Flower Garlands

Earlier this Spring, I had the idea of decorating our reception venue with lots of handmade flowers. I had originally wanted to make big flowers to festoon the doors and windows. Like an excessive number of huuuuge flowers, or a crochet-flower photo backdrop. I even bought a 25 mm crochet hook and mega-bulky yarn to make this floral dream come true.

Big crochet.

The big flowers weren’t a success: they came out too floppy to hang. Also, I never got comfortable working with that huge hook (and the levels of wrist and arm torque it calls for!).

I went back to my worsted weight yarn and chose 2 floral patterns. For a month or so, my hooks seldom left my side. Train rides, car rides, waiting rooms, and the post dinner lull — it all became prime crochet time. Each flower was done in 20 minutes or so, and the crochet patterns became second nature, which surprised me. I always used to marvel at how crocheters could memorize their complex patterns. It was all a mess of loops, to me, before I started the craft myself. I like to think back to a story my mother would tell of my legendary crocheting great-aunt who could make a peacock-patterned curtain panel over afternoon TV. She was an inveterate cigar-smoker and, as the story goes, could smoke, watch and crochet simultaneously (she smoked out of the side of her mouth, and rarely looked down at the work). I wish I had her levels of multi-tasking ability!

Perhaps more than any other project, this one taught me the motivating power of working on small, quickly finished things in succession: after one flower is done, the mind says “again,” and the works seems to complete itself.

I strung all the little flowers onto 6 garlands, and added some quickly made tassels to the mix. I was happy with how they came out. After the party, the garlands sat in a box for a month, getting their petals bent out of shape. I felt sorry for this. So, I recently took them out and gave them their very own wall. They are keeping our space festive.

Has anyone had success with the huge 50 US/25.00 mm crochet hook? Or making decor or garments with mega bulky yarn? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Happy mid-September Saturday!

The Writing Capelet, Part II: Colour work

afmaeli composite png.pngafmaeli cape 1-1-1If you recall last week’s post, I recently tried (and failed) to design a DIY capelet. As you can see above, a new capelet has been designed and is done. It had its very first outdoor wear during a recent trek through the woods. The day’s ample sunlight also provided the perfect opportunity to capture some of the capelet’s colours. The next step is to don it during a proper indoor writing session; I hope this garment will help me to produce many words.

A big thanks to Andrew for the photo help and company on the hike, and a big thank you to Donna at Yarnify! (my not-so-local LYS) who helped me choose the green you see here (Cascade 220 in the Lake Chelan colourway).

If you feel inclined, I’ve included some sections on the capelet’s making and design process below (a few more details can be found on the project’s Ravelry page).


The Idea: A Garment Mashup

After frogging my first try at this garment, I took to Ravelry for ideas. I came across the classic Afmaeli sweater and knew that I had to use this yoke pattern (I have been swooning over it for more than a year). Not long after, I came across the Boden and Sweetie Pie capelets, respectively.  Working from the reference pictures, I decided to combine the three garments’ different design elements: the Afmaeli yoke, the hemline and fit of the Sweetie Pie, and Boden’s loose and flattering neckline.

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Left: Afmaeli © Istex;   Top right: Boden © Nice and Knit;   Bottom right: Sweetie Pie © Loop Knitting Ltd.  Image Source: Ravelry.

Adapting the Afmaeli Yoke 

To adapt the Afmaeli yoke for capelet purposes, I started by noting that the yoke’s colourwork chart uses a pattern that repeats over 16 stitches. I made sure, then, to choose a stitch-count that was a multiple of 16 (a trick I picked up while reading Andrea Rangel’s Alterknit Stitch Dictionary). I was knitting with worsted weight at a gauge of 19 sts over 4″ / 10 cm. At my gauge, my magic number was 192 sts. This would produce a cape-width of around 40″ around the hemline.

Modifying the Yoke Decreases

I first assumed that I could work the Afmaeli yoke exactly as the pattern directs to produce a capelet, but I came to learn that these aren’t interchangeable! Because I was working fewer stitches than the actual sweater-pattern called for (16 sts fewer, to be exact), working the original pattern ended up producing a triangular, funnel-like, neckline, rather than one that fell neatly on the shoulders. “Icelandic funnel” was not quite the look I was going for.

I frogged the latter half of the yoke and found that it worked best to perform the cape’s decreases at 2 critical points: a) 1 row of evenly spaced decreases, a few rows into the stranded yoke (as directed by the pattern), and b) successive rows of decreases over, roughly, the last 7 rows of the yoke before the neckline. This produced a much better shape: the cape begins to ‘taper in’ only where it’s needed, on the shoulders (no funnel!).

With 84 sts remaining, I finished off the neckline by working 2 rows of purl, then ~5 rows of k1 p1 ribbing. Regular bind off in-pattern.

Modifying the Colourwork Chart

Because I decided to bypass some of the original pattern’s yoke decreases (to keep the width of the capelet more or less constant until the shoulder decreases, as described above), I ended up with more stitches on my needles than the pattern called for on the last few rows of the yoke. This is the area of the yoke where the tiny ‘tulips’ are. The original tulip-pattern called for a 12-stitch repeat; at that point, my stitch-count was still a multiple of 16.

My stitch-surplus required a little bit of tinkering with the chart. Using Stitch Fiddle, I adapted Afmaeli’s original 12-stitch tulip-repeat by adding 4 extra stitches to make a 16-stitch repeat. This little bit of problem-solving was lots of fun.

Afmaeli chartI did have a blunder (or two) working my tulip pattern, however. Two tulips at the beginning of the round, in particular, had some trouble making the transition into the new version of things.

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The one on the left seems to have started melting, and the tulip on the right has decided to break into full on Pacman mode. It’s ok. They’ll stay that way.

A final thought on blocking 

Recall that a common source of stranded knitting trepidation comes from the very real potential for puckering. As I was working, this anxiety seemed all but confirmed. There was plenty of pucker apparent on the WIP, especially at the transition where the colour work led to a section of regular knitting. Stranded knitting does tend to knit up tighter than straight stockinette:

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This looks like smocking.

I charged ahead, however. I am glad for it: a lot of that apparent pucker came out after blocking! I performed a light steam block with a coloursafe cloth over the steam iron (and some light, low-heat pressing on the colour work). It was eye-opening to see just how much steam alone relaxes stitches and evens out the fabric. Until blocking happens, apparently, what you see is not quite what you get in the realm of stranded knitting (I imagine that a full wet block might have evened out the fabric even more).


Phew. Between the mods, the frogging, the work on tensioning, and experimenting with different yarn holds, this capelet-mashup was a knitting workout! There was a lot of trial and error (and more error). And, it helped to treat the mistakes with a light touch. Knitting, after all, is partly the business of providing others and oneself with a little warmth and comfort; the process ought to mirror the product, no?

I hope that this week, however the weather, finds you enjoying something fun – project or otherwise!

Do you have a favourite DIY design garment? I’d love to hear about your design adventures in the comments!

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DIY story: A feltie in 4 steps

feltie feature

I’m not sure what happened the other week.

Maybe it was seeing doll-artist Mimi Kirchner’s doll-making tutorial on Purl Soho, and then being completely blown away by the dolls on her instagram feed. They are incredible.

Maybe it’s the long-going, all-garter-stitch project that I’ve been working on — like cloud-gazing, working its rows tends to lull me into daydreams about things to make.

Or, maybe it’s simply the slow seasonal shift out of winter (fingers crossed?) that’s bringing in a new light and, with it, some unexpected creative whims. Whatever the case and cause, I felt the strong desire to make a felt doll last last Saturday – it was an insistent and oddly specific feeling that a little felt creature of some kind had to happen, and for no discernible reason. I am not known to say no to a surprise visitation from the feltie fairy; I canceled my weekend movie-night plans, brewed a big pot of tea, and took to the drawing board. Here’s the DIY story, in 4 parts.

(Note: I have minimal hand-sewing experience and near-zero needlepoint skills, so the following project is easy enough for absolute feltie beginners!).

1. Designing a Pattern 

I started with a simple sketch – a brainstorm of how I wanted a potential doll to look. I was inspired by one of my favourite childhood drawings: a picture of a somewhat forlorn hippie-bear with vacant pools for eyes. My current doll-prototype has yet to approximate the truth and goodness of this bear; it’s one of my favourite things.

I translated the sketch into a slightly modified paper cut-out that would serve as the doll pattern. Having no experience with designing doll-arms and doll-legs that move, I decided to make a static figure. Very Gumby-like. I held off on the rabbit-ears (but this idea has been very much shelved for later).

 

2. Stuffing & Sewing Up

Two identical pieces of felt were cut from this template (one for the doll-front, the other for the back). That is about as easy as it gets. Pinning the two pieces together kept the edges aligned while hand-sewing. They were seamed using a visible whip stitch and stuffed using some poly-fill that we conveniently happened to have on hand from felties past. One trick that I found useful (though likely unconventional) was to fill each small section as it was sewn (a leg, an arm, etc.). Skinny limbs can be hard to stuff — the flat end of a pencil can help move the fill to where it needs to go.

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I spent Saturday sewing and stuffing my way through the project, and by Sunday morning, the paper template had a marshmallowy, 3-D version of itself (with a tummy patch!).

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Another lesson learned, here: once stuffed, the resulting doll will be a little thinner than its paper counterpart — something to keep in mind when designing a stuffable template of this kind!

3. Adding Features

Using Mimi Kirchener’s excellent Purl Soho tutorial as a guide, I gave the doll some hair: a simple cut-out from one of her “wigs” that adorably represents a neat little parted up-do. The hair was sewn on, again, with a visible whip-stitch.

feltie hair.jpg

I returned to my creature last Tuesday to embroider some features. This step made me pause: I have almost no thread/floss-needlepoint skills, and the closest I come was a failed 5th-grade cross-stitch project that never saw the light of day (coincidentally, this project was also of a bear, seated, holding a heart which ended up looking more like a deflated beach ball). In other words, not a good track-record to bring to a project that I thought was going well, and didn’t want to ruin in one fell needle-swoop!

Luckily, Nathalie Mornu’s Embroider Your Life: Simple Techniques & 150 Stylish Motifs to Embellish Your World was an indispensable embroidery guide — it’s very beginner- and user-friendly (not scary!) and provides easy-to-read primers on how to do basic stitches and shapes with needle and thread. The ethos of the book is that embroidery and needlepoint can go anywhere.

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Using a water-soluble ink pen to pre-mark where the eyes would go, I used satin-stitch to fill in the eyes, to make a nose on a ‘snout’ (using a contrast colour of felt), as well as for her tiny heart tattoo (because she wears her heart on her sleeve). Back stitch was used for the brows and mouth.

I’m learning that there’s good reason to wait until the doll is stuffed to add its features – it’s simply much easier to see how and where everything will actually be positioned on an already-fully-stuffed head.

4. Last step: some new threads!

This was the part I anticipated the most when I started the project — my imagination was set free by dreams of tiny sweaters galore. I decided, in the end, to start with a basic poncho in the round: after a basic neckline, I worked a few rows of raglan-style increases and kept on knitting rather than separating the stitches off for sleeves (worked on size 4 DPNs and some scrap DK weight from another project, more on that soon).

As in large-scale knitting, top-down construction lends itself nicely to work-in-progress fittings:

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And voilà.

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A feltie and her (fore)bear.

The mini-poncho’s colour work pattern comes from Andrea Rangel’s quite awesome AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs. It’s a great resource for fun colour work charts (you’ll find everything in this book from zombies and squirrels to bicycles and scarab beetles). So much colour work goodness here!


And that’s a wrap! I hope to do more of these. Felties are fun to experiment with, and are great for small-scale garment-making. Following the process from sketch to sewing up can, as you can see, lead to some quite unexpected results (which, I think, is where the joy in design and making lies).

Have a DIY feltie design query? Or any doll-making tips to pass on? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Wishing you many moments of creative happiness this week!

Knitting up: Recycled yarn, part III

After winding down, naturally, comes knitting up.

I’ve been working nights, over the past few weeks, on my recycled-yarn sweater, and it is slowly taking shape! After dreaming about tackling a seamless top-down sweater (a construction method I love), I decided to work on a seamed sweater project instead. Having had the fun and excitement of making a top-down baby sweater, I felt like I wanted a new challenge.

I felt a twinge of love at first sight when I laid eyes on Roberta Rosenfeld’s Drape front sweater in the pages of a slightly weathered copy of Vogue Knitting’s Very Easy Sweaters (2013).

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© Vogue Knitting/Rose Callahan

The sweater looked comfortable, versatile and, yes, very, very easy in its all-stockinette composition. If you recall, the back of the sweater was completed a while ago.

WIP 6-1-17

The front of the sweater has since also been knit up, but with one major modification: it won’t be a draping sweater after all! It will be a plain-fitting, non-draping front. Literally, a sweater t-shirt. It’s as simple as tops get. I chose this modification for two reasons:

1. I learned that I did not have enough of the recycled yarn for the drape version, which requires an extra stretch of knitting at the front. Yep.

2. Knitting up using my recycled yarn ended up requiring making many (many) joins. The sweater is basically made up of yarn pieces! This photo may be tantamount to airing out my dirty laundry, but here’s what I mean:

 

joins
Sweater front (wrong side): a veritable infestation of joins.

The original pattern requires half of the sweater-front to be twisted after being knit up, leaving half of the front ‘inside out’ (with an outfacing garter-stitch side) and the other half in regular stockinette.  The prospect of multiple loose threads from the joins above coming undone and leaving little ends sticking out did not appeal to me. I decided to abandon the dream of that beautiful drape and keep the joins where they belonged: on the inside of the garment!

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Sweater front (right side): I was sad to ditch the drape, but the joins will be contained once woven in.

What’s left, now, is to block the front, then sew the two pieces together. I’m a little jittery about this last step, but I can’t wait to share (and wear) the results. I resolve to love this ‘first sweater,’ regardless of how misshapen it may turn out. In honesty, I already love this future recycled garment with all my heart: I love that this sweater gave me so much time of happy work. It will be that funny sweater I wear that contains all the hours of joy and delight that went into making it. It will be my Happiness Sweater (for this reason, I really hope it fits!). More to come.

Hoping this week finds you enjoying some stitching under the sun!

Knit, write, run, repeat: On slow progress

Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).

I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:

1.  I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.

2.  I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.

When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.

Knitting

I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.

I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.

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Recycled yarn sweater in progress – half the back! (May 15, 2017)

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Completed back of recycled yarn sweater, thumbtack-blocking on a spare sofa (June 1, 2017)

Writing

Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.

Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuff and have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.

On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.

The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.

Running

More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace.  Jogging, I guess.

Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners –  the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).

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Start at the beginning. At the starting line of Chicago’s 40th annual 5K Ridge Run, May 29th.

We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.

It’s an example to live by.


How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?

Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.