Sunday, July 17, 2016

summer adventures in sewing

My mom and I embarked on a rather ambitious adventure this week: sewing jeans. She and my dad drove up to visit this week. Luckily, the summer heat took a reprieve for the three days they were here. They had some quality time with the kids, we ate dinner outside on the [brand new!] patio, and then mom and I holed ourselves up in my sewing cave with a pile of denim, a couple of sewing machines, and the Ginger Jeans pattern.

It was an adventure, let me tell you. Cutting out took forever because there were so many pieces, and then my mom decided the size was wrong so she cut hers out again (good thing I have a big stash of denim!). We both got confused by several steps in the instructions (I thought the Ginger Jeans were supposed to have such great instructions, and that's a big reason I chose that pattern, ugh) and did a lot of head-scratching to figure them out. That zipper fly is still a big mystery to me; the only reason I got through it was that my mom has done those before and could help me out. I did a lot of seams twice. For every stitch of topstitching that I kept, I did at least three that looked like shite and had to be ripped out. And then most frustrating thing of all was when my serger - a White Speedylock I bought for cheap on sale at Joann in the early 2000s when I was a grad student on a shoestring budget - suddenly became possessed by the devil. Thread broke, needles broke, the cutter kept slipping out of place. More than once I seriously threatened to take it outside with a sledgehammer Office Space style.

Seriously, I nearly cried. But we got through it somehow, and by the end of the day yesterday, I had a nearly finished pair of jeans!

Please excuse the clover clips and flour stains.
After all that effort, I hope I like these jeans when they're done. They're snug, almost too snug, but that's better than baggy. The rise is a bit low. I made the low rise version because I HATEHATEHATE high waisted pants and find them very uncomfortable. That said, these would be better with an extra inch of rise so I don't show me undies every time I sit down. I guess I'll try and modify that on the next pair. Yes, there will be a next pair! I'm not giving up yet.

Let's do a quick throwback to last week now, shall we? Fancy Tiger Crafts recently released a basic tank top pattern, the Adventure Tank. It just so happened that I'd been thinking of trying to self draft a racer back tank based on one I wear as PJs because I like the fit but not the fabric (it's cheap from Target, not proud I get clothes from Target but I can't make everything, yo) and the timing was just too good.

I love this tank. I actually made a practice version out of black rayon spandex that isn't going to hold up, but once I knew it would fit, I pulled out some organic jersey I've been hoarding for a while and made another one.

This is "light jersey" from Organic Cotton Plus and it is lovely and soft and drapes beautifully. The bias of the fabric was quite pronounced so I had to adjust where I cut the pieces out, but fortunately I had plenty of extra to do that. I could probably make myself a short sleeve tee or something for one of my kids out of what's left, in fact.

I made the smallest size and lengthened it by 3", and it's perfect. I do find the original to be a bit short for my taste, but I like most of my tops to cover my hips. I also bound the neckline and armholes rather than just narrow cuffs, and then topstitched with a zigzag. I was nervous it wouldn't work out, but it turns out I was nervous for nothing.

Now, I obviously need a new bra!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

FO: winter wander shawl (in July)

We've hit the dog days of summer, y'all. My husband and son were both home all day feeling lethargic and run-down, either from the heat or some low-grade virus or a little of both. It's hot and soupy outside, the kind of weather where you feel yourself wilt just from going out to get the mail.

The FO I have to show you today isn't particularly seasonally appropriate. It's a lovely shawl, specifically the Winter Wander Shawl by Helen Stewart

This project includes so many elements that aren't typical for me. For one, it's a shawl. I don't knit many shawls because I don't often wear them, nor do I have recipients for them, were I to knit shawls as gifts.

For another thing, did you notice the little shiny things? Yes, this shawl has beads. Beads! I have never knit with beads before. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn't. A bit slow going and laborious, but not hard.

Also, lace. I love to look at lace, but I'm not particularly into knitting lace or wearing it. Mostly, this is because lace tends to be too fussy for me. If you make a mistake, it's slow and painstaking to fix. And the finished product, while lovely, is often too frilly for my taste.

Something about this design, though, hit the spot for me. It's simple enough to knit, with garter stitch and increases for most of it, with that beaded section to keep things interesting. And the finished item is lovely and fabulous while being rather understated, which is perfect for me.

I would give it a medium difficulty rating, even though it wasn't at all complicated, because if you screw up, it's nearly impossible to go back and fix. The increases along the edge are difficult to go back and redo (the designer explicitly states this in the pattern) and if you messed up the beaded section I don't know how on earth you would be able to fix it. 

In fact, I accidentally dropped a couple stitches in the middle of the beaded part and thought the whole project was done for. I said a few choice words and stormed off - it was very immature of me - before calming down and picking at it very carefully with a tiny crochet hook. The fix isn't perfect, but I can't even find it now on the finished shawl, and you wouldn't see it from a galloping horse, as they say. So I'm good with it.

I bought the beads from the Wisconsin Craft Market just for this project, but the yarn is from stash. I used Trekking Pro Natura (wool/bamboo blend) sock yarn - now discontinued - for the main section and KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud for the beaded strip. I've had both of these yarns for several years and never meant to put them together until I started looking for something for this project. I like how they go together. The sock yarn is a heathery navy blue, while the alpaca is more of a teal color.

Helen Stewart uses a percentage checklist system in her designs, where you can mark off every single row as you go, and keep track of how far into the project you've gotten along the way. It's so handy to know just exactly where you are in the pattern, even if you've put the project down for a few days, as I did several times while I was knitting this.

I knit this shawl in between other things - plain socks (not blogged yet, but I'll get there), the most recent test knit for Thea, and several sewing projects (again, not yet blogged), and having that checklist was quite reassuring. I always knew just exactly where I'd left off, and since it's in garter stitch, knowing when I was on the right side vs. wrong side was especially useful.

Pattern: Winter Wander Shawl by Helen Stewart, from the Knitvent 2015 collection
Yarn: Trekking Pro Natura and KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud, about 1/2 skein each
Needles: size 6 circulars (I used Addi Turbo lace)
Crochet hook: tiny one for beading
Beads: size 6/E something or other from Wi Craft Market, nothing special. They come in a tube, and I have a bunch leftover!

Monday, July 11, 2016

snapshot: FO post(s) coming soon...

Y'all, this is what happens when you try to do your own FO shots in a hurry after dinner with greasy hair, exposed bra straps and the camera propped on the patio table (aside: we have patio furniture now, which makes me feel sooooooooo suburban housewife only I don't have a minivan and never will). Stuart took pity on me and came outside to get better pictures of not one, but two finished objects, one knitting and one sewing, both of which you can see a glimpse of here. More on those soon.

Friday, July 08, 2016

I can't help myself

It's been nearly two months since I got to meet my new niece in Boston. Her mom and dad are pretty good about posting pictures and videos to a shared folder for far-flung family to ooh and aah over, but of course that's just not the same as seeing her in person. I miss her. 

Lucky for us, we will all get to see her at the end of this month at a family reunion, but until then I could not resist making her another little outfit.

Quite honestly, a new set of clothes is about the last thing little V needs. My brother and SIL were inundated with presents of baby clothes when she was born, both new and handed down, and even with the frequent changes required, they have more than enough to go several days between loads of laundry.

That said, she only has a few handmade outfits from Auntie Sue-Sue (note: I most definitely did not come up with that nickname but it seems to have stuck for the time being. V has another aunt Susan, so this is one possible way to avoid confusion, I suppose. Obviously, the other Susan is more sophisticated than I am or she would have a dorky nickname too...) and seeing as it is my duty to dote, I made her another one.

The designs should look familiar (re: I'm a broken record when it comes to choosing sewing patterns). The red top is another from the Lullaby Layette from Oliver & S, and I scavenged the fabric from a failed tank top I made myself. That particular fail was disappointing because this fabric is so nice (a lovely voile by Anna Maria Horner that I bought several years ago) but at least the whole thing didn't go to waste. 

I sewed the entire top with French seams, even the set-in sleeves. BOO-yah! Using the serger just didn't seem right for this beautiful, light fabric, and I'm pleased that the effort paid off. 

The front closures are supposed to be snaps, but I have a lot of trouble with those. The first set of outfits I made, I got the snap setter tool to work okay (not great, but okay), but this time around, it just wasn't happening. I ruined two snaps trying to get it to work before I gave up and just went with tiny buttons and buttonholes because I was afraid of bolloxing up the whole garment. I ordered that snap setter tool from Oliver&S as well because the pliers-like tool I had tried using in the past didn't work either. Now I'm at a loss; how the hell do you get consistent results with snaps? Arg.

The shorts are another pair of cuffed knit shorts from Brindille and Twig. Unlike the first time I made this pattern, I attached the pieces together correctly on my first try and thus avoided picking out triple stretch stitch. Booyah again. The fabric is red interlock I bought for $1 at a yard sale and made into some shorts for Daniel. There were just enough leftovers for this little pair. I love that baby clothes don't take much fabric (and that the baby doesn't have any choice about wearing them, mwahahaha).

I sent this outfit off earlier this week and it should arrive today, so hopefully this post isn't a spoiler for anyone. 

I've been sewing for myself, too, and have plans for more, but getting photos is the hard part. I guess I could rope my kids into taking pictures, but that might involve bribery (re: ice cream) of some sort. I'll do my best, though. Summer is flying by!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

snapshot: new shorts

Anya is quite pleased with her new shorts that we made together this weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Thea released her newest sweater pattern today: Greenbriar.  I was one of the test knitters, so I get to share my photos on the release day!

Greenbriar is an open front cardigan with a cool lace panel running down the back. It's top-down construction with set-in sleeves knit contiguously. This means that there is a lot to keep track of when you start knitting, with increases at different points for shoulders and sleeves plus the lace charts, so I would give it a medium difficulty rating. 

That lace, though! It's fun and kept my interest the whole time I was knitting. You're never stuck doing long rows of plain stockinette until nearly the bottom, and by then motivations is strong to finish.

Thea used Green Mountain Spinnery Mewesic for her design, but I'm really committed to reducing the stash (I know, I always say that, but it's true) so I used Cascade 220 in a light heathery celery green color that I've had several years. I must have really been on a 220 kick in the late oughts...

I had Stuart take these photos while we were in Minnesota doing some hiking along the Lake Superior north shore. It was downright chilly and I actually wore this sweater most days to stay warm.

I get a little frustrated when I ask my husband to take photos because, well, he just doesn't have an artistic eye. We got about a half dozen shots, and when I checked the camera to see them, they all sucked. The sweater was bunched weirdly on my butt, or I was leaning towards the camera too much so my arms looked disproportionally long. We got some good ones in the end, but I've learned not to trust him to notice things like wardrobe malfunctions. Sigh.

Now we're back home in southern Wisconsin, so it's safe to assume I won't need a wool sweater for a few months yet. I should wash it (again) and put it away until fall.

I do like this style of top-down sleeves. You have to be very careful about row gauge, but in the end, the fit is much better than a straight up raglan.

That's all from me today. What are you working on?

Monday, June 20, 2016

post vacation funk

Lake of the Clouds viewed from the Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mts state park in the Michigan UP

The last several years we have managed to schedule trips as soon as school is out, which postpones rather than alleviates the post-school summer vacation funk when the kids (and, by extension, I) realize we have two and a half months stretching ahead of us with lots and lots and lots of together time and not a whole lot of structure. We will, eventually, find our groove. We'll make jam and go to the library and start swimming lessons and find new parks to explore...but today was long and hot and boring. Daniel didn't even put clothes on until mid-afternoon. Way to herald in the first official day of summer, huh?

We were up north last week. Stuart's parents drove up from North Carolina (yes, that's a long way) to take charge of the kids so he and I could take a trip ON OUR OWN (first time EVER since the kids came along) to the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. It was glorious and beautiful, and then we all met in the western part of the Michigan UP to spend a few days together in the Porcupine Mountains. Gorgeous and wild, that place. It almost makes me want to try backpacking in the wilderness, if it weren't for the bears.

I finished a sweater and wore it more days than not because it was actually chilly in Minnesota. I got some nice photos, too, but I can't post them yet because the sweater is a test knit for Thea and the pattern has yet to be released. I finished socks, too, but didn't get pictures because they're just socks and not so interesting, though I do look forward to wearing them.

And now we're home and everyone is sluggish from heat (which isn't even that bad, compared to, say, Arizona) and boredom. Also, while we were away I was able to push all the awful news of the last week out of my mind, but now that we're home, I can't stop thinking about the terrible things we humans do to each other and how terribly we deal with it. We have mass shootings so often we shrug it off, we're on the brink of a presidential election where one of the candidates likely has a bona fide personality disorder, the southwest is burning up thanks to climate change, and, well, you get the picture. It's hard not to feel paralyzed with helplessness.

Last night around bedtime I heard a terrible, wild noise. At first I thought it was the TV from downstairs (Stuart's been catching up on Game of Thrones, but I can't stomach watching it since whatshisface was beheaded early on, like season 1), but then I realized it was coming from outside. There was some kind of feral throw down happening right in my backyard - screeching and yowling and rustling and scratching. It sounded like something was being attacked and dismembered. I couldn't see much, but I could see the shadow of a large spruce from the neighbor's yard and the branches were shaking. This went on for minutes. I realized eventually (actually, I did a google search; YouTube answers all queries) it was raccoons fighting, which is vicious and violent and sounds awful, but this morning there was no evidence anything had been amiss. From the sound of it, you'd have thought there would be bloody patches of fur and parts strewn about but there was nothing. I had dreams, though, dreams where I was angry and screaming and out of control. I blame the raccoons.

What does any of this have to do with knitting or sewing or any of those other things I write about here? I'm not sure. I'm in a funny spot with that stuff anyway. I'm fairly productive these days, in part because the musician-work part of my life slows way way down with 24/7 parenting during the summer. At the same time, I am struggling with feeling like I should be productive All The Time and that sometimes takes the joy out of making. And joy of making is the whole point, right?

I think I just need the right mindset: I need to take a step back from the beautifully curated, mindful blogs that set my own expectations too high; I need to use materials from my substantial yarn and fabric stash and make what I want; I need to avoid self-imposed goals and deadlines; I need to get out of my head.