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.