Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A (last) Saturday Round-up

With a little going on on a lot of different fronts, think of this as the lightning round version of blogging.

I added a new tool to my knitting skill toolbox: combination knitting, which combines western and eastern styles. The goal was to ease rowing out, that I inherently get when knitting with smooth/slick fibers. The smoother and slicker the fiber, the more I row out.

Rowing out is caused by having different tension when knitting vs. purling. There are many different was to solve this, including using two different needle sizes. I opted for combination knitting, and it is working like a charm! The two downsides I have found are: my knitting is slower, and it’s a bit harder to figure out how to make mirrored decreases. (I also sometimes forget what I’m doing, and just start knitting my usual way.) It won’t ever become my go-to knitting style, but will definitely be used and useful when knitting certain fibers.

See the Webs Yarn Store blog for a description of rowing out, and their tips for combating it, here

Annie Modesitt has several tutorials on her web site on combination knitting. A quick single page review of the technique (which I found easier to handle the first time I sat down to do it) can be found in Knitting in the Old Way: Designs and Techniques from Ethnic Sweaters. Unfortunately that author doesn’t seem to deal with increases and decreases using this method. Modesitt does, but I find her direction hard to understand.

Still working on my machine quilting class, but haven’t devoted much time to it.  I find I need really good light - both from my work light and available day light - to see where I needle is compared to the block pattern.

But I did buy a bunch more fabric this week for my new spring quilt. Here’s a stack I bought at one of the three stores I visited Thursday:

Eye-popping, no?

At my favorite shop of the three I visited, I was warned about the necessity of prewashing fabrics. I grew up prewashing fabrics, but the instructor in an online quilting class I took recently said it’s not necessary and actually discouraged us from doing it. Well, turns out that - especially if you use batiks - prewashing is essential. Those dyes will bleed in the wash, and may continue to bleed unless a special product is used to set the dyes. Now I have both a big bottle of that special dye set, and a big bottle of a special starch that will help me put the crisp back in the washed fabric for cutting and sewing.

I got my wheel set up again. It and I have been at odds, but I’m taking a more methodical approach to my wheel. The instructions for my wheel got it almost entirely set up, but entirely left out the part about how the drive band goes over the bobbin and flier, how the Scotch brake system works and should be set up, how whorl diameter affects spin ratio, how to balance take-up vs spin, proper tension for brake and drive bands, etc. In other words, it left out some really crucial information.

I tend to find little nuggets of information in lots of random places, so I am now accumulating all the critical bits in to one concise notebook. This morning, for example, I discovered that worsted is easier to learn, but I am using the method that makes woolen yarn. Hmmmmm.......

One job that’s been hanging over my head for a year is fixing a hole in a thrifted mohair sweater so I can over dye it and starting using it. It’s been a bit of a pistol, because the mohair is sort of double knit in to a wool knit fabric. I’m unpicking a mohair strand out of a pocket, since that hole/repair will be hidden on the finished work, but I find that I cannot pick this project up, work on it for five minutes, and come back to it later. This will be done - and done today. Thankfully, I have a good audio book that I checked out from the State Library, and they’ll remove it from my phone tomorrow whether I’m done with the book or not. Finish a book/finish a sweater. Win win!

There may be snow outside, but it’s already time to start seeds indoors. My garden center’s facebook page included a link to a helpful gardening app from Burpee. It only includes info on herbs and vegetables typically grown from seed, but is a helpful guide for determining when to seed indoors, and when to transplant outside, depending on the user’s specific zone. This weekend I planted peppers, lavender, and black eyed Susan. Next weekend it’ll be time to plant tomatoes, and a few other things.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Welcome to the ’80s

I’ve misplaced the owner’s manual for my spinning wheel. It’s in my crafting studio, I know it is. But it’s currently lost in jumble of reference materials on a wide range subjects. Some are as recent as the past six months, while others are a century old. If you ever need to know how to make a traditional Edwardian tassel, for example, I can be your guide.

Rather than just search the shelves book by book, it seemed wise to take the opportunity to add the knitting/crochet resources to my Ravelry library. They all have their purpose, and even dated patterns have a way of becoming fashionable again. Here’s one I don’t think will ever find a place in fashion again - if it ever did.

Oddly, no one has added this particular pattern to the Ravelry database...

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Blast from the Dust Bowl Past

I recently rescued a vintage baby blanket that was headed toward the landfill - literally. Granted, it’s become a nasty thing. No baby should be allowed within 20 feet of it. But it’s a piece of family history, and it uses an interesting blend of techniques.

The blanket was made by “Granny Green” - my great-grandmother - for her first grandchild, who was born during the Dust Bowl days. The quilt blends applique, cross stitch, and quilting.

The hand quilting, using several colors of thread, reminds me a bit of traditional sashiko embroidery. Here’s a sashiko tutorial from the Purl Bee web site.

And I think it’s interesting that she has apparently used a Dutch motif in the applique and cross stitch design. Regionally, that’s not very common.

I never met Granny Green, and I haven’t learned much about her beyond where she lived as an adult and how she was related to me. I’m still very early in my family history research, which had to be set aside for a good two years while I waited for original documents. By then, frankly, family present became a more pressing issue. One of the few things I do know came from her daughter, who tried and failed to embroider a tablecloth. The daughter did one corner, and Granny Green stepped in to finish the rest. I own that tablecloth, so I suppose that means I now own two things she made. I’d say she was a very talented lady, and looked forward to her first grandchild with joy in her heart.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Finished Object: Quilting on Rails

Three and a half years in the making, my new winter quilt is finally completed and in use. YIPPEE!!
Finished quilt, held sideways.

There is nothing that I don’t adore about it. I love the colors. I love the pattern. I love the quilting pattern (though my husband will likely be the only ones that “see” it), and I love the warmth - actual and visual - it brings.  If there is anything that I don’t love, I suppose that would be the length of time it took to complete it. But doesn’t that make it even more precious? You bet!

I have discussed this project in detail elsewhere on the blog, so I’ll primarily stick with the bullet point version here.

I referenced the Australian Rail Fence pattern from A World of Quilts by Beth Ann Williams, though I modified the finished dimensions to fit a King-sized bed, and used primarily non-ethnic fabrics. This happens to be the second quilt I’ve made from this resource. The first was Shield, my first quilt ever.

One of the things I loved about this pattern was her choice of color play - strategically placed darker and lighter prints. That also made it particularly tricky to source suitable fabrics. I wanted to mimic the spirit of her look, without making it identical. I solved this by intentionally transferring data and decision making from my right brain to my left brain and back to my right. That is, I looked at each of her individual fabric choices, and gave it a suitable name. Since my finished quilt was to be a winter quilt, I used wintry concepts:
  • crackling fire
  • wool blanket
  • pine needles
  • ice storm
  • crocuses
  • snow field under a full moon
  • cloudy night 
Then when I went to purchase fabrics, I bought fabrics that symbolically read “crocus,” or “cloudy night,” etc. More details on this process can be found here.

I bought most of the fabric on a crisp fall day in 2009, taking a road trip through the country to small quilt shops in the region. Whenever I look at the quilt, I remember that day.

Fabric strips cut and carefully organized, awaiting sewing.

By November I had all my fabric strips cut and organized (no small feat), and thought I was wheels up on project until November 11, 2009 when this happened:

 Followed by surgery to install a titanium plate in Caper’s leg, and weeks of this:

...when nothing could be in the room during his recover lest he jump - as cats do - and re-break his leg.

Quilting game over, man. 

I finally got back in the swing of things in February 2010, and had the center of the topper pieced. In September went back to the fabric store to source appropriate border fabric, opting for a batik that pulled my other elements together. I had my topper, I had my backing fabric, I had my batting. Then I needed to figure out the quilting pattern. I didn’t want to do anything too literal, such as snowflakes. But I also didn’t want to do anything too graphic and senseless. A fall driving trip up the north shore of Lake Superior solved that problem.

Scene by the road along the north shore of Lake Superior.

 I created a version of this landscape - birch trunks, upper canopy, understory, sky - using a stitch method I’ll describe more as sketching with thread, rather than quilting. The aspect that was counter intuitive, was that unlike in an actual drawing, in quilting I need to have the distant objects be denser than the foreground options. That gives the sensation of distance. In a sketch, the foreground objects would be more detailed.

A close up of the grass in the understory.

Granted, I’ve had many reasons that the quilt had to be put away. Months when no quilting action happened at all. But I’ve also had many many months where I worked on the quilt at least an hour each day. And I sooooo thought I was going to be done with this over a year ago. And I was sooooo wrong. I shouldn’t be surprised, really, given that I used over three spools of thread, snapped 3 sewing needles in half, and broke about a dozen threaders, in the process of making it.

I have now: hand quilted a small throw, hand quilted a large bedspread, and machine sewed two large bedspreads on a regular household machine. Unless it’s a small project, I won't hand quilt again. And I’ll never - unless it’s a small project - machine sew a quilt again. Next time, I’m sending it out to be long armed.

Caper, now equipped with properly healed jumping equipment, gives the quilt two paws up.

Same shot, sans cat.

I did mention that I’m already collecting fabrics for my next bed-sized quilt, no?