Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dispatch from the Workshop, Part 5 (Hand Sewing)

Dragon Gloves, 2011

And our Dispatch(es) from the Workshop(s) series comes to a close with a final hand sewing project. 

I have been encouraging the girls to give each other gifts each year and with my help we had another successful sister-to-sister giving season (the baby didn't give anything this year).  One girl picked out dog ornaments, another picked out Scooby Doo paint-it-yourself magnet craft kits.  And my last daughter wanted to make something for her sisters.  [As an aside, each gift the girls picked out cost $1 or less - whether it was b/c the items were on clearance, or were made with materials I had at home already.] 

We have lots and lots of old issues of Family Fun Magazine floating around the house.  They are perfect to flip through on a rainy afternoon to find a new game or activity to pass the time.  And it was in the pages of that magazine that she found the idea for Dragon Gloves.  I picked up the gloves at the store, and she picked out the felt colors from my stash.  I did the making (tracing, cutting and sewing) when she was in bed one night the week before Christmas.  I had visions of us sitting down together to sew them, but with school in session right until the Friday before the holiday it didn't work out that way.  But her project did get finished and she was so proud to give the gloves to her sisters.

If you are interested in your own pair of dragon gloves (for yourself, or the kids in your life) you can find the pattern here.  It's a great project to match up, and still wear, those single gloves floating around the bottom of the mitten basket!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dispatch from the Workshop, Part 4 (Knitting)

Oven Mitt detail

I only knit two gifts this year - one was for my mother-in-law and the other was a commission for the son of a friend. 

For my mother-in-law I worked up an oven mitt, using the free pattern, Out of the Frying Pan, by Susan Anderson.  The bright blue worsted weight wool yarn made a fantastically dense fabric that was still surprisingly easy to embroider.  You can see the amazing shrinking properties of wool in the before-and-after-felting photos below.  I did use our front-loading washing machine to felt this mitt, but neglected to check on it at 5 or 10 minute intervals.  This mitt probably went about 5 minutes too long, but luckily it still fits well enough for a serviceable oven mitt. 

Oven Mitt, pre-felting

Oven Mitt, post-felting

And that embroidery?  Probably shouldn't have done it free-hand while bleary-eyed.  It most certainly came out crooked.  But when you hang the mitt from the loop it straightens out (smile).  DH was kind and said that it has that 'handmade' look, but 'not in a bad way'.  Ha.

I actually like this oven mitt so much that I am working on one for myself, using a bright, minty green.  It doesn't actually match, well anything, in the house, but the color makes me happy in the cartoonish-winterfresh-mint-green sort of way.

This next project I am particularly happy about.  A friend e-mailed me the pattern mid-December, asking if I would be able to make it for her third son by Christmas.  I said of course!  The pattern, circa 1940, comes from a collection of knit items from the V&A Museum I was lucky enough to get lost in that museum two years ago and knitting this toy brought back lots of pleasant memories. 

The pattern itself isn't difficult - there are 8 pieces (2 sides, an underbelly, 2 ears, 2 pieces of mane and the tail), and each is knit up in a straight forward fashion and then assembled for the final doll.  But, the pattern does require an intense amount of attention as there are new stitch counts for practically each row, and there are lots of rows that aren't accounted for (you are just supposed to know to knit those rows!)

Knitting the mane required learning a new stitch - the loop stitch - which was pretty cool.  I definitely see some future costume potential with a 'wig' made entirely of this stitch and some novelty yarn (fur, sparkly, etc.)

You can knit yourself your own lion if you like - there is even a companion tiger to go with it!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dispatch from the Workshop, Part 3 (Woodworking)

This year my husband set out to make our girls some special boxes.  The twins each asked for a necklace from Santa, so we reasoned they would need each want a special place to keep their new treasures.  These two boxes are made of walnut, and the top is birdseye maple.  They close with simple hinges and are lined with red wool felt. 

Our middle daughter is not yet old enough for a necklace, or jewelry box, but is old enough to want what her older sisters have.  So he set out to make her a 'treasures' box.  The box is constructed of birch, stained to look like walnut, and opens and closes by sliding or rotating the top.  It is likewise lined with red felt.

And the baby got a new set of blocks.  Unlike the classic building blocks of years past, these are natural tree blocks, made from a single birch tree that was cleared from our family's land west of town.  The tree was sliced into sections and sanded.  There is also a protective coat of food-safe varnish. These are extra special building blocks - the emotional connection to the wood itself is enough to make me tear up.  They look amazing with all the natural detail of the bark intact and so far all the girls have had fun trying to recreate the tree, matching up the sections and building it high up into the air. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Christmas, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dispatch from the Workshop, Part 2 (Kids crafts)

kid-made ornaments

I can't remember where I saw this idea on-line, but I know that I got it from a fellow blogger this holiday season.  With the help of some colorful fabric markers the girls and I came up with some simple, kid-friendly, and kid-made, ornaments. 

I drafted some basic shapes on the chalkboard for them (fir tree, stick reindeer, snowman and Santa hat) and they used them as inspiration for their own drawings.  My middle daughter decided to go her own route with one of the ornaments and drew a picture of 'vacation.'  I think she misses the warm weather!

Each of the girls made three drawings on one piece of fabric, and signed their work on a second.  I matched them up, sewed around being sure to place a ribbon loop for hanging, and lightly stuffed them with poly-fill.  After trimming the excess fabric they looked great!

We are definitely keeping a set for our tree, but the others are destined for family. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dispatch from the workshop, Part 1 (Sewing)

Matchy-matchy mittens

Did I say something about matching mother-daughter mittens awhile back?  Well that thought, originally written in jest, wouldn't leave me alone.  I had dreams about them.  So I dove in head first and made four pair.  One for me, and one for each of my older girls. The baby is still too little to get a pair of mittens, but I have extra materials to make her a pair in a couple years.  And my husband, as the father to four girls, can certainly appreciate a rainbow, but passed on having a pair of rainbow mittens for himself.  Understandable.

The fabric for these is entirely upcycled clothing - a striped, cotton sweater for the mitten back, turquoise polar fleece for the palm, and black polar fleece for the lining.  Two fabrics came from sweaters at the thrift store, and the third from my closet (no, not the sweater thankfully - I could never pull something that bold off!)  They are not windproof, or waterproof, so will only work for winter car trips and early fall weather, but damn they turned out cute.

They came together in two days - cutting on one day and sewing/assembly on the other.  Easy peasy.  I plan to slip these under the tree for the girls to find Christmas morning.

As the title notes, this is the first of a few posts that I will dedicate to highlighting the ways we (my husband and I) made this a special handmade holiday for our family and friends.  Stay tuned - there's woodworking, knitting, drawing and sewing coming your way!

Now, where did I put those mitten clips?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

FO: Rainbow Hat (free pattern!)

Rainbow Hat - inspired by the Noro Hat and the Swirl Hat

My daughter wanted a rainbow hat that was similar to my Noro hat, but with a regular (“not pointy”) top.  She also wanted something in bright, vibrant rainbow colors and the only yarn I found at my LYS was fingering weight.  With the help of two free patterns I came up with this sweet little hat.  Perfect for a spunky girl on the go!

If you want a copy of my pattern notes look to the side bar.  I also put the pattern on ravelry. 

Happy Holidays - may they be cheerful and bright! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

FO: Baby Things

I had a niece arrive in the world a week ago today.  And I knew I had to make her something.  I started with this holiday vest - but it turned out too big - more of a 6-12 mos. size - so that won't work.  But it is cute for the holidays and made with a great, washable wool.  I'm not sure where this will ultimately wind up; into the gift pile it goes.

And upon looking through my knitting basket for inspiration I spied a bit of Manos I had left over from a hat I made myself a couple years ago.

And it was just the right amount to make my new niece a hat.  This is another version of the Hospital Hat.  And even though it is 100% wool (Wool Classico) it isn't scratchy in the least.

I am off to finish the rest of the half-done items in my basket.  Is it bad luck to leave strings hanging into the new year?  If so I had better get cranking.  I've a scarf, socks, mittens, hat, another pair of socks, two oven mitts, and a toy lion in the works.  Looks like I have a really good year-end, round-up-the-knitting post coming!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

FO: Norwegian Baby Cap

sweet baby cap

I finished up this sweet little Norwegian Baby Cap last week.  I intended it for my youngest, but it looks that she will outgrow this size in the near future.  So another hat will need to be knit, and hopefully before the holidays come and go.  This fourth little one of mine - not forgotten - but sometimes overlooked.  The l-o-u-d voices, demands, wants and needs of her older sisters drown out her very, very rare cries.  But her smile lights up the family.  And she is finding her place among and within us - a calm presence indeed.  She needs a little something this holiday season I think and a new knit hat will do just fine.

top view

tie detail

I knit up this same pattern a bit over a year ago, but just got around to making the i-cord ties, so here is a photo of that hat as well.  I stopped the every-other-row decreases early on this one, making a more rounded head rather than pointy.  I'm sure this one is destined for a very special little boy or girl.

sweet baby cap - v1.0

Monday, December 5, 2011

Make Do and Mend Collective: to market, to market...

Make Do and Mend Collective
Photo by

Three local friends and I recently formed an art/craft collective.  We are the Make Do and Mend Collective (more to come about this adventure in the months ahead!) and we had our first sale this past weekend at a local elementary school.  Ten percent of our profits went to support the Parent-Teacher Organization and we were among local craftspeople of all ages.  There were even quite a few students selling their art and craft projects.

I am particularly excited about this new adventure for me.  I've never sold any of my knitting or sewing before and being part of this collective has removed one of the biggest hurdles for me: inventory. 

Knitting takes a lot of time.  A. lot. of. time.  Some of us can move more quickly than others - I'm not a particularly fast knitter - but its all relative (It may take one person 40 hours to knit a sweater, but another person 45 hours).  So I have always been bogged down by the notion that I needed inventory to start selling items.  And the fact that I now belong to a group, whose work is along side mine in a display, means that I am able to offer single items.  I don't have to worry about having two or more of each item in a variety of sizes. 

For the first market I hand knit eleven raglan sleeve ornaments.  I also designed and sewed 39 re-usable, reversible coffee sleeves and seven sets of reverse applique felt coasters.  And I set out some choice knit items that I had in my collection that had never made it on to my kids, nor were given as gifts.  And I can add to this inventory over time, at my own pace, with items that I enjoy knitting and that might even sell.  I am a knitter - more than a sewist - and will focus mostly on creating knit pieces for the collective.  But you may also find the occasional color pencil roll, coffee sleeve, super-hero cape, or tote bag from me.  That's the beauty of the collective.

market wares

In reference to my earlier post about knitting items to sell, I still know that I am not a retail knitter.  I won't ever be able to crank out multiple hats, or sweaters.  But I can make unique, one-of-a-kind items and accept custom commissions.  I also know that I won't make back what the items are "worth" in terms of hours spent knitting.  But I will be able to make enough to cover the cost of my yarns, and entrance fees for shows, and maybe a bit extra to support other local artists.  And I will be putting beautiful, hand knit items out into the world, and some pieces that will be passed from one household, one family, one generation, to another.  I love that thought.

I haven't received notice of which items sold at our first market - but I did sell a hat and an ornament while I was briefly at the show.  What a rush that was! 

So, I head into new waters, buoyed by the strength of  friends that enjoy a good swim now and again.  And I hope that in return they feel my enthusiasm and happiness coming back at them, one wave (or slowly made stitch) at a time.

hand knit sweater ornaments

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

We only have one guest coming for dinner.  It is going to be very low key around these parts, and for that I am thankful. There will still be homemade pumpkin pie though.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Upcycled Mittens

check. this. out.

Last weekend my Mom took a fantastic mitten making class with the extremely talented and witty Mary Jo, from Five Green Acres.  She showed me her mittens-in-progress and I decided on the spot that I needed a pair of my own.

I have actually been coveting the pair that Mary Jo uses in her tutorial photo.  And over the past year I have casually shopped our thrift stores for a sweater that would make a similar pair.  About two months ago I spied a teeny-tiny 100% wool sweater in the children's section.  It used to be a women's medium, before someone accidentally ran it through the washing machine.  For 30 seconds I felt bad about buying something that a child could use to keep warm, but I know that my own kids protest at wearing felted wool, saying it is too stiff and scratchy.  With this in mind I snatched up that sweater, brought it home, (eventually) cut it up and paired it with some polar fleece from my stash = new mittens for me for this winter.

The sweater provided precious little yardage, so maybe I can make one more pair of adult-sized mittens.  Or definitely a kids pair for one of my littles.  Is it time for mother-daughter matchiness?  Maybe.  Or maybe I should head back to the thrift store in search of sweaters big enough to make matching pairs for the whole family!!  Yes!!  That's the ticket. 

The pattern and tutorial are straightforward and easy to follow, even for a beginning sewist.  The only tricky part is sewing the lining to the outer mitten, and like Mary Jo says, just take your time.  Seriously, once you have the materials on-hand (haha) it only takes 1 or 2 evenings of actual cutting and sewing to make a whole pile of mittens.  You also don't need to have felted wool to make these mittens - Mary Jo provides ideas for many different kinds of materials to use for making warm, soft, winter mittens.

What to make your own pair(s)?

Go Here!

Also if you are in the Madison, WI area check out Mary Jo's other classes too! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

FO: Kids socks

Basic striped socks

In the Halloween post I noted that I made two costumes.  But I have four kids.  And since the baby really doesn't care yet, that left one girl without a mama-made item this fall.  So I set about making her a little something and that little something turned out to be a pair of stripey socks.

Relying on the basic 7 sts/inch sock pattern from Ann Budd I came up with this sweet pair of kids socks. 

The yarn is a cheap-o (under $3, on sale) 230 yds. of self-striping, superwash wool/bamboo/nylon blend from a big box store.  And - surprise - I have mixed feelings about it. 

I know how much abuse these socks will take; I know all the places these socks will go.  So typically I wouldn't scrimp on yarn.  I often pay more for yarns that are locally sourced, of better quality, and/or retain an element of reuse, reduce or recycle .  But ultimately I chose this yarn, for this project, specifically b/c I have to admit I don't know where these socks will go.

About two weeks ago I shooed the girls outside to play and next thing I knew 90 minutes had gone by.  I went outside to search for them and found them happily playing 'picnic' with recognizable (i.e. not fully decomposed) things they had unearthed from the compost bin.  They were all in their socks.  And they were covered in partially-made compost.

Rather than spend more on yarn that I love/care about - and risking my full-blown mama temper in the process - I went with the "well, whatever" attitude that comes free with the purchase of this yarn.

Knitting for kids is an awkward endeavor.  A rational balance between cost, labor, appreciation and use is so unattainable it's almost silly to try.  They have no way of knowing what goes into the garments I make for them and often I allow for that with my calm-ish demeanor when I find their hand knit items dragged across the arboretum (holes), left out in the rain (stained), or inside the chicken coop (just plain gross). 

But I knit, afterall, because I enjoy it.  I want to make them quality garments that feel good to wear and will last through a couple kids.  I also take seriously the idea that I vote with my dollars, and when I spend local or on artisan-made I know where my money is going.

With their regular clothes I accommodate my ideals and their needs by buying, almost exclusively, thrifted or gently-used clothing.  I can always find good quality; my money is invested in our community, I pay less and recycle in the process. 

But there isn't an easy parallel to knitting for kids.  Less expensive (read: really cheap) commercial yarns are often lower in quality and are often from far away places; some with questionable labor practices.  My money flows into vast streams of consolidated capital instead of my community, and quite frankly the yarns aren't aways enjoyable to knit.  So I could spend more for these projects, on the yarns that I want/like/care about, but nobody in my family would be happy with that situation.  I would be on pins and needles about the kids wearing things I made - and that would defeat the whole purpose now wouldn't it?  I make them things so they wear them.

They fit with a bit of room to grow!
 Maybe it comes down to the purpose of each garment - socks for four active, inquisitive, nature-loving kids should probably be made with less expensive yarns.  Sweaters for said girls?  Make them out of the yarns that I love, and do better at teaching them to be mindful of their special things. 

Matchy, but not matchy

Friday, November 11, 2011

Daisy Banner (Girl Scouts)

Daisy Troop Banner (2011) - Detail

My older girls joined a Daisy Troop (the precursor to Brownies and Girl Scouts) last year in Kindergarten.  The troop needed a banner - to carry in parades, and at their ceremonies - and I knew that I could help out it doing that.  And while this project isn't something I would normally blog about, when I began searching for ideas for this project I couldn't find ANYTHING in the main blogosphere to get me started; get me inspired.

In the end this banner actually took a lot of planning - I started with a list of 'elements' that I knew I needed to include, but I had little else to go on.  The elements list, in no particular order:

: Include Troop number
: Lightweight - it is for 6 yo's to carry after all
: Represent each girl AND the troop as a whole
: Incorporate daisy theme
: Inexpensive
: Quick to make
: Maximize child participation in creative process
: Maintain illusion element of parental control (so it would get done!)
: Easy and enjoyable b/c they will need a new one next year for Brownies

Process notes: I sewed the main background (sun, field, troop number and blue sky) and then brought that with me to a meeting with the girls.  I prepared daisy 'kits' for each girl and walked them through the tracing and cutting of each flower, it's petals and stem.  Then we assembled (I have a new found LOVE for the hot glue gun!) each daisy and each girl got to 'plant' hers in the field.  I went through and affixed each one in place and took the top home to assemble the back and sew it all together.  I approached this part like a quilt, without the batting.  I sewed right sides together, turned it, and top stitched all around.

Materials notes:  The blue background was fashioned from an upcycled twin bed sheet.  And the extra bonus is the top portion of the sheet doubles as the sleeve for the dowel to carry the banner!  I purchased the green felt for the 'field' and used cheap felt sheets for each of the flowers and the sun.  I found a stylized daisy to trace on the internet.  The field and sun are self-designed.  The backing is the bottom half of the same bed sheet.  I also added a back panel with each of the girls' names.  I had them sign a spare piece of background fabric using colorful sharpie pens.  I don't like that they bled so much, but hey, the names are still legible.

Name panel

So here I present to you, the Daisy Banner for Troop 2980 from Madison, WI.  It's a bit slouchy given I don't have the dowel purchased yet.  It turned out wider than it was in my mind and we don't happen to have a 6.5 foot dowel laying around the house.

Daisy Troop Banner (2011)

As I said before, this isn't the kind of project that I would normally blog about, but I hope that in doing so I can provide inspiration for other crafty parents that unwittingly find themselves in front of 12 Daisy troops jumping (literally) to be part of the creative process.

Growing up I wasn't a girl scout (both my Mom and her Mom were girl scouts, however) this is all new territory for me.  I have to admit I love the cookies!

Friday, November 4, 2011

FO: Eggplant + Pumpkin Hat (and a lesson learned)

A neighbor of mine is a retired Reverend from a dual-language church in our community. She is also an avid knitter. Over the past couple years she has organized volunteers - herself and friends - to make and sell fruit (and cupcake) hats at our downtown farmer's market and other local stores. They have raised a lot of money for the church and its educational scholarship funds.

A week ago she invited me over to learn more about her process and methods. The hats they sell are loosely based on the Ann Norling Fruit Cap pattern, and they use - almost exclusively - inexpensive acrylic/wool blends.

She didn't try to recruit me to knit with her group.  Instead she encouraged and mentored me towards making a stock of hats to sell to local stores. She was inspirational, and she made it seem so...well...doable. So I went home, pulled some yarn from my stash and did something I've never done before.

I timed myself knitting.

Relying on the pattern, I first made an eggplant hat, size 3-6 mos. I used stash yarn. It took me two sessions to complete. The first lasted 2:40. The second (with lots of kiddo interruptions) lasted 1:20. That makes this little cutie a 4-hour hat. Giving myself $10/hour, not including materials, I would have to sell this little number for $40, double what the group sells their hats for.

Second I made a pumpkin hat (modifying the pattern to my taste and adding a spiral vine), size 2-4 yrs. I used newly purchased acrylic yarn. Across 6 knitting sessions, this hat took 4:35 to complete. Including material costs, I'll let you do the math for what this one would need to sell for.

I am not telling a knitter anything that s/he doesn't likely already know. You rarely, if ever, get your labor cost back if you sell an item. And for me this timing exercise affirmed that for me.

I did think - for a fleeting moment - that I might be able to squeeze out baby hats made with inexpensive yarn and sell them for a reasonable labor-to-retail cost ratio. But that doesn't seem possible.

So I continue down the evolutionary path of my knitting, knowing that I am a personal knitter, a gift knitter and and future knitwear designer (I have two ideas incubating for original patterns).

But I am not a retail knitter.

At least not right now.

I did come out of this little experiment with two adorable hats, one of which is loved beyond words by my 4 yo. The other will go to the parents of a little baby that is expected to arrive at the end of December. They actually grow eggplants, so I think it will be an extra special gift for them.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Gecko lizard, black dog, and black bat
This year I managed to sew something for one older girl and my middle girl.  My other older girl wanted to be a dog, again.

Making the lizard went really well.  At first I was brainstorming all sorts of ideas for attached scales, but when I pulled out the old pattern I used for the dog costumes there were directions for making a dragon/lizard too.  Away I went with pre-printed polyester fabric and gold accents.

The bat wings I made from scratch.  I wanted something small, sized just to her, and understated.  I didn't want to make her a long cape, or a hood, or something that would get her confused as batman, the character. 

Using black flannel, I traced the neckline of these capes, and then added a basic triangle (traced from a folded sheet of newspaper) with scalloped edges.  I added quilted lines on the wings, but you can't really see them and they don't actually make much of a difference in wearing.  I sewed one hair band at each of the wing tips so she could thread her hands through and she didn't have to grasp the fabric all the time.  This way they attached (and unattached!) to her easily - and became part of her arms as she flew around.

Overall this Halloween was a success for the handmade.  My youngest went as a gray kitten with a thrifted baby costume.  However, she has a whole wardrobe of mama-made costumes to look forward to in the years to come.

The girls ate their fill of candy tonight and are looking forward to the candy buy-back program this weekend.  In fact they already separated what they want to keep from what they want to sell back.  I am amazed to report that 90% of our candy will be sold back!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oh fall...

Burberry cowl in organic cotton (colorway: almond)

I love you fall.

I love the way to make me feel about knitting.

I love the way you make my husband obsess about face cords.

I love the additional layers I get to wear.

I love the smell of slow-roasted food.

I love your gentle rains and wet leaves, even though they get tracked all the way through the house on tiny feet.

I love that you recall the birth of my middle daughter.

I love how you shed your layer of green in favor of more becoming colors.

I love the way you bring forth my instinct to prepare. And while the necessity of preparing for the barren months ahead has long-been dispensed with (thanks modernization), I love that you kindle the vestiges of this need deep within me.

I love the way you remind me that things change - life is dynamic - and that honoring the cycles in all parts of life is important.

Not-so-Noro hat at the WI River (rav link)

Baby shrug for friends' newborn daughter (rav link)

WIP: one sock done, one to go.  Pomatomus by Cookie A.