Felt doll #2: Doe

In the first week of March, I started work designing and making a 2nd felt figure. After my first one, I was on a bit of a felt-doll kick and decided to run with it.

The Idea

The idea for this doll came unexpectedly, but once it arrived, it didn’t let go. One night, while looking aimlessly at the faux-marble designs on our kitchen floor tiles, I saw the face and figure of a little doe in the marble-y striations (my childhood habit of cloud-gazing, it seems, is following me into adulthood). This little doe caught my imagination. I knew then and there that she would be the next doll.

On reflecting further, there was good reason for my little deer vision. My partner and I live near a forest preserve. Last summer, we regularly went on hikes through the more heavily wooded areas, off the path. There, one encounters many little worlds. There was, for instance, the place we called “Frog Central,” which was just that: a nutrient-rich pond covered entirely by luminous green, seed-sized duckweed leaves; its busy banks were always a favourite frog and turtle hangout. What I still remember vividly, though, were the encounters with deer: spotting a lone and roaming stag, twice and, several other times, crossing literal paths with a doe and her fawn, trailing behind. The city makes it easy to forget that we share our world with other creatures who, like us, are simply trying to go about their lives, undisturbed.

Sewing Up

On March 4th, I started to draw out different paper templates. By the 5th, I was cutting out my pieces and threading my needles. I was driven by a lot of curiosity and helped by making a lot of mistakes (some which I kept on the FO, like the different stitch patterns on the doe’s arms, as a reminder for future dolls).

 

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deer 4
Button joints lend moving limbs.
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Close scrutiny of an offered ear (after several tries, this one passed the test and was deer-approved).

 

A Dress for Spring

By the following week, the deer was sitting for a dress-fitting. Coraline’s miniature-knits were still fresh in my memory (this dress is huge by comparison, of course).

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I generated a very minimal design and, after knitting up the dress, I was reminded of the advice given by the instructor who taught my college class on painting fundamentals. She was a professional landscape artist who had an irreverent and humorous teaching style (and inducted us into painting by having us build and stretch numerous 16 sq ft canvases in the studio). Early in the course, she told us “When you find yourself ‘decorating’ your work, stop!”

I have never been good at following this advice. At my core, you’ll find an inveterate “decorator.” I learned this early on: in another art class, we were asked to make a simple “fetish object”; while the other students’ works were nearly all very interesting conceptual objects, I arrived to our critique with a glass bottle that I had fully bedazzled with multi-colored rhinestones and acrylic paint. I felt like I’d missed the point of the assignment! (and discovered, in that encounter, the presumed and often discouraging hierarchy between “art” and “craft”).

I’m recovering my love of embellishment, however, so I had to add a little something extra to this tiny dress. I tried to practice some restraint, though (no rhinestones!). The X’s and O’s on the yoke are my take on Fair Isle patterning. The dress is knit from bamboo yarn; I added sequins to complement the bamboo’s natural luster. The dress is designed to catch those Spring-time rays.

 

deer hold 1deer side

deer standing 3

I hope that this week finds you like this doe – basking in the glow of a long-missed sunbeam.

To Spring! (and to unseasonable, un-Spring-like weather here in the Midwest. I’ll take the sun any day).

Hand-embroidered hats: Top Gun logos

I don’t often see the words “Top Gun” and “embroidered” in the same sentence. The combination brings to mind a cut-throat needlework academy – a place where high-flying crafting hopefuls train their way to the top, and break all the rules doing it. But, I digress. This week, I finished the embroidered knit project I had been working on for February.

The Task

The beau’s cousin, J, recently asked if I could knit him and his best friend a pair of matching caps. Children of the 80s, J and his pal are both big fans of the 1986 film Top Gun. I admit: what I know about the plot comes very second-hand. I haven’t redressed my lack of knowledge by watching it, but in the film “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) are fierce aviation-school rivals who develop a loyal wingmen friendship by the end. They also happen to be J and his pal’s favourite on-screen buddies. The knitting request was simple: could I knit 2 caps – an “Iceman” and “Maverick” hat for J and his pal, respectively? Knowing little about Top Gun fandom myself, I liked the idea of making something in the name of friendship while trying some new knitting techniques.

The Caps 

I chose to knit the Scraptastic hat pattern, using size 3 needles and two strands of fingering weight held together. At my gauge (slightly looser than the pattern), Medium turned out good, though a tad roomier than I expected. I knit the subsequent hat in Small for a closer fit.

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The Graph

Given full creative hat-design leeway, I thought that using the movie logo would be 80s nostalgic while channeling a little bit of the irony of a knit-embroidery tribute to a movie about fighter pilots.

I used Stitch Fiddle to graph my design out. It allows you to enter your gauge (over 4″/10 cm) to render a grid that reflects your particular tension for making colour work charts. Stockinette stitches tend to be a little wider than they are tall. Because of this, using square-box graph paper to plan a design may result in a slightly skewed final project. Programs like Stitch Fiddle allow for a better idea of what the finished design will actually look like. It’s simple to use; rows and columns are added and deleted with a mouse click. It’s like Excel for your DIY colourwork, embroidery, and cross-stitch projects. All I have to say is “yes!” to this indispensable online tool, and others like it.

Top Gun logo.jpg

ICEMAN - colourwork chart 2.jpg

maverick-chart

The Embroidery

Just a single strand of fingering weight and some duplicate stitching was enough to do the trick. I eased into embroidering slowly, working on the hats during free moments during the day. I tend to find my stitching stride best at night, after dinner. The fluid motions of embroidery, and the vigilance to tension, develop a finger-tip attentiveness to the materials quite different from knitting. In contrast to the hardy, elastic, and structured fabric of knitting, embroidered things feel a bit more fragile and precarious to me – until they’re done, my m.o. is to handle with care.

duplicate-stitch-composite

Less exciting was weaving in all the ends. I learned late in the game to use a single long strand to embroider multiple letters, rather than cutting my strand after each character.

Also, I personally find it best to work the duplicate stitch from the bottom to top, starting at the base of a letter, then working up and across. It’s just a little neater that way, I find.

Finally, the Top Gun hats

On the way…

embroidery-5

And done.

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All in all, this was a fun project. It’s hard not to see blank stockinette surfaces as a canvas for some stitchery waiting to happen. It was a surprise for the knitting to unexpectedly serve as a gateway to embroidery.

To embroidering, and matching hats…and friends!

needles

 

WIP: Embroidered hats

I hope you are having a great week.

I received a request, a while ago, for a knitting commission of sorts: a request for 2 personalized ‘name’ hats, due at the end of February. I said yes (always excited to take on a new creative challenge).

But, readers, I have never knit such a thing – I have never put text on a garment. As I watched tutorial after tutorial for intarsia and stranded knitting over the last few days, I wondered if I could deliver the promised goods. Beyond mastering stranded/intarsia techniques (no simple feat), there was the question of designing a colour chart, finding a way to work it into a hat pattern that didn’t initially include one, while making sure to observe the proportions of the letters, the positioning of the name on the hat, etc. I couldn’t conceive of how to pull this off.. I was all question marks – a big long “uhhhhh……??”

Eureka!: Embroidery

A ray of light came through the clouds. I discovered the Duplicate stitch (a.k.a. Swiss darning). Often used on knits for lettering and monograms, the duplicate stitch is a nifty over-embroidery technique. One simply follows ‘on top’ and around each v-shaped stockinette stitch with a contrast strand, as below.

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Embroidery must have been invented so that human beings could cultivate awe and develop their powers of contemplation. That’s my theory, at least. I love embroidery – looking at it, following out the details with my eye, running my fingers over the stitches. It’s just delightful. When it comes to doing the actual embroidering, however, I’m an absolute newbie.

After some experimenting with different fibers and thicknesses for this project, I decided to embroider the names on the hats using a single strand of fingering weight (as above). This does not offer perfect stitch coverage, but neither does it bend the knitting out of shape the way doubled thread did (making the stitches look tense and stressed). I was on my way.

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Another use for gauge swatches: home for letter-y experiments.

The Hats

The 2 requested hats are for a ski trip. I chose Jane Tanner’s Scraptastic Hat – a simple, close-fitting beanie that hopefully won’t fly off on the slopes. Meant to be worked using sock yarn remnants, the pattern specifies US 2 needles, at a gauge of 7 sts to the inch. Using two strands of superfine/fingering yarn held together, I used my US 3 needles (6 sts/inch). I sized down in the pattern (Large to Medium, for ex.) to compensate for producing a slightly bigger garment than the gauge intends. The finished hat did end up on the roomier side, but is still wearable.

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One hat done, one to go.

I look forward to posting the hats as I continue to work on them. I can only hope the embroidery muses will help get my skills up to snuff in time. I’ve got my needles crossed. More on this project soon.

Happy weekend, friends.