Keep calm and block on.

crochet afghan blockIt’s been crazy busy around here this past month–work, work, work plus the kids’ school schedule plus church projects plus unexpected complications with the house, vehicles, and pet. Blogging is the first thing to drop off the end of my to-do list when time gets scarce.

But the crafting continues nonetheless. Even on the most harried days, I can usually find a few unscheduled minutes to throw in some stitches. I’ve completed several knit and several crochet projects that way–a round here, a row there–since July. I’ll get around to posting about them all as soon as life lets me.

Between those separate projects, I’ve managed to keep up with Moogly’s afghan crochet-along. I just finished block 21 of 24. That’s the block you see above, my palette’s version of Cocoa Puff by Melissa Green. It’s a bold, pretty one!

The pattern is written exactly right, but I won’t lie. I struggled mightily with Round 10. I fought it for more than two hours total (over two days, so it seemed even longer!). I frogged it back to the first side of the block at least half a dozen times before I finally made it to the end of the round.

And then I counted the stitches and they still didn’t add up.

It wasn’t until I ripped out the entire round, counting as I went, that I found where the mistake was. I’d misread the pattern at only the SECOND stitch of the round.

Lo and behold, starting fresh did the trick. I worked up that whole round correctly in 10 minutes the last time.

I hereby chalk up those lost hours (and poor reading that caused them) to fatigue!

This block fits in with the theme of the previous blocks, yet it’s a nice texture contrast, too. The navy part of the flower here is super heavy whereas the flowers in the other blocks are lighter and lacier.

afghan block close-up

This block–and the three others I’ll be making from this pattern–will add a nice weight and warmth to the afghan.

I have finally completed a few other blocks from this crochet-along, too. I guess now’s the time to slap those pictures up before I disappear from the ‘Net again!

I’ve shared my color take on Flower Tile Afghan Square by Marta Chrzanowska before, but it now has three sisters. Here are the two color variations (I made a pair of each) together:

afghan block afghan block

I now have all four of my Lion’s Mane by April Moreland blocks done, too. This is also one you’ve seen in singular form before:

afghan blocks

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. These four blocks are not exact pairs. I think once they’re mixed into the afghan, though, the fact that I departed from my notes won’t matter a bit.

And finally, all four of my finished More V’s Please by Melinda Miller blocks can now be pictured together:

afghan blocks

Just in case you’re  seeing all this and thinking I’m some wonder of productivity, lemme clarify. I did not make all 13 of those blocks PLUS the other projects I mentioned (plus achieve life in general) between July and today. I’d had to put aside a bunch of these blocks for long enough that I forgot they weren’t finished. Several of those finishes consisted of adding only the last round–and that’s the part I did recently.

I’m (inordinately) proud to check my crochet-along project bag today and see that I now have exactly ZERO previously started crochet-along blocks incomplete. So–on to block #22!

How about you? Are you currently participating in a crochet-, knit-, or sew-along? Tell me about it–and you’re welcome to share links to your progress photos, too!

Long time, no sew

swimsuit cover-up…actually, there’s been a decent amount of “sew” over here, and a boatload of crocheting and knitting, too. Just no blogging. Too busy to take the time.

I’m not sure I have the time now, but there’s a lot to share, so let’s make a dent today with just one story. The one that I must show now, before summer is entirely gone.

I had great hopes when I set out to make this pattern, a swimsuit cover-up from Rachel Choi. She’s pulled off a neat design–clever simplicity, if that makes sense. I was fired up to start as soon as I saw the pattern. I happily ordered a bright white yarn with a little shimmer to it, thinking that would look festive in the sunshine.

What I didn’t know until it arrived was that though the yarn was labeled 3-weight baby yarn, it was actually pretty bulky.

I started working the pattern anyway. The first five or six rows made it pretty obvious if I continued with this yarn as the pattern directed, I’d end up with something nearly 1.5 times the size I needed. At the time, I had water plans on the schedule, though, so I wasn’t about to rip back to the beginning. Instead, I switched to a smaller hook for a few rows, then narrowed the stitch pattern for the next few rows, then switched to yet a smaller hook once more. With those adjustments, by the time I got about a third of the way up, I was on point with measurements again. (And–whew–I didn’t lose any time to do-overs.)

That did mean that my version of the cover-up, which is supposed to hang straight, instead finished in more of an A-line shape. That little flare is not an unwelcome surprise, though!

A-line skirtThe only fly in the ointment is, our plans changed. We didn’t make it to the beach or pool or any other wet place a single time this summer. It’s not likely we’ll make it during the still-warm early fall, either.

I guess I’m prepared well ahead of time for next June!

bodice and shoulder strapWhat about you? Did you make a garment especially to fit your summer plans? Show it off! Share links to your pictures!

Good construction + awful yarn = It’s a wash.

no!I mentioned a few weeks ago that among my recent batch of dishcloths was one I didn’t share because it was “a royal failure.” I know, I know. I’ll keep the drama to a minimum, but I do have a moment to tell the story now.

This cloth was done in a familiar pattern, Reversible Pips, that I like every time I use it. Again, I used oversized needles so it would dry really quickly, but otherwise, the pattern needs no adjustments. I’d picked out a fun yarn,

the yarn AKA  the culprit

Lily Sugar ‘n Cream in “American stripes”

and I had no reason at all to think this would be anything but a quick, satisfying project.

This colorway worked up nicely. The dishcloth ended up with a broad stripe of mostly red on each end and white throughout the middle, with two small patches of blue that wound up slightly off-center, but in a way that made it interesting rather than unbalanced.

I figured I’d keep this prototype cloth and work up a second cloth to give to my mother-in-law when I saw her on July 4–exactly the reason I chose this season-perfect ball of yarn.

And then I tossed my new cloth in a fresh sink full of dishwater.

pink water

I repeat: That’s FRESH dishwater. I did not wash out Koolaid cups or Jello bowls or painting smocks in it. That horrible pink leaching is all from the new dishcloth.

I quickly put off all thoughts of giving away anything made from this yarn. The remainder of this ball is destined to be another serviceable but icky-looking one exclusively for me, I guess.

I’d hoped that after the initial wash, the white would rinse clean and the red would stop bleeding, but here we are, at least a couple dozen dish-washings after, and I’m still getting pink water every time. And no, the pink doesn’t rinse, either.

bleeding dyeUnfortunately, I’ve found the emerald green (“mod green”) I chose for one of the other recent cloths also bleeds pretty dramatically. That yarn, too, is Sugar ‘n Cream. That makes three balls of S’nC in a row that have disappointed me. It has always been a reliable brand for me before. I wonder what changed in their process?

So, I’ve picked out a few colors of another cotton yarn to try. I’ll let you know how they work out–or whether I’ve moved on to try a third cotton option instead.

What about you? What’s your go-to brand choice for kitchen cotton?

A (partial) wardrobe overhaul

newly altered clothingBack in April, I learned about Me-Made May 2014. I loved the concept but did not sign up. I knew that, with everything already on my calendar at the time, I couldn’t hope to finish any new craft challenge that month, no matter how humble a goal I set.

But I couldn’t shake the notion. I DID have plenty in my wardrobe that I didn’t wear. Most of those back-of-the-closet items were store-bought rather than handmade, but regardless, all were things I liked too much to give away even though they just didn’t work for me.

I tried to ignore everyone’s May goals while I kept reading all my favorite blogs. And among them I was regularly seeing new refashion projects on Carissa Knits or references to the Me-Made May challenge on Jennifer Lauren Vintage and thinking, wow! Why can’t I do/don’t I do/didn’t I think of THAT?!

So I gave in. But instead of “me-made,” I aimed for me-altered. And instead of “May,” I took a less ambitious beginning in May.

Here’s the result of my cheater’s take: I’ve returned three pairs of pants, five t-shirts, and two casual-but-nice tops to actual wearing rotation.

Now, don’t expect to be seriously wowwed. I don’t do high fashion, and most of the alterations are basic, especially if you have real sewing experience under your belt. But I’m satisfied knowing these favorite clothes are usable again, not just wasting my drawer space.

First up: Two pairs of casual jersey knit pants.

altered pantsThey were still soooo comfortable, and the perfect weight for our mild spring and fall weather, and they had these great deep pockets I loved. But they were looking S-A-D. The fabric had stretched in width from my last few years’ worth of yo-yo weight. But in the other direction, the fabric had shrunk, leaving the legs a good three inches too short.

The fix was so easy, I don’t know why I didn’t do it long ago. I whacked another five inches off the legs and rehemmed. Capris! To fix the width, I laid the pants out flat and pinned, then stitched about an inch deeper all the way around the U, up one inseam, around, and back down the other. I took an inch deeper in from the seam up the rise, too, then finally trimmed off all the excess.

They’re still casual pants at best, especially given the fading they’ve done since they were new. But now that they’re properly fitted (I kept the weight off this time, yay and knock wood), I don’t feel frumpy when I put them on now.

Next: My old favorite jeans still felt good, but they were no longer fit for public wear given the state of their knees. Cutoffs–what could be simpler?

I didn’t want the shorts to fray so much that they got shorter, though, so instead of hemming, I ran a line of straight stitching about a quarter inch above the cut.

renewed shortsA few washes later, they look artfully frayed without threatening to get me arrested.

I’m convinced I’ll get years more wear from this denim now. (Bonus: I’ve already put part of those cut-off legs to use, too. Remember this project?)

Next, a stack of t-shirts that just didn’t fit. Who bothers to alter t-shirts, right? But these included one special-ordered for a family event, two that were gifts from my family, and two that are colors I absolutely love and wouldn’t want to replace.

Have you noticed how cheap some manufacturers have gotten with fitting? Women’s shirts are built exactly the same as men’s: a long box, with two smaller boxes tacked on for sleeves. No shaping whatsoever. They needed help.

Only trouble is, I don’t have a clue how to measure for a more appropriate fit. It finally dawned on me that I didn’t have to. I have one t-shirt that fits exactly like I think a t-shirt should, so I used it as a pattern over the boxy ones.

resized t-shirts

Pin, re-seam, cut, repeat.

I don’t have a serger, so to mimic serging on the side seams, I put in a straight seam, then went back and sewed a zigzag right next to it before trimming the excess.

I also learned (finally) a little trick that would have let me dare to sew jersey knit long ago if I’d known it: Sew first, then cut. That way, you don’t have to deal with any of that pesky curling. It made shortening these man-length shirts a cinch. I think I did an especially nice job faking the double-stitching along the lower hems, too!

t-shirt hems

So that took care of four of the five shirts. The last needed additional help. The neck was way, way too tight.

I was hesitant, but I went ahead and took my seam ripper to the neck binding. To my surprise, the tiny fold of fabric it had been sewn to felt like exactly the right size. It was only the binding that was too small. Also to my surprise, the fold stayed perfectly in position. All I had to do to finish was run a narrow zigzag over it.

new neck on top

Finally, I had two pretty pointelle knit tops that, unfortunately, suffered from the same mannish shaping as all those t-shirts did. I gave them the same hem and side-seam treatment, again using the well-fitted T as a guide.

With their button detail and slightly sweetheart necklines, though, I thought these tops needed just one more shaping touch.

pretty knit top

I’d never marked darts without the help of a pattern before, so this was scary. And I didn’t get them right on either shirt the first time. But in the end–whew! I can now say that I’ve tackled a bust dart and come out on top. (pun intended)

I’m not quite finished with the wardrobe overhaul yet. Since my darts were successful in those knit tops, I’d like to try to add a couple to my April-finished spring dress to give it a better fit, too, and maybe do the same on the top of a two-piece dress I made ten years ago but haven’t worn since. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to let the sewing machine take over my dining room table again just yet, though. More on those alterations some other time.

Please tell me I’m not nuts for putting this much effort into saving some old clothes. What lengths have YOU gone to refit/refashion/repurpose/otherwise save your favorite clothing?

Rub a dub, dub

crocheted and knitted dishclothsMore scrubbiness to report! This trio of colorful dishcloths has been my now-and-then project between other things the past few weeks.

Originally, all were destined for my give-away stash. Instead, I tossed the last couple threadbare ones from my own linen closet and stacked these neatly in their place. No regrets. I already have new yarn colors at the ready to make more of all three of these patterns. There will be plenty to give away.

The first finish, this ecru, is done in cotton yarn leftover from Grandmother’s stash. I can’t believe how this one spool of yarn has gone on. I’ve lost count how many dishcloths I’ve gotten from it now, and it wasn’t a brand-new spool when I got it, and there’s still enough left for at least two more besides.

ecru knit close-upThe pattern is Reversible Pips, which I knew I liked because I’ve knitted it before. I decided to make some minor changes this time. I live in a climate that welcomes mildew. Thin dishcloths that dry out super fast are a better bet than one that works up so very thick and heavy, like this pattern yields. So instead of size 8 needles, I used a pair of great big 13s, and I cast on only 30 stitches instead of 44. It sounds like a ridiculously drastic change, but I am very pleased with the resulting cloth. Despite being so loosely woven, it’s still very absorbent and has no shortage of scrubbability. (My spell-check says I can’t write that word. Pffftt, I say.)

This second finish may look familiar, too. Good eye, you!

crochet dishclothFor the same mildewy reason, I worked this Chic Chevron pattern a little more lightly (two hook sizes larger than called for) than I did it originally. I love the results. And that color! Doing dishes cannot be drudgery when I have this cheerful cloth in my hand. It’s Lily Sugar ‘n Cream “blueberry.”

The final one was a challenge–the best kind of challenge. The kind that makes you think and work in a little different way than you usually do, with nice results. The pattern is another of Jill’s Being Spiffy designs, Lemon Swirl.

round knit dishcloth

No, my color choice didn’t fit the description “lemon.” Ah, well.

I had done a dishcloth in the round before, but never a dishcloth that actually comes out round. I thought that alone made this pattern unusual enough to be worth a try. What I did not anticipate was how much extra patience it would take–and how little, apparently, I have.

I did not have two matching circular needles this size, so I worked from DPNs. No problem, right?

Well, I found out quickly just how much satisfaction I get from seeing a pattern take shape as I work. But on a set of 4 DPNs, you can’t see this pattern grow because the stitches remain so closely bunched together. I was able to spread it little bits at a time and peek, but I didn’t get the full effect of the lacy design until I’d finished casting off the first entire needle full of stitches. Here’s about the biggest look I got en route.

dishcloth in progressI admit, I had some anxiety about working all the way to nearly the end without knowing whether I would really be done when I got there. See, this is a pattern that requires a lot of counting. Often, if I count wrong, I notice when I see the mistake show up as a glitch in the design. And because I was using DPNs, this design was not on display.

The upshot was, I counted pretty darned carefully. I also checked my count at the end of every round, which–confession!–I hardly ever do ordinarily. Yet, as far as I can see now, I ended up with no pattern mistakes in the end other than the central stitches being a bit too loose. (Noted for next time: Cast on with smaller needles, then switch.) My husband listened to my monolog about this challenge and dubbed this dishcloth pattern “Blind Faith.” He’s got a point.

My compulsive checking and counting are no reflection on the quality of the pattern and design, which is precise and easy to read and yields a very, very pretty result. I absolutely love my finished Lemon (asparagus? watermelon?) Swirl. I will certainly be making more of these fun, pretty, unusually lacy dishcloths.

round knit dishcloth close-upThere was actually a fourth dishcloth in this mix. It is not mentioned here because it was a royal failure–but that disaster deserves a post of its own. Let us gaze again upon the happy ones!

knit and crochet dishcloths

Until I get around to writing that post, though, I’m always looking for a new dishcloth pattern to try. What’s your favorite, either in knit or crochet, or a combination of both?

Oink, oink

piggy toyWe dubbed this little guy Peter. He was a baby gift for a new cousin.

Isn’t Peter just the cutest? That curly tail is too much! You can find the free pattern here. Many thanks to Debi Y. for sharing His Oinkiness!

The yarn is another little bit from Tillie’s stash, which is kind of neat since my cousin’s family also knew Tillie’s way back when.

The yarn’s 100% acrylic, so Peter is completely washable and will dry very quickly, too. I thought that would be pretty important considering 1) a baby’s chewing habit and 2) the very humid, mold-friendly climate the family lives in. Quick dry is never a bad idea there.

 

more piggy

piggy 3

I had a bit of a hard time letting Peter go, he fits so perfectly in a palm!

 

I’m going to be doing at least one more baby gift, likely a toy, in the near future, so please do tell: What’s your favorite pattern for a knitted or crocheted baby item?

Ooo, hot pot!

scrap potholdersI’ve needed some new potholders for an embarrassingly long time. This project was long overdue! Turns out, I had fun and made a pair for myself and a pair for someone else, too.

 

 

 

 

For the first pair, simple flower appliques stitched on a heavy twill:

scrap applique flowerAnd for the second, mock-quilted broadcloth panels on denim:

mock-quilted scrap potholdersEverything I used for both pairs was a leftover. The denim came from my old favorite jeans (now new favorite shorts). The knees were nearly worn through and unusable, but on the back of the legs, the fabric had just enough wear to have softened without looking sad. I really like how it translated on these potholders.

denim potholders, back side

And the heavy double-stitching on the inseam was still in terrific shape, too–which made for strong, simple hanging loops!

The mock-quilted and appliqued cottons are scraps from several photo album and Halloween costume projects of various years. The batting fill (which has gone on forever since I bought a queen-size quilt piece!) is also a leftover from the photo albums and several other projects since then.

The tan twill, I bought on rock-bottom clearance five years ago, and then let sit in my closet for lack of a plan until two years ago when I used most of it to re-cover some bar stools seats and throw pillows. There’s still a good length left post-potholder, too. This grosgrain ribbon, believe it or not, was just packaging on a set of terrycloth washcloths. Can you imagine these pretty stripes being destined for the trash?! It just so happened that the stripes matched my other scraps, a match made in thrifty heaven.

repurposed ribbon and scrap fabric potholder

 

I have no shortage of scrap fabric, so I’m sure more potholders and maybe table runners, too, are in my sewing machine’s future. With so many bits and pieces around, there must be countless ways to mix and match these leftovers. What are your favorite ways to use leftover or reclaimed fabrics?

Afghan squares

flower tile afghan squareThere’s a good reason I’ve been absent for almost three whole weeks. Several good reasons, really, mostly work-related. “Busy” seems a wimpy word to cover it all, but it’s the truth!

The other truth is, while I haven’t had the time to finish the blog posts I start, I still have been doing the craft projects I blog about.

All in good time, I suppose.

For today, I’m keeping it simple. Just two photos–there’s one above–and easy on the words! Here’s my version of Flower Tile Afghan Square by Marta Chrzanowska. It’ll need a little light blocking, but you get the idea.

long view flower tile afghan squareThis square is Block 10 of Tamara’s afghan crochet along. It’s the first piece of this crochet-along I’ve done since my self-imposed afghan block break in March. I’m happy to be participating again and really like the look of this latest result! But naturally those compulsive tendencies have taken over again…to make this ONE block fit in with the join pattern in my head, I will have to make it 3 more times, in slightly different color order, just like I did the others.

Ah, well. It’s a pleasant kind of obsession.

I promise to finish all those other posts, and not wait three weeks to do it, either. But in the meantime, I want to hear from you! What are YOUR recent finish-offs or cast-ons or supply purchases?

 

Shhh! Some preview photos

colorful yarnI’ve been working on so many different things these past two weeks, I can’t even count them all. Some have been non-craft-related. Others are complete crafts, but I can’t share yet because they’re gifts in transit. Two others are ordinary but perfectly useful, and I definitely will share them. But not today.

Today, I’m so darned excited about another group of items that I just have to tell now. I can’t wait!

Remember the penguin clothing last fall? (There was a bunch–here’s another post, and another, and another.)

Well, after that holiday display opened, someone asked me to make her a hat like the penguins have. She picked enough yarn for two: this one and this one.

She loved the hats, and I really loved making them!

From there evolved the notion that I might consign “dress like the penguins” hats (in people sizes, of course) through the gift shop where the display appears. The manager of the shop was open to it! I’m preparing to talk details and take some prototypes to her in May.

So far, two of the sample hats are done,

stocking cap in crochet

Please excuse the creepy non-human model.

winter hat in knit

Please excuse the silly, backward-facing human model!

…and a third is in progress.

knitting in progress

I love this Premier Deborah Norville Serenity yarn. It’s so, so soft!

knitting close-upThe gift shop and display area are open the rest of the year, too, so I’m also working on a few non-holiday themed items. Want to take a guess what I’m mock-quilting in this shot? (Update 6/14: No spoilers here, but if you click this link, you can read about the finished projects!)

mock-quilting in progressThat particular work in progress is more of a random chance. I have no idea whether the manager is willing to take on more consignors the rest of the year–but as long as I have her audience, I’m going to ask! And of course I’ll have a few tempting samples there to show off.

It’s a small thing, and it’s by no means guaranteed, but just having the chance to try selling my handmades feels huge to me. I can hardly contain my anticipation. My fingers are happily flying through these prototype projects!

What about you? What facets of crafting have filled you with nervous happiness? Have you ever put your work out before the public? Tell your story!

Fight to the finish

spring dressI can’t tell you how happy I am to be done with this project!

It’s finished just in time for Easter, and the color and style should be perfect for the weather (fingers crossed the sudden cold snap tonight doesn’t hold out through the weekend).

But I tell you what, it was no easy task getting to the finish line.

This kind of dress really should be simple. And it is, to a degree. But sewing is one of those things I can’t do at all unless I have a big chunk of time set aside. I don’t have a separate craft room. The dining room table fills in. I can’t bother setting up the machine and ironing board, rolling out the fabric, etc., if I only have a few minutes to spend. As a result, it took me six weeks to complete this.

The pattern didn’t help, either. I’ll be the first to admit, I sew far more slowly from a pattern than I probably should simply because I’m not used to following someone else’s directions. There’s a lot of reading and rereading, stopping halfway to check the pictures, etc. Ordinarily, most of my sewing comes straight out of my head, sometimes assisted by a few hasty calculations and extremely rough sketches. Following a Real Plan is a whole different way of thinking.

But even if I were an old hand at patterns, I think this one would have annoyed me. I won’t say outright that the instructions had errors, but…is it really helpful to note that “actual finished measurements are 4 inches larger than measurement chart” AFTER the step for cutting the fabric is already complete? There was a similar short-sighted hitch in the zipper installation step, too, and a couple of places where a substep that had been spelled out in laborious detail previously was not mentioned at all, and I had to go back and redo after seeing that substep reappear somewhere else later. I put a lot of mileage on my seam ripper.

The bright side of all that hair-pulling is, the kinks are worked out now. I took my notes and am ready to use the pattern again. This fabric, pretty as it is, was just a trial piece. I held back my absolute favorite fabric from this freebie batch to use after I’d done a sample. And I am glad I waited!

In the end? This dress is just a little bigger on me than I’d prefer, but it still has a tailored look that I like. And the subtle stripes in the grain of the fabric turned out to be very well complemented by those long cuts.

DSCN3003It wasn’t a breeze getting there, but I’m calling this one a success! AND, I think I just may be feeling brave enough to take on an unfinished dress that has been sitting in my closet for 12 years (no exaggeration) because I met similar frustrations with THAT pattern. I’m thinking maybe I know what to do differently this time!

But I’ll gladly take advice! Those of you who sew frequently: Are those irritating editing glitches common in commercial patterns? Besides reading everything before doing anything, what’s the best way to sidestep those errors? And what’s your favorite spring dress pattern?

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