Friday, September 24, 2021

I Heart Olivia

When it came time to pick a design for my niece Olivia's Christmas sweater, I searched Ravelry for a suitable pattern.

I narrowed my choices down to two patterns, then decided on the above design, which is I Can Sing a Rainbow, by Jenni Bennett. The other pattern was a classic design, but I thought screw it, I was going with the fun one. The time will come when I'll be making nothing but classic styles for Olivia. At present she's 5 years old, and this is my window for making her cute, whimsical designs because at this age she can relate to them rather than thinking that they're uncool. This pattern only ran to a size six, so this was my last chance to make it for her. 

As for yarn choice, my first step was to go through my stash of DK yarn and pick out the heart colours. This is a great design for using up a lot of little odds and ends of yarn. It only take 10 grams of each colour. I found seven that looked pretty together, and made a yarn sampler that I could take to the store to use as a convenient aid in selecting the main colour for the sweater. I liked the idea of a neutral background colour, and decided I wanted an olive. It was a bit hard to find that, but in the end I went with Sandnesgarn Alpakka in shade 9554, which is a sort of olive khaki. I bought six skeins, or 300 grams. 

And here's the completed sweater. I'm a little meh on the results. I wasn't thrilled with my arrangement of colours in the heart, but I wasn't going to ravel it all out and do it again, either. It will do, and I'm confident Olivia and her mother will both like it, which is what matters.  

It only took 200 grams of the olive yarn to knit this sweater, so I shall have 2 skeins to return for store credit at Romni Wools. (I always think of whatever extra yarn I've purchased for a current project as a down payment on my next project.) 

I had just 10 grams left over of the newly purchased olive yarn, and I used approximately 10 grams of each of the rainbow coloured stash yarn (or 70 grams), so that's a net stash decrease of -60 grams.   

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A Gem of a Hat and Scarf Set

A few years ago, I decided I wanted a scarf and hat set in green. I have a pair of spring green leather gloves I'd picked up at Winners for $20 years before, and I wanted a set that would coordinate with them. That spring green would also look nice with my dark brown wool coat. 

I say I decided this a few years ago because it took me some time to find just the right shade of green yarn in the DK weight I needed for the pattern I'd picked out. Greens can be tricky to coordinate. If they're just least bit off, they look terrible. I took one of the green gloves with me whenever I went yarn shopping, and struck out many times. Eventually, this past spring, I found what I wanted: 400 grams of 220 Superwash Merino in Peridot. (220 Superwash Merino is technically a worsted, but it really isn't a worsted -- it's between a DK and a worsted.) The green was several shades darker than the green of the gloves, but the right tone, and the gloves won't be right next to the hat and scarf when I've got them on, so I thought it would do. 

It makes me smile that the yarn shade is called Peridot. I was born in August, and peridot is my birthstone. I used to hate peridot and wish I'd been born in any other month so that I could have a birthstone I liked, but one day in my early thirties I clued in to the fact that the peridot green actually suits me and that I had several pieces of clothing in that colour in my wardrobe already. Since then I've acquired a little collection of peridot jewelry that I love, and I have always had a few pieces of spring green clothing and accessories in my wardrobe. And then I ended up working on and completing this project in August, so it was doubly appropriate.  

For the hat pattern, I chose the Armley Beret, designed by Woolly Wormhead. It's an attractive design, and I thought the little tapering cables around the brim looked like little trees, which would accord well thematically with the green I wanted to use for the yarn. As for the scarf, there was no pattern, but that's never stopped me before when I was making a set. It's generally so easy to improvise a design for a scarf that will go with a hat design.

Here's the finished hat and and scarf. I'm pleased with both. The hat knitted up quickly and without any problems that I recall. 

The one modification I made to the hat pattern was to trim it with a tassel rather than a pom pom, as I'm more of a tassel type. 

And here's the hat and scarf with the gloves. They don't look as though they go very well in this photo, but that's just the lighting -- the combination looks better in person than it does here. Better that than the other way around, I suppose.


As for the scarf, I toyed with the idea of doing repeats of the tapered cable motif for the entire length of the scarf, but that would have meant having to repeatedly adjust the number of stitches and I didn't want the hassle. I wasn't sure it would look all that good anyway. Instead, I worked three continuous lines of the bottom cable, and for the edging I used the 2 x 2 twisted cable that was used on the hat opening. I had a ridiculous amount of trouble getting the edging right, so I'll just write here for my own future reference that when picking up stitches for cable edging along a scarf, picking up *three out of every four loops* gives one just the right number of stitches so that the edging will be neither too full nor too taut to sit right. The scarf is just over 6' long and 7 inches wide. 

I've resolved that this set must be my last new hat and scarf set for some time. Besides this new peridot set, I have a cream set, an old rose set, a plum set, a variegated set, a brown and orange fair isle set, a mohair tam, a peacock design wool tam, and an old rose scarf, all of my making, plus some other assorted, purchased scarves. All of these items are in excellent condition, and good grief, I only have one head and neck to wear them on. I have hats and scarves to go with every one of my coats and with every possible outfit, and it would be a senseless extravagance for me to spend any more money on others until I've worn out some of the ones I already have. 

I'm sure the crazy knitter part of my brain will try to make a case for yet another set pretty soon (i.e, "I don't have a red set!" or "I found this irresistible pattern that I MUST make!"), but the logical, budget-conscious part of my brain intends to be very stern and a hard sell on the matter. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

An All Generations Sweater

My grandnephew Bug is due to turn 8 in July. In late 2020, when I was planning my projects for this coming year, I searched Ravelry for a suitable sweater pattern for him.

I ended up selecting the one depicted above, the imaginatively named "Boy's Sweater, No. 7", designed by Gretchen Baum. This pattern was originally published in 1948. It amuses me to think that Bug's great-grandfather (born 1938), grandfather (born 1963), and father (born 1981), could all have worn a sweater made from it, without ever looking the least bit out of date. Such is the staying power of classic knitwear design.

The pattern called for a dark green and white colour scheme, but when I was shopping for the yarn in March 2021, I selected 250 grams of a tweedy charcoal (Drops Merino Extra Fine Mix, shade 03, Anthrazit) and 50 grams of a cream (Drops Karisma Uni Colour, shade 01, Off White) for my version. 

Here's the the finished item. I'm pleased with the look of it. It's a handsome sweater for a handsome boy. I used a DK for this project although, according to its Ravelry page, it calls for a sport weight. I think it might actually be intended for fingering. As a result I used more yarn than the pattern called for. Thankfully Romni Wools had the three extra 50g skeins I needed in stock. The knit was also stiffer in its feel than I would have liked, though wet blocking helped somewhat. I can't say I regret my choice of yarn, though, as the resulting sweater turned out a modern size 8/9 (I checked the measurements against another recent pattern), rather than the narrower 1948 size 8/9 of the pattern. That should give Bug a little room to grow in, because he's on the small side for his age.

 And, because a wool sweater is not an exciting gift for an boy turning eight in July, I added a few dollar store trinkets: a scavenger game that can be played in one's house, and two Hot Wheels miniature cars. 

This project used 2 grams of cream Drops Karisma that I had left over from another project, and there were 10 grams of cream and 15 grams of charcoal left over from the new yarn that I bought for this project, so that's a net stash increase of 23 grams. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Lovely Orchard Quilt

Last year, when I had a lot of Thinsulate to use up, I made a Coronvirus quilt. When I finished that queen-sized quilt, I estimated that I had enough pieces of Thinsulate left to make a 4' x 6' quilt, and I decided I'd make that second throw-sized quilt up for my friend Lindsie's daughter -- my honorary niece, Olivia -- as I thought she would enjoy having her own special little quilt that was made for her by her Auntie Beth. And after all, she has outgrown the last blanket I made for her

In April 2021, after I finished Olivia's dress and purse for her 5th birthday, I decided I might as well get the quilt out of the way too, so I got out the Thinsulate and my fabric. The fabric I chose for this project was the one you see in the photo above. It's called Lovely Orchard, and was designed by Suling Wang for Camelot Cottons, and I was very taken with it at first sight. This quilt will probably last at least ten years, so I didn't want to use a cutesy, juvenile fabric for it, but rather to choose something that would both appeal to Olivia now and that she could grow up to. This simple, pretty print seemed to fit the bill. I like that the fabric is probably going to prove very much to Lindsie's taste too -- she has contemporary taste and especially loves the Japanese aesthetic, which this print is similar to. I'd hate to saddle her with something she considers an eyesore and that will be in her house for years to come.  

The finished quilt. It turned out very well and I am pleased with it. The 42" x 79" size was not quite what I had expected at the outset, but it will do. It can be used as a blanket on Olivia's single bed.

Making the coronavirus quilt felt like a herculean effort and it took me ten months to take the project from start to finish last year, though of course I wasn't working at it at all regularly during those months, but only in starts and fits. That wasn't at all my experience this time. Olivia's quilt took me just thirteen days start to finish, and I worked at it an average of two hours a day. On day one, I pieced the leftover pieces of Thinsulate together, cut two lengths of the print, and pinned the layers together. On days two to eight, I stitched the body of the quilt in vertical lines a half-inch apart. On day nine, I prepared the binding and squared the quilt by trimming the edges evenly. On day ten, I machine stitched the binding in place, flipped it over and pinned it to be hand-sewn on the other side of the quilt, and began the hand sewing. On days eleven through thirteen, I did the remaining hand sewing.  

The whole process was so straightforward and unproblematic that it amazed me. When I was making the first quilt, I struggled a lot with having to laboriously rip out lines of quilting because the fabric had puckered or folded on the underside. That never happened while I was stitching the body of this quilt -- not even once. Of course, this was an easier project because it was far less work. The coronavirus quilt had a finished size of 78" x 83.5", its quilting lines were 3/8" apart, and I put in over 240 vertical lines of stitching into its body. This quilt has a finished size of 42" x 79", its quilting lines are 1/2" apart (or a hair less), and I think there were 92 vertical lines of stitching in it. This second quilted blanket required not only well under half the actual sewing of the first, but was also far lighter, which made it considerably easier for me to physically control the fabric as I ran it through the machine. But I think the experience I gained in working on the first one contributed just as much to making this second project go so much more smoothly and efficiently. I knew exactly how to hold the quilt so that it wouldn't pucker on the underside, and there was no months' long stall of the project while I put off the task of binding the finished body because I was intimidated by the prospect of  learning how to make binding and put it on. 

When I finished the coronovirus quilt, while I knew I would be making the second smaller quilted blanket for Olivia in order to get that Thinsulate used up, I thought I would probably never make a third. Now I find I'm open to making another quilted blanket at some point. I've had that coronavirus quilt on my bed since last October, and I have been so grateful for it all through Toronto's 2020/2021 winter weather. One of my physical quirks is that I am extraordinarily cold resistant during the day -- strangers sometimes approach me on the street, look significantly at what I'm wearing, or rather not wearing, and say, "Aren't you cold?!" -- but that seems to change radically as soon as I get into bed at night, when I turn into some kind of freak icicle-human hybrid. Before this past year, during the winter, I would have on my bed a top sheet, a quilt, two wool blankets, a fleece blanket, and a duvet in a velvet cover... and it still wasn't enough to keep me from shivering miserably. During the coldest months I would have to spread on top of my duvet not only the afghan from the foot of my bed but also the afghan from the guest room and the faux fur throw and woven throw from the living room couch. This year I had on my bed the top sheet, the old quilt, the new coronavirus quilt, two wool blankets, and the duvet, and sometimes the afghan from the foot of my bed, and that was sufficient. The fleece blanket remained on a shelf in the linen closet and the guest room afghan and living room throws stayed in their places. In other words, that one lightweight Thinsulate quilt took the place of four other layers.       

Now that I know I am confident I can turn out a quilted blanket in such good time, and that a Thinsulate blanket is an excellent thing to have, I am open to making more in future, should I have need for another quilt for my household, or want to make one for a gift. Twenty-six hours of work does not seem to me like an unreasonable amount of effort to put into such a practical item that will last a decade or more. 

I'd originally planned to give Olivia the quilt as part of her Christmas 2021 present, but when I finished it in time for her 5th birthday, which is today, I decided it would become part of her birthday present instead. Of course the rest of her birthday present was more geared to the tastes and interests of a 5-year-old girl than this quilt is. Childless old maid as I may be, I'm not so out of touch as to think a child her age is going to find a quilt an exciting birthday present.   

I have something like 1.3 metres of the Lovely Orchard fabric left, and I've tucked it carefully away in my remnant fabric drawer. I don't have a plan for its use yet, but knowing me I am sure inspiration will strike at some point. And I'm looking forward to working with such a charming print again. As for the Thinsulate... I have just two small pieces left, and they've been tucked away in my drawer of interfacings and linings. Maybe I'll make a pair of mittens out of them sometime. 

Something to Wear, Something to Read, Something to Play With


My honorary niece Olivia turns 5 years old today, and of course this momentous occasion called for a present. My formula for her gifts is "something to wear, something to read, and something to play with". Let's begin with the something to wear.

I wanted to make Olivia a dress, and I searched for a nice summer dress pattern for her until I found this adorable little sundress pattern (Butterick 3477, View A), and another pattern that I liked just as much. I wavered between the two, but the sizes on the sundress pattern ran only to size 5 while the other design came in larger sizes than that, so that settled it. I ordered both patterns, with the plan that I would make the size 5 sundress this year and the other pattern for Olivia's sixth birthday.  

I had some difficulty finding two fabrics that worked together, but I eventually settled on this pink rosebud print and green polka dot combo. I love pink and green as a colour scheme, and this combination has an especially fresh, pretty, spring-like appeal. The dress itself was quite easy to make and worked up very quickly. I'm pleased with it.  

Then came the all-important matching purse. I used Vogue Pattern 9893, View F for that -- I've had that pattern for many years now and used it lots of times. As to the trim, I had a piece of very crumpled green ribbon and a slightly damaged length of pink ribbon in my ribbon cannister that I thought would do for finishing off the purse. A steam pressing restored the green ribbon to good as new, and the damage on the pink ribbon ceased to show once the ribbon was made into a pink satin rosebud. Dress and purse together made the "something to wear" component of the present. 

As for the "something to read" and "something to play with" part of the gift, I bought Olivia a thrift shop copy of Beverly Cleary's Ramona the Pest, a dollar store colouring book, and a dollar store coin bank that is shaped like a big cupcake. I think coin banks make a good teaching tool for children, and can help them learn how to manage/save money, and this particular coin bank is super cute. I put a toonie in it to help Olivia get the idea.  

The gift as a whole (er, except for the quilt). Not a bad set up for a 5-year-old's birthday, I think.   

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Brave New Bag

In the fall of 2020, I faced the fact that my beloved Everlane backpack that I had been using nearly daily since I bought it in late 2014 was getting so much the worse for the wear that I was embarrassed to be seen with it. One of the snaps that fastened the top flap was broken, and I couldn't find any snaps of the right weight to replace it. The bottom was ragged. The canvas that formed the body was dirty, and though I would try to spot clean it, that wasn't doing the trick, and, as the bag had leather trim, it wasn't feasible to dry clean it. (When I made inquiries, the dry cleaner told me it would cost $100 to have my $75 bag cleaned, and that they couldn't guarantee the results.) I came up with the idea of taking the backpack apart and using it as a pattern to make a new bag, for which I could use all the buckles and leather straps and trim from the old one. My inability to find replacement snaps stymied that plan. I still hope to eventually find a way to remake my old Everlane backpack, but in the meantime, I needed a presentable bag for everyday wear. It was time for a new bag.

With all the shops closed for in-store shopping, I searched online. I soon learned for the first time that there is such a wonderful thing as a convertible bag, which is a bag that is designed to "convert" from backpack to handbag and vice versa as desired, via a simple adjustment of the straps. O brave new world, that has such bags in 't! I do need a backpack. I do a lot of walking and lugging stuff around because I can't afford even to take public transit, let alone keep a car. I also have chronic fatigue issues, and carrying things in a backpack is so much more ergonomic than carrying them in a handbag, and tires me out a lot less. However, I am 47, and I don't really like wearing a backpack all the time like some kid. And while a backpack is what I want when I have serious distance to cover or things to carry, when I'm actually at my destination, I prefer a handbag, as it's easier to access my wallet and other things I might need. It's also easier to keep my eye on my bag when it's a handbag that is beside me rather than a backpack that's behind me. In March 2019, some SHITHEAD stole my wallet out of my backpack while I was shopping in Value Village on one particularly crowded sale day, and I want to be sure nothing like that ever happens to me again.

A convertible handbag would allow me to have either a backpack or a handbag whenever I wanted it. It's the spork of handbags. I toyed with the idea of making one, but soon decided that it would be difficult to find the right kind of buckles and straps and zippers and other bits I needed. And the bag I eventually bought -- which of course is the one you see depicted above, in both its handbag (on the left) and backpack (on the right) modes -- was just $38(CDN). It is extremely unlikely that I would have been able to make a similar bag for $38 or less.

The bag I bought was just what I wanted. I liked the look of it, and it was so practical. It had two zippered outer pockets, and several more compartments and two more zippered pockets on the inside. It goes with the dark brown yoga pants and hoodies I tend to wear for around home and running errands, and also with somewhat nicer but still casual clothes, such as jeans or a khaki skirt or a jersey dress. It goes with both my dark brown and caramel leather shoes. It doesn't go with dressy clothes, but of course I have other purses and handbags for those outfits. So this isn't a post about how I made a new bag, but rather a post about how I assembled the things I needed to go into it, which felt like a project in itself, and I did make some of those things. 

While I was waiting for my new bag to arrive, I began to plan what I was going to put in it, and where in the bag it would go. One of the upsides of being 47 is that I know exactly what I want and need in my bag, so it wasn't so much a question of what items I wanted to put in the bag as whether I had the right versions of those items. I wanted all the contents of my bag to not only stow away neatly, but to also be attractive enough to be a pleasure to use and to coordinate with the bag itself. 

First I made a list of all the things I keep in my daily wear bag (you don't see a cellphone on there because I don't have one):
  • wallet
  • keys
  • a small notebook and pen
  • my planner (usually)
  • camera (sometimes)
  • a measuring tape
  • a folded tote bag
  • compact umbrella
  • sunglasses
  • cough drops
  • tissues
  • a water bottle (in summer)
  • a vanity case containing a manicure kit, compact, pill box, hand lotion, lip balm, hair pins, a comb, and tampons 
I did indeed have all these things, but while some the things I already had would go perfectly well with the new bag, in some cases I decided it was time for an upgrade.

This is my brown leather wallet. My sister gave it to me for Christmas 2019. Alas, it turned out to not have a zippered compartment for change, even though its online product description had said that it did. I got a 7" brown zipper out of my zipper box and sewed it in myself, by hand. I was pleased with the outcome. I don't think anyone would ever guess that the wallet didn't come with a zipper.

Between 2006 and 2020 I had a keychain that was a brown leather fob. It had become the worse for the wear in those fourteen years, and I decided I was justified in treating myself to a new one. I searched online for a keychain that both appealed to me aesthetically and had some sort of symbolic meaning for me. I searched for "swan keyring", and "Art Nouveau keyring", and probably some other things, and waded through all the search results for every term I tried before I came across the one depicted above, which is a Celtic tree of life keychain. This is a symbol that's developed a lot of appeal for me over the past several years, as it reminds me that, though I am aging, I can remain strong and fruitful and keep growing for as long as I live, as trees do. It's also beautiful.

I have allergies and need to make frequent recourse to tissues and cough drops when I'm out and about. Tissues get dirty and crumpled before they're even used if they're stuffed into a bag unprotected, and I didn't like the ugly plastic bag my dollar store cough drops come in. I made a set of two tissue cases (they only hold six tissues each) and a little snap pouch, all out of supplies I had on hand. Ordinarily I'd put the tissues and the cough drops in my vanity case, but I need them too often and too suddenly to want to be bothered getting them out of the vanity case, which goes inside the bag. So, one of the tissue cases I made went into my vanity case, and the other
 tissue case and the cough drop case go in the front pocket of my bag with my keys, where I can get at them quickly and easily. 

In the back outside pocket of my bag, I carry a little notebook and a pen for those moments when I need to jot something down right away. The notebook was a dollar store purchase, and it's such a lovely little thing and such a perfect accessory for this bag that I almost hated to write in it. Where was I ever going to find another as nice? I went back to the store and bought two more of these notebooks, so I won't have to worry about finding another perfect little notebook for my bag for quite some time.   

This is my ARC planner, with the pen -- a refillable wooden one made for me by my father -- that I keep in its pen slot. I've been using the ARC system since 2013, and am still so glad I discovered it. It was the good-looking, durable, customizable, re-fillable  planner I'd been looking for for since I was a teenager. I did run into one snag in that Staples Canada doesn't carry the annual calendar refills that make the system useful, but I got around that, first by making arrangements with one of my American friends to buy and ship me one every year, and then in late 2019 I invested in an ARC hole punch, made a set of laminated monthly tab dividers, and began printing my own refills. So even this planner is partially handmade. And of course, it goes with my bag.

I have a digital camera, and when I bought it some years back, I hated the ugly case that came with it. I soon got this $3 PVC cigarette case to keep it in instead. My camera is not actually in the case in this photo for obvious reasons, but it fits in perfectly. 

I like to keep a measuring tape in my bag for measuring my knitting project if I have one with me, or sometimes possible purchases, to be sure they'll fit in the space for which I intend them. The measuring tape I had been carrying with me was an ordinary white dressmaker's tape. It had become grubby and tatty looking and I had always found it a pain to wind and tie it into a tidy coil, especially given that it would never stay wound up. I searched online and found this little number, which retracts automatically when its centre is pressed. It's both aesthetically and functionally perfect for my bag. The old measuring tape went in the odds and ends drawer in my kitchen, where it has already come in handy a score of times.

My compact umbrella, and folded tote bag in its case. I like to routinely carry an umbrella to use in case of rain, snow, and sometimes as a sunshade, rather than checking the weather forecast before I venture out. This umbrella was such a find. I like a dark brown umbrella, and they are hard to come by as black is the standard. I would occasionally find a cheap brown one, but it would never last long. Sometimes I'd buy a $3 umbrella at Dollarama and it would break the very first time I used it. Then nearly two years ago Dollarama got in a lot of excellent quality automatic umbrellas in assorted solid colours, one of which was brown. For $4, it was a wonderful score. (Pro-tip for Dollarama shoppers: The most they ever charge is $4 per item, so their $4 items are the ones to keep an eye out for, as they are the most likely to be underpriced.)  I went to every Dollarama within walking distance and bought every brown umbrella they had, winding up with five of them. Nearly two years later, I am still using the first one and it's in perfect condition, so I'm not likely to have to scour the market for a new brown umbrella anytime soon.

I like to carry a tote bag in my bag for those extra items that won't fit in my bag, such as library books or purchases. I didn't much like the old brown with white polka dots tote bag I had been keeping in my backpack. I sewed a new, more stylish-looking tote bag to keep in my daily wear bag, and also made it a matching case. The tote bag would never have stayed neatly folded up in my bag, and it would have tangled with other things and been a pain. The case will keep it neat and clean and compact. The case needs a snap, but I didn't happen to have the right kind of snap on hand and can't easily get one right now. I'll just use the tote case the way it is until Fabricland reopens for instore shopping, much as it pains me to see it not quite finished and perfect [twitches].  I've reassigned the polka dot bag to a new job -- plastic bag holder -- and it hangs on a knob in my back kitchen.

The tote bag is a dark brown nylon on one side, and a lighter brown check on the other. It's a reversible bag, so I'll be able to use whatever side looks better with my outfit. This bag has such a nice stylish shape, too. I made it according to the pattern in this excellent tutorial. I've made this type of bag before and am certain I will make another at some time in the future. 

This is my vanity case. It's Ralph Lauren product. I've had it for at least seven or eight years. I bought it from Winners and it shocks me to think how much I paid for it -- I'd never pay that much for something I could so easily make for so little now. However, what's bought and paid for and used is... bought and paid for and used, and it at least seems to be holding up, and it goes with my bag. 

The contents of my vanity case. From left to right: a tissue case, a manicure kit, a mirror compact, a pill box, a comb, hand lotion, lip balm, hairpins and a couple of hair elastics, and little drawstring bag to keep the pins and elastics in. My old dollar store manicure case was falling to pieces, so I splurged on a new dollar store one that's much nicer and better equipped than the old one ever was. All the other items I've had for years. Not shown are the tampons, and no, I haven't sewn them little velvet or satin tampon cases so that they'll go with my convertible bag or anything ridiculous like that. Even I have my limits when it comes to obsessive coordination.

My little pill box, which I can't resist showing. Not that it holds anything exciting, alas -- just ibuprofen and allergy meds. 

My Art Nouveau mirror compact. I ordered this from Etsy many years ago, and still love it. I have a bit of a fetish for compacts, and also have a vintage gold tone one, and contemporary silver tone one with my initials engraved on it, but I tend to only get those out when I'm getting very dressed up, while this is the one I use for every day.



My water bottle. My old one was a freebie blue plastic number from a company I used to work for. This is a new one, and it's just a Dollarama purchase, but it's lovely and sleek and a definite upgrade.

Not shown (at least so far -- I'll probably update later on) is my sunglasses. My eyeglass cases look kind of beat up, and I'm going to keep an eye out for nice ones at the dollar store and thrift store when things open up again.

I'd also like to add a word about bag weight. Decades ago, I read in a women's magazine article that, according to medical recommendations, women shouldn't carry a bag that weighs more than 5% of their total body weight. The writer had taken a scale around to all the offices/desks of all the women she worked with, and done an on-the-spot weigh-in of their bags. As I recall, everyone's purse was over the limit, but the prize winner was a bag weighing in at a grand 26 pounds. Good heavens, the woman who owned that bag was carrying the equivalent of a toddler everywhere she went! (Not toddler-ist.) 

It's important to keep your daily use bag as light you reasonably can by editing it so that you're only carrying the most lightweight versions of what you'll realistically use. With modern life requiring the kind of paraphernalia it does, probably many women aren't going to be able to keep their bag to under 5% of their weight, but under 10 pounds seems like a reasonable goal for most women. I've done a moment of truth weigh-in with my bathroom scale, and I'm reasonably satisfied that my bag weighs in at 9 pounds even when it contains my planner (1.6 pounds), camera (0.4 pounds), and full water bottle (2 pounds), which I don't always carry, and a svelte 5 pounds without those three items. 

I've been carrying my new bag since December 2020, and gradually replacing a few last things since then, and I am very happy with it on the whole. It is smaller than my old backpack, which was so handy for bringing home groceries as it easily held a bag of milk plus some other things, but then again I may still eventually redo the backpack. 

Otherwise, I love my bag and all its little accessories. It is such a delight to have just the right bag with exactly what you want and need in it. Even my keychain gives me pleasure whenever I use it. My bag wouldn't suit anyone else, but then that was the point of this endeavour: to use my knowledge of myself and my skills and tastes to assemble a bag that was exactly right for me

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Spool School

The process of buying thread has long been a source of frustration for me. The most efficient course of action is to buy thread for a project when I'm buying the materials for it, but whenever it came time to pick out thread from the rainbow-like array of spools in Fabricland or whatever other sewing supply store I am shopping in, I was always tormented by the thought that I might be buying thread I already had on hand. Good thread is not cheap, and some stores won't allow returns on thread. It wasn't so bad when I had a Fabricland a fifteen-minute walk from me (oh, those halcyon days!): I would buy fabric, check at home to see what thread and other notions I had on hand, and then make a second trip to buy whatever items I was lacking. But now the closest Fabricland is 7.6 km from my house, and getting there and back requires two hours (it's a long walk and a slooooow bus ride each way) and two bus fares, which means a second trip is not viable. Because I always plan my projects in advance and have a pattern picked out for them, I know what notions I need and can check my supplies to see what I have that might be suitable before I go fabric shopping, but when it comes to thread I have to buy what I think I need and hope I'm not wasting money on something I already have at home.

Recently, instead of just getting frustrated by this, I decided to take a hard look at this problem, and to think about what I could do to address it. It isn't possible for me to remember precisely what thread I have on hand, so what memory aid could I use? My first thought was that maybe I could take a photo of my spools of thread and then compare the fabric I bought to the photo, but as everyone knows, photos aren't always colour accurate, and that wouldn't ensure a good colour match.

Then it dawned on me: if I created a thread catalogue in Excel, and took that spreadsheet with me whenever I went fabric shopping, I would know exactly what threads I had and what I needed to buy.

I sat down yesterday morning with my entire collection of 47 spools and 8 cones of thread on the surface of the desk before me, and set up that Excel spreadsheet, a portion of which is screencapped above. I made a list of my thread cones first, and then one of the few specialty threads I have on hand, such as the one spool of elastic thread and one spool of upholstery thread, and then I made a list of all my general purpose thread spools. For each spool I had, I came up with a description of the colour, recorded the brand name and shade number, and then did my best to estimate how much thread remained on the spool. In a few cases the sticker was gone from the spool and I didn't know what the shade number was and had to put a question mark in its place, but happily that was only a few spools. 

While I was at it, I arranged my spool rack by colour, and with the shade number sticker up, as that will make it easier for me to select the thread I want.    

(You may notice that entries 22 and 23, which are for a "dark forest green" and a "medium forest green" respectively, have the same shade number. That is not a mistake. The spools so described really are two distinctly different shades of forest green. I'm theorizing that either the fact that the darker one is general use sewing thread while the lighter one is glacé finish cotton has affected the appearance of the colour, or, less likely, the darker thread being a very recent purchase while the lighter one was bought long ago, that the shade has been changed over the years.)   

It didn't take so very long to set up the spreadsheet, and now I'll just have to take a minute to update my thread catalogue every time I buy new thread or finish a project, and remember to take a print out of it with me every time I'm going fabric shopping. I don't have a cell phone, or I could just load the list onto my phone and refer to it on there. With that updated spreadsheet in hand, I can make a very informed decision as to what thread I need. I was so pleased with this idea that I decided to write a post about it in case the idea might be useful to anyone else.  

I have a few more thread inventory management tips to share. One, if you do a lot of sewing, it may be worth buying cones in a few basic colours, or in colours you like a lot and tend to work with often. Cones are less expensive than spools, you can rest secure that you won't run out mid-project, and thread keeps indefinitely. I like to keep cones on hand in black, white, brown, ivory, red, and navy. I've been through at least a few cones in each colour in my more than two decades of regular sewing. I also have cones in charcoal and bright pink that I bought nearly 20 years ago when I had one project to do in each colour and I happened to see the cones on sale, and buying those wasn't a good idea. I don't wear gray or pink at all, and am unlikely to ever use them up.

Which leads me to my next tip: if you have a very small amount left on a spool, or a colour of thread you used for just one project and are probably not going to ever need or want again, use that thread for basting. Basting with a contrasting colour of thread you will never otherwise use will make your "good" thread go farther, and it will also make it easier for you to see, and remove, your basting threads. 

Besides my 32-spool rack pictured at the top of this post, I have a small cardboard box where I keep most of the rest of my spools, which have been designated as basting thread. I've been using my designated basting threads system for a year or two, and I'm gradually whittling my spool collection down in size. Eventually I hope to have all my spools fit on the rack. A collection of 47 spools and 8 cones does take up more room than I would like.

And my final pro-tip regarding your thread collection management: don't let your cat have unsupervised access to your sewing area. My Trilby loves to play with spools of thread. And they must have thread on them -- I have tried to give him empty spools to play with, and he had no interest. No, his spool play has to involve inconveniencing or exasperating me in some way.

One time Trilby managed to get a spool so wound around every item in the attic that it must have taken me 10 minutes to wind it back up again. On one other occasion, I spent 25 maddening minutes looking for a spool of taupe thread that I knew I had on my sewing table and just couldn't seem to find though I'd looked in every conceivable place that I could have possibly put it. Finally I gave up and bought a new spool of thread in that colour, only to find the first one under the plant stand I had in the kitchen when I was vacuuming a few days later. Trilby had chased that spool of thread down the attic steps, along the second floor hallway, down the main staircase, along the first floor hallway, and into the kitchen, before ultimately getting the spool stuck under the plant stand. This is why I now have two spools of taupe thread in my basting thread box, and why Trilby is not allowed to be in the attic by himself. 

Don't even get me started on Trilby's fetish for pearl-headed pins, as that is beyond the scope of this post.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Daisies for Cauliflower

My grandniece Cauliflower will be turning 12 this August, and of course such an occasion calls for a sweater. 

I searched Ravelry for a suitable pattern and found the Daisy Delight sweater pattern, and the coordinating hat pattern you see pictured above. They are Drops designs, and available for free. In March 2021, when the stores in Ontario were briefly open, I went to Romni Wools on Queen Street and bought 450 grams of Drops Karisma in Rose (shade # 80). I had some cream Drops Karisma DK left over from another project that I decided to use for the daisies, and a little Jamieson's of Shetland DK in Leprechaun (shade #259) left over from this project that would do for the daisy centres -- the sweater pattern requires just two rounds of the daisy centre colour. 

Here's the finished sweater, in a size 11/12. It knitted up in just a few weeks and with no mistakes to speak of. I'm reasonably pleased with it.

Here's the hat. It turned out fine too. A matched sweater and cap set is such a cute look on a young girl. 

It's not much fun for a kid to get a wool sweater in August, so I threw in a few little inexpensive things from the dollar store and thrift shop that Cauliflower can use right away. The item on the left is a planner with stickers, the item on the right is a temporary tattoo kit, and the item above is a little owl ring I found in a thrift shop. 

Cauliflower has thing for owls, and one can't beat a cute ring like this for $2. I just hope it isn't too big for any of her fingers. It fits my ring finger, which means it's a size 7, it can't be sized, and Cauliflower is smaller than average for her age and is unlikely to ever have hands as large as mine. Well, maybe it'll fit on her thumb for now, and eventually on her first or middle finger. 

The entire gift. Not too shabby, and I hope it's cool enough to suit a 12-year-old. It's going to get harder to please Cauliflower from here on in, as she'll be developing her own tastes and becoming more conscious of what's "in". 

I had 25 grams of the new dusty rose yarn left, and used 23 grams of the cream yarn and 2 grams of the green yarn that I had on hand, so when it came to calculating stash increase/decrease for this project, I broke even.