On this Independence Day, I encourage all Americans take a few minutes to remember the sacrifices our forefathers—and foremothers—made in order to create a more perfect union dedicated to providing liberty and justice for all.
I hope every elected official, in every party, spends at least one hour today to remember how and why our nation was founded. Perhaps they’d realize they were elected to represent We The People—not one political party or another. The only way our elected officials can truly represent all Americans is by working together for the greater good. The gamesmanship of today’s partisan politics is not, and will never be, in the best interest of the people.
Happy Birthday, United States of America!
Ferne passed away peacefully at home last week. She was 98.
Ferne hadn’t done ceramics in a long time, but her hobby was such an important part of her life that it was mentioned at her funeral. My sister and I even spotted one of her lovely ceramic Christmas trees in the background of a photo in a video montage that spanned her entire life. I sometimes wonder how many of those trees she made—I’ve seen at least three, and each was a little different from the others.
In Ferne’s honor, here’s a glance at some of my favorite Ferne-made pieces.
The Choir Kids & Christmas Tree: Ferne detailed these choir kids to resemble my sister, brother, and me back when we were all under 10 years of age. (I’m the one with pony tails.) In the background is the Christmas tree she made for my mom. Every year when I bring these out I treat them very gingerly. (On close inspection it looks like my sister was decapitated at some point and had her head carefully glued back on. I have no idea how or when that may have happened.)
Mom’s angel: Some people focus on the gold candle holders, but I love the iridescent gown most of all. I still have the special “tear drop” candles Ferne gave Mom for the angel to hold.
Dresser Sets: Ferne made nearly identical covered dresser sets for my sister and me. (I might not know the correct term for them, but I’m sure Ferne did!) My set has a slightly lighter green than my sister’s set. When I was a teenager, I was heartbroken when I accidentally dropped the lid of the larger dish. Thankfully it was a clean break and was easily glued back together. I can’t remember ever not having them.
The Cheese Plate: Most of Ferne’s creations were much like the woman herself—classy, refined, elegant—so this whimsical cheese plate really stands out. I especially love the tiny paw prints trailing from “Nibble with Arlene & Walt” right up to the playful cheese-eating mouse.
You can see more (but by no means all) of my collection of Ferne’s creations in my previous post.
Not only do I hope to honor Ferne’s memory with this post, I also want to use her work as an example of how precious handmade gifts are when they’re created with intent. She spent hours refining and perfecting her projects, and she imbued every brush stroke, every detail with love. She even signed and dated each piece.
I guarantee none of her ceramic pieces will ever be discarded or sold during my lifetime.
Ferne will be missed, but she’ll always be fondly remembered when the holiday pieces are on display, when the cheese plate is used, even when I dust my bedroom. (Which I’m sure is not nearly often enough to suit Ferne. She was extremely tidy.)
What are some of your treasured possessions that were handmade by someone you love?
One of the first things my sister and I did after she gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2015 was hit the fabric store.
The first place I like to stop in any fabric shop is the remnants area. You can find small amounts of expensive fabric for a fraction of the price. On that trip we found a lot of remnants to turn into throw pillows. We both loved a silky muted blue-green fabric with copper-colored French knots.
I thought it would be perfect to replace the faded fabric inserts in the shutters in the back bedroom. Fortunately there were two pieces of that fabric so we didn’t have to fight.
To underscore the cost-savings of buying remnants: this “designer” fabric was originally priced at a ridiculous $29.99 per yard, but was only $5 per yard as a remnant. The $5.63 piece was 1.125 yards (just enough for this project), and the $9.76 piece was 1.952 yards. I should be able to cover a couple pillow forms with the larger piece.
Yes. I know. I sure took my time before using any of those remnants. Probably because I didn’t realize how badly faded the old fabric was until I removed all eight inserts from the shutters. They’ve been getting the afternoon sun for the better part of a decade, so I’d say the plain cotton quilting fabric held up very well, despite the sun bleaching.
The first thing I did was measure the old inserts and the new remnants. Having replaced these inserts before, I knew the upper and lower shutters were different lengths, and the old inserts were each about eight inches wide, roughly double the width of each shutter. While the front of the fabric doesn’t appear to have an up-and-down direction to it, the back does, so I wanted to cut all eight panels in the same direction.
Of course, it was only after cutting the shorter panels that I realized I forgot to allow the extra two inches needed to form pockets for the small tension rods that hold the top and bottom of each panel in place.
Luckily I had the second remnant. No worries, either. The four mis-cut panels should still work well for the pillow covers.
After all the pieces were properly cut, it was pretty much an assembly line process:
- Press a quarter-inch fold, towards the back, on all of the long edges. (On the old inserts, I folded the fabric twice for a clean, finished edge, but the French knots in this fabric create more bulk, and would be difficult to sew over when sandwiched between two layers of cloth.)
- Sew the side hems.
- Form pockets for the tension rods on one end of each panel, starting with a quarter-inch fold for a clean edge, then fold again, approximately one inch. Press and pin.
- Sew the pockets.
- Next is the only fussy part: figuring out the right length for the second pocket. I knew the four upper panels needed to be 24-1/2″ and the lower ones 27-1/2″. I folded, and measured carefully before pressing, pinning, and sewing.
Once all of the panels were sewn, it was time to slip them on the tension rods and into the shutters. How cool that the copper rods coordinate so well with the fabric!
Uh-oh. Time for the embarrassing photo. But I need it to show you how the panels fit into the shutters, so try really hard to ignore the fact that I never painted the back side of the shutters.
Only two of the panels were a little tight. But my dad made these shutters long ago, so the spaces for the little rods are no more precise than the lengths of the new inserts. I just tried the tight ones in different openings and they all fit without needing any of the pockets to be ripped out and re-sewn.
Once all eight panels were in, I noticed a happy accident: Shadows of those cool ribbons I love show through in daylight, creating a whole new look.
It’s like getting two looks from one project.
In a few years, once the sun has done its damage, I wonder what kind of patterns those ribbons on the back will have created.
What d-i-y projects have you done lately?
As soon as I knew my cousin Dano’s due date was July 4th, I started looking for baby items I could knit. On Christmas, I overheard Dano’s mom mention something about a soft neutral gray pallet for the nursery instead of typical baby colors.
On Pinterest I spotted a gray baby blanket with a row of white sheep, but that wasn’t a knitting pattern, it was a finished item ready for purchase. So I searched Ravelry for “sheep baby blankets” and found several options. Of course the one I liked the most—”Sheep Dreams”—was out of print.
It was originally published in a book called Knit Baby Blankets! and I was able to track down a copy of that book on Amazon.com.
As soon as the book arrived, I ordered several skeins of Cascade Yarns Sateen Worsted—a soft, light, worsted-weight yarn I thought would be better for summer than wool—in Gunmetal Gray for the body of the blanket. Because I was substituting yarns, I bought extra skeins in case it wasn’t enough. (That turned out to be a wise move because I believe the color was discontinued.) I also bought a skein of the fluffy, chenille-like Brown Sheep Berrocco Plush in Cream, and a skein of Sateen Worsted in Black for the details, but it didn’t show up well enough against the Plush, so I used a slightly heavier weight black yarn from my stash.
I was so excited to finally cast on. The textured border was really interesting to do. It’s called a ribbed stitch, but it’s more than that. You double the number of stitches of one row by knitting in the front and back of each stitch, then reduce it back to the original number of stitches by knitting two together then purling two together and repeating that across the next row. The process results in a thicker border.
Then the real challenge began.
The pattern was challenging enough to be interesting, but it also contained a lot of errors. Luckily the structure is pretty logical and there were several photos to reference, so I could see where the problems were and how to fix them—like when the pattern said to continue the Double Bind Stitch from border to border I could see that would interfere with the Checker Board Stitch in the center field.
Before long it was time to start putting the sheep in their pens.
The sheep are done with a Duplicate Stitch—sort of like embroidering new stitches directly on top of existing stitches. Centering them was a bit fussy. You have to count stitches from the sides, top, and bottom to find the starting points, but the charts—one with a sheep facing left, the other right—were very clear.
Yes, I know you’re supposed to work the Duplicate Stitch bottom-to-top, right-to-left, but for me it was easier to start with the right foot and work up, and then to the right before working to the left because the Plush is so fluffy it hid the stitches I needed to work on.
Close-ups of a left-facing sheep and a right-facing sheep.
Hoping the process would get easier with each sheep, I opted to do one corner, then the opposite corner, one side, then the opposite side so you wouldn’t be able to see if my abilities improved with each sheep. (They didn’t. For some reason the final two took the longest to do.)
Initially I was frustrated if I saw gray come through, or if stitches weren’t even or looked misaligned. But once six or eight were completed I realized those little inconsistencies give each sheep its own personality.
Funny how those sheep kept multiplying…
Several of the Sheep Dreams projects on Ravelry didn’t have all 14 sheep. Now I understand why some people stopped short. Each one took me about an hour to complete! Once the final sheep was in its pen and all of the ends were woven in, the only thing left to do was to block the blanket to size. The Plush yarn creates a subtle 3-D effect, which in turn slightly distorts the grid pattern of the blanket, so blocking is a must.
A different perspective of the sheep:
I loved the final result so much I found a pattern for a similar baby hat and made that, too!
I hope the little baby-to-be will have plenty of sweet dreams under this blanket.
Although I haven’t posted in a long time, I assure you I’ve been steadily chiseling away at my yarn stash. But it’s slow going. One of the first things I did was start filling a big bag with yarn earmarked for a garage sale, on the off chance anyone I know decides to have a sale this year.
In February I finished a pair of socks for my brother-in-law, who immediately put them to good use.
Clearly, I need to invest in a set of sock forms to block any future socks I make:
At roughly the same time, a friend said she was about to buy yarn to make baby hats for a local hospital. I told her to stop over before buying yarn, since I had plenty of yarn in baby-friendly fibers and colors she could have. That got rid of another grocery bag or so of yarn.
Not long after that a neighbor, who was clearing out her father’s home so he can sell it, brought over three large trash bags full of yarn that had been her mom’s. I had no intention of keeping any of it, and I’m happy to report I didn’t keep a single skein. I sorted out the good from bad, and thankfully the same baby-hat-making friend was able to take it all. The other day she told me she’d already made 40 hats.
Before I can start working on any projects to wheedle down my yarn stash I needed to cast on a special top-secret project that required soft new yarn. All I can reveal right now is what the project looked like after the first few rows.
It’s been a fun knit, but the project has been made slightly more challenging due to a poorly-written pattern. Luckily, it was easy to spot most of the pattern errors as I went along. This is a gift, and I’m not quite done yet, so it will be a few weeks before I can reveal the finished product. Because I substituted a different type of yarn, I bought a few extra skeins to ensure I had enough—and I already have plans for some of that spare yarn.
Then last weekend my sister bought a nice classic Granny Square afghan for six dollars. I pointed out an obvious hole and she said, “You can fix that right?”
We brought it home and promptly found several more holes starting to form. (Instead of weaving in the ends with each color change, it seems the original crocheter knotted the yarns and snipped the ends as close to the knots as possible, and the knots are starting to come loose.) I hauled out a couple bags of scrap yarn, knowing I had a bit of lavender yarn that would closely match to one spot, then realized it was with the yarn I’d given to my friend.
At one point, I sent my sister into the yarn room to get some gold yarn, and told her exactly where it was. I hadn’t even dragged all of the yarn out, but when my sister saw what was out she said, “You have a LOT of yarn.”
Good thing, too, or the mends on her new afghan would be really obvious.
Hey, you never know when you might have a crafting emergency!
Remember when I said my goal for the year was to burn through my yarn stash?
The only loophole (pardon the knitting pun) is that I can only buy more yarn if it’s needed to make a gift or for a special project someone asks me to make—like the socks I’m making for my brother-in-law who received a “coupon” from me for a pair of handmade socks.
Well, here’s how I’m doing:
The first and biggest hurdle was trying to inventory my yarn.
The good news: I only had about 60 skeins (or nearly full skeins) of labeled yarn of various colors, fibers, weights, and brands. The bad news? The pile of unidentified partial skeins was even larger.
While I was thinking of projects that would use up some of the yarn, my sister asked me to make one of the now iconic “p-hats” (to be polite) for her to wear at the Women’s March on Washington. Thanks to the inventory I knew I had enough dusty rose mohair blend to make a couple of hats.
Because the mohair blend is so fluffy it’s technically a “bulky” weight yarn, so I adapted the pattern, using 30 stitches on size 10 needles instead of 50 stitches on size 8.
A few days later a friend asked if I could make a hat for her friend’s 87-year old mother-in-law (below) who was planning to participate in a local march. I was able to use up even more yarn.
Since last weekend’s marches two more people have requested hats. One being a man who wanted blue, brown, or gray, but I don’t think I have enough in any of those colors for a hat so a little new yarn may need to be acquired.
Once I’m caught up with the socks and hats, I plan to use more of my yarn stash to make projects from the Knit Knack Kit my sister and I found for $2 at a resale shop last month.
The kit—which was open but intact—includes 25 patterns, a set of circular needles, a stitch marker, and a blunt tapestry needle for seaming projects.
Some of the patterns are silly—like a cell phone cozy for a flip phone—but others are nice or practical, like the pillows on the card shown above.
Come back in a few months and I’ll let you know how much yarn is left in my stash.
Fellow knitters and crocheters: What kinds of projects have you made with stash yarn?
Knowing how much my cousin and her husband love Americana, when a Lion Brand newsletter arrived last summer featuring several red, white, and blue knitting and crochet kits, I sent her the link and said if something struck her fancy I’d be happy to make it for her.
As it turns out, we both liked the same one. The U.S. Flag Afghan.
I hate to admit how long it took me to finish what’s a fairly straightforward pattern.
Under normal circumstances I probably could have finished crocheting this in a couple of weeks. But pretty much the day after buying the kit I injured the tendon running along my right wrist from my thumb almost to the crook of my elbow.
I’m right handed. And as fellow crocheters know, you move your wrist a lot when crocheting.
Than meant I could only do at most a row or two at a time.
Once my wrist and thumb began to heal I was able to increase how much I could do at once. I finished crocheting it in time for Thanksgiving, and over the extended holiday my cousin helped me place the stars. I only got a few firmly attached, so she said she’d ask her mother-in-law (a fellow yarny!) to help attach the rest.
Now for the review:
If you can double crochet and follow simple instructions for basic increases and decreases (which form the peaks and valleys of the ripples), you can make the body of the afghan.
The stars are a little more challenging since they’re worked in the round. I found using stitch markers helped me “see” the chain 1 space where the base of each new point joined the round. The stars are a combination of single crochets, slip stitches, chains, half-double crochets, and double crochets. But the design is so logical that after making two of three I didn’t need to check the pattern.
The only criticism I really have of the pattern is the vague instructions for changing colors where the blue field meets the stripes in the body of the flag. All it says is, “When changing color, drop, but do not fasten off the old color,” and later, “Change to color C” —or A or B, depending on the row you’re on.
It was only after a few rows that I realized sometimes I twisted the yarns, sometimes I didn’t, so the joint was more obvious on some rows than others. I finally discovered I could help hide that little bit of transition yarn by working it into the first stitch after the color change. (Sorry that’s so vague. It’s probably also why the pattern didn’t suggest it. It’s difficult to explain.)
As for the kit itself… I don’t often use kits, but the sale price was far less than buying the yarn alone would be, so it made sense.
I love the softness and thickness of Lion Brand’s Heartland yarn, and the almost time-worn look of the colors included in the kit were perfect: “Redwood,” “Acadia,” and “Olympic.” Being acrylic, it’s also easier to care for than wool.
Before beginning the afghan I did three gauge tests: one for the stars and two for the body. The stars were pretty close to gauge, but my first swatch for the body was a little large so I switched to a smaller hook and my second swatch matched the gauge.
My biggest complaint? By the time I reached the final two rows I was worried I wouldn’t have enough blue to finish the afghan. I started crocheting a little tighter—hoping to stretch out what little yarn remained—but only had maybe 10 inches of yarn remaining after the final stitch. And I even used the yarn from my blue gauge swatch. That’s a little too close to comfort for me.
There wasn’t much white yarn left after I finished the flag, either, so I opted to use an even smaller hook to make the stars. Because I was so short on yarn, I tried to keep the tails to about two inches when starting and finishing each star, barely long enough to secure the stars to the afghan. I only had about half an inch of white yarn left to tie off the 12th and final star.
Thankfully there was more than enough red yarn, especially since one skein was wound in a double strand. I’ve never seen that with any yarn before, so I’m sure it was just some manufacturing fluke. It looked fine from the outside, but when I tried working from one strand the other one kept knotting up. (I’ll just save that skein to use on a double-stranded project.)
If I were to rate Lion Brand’s U.S. Flag Afghan Kit using a scale of 1-5 stars, I’d give it a solid four stars.
Offering more details in the instructions for switching yarns where the stripes meet the blue field would boost the rating by half a point.
No one likes nearing the end of a project only to realize they might not have enough yarn to complete it. I’d suggest Lion Brand alerts crocheters that nearly every inch of blue and white yarn will be used so they won’t get too anxious when it starts running low. Knowing that before buying the kit would also give crocheters the option to buy more yarn (from the same dye lot, of course) or use a smaller hook.
Overall, those are minimal quibbles.
The recipients love the finished project, and that’s the only thing that really matters.
Don’t even bother denying it. Every knitter, weaver, and crocheter has a yarn stash. Some are big, some are small. Mine is somewhere in between. I’d guess about 80% of my stash is leftover from completed projects and the rest is either for projects I plan (or planned) to make or yarn that I bought because it called my name.
Over a year ago, a couple of my cousins volunteered to have a garage sale to help their older friend—once prolific knitter—unload a lot of yarn, needles, and patterns. They sold a ton of yarn. I’m not kidding: They sent me a photo of their grown daughter sitting on top of a massive pile of garbage bags all filled with yarn.
Their sale was a success, but I never want to have to divest myself of that much yarn at once. I’d rather use it.
Last summer I burned through most of my cotton yarn by making myself a new bathmat (and another for a friend who requested one).
But to use up a lot of mismatched yarns, I decided to make a large, double-stranded scrappy blanket.
The blanket is made from three panels: two using white, off white, cream, tan, and light gray yarns as a grounding color to be double stranded with random lengths of various colors of yarn scraps, and the middle panel uses black, charcoal, and dark gray as the grounding color.
To ensure the scraps don’t become untied, I held two strands parallel (as opposed to end-to-end) and knotted them with a loop so the harder you tug on the yarn, the tighter the knot becomes. Unless, of course, you pull so hard that the yarn breaks.
Because there are so many colors, I used a medium gray to stitch the dark and light panels together.
Each panel was 32 stitches wide and worked on size 19 needles, but I could have gone with 17s or even 15s and had a slightly denser fabric. Instead of counting rows I just tried to knit all three panels to approximately the same length.
I intentionally left the scrappy ends sticking out. First, there are so many that weaving them in would take forever. Second, if you do that in time they’ll work loose eventually anyway. Third, it adds more texture.
On a whim, I stranded the random scrap yarn with some red that was leftover from the flag afghan and crocheted an edging along all four sides of the blanket. That was so last-minute that I didn’t get a photo.
The beauty of a project like this? If the blanket snags or frays you can quite literally use any color/size/fiber of yarn to knot it back up.
Oddly enough, I made this for the same cousins who held that yarn sale! It was a thank-you for hosting the extended family at their cabin. But it’s really a memory blanket since it includes scraps from pretty much every item I’ve made for family members over the years. My sister-in-law donated some of her own yarn scraps to the project, too!
Making this blanket led to my New Year Resolution:
No buying new yarn until either my stash is gone or the calendar says 2018—unless it’s needed to make a gift or special project for someone else. (Every good resolution needs a loophole!)
What are your crafty resolutions for 2017?
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:
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?
My curved, two-piece sofa needs to be recovered, but because it’s eight-and-a-half feet long it would cost a small fortune to have it reupholstered. It’s also about nine inches longer than conventional sofas, so finding a slip cover that will fit is easier said than done.
For the past few years my sofa has been covered either with an ill-fitting, second-hand slip cover or a pair of thick, white, twin-size bedspreads. Years of abuse from dogs has left stains and small holes in both of those covers, so I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months looking for another option.
One day I realized I had about 8 yards of a nice decorator fabric stashed in a closet. I bought it several years ago to make a duvet cover for an old comforter, but wound up buying a new comforter instead. The golden-tan color works well enough in the living room, so a few weeks ago I pulled out the fabric and realized I had just enough to cover the couch.
I started by folding the long piece of fabric in half to make sure there was enough fabric. There was. I cut it in half, into two long sections—about 12 feet each—and seamed them together lengthwise.
As luck would have it, I’d seamed about two feet before I realized the fabric—which should be right sides together—was wrong-sides together. In my defense the front and back look a lot alike. Can you tell which is which from the side-by-side photo below?
I know, right?
The hardest part of this project was keeping control of such a massive piece of fabric. That meant flipping it over and realigning the edges wasn’t much fun, but I did it. Here it is, properly layered and pinned.
I sewed a straight line from one end to the other, leaving a generous seam allowance. (When the cover is on the sofa, this long seam will be tucked and hidden under the sofa cushions.)
The next step was to trim the ends of the newly-formed piece into straight lines. With both sides together, I folded one cut end to the other, using several large binder clips to keep it properly aligned.
Oops! The ends were a more than a little off, so on each end, I set a right-angle straight-edge over the shorter piece and carefully trimmed the ends so they would be as straight as possible.
After that, all I needed to do was hem all four sides of the massive piece of fabric. Because I wanted a neat and durable finish, I folded the edge over itself so the raw edges wouldn’t show, then pinned it into place.
If the fabric weren’t so cumbersome, I would have pressed the seams flat before sewing, but it worked out fine anyway.
To recap, I:
- cut a long bolt of fabric (approximately 24 feet) into two 12 foot sections
- pinned the right sides together (after noticing I’d done it the wrong way first)
- sewed one long straight line
- folded it end-to-end and trimmed the ends in straight lines
- double-folded the hem and sewed around the entire piece
The only thing left was to try it on the sofa.
Yes, it’s a bit wrinkled, but the fabric had been piled up on the table several days as I pinned and stitched away. The wrinkles will come out in the wash. Between my dog Sadie, who’s napping on the sofa at this very moment, and our frequent guest dog Stanley, this new sofa cover will be washed quite often.