Category Archives: Projects

This Year’s Wreath

As some of you know, my family really likes making our own Christmas wreaths. This year was no exception. I think six or seven wreaths were made during our annual Thanksgiving Family Retreat and Wreath-making Extravaganza.

In prior years, we’ve roamed our cousins’ property cutting boughs from a wide variety of pine and fir trees. This year we used the scraggly lower branches of a couple freshly cut balsam fir Christmas trees and some showier white pine for accents.

For some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to go with a white and gold color scheme for my wreath:

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My bow is a little small, but that’s what you get for buying a new, unmarked roll of wired ribbon at Goodwill. I still like it, but I’ll probably keep adjusting the bow all season.

Once I get my gold Christmas lights up outside, it should look even better. This may be my favorite wreath so far.

Making wreaths is one of my favorite family traditions. What are your favorite creative holiday traditions?

 

 

Simple Fix for an Old Chair

Puppies can be obsessive. Sadie is no exception. One of her favorite things to do is “lose” toys under the furniture. Even better? Hiding them in the torn underlining of upholstered furniture.

The good news is it’s easy to replace the thin-but-durable fabric under chairs and sofas. The hard part—for me, anyway—was figuring out what the fabric was called. When I first got the idea to replace it, I wandered around a fabric store hoping to see it so I wouldn’t have to ask where it was. I could see myself saying, “You know, that black fabric that goes under chairs. Usually stapled in. Keeps the dust under control. Sometimes it’s gray. Maybe even white. It’s fabric, but not exactly fabric-fabric.”

I decided to do an internet search for it at home so I could enter all of the possible word combinations without having a store employee laughing at my ignorance.

Turns out the stuff falls under the category of utility fabric, and is simply called upholstery underlining.

D’uh.

It’s cheap, too. I think the stuff I bought was about two dollars per yard.

I knew I had to recover the underside of at least one chair and one section of the sofa, so I bought a few yards.

Forgive me for forgetting to take a before photo, but here’s what the bottom of Sadie’s favorite chair looked like after I’d torn off 95% of the old lining (there was a separate piece toward the back of the chair that was intact, so I left that) and stapled on new upholstery underlining.

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I folded the edges under for a cleaner line, and did my best to fit it under and around the front legs of the chair. It’s not as taut as I would have liked—you can see it hangs down a little on the left—but not enough to make me pull the staples and re-do it.

This is what it looks like from Sadie’s point-of-view:

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When the underlining was torn, I cringed every time I had to reach under the chair—and often into the torn underlining—to retrieve Sadie’s toys (which seriously, is about three times per day with this chair alone). Now I can see where the toy is, grab it, and marvel at my handiwork all at the same time.

Aunt Jean and Uncle Gale re-upholstered this chair for my dad back in the mid-80s, if I recall, and it still looks sharp. This has always been the most-used chair in the house, but it’s in far better shape than the sofa, which was re-upholstered at the same time.

Dad’s fabric choice for the sofa didn’t prove nearly as durable, so I always have a slip cover or throws on that. That needs to be totally re-upholstered, but that’s way out of my budget. Replacing the torn underlining of the sofa will be my next furniture-related project–and I’ll make sure to get a before photo.

That Tarn Bathmat!

Remember when I went crazy and made all that t-shirt yarn—aka “tarn“— last summer?

This weekend I turned several balls of tarn into this funky, textured bathmat:

That tarn bathmat!

This tarn bathmat measures about 17″ x 26″

The colors aren’t quite true, since this in an interior bathroom lit only by two wall sconces with “warm” LED bulbs. (The tile and tub are actually white.) But this is scrap art, made from several random old t-shirts, so it’s not like the colors actually matter. Your own mat will vary depending on the colors of any old t-shirts you have on hand.

You can knit or crochet tarn, but the knitted swatches I made last year all curled under on the edges. Since I wanted my finished product to lie flat, I broke out my massive crochet hook (the size isn’t even marked, but it’s roughly 1/2″ in diameter) and chained 26 so I’d wind up with 25 stitches per row. Next time, maybe 30 stitches.

I also wanted my mat to have some texture, so instead of working the mat in single crochet, I decided to crochet in the back loops only. That’s as simple as it sounds.

See the texture

Look closely and you’ll see how every other row points up a bit, like the reddish-orange section. The edges sticking up slightly are the front loops; the row above recedes a bit because it was worked into the back portions of those loops.

Now that you’ve seen how I worked the rows, let’s jump back to where I decided to change colors. I joined new colors using the same technique succinctly demonstrated in this brief You Tube video I ran across. Initially I wanted to start new colors at the end of each row, creating true stripes. But it took several attempts to get the second color to start at the end of the first row, and by the time I switched to a third color I gave up and went with random lengths of tarn.

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That third shade of tarn wound up joining a couple of stitches into the third row.

Knitting or crocheting with random colors can be tricky, since you still want the colors to be evenly distributed—unless you want a lopsided look—so instead of creating a giant ball of tarn scraps, I decided which color to add as I went along. I kept going until I ran out of tarn, but always planned to end with a row of the same color I started with. Here’s what I had after one evening of crocheting:

Quick work!

Quick work!

The best part of a project like this is you’re upcycling old t-shirts into something fun and practical—and you’ll still have the sleeves to use for dust rags.

You can make a rug or bathmat any shape or size you want, as long as you have enough tarn.

What would you like to make from tarn?

 

New Month, New Project

While it’s still tricky to do any knitting with Puppy Sadie trying to get my double-pointed needles, I’m hoping the sound of the sewing machine will keep her at a safe distance from my next project: Throw pillow covers.

I haven’t sewn in a couple years because my beloved Old Reliable is no longer so reliable. The power cord has an unusual three-pronged connection where it meets the base of the machine, so of course the wires frayed and created a shock hazard. The folks at the local sewing machine repair shop said the manufacturer only used those particular cords for a few years, making it difficult to find replacements. The repairman hoped he could find one through one of their online resources for old sewing machine parts, but after a year passed without any cords turning up I decided it was time to turn Old Reliable into a very sturdy door stop.

My sister gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas, and a few days later we spotted some great remnant fabrics. Since we both have puppies who love tearing up throw pillows, we knew one day the fabric would be perfect for new throw pillows.

I bought the gold fabric years ago to make a duvet cover, but bought a comforter instead. The other fabrics are new.

My fabrics.

Years ago I bought some gold fabric to make a duvet cover, but bought a comforter instead. I plan to turn that into a new and much-needed slip cover for the sofa (you’ll understand the “much-needed” part when you see the photo below). I loved seeing how well it picks up the gold tones in the geometric pattern in one of the new fabrics. Some of the silky cloth on the top of the pile may also be used to replace the shutter inserts in one of the bedrooms.

Just a few of the pillow forms I've purchased.

Just a few of the pillow forms I’ve already purchased—all on sale.

I may have gone overboard buying pillow forms when my favorite fabric store in town had a going-out-of-business sale. In total I now have four 27-inch, two 18-inch, one 14-inch, one 12×16-inch, and two 12-inch forms. My sister wanted several of the largest pillows, but we’ll figure out how to divvy them up once we see how far our fabrics will go.

Lisa's going to need more fabric!

Not sure Lisa has enough for even two big pillows!

I’ll have to wash and press most of the fabrics before I sew a stitch. Why? Because I plan to make removable, washable pillow covers. If the fabric shrinks, the covers will still fit the pillow forms. The only one escaping the laundry? Lisa’s grayish-blue velvet.

Of course, before any pillow-making commences, I’ll need to learn how to use the newfangled sewing machine.

 

Blanket Coverage

I’m usually up for a creative project, so when a friend asked if I’d help her make something for her dad’s birthday, I asked “When?”

Julie’s dad is a big Milwaukee Brewer’s fan, so she bought three yards of official Brewer’s fleece to make a fleece throw. After deciding she preferred a contrasting color for the back, she bought a couple yards of a solid neutral, too.

We finally carved out time in both of our busy work schedules and got crafty earlier this week.

First, we lined up both fabrics on her kitchen floor and cut them to roughly the same length, about seven feet; she wanted it extra long since her dad is tall. Next we smoothed the wrinkles out. Fleece-on-fleece doesn’t shift too much, but since the floor space was limited I knew we’d be moving this around a lot to make the cuts and tie all the knots, so I used a needle and thread to loosely baste a giant X to hold everything in place. (After we finished, we pulled the basting threads right out.)

IMG_0783Once we trimmed off the selvage edges we were ready to start cutting.

There are tons of patterns and instructions online for making tied fleece blankets. Measurements may vary, but it’s a pretty basic process. In our case, the directions said to start by cutting 8-inch squares out of each corner.IMG_0784

Next, it said to make 8-inch long cuts every two inches along all four edges of the fabric.

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My rotary cutter and cutting mat with its handy-dandy measuring grid really sped up the process.

Once I had several strips cut, Julie started knotting. After I finished cutting I knotted, too. Instead of tying the two strips together like shoe laces, we held both layers together and tied it as if making a knot at the end of a single piece of thread.

We soon realized two things:

  1. Tension matters. Tight knots can cause the fabric to bunch up. But if knots are too loose, they might come untied. Aim for uniform tension.
  2. The pattern we were following wasn’t clear on what to do at the corners. Do you make two knots right on top of each other? Or do you tie the abutting knots together? It’s a subjective decision, so just make sure you use the same process for all four corners.

I wasn’t watching the clock, but I’m pretty sure it took the two of us less than three hours to make the extra-long blanket. Neither of us had made one of these before, but I imagine the work goes faster with each one you make.

Julie (who’s standing somewhere behind the blanket in the photo below) said she and her husband will go over the blanket to make sure all knots are tied with a similar tension before giving it to her dad this weekend. I hope he likes it!

 

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Have you tried your hand at a tied fleece blanket or throw? How many have you made?

Want-To-Do Lists

With the season finale of Orphan Black airing tonight, it seems somehow appropriate to say there are some days – make that many days – I wish I had a clone.

The past month or so I’ve happily been very busy with work (including a rush article this week that went from pitch to final copy in seven hours, and the interviewee wasn’t available for the first three of those hours). During weeks like this what little free time I do have is typically spent catching up on not-so-fun stuff like cleaning – and yard work whenever the weather permits.

Ever notice how the busier you are the more craft/DIY projects you suddenly want to do?

It’s probably a form of escapism to picture ourselves working on creative endeavors. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to spend two hours focused on a fun project than toiling away at their day job?

Here are a few projects on my want-to-do list. Stay tuned to see if I actually get around to any of them:

  • Turn old pop cans into tags for my hostas and heirloom tomatoes
  • Take pile of old t-shirts and turn them into t-shirt yarn
  • Make something from said t-shirt yarn
  • Crochet more hexagons for the would-be bedspread while berating myself for choosing to make the pieces so small that I’ll hate piecing them together one day
  • Piece together these odd-sized bits I made as a kid when learning to knit, and turn them into the knitted version of a crazy quilt
The evolution of my knitting

The evolution of my knitting

I can’t be the only person who dreams up new project ideas at the opportune times. So what’s on your Want-To-Do List?

Making Time

If you have a recipe or pattern for making enough time for your hobbies, patent it. You’ll make a fortune.

The reason I haven’t added a blog post in far too long is that I haven’t had much time to set aside for my hobbies, which means I haven’t had any new projects to post. And when I did have a few spare hours, dry cracks and sores on my hands kept me from working with yarn.

But when my niece asked if I could make a baby-sized version of the cupcake hat I made her for Christmas, how could I say no?

Baby Cupcake Hat

Baby Cupcake Hat

The pattern is deceptively simple, so the adorable little hat shouldn’t have taken me so long to knit. If it weren’t for the cracks in my hands, I could probably have finished this beauty in two days.

Even before I started that cupcake hat, I finally cast on for a sweater coat I’ve been wanting to make for a couple of years. I’ve actually had the yarn since way back when I was a knitter-blogger for Patons Yarn. You have to commit a lot of time to such a large project, and I never had the time to spare. But earlier this year I decided to start anyway. This is where I was at six weeks ago…

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…and I’m still not quite to the 21.5″ point where the next pattern step kicks in. You’ll also notice at the left of the photo that a couple cables are twisted in the wrong direction. By the time I spotted the mistake I’d invested too much time to rip it out, so the flaw will remain. After all, handmade does not mean perfect.

Knitting is like any other hobby. You have to make time for it. Thankfully, unlike a lot of other hobbies, knitting can done while watching TV (although you might risk the occasional twisted cable, ahem), chatting with friends, or while waiting for someone.

Another reason to wish I had more time to knit? An ever-growing backlog of projects I want to make – several to use up scrap yarn from past projects. Yet I keep finding new patterns to try. Like a pattern for a cowl I spotted when looking up links to include in this post.

I’m sure it’s the same feeling people get no matter what their hobby is. There’s always something more to do or make, a new skill to perfect, and more joy to feel with that next level of accomplishment. Do you have a hobby? How do you make time to pursue it?

Impromptu Pillow

I’m a bit ashamed that two months have passed since I’ve posted anything new. The truth is I’ve had an onslaught of assignments for several clients throughout August and September. Since I’ve already turned in three of six projects due this week, I decided to sneak in a new post.

Even with a heavy workload, I made time to work on projects most evenings — usually staying up far later than planned just to finish a piece or complete a section. I made a Sock Monkey Bag for my niece’s birthday and a Creeper pillow for my nephew’s birthday. The unseasonably cool weather over the past week must have put every knitter around here in knitting mode. After finishing a pair of socks for a cousin I needed another project. I had the yarn and pillow form, so I made another Impromptu Pillow:

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I developed the pattern last year because I wanted to make a chunky knitted pillow for a Christmas gift. Inspired by some gorgeous knitted pillows on Scandal, and knowing the recipient likes that show, too, I bought some super bulky yarn and started playing. The first Impromptu Pillow, in cream, turned out really well, with a beautiful texture you can’t help but run your hand over again and again:

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The problem? I didn’t take notes when making the first pillow. I remembered using the seed stitch, and the size 13 needles recommended by the yarn. I also remembered my gauge swatch was a bit large, so I wound up using fewer stitches to make a 16″ square.

I knew I’d crocheted the edges closed — a super easy and clean way to assemble a pillow, and a good reason every knitter should know some basic crochet stitches — and added a simple (single crochet, chain three, skip one, repeat) edging to finish it off.

For the first attempt at the second pillow, I tried 35 stitches, which was too wide; 33 was a perfect fit. Your own results will vary depending on how loosely or tightly you knit.

This is called an Impromptu Pillow because you only need to make two squares large enough to fit your pillow form — in whatever stitch pattern you like — and join the edges around a pillow form. The crochet edging is optional.

Has the knitting or crocheting bug bitten you a bit early this year? If so, what’s on your needles – or hook?

Scrap Happy Pillow

Every knitter has leftover yarn. Sometimes entire skeins are left once a project is done, but it’s usually just a few yards of this and a partial skein of that. They may be different weights, different fibers, and they’re always different colors.

What do you do with all that scrap yarn?

I get scrap happy.

I’ve made scarves, a granny square afghan, and other things over the years. Unusually cool summer weather, a desire to use up some of my yarn stash, and a spare bolster pillow form inspired me to turn this basket of mismatched yarns…

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….into the pillow on the right:

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Look closely and you’ll see a few remnants from the square pillow in the bolster.

The cool thing about using random colors in one project is how they almost always find a way to pull together. It’s the reason I love scrap quilts more than matchy-matchy color-coordinated quilts.

But there’s a trick to keeping all the different colors from fighting. Balance.

In this case, I doubled the yarn scraps with black yarn. (I used a couple different black yarns in this project.)

I decided to knit the bolster cover on size 11 circular needles, and switched colors at the end of every round. It would have been easier to use random lengths of colored yarns, but I was going for a subtle stripe.

To create texture, I used a seed stitch, but garter would be nice, too. (Remember: because you’re not turning the work, doing a garter stitch on circular needles is like stockinette on straight needles. Knit one row, purl the next.)

I wasn’t sure how to do decreases in the seed stitch, so at the ends I switched to garter stitch and decreased on my knit rows, switching to doubled-pointed needles as the number of stitches decreased.  For the second end, I picked up stitches from the cast-on edge and decreased as for the first end. I’m not entirely pleased with the decreases — I was hoping for flatter ends — so I can’t say I’d make it exactly the same way again.

Scrap happy projects are fun because you can play around and make mistakes without the worry of wasting yarn. When it comes to leftover yarn, the only waste is in not using it.

What are some of your favorite uses for scrap yarn?

Constructing Socks One Stitch At a Time

The instant gratification of knitting with thick yarn and large needles is hard to beat. That’s why I long resisted the idea of knitting socks. Tiny needles, fine yarn – worse yet, you have to make two!

A few years ago a great knitter I know, Ruk, took a sock making class and really loved it. She suggested I try it and sent me one of her favorite patterns. That’s back when I was blogging for a yarn company that gave me free access to all kinds of gorgeous yarn so I had no reason not to give it a try. I requested some fun, self-patterning sock yarn, bought a set of size 3 double pointed needles, and gave it a go.

While there are thousands of sock patterns to choose from, the basic construction is usually quite similar. The stitch counts mentioned below are specific to the pattern I used.

Adjusting to such small needles was frustrating. Despite each round being only 48 stitches, I was knitting at the sluggish speed of one inch per hour. It took days to knit the leg of one sock:

Measuring leg of second sock against the first sock to see if it's long enough.

Measure leg of second sock against the first to see if it’s long enough.

By the time I got to the heal flap of the first sock I was hooked. The heel flap and heel turn are my favorite parts of the sock because 1) only half the stitches are worked, 2) nearly every other stitch of every other row is slipped, not knitted, and 3) after a couple inches you start decreasing. All of which makes the work go even faster.

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The heel flap starts with 24 stitches, but the gradual decreases of the heal turn leave you with ten stitches on the needle.

The next section is the gusset. Because you pick up new stitches along the edge of the heel flap and continue knitting in the round, this is when you’ll have the most stitches on your needles. That’s to make enough fabric to accommodate the ankle, foot and heel. There are decreases in every other row (until you’re back down to 48 stitches) which keep the work interesting.

Working the gusset (shown from heel side).

Working the gusset (shown from heel side).

Working the gusset.

Working the gusset (shown from the top of sock). Note the top two needles both have far more stitches than the bottom two. Those needles include stitches picked up after the heel turn.

The really cool thing about the gusset? The decreases create a graceful curved line at each side of the foot.

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Speaking of the foot, that’s when the inch-per-hour frustration once again rears its head. You need to knit several more inches until you’re just shy of the desired foot length. (The upside: you can custom size socks for people with hard to fit feet.) Once there, a few rounds and some strategically placed decreases round off the toe.

The toe.

When only eight stitches remain, I use the kitchener stitch to seamlessly join the toe, then weave in the yarn tail.

The pair of socks shown here were made (upon request) for my cousin Mark. They’re made with Patons Stretch Sock Yarn in “Mineral.” To be honest the yarn didn’t feel as soft as other sock yarns I’ve used, so I’ll be curious to hear how they compare with Mark’s other socks.

I’d intended to finish them for Christmas but was so far behind that Mark got a box of yarn instead. He finally got his new socks in January – just in time for the Polar Vortex!

For some reason unknown to the rest of the world, Mark likes wearing socks with flip-flops that have divided toes. Even in winter. When I asked for a photo of him wearing the socks, he replied, “With or without flip flops?” When I said without, he said, “Well, okay, if I must.”

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Looks like they’re holding up pretty well despite being stretched around those toe dividers!

Have you tried knitting or crocheting socks? If so, do you love sock making or do you hate it?

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