Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Never Break the Chain Cushion.

This knitting project plan had its origins in a reupholstering project. I was reupholstering the rocking chair you see pictured above for one of the bedrooms in my house. The chair had an accompanying cushion that was upholstered in the "wrong side" of the old upholstery fabric, which had made for a nice contrasting look with the "right side" upholstery that covered the chair. However, the new upholstery fabric did not have an attractive "wrong side", and I thought reupholstering the cushion in the same fabric as the chair wouldn't look right. After some time spent trying to figure out if I could use the cushion as it was elsewhere in my house (and concluding I couldn't), the obvious solution hit me: I should leave the cushion as it was and simply knit it a new cushion cover.

I immediately realized I had a suitable lot of yarn on hand for the project. Several years ago my mother had given me 300 grams of a cream-coloured acrylic DK that someone else had given her. The origins of this yarn are hazy in every sense. An anonymous someone found it when cleaning out the house of an equally unknown elderly woman who had died, and gave it to someone else (my mother has forgotten who), who had in her turn passed it along to my mother, who then offered it to me. I don't know what brand or fibre content this yarn was as it had only unmarked yellow paper bands on it. My best guess is that the yarn is an acrylic produced in the 1980s, as it has a rather coarse texture that today's much improved acrylics don't usually have. The yarn then sat in my box of DK yarn for several years as I tried to figure out what to do with it. The rough texture made it unsuitable for clothing, which meant it should be used for a decorating project, but I never seemed to have a need for it. That yarn's time had finally arrived, as it was perfect for making this cushion cover. I wasn't quite sure I'd have enough yarn to cover what was a fairly large cushion, but decided that 300 grams would surely make at least one side of the cushion cover, and the cushion could be made with a coordinating fabric backing if need be.

The next step in the process was to find a suitable cushion cover pattern. After a Ravelry search for a cabled pattern, I decided I liked the idea of a strip of Celtic knot cable running across an otherwise plain stockinette cushion, as shown above in the Celtic Knot Pillow cover, designed by Jennifer Wilby. After all, isn't a yarn that was passed along a chain of knitters before it reached the one who would eventually use it the perfect yarn to be used for a Celtic chain effect? The Celtic knot technique is a traditional knitting pattern of such long-standing that it's in the public domain, so I used the Celtic cable pattern from the Celtic Cable Scarf pattern, written by Vanessa Lewis, to get the look, and did the math to write my own pattern to fit my specific cushion.

Here's the completed cushion cover, sitting on the chenille-covered rocking chair I upholstered, and against the backdrop of the wall I painted and the chintz curtains I've made. It turned out that I did have just enough yarn to make an entire cushion cover -- I finished this project with less than 40 inches of yarn to spare. I knitted the cover in one long piece, then seamed it on two sides, and inserted an 18" ivory zipper into one long side using the method described in this Frog Knitting tutorial. It's worth going the extra mile to put a zipper in a cushion cover as it means the cover can easily be taken off the cushion and washed.

To recap, I had the cushion and the yarn and even the zipper on hand, and the pattern was free. I did have to buy a crochet hook for the zipper insertion as I had none of a size big enough to grip the yarn but small enough to pierce the zipper, but the crochet hook was only $2.15, so this was still quite a frugal exercise. And the chain of custody for this yarn is finally at an end.... though who knows? The cushion might have a checkered life as well. We never know where our stuff will wind up.

Peacocking in a New Hat

This pattern, the Peacock Tam, designed by Celeste Young and published in Knits of a Feather: 20 Stylish Knits Inspired by Birds in Nature, is one of those patterns that I fell in love with the minute I saw it and just had to make. As a piece of design, it succeeds by all my metrics: it's beautifully detailed, visually striking, has an Art Nouveau-esque feel, and is also quite flattering and wearable.

I had a false start with this project when I first bought yarn for it. I found Madelinetosh Tosh sock in Fjord for the feathers, and I was thrilled with it. But then I picked out a cream yarn for the main colour, and as I should know perfectly well by now, a dark second yarn shows terribly through a yarn as light as a cream or white. I ripped out what I had done, reassigned the cream yarn to another project (specifically, my cowl-neck cream sweater), and bought some Debbie Bliss Rialto 4ply in turquoise for the main colour.

Here's the finished hat. I was quite pleased with how it turned out. I love the colourway. Most of the Ravelry users who have made this hat have gone with the navy and green colourway used in the sample, or something very close to it, and while that is a lovely option, I preferred this one, which suits me and my coats better, and moreover is more peacock-y.

I inadvertently used a slightly larger size needle than called for, which meant the hat turned out a bit bigger than it was supposed to. This wasn't really a problem, as it was still an appropriate size for me. I have a wide face and need to be careful not to wear too small-scale a hat. However, while the hat fit me fine it was too big to stay on the foam head I usually use as a photography model for my hats, so I had to model it myself. My apologies for that.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What I Did With $4 of Thrift Shop Yarn

Back in 2012, I bought 250 grams of teal blue mohair (Nuvoletta by Filatura Di Crosa, which is 70% mohair and 30% acrylic and according to Google has been discontinued since the early nineties) from Value Village for $4. In 2014 I made a pullover from the Nuvoletta and still had nearly a whole 50 gram skein left. This was enough for a hat, so I looked for a suitable tam pattern, and found one in the very attractive Tuscan Leaves Hat, designed by Nina Machlin Dayton and pictured above.

And here's the finished hat. It'll go with several of my jackets and coats -- I'm thinking it will look especially nice with my olive green velvet jacket. The yarn was a pleasure to work with just as it was when I made the pullover, and I was pleased with how well the pattern was written. I'm quite happy with the result, and it makes me even happier to think that I got a sweater and a hat that I love from $4 of thrift shop yarn. There was perhaps 5 grams of yarn left when I finished the hat, which I've put away with my other odds and ends of yarn. Who knows -- I might be able to get even more out of that $4.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Shawl that Pinterest Built

My sister has taken to messaging me links to the things she wants me to make via Pinterest, usually with the words, "Dude. I want this." This pattern, which is the Nae shawl, designed by Anat Rodan, was one of the things my sister wants, and she wanted it, specifically, in "blue, mauve, or taupe, in a soft grayish shade". At least it's a free pattern.

I bought 150 grams of Sandnes Mini Alpakka in a soft mauve for the project, which was supposed to take 140 grams of yarn. But then I ran short by approximately 10 grams. I promptly went down to Romni Wool to get another. They didn't have another in the same shade, but ordered some in for me. Excellent! Except that when it came, it was in a different dye lot and looked like it was a completely different colour. Yes, the woman depicted above is more or less a good representation of me, squatting on the floor of Romni Wool and teetering on the verge of a meltdown. There was no way I could salvage this project without that 10 extra grams of yarn. I'd have to rip the whole thing out and knit it again on a slightly smaller needle. Store manager Jonathon Leonard suggested I try looking on Ravelry, and offered to call around to some other yarn stores to see if they had any. I did check Ravelry, but it proved a dead end.

But Jonathon, bless him, did track down a skein for me at a yarn store in Aurora. I called the store and had the skein shipped to me. Just as in the photo above, butterflies landed on my face and the small varmints who live in (I've got a mouse problem) and around (I've got a raccoon and squirrel problem) my house sang to me. It was just like in Cinderella, except that they told me to make my own damn dress if I wanted a new one, and to not bet on any princes.

I was able to finish the shawl after all. Except for the running short of yarn issue, it really was a lovely project. The yarn was a pleasure to work with and the shawl knitted up in a snap. The pattern told me to use circulars but I soon switched to straights as the circulars weren't necessary, and were in fact a hindrance as the yarn kept wrapping itself around it.

My sister will get this shawl as part of her Christmas present. And though I wrote this post when I finished it in the spring of 2015, it was set to publish on Christmas Day. I don't think she reads my blogs but it would be just my luck if she decided to start with this post.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Devil of a Striped Jersey Top

A few months ago I decided I wanted a classic Breton striped top. I initially looked for a commercially made version, but such tops are usually navy and white, and I don't wear navy or white. I couldn't find one in a colour that would look good on me, which meant either give up the idea or make one myself. I think you know which option I chose.

The pattern for this project, Vogue V8597, was already in my pattern library. I searched several Toronto fabric stores to find a striped jersey fabric in a colour I liked without any success, and wound up ordering a fabric online.

And this is the finished result. It turned out fairly well. The fabric is quite lovely and the colour suits me. It's a nice-looking piece that will go well with with the denim and twill jeans, skirts, and shorts that I wear in summer. The fabric is a bamboo rayon blend and I've put it in the drawer that holds my current cold weather tops rather than putting it away with my summer clothes, as it should prove trans-seasonal.

But man, was this one unexpectedly difficult project. To begin with, the green of this top proved impossible to match in thread. I never did succeed but ended up going with a Gutermann thread that was a good four shades darker. Then when I began cutting the top pieces out, I screwed up the front piece -- the lines were askew. It would have looked bad and there was not enough fabric left to recut the piece. I had to order more fabric online, which was maddeningly expensive.

When the extra fabric arrived, I recut the front and back. I was extremely careful to get it exactly right. But I used tailor's chalk to do so... and then it turned out that the tailor's chalk would not come out of this fabric. I tried every suggestion I found online to remove it and it would not budge. Both the new front and back pieces were marked and unusable. Fortunately there was enough fabric left of the second piece I had ordered that I could recut the front, and I was able to reuse the back piece from my first attempt at cutting.

But there was another difficulty still to come. It turned out that the jersey fabric stripes were very difficult to match up when sewing seams. I pinned and sewed the seams again and again before I got them to match. One especially low moment occurred just after I'd spent the better part of ten minutes painstakingly pinning a sleeve. I had moved onto pinning the second sleeve when I heard a sound, looked up, and saw my cat Trilby sitting on the sewing table, industriously pulling the pins out the first sleeve with his teeth. Perhaps the stripe match didn't meet his standards.

I'm not sure I'll ever make another striped jersey anything. It seems to be more hassle than it's worth. However, I did learn how to work with striped jersey, so perhaps another sewing project will go much more smoothly. For your reference as well as mine, here are my tips for sewing striped jersey:

- When cutting a piece that is supposed to be cut on a fold, cut the piece flat instead. Cut the first side of the piece and then fold the cut side over the fabric for the other side, making sure the stripes match exactly. Then cut the second half of the piece using the lines of the cut side.
- When pinning seams, put a pin each stripe, making sure to centre the pin on the stripe on both sides of the pinned section. The pin should also pierce the fabric on each side of the stitching line. You want to keep those stripes firmly and exactly in place.
- When sewing seams, machine baste them first, as it will probably take you several attempts to match the stripes.
- When basting, leave the pins in place until you've basted the entire seam rather than taking them out just before the machine needle gets to them.

The other lesson that I learned from this project is not to use tailor's chalk on the garment until I have first tested the chalk on a piece of scrap and made sure I can remove the mark. I'd also advise against sewing when one has an evil cat around, but as every evil cat owner knows, evil cats usually insist on being present during all such activities.

Lavender's Blue Dilly Dilly & If I Get Moths I'm Screwed

Last week I found, to my horror, that moths had gotten into my sweater drawer. I did some research on how to deal with the problem, and discovered that while the main preventative measures are vigilance and cleanliness, some lavender sachet bags might help a little. I have such a long sewing list right now that I thought I'd buy the sachet bags. I visited several dollar stores to get those little organza bags that dollar stores always seem to carry, but had no luck. (There ought to be a word or a term for the experience of finding that dollar stores suddenly don't have a particular item that they always seem to have in stock at the time that you need it. The Germans probably have a word for it.) I checked Michaels and found they only sell the bags in lots of 30, and I didn't need that many.

I then resigned myself to sewing the sachets. I found this tutorial, which also has some helpful advice about how long the lavender will last (a few years at least) and tips for making it last longer (massage the bag with your fingers, or add a few drops of essential oil)

And these are my version of the sachet bags. They look rather pretty, it took me less than two hours to make them, and it was nice, after all, not to have to buy a single thing for this project. I used some fabric I had left over from making duvet storage bags for the linen closet, a reel of ribbon I had in my ribbon canister, and dried lavender from my own garden. I treated the cut ends of the ribbon with Fray Check -- always a good idea when decorating anything with fabric ribbon. And then the sachets got tucked away in each of the shelves and drawers that hold my sweaters as well as in the scarves and hats basket that sits on the hall closet shelf, as I once had moths in there too. May the sachets work as intended. There's nothing like moths to strike terror into the heart of a knitter.