of perfection to hide behind. I feel like there's a lesson for world leaders in there somewhere...

There are the folks in India and Chile who create quilted pieces that subliminally tell tales of oppression and horror--

Specifics weren't detailed in the book on the quilted pieces, but they're hugely metaphorical. I totally dig the 'secret code' aspect of these.

Perhaps the cutest thing in the book is this knitted mouse:

Remember a few years ago how 'Occupy' set up camp in cities around the world and led protests against the elite rich by the more abundant have-nots? This mouse was a bit of a mascot for a London protest. Give the toy to a child and it means something harmless in a Tom and Jerry sense. Give it to a seasoned adult who works hard for their money and it means something entirely different.

Like any book of this sort, there were some aspects that I barely skimmed. The interviews weren't the most interesting parts, and there were one or two essays that were a little dull. But for a book that isn't very big, so many crafts, so many movements, so many ideas and people and personalities are covered within its pages that it shows how anyone can use their craft to improve their world. 

Over the past ten plus years, since I first started making things, I have made scarves and hats to donate to a local school. I have used up leftover yarn to stitch up squares to send to Warm Up America. I've used a ton of stash fabrics to make pillowcase dresses for girls in Africa. I've made bags to be auctioned off at fundraisers. Money doesn't excite me. I enjoy the creative making process, and I love the idea that someone, somewhere may be a little bit warmer because I tend to have craft supply buying issues. I had no idea that I was being a craftivist, or being part of some kind of movement. It just felt like a nice thing to do.

So would I recommend this book? Absolutely. There's something for everyone--cross-stitchers, refashionistas, quilters, community artists, and so on. And who knows. Maybe I'll start leaving little doo-dads around my city (because heaven knows I am NOT a world traveler, harharhar). And when people cock their heads and scrunch their noses and ask "Why do you like to do that?" I can tell them that I make a difference. Maybe not to the world, but at the very least to my world.

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book 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.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quilted Weekender Bag

Sometimes I am ridiculous. (Side note: as I typed that, in my head I heard one of my sisters snort derisively and say "Sometimes!?!" I'm not sure which one though, so I guess it means they would both say that). Anyway, after this travel set was delivered to its quite happy recipient, I was asked to make a weekender in the same fabric. I've made enough bags that I should have felt quite confident in working this out. So what did I do? I bought a pattern. Urrrgghhh, I know, I know. I wish I could say I instantly regretted it, but it took me a long time to even look at the instructions after I bought them, so I couldn't ask for a refund without looking like I was trying to pull something over. It just irks me when someone touts their years and years of sewing experience and then shares something that has elements that make no sense to me as a bag maker. It wasn't until I was in too far to quit that I realized how I could have made this simpler and better. So now I feel I have to make another one just to prove that to myself. See? Ridiculous.

Anyway, here's the bag I made this week (I worked on it in small bits spread out over several days, but it really didn't take me that long to do).

It's about twenty inches wide, and then twelve high and deep. It's a sturdy bag but a bit floppy so I've got it stuffed with afghans so you can see the shape. You can't really see it but I quilted wide squares on this (about three inches square). The pattern has you layer your lining with the exterior and make a quilt. While the prospect of raw edges being visible was making me twitch, I do like that the inside is quilted, too--

I modified the straps a little as I didn't want to use jute as the pattern called for--I wish I had made them a little wider but they are sturdy and comfortable just the same. They're long enough to sling this over your shoulder, but also short enough that you could carry it in your hand comfortably.

One of the first things that bothered me was the side pocket. The pattern directs you to make it by covering your lovely quilting with this pleated pocket. In seeing finished photos I decided I did not like the look of it, plus it would cover all my quilting work. So I top-stitched my quilt grid on the fabric that was going to be my pocket to keep the look flowing. Having a quilted bag and an unquilted end pocket would be one of those weird things that would irk me. Though I removed the pocket volume by not adding pleats it is still plenty roomy. This bag is basically a huge tube with the two end squares sewn to it. I greatly dislike making things that way as it can be difficult to get things to match up correctly, even when you measure and mark as directed....ahem...

I was going to say how securely those straps are stitched--four lines of stitching plus the boxed x for security...but I think I'll just direct your attention to that lint I need to brush off. I don't want you to think I'm not completely aware of how awful that looks.

And now, here is a pic that shows things I hate about this pattern. As the maker, not the user. As the user I wouldn't bat an eye, but as the seamstress they irk me.

First--excuse the stitching. My big machine started giving me some trouble so I switched to my small one. It was balking a little at the layers and looks worse on this side than the other. But that's not what I want to whine about. I'm not a fan of binding bags unless it's as a decorative feature around the top edge or something like that. I feel that raw edges should be able to be hidden in a bag, and that serging them as directed was not a suitable option for me. I felt like that would cheapen it. So I went with binding, which wasn't fun as there are a few quite thick layers in there (again the machine fought me a little). I considered binding the pieces individually before I sewed them all together, but that would bug me as well, so I did my best at the end and I'm not dissatisfied though it's not my finest. The other thing is that zipper. According to the pattern, on each side of the zipper I should have two inches of fabric that I would then hand-sew to the rest of the bag. And why? Why even bother with that extra fabric that makes no sense? So I pinked it. I like the look of pinking and it's in an area where you won't see it, so I'm fine with it. Well after the fact I realized I could have whipped up some bias tape and encased the edges that way, but I was so obsessed with the "WHYYYYY??!?!?!?!" of this pattern that I was in grumbling mode and not thinking mode.

It's hard to see in this photo but just to the right of and behind the zipper you can see a flap of fabric. There is one on each end of the main zipper to serve as pull tabs. I altered the installation of those as the directed method would have led to a broken needle or two

OK, so all's well that ends well. Any gripes I have with this bag are with the making process and not with the finished product in any way. It's sturdy, it's roomy, and it's cute. But I think in the future I'll just be doing my own thing. Because then I'll have no one to blame but myself. Which is also true in this situation, but I'm choosing to ignore that fact right now. Especially since I could have followed my own instructions and been much happier with the outcome...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Tale

At the Easter vigil mass earlier tonight I was reminded of how solemn a holiday Easter is, especially the week preceding the actual celebration. So I decided to share an Easter tale with you to bring some levity to the day. 

It was about fifteen years ago. I weighed a good bit less and looked cuter in a lot more things, one of them being this long olive green skirt that I had that was slightly A-line and fit just right. I wore it to church for Easter mass with the family. On our return home, the sun was hitting the front door (which is all glass) in such a way that it was practically a mirror. So I decided to hitch up my skirt to see how it would look short. I pulled it way up, and turned to face everyone, thinking I'm being funny with my now-scandalously short skirt. I said "Hey guys, what do you think of this?" My dad was the only one who reacted as he was standing behind me, right where the slit was. The slit that was now revealing my rear end to him. My modest father, on Easter Sunday, being partially mooned by his eldest daughter. All he said was "Oh come on now." I had no idea what his problem was until I went upstairs to change. I laughed and laughed, and I'm laughing still as I'm typing this. If he had only gotten the house key ready quicker I wouldn't have had the chance to display how much of a lady I am.

So...uhhhh....Happy Easter!!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Heeeere!!

It's amazing. A little sunshine, a little warmth, and the world wakes up. It's taken a long time to show itself, but spring has sprung. I had big sewing plans this weekend, but the weather was too nice. I felt like I had to be outside doing something, just to soak up some fresh air. I cut out the pieces for a bag I have in the works, and used the need for the adhesive on the interfacing to set as an excuse to go outside. My mother and I scrubbed down and swept off the porch, cleaning the cushions and the railings and all that jazz. We recovered the chairs and my dad put a fresh coat of paint on the frames. No flowers or anything yet, but just having clean or new cushions makes everything look bright and cheerful and relaxing with the freshness of it all.

You know it's spring when the chalk basket gets replenished for little kid (and sometimes big kid) hands.

After all the work bits were done on Sunday afternoon, we sat outside with our mugs of tea and just...sat. Every year I eagerly await the blooming of our neighbor's pear tree. A few days ago there weren't even buds on the trees, but now they're almost fully in bloom.



It kind of blows my mind just how quickly things changed from a week go, and even from day to day. No color, hardly anything on the trees, and now everything is coming back to life in a matter of days.

A perfect little bird landed on a perfect little branch and posed for a perfect little picture...before my camera was ready. When I finally had my business together, it turned and mooned me before flying away.

It was delightful to do outdoorsy things that didn't require layers and snow boots. I knitted seven dishcloths in one week for an order I had, so getting off the couch was the perfect remedy to my getting-sore hands and my already-sore butt. I took the day off of work today to catch up on some sewing and made some good progress. I've got to take my big sewing machine in for service as the shaft has gone and gotten itself a little crooked, so I'm muddling through with my other one. I've definitely become spoiled with all the bells and whistles. I feel inclined to lose my temper over this as this machine purchase did not come without its woes. But my mother has informed me that "These things happen" and I guess she's right. I've done it before and I suppose I can again live with no automatic thread cutter. I wonder if that's enough to get you deemed a martyr...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bright Branches

After finishing the never-ending afghan of navy blue, I needed to work with color. I wanted something quick but fun and easy that would also be super cute. As I mentioned in this post, the plan was to use all that bright yumminess to stitch me up some flowers. I picked a few from this book that seemed to fit the bill, as well as using a few tuts from Attic 24. I'm not sure how many episodes of Downton Abbey I stitched through (I signed up for Amazon Prime and my mom, sister Alicia and I have been glued to it in any mutual spare time), but I finally had what was determined to be enough.

Even weaving in the ends and sewing on the leaves and all that jazz was enjoyable, as each little bit made me giggle with its cuteness.

Some flowers I made once, others I made several times. Some took some time (and some frogging), others just flew off the hook in their simplicity. Looking at them all laid out is just delightful, eh?

This pink one is my favorite out of the lot, simply because of the colors.

But the teeny ones are my favorite in their teeny, flowery cuteness. I was going to add some buttons to the centers, but once they were all finished and hanging out together I didn't think it was necessary. I could have gone on and on making these as they're quite satisfying to make. But then my yarn-flower adorned tree branches wouldn't have looked realistic....

I couldn't tell you how many photos I tried to take, but this window is just not placed in a prime spot for great photos. But it's enough that you get the idea.

I have all my stuff ready to make a summery wreath for the front door, but I've got a few projects to finish up first. But no worries--if summer takes as long to get here as spring did I have until at least August to make it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Warren of Scuts

FYI, a 'warren' is what you call a group of rabbits, and a 'scut' is their cute little squishy bunny tail. Consider that today's vocabulary lesson. And you thought you just stopped by for the stitchery....

While perusing the posts on some of the linky parties I hook up to, I saw a post that I immediately pinned. Though it didn't feel like spring or look like spring, the calendar said it was indeed spring. So I decided to get with the making (even though it looked like January outside) so I could have an Easter craft under my belt. Following this tutorial, I spent a fun few evenings clipping and stitching and stuffing and tying until I had my own herd (another acceptable word for rabbit groups--are you writing all this down?). 

Bunny line-up. Who dunnit?

Almost all of the fabrics came from my stash. I bought one--the coral one with the little circles that mimic bunny ears where they overlap. I bought one of those multi-packs of ribbons around Christmas, and used those for the little bunny bowties.

Bunny punishment. Stand and face the wall. 

Would you look at those adorable bunny scut butts? I hot glued on a simple pom-pom after spending way too long pondering where an upright bunny would have a tail. I think this view is ridiculously adorable, and wanted to tie the bows facing this direction, but thought that would be pretty dang confusing. I know, I could leave them this way as the bow is implied, but it took me forever to make them look even halfway decent.

Bunnies right turn! March!

I do believe my favorite thing about these is the pinked edges. If left to my own devices I would have found it necessary to sew these inside out and turn without even thinking of sewing them right sides out and pinking the edges. Sooooo easy this way and I love the look it gives. As usual my stuffing could use some help, but I think I'm at the point where I can accept good enough when it comes to stuffing things. It's not like I do it that often.

I think these two ended up being my favorite. Throw in some gray and you have my current favorite color combination.

As is so often the case I make things due to cuteness and the neeeeed to have them right away, without any forethought as to what I'm actually going to do with them. So right now they're all standing guard over a basket of fabric eggs I made a couple of years ago.

The great thing about these is that you don't need very much fabric to make them, and they are so super quick. It's one of those projects where you almost feel tempted to just keep going and going until you have a roomful of bunnies. Y'know....they'd multiply like rabbits. See what I did there? I'm here all week, folks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Afghan for my Dad

I love to make things for my family and friends. It's very rare that I feel possessive over something I've made, as most of the time I enjoy the process itself. But when I think back over the past ten years (when I first learned to knit and crochet) I can count on two fingers the things I've made my dad--a knitted scarf, and some canvas covers to keep any light out of those giant jug things you use when you make your own wine. Last year, in the midst of some afghan or another, he said to me jokingly "You should make me a Penn State afghan." I gave a quick search and came up with nothing to guide me. I back-burnered it as if I was going to make one I'd have to make my own chart, and if it's not stick figures or rainbows it doesn't get drawn by me.  He never mentioned it again. On a whim a few months ago I looked again, and found a crochet pattern for a Penn State afghan. Here's the link to the pattern. I don't know when the PSU copyright police will intervene (if at all) so if you're interested grab a copy now.

I started this project on Super Bowl Sunday. I'm pretty sure I've made it about twice, once you consider the amount of frogging and restitching I did. The whole thing is done in half double crochet, which always gives me fits along the edges. I literally counted every single stitch for a loooong time to make sure nothing was getting wonky. I finally found my rhythm, running a marker over each row on the page as I finished. I must have been cock-eyed at one point as I goofed up what is essentially highlighting, and had to rip out a third of what I had done. And then I did it again a little later, but not quite so drastically. I spent a few evenings overall not even stitching, but just comparing my chart to my blanket to find where I went wrong, and then wrapping my yarn up to go at it again. Considering that this blanket is a great couch throw size, and the amount of redoing I had to do, it actually came together quite fast. I finished it up this weekend, gave it a wash and dry, and now it's ready to be used. So it figures the weather turned and it finally feels like spring around here.

I've never made an afghan like this before, so carrying the yarn in such a way to make it almost invisible from the front was a learning experience. When it's all laid out you can see a little bit of where I carried it, but when I researched how to do this a lot of the examples I saw had the same thing going on so I figure it must be an occupational hazard. I really truly don't care, as I'm pleased as punch that the Nittany Lion came out looking like it was supposed to.

I guess it doesn't matter where you start an afghan like this, but I started at the bottom. The letters are pretty blocky and close together, so it was good practice for minding the yarn.

Doing an entire afghan in HDC was quite tedious, and I might have lost my mind were it not for the logo breaking up the monotony. I really like the texture that results from it. I don't know how I used to make all my afghans in one color (I feared weaving in too many ends so I avoided color changes). When I think back so many of them were just one solid color--I don't know if I could do that anymore for anything beyond a baby blanket sized project. I almost look forward to the color changes to see how they all play together.

I put one row of single crochet all the way around to neaten the edges and finish it off. My fingers were SORE trying to work that hook into my stitches on the sides. I wished and hoped the whole time that I wasn't creating ruffles or pulling too tight. But everything came out nice and smooth.

 Due to this not being the most relaxing project, tension got the better of me, and the sides are a little wavy. But I don't care. Who lays an afghan out on the floor nice and flat and keeps it that way? No one. Around here they're folded or rumpled, on the couch or recliner, usually with someone snuggled under one. As long it fulfills the purpose of a blanket, I don't give much of a hoot about imperfect edges.

So you wanna see the whole thing, then?

I used plain old Red Heart yarn in soft navy and white (I didn't think navy would be so hard to photograph consistently, as it shows a little different in some pictures, but it is indeed navy). I ran into an interesting thing. Most of my yarn was similar enough, but one of my skeins of blue (and I bought the jumbo size) was weird. The yarn felt very thin, almost like a sport weight. When I bought more to compare them it was interesting to see the difference. I've never encountered that before within the same brand, but it's something I'll be keeping in mind in the future.

This was probably one of the more difficult things I've ever made. Which should make up for the fact that it's only the third thing I've ever made for my dad. This should count for fifty things, at least.

Linking up here:


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