Thursday, August 28, 2014

Creative Blog Hop!

There's a thread being spun in the blogisphere. A thread of shared thoughts on why and how we create what we do. I was invited to participate by my Squam roomie, Austen of The Marmalade Jar. (She shared her thoughts here.) She is a writer, maker, lover of words, and punster extraordinaire. The first two are apparent in the blog. The other two you'll have to catch in her Twitter feed. If you've found your way here from her blog, welcome. Make yourself at home.

My task is to get a little introspective. Not something that comes too naturally, I'll admit. But the first question is pretty straight forward: What am I working on now?

Things have been simplified lately. I think this is still an effect from taking a long trip in June. I "tidied" up the projects before I went and didn't pick up too many after I got back. And it's a busy time of year for me so I have less time. But I do have projects:

1. Wool-Aid Socks. This past spring, I made a commitment (to myself) to work on charity socks for my "travel knitting", that is the knitting I have in my purse and work on away from the house. I like to knit socks, but was getting too many pair. (Is there such a thing? Apparently.) This also relieved me of the decision of what to take with and made me always prepared with something "easy" to go. Now I just have to make sure I have some wool and I'm set. (I make simple ribbed socks and don't need any kind of pattern.) The ones you see here are my third pair.

2. The Hari Scarf by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. I just started this one. Olga is a great designer that I've been following for a while. (Website here.) I love that the knitting moves into the third dimension. In this yarn I bought on our trip to the Rockies, I see either waves on an ocean or blue mountains. (Or dinosaurs, I have to admit.)

3. And some projects I haven't pulled out in a while. Fingerless gloves for a gift, but they ended up being too big and I haven't reworked them yet. The second mitten to a purple cable set. Quilts. Oh the quilts. My red and yellow Kaffe Fasset fabrics quilt is still waiting for the quilting to be finished. There's the Kentucky flower quilt that I'm hand quilting. I don't think that will ever be finished. (You have to actually work on it for something to get finished, right? I think I heard that somewhere.) And the Hawaiian star top that I haven't considered quilting yet. But I'm ok with that. Making quilts is a long process for me.

4. And then there's this:
Ripping apart the upstairs. Before you're too impressed, rest assured that my husband did the bulk of the work. Eventually our whole house will be redone and these rooms are somewhere in the middle.

You may not think it's creative work, but I find I use the same parts of my brain for working on the house. You're always problem solving. And making do with what you have. Or making up for "surprises" that pop up. In many ways it's not very different whether it's running out of yarn for a sweater (colour block, anyone? add stripes?) or finding out that wall I wanted to remove is a load-bearing wall (partial wall with an arch? support posts?). I just wish that the house remodel didn't resemble my quilting more than my knitting (i.e. a long process).

Next question: How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well. I don't design my pieces and generally follow other people's patterns, but I know enough about how I like to knit and what I think makes a well-made garment that I liberally change things to suit me. I don't often see why it's such a big deal, but others tell me my stuff is just really well done. In all the little details and the big picture. It seems easy to me, but they talk about it like it's really hard.

I think a more significant way my work may differ is how I go about it. Without fear for one thing. No fear of failure. (You can always rip out knitting--unless it's mohair but you know that going in.) I am astounded when I overhear conversations in the knit shop and all these people can say is "But what if..." "But how do I..." "Oh I could never... " Just try it people, and see. It's not rocket science. At least, not to me. I may not do something because I don't like it, but not because I think I can't.

Now my quilts, I hardly ever follow a pattern. I look at patterns. But if it's made from triangles and squares (and I don't piece curves so that's all I've got), then I can make it up after looking at the picture. But again, no fear. Absolute confidence in my colour choices. And if later I realize they weren't the best choice, it's a learning experience. (And styles in quilts change more quickly than I finish a quilt so sometimes it's hard to know if my choices were wrong or just bound by the time they were made.)

Why do I write/create what I do?
Now we're really getting introspective. I'll say first off that I don't really think I can answer that. I enjoy it. But that just begs another why. But it's not the enjoyment where everything is fun and wonderful. Sometimes it's a slog, sometimes it hurts (like when knitting a dense fabric), sometimes it's boring, but always it's good...if you believe in the end product. If you're making something you don't really want to do, it's all awful. (This is the same relationship I had with math. Absolutely loved it. Would become so frustrated when it wasn't working, but couldn't put it down. And then epiphany followed by ecstasy.) That's knitting.

Quilting is done more for the end product. Can I get an idea to work its way into reality?

I haven't done enough weaving to know for sure. I enjoy the weaving itself--managing all that string!--but the set up and preparation is enough to keep me from doing it very often. (So far.)

And of course, sometimes I create just because I know someone else will enjoy the end product. And in that case even if I don't really like what I'm making, it's still enjoyable because they will like it. And it makes me feel useful and like I'm actually contributing something.

How does my writing/creating process work?
Oo, so much thinking. Most of the time, ideas percolate for a long time before I act on them. Sometimes ideas die in this stage. Usually that is for the best if they do. But the ones that get done suddenly come to life when the right pattern comes along, or the right yarn, or the right mood. Then--boom--it's started and gets finished in fairly straight-forward manner. That's knitting, again.

As I've said, quilting takes longer. But most of the creative work is done up front. Piecing the top is almost purely mechanical. Maybe that's why I always leave picking the border and binding for the end--it gives me one more chance to make some creative decisions.

In either case, I generally stick to the plan as I'm working while always adjusting for things that come up. Maybe the dyelots don't match as well as you thought. Or you're running out of yarn (or time). I'm not hung up on the original plan if there's a reason to change it. And I don't feel the need to make all the decisions at the beginning. If you have enough to get started, then get started. (On this green dress, for example,
I had no idea what the embroidery was going to be like. Just that there would be something on the skirt. The gold trim was also something that occurred to me to do while I was knitting.)

I think I've gone on for long enough! Time to pass the torch.

I have asked "The Yarnista" (Holly) of Holly Knits to answer these same questions and keep the hop going. Holly is a fellow lover of Vogue Knitting magazine and you can see many of her beautiful works here on her Ravelry page. (And for those of you who read the magazine, you may recall her two-page profile spread in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue! I know...gush gush.)

Aaannnd, I asked Mary Fons of She is the creator of Quilty and co-host of the Fons and Porter "Love of Quilting" TV show with her mom, Marianne Fons. She also is a great writer--I enjoy her blog Papergirl a lot--and has a serious history in the theater arts. Can't wait to read what she has to say!

So watch their blogs (Holly's and Mary's) for an upcoming post, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Netherlands Travel Socks

Here they are...the socks that I knit all through the Netherlands.
Although I had fun dying the natural light brown of the alpaca/wool mix, you can see the final result is a little strange. The orange and red blended pretty well, but there is no blending in the other colour changes. A bit jarring. But oh well, still fun to knit and stripes are always a good way to mark progress.

I adapted a pattern that was knit from the cuff down so I could knit it from the toe up. I started with my standard short row toe.

Then I adapted the unusual heel construction of the pattern. Leaving the top stitches, I knit short rows on the sole stitches so that the heel almost came to a point:
Then I picked up stitches along the angled sides of the heel and knit up the leg, decreasing the extra stitches to make a gusset:
I should have picked up a few more stitches because the gusset looks a little stretched to me. It probably would have been better to make the sole a touch longer too, but all in all I thought it was a pretty good conversion.

Then I worked my way up the leg. I made some increases part way up. I think I could have started that a little sooner too. But the fit is well within comfortable limits.
I started a 1x1 ribbed cuff when I thought I was near the end of the wool, but it ended up being quite a long cuff. (I guess I could weigh the wool one time and then I would know for the next time, but I guess I like the gamble of the guesstimate method.) When I got really close to the end of the wool, I did my normal Kitchener bind off and ended with two pieces of wool about 8" long. That's using up the ball!!
Although I didn't buy this yarn in the Netherlands, the socks still carry my memories of the trip. I knit them while visiting with relatives, traveling on the plane and trains, relaxing in the evenings and any time there was a wait. I was surprised how few people also knit but of course they all knew what it was. The cable needle was a real novelty, not to mention doing two socks at a time with "magic loop". Amazement abounded.
I think I mentioned that no one thought one pair of socks would keep me busy for a two week trip, but they sure did. I got the heels turned and a good start on the orange colour but the rest of the leg was knit when I got home. One reason is that my hands were busy with a camera most of the time! :)

Project Stats
: 19 May '14
Finished: 12 Jul '14
Pattern: Show-off Stranded Socks by Anne Campbell (free)
Materials: Alpaca/wool blend (100 g) from Oak Meadow Alpaca Farm ($14.75), home dyed with Koolaid

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Most Favourite Socks!

Yes, I am serious. I don't think these socks are going to have much competition for quite a while. They're not even done and I love love love them!

I started with the super soft sock yarn I purchased in Amsterdam and applied it to the pattern "Stripe Tease". As soon as I saw the pattern, I knew it was perfect for the yarn and for my mood.

The pattern starts with a thin stripe you knit from the cuff down to the ankle (pink on the left). Then you knit up the side to start a second stripe right next to it (green to purple). Then you knit up the side to start a third stripe (you can see the needle going up the side ready to be knit).
Once you have the back of the leg knit, you make your way down the heel...
...and then down the sole.
So you have half a sock--the back half. Very fun! I can't tell you how much silly enjoyment I got out of trying on the sock at this stage.

The pattern then has you knit three separate stripes for the front of the sock and then add the toe at the very end. But when I got to the end of the sole on my socks, I realized I could do a short row toe and then knit up the top/front. And that's what I did.
One other change I made to the socks was to not work all the stripes separately, but to do them in intarsia. I'm working the three strands at once (two from one ball and one from the other). Some people would hate it, but I prefer it.

And why are these my favourite socks? They feel divine on my feet, for one thing. And I am enchanted with the way they are constructed. And I love the colours. And they remind me of my trip to the Netherlands. Even though we weren't there at the right time for tulips, the stripes of these colours remind me of pictures of the long, thin bands of colour in the tulip fields.

The "bad news"? I'm giving these away! But I can't wait to start my own pair as soon as these are done!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

County Fair Raffle Quilt: Underground Railroad (2014)

As I have explained before, this year's County Fair Raffle Quilt was based on the Underground Railroad quilt. You had to make one of the 15 quilt blocks designs. They were a little worried at check in last Saturday because three of the first four blocks were the bear claw design!! But don't worry, they started to see more variety after that. Here are the winning squares that will end up in the quilt.
Here is a close up of the top six blocks:
I was not the only one to note that the winner was a log cabin block. The easiest block to make (in my opinion), especially as you can trim the block after each piece is added. I am dying to listen in on the judging to fathom what their reasons are for their choices. Enough said on that I guess.

Here are the six pillows that people could bid on:
I really liked the top centre one, even if it is simple. I find it really striking. I also like bottom center Jacob's ladder.

And once again, here are the reject squares, mine being the bottom centre one.
There were no judges' notes on the card. I thought the silver lining of being a reject was that I would at least get to take my block home. But when I went to get it on Sunday with the rest of my stuff, they said that they had auctioned them off. They've never done that before. (And in fact I saw one of last year's reject blocks submitted this year in the sewn pillow category. When I mentioned that to them, they didn't know what I was talking about.) Oh well.

Here are the other Carpenter Wheel blocks in case you want to compare them to mine.
This one placed sixth. the maker made the same colour arrangement that I did except switching the green and blue.
This one was on the quilt and the maker added a contrasting colour. (You were allowed to add one new colour.) I like how she made the outer shapes echo the inner star by using two colours, but I don't think the new colour improved the block.
This one was also on the quilt. The red in the outer shapes was a different fabric. It was also stitched down with a zigzag stitch. I don't know if they appliqued it on to cover something else or if that was supposed to be decorative, but I really didn't like it. Also, what is with the green/tan split blocks in the outer border? That definitely didn't fit the pattern as given and in light of that I don't think this block should have even qualified.
The final Carpenters Wheel was made into a pillow. I think this was my favourite. I like the blue and red in the middle (same as mine), but this maker made the points a contrasting colour in the outside shapes. (This was the option I said I would have liked to have tried after I finished mine. Here at the bottom of the post, if you want proof!)

So that is a lot of Carpenter Wheels and maybe I would have been better off with a different pattern. (Seriously, I would have been better off if my square would have measured a solid 12.5". That's all on me.) Certainly there were other blocks that were the only one of a particular design, and well done as far as I could tell, that didn't make it into the quilt. Once again, I would love to listen in on the judges...

One thing I did get to listen in on was a fellow quilter checking in her things, including a quilt block. She was complaining that they told us to make certain blocks but didn't provide the pattern for any of them. I'm thinking they're all made with squares and triangles...pretty easy to calculate. She said she was rescued by a quilt store owner who lent her the book with the patterns. When I got a look at her block, I saw she had made one of the circles. Like, literally, you could trace a bowl or plate from the kitchen to make the pattern! I just had to shake my head.

I'll finish with a look at last year's blocks, now all made up in a quilt:
Mine is the second one on the bottom row. Simple, but with a little fussy cut bird in the "hole" that I thought was really cute.

And next year? Next year the theme is "Up North" and the fabrics are really dark and dreary. We'll see what I can do...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dyeing for Wool-Aid Socks

I finished my second pair of socks for Wool-Aid.
These are the ones where I added sock wool in the foot and heel. Things went smoother up the legs when I dropped the sock yarn. Less yarn to deal with (I had four strands going since I was knitting two at a time), and a nicer, more comfortable gauge.

These came out 8.5", a little too small for me, a little smaller than the last pair. I used the yarn from the sleeves of this sweater:
It was 88 grams that I knit doubled. I knit to the very end of the yarn. I have a larger ball from the yarn of the front and back. It's 115 grams and I plan to make a larger pair of socks. But I couldn't stand the thought of working with more grey. So I popped it in the dye pot.
I threw in 10 packets of mixed berry Koolaid and heated it to 180. Left it at that temp for 10 minutes, then let it cool down in the water. Blue dye doesn't take up quickly and I've learned it's best to let the yarn cool in the water. The next morning it was still warm--I couldn't believe it. So I let it sit until that night and then the water was clear, meaning all the dye had been taken up.

I hung it to dry and then wound it into a cake and then tried to take pictures.
I was not able to capture the colour. It's more blue than these pictures show with a strong teal component. It also has a lot of depth and complexity that I also can't capture.
I was surprised how much green there was in it considering I used only blue-coloured Koolaid.

Even if I couldn't capture it in pictures, the colour delights me and it will be much more enjoyable to knit the next pair of socks! Casting on soon...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Big Finish: Big T!

I have a finished quilt to show you today! And not only the finished quilt, but how I finished it.

Last time I wrote about it, I was working on the quilting. And even though it was straight line quilting, I was having a hard time having it come out right. My walking foot doesn't allow for the quilting guide (What's with that!?) and the spacing was a little too wide to eyeball it.

But I found a way, and after months of being neglected, I pulled out the quilt and starting working on it again, this time with the quilting guide:
Much easier! And how did I manage that when the machine wasn't designed for it? Well, I adapted the old adage "Duct tape fixes everything" and attached it to my walking foot with masking tape:
Not the prettiest fix, and not the most secure attachment, but it worked. I just made sure to remove it any time I was not going to be quilting for a while so that the residue didn't have a chance to stick.

After a few sessions over maybe two weeks, I had all the quilting done. It was a happy day!

Then it was time for binding. Usually I make my own, and I make a continue loop of bias binding from a square of fabric. (Sorry, I can't describe how it's done. Even now, I have to carefully follow the instructions to get it right each time!) But, I just recently saw a new idea that I wanted to try out. It uses straight-grain binding instead of bias binding, which at one point I probably wouldn't have accepted. But I've become more relaxed about it. (Bias binding is good for curves--which rectangle quilts don't have--and is supposed to be longer lasting. But I'm just not convinced I need to make my quilts to last 100 years (or whatever).) Ok, in any case, here is a link to the tutorial, and the result is a binding with a faux piping that is really sharp.

First, you cut stripes of fabric, one a little wider than the other. (See the tutorial for details.) Attach all the pieces with angled seams. (This is important for bias binding because it puts the seam on grain. But here it is used for the other important reason of reducing bulk as all the seam allowances don't end up in the same place when you sew it down.)
Angled seams on the binding strips. The black seam has
been trimmed to 1/4". You press them open.
Side note: you can see that I chose to use the dark fabric from the outer border (details here) and a fabric I earlier rejected for the setting blocks (details here). What I found too old-fashioned and wall-paper like for setting blocks works just great for a small piping detail.

Once you have the strips sewn together you have miles and miles of binding:
328" to be exact. That's over 27 feet, or
almost enough for a first down (since
every measurement apparently needs
to be compared to football fields.)
Or, rather, you have two halves of a binding, since you still have to sew them together...along the long side. Once sewn together, you fold it in half and apply it like regular binding to the back side of the quilt. Since one strip was wider than the other, when you fold it, you get a little bit of the contrast fabric showing to the front:
When you fold the binding to the front, you get a faux piping or flange separating the binding from the quilt borders:
On the left is the front side of the quilt with the flange
showing and on the right side is the back of the quilt.
You sew the piping down by machine using a matching thread to the piping so you barely see it. (You're supposed to "stitch in the ditch" of the seam between the binding and flange, but it's hard to do with the seam allowance all on one side.) In the picture above, you might be able to make out the stitching on the wrong side running along side the binding, but with a bobbin thread that matches the backing, it's blends in pretty well.

Of course, it's a little tricky (for me anyway) to keep everything lined up perfectly all the time, and I had a couple spots like this on the back:
Not what I like to see, but it happens.

Oh yes, and I actually remembered to make and apply a label before the binding so that two sides would be sewn and I would only have to hand sew the remaining two.
I was worried the machine stitching of the binding would look bad on the label, but it ran close enough to the binding that you barely notice it. I think you'll see this binding on a lot of my quilts from now on!

Ok, I haven't shown you any of the quilting yet. It was hard to photograph, but you get some idea from this picture:
I did straight lines across the top third or quarter. Then I went up the middle from the bottom and then turned 90 degrees when I got to the previous stitching. I kept doing that so it made a sort of T in the middle with echo quilting.

Here it is on a bed:
And here is the complete quilt:
Final size = 73" x 86"
I finally discovered a place I could hang a quilt in my house and it worked so well. I am overjoyed about it. I had realized at some point that it would be easy to hang a quilt from binder clips if they had screws to hang from. But I didn't have a big enough clear space on any wall to do it. Then I remember that my side porch has a lot of nails running along the top trim--probably the remainder of the previous owner's holiday decorations--and I hung the binder clips from them. It was perfect!

And here is the back:
You may remember it was sewn with pieces I had purchased, which obviously weren't big enough to do the entire backing, and some remnant fat quarters that weren't used on the front. A little eclectic, but I love the two main fabrics so it's all ok with me. :)

The only bad part about all of this is that I couldn't give it to the recipient personally. I sent the package with my sister to our family camp and she had the pleasure of presenting it. His mom kindly sent me a picture and I think he looks pretty happy with it, don't you?
I can't believe it's done! I really liked designing and working on this quilt. I believe I started it in 2011 so a long journey, but that is normal for my quilts. (I think this may actually be one of my quicker ones, not counting the one I put together this past spring.) Working in browns was a new thing for me as it's not a colour I'm overly fond of. But I think I found some nice ones and I like the overall look of this quilt very much.

May I suggest?

I Say! or at least I did once...