Monday, May 22, 2023

A Dinosaur-Themed Gift, Take Two

When my niece's two children Cauliflower and Bug were very small, I developed a gift-planning formula for their presents. For their birthdays, I gave them each a piece of handmade clothing and some little trinkets which were usually from the dollar store or thrift shop. For Christmas, they would each get a book and something to play with. It's a formula that has worked well, helping me plan gifts that were a balanced mix of fun, useful and educational things, and it has also helped me keep their gifts equitable. (Kids are very quick to notice and to mind when their siblings get more or better presents than they do.) 

I'll be using this formula for my nephew's two children as well, with the difference that they'll be getting their clothing present at Christmas and the book and toy present for their birthdays. Cauliflower and Bug have summer birthdays, and giving them their clothing, which was usually winter clothing, for their birthdays meant they would have it all ready to wear when cool weather arrived in the fall, but Sawyer and his yet-to-arrive little sister have their birthdays in February and May, so it makes more sense to give them their knitted clothing at Christmas, in order to maximize the clothing's wearing time. It would be no fun for a kid to get a warm sweater in May that she has to wait five months to wear.

This is all to say that Sawyer is therefore getting a sweater for Christmas, and this is a post about the one I made for him.

Back in 2013, I made my grandnephew Bug the sweater you see above, in a size six months, using the Diplodocus pattern, designed by Kate Oates. I just put together some odds and ends of white, kelly green, and navy worsted from my stash to make the sweater for nothing, but the colour scheme could hardly have worked better. I also bought Bug a little stuffed toy at Toys R' Us that was supposed to stand in for a dinosaur, though it was actually a Disney brand anthromorphized alligator character that was standing on its hind legs. My family was kind enough to agree that it looked very like a dinosaur.

The dinosaur sweater and dinosaur-passing toy were such a cute and well-received gift that I decided to reuse the pattern and theme for Bug's cousin Sawyer this year. I checked my stash hoping I could put together some odds and ends to make the sweater for nothing again. I wasn't quite as fortunate this time. While I had 70 grams of an unlabelled rust wool, and 50 grams of Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash in Turtle that I thought worked well together and would be usable for the contrast colours, for the main colour I had to buy a skein of Lion Brand Wool Ease in Linen for (with the use of a Michael's coupon) $6.32. But that's still pretty inexpensive.

Here's the completed sweater in the Sawyer version, in a size 2. This colour scheme is attractive too, and will suit Sawyer, who has blond hair and hazel eyes.  

This time around Toys R' Us had no dinosaur or even dinosaur-adjacent toy that was suitable for a toddler, so I ordered this one online. It will certainly do, and I think Sawyer, being older and more aware, will enjoy his dinosaur-themed gift even more than his cousin Bug did.

This project used 40 grams of the rust and 40 of the olive stash yarns, and all of the new linen yarn, so that's a stash decrease of 80 grams for this project.   

Thursday, May 4, 2023

An Owl and a Tree

I recently made the first two ribbon necklaces I have ever made: one for me, one for a gift.

Last year I came across this item in a jewelry display at Value Village, although I think was actually a bookmark. Being that my mother, one of my nieces, and my grandniece are all very into owl stuff, I keep an eye out for nice owl stuff when shopping, and I automatically bought this cute little piece, even though I wasn't sure what I would do with it or whom I would give it to. On the way home I began envisioning the pendant as part of a ribbon necklace. I debated whether the necklace would be for my mother or my grandniece, but soon decided it would go to Cauliflower as part of her fourteenth birthday present, as it seemed more suitable for a young girl. Though my mother will probably threaten to steal it. Life with three owl aficionados in the same family is not without its moments of tension and drama. 

One of Cauliflower's current favourite colours is burgundy, so when I found a piece of burgundy organza ribbon in my ribbon canister (I think it originally came off a wrapped gift someone gave me), I decided it would do for her necklace. I bought metal ends for the ribbon, jump rings, and a magnetic clasp, all in silvertone. When I asked the beading supply store associate about adding a bail to the pendant, he advised against it saying it "would look silly", so I didn't buy one, but then when I was assembling the necklace, the pendant didn't sit right when threaded directly on the ribbon. I compromised by adding a jump ring to the pendant, and running the ribbon through the jump ring. The jump ring is quite unobtrusive and now the pendant sits flat against the chest as it should when worn. 

The necklace isn't very long (just under 16.75"), but it's long enough to be wearable even on me and Cauliflower is quite a bit shorter and smaller than I am, so I think it will do. A big pendant like this one does look better when it sits higher on the chest, where it is visible and well clear of one's neckline.

 The fastening. I do like a magnetic clasp -- so easy to put on and take off.

The second necklace, which is for me. I made a rare impulse purchase of this peridot chip tree of life pendant at a beading supply store on Queen street some years back. It was just a few dollars, peridot is my birthstone and suits me, and it was so pretty. The tree of life symbol has also become a meaningful one to me over the past five years or so, reminding me that I can continue to grow and be productive as I age. 

It has taken me quite some time to get around to buying the components for this necklace, but eventually I purchased a length of narrow, spring green coloured organza ribbon, metal ends for the ribbon, jump rings, and a magnetic clasp. One Sunday in April 2023 I sat down and put this necklace and Cauliflower's necklace together.

For this necklace, I did not need a jump ring for the pendant, as its built-in loop has the right orientation to sit properly on its ribbon. I used three strands of the narrow ribbon to give it a more substantial look, as well as more strength. One strand would have looked far too skimpy. This necklace is 17.5" in length -- having bought the green ribbon for this purpose, I had more to work with than I did with the burgundy one.

The back clasp, which I bought in a copper-tone metal to match the pendant. I do like coordinating the colour of the metal findings with that of the other metals on a necklace. It makes the completed necklace look more polished. 

These ribbon necklace each cost less than $10 to make, and they went together so easily and are so pretty I am definitely open to making more at some point. I can hardly wait to wear mine, or to give Cauliflower hers. 

Unplugged and Lying Down

Back in December 2006, when I bought Swan's End, a then 94-year-old house with a 1991 furnace in it, I found some of my very first purchases for the place were those which served to help keep me warm. I have never forgotten the first morning I woke up in my house because of how it felt when my bare foot touched the parquet floor beside my bed. (My unfortunate neighbours must have wondered if their new neighbour was part banshee.) Over the next month, I bought a warm bathrobe, slippers, eight pairs of wool work socks, a rug for beside my bed, and an electric blanket.  

Several years ago the electric blanket stopped working. I couldn't afford to replace it, but it didn't go on my "want" list of things I try to buy as I can because my furnace had been replaced in 2015 and I had made myself a Thinsulate quilt in 2020. I decided I could do without a new electric blanket, nice as it had been to get into a pre-warmed bed on a Canadian winter night. The electric blanket awaited its fate in my linen closet, its electrical cords and controls constantly entangling other items. Last month, when I was putting away some of my winter blankets, I took the electric blanket out of the linen closet. It was time to decide what to do with it.  

My first step was to do some internet research on whether it could be fixed. From what I gathered, while it might be possible to fix the controls, fixing the heating element within the blanket would be a much more difficult and expensive and perhaps not even viable proposition. I tested the blanket and concluded that the controls were working and the heating element was the problem, so I ruled out "fix the blanket" as an option. I hated the idea of just throwing the whole blanket in the garbage, so I began to wonder if I couldn't turn the electric blanket into an ordinary blanket, and use it that way. 

Ultimately, I did exactly that. And I thought I'd post about how I did it for anyone else who has, or who may in future have, a broken electric blanket and would appreciate a few tips on how to do the same. This project wasn't anything like as pretty or as aesthetically interesting as the kind of project I normally post about, but it is very much in the "mend and make do" spirit that is part of this blog's purpose to foster, so here goes.

I began my conversion project by unplugging the controls and setting them aside. Then I had to deal with the wiring inside the blanket. My electric blanket was composed of two layers of fleecy fabric, and there were narrow, vertical channels stitched into the interior. The electric cords ran through those channels, looping from channel to channel at the top and bottom of the blanket, much as the red lines I have drawn on the photo above do, only much less wonkily.:) Originally I expected I'd be ripping out the interior stitching to get the electrical cords out, but I soon realized there was a much easier, faster way to do it.

I opened the stitching on the bottom of the blanket to access to the blanket's interior, and cut the loops between the channels (indicated on the photo by the blue arrows at the bottom of the photo). Then I opened the stitching at the top of the blanket and pulled on each loop (indicated by the black arrows at the top of the photo) until that length of wire came out of the blanket. 

I removed the heating element too (it was near the bottom). Then, once all the electrical components were out of the blanket, I first stitched together the little slit where the heating element had been (it's visible roughly in the centre of the above photo), and then restitched the top and bottom of the blanket. I did the sewing on my sewing machine, using the various stitch options to mimic the style of the original stitching (but one could also do the sewing by hand if necessary). Had I known exactly what I was doing from the start, the entire job would have taken under an hour. Once the blanket was all stitched back together again, I ran it through the wash. 

As you can see from the  photo at the top of this post, I now have a fleecy blanket in very decent condition that will be usable for years to come, and only its former wires and controls will wind up in a landfill. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Gift for Baby Swan

In mid-February 2023, I received the news that I am to have a new grandniece in May 2023. With only three months' notice, it was clearly time to fire up the knitting needles. By the time I went to bed that night, I had the baby's birth gift planned and knitting patterns selected for it. I decided I would make Baby Swan a baby blanket and a pair of matching booties, and buy her a storybook. 

For the baby blanket, I selected the Dreamland Adventures Baby Blanket design by Mary Triplett. It's very pretty and not an especially time intensive knit.  

Then I searched Ravelry for a baby bootie pattern that would be a good complement to the baby blanket design. The My Fairy Booties design by Drops seemed to fit the bill, as the teardrop lace stitch on the anklet and the garter stitch in the feet and at the top are quite similar to the teardrop lace and garter borders of the blanket. And it's a free pattern.

When it was time to shop for yarn, I went to Michaels and looked for a DK weight yarn with some natural fibre content that was machine washable and dryable. They only had one brand of yarn that fit my criteria, and it only came in three colours, only one of which was at all attractive, but hey, I only needed one suitable yarn, and it was on sale for 25% off. The yarn was Loops & Threads Luxe Merino in Bridal Rose, or what I would describe as a shell pink, which is slightly warmer and richer than the standard baby pink. 

The completed baby blanket. This knitted up fairly easily. I had some difficulty reading the patterns because my printer didn't print them well, but that's on my printer, not on the designer, who provided *three* versions of this design's chart in her pattern in an all-out effort make it as clear and readable as possible.

A close up of the baby booties. They have a crocheted picot edging on the top that I had to buy a 3 mm crochet hook for, but then it doesn't hurt to add another size to my set of crochet hooks. When I went through my ribbon cannister to see what I had that I could use for the ankle ribbons, I didn't have any pink yarn whatsoever (not surprising, as I never wear pink and don't often work with it even as gifts for other people), but these cream ribbons looked well with them. 

I am having a few qualms about how frou-frou this baby blanket and booties are. From what I've seen of my nephew and his wife's household via photos on Facebook, while it's nice and well-kept, it has a very plain and spare aesthetic, with very little colour or detail, and there's nary a bit of pink, lace, or ribbon in sight. But then they are having a baby girl, and if this is the most frilly thing they receive for her, she'll be nearly as sensibly turned out as her parents and her big brother.  

This yarn came in 150 gram skeins, which I wasn't thrilled about, because it makes it difficult to buy an appropriate amount of yarn. I had 110 grams of yarn left when I finished this project. Had I been able to buy the yarn in 50 gram skeins, I would have had just 10 grams left. 

As for the baby's storybook, I had the good luck to find this set of Madeline storybooks in a Salvation Army thrift shop. They came in a very battered case which I threw in the recycling bin when I got home, but the books themselves were in pristine shape. 

So that's the baby's birth gift, which I had prepared by April 1st, less than six weeks after learning the baby was on her way. I'm ready when you are, Baby Swan!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

A Thank You Moose

This past fall when I dropped by the office of a professional associate and friend named Greg, I was amused to see his moose collection had grown since what it had been in the spring of 1994, when as a 20-year-old student, I first met Greg and did a six-week work placement as an editorial assistant in his office as part of a Book & Magazine Publishing program I was taking at Centennial College. That six-week college internship was unpaid, but he gave me some paid work during that time. We've stayed in touch through the nearly 29 years (!!!) that have passed since then, and he has always been very kind to me and helped me out many times by giving me freelance work, referrals for freelance work from other organizations, references whenever I've been applying for work, sage advice, and taking me out for the occasional lunch, which he always insists on paying for. When I got my first job in publishing he was one of my references, and after I was hired, the manager who hired me told me, "Greg is a great reference for you -- he RAVED about you." When I was applying for a full-time job last August he was one of my references for that, and he said to me, "I told them that when you worked on that big ESL modules project last year, you were the most effective of the 85 editors I had working on it." Ordinarily compliments -- and for that matter, insults -- don't carry much weight with me, as I tend to make up my own mind about my attributes and failings, but this was praise on a level I'd never presume to. Overconfidence is an editor's worst enemy, and I'd certainly never consider myself to have done the best work out of a group of 85 people. Alas, I didn't get that particular job, but nearly six months later that piece of high praise never fails to have a bolstering effect on me whenever I think of it.

But about the moose. Having "a thing" for a particular animal, and collecting items on that animal theme, is definitely "a thing" in North American culture, and in Greg's case he has a thing for moose. Back in 1994 he had a few toy moose and other moose-themed items in his office. Last autumn I saw that he had a dozen or so stuffed moose lined up in the windowsill by his desk, and while they were almost all commercially made, one was crocheted -- a friend of Greg's had made it for him. While walking home I got the idea of knitting a toy moose for Greg as a thank you gift for everything he has done for me over the many years since I first met him. I have always thanked him verbally, and even repeatedly, for everything he has done for me, but it was surely long past time I thanked him in some sort of concrete way.   

That evening, I searched Ravelry for a cute moose pattern, and very quickly zeroed in on the Juniper Moose, designed by Rachel Borello Carroll, for the obvious reason that it's simply adorable, though it didn't hurt that it's also a free pattern. The one modification I decided to make was to nix the wreath, as I thought it had a somewhat Christmassy look that wasn't appropriate for Greg, who is Jewish. But the moose definitely needed to have a substitute accessory of some kind, so I decided I would make it a scarf instead. 

I searched through my stash to see what I had that would be appropriate for this project, and soon came up with two colours for the moose and two more for the scarf that I thought worked well together. I didn't have any safety eyes on hand, but when I looked in my button tin I found two black plastic shank buttons of a kind that I've often bought to use as the eyes for stuffed toys. I also had a bag of polyfil stuffing. I even had a suitable gift bag to put the moose in when it was done. This project would cost nothing but time and effort.  

The finished moose toy. I don't really like making toys -- I find them aggravatingly fussy to work on -- but this one had clear directions and came together pretty quickly. The colours of yarn I used aren't as pleasing as the pretty caramel and white the designer used for her sample moose, and the brown yarn was a worsted when it should have been a bulky, but then I needed to work with what I had if reasonably could, and the result is acceptable. But you can see what I meant when I said this moose needs an accessory. He looks naked, and even rather embarrassed about it.  

The scarf. I used a teal blue and a rust, and also some of the grayish taupe I used for the moose's antlers and hooves. The three colours worked well together and including one of the moose's colours gave the scarf a visual tie to the moose. I used a rib stitch to make the scarf reversible.


The finished and accessorized moose. I'm reasonably pleased with this project, and I think it will make a nice surprise gift for Greg. The moose is cute and even a little sporty-looking. He looks as though he shops at the Gap and wouldn't at all mind stopping by your backyard to hang out, kick around a football, and maybe have a few brewskis. But then when one stands up to 6.5' tall at the shoulder and weighs up to 1600 pounds, one can shop anywhere and hang out anywhere one wants, or say, trash a person's car if they look at one funny. It's all in a day's experience for a Canadian moose, and getting used as a thank you present is surely even more so. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Owl Inspiration

My mother is extremely hard to buy presents for. She's 84, has a houseful of stuff, usually doesn't want or need anything more, and is also extremely picky. I have many anecdotes of times when she asked for something specific, I took pains to get her exactly what she said she wanted, and she still wasn't happy with it. I'm generally good at conceiving and preparing presents for people and don't have much trouble coming up with ideas for any of the other people on my list, but it's a challenge to come up with a Mother's Day, birthday, and Christmas present for Mum every year. 

Fortunately there are a few ideas or idea-generating techniques I can fall back on. While the clothes I've bought or made for her have almost never passed muster with her, I am good at picking out jewelry that's to her taste, so I can give her a new pair of earrings, a brooch, or a necklace occasionally. She likes movies, so DVDs can be a good option. She loves to garden, so something for her garden makes a good gift for Mother's Day. She also has some use for notebooks and notecards. Two other possible avenues are Irish/Celtic things, or owl stuff. Mum's ancestry is over half Irish, she was brought up by her Irish-born maternal grandparents, and she has always felt very connected to her Irish roots and likes Irish things. Mum thinks owls are very cute ("They're wise, and they have big eyes,") so all year round, whenever and wherever I shop, I keep an eye out for Irish things or cute, useful owl-themed items that she might like. Over the years I've given my mother an owl brooch, owl fabric tote bags, an owl trivet, owl potholders, an owl tea towel, a red plastic owl kitchen timer, and an owl cushion I knitted for her. 

If I'm stuck for an idea I go to Winners or Home Sense or some such store or browse around looking for something she might like and be able to use, which often works. If I'm really stuck, I can ask my mother directly what she wants, though I prefer to surprise her and sometimes even she can't think of anything she wants. 

This year when casting about for a good Christmas gift idea, I thought owl stationery might be a good direction. Perhaps I could get her an owl notebook, owl letter paper or notecards and envelopes, and maybe even an owl pen to go with them. I searched online but couldn't find anything suitable in the way of an owl notebook or owl notecards. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I could make her some stationery using stencils.





Dollarama has carried a cute little owl stamp set for several years, and I had always thought of my mother whenever I saw it, but never bought it because I didn't think she'd have a use for it. Then when I came up with the idea of making a stationery set for my mother, I thought it would do very well for the purpose, so I bought it. But when I experimented with it, I was disappointed. I couldn't seem to get the kind of clean, sharp images I wanted with it. It was much more a child's arts and crafts plaything that anything that was going to produce the level of artwork my mother would approve of. I dumped the owl stamp set in the cardboard box of kids' art supplies I keep on hand for when children visit me, and went back to the stencilling board. After first looking in Michaels for an owl stencil of the right size, I purchased the stencil above online. 




I had plenty of card stock, watercolour paper, and envelopes on hand for the notecards, plus a reasonable selection of craft paint for the stencils. I tried to find an inexpensive notebook with a plain cover that could be stencilled, but didn't have any luck with that. As for pens, I searched all the stores within walking distance of my house, then bought the set of four you see depicted above online. They're quite cute, and while I had my misgivings about their potential quality, when they arrived and I tested them, I was pleased to find that they write fluidly, are comfortable to grip, and feel well-balanced in the hand. 




When it came time to make the cards, I decided I would make 10 cards in a smaller 3.5" x 6.5" size and 10 in a larger 5.5" x 7.5" size, given that I had envelopes in both sizes on hand. To make the cards, I cut card stock to double the size of the intended card and folded it, then cut 24 corresponding frontispieces out of watercolour paper which I could attach to the folded notecards with double-sided plastic tape once I had the stencilling done. Because I could also use the front or the back of the watercolour paper frontispieces for stencilling unless a particular piece had a watermark on it, this gave me a fairly generous amount of leeway for screwing up during the stencilling process, which I was confident I would need. 

I was right about that. I enjoyed the stencilling process, but it wasn't without its moments of sick dread, when I was sure the results were going to look bad. Putting on my painting shirt and mucking about with paint took me back to my art school days of over twenty years ago, when both my classroom and homework hours made me feel like a little kid, happily playing with art supplies, while also at the same time hoping anxiously that the results didn't look like something a little kid would produce.

For the smaller cards, I chose two shades: cerulean blue and silver sterling. To keep two or more shades of paint pure and distinct when stencilling, one would probably have to stencil the different colours separately. Being that I was working on this project on Christmas Eve and was pressed for time, I did both shades at once, which resulted in some blending of the shades, but I thought it made for a prettier and more interesting look than two flat shades would have done. Doing colours separately or together could be a design choice, depending on the effect one wants. What wasn't a design choice was the bleeding of colours over the defining lines of the stencil. It's crucial to make sure that one doesn't use too much paint when stencilling, as one wants a clean, sharp image. 

I did all twelve of the smaller frontispieces, flipping some over for a second chance when necessary, then selected the ten best pieces, photographed above. I was modestly pleased with the result. I also think I did a pretty good job of centering the images given that I didn't do any measuring or marking -- I just eyeballed it.





Once the smaller frontispieces were done and set aside to dry, I began work on the larger set. For the bigger cards, I chose leaf green and spun gold paints, and the larger owl stencil. The combination worked less well than the blue and silver of the smaller notecards, probably because the gold was too light a shade to have the visual impact it needed. I got the bottle of cerulean blue and added it in to the mix, sometimes painting over the existing gold once it dried, sometimes flipping over the frontispiece for fresh start. When all twelve cards were done, I picked out the ten best cards, which you see depicted above. They didn't look so bad in the end, though I still think the smaller cards turned out better.



Once the frontispieces were dry and I'd assembled the cards by sticking them in place on the folded notecards, I packed them and the owl pens in a box I had on hand, one that had been the box for a fancy photo album I'd been given. It was just the right size for this set, and made for both convenient storage and decent presentation.

I think my owl stationery set idea translated into reality fairly well, and that the result is something my mother will at least not be embarrassed to fill with her still-perfect old school elementary schoolteacher's script. The set doesn't quite have the level of professional design and polish I was hoping to achieve, but it's cute and workmanlike.