Sunday, February 19, 2017

birthday socks

Daniel just turned 11. I started this blog when he was just a few months old, and when I think about how much has changed about the way knitters interact online since then, it makes my head spin a little. Those are thoughts for another day, however, because I wanted to show you the socks I made him for his birthday.

I'll be honest, here. This color would not have been my first choice! But Daniel has decided he loves pink. In fact, he stole a pair of neon pink socks I knit last summer for someone else...

Notice that one is inside out.
But given how much Daniel loves to wear those pink socks, I decided to make him another pair for his birthday. I did notice that the first pair are actually a little tight on him, which means his legs and ankles are bigger around than mine, though our feet are about the same size. 

There were a few things I did to ensure that this pair of socks would fit better:

  1. I cast on more stitches: 68 instead of 64.
  2. I used a stretchy stitch pattern: broken 1x1 rib instead of stockinette.
  3. I did a heel flap and gusset instead of short rows for a deeper heel.

I often just knit socks without a pattern, but I got myself the book Sock Architecture by Lara Neel last year and thought I should put it to use. This is the top-down Strie sock pattern from that book. 

The yarn is Adorn Sock by Three Irish Girls in a colorway I can't find on their website at the moment, but it's obviously a few shades of pink. I was surprised to see that it striped because I never would have guessed that from the way it looked in the hank. I was afraid the pooling around the ankles would bug me, but it didn't.

I was traveling for a gig for the week leading up to his birthday, so I didn't finish the socks until a few days late. He wore them for two days in a row once they were finished, and didn't seem to mind they weren't done in time!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Snapshots: yesterday (and PHP)

For the first time in a while, I felt real hope yesterday. I did the finishing touches on our pussy hats, we made posters (the kids designed their own), and then we all biked downtown along with about 100,000 other people. Of course, our work to protect the civil rights and safety of all is just beginning. But this was a very, very good start.


No idea who this guy is, but he had a pretty good poster.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

pink knitting

I have noticed that I have experienced a LOT more anxiety in general since having children. It just comes with the territory, I guess. I worry when things go wrong, and I worry when things are okay because I am afraid things will go wrong at any moment. My rational self realizes that this a waste of energy and counter-productive, but it happens anyway. Sometimes I am good at talking myself out of it and sometimes not.

I want to be up front here and say that I do not have a diagnosable disorder. I do not experience panic attacks and I do not have depression. I am extraordinarily fortunate in this regard and I am aware enough to empathize with people who require treatment without pretending that my experience is the same. It's not the same. I know that.

Still, it's been a rough week. New semester means new students, new music, new scheduling issues, and just the anticipation of all that has me feeling an unusual amount of stress. Friday's inauguration has filled me with impending doom (and the sudden urge to knit pink hats for the whole family to wear to the women's march in our city this Saturday). Plus the weather sucks big time with rain and ice and all manner of yuck; I'd rather have a snowstorm, personally.

All of this culminated in a monster headache this afternoon that was verging on a migraine. (I've had one migraine in my life and it was not an experience I care to repeat. Dreadful, that.) I had some meetings at my workplace, the first in a noisy room, and the second in a room with florescent lights so bright I could hardly stand it. I knit most of a hat in that two-hour workshop, and that was the only thing that kept me from passing out on the floor.

Or maybe it was the searing pink that gave me that headache? Who knows!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

a bit of catch up

It's hard to know what to even write about these days. Everything in the news is either so sad, or so infuriating. I was listening to the press conference on in the car this morning, the part where the lawyer spelled out all the unethical things they're doing and tried to spin it as ethical. It made me want to break something.

I know the best thing I can do is focus on what is possible for me in my place in the world. I'm a musician by trade. I play and teach piano. It's not exactly an innovative career. Still, I believe that music is profoundly important in people's lives, often in ways they're not even fully aware of, and I like to think that my work contributes to the good in the world, whether I'm coaching a 12-year-old kid on his first contest piece or collaborating on a masters recital or teaching college students how to find middle C on their keyboards. 

I'm also raising kids and volunteering at their school and growing kale in my front yard. That all has to count for something, too.

I will also continue to write and share here about what I'm doing and making because it's important to me. This isn't escapism for me, though. I don't make things to forget about the news. I do it to cope.

All that said, I want to share some photos of a few projects I finished last month.

Remember the BBB pants and cross-stitched onesies for the little squirt in Denver? I discovered better photos on the memory card in the camera when I was uploading other stuff. I think they're cute enough for a recap!

Navy corduroy, thick flannel, and a navy peace sign.

Lightweight charcoal denim, giant (1") gingham, and a gray peace sign.

A view of the cuffs!
I hope my cousin sends pictures before he grows out of these! 

Next, something for Anya. Her birthday is in mid-December, and for part of her present, I made her some clothes. There was a pair of yoga pants with a giant waistband that had to be fastened with a  safety pin so they didn't fall down (oops), so I didn't even bother to photograph those. But I also made her a dark gray hooded t-shirt and I think it's her favorite now.

The pattern is the Rowan Tee by Titchy Threads and it's a good one. I love the Flashback Skinny Tee as well and have made well over a dozen by now, but the Rowan Tee comes with a hood option. (There are also options for nifty little contrasting stripes on the shoulders and sleeves.) It's fully lined, so the hood can be a little heavy and pull the shirt, but it doesn't seem to bother her.

Anya likes her clothes pretty plain (as you can see), and it's kind of killing me that she doesn't even want a bit of stripage or polka dottage inside the hood or on the shoulder. Nope. Just plain gray or navy blue. I guess if your 9yo kid likes wearing what you make, you keep making what she likes, amiright?
See those Christmas lights behind her? We took the tree down a while ago now. That's how long I've been sitting on these  photos.
The last thing (for today) is a pair of socks I finished soon after Christmas. I intended for them to be socks for Daniel, but well into the first one it was clear they would be a little snug for him. Rather than rip back, I started something else for him and decided to finish these for Anya. 

The green is pretty accurate in this photo.

I used Leading Men Fiber Arts (available locally, which is thrilling) in the colors "Darkest Hour" and "Alien Invasion." I don't really have to tell you which is the green and which is the gray, do I? The idea was to mimic the colors of a creeper from Minecraft, so I used the contrast gray for cuffs, heels and toes for a kind of color block effect.

I didn't really use a pattern. I just cast on 68 stitches (the yarn is on the finer side of fingering weight, really lovely), did a 2x2 cuff, a short row heel, and decreased the toes down to 8 stitches so I could pull the yarn through instead of Kitchenering them. 

I really need to make socks for Daniel now. His feet are the same size as mine (waaaaah when did that happen?!!) so I suppose as long as they fit me, they should fit him. He has a birthday coming up, too, in a few weeks. I could certainly make him creeper socks with the leftovers, perhaps switching the main and contrast colors. 

Next post I'll show you some more Christmas knits. I was only late with about half of them!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

so, 2017

Here it is, January 3rd already and I haven't done a proper roundup of 2016 or thought about resolutions or new beginnings for 2017. The last month has been a whirlwind and I've just barely been able to keep my own life organized and running smoothly with nothing leftover for blogging. That's just how it goes sometimes.

2016 was a horrible, shitty year for news cycles and global politics. You all know how I feel about that. I follow these things pretty closely and the headlines never fail to deliver a new punch to the gut on a daily basis. I won't rant about anything here because it's too depressing and I wouldn't even know where to start. But I'm honestly really worried.

For our family, however, 2016 was a good year. We're healthy. There are three new babies in my extended family, including my niece Violet, with whom we are all completely and totally smitten. Our home renovation project took a bit longer and cost a bit more than originally anticipated, but it did finally get done and we couldn't be happier with how that turned out. My work life has its ups and downs but I've got more than enough to keep me busy and am considering exploring other career options. Possibly.

The holidays are such a mixed bag, aren't they? For me, December is like an emotional blender full of end-of-semester stress (I'm on an academic schedule), birthdays (Anya's is the 14th and mine is the 29th, wedged awkwardly between Christmas and the New Year), negotiating gift exchanges, the illnesses that inevitably make their way around this time of year, and the added burden of travel plans. We decided to take a big road trip this year, and spent 11 days driving to Kentucky (to see my parents), then to North Carolina (to see my husband's parents and brother and fam, plus their uncle who drove all the way from Montana), then back to Kentucky, then back here to Wisconsin. That's 4 days in the car in the span of just under two weeks. Thankfully, the road trip went well - it was actually quite fun! and it helps that we are all seasoned travelers by now, especially for car trips (with the aid of Dramamine for one of us...) - and now we're home and trying to get ourselves back into a routine. It's a process.

You're here for the knitting/sewing/making, right? Bear with me. It's coming.

I finished several small projects in the last two weeks, mostly Christmas gifts for Stuart and the kids, but I haven't taken a photograph of a single one. Our nice camera traveled over 2,000 miles in the last two weeks and never made it out of my backpack. I will take photos soon, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share some baby gifts I pulled together early in December.

I do love making baby gifts. This is partly because when my own kids were tiny I wanted to make so many things for them but just didn't have the time or brain power (neither of them really napped so I didn't have my hands free until Anya started KG) so now I feel like I'm making up for those lost opportunities. And also, I just plain like making gifts, so I do as often as possible.

Besides my brother's daughter, who I have made several items for already (not everything made it onto the blog but you can see the Wee Owligan, some summer outfits, and more summer things in those links, plus a blanket and sweater last Christmas before she was born), there are two more babies in the extended family: my cousin in Denver had a baby boy at the end of May, and another cousin in Tulsa welcomed a daughter in mid-November.

I went fabric shopping with my mom over Thanksgiving (we like to do that together, whether either of us "needs" anything or not) and at Mill House Quilts I stumbled upon some farm-themed coordinates that I absolutely COULD NOT resist. The baby girl in Tulsa, you see, is the daughter of my cousin David, who works as an engineer but grew up on a farm and has always loved it - the land, the machines, the wide open fields and endless sky. I made two pairs of Big Butt Baby Pants (from MBR).

I was on a roll, so I cross-stitched onesies to match.

Simple hearts would do...the first one was a little lopsided, but I decided that was part of the charm of the whole thing (rather than my inexperience with waste canvas).


I decided that the sewing of those little pants would be done right. Rae's instructions don't say much about seam finishing, so I had to experiment a bit. Normally the quickest thing is to run the seams through the serger, but my serger totally sucks and I aren't getting along at the moment, so I chose to do flat-felled seams for the butt panels:

And I did French seams for the rest:

All in all, it made a charming little ensemble and I got a very sweet thank you note from the baby's mom this week.  She had a C-section ahead of schedule and they also have a very energetic 2yo, so her hands are full. I marvel at her ability to keep everything together.

Another cousin of mine, (David's sister, in fact), who lives in Denver, had a baby at the end of May. We had a family reunion in July and I was going to be so on top of things and have a gift ready. Alas, the knitting project I had going was an epic fail in so many ways that I abandoned it (this deserves a whole post for another time) and eventually decided to sew something instead. Since the BBB pants are such a failsafe project, I made him a couple pairs, also with cross-stitched onesies!

For these, I opted for peace signs instead of hearts and cuffs on the pants. My cuz and her hubby are hipster types in the best possible way.

Once again I opted for more time-consuming but professional looking seam finishes. I want to point out that an advantage to the French seams on this particular design is that you get an extra row of stitching along the crotch, where the pants are likely to see the most strain. I did some backstitching there too, for additional reinforcement.

For the baby boy pants, I used fabric I had in stash rather than buying new. I knew I had plenty on hand that would be suitably adorable. I won't pretend I'm doing well with "stash less" (I'm not, really) but I'll keep trying. That's as close to a  new year's resolution as I'm going to get.

I'll come back soon with another catch up post, I promise!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"finish as desired"

Several months ago I purchased the Stowe Bag pattern, a design collaboration between Fringe Association and Grainline Studio. I hesitated because 1) I own a couple of books on making bags already, and 2) I have made plenty of tote bags and project bags without a pattern at all and most have turned out just fine. Still, everything I saw on social media and read online about the Stowe Bag was so gushy and effusive that eventually I caved and got it. 

Verdict: meh. 


I'm a big fan of both the Fringe blog and Grainline's patterns in general, but this bag pattern was a big disappointment to me. I've made one and started another, but I don't know if I'll be able to finish it.

Let's start with the one I finished. I made this months ago - I think it was over the summer - and I never got around to blogging about it. I made the smaller size out of fabric pilfered from my mom's stash (thanks, mom!!) and I quite enjoy the contrasting black and white prints against that pale blue lining.

I wanted this bag to have some body, so I lined the whole thing and even added interfacing, though that was probably overkill. As you can see in these suboptimal iPhone photos, the bag pretty much stands up on its own.

Now, there are aspects of the design that I like. The pockets? Those are nice, though I don't really need instructions for inserting rectangular pockets into a bag. Those handles that fold over themselves with the bias binding? Very clever. I quite like that detail. 

This first bag turned out all right, and I use it quite a bit. In fact, I have a stack of garter stitch chenille washcloths in there that I started after the election. 

But I have serious issues with the instructions. One minor detail is the option to make the bag more three-dimensional by sewing across the bottom corners (you can see I did that in the bottom right of picture above). It's not hard to do, but for some reason I found the instructions on that to be really confusing.

The bigger issue, though, is that unless you get creative, you'll end up with raw edges on the inside of the bag, and I find that unacceptable for something that will ostensibly see a lot of use. I don't think I'm giving away any big secrets here when I tell you that first you sew the pockets to the inside of the bag, and then you sew the bottom and sides together. Regarding those side and bottom seams, which are exposed on the inside, you are simply told: "finish as desired." 

Finishing seams wasn't an issue on the black and white bag because I lined it, so everything was hidden inside. The bottom is a little bunchy with all those layers of fabric, though, and one of the selling points of this bag is supposedly that it folds up nicely when you're not using it. I wanted to make another one without lining so it would be more compact and flexible.

I ran into trouble at the "finish as desired" part of the instructions where you sew the sides and bottom. There are many, many ways to finish seams. I've got a little experience in three of those methods:

  1. French seams
  2. Flat felled seams
  3. Serging
I thought French seams would be too bulky with the added fabric of the pockets, especially at the top of the pocket where the edges are turned under twice. I tried flat-felled seams but the bulk was still an issue and anyway, I couldn't sew all the way down to the corner. I tried serging along the bottom seam as a last-ditch effort, but by then I knew the project would be a lost cause. And my serger isn't great, so I only use it as a last resort.

"Finish as desired." I'll tell you what I desire: finished seams that don't look like a dog chewed on the fabric as it went through the sewing machine.


The problem is the corners where everything comes together. I don't know how to make that look neat.

It's possible I'm being unfair. It's possible I could find a better way to deal with those raw edges, but the only two other methods that come to mind are using a zigzag stitch, which would eventually fray,  or a Hong Kong finish, which wouldn't solve the problem of bulk at the corners. In fact, that would probably be even worse because of adding more fabric to the seams.

I almost threw the whole thing in the trash, but changed my mind at the last moment. Maybe if I find another method I can pick out all the stitches and salvage it. For now, though, I've put it in Time Out.

It only adds to my frustration of feeling overworked and more than a little stressed about the holidays (we're traveling a lot and have left some of the planning and gift-buying WAY last minute, which was a mistake). I wanted to spend a little time today making something nice, and instead I have something that looks like it might have been my first sewing project. I feel like I wasted my time, especially since this is the second Stowe Bag I've attempted and I should have known better.

If, if, I make another Stowe bag, I'm definitely going to line it. It adds bulk, but at least solves the problem of raw edges. I don't have a problem with a lined bag. Not at all! In fact, it's a fun way to use coordinating fabrics. Bonus: if you don't like the pocket stitching showing on the outside of the bag (I'm not wild about it myself), you can hide that in the lining. 

Overall, I'd say the Stowe Bag is a nice concept, but the vague instructions are obviously an issue for me. GL patterns are known for being clear and complete, so to run into these problems was a disappointing surprise. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

state of the sock knitting

It has been ages since I have posted about my actual process of making anything. For months, I've only written sporadically about things I've finished. I show you nice photos and completely fail to mention gloss over all the stuff I screwed up or just plain abandoned, but you know what?  I know that's boring. The most interesting blogs to me are the ones that are, or seem to be, rooted in real life with all the mistakes and messiness that comes with that. People who present only perfectly curated versions of themselves online are ostensibly good at marketing, but to me it gets old fast. Really, one can only see so many artfully posed photos of teacups and half-knitted scarves before they all look the same. Am I right? 

One of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place more than ten years ago (yes, really!) was to document my process along with my projects. I wanted to show the good, the bad and the ugly, not just the perfect finished things. 

(I also thought it would help me be more accountable about stashing, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

I have gotten away from that recently, in part because I have less time to write blog posts (real life and work will do that) and in part because it's so easy to post process stuff on Instagram and go long on hashtags and short on details. Also, it seems like the last few years most blogs that are still updated regularly are the ones attached to businesses so blog posts are mainly to announce updates or new products or giveaways or sale events. I'm not selling anything here, nor do I plan to. I know better than to try and enter the flooded market of knitwear design or OOAK project bags or hand-dyed yarn. No thank you. I already work for myself as a performing artist and that's hard enough. But I'm not sure how relevant this blog is anymore, since it's just me showing you stuff I make.

Still, I'm not ready to give this up completely because I like having this space to write, however irregularly, about what I'm making and why. To those of you still reading, thank you for sticking with me. I'm not sure if I could ever leave it for good.

I'm actually thinking of doing a few short videos to post here, not enough for an actual video podcast (talk about time commitment!) but just for fun. What do you think?

Anyway, in light of my renewed interest in actually discussing my process,  I'm going to show you some socks, all in various stages of completion. 

I'm sure I've told my story of learning to knit socks, but it's been a while and in case you're a relatively new reader, here's a refresher. I learned to knit as a kid and only made pathetic slippers and oversized sweaters (including an ill-fated boyfriend sweater for the guy I dated in the first part of college) until my best friend in graduate school showed me how to use DPNs to knit socks in 2002. That was when I went from being a knitter to a Knitter with a capital K. Folks, that was long before Ravelry,  before knitting blogs, when was in its infancy, back when most patterns had to be bought at actual yarn shops and you had about 5 to choose from in each category, not 5,000.  Socks were done strictly top-down from the cuff with a gusset and heel flap on DPNs. None of these shenanigans with magic-loop toe-up two-at-a-time the young folks are doing these days. Yeah, yeah, I'm a dinosaur. 

I still have the first pair of socks I completed well over ten years ago. I wore them the other day, in fact. I think the yarn is Regia or something similar, a wool/nylon blend that wears like iron. 

I haven't stopped obsessing about knitting since those early grad school days, though I tend to be on again/off again about sock knitting; I'm either cruising right along or in a dry spell for months. I got back into it big time this past summer. The kids were in swimming lessons and there weren't any open lap lanes, so for a half hour every morning I sat by the pool in the sweltering heat and needed something to do that wouldn't make me even sweatier and that didn't require too much concentration. Sock knitting was perfect for that, especially plain stockinette stitch socks out of yarn that does all the work for you. Self-striping is where it's at, yo.

Would you like to see the socks I've made or been making for the past six months or so?

Here is a neon pink pair (I think the yarn is Plymouth something or other) that turned out a little snug for an adult sized foot, which is just as well because Daniel stole them when we were hiking on vacation in June. His feet got wet and the dye bled and turned his toes pink.

I made two pairs out of Patons Kroy self-striping. They're pretty. I like the colors. The yarn is pretty tough and will probably wear well. It's hard to get too excited about them otherwise, though.

I have a nice little stash of  Knitcircus Yarns. Jaala, the creative genius behind KC, does the most fascinating things with gradients and stripes and matching sock sets. Worth. Every. Penny. Now don't get jealous, but it turns out that KC is not only based in Madison, but the dye studio and shop is not too far from my home. In fact, they had an anniversary sale event at their store this past June and it's close enough to me that I biked there and drank lemonade and chatted with the employees (who are all completely delightful) before stocking up on sock yarn and biking home. I'm still trying to knit it all up. Wanna see?

Watermelon stripes! I believe Susan B. Anderson made this color way extremely popular when she posted about it last spring. In fact, I am using her SOS pattern and just need to add one heel before they'll be done.

Extreme strips in black/rainbow. I was unsure about the length of the foot on the first one and didn't want to deal with the heel yet, so I pulled the needles out and started the second sock. I either need to invest in about 6 pairs of size 1 needles OR finish more socks before I start another. 

I have more Knit Circus yarn (oh yes, I do) but it is all still in the, ahem, pre-knitted stage. Here's a sample because I'm not willing to say out loud how much I have in total!

I've gone from being a die-hard heel flap and gusset sock knitter to preferring short row and afterthought heels. They're quicker, less fussy, and much better for self-striping yarns. I think they actually fit my heel better, too.

We're headed for a cold snap, so I'm motivated to get some of these done. I've also started socks for my kids, which I'm hoping to finish for Christmas...

Note that this isn't KC yarn. It's Leading Men Fiber Arts, which is new to me. And gorgeous. And available locally. I might be in trouble. 

I'm nothing if not ambitious.