Tuesday, October 07, 2014

question for sewists out there

I consider myself to have intermediate sewing skills. I can do most basic things, and I can make a simple tote bag without a pattern. Since getting a new machine last spring, I've managed to make a lot of projects look better but my work still lacks polish. I've put some reference books on hold at the library to have a look through them, but I'm wondering if any Mad Knitting readers out there have any specific recommendations? Amazon reviews only tell you so much, after all.

Here's what I'm waiting to get from the library:

Threads Sewing Guide

Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing

Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing

The Sewing Book: An Encyclopedic Resource of Step-by-Step Techniques

Vogue Sewing

Does anyone out there prefer one of these over the others? Or one not on the list?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

crabby pants

This girl...


...is growing like the proverbial weed.

No longer does she fit into the hand-me-down PJs she got from Daniel last year. He doesn't have any more to hand down at the moment, since he's decided he prefers to sleep in his skivvies, even all winter long. (I fail to understand this, but he doesn't complain about being cold if he has enough blankets, so I guess it's okay.)

In any case, my girl needs some new PJ pants, like, yesterday. I mean that literally because yesterday we froze our tushies off watching a soccer game and finally turned on the heat when we got home. Then at bedtime, Anya didn't have any nice warm pajamas to put on, poor girl. Fortunately, a few weeks ago I anticipated this PJ shortage and we went fabric shopping to pick out some cozy flannel. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to sew any of it up before today.

The fabric is rather cheap flannel from Joanns in this adorable crab print. I love how every once in a while there's a red one. I told Anya if she ever wakes up in a bad mood while she's wearing these, I get to call her "Miss Crabby Pants." She seems okay with that plan.


Anya's grown out of all the "up to size 5" patterns I had stashed away, and I had to find PJ pants in a new range of sizes, so I decided to go with the Sleepover Pajamas pattern from Oliver & S

These patterns cost more than the big brand companies, but I'm telling you they are worth every penny. The instructions are fantastic and the clothes fit. Too often I've bought patterns at the big box craft store on sale for $1 or $2 and then regretted the purchase when the kid pants I make have a 12" crotch and enough room in the butt to fit a grownup. Or the button down blouse I try for myself has way too much room in the bust but a neckline so small I'm choking. I'm done with those junk patterns!

Anyway, the sleepover PJ pattern is pretty basic, but with some nice details. Because Anya is most comfortable sleeping in t-shirts, I didn't make the shirt and just stuck with the pants. 

Now, normally I can whip out a pair of PJ pants in less than an hour. It's the only sewing project I'm reliable with. But this pair was a little more involved. The waistband and cuff are cut from contrasting fabric and sewn on separately; the cuffs make it possible to let down the hem if your kid has a growth spurt two weeks after you finish the pants. I do think the contrasting trim makes the whole garment look a little more polished...or at least it does in theory. I might have sewed the cuff on the wrong way. The topstitching shows and I'm not sure it's supposed to.

Here the cuff is folded up.

I also screwed up when I printed out the pattern and didn't realize it until after I'd cut out the main pieces from the crabby fabric. I printed out over a dozen sheets of paper and cut them apart and put them together to make the pattern pieces (it's tedious but worth the convenience of having it available digitally), traced and cut out the leg pieces, then went to measure the rectangular pieces for the waist and cuffs to cut out with the rotary cutter...and when I saw that the little grid squares on the pattern were not matching up to the marks on my ruler, yes that's when I finally I realized that I didn't have the printer set to 100%. It was set to 94%, just a touch smaller than full size. 

I'm not sure why I manage to screw up even the simplest sewing projects. It's why I don't find much time to sew, in fact, because I know nothing will be quick. Nothing will be simple. And few things turn out the way I want them to first time around. I need vast swaths of time to make mistakes and fix them with time outs in between for all the frustration I'm feeling and vast swaths of time I do not have. Ever.

I'm glad to say this little saga has a happy ending. After slapping my forehead and yelling "WHY CAN'T I EVER HAVE A PROJECT GO RIGHT THE FIRST TIME?!" I held up the pieces I'd cut out already to Anya and saw that they would probably fit just fine. Once I put the pants together (and that did go quickly, even with the extra pieces - at least I didn't make two left legs like that one time...oh never mind...), they fit her just swimmingly. I'd cut out the size 7, figuring extra room is good for a growing kid, and it turns out that size 7 at 94% is just right for her, with a little growing room, even. 


The only weird thing is that the slightly shrunken size made for a waistband that was a little too narrow. Instead of cutting out a new one, I just folded it down more on the inside than the pattern called for, so the elastic casing goes below the red waistband on the right side out. I'm okay with that, but I am going to do better with the next pair.

Meanwhile, Anya is warm and cozy in her new PJs, and hopefully not too crabby.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

cleaning up

It seems in a very short space of time, we've gone from warm, summery days to this:


Leaves are turning color and falling down. It happened practically overnight. Last night I could hear sleet hitting the roof and we have a frost advisory for tonight. Good thing I have picked the last of the tomatoes; I think the rest are toast. 

I spent an hour in the cold, windy drizzle watching Daniel play soccer (they haven't won a game yet, but those kids are having fun anyway), but it was otherwise a good day to stay in and do some much-needed cleaning house. I've been run a little ragged lately, what with adjusting to my work schedule added to my usual responsibilities, and the house has gotten really messy. Not "Hoarders" messy, but bad enough to make me twitchy and unable to relax. Even Stuart noticed and he generally has a higher tolerance for mess and clutter than I do.

After a few hours of cleaning, a lot looks better, but there's still some left to do tomorrow. I got bogged down in the project of cleaning out some of my knitting patterns. You have to understand I've got more patterns than I can possibly knit in my lifetime. I'm fine with that because I also have a fickle mind, and there's no telling what I'll want to pick up and knit next. I'm glad I have all those options right on at my fingertips. 

At the same time, my shelves were stuffed too full and I knew there were some things I liked at one time that I know I'll never make. Like the wide-collared cardigan patterns I downloaded before I realized how dreadful I look in them. And the fancy twisted-stitch sock patterns I printed out when it turns out I hate knitting twisted stitches on sock yarn and tiny needles. And all the adorable knitted dresses and jumpers I meant to make for Anya when she was so little, and the hooded jackets I wanted to make for Daniel before he decided "Sweaters just aren't my style, mom!"

It's fine. My tastes have changed and my children are growing. How they're growing! They're growing up and they're great kids and while I get a little nostalgic for the cuddly toddler years I never want to relive them. It was not an easy time for me. And although there will always be babies of friends and family members I can knit for, it's unnecessary for me to have 50 sweater patterns on hand for newborns when I'm unlikely to knit more than one or two a year.

Beer and pattern sorting. Wild times.

So I went through the patterns and tried to be ruthless. A few books I know I'll never use are headed for the used book store where I might get a few bucks for them. A huge stack of paper went into recycling, and some nicer printed patterns in plastic sleeves are bound for the thrift store. Maybe I ought to save them just in case, but the truth is, I want the stuff I have no use for out of my house. It's overwhelming enough to see what I kept!

I was just as ruthless with my yarn stash over the summer, and I managed to sell a decent amount, though there is plenty left I'd rather see gone.

How did I end up with so much? There were a few years there, I guess, when it was sort of like I thought it was now or never with the yarn and the patterns, like I had to get everything then or I'd miss my chance. In reality, the yarn business and designing world have evolved to be much better. There are more options, and better ones, and I'm better off knitting what I want instead of getting stuck in the past.

Onward!

Friday, September 26, 2014

testing 1, 2, 3

Five on Friday! TGIF y'all!
Five things being tested this week:

  1. Daniel's reading and math abilities. Now that he's in third grade, the standardized testing starts. It's not all bad, mind you, and we're lucky it doesn't seem to stress him out too much, if at all. But it's just adding to the complexity of life with kids in public school.
  2. My students at my new teaching job. Actually, they're getting their first big test next week, but we've started the review for it already. I have a lot of prep work ahead of me, but I can't say any more.
  3. My patience. I have a lot more balls in the air this year, and it's a good thing, but it means my family has to pitch in a little more on some things at home and...they're still adjusting to that. No further comment.
  4. I'm working on a test knit. Of course I can't share about it yet, but it's time-consuming and I'm a little behind. However, it's tweedy and cabled and just the sort of thing I love to knit, so it's all good.
  5. To that end, my phone. I got a new one (finally). I like it, but there are a few things I'm still getting used to. It has a nice camera, though, look! 


Hopefully artistic but not too revealing snap of my test knit in progress.

Friday, September 19, 2014

another blanket

The news came like a punch in the gut a few weeks ago. I had emailed a few former professors/mentors/teachers of mine asking if it would be okay to list them as references for a job I was applying for, and one wrote back to say "Of course you can always list me as a reference. By the way, did you hear about J's breast cancer diagnosis?"

Unsurprisingly, I never got a reply from J, who was recovering from a mastectomy and had just completed one round of chemo. She's got another four months of treatment to go, and from what I hear it's rough already. With a demanding job (from which I hope she is taking medical leave) and a family, I can't imagine the stress and exhaustion she is going through.

I'm not always so good at expressing myself verbally, but I can show that I care in other ways, so I knit a blanket for her. It's the Hodgkins blanket pattern (which I intend to write up into a free PDF for download pretty soon) I made for my SIL five years ago and my neighbor two years ago, both of whom are healthy and thriving now, so I hope that's a good sign.


I wish these pictures were better. The color is probably most accurate in the picture above, a nice pumpkin orange.


What do you do when someone you care about is having a crisis? This is a person who means a lot to me. I learned a tremendous amount from her about teaching and being a musician, and I will always be grateful to her for that.


Our paths haven't crossed so much lately, but I can't ignore what J is going through. I'm not sure how best to give her the blanket, but I'm leaning towards mailing it. For one thing, I know that chemotherapy is a big hit on the immune system, and I have kids of my own who are snot factories at the moment, so I don't want to bring it over in person and risk introducing new germs to her home. But also, it's been a while since we've had a close relationship and I don't know how to bring this over in person without feeling awkward. I don't even know how she feels about visitors right now. I'm afraid I'm admitting to my own cowardice and discomfort here, but there you are.

Knitting a blanket was the least I could do. Maybe in a week or two I'll gather the courage to make her and her family some soup.

Pattern: my own design, the Hodgkins Blanket, a better pattern write up coming soon!
Yarn: Lion Brand wool-east thick and quick, just under 8 skeins
Sticks: size 11 circular needles



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

one bourbon

Waaaaay back in March I spent a few days knitting this hat:


Thea needed test knitters, Stuart needed a hat, I had the yarn, it was a perfect match. It took me five days to make the thing. This includes the times (and there were more than one) I realized I'd miscrossed a cable and, cursing, had to rip back.


Then it was time to wait for the release. Wait and wait. But now the wait is over, because Thea's new ebook, One Bourbon, one Scotch, and One Beer, was released yesterday!


Stuart was very happy with his new hat, and since last winter seemed to last forever, he got a lot of use out of it, even though I didn't finish it until late March.


The hat is fun to knit. Those cables keep you on your toes, and then before you know it, you're doing the crown decreases and you're done! I highly recommend this one. I almost kept it for myself, in fact, but since he liked the hat so much and actually wore it (a rarity when it comes to my husband and hand knit items), I thought it only fair that he keep it.


And now it's almost fall. He'll need the hat again soon, maybe even this week. After a sweltering first week of school, now the lows are dipping into the 40s and I'm thinking of cooking hearty soups and knitting cozy sweaters in between work and soccer practice and all that pesky laundry.

Pattern: One Bourbon by Thea Coleman
Yarn: Alisha Goes Around DK, a little less than one skein from my stash. I honestly do not know why I had this yarn to begin with, but it worked perfectly for this hat.
Sticks: Are you kidding? I don't remember. That was six months ago, yo, and I didn't note it on Ravelry, either. Probably size 7 or so.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

kids in restaurants

Stuart and I thought it would be nice to go out for dinner as a family. We rarely do this, and this evening was a reminder of the many reasons why. First, Daniel sulked that we didn't go to the diner of his choosing; instead, we went to a new place with rave reviews that we really wanted to try (Sujeo). Then we had to wait for a table and everyone got squirmy. Then we had to wait for our food and the kids kept jostling the table and making faces and whining that it was taking too long and Daniel dropped his silverware by accident and they both kept lying down in the booth and were just generally not well-behaved at all.

I'm undecided about whether this means we should go out more often to give them practice or even less often because it's so aggravating to spend the whole time telling them to be patient and stop entertaining themselves by trying to drink out of a water glass without actually picking it up.

While we were waiting for our table, we had the freedom to roam around a little bit, so I asked Stuart to take some pictures of my new sweater with his phone. Kids kept sneaking into the shots.

Daniel likes to cuddle if he can be in the picture. Also, check out the giant neck on my sweater. Ick.

This is the sweater my mom and I knit together. It was her suggestion after we both received Vogue Knitting in the mail last spring and both liked the first pattern in it. We even ordered yarn together and started around the same time. Then the frustration started. She kept screwing up the lace portions. I kept screwing up the lace portions. The instructions were, to put it kindly, sparse. Some things we had to figure out completely ourselves.  Some things stumped us, and given that we are both experienced knitters, and we were both having trouble, that should tell you something.


Now we're both done and guess what? Hers is too big. And mine is too big. You can see in the photos from the way I'm holding my arms up that the neck is huge, even after I picked up stitches, which did pull it in a bit; in fact, it almost puckers weirdly from how much the neckline was pulled in from the finishing work. You can see that a little bit in the picture below.

I'm tired today.
 I'm disappointed, to be honest. The yarn is wonderfully light and soft (Cozette by Knit One Crochet Too) and even though the sweater doesn't fit, it is still comfortable because the finished fabric is so nice next to the skin. But even though I made the smallest size and my gauge was perfect (it really was! I'm not lying!), the whole thing hangs too loose and the neck really bugs me because it's so wide. To go out, I wore a brown A-line skirt and tan boots, which should have been cute, but ended up kind of frumpy and dumb.
See Anya's elbow in the corner there?



I'm glad the sweater is done, but I don't know if I'll keep it. I won't frog it to reuse the yarn, because it's so delicate, it would break if I tried to pull out all that work. Plus, this would look really nice on someone a little bigger than I am, or at least someone with more of a chest than I've got. I could keep it and wear it anyway, maybe find a necklace to help cover that huge collar area that's exposed and isn't flattering on me. If I'd made the whole thing 6-8" longer, it would be a nice beach coverup. You know, for all those tropical vacations we take.


Pattern: Scoop-Neck Pullover from VK Spring/Summer 2014
Yarn: Knit One Crochet Too Cozette
Sticks: size 7 circulars
Mods:  none aside from yarn substitution. I should have found a way to make this smaller, at least the neckline