Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How to Sew a Button

I just finished up the book How to Sew a Button by Erin Bried. This quaint little book serves up the wisdom of our grandmothers in easy to follow steps. The tips range from the useful for everyone...(how to sew a button, how to grocery shop and how to spring clean) to the useful for those of us who yearn to be more like our grandmothers...(how to roast a chicken, how to hang a wash line and how to play crazy 8s). There's practical tips about budgeting and saving. Cooking, cleaning and sewing tips abound. There's stuff you'd never think to find in a how to book, like how to make friends with the neighbors or how to greet your honey after a hard day (lest you feminists balk, she's quick to point out this tip goes both ways). Everything is presented with a light heart and charming attitude. Each tip starts out with a pithy comment from "the grandmothers" who contributed to the book. There a kitschy, retro drawings scattered throughout the book as well. All in all an entertaining but educational read. Downside, makes me REALLY miss my grandmas!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Zero knitting

My hands are rebelling against me and I'm unable to knit. I've not knit a stitch in almost 7 days which is probably some kind of record since I've taken up the hobby. The problems I'm having were probably brought on by the new exercise routines I've been following lately, but knitting definitely aggravates the pain so it's off limits for now.

Instead I've been reading. I'm still on the aromatherapy kick and am working my way through a pile of books on the subject. Last week I finished the Aromatherapy Bible. The book is small in dimension but still nearly 400 pages. It is one of the best references I've read on aromatherapy. The topics are concise but thorough. The book covers various techniques for using aromatherapy, has a large essential oil reference section and plenty of recipes. I foresee turning to this book often.

I'm about half way through Essential Aromatherapy (the 1995 edition). This book is somewhat dated (there's a reference to Princess Diana using aromatherapy!) But the principles are still good. There are handy reference tables in various configurations making it easy to search for oils by name or by condition you wish to address. This too will be a book I keep on the shelf, but if you are looking to get a copy for yourself, perhaps consider the updated version.

On my Kindle I'm still reading Mossy Creek. This book is delightful. A perfect summer read. Each chapter introduces a new citizen of Mossy Creek and tells a story about them and their involvement in the town. The tales build on each other very subtly with previous characters showing up in the sidelines here and there. The characters are funny and smart and the stories are engaging. I'm sure I'll be picking up more books from this series as time goes on.

C and I made our first trek to Shupp's Grove this morning. We got there early, right when they opened, and found many vendors still closed. This flea market is very laid back compared to most where it's all a hustle and bustle. Located in what appears to be an old wooded campground, Shupp's Grove is a cool, dipped in nature oasis. The folks there are friendly. Bargains abound and we usually find something to spark our interest. I picked up an old Corning dish to use as a bird bath and C found some old comics. On the way home we found Burkholder's fabric store was open and stopped in to have a look around. Oh wow, what a store! There are 3 huge rooms STUFFED with fabric.
I picked up 2 one yard cuts of some vintage looking fabrics and a slew of fat quarters (you can get 20 fq for $25, that's half price!) Now I really have no idea what I'll do with 25 fat quarters, but since I'm not knitting at the moment, this will at least give me something crafty to play with!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The 5 yard quilt

Since I took up knitting, quilting has taken a bit of a back seat. I still love quilts and piecing tops, but I'm strictly a machine sewer and just don't find myself wanting to spend time squirreled away in my sewing room. Plus my craft/sewing room is tiny making the quilting of quilts an exercise in fabric gymnastics, constantly tucking and fluffing and stuffing and wrangling the quilt around my sewing table and into the machine. Normally I stick to smallish quilts, generally afghan size, which are somewhat manageable. But 2 years ago at the Quilt Odyssey in Hershey I fell in love with a 5 Yard Quilt Kit from Bolines and knew I had to have it for our spare room's twin bed.  The kits are great. You get 5 yards of coordinating fabric and 3 patterns to make a twin size quilt top. You supply your own batting, backing and binding. The top has been pieced for quite some time it's just been waiting for me to quilt it. So this weekend I took advantage of a day off and pleasantly cool morning temperatures and I soldiered through and got it quilted. I had started trying to individually quilt the large blocks, but this was proving near impossible with my set up. In the end, i just straight line quilted between the major blocks. I'll go back at some point and do some additional quilting in between, just to prevent the batting from shifting if it needs to be washed.
I adore the old-timey look of these fabrics. Feels very colonial to me. I intend to redo the room around the quilt. As you can see, the room needs a redo. The walls are do for paint this year and I'm leaning towards a rich, chocolate suede brown. Curtains will perhaps be navy or I'd love to find that brown floral from the quilt and make curtains with it. But seeing that the fabrics are a number of years old, this probably won't happen. I used wool batting for a truly decadent feel. The cost was a bit more than good cotton batting, but I do recommend it for a special project. Oh, and cats ADORE it too. It's been a long time coming, but I'm thrilled to bits with this quilt.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Swatching for Iona

I found a lovely seller on Ebay who specializes in chenille yarns. She carries a bulky cotton chenille that seems comparable to Rowan Chunky Chenille, so I purchased one of her four packs to do some test knitting. The yarn arrived super fast. (I give Chenille Shack highest marks for customer service. If you need chenille yarn, this is the place to go!) I wanted to give the yarn a thorough test with the pattern so rather than doing a swatch, I decided to just cast on a sleeve as written for Iona. This way I could test the color work cuff as well as the cable section. 

At first I found the chenille hard on my hands. After an hour or so of solid knitting, my hands were aching. Chenille has no stretch or give like plied yarns do because of its construction and cotton itself is inelastic as well. Furthermore, you're knitting with bulky yarn (eh, maybe closer to heavy worsted) on US 5 and 7 needles, that's a somewhat firm gauge. The next day I tried again, loosening my tension a bit and I did not experience the hand fatigue. I'm getting stitch gauge, spot on (4 st/inch) but my row gauge is off (5 row/inch instead of 6). This could be a bit problematic because of the nature of the cable motif (the whole thing needs to fit in a specific amount of space. Since I'm getting fewer rows than called for, the motif will take up more space.) There's enough background I think I could adjust though.

The question is if I like the yarn enough to do a whole sweater with it. Here's what the swatch looks like so far. 
The yarn is moderately soft, but I've heard it softens considerably upon washing. It feels a bit heavy although it is cotton. The drape is ok and I imagine will only improve with washing. My issue is the reverse stockinette (the part above the checkerboard).
That is how the sweater is designed, with the "wrong" side of the stitch to the front. I've just never been a fan of reverse stockinette. It makes me feel like my sweater is inside out. And with chenille yarn it feels even more so. I'm not going to rush to a decision. Having picked up some yarn to test the pattern has scratched the Iona itch for now and I'm satisfied to think about it for awhile before making a final decision. I think the next time I place a Knit Picks order I'll pick up 2 balls of Comfy bulky and see how that looks. If I feel the same ways about the ugliness of reverse stockinette then this pattern may be out of the queue.

There's still plenty of other knitting going on. I'm working on a pair of socks in that Bluetopia BFL I picked up from Liberty during her sale.
This is the Tea Party color way (the picture is not doing it justice) and the pattern is called "Purl When Ready" from the Big Book of Socks. It's mostly a plain vanilla sock with a few purl stitches thrown in randomly for interest.
I'm also working on a Featherweight Cardigan by Hannah Fettig.
The pattern calls for laceweight yarn, but I wanted a slightly more substantial yet still lightweight sweater so I'm using Knit Picks Comfy fingering weight yarn. It's a super easy knit and I am loving the fabric it's producing. Knitting sock yarn on US 6 (4mm) needles produces such a fabulous drape. The sweater feels like the softest tee shirt. It is moving along at a pretty decent clip and I would hope to be able to wear it this season yet. 

The Multnomah shawl, Bitterroot shawl and Sleepy Hollow socks all get a few rows knitted on them each week, but there's no visible progress there. I enjoy having this variety of projects (from mindless to challenging) at hand to suit my mood at the time. 

Lastly, the Wollmeise count is up to 4 and holding. After I received my first order, I was around for another Saturday update and managed to grab a Kunterbunt and a Gemischt small grab bags in Twin (and 80/20 merino/nylon blend sock yarn). The intention was for them to go to Jen since at that time she still didn't have any WM. But as it turned out, by the time they came, she had managed to order 6 skeins for herself (which is producing much frustration do to a shipping problem, but that's another story). When the 4 skeins arrived, I found the Gemischt was the exact same colors I got in my first order a few weeks prior. Jen happily took those 2. She was nice enough to let me keep the Kunterbunt set.
So here's my current inventory.
My Old Blue Jeans, Campari Orange and 2 Versuchskaninchen. Jen is leaving me in the dust. She's already balled her's up and has started knitting socks! I still can not bear to unwrap them. In fact they still live in their original bag. I still want to get a big Kunterbunt or maybe Gemischt bag one of these days. But there seems to be a lot of duplicate yarns being shipped right now and I'm really hoping for a variety. So I'm holding off for at least a month or two before trying for more.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Last month's reading

I finished up Sweater Quest, in which the author writes about her "quest" to knit an Alice Starmore sweater. The book started out well, as many knitting projects do. There's all the excitement of deciding you want to knit something, the adventure of finding the materials (in this case a true adventure since the book containing the pattern and the yarns called for in the pattern are no longer being produced) and the joy of casting on. But after it gets going, the boredom and tedium set in. When knitting a fair isle sweater in a fine gauge, no matter how how intricate the pattern may look in the end, you are essentially just making stitch after stitch after stitch, thousands of times. You do need to keep track of which color stitch to make, but even so, there's only 2 colors in the row, not exactly rocket surgery. The book suffers the same monotonous cadence. Once it gets past the fun stuff,  the book becomes page after page after page of the same questions being asked of various knitters, most of whom have very similar points of view. Perhaps because all the interviewees were knitters who's blogs I read and have heard the exact same answers and stories before, this was exceptionally boring. I stuck with it till the end because I wanted to see if she would finish the sweater and how it turned out. The answer is given, of course, but even that I found disappointing. I had high hopes for the book. I love knitting. I love AS. But this one just didn't come together. If you want a good knitting read for summer, read Rachael's How to Knit a Love Song and give this one a skip.

I've set Dead Witch Walking aside for the moment. Ah yes, another reason to love my Kindle.  So easy to skip between multiple books without losing my place or having to lug them all around! Anyway, DWW is very good, but it's moving too slow for me. I'll come back to it at some point, but for now I have a taste for something lighthearted. So it's on to Mossy Creek. I'm only about a fifth of the way in but am finding it delightful so far. Another southern charmer in the vein of the Biggie Weatherford books.

I caved and picked up another Alice Starmore book in the midst of Sweater Quest. This time The Celtic Collection. Where Fisherman's Sweaters is devoted mostly to cable and textured stitch patterns, Celtic Collection contains more Fair Isle designs (although there's still a good dose of texture in here as well). Lismore (you can see a scan of the sweater photo here) is one Fair Isle design I may someday endeavor to tackle. Absolutely stunning. The cabled sweaters call most strongly to me. Iona is high on my queue. (See it here, second picture). The yarn called for is, as expected, discontinued. It would have been cost prohibitive anyway, so I'm looking for an alternative. The original is chenille yarn, a yarn with a dubious reputation for being unpleasant to knit with. I've ordered a small amount of a similar cotton chenille to do some test swatching before committing to a sweater's worth. Other options include Knit Pick's Comfy Bulky which would have a much different look but would, I still think, look stunning. Wool is always an option too, but I'm leaning towards a cotton since the yarn is bulky weight and I'd like to wear the sweater more than one day a year. More on my little Starmore journey in future months.