Saturday, April 11, 2015

embroidery

I feel like my creative energy is scattered all kinds of places lately.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I’m feeling inspired to try some new crafts and think outside the box. But it also means I don’t have much to show you in the form of finished objects or even a coherent plan. 

Surprisingly, though, I’ve been interested in embroidery! When I was a child, I learned some basic stitches and did a few cross-stitch projects. I recall a tea towel (or was it a set of two or three? I don’t remember) I made for a Christmas gift for my grandmother when I was about 9 or 10 years old; the motif was a set of blue bowls, and I used stem stitch and large cross-stitches on a printed transfer. I also cross-stitched an alphabet sampler that my mom sewed into a pillow for my dad, which he used for snoozing on the easy chair in the corner of the living room until that little pillow literally fell apart. I lost interest in embroidery somewhere along the way, for ordinary reasons I’m sure: I got older and other hobbies interested me more; it felt a little bit old-fashioned; I didn’t like the patterns, you get the picture.
 
OK, you have to admit that is kind of cute. But modern it ain't.
Why the sudden interest now? Well, the modern arts and crafts movement has made embroidery cool again! While there are still plenty of old school transfer patterns out there for exquisite floral motifs and round-faced girls doing the “Washing on Monday, Ironing on Tuesday” (or however that goes), are also designers offering fresh, bold ideas and designs that I’m more inclined to stitch. (Here are a few of them: Kristin NicholasCozyblueRebecca Rinquist)

For another thing, my own kids are getting to the age where they can handle doing activities that require more intricate fine motor skills, and I have found that whenever they have something to keep busy with during down time after school or on weekends, whether it be doodling or knitting or building with Legos, they pester me a lot less about being bored. And while I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed that embroidery and hand-stitching would be an activity they chose to encourage their creativity (re: keep them out of my hair), they love it.

Daniel was very proud of his dragonfly.
And remember the neck warmer Anya designed for Stuart?

Really, this all started when I ordered a couple of books by Kristin Nicholas: Crafting a Colorful Home and Kids Embroidery. I ordered them directly from her website (she signed them! And included picture postcards of her sheep in the order!!). I admit, the Colorful Home book I bought mostly for the eye candy. I am not inclined to stencil my walls or paint exterior doors or even start a mood board on my own, but I love paging through the book and daydreaming. Totally frivolous, I know. I think I'm about to cave and get Colorful Stitchery, too, because I checked it out from the library and I never want to give it back!

Image from kristinnicholas.com


The Kids Embroidery book, though? TOTAL HIT around here. It is awesome: full of detailed instructions and projects kids might actually want to make. My kids love looking through it and finding new stitches to try. Anya is still dabbling and tends to start things without necessarily finishing them. Daniel, though, has thrown himself into some of the projects, learning new stitches, and creating his own. We’ve been following Kirstin Nicholas on IG and sharing his projects with her, and he is tickled pink every time she “likes” a photo of his handiwork.

Just trying some stuff out.


What makes this book so good?
  • ·      The projects are adorable. Daniel has made the stuffed cat and dog, and is working on a second stuffed cat for a gift. (I won’t say for who.) With my help, Anya made a mouse of her own design  and gave it to my cousin Stephanie for her cats when we visited over Easter.
Allow me to introduce you to Professor Meow.


Cutest. Cat. Toy. Ever.

Softest puppy ever! And we even forgot to add his ears...

  • ·      The projects are also doable! My kids, at the ages of 7 and 9, need help preparing fabric and threading their needles but then they are set to go. Independence is a wonderful thing.
  • ·      The kids featured in the book are gender and ethnically diverse. In other words, this is an embroidery book that features plenty of boys, and plenty of non-white children. This is a BIG DEAL to me. Why should embroidery be just for girls? Why should the subject matter be restricted to flowers and butterflies? Daniel’s first project was a creeper (it's a Minecraft thing) stitched in black on bright green fabric, o
I am all about challenging gender roles (I can just hear my mom rolling her eyes right now, we talk about this a lot) and allowing children to engage in any creative or athletic activity they want to without feeling uncomfortable or ashamed. Finally, there is at least a conversation these days about girls in sports and girls being strong and smart and girls speaking up for themselves. While there is a long way to go in terms of true gender equality and empowerment, we’ve at least reached the point in our society where we can stand up for girls and champion girl power, even if we’re not exactly sure how. But what about boys? Those boys who find satisfaction creative endeavors, not just sports? Boys who like cooking or sewing or needlework? Boys, like my Daniel, who is a total math whiz and can outrun me and roll in the mud and then come home and extol the virtues of well-made pesto while experimenting with his embroidery stitches? Let’s not leave boys out of the conversation, is all I’m saying here. (*Stepping off the soapbox now).




Wednesday, April 08, 2015

perspective

Friends, jumping back into life after a weekend road trip is no picnic. As soon as we got home on Monday, I went to the grocery store twice (because I forgot important stuff like salt the first time), we did four gazillion loads of laundry, and the kids bathed for the first time in days. Yesterday we hit the ground running, and I immediately felt overwhelmed and panicked about everything I need to accomplish by the end of this month. It's not pretty. Then partway through making dinner, Daniel started feeling sick* and I tried not to freak out, but it's been a completely shitty winter for us in terms of kids catching germs every 3 weeks since Halloween (I am not exaggerating), Stuart wasn't going to get home until 9:00, and I very nearly fell apart.

Today, it all came into perspective. You may or may not recall that at the end of last summer, I got the sad and unexpected news that a former professor and mentor of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hadn't had a lot of contact with her in the last few years, but it was still a punch in the gut to know what she was facing with surgery and chemo on top of parenting a tween and managing a stressful job. I made her a blanket because I had to do something for her, and it was the only thing I could think of.


I chose to make the blanket orange because that is a color she wears a lot, and it seemed cheerful without being garish.

This afternoon while at the music school, I ran into J. It was completely unexpected and I was so happy to see her. She looks good. Her head was covered with a scarf because her hair hasn't grown back yet, but the chemo finished up in January and she is starting to feel better and is - for the time being - cancer free. We didn't have time to catch up, really; she had to meet a student, and I was running down the stairs to a rehearsal, but she told me the blanket meant a lot to her, that she curled up underneath it during chemo, that her cats love it, and that it even matches their family room. It was the highlight of my day to see her. And while I'm still feeling exhausted and stressed, I've had some perspective today.

They say don't sweat the small stuff. They also say it's all small stuff. I think both are true. But for today, I'm grateful that I can sweat the small stuff in my life, because one day the Big Stuff will come and I need to embrace what I have now.

*Daniel is fine. He had a good long sleep and woke up feeing totally normal. Not sure what that was about, but I'm relieved.

Monday, April 06, 2015

marching on

March has come and gone, and now that we're nearly a whole week into April, it's high time I checked in here. I finally finished that scarf for Stuart more than two weeks after his birthday. I think he honestly doesn't mind that it was late, but it's finally warming up a bit so he doesn't even need it now, and that makes me feel bad about not finishing it on time. 

I've been quite busy with work-related stuff (this time of year lots of music students are getting in recitals before they graduate). The kids were on spring break last week, so my parents came to help out with them and it was wonderful. They cooked and played games and went to the park and generally had a blast while I taught and practiced and rehearsed without worrying about finding sitters for all that time I needed to get things done. 

The moments I find between all these things are never enough for all the making I want to do. For instance, my mom and I wanted to work together to sew me a dress. I really need more performance-appriate attire, and I have been unable to find anything suitable. Right now I have two pairs of black pants and 2 or 3 black tops in the rotation and that is it, no exaggeration. It's dire. So I ordered a pattern and we got as far as buying fabric (some really nice rayon from a local shop that is actually local and not Joann's) and cutting out the pieces for a mock-up from some spare muslin I had on hand. But that's it. I haven't even had time to sew up the practice dress. Why I thought I'd have time to make myself a dress when I barely have time to go grocery shopping should tell you something about the state of my mind lately: not entirely rational.


We took a few days off for a road trip, though. I was completely stressed out before we left, sure that leaving for five days would put me totally behind. I will have to be extra-disciplined the rest of this week to keep up with all the music I'm responsible for, but I don't regret it. A few days away was just what I needed and we had a great time. We drove to Lawrence, KS, to see my cousin Stephanie and her husband Eric for the Easter weekend. We also saw my aunt and uncle (her parents, who drove up for a day to see us), and met a bunch of Steph and Eric's friends and just generally had a blast. I posted loads of pictures on my IG feed. Here are a few of my favorites:
Daniel showing off some new stitchin' skillz (more about this on another post!)

Sorting through the worm compost with Stephanie. Anya actually loved this activity.



Pretty eggs we dyed with my aunt Bonnie.
Anya getting ready to hide Easter eggs

Much silliness involving nostril selfies and uncle Eric

Iowa sunset on the way home.


I started a new knitting project while we were in KS:


These are the Traveling Cable hand warmers from PurlBee.com, and they are a nice, quick knit so far. I don't know why I don't make more hand warmers. They're dead useful, and much faster than socks. I think it's the fiddly thumbs that hold me back, but even that's usually not so bad. An easy, quick knit is what I need right now while I get through the rest of the semester and plan some bigger projects for when life slows down a little.




Monday, March 16, 2015

better pictures

I've been blogging on a fairly regular basis since 2006 - which makes me
a dinosaur in the world of the internet. I started with MadtownMama when
Daniel was a baby and began this blog, Mad Knitting, a few months later.
I don't want to quit, but I'm not sure where I'm going with this,
either. I don't sell things, I'm not a designer, I'll never write a book
(not about knitting, at any rate) and I don't make any money here. It is
for me now, and probably always will be, a personal endeavor, a place to
share my creative life, document the stuff I make, and share random
tutorials from time to time.

But now, I am going to just come out and say something: I'm having a bit
of a bloggy identity crisis. I have been listening to a lot of
interviews with "successful" creative people lately, and now it is
starting to feel like I'm doing this all wrong, like I should be trying
to make money here or write posts to gain readership or give it up
altogether because everyone else has moved on to tumblr now. So maybe
one of these days (like when the semester is over because man am I busy
these days - I've had to turn down a lot of gigs, which is quite
painful) I'll find a platform less cumbersome than Blogger (Squarespace
is awesome, Weebly is really nice AND free) and move everything over and
it will be lovely and fun again.

What do you think? Quit? Move? Keep on keepin' on?

Meanwhile, I have been playing just a little bit with the nice camera
and new editing software, and I have a few finished projects to share.
I'm taking a class next month on using said software, but for now I'm
just messing around. I have lots to learn.

Stuart's birthday was last week and we all worked on some handmade gifts
for him. You're only seeing two out of three today because I'm only
halfway done with his scarf (she hangs her head in shame), in part
because of the time it took to help out with the kids' gifts.

Anya embroidered a patch to sew on a neckwarmer we made for Stuart. She
was inspired by the book Kids Embroidery by Kristin Nicholas. I highly,
highly recommend this book, and if you buy it, I strongly suggest you
order it directly from her website. She'll sign it for you, and as the
author, buying directly puts more of the profit into her hands. Kids
Embroidery is full of fun, colorful projects, useful introductory
information about how to make different stitches, and my personal
favorite part is the great diversity of children featured: there are
girls and boys, and lots of faces that aren't white. Needle arts are for
everyone, know what I'm saying? (I'll write again about that sometime.
It's a topic that deserves its own post.)

In any case, Anya wanted to learn to embroider and worked on this
project for weeks. She practiced stitches on a scrap piece of fabric,
and then we designed the patch. What does Stuart like? Several things
came to mind, but the topic of disc golf won out because that's an
activity the kids love to do with their dad. They played just about
every weekend last summer. So the image below is a disc about to land in
a metal basket. She even used chain stitches for the chains!


Anya was pretty proud of herself. I sewed the neck warmer out of some
fleece I had on hand, and stitched the patch on by machine. Notice, by
the way, that the embroidered disc is headed straight for the
embroidered basket. The first picture I drew, the disc aimed askew and
Anya wouldn't stitch it because she wanted the disc to land where it's
supposed to. Doesn't miss a detail, this girl.


Daniel and I decided together to make Stuart an apron. He isn't able to
help with cooking very often except on weekends, but at those times we
sometimes embark on rather ambitious recipes. He is particularly fond of
frying things and will sometimes look for an excuse to fill the wok with
oil and heat it up - eggrolls, samosas, doughnuts. You need an apron to
do this, so we found a large piece of denim in my fabric stash. I did
all the cutting and sewing, and I used an existing apron for the basic
design. Daniel did the pocket decoration, however, using a bleach pen.
Bleach pens are fun, man. I need to use them more often. I got the idea
from an old knitting book from at least a decade ago where all these
projects are knitted in denim yarn and then bleached to great effect.


This apron was fun because I used some hardware, which felt very
professional, though it's not hard to do. I installed grommets in the sides for the ties (not
pictured) and put a buckle on the neck strap.



The last batch of pictures are from Sunday. It was windy and warm, so we
spent a bit of the afternoon in a nearby conservation park (Pheasant
Branch, for those who are interested), hiking up muddy trails to the top
of what the kids call "Mount Hill", where there are Native American
burial mounds and an amazing view of a winding creek and suburban
development below. I brought along my latest FO to get some photos. It's
the scrappy cowl I made using leftovers of a variety of yarns. It's not
perfect, but I like it and it's very light and comfortable to wear, a
good transition piece.


I have this to say: Anya is WAY more photogenic than I am. All the
pictures of me were dreadful except this one. They all make me look old and gray and blotchy. 


I guess I could wear make up and color my hair, but I won't.


My only project on the needles right now is that (#*$ scarf for Stuart.
I'm itching to do some sewing and even some embroidery (Anya's interest
has kindled my own), so be on the lookout for more projects soon.


Monday, March 09, 2015

snapshots

These pictures are all courtesy of my phone. We have a nice digital camera, but I don't take it everywhere with me, and the phone works nicely for capturing those fleeting moments during the day.

Yesterday I had some kind of flu and couldn't get out of bed. It sucked. Just sitting up took massive effort, and it wasn't until about 4:30 in the afternoon I finally mustered up the energy to pick up my knitting:

The gray scarf is a little longer.

Anya's been pestering me the last few days to teach her how to knit socks. At first when she asked, I dithered a bit. Socks are complicated and all she knows how to do so far is the knit stitch on straight needles with, shall we say, variable tension. 


Here's the thing about Anya, though. When she decides she wants to do something, she can be remarkably persistent and tenacious about it. She does not give up easily. I'm really proud of her for this. Most kids whine and give up when something does not immediately work for them, but not this girl (usually). She is willing to stick with a project until she figures it out, or at least reaches a skill level she deems satisfactory. 


I thought we would start with a practice sock, something to teach her basic skills and sock construction and have something to test her gauge without worrying about whether the finished product would fit. If she finishes it, that will be mightily impressive. If she loses steam halfway through, no big deal. I taught her to cast on (new skill for her), and then I joined the stitches and showed her how to knit in the round on DPNs. 

Slowly but surely she is getting the hang of it. She's even enjoying it! Today we knit during Daniel's piano lesson and by the end of it she could tell which side of knitting was the right side, and hence which direction to go when starting a new needle.



We'll see how this goes. I personally still think socks are a tad ambitious, but far be it from me to discourage any creative effort on the part of my child.

Her knitting, and mine on the piano teacher's ottoman in the waiting area.
Soon, we'll have an exciting project of hers to show you, but I can't ruin the surprise for the recipient just yet. 




Thursday, March 05, 2015

on and off the needles

Welp, not too long after I posted my FO pictures of Beekman on Ravelry, I was contacted by Julie of Knitted Bliss, who asked if she could feature it on her Modification Monday series on her blog! That was pretty exciting, and of course I said yes. You can see the post here.

Finishing that sweater really did feel like quite an accomplishment. It took a lot of time and effort and knitting and re-knitting, and I am proud of how I worked out the neckline just how I wanted. Once it was done, I wasn't sure what to knit next. I knit a few swatches and looked through some patterns, but in the end, I think I was ready for a break from sweater knitting. Not a long break, mind you, but in the meantime I have been working on some simple neckwear. You know, projects where gauge and finished size are approximate and eyeballing it is good enough.

Like this cowl:

I gathered some leftover yarn and size 7 needles, cast on 30 stitches, and knit a long bias strip (inc and dec on the ends of every other row), striping on a whim, until it seemed long enough for a cowl. Then I decided it was narrower than I wanted, so I picked up stitches all along one long edge and knit on about 1.5" of a border before sewing the whole thing into one big loop and hiding all the ends. There were a lot of ends.



Here's a quick selfie I took this morning. Better pictures are coming soon, I hope, but don't hold your breath. I quite like this cowl. I still haven't decided if the color combination is cool and artsy or a little bit ugly, but it's a delight to wear and I love all those greens. 

(In case you're wondering, the apple green is Silky Wool leftover from Champagne and Pei, the dark forest green is Knit One Crochet Too Cozette leftover from my Scoop-Neck Fail, the heathery aqua is a hemp/mohair/wool blend that I lost the label for long, long ago leftover from the Lightweight Pullover I no longer own because the sleeves inexplicably got shorter every time I wore it, and the tweedy stuff is leftover from a hat I think I gave to my mom.)

I started another scarf, too, in lovely Chickadee by Quince and Co. This one has a deadline, which I fear I will miss, due to my hectic schedule and a plague that has hit our house this week. Spring won't come soon enough, I say.


I did at least manage to make some progress while waiting for an oil change this afternoon.


Given the stress I have right now, I'm grateful for some comfort knitting. Who knows, I might even get back to knitting socks one of these days.

Monday, February 16, 2015

beekman (aka she had me at "hello")

At long, long last, my Beekman sweater is done! According to my project page on Ravelry, I started knitting this sweater soon after the pattern was released in October 2013, and it's taken from then until now to finish it.

I had so many problems knitting this sweater and started over twice. I put it down for long stretches (months, in some cases) to work on other projects.  I finally found myself on the home stretch a couple weeks ago and was all set to finish and block when I got to the neckline and everything came to a screeching halt as you may recall from my last post.


I cursed in frustration and put the thing down for a few days. The original boatneck seems to work on everyone else who has made this sweater (according to project pages on Rav), so I think the problem is that I don't have enough of a bust to fill anything out or broad enough shoulders to hold up the neck properly. (You know that saying, "Real women have curves"? I've always hated that because I am not particularly curvy. Does that mean I'm a fake woman or something?)


In any case, I was determined to make this sweater work. I like the design too much to give up! Those asymmetrical cables?! She had me at hello....

So I undid the bind off and kept going for a bit on the neck. I left the front center stitches bound off, but continued back and forth with a couple extra decreases before adding 4 sets of short rows on the back. Then I bound off again and picked up 5 stitches for every 6 with a smaller needle and set to work on the cowl collar, decreasing a bit after an inch or so, and increasing again as I approached the point where the collar would fold over. I switched to bigger needles at the fold, and bigger needles yet about an inch before binding off for good to allow for some flare so the collar would sit right. I was totally and completely winging it but happily, after all the trouble I'd had with everything else up to this point, the collar turned out really nice on the first try. Whew.


We took these pictures on Sunday afternoon. The warmest it got was about 8 degrees with a wind chill of -1, so now you know why my face is red and unhappy. I'm not sure the ugly aluminum siding is a great backdrop for photos, but when it's that cold you don't saunter over to the park. Not worth it!


Pattern: Beekman's Tavern by Thea Coleman
Sticks: size 7 circulars and DPNs for the main knitting; size 6, 7, and 8 for the collar
Mods: neckline, as described above, plus I made the sleeves longer to accommodate my ape arms, lengthened the body just a bit and added some waist shaping to make it look like I have a waist