Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Table Runner

This past weekend I was able to finish off a project that I've been thinking about for a couple months. I have been itching to make a reversible table runner but didn't quite know how to go about it.

A couple weeks ago I grabbed some fabric and started cutting squares, mixing and matching colors and patterns until I was happy with what I came up with. I quilted it with diagonal lines which I think work pretty well here. I washed it when I was done with it which gave it a crinkly look, and which makes it look a bit like a blanket, but I still think it works as an everyday runner for the dining room table.

I also tapped into a friends Rumpelstiltskin challenge which provided me the encouragement to really dive into the lovely fabrics that have been sitting on my shelf for awhile. I don't know what project I was waiting for to use them with - the perfect pillow, skirt or blanket pattern - but I also realized the keeping those fabrics tucked away upstairs meant that I didn't get to gaze on them daily as I do now. I much prefer it this way. Part of the Rumpelstiltskin challenge for me over this year will be to really use what I have; take full advantage of the affordances that are tucked away in my fabric stash. Get out the good stuff and use it, dammit.

You can join in on the challenge too. Head on over and check it out. No hard and fast rules, just lots of encouragement and inspiration.

Table Runner - front

Table Runner - back

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On a Whim

One of my older daughters and I were bumming around town today. On a whim we stopped into the Glitter Workshop, a local business that features beautiful art/crafts from local folks. And there was a hand stamped jewelry workshop in session. I poked my head back into the classroom and was instantly taken with the idea of making something. It was fate.

Mindy Kuen, the woman running the workshop, had some amazing custom pieces set out as examples; they were inspirational. Combine that with my intermittent ogling of Lisa Leonard designs and I had a pretty clear idea of where I wanted my piece to go.

Mindy set out materials for key chains, pendants or bracelets, walked each of us through the process, provided many pointers and hints, and allowed all of us access to her stamp collections. Very cool. You can also find her blog here.

I am so happy with how this piece turned out. There is nothing like the satisfaction of making something yourself, stretching yourself in new directions - stamping is a decidedly non-fiber art form - and experiencing something new with someone you love. True, my daughter did spend most of her time in the awesome art/play room at the store, but still.

I hope that all of you find yourselves in unexpected places, and able to take advantage of unanticipated joys this weekend too. (Hmmm...can you tell that the sentimental phase of this pregnancy is taking hold?)

Friday, January 14, 2011

I can't let Christmas go this year

For whatever reason we are still celebrating the winter holidays here at home. A friend recently introduced me to this book and let me tell you I am smitten! And I have re-connected with the inner cross stitcher in me! Check here for a previous post about cross stitch.

This little Santa number is almost finished, but there are three reindeer in front of him and his sleigh. I haven't decided what I will do with the finished piece (frame vs. pillow-type decoration), but I am really liking the red/white contrast. And stitching on nice linen, while potentially expensive, makes a big difference in the look and feel of the final project.

The Rainbow of Stitches is an amazing book - tons of delicately modern and timeless motifs to work from. Many are charted cross-stitch patterns, but there are also a lot of basic embroidery designs that would be manageable even for the beginner. The project photos and ideas are elegant and inspiring. I decided to add this book to my personal library. Since its not a knitting book, that should give you an idea of how good I think this book is (smile).

Keep your eye out for a few more small projects from this book over the next year for the girls. I've had requests for an ice cream cone, a dog and a train. Maybe I will even tackle a sampler. The inner cross stitch maven has awaken indeed!

ps. I did a tremendous amount a cross-stitch as a child. Mostly on that really large-count cotton cross stitch cloth. My mom introduced me to the craft and I have made many a project over the years. I would be tempted to tell you that I swore off it in high school (how could cross-stitch possibly have made me cool?) but I recently uncovered this as-of-yet-unfinished beauty dated 1995. That was my senior year. Hah. With this lying around I find it difficult to deny that I knew (dated?) DMC as a teenager.

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Yarn Purchase!

I took the plunge and made my first yarn purchase of the year. I have to say it was a little difficult, a little indulgent, and very exciting. I have been eyeing the Linen Stitch scarf pattern from Churchmouse Yarns for a couple months and went ahead with a purchase to make it happen. I had a skein of Louet Gems on hand, the purple-ish yarn, and paired it with two new skeins of Koigu Painter's Palette, the orange and green yarns.

One lesson moving forward with my knitting is to not get ahead of myself with my purchases. Sure there will be times that certain projects will jump ahead in my queue out of necessity (holidays, births, etc.), but I can't let those projects trump plans for a project that I am excited about knitting; especially one that I purchased new yarn to make. Maintaining fidelity to my stashed and purchased yarns is certainly goal-in-process, but one that was made concrete for me over my last year of knitting adventures.

In this vein, I am happy that I pulled one skein from my stash and matched it with two more new purchases. The me from 2009 would have purchased three new skeins (maybe even 4 if I couldn't make up my mind), and then worked the project, letting the perfectly suitable, lovely, and fantastic purple skein rest awhile longer in my stash. When would the old me ever have used that purple? I'm not sure. Hopefully the me of 2011 is more conscious and more creative.

I am very excited to cast on for this project - I think the scarf is going to be fantastic. It also uses a stitch that is new to me, the linen stitch. What a lovely fabric it produces!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stash Challenge 2010 Debrief

My stash challenge has come to a close, and what a year it has been. Time for a de-brief.

Let's quickly review were I was when I started.
When I started my challenge I was fresh of a new year's resolution made by myself and DH to work from our respective stashes for a year. This past year has found us making choices to cut back on our spending - both out of desire and necessity - and looking for all the ways that we can re-use, re-purpose, up-cycle and reduce. One obvious place to look critically was our creative interests. I am happy to say that we both took the resolution seriously. With one vacation-related exception I went over 365 days without spending cash on new yarn. He did the same and didn't purchase any new wood. We both spent a modest amount on supplies (needles, saw blades, etc.) but the raw materials we worked with we found, traded, were gifted, or had already.

I started 2010 with over 52 skeins of yarn, spread out to over 10,000 yards.

During 2010 I increased my stash by 11 skeins. 1 skein was purchased while I was on vacation in Arizona (it's llama down!), 4 were purchased with gift money or a gift card, and 6 were given to me as gifts, or were trades.

Here's what I made.
Over twelve months I worked diligently from my stash. I resisted the (many) impulses to purchase new yarns for myself, and new yarns for gift projects; just by counting up what I had I knew I had enough yarn to work from for quite some time. [This truly was step one. I counted and photographed everything I had and entered it into a spreadsheet, noting brand, fiber and yardage. This made it all real to me.]

The challenges then were twofold:
1) Finding suitable patterns for the yarns I had on hand; and
2) Making the projects interesting to me, apart from the joy of a new purchase.

During 2010 I knit from over 28 skeins of yarn, equaling over 5,000 yards of yarn.

My projects ranged from the big (a sweater for DH) to the small (acorn decorations) and everything in between. Here's a quick list:

1 sweater, men's large
5 baby/toddler sweaters
3 baby vests
3 pair adult socks
7 kids/baby hats
1 adult hat
1 baby blanket
8 mini sweater ornaments
a stash of acorns (felted)

And four projects still in the works: a pair of socks, a baby hat, a child's vest and an adult vest.

Here's what I am staring 2011 with.
At the close of the year I still have approximately 35 skeins of yarn in my stash. That may seem like a lot, but 10 are for the vest for myself, and I have earmarked another 16 for specific projects. The others I will be looking to de-stash, trade or otherwise use up in a worthy fashion.

If I maintain fidelity to my plan I will have cut my stash from 52 skeins (63 skeins if you count what I added during 2010) to a mere 16 skeins.

Lessons learned.
I had a lot of realizations over my year, and many I shared along my journey. But here is a quick summary of a few that are still with me as I move forward with my knitting.

1) I don't have to buy new yarn to enjoy knitting; but lets be may enhance the pleasure I get from starting a new project.

2) There are lots of alternatives to purchasing new yarn outright. These include holding on to gift money for a special 'yarn fund,' finding friends that are open to trading yarns, trading or selling yarns via websites (ravelry, ebay, etc.). And while I haven't had any personal luck at the thrift stores I have friends that have found and purchased Alice Starmore and Rowan yarns at deep discounts. That's enough encouragement for me to keep looking every time I stop in!

3) My tastes and preferences in yarns have changed since I started knitting. I am more discerning now and less likely to search out cheap sources for cheap yarns. While there certainly is a place for frugality in knitting (especially when knitting for non-fiber-minded friends and kids) if I am going to make a project for myself I am going to save up for the specific kind of yarn that I want to use, rather than find a less expensive substitute. This has the added benefit of supporting local businesses too. While I do practice on-line shopping, finding the right yarn at my local store is a good thing for my community and our local economy.

4) I have a more finely tuned sense of which fibers work for which types of projects. When I started the year I would have been just as likely to use a silk blend as a wool blend for any given project. I didn't understand the properties (physical and economic) of specific fibers or their adaptability for different purposes. After a year of research, reading, critical reflection and exploration (mostly on ravelry and at the library) I can easily tell when I would want to use alpaca for a project, or a superwash wool with nylon.

5) Left-over sock yarns rock. These turned out to be the most adapable yarns around and I have really dug into my left overs to make some pretty cool, colorful and unique items. These include my zig zag pram blanket, my sweater garland and the Norwegian baby cap. I used to wonder what would ever become of my many, many sock yarn left overs. Now I know they can be used for all kinds of things.

6) Just because I had one skein of something didn't mean I had to knit a one skein project. This may seem like a 'duh' comment to many of you, but I have a hard time pairing yarns that were not purchased together for the explicit purpose of knitting up one project. Without this last year I never would have taken out all my yarn, looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it again, and matched up different yarns and fibers for completely new projects. A good example is the Budgie baby sweater.

7) And lastly, just because yarn is on sale doesn't mean that I should buy it. I know that I will do this again in the future - a good deal is a good deal afterall - but I am much more likely to see a project and buy yarn accordingly, rather than see yarn and then find a project to match. I have realized that for me it doesn't make much sense to buy yarn with only a vague idea of how it will be used. I love yarn, fiber, color and texture and would love to live in a house surrounded by skeins and skeins of yarn. It would be like a museum dedicated to fibers. But I have a husband, kids, demands, challenges, other interests (sewing, cooking, etc.) and a pocketbook. For these reasons I need to keep my yarn purchases in check, and manageable.

At the close of my personal stash challenge I can say that I am proud of myself. I did it, I am happy with all my projects, and I learned a tremendous about about knittng, fiber and myself. Did I shake the desire to buy new yarns? No way. In fact, I have a pattern and new yarns already picked out for purchase. But I am starting a new year with a fresh perspective. I can practice restraint and my craft and creativity won't suffer. In many ways I'm better off when I think twice about my purchases.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Year-end knitting

My knitting this year was directed by my stash. I gave over creative control to my yarn collection and continually worked to find synergy between patterns I liked, and the yarn I had on hand. There will be more details about my year in a coming post, but for now I'd like to show off the last three projects from 2010.

These little ornaments were a natural follow-up to my sweater garland. One is going to a yarn-loving friend, and the other to a neighbor that I organized a cookie exchange with.

In November I picked up my copy of the Milo vest pattern and was pleased to see that it gave directions for a vest up to size 6. I quickly cast on with some Tivoli blizzard (resplendent in the pinks, purples and maroons my girls love) and hope to have this for them to wear sometime in the next few months. Progress was stalled by the aforementioned dissertation, pregnancy-induced tiredness, and holiday projects.

The last project of 2010 is likewise unfinished, but is quickly coming together. (I could have saved myself some time and gone up to a size 3 or 4 needle, but as it stands it will be finished with size 2 needles). This is a likeable hat - I love the shaping and the stripes looks pretty good together. It is definitely a hat for a baby boy - is my subconscious telling me something? We decided to wait on finding out the sex of the baby so this one may be for our family, or it will go to a lucky friend in the future. I cast on for this hat on December 30th.

There are two more projects wallowing in the bottom of my knitting basket from 2010. The kimono socks, by Judy Summer, while beautiful, just aren't calling to me at the moment. They are tucked away for another day and will hopefully re-surface at some point (either as finished socks, or frogged yarn for another pattern). The Kaze (translation: wind) vest is likewise just not calling to me. Maybe this would be a good post-childbirth project for myself? Or, if we have a boy, maybe the yarn will be transformed into a future wonderful wallaby.