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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?

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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?

Handmade Doll Beds

I’ve mentioned before how creative and talented my relatives are, but sometimes they really out-do themselves. My cousin, Mark (the one with the great old pool table and who built my new porch railings) made the coolest gift for my 8-year old niece, and I asked him to write a guest post about what’s got to be the girliest woodworking project he’s ever done. Be sure to check out Mark’s blog, too: http://www.blackbearjournal.blogspot.com/

THE DOLL BED MADE FOR TWO

by Mark Hendrickson

I believe it may have been last Thanksgiving that my God daughter Reese approached me, with her dad, and asked if I might be able to build her a doll bed sometime. With Christmas just a few weeks away, it seemed like the natural thing to do.

The project began with Reese providing me with the height of one of her dolls so I knew how long to make the bed. She actually has two special dolls — Kit and Ruthie — so it was not to be a single bed but a bunk-style doll bed.

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What little girl wouldn’t love to have this for her American Girl dolls?

As I planned the project, I thought that the bed should be convertible. That is, the beds could be stacked in typical bunk-bed fashion, or, one half could be lifted from the other and they could be placed side by side.

I looked online to get a few ideas and then drew plans for the corner posts, head- and footboards, bed frames and the simple cleats glued to each post to enable the top bed to set securely on the bottom. When stacked, the beds are 19″ high, 23″ long and 16.5″ wide.

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Here you can see how the beds stack – and the adorable details Mary added that match the bedding beneath the comforters.

The beds are made of solid pine. The typical pine you buy is ¾” thick, much too bulky for a doll bed. So one of the first steps was to plane down these boards to ½” thickness which seemed to be a better size. I cut and assembled them and then completed the purple painting of all surfaces. [Paula’s note: A master of understatement, Mark makes the process sound a lot simpler than it was!]

In addition, my wife Mary and I enjoy projects where we can combine our skills: mine in the furniture-making arena and hers in the artistic touches once the construction and painting is completed. Mary then stepped in and added the wonderful painted highlights that you can see in the images.

I think Reese loves the bunk beds as much, if not more, than Kit and Ruthie!

I think Reese loves the bunk beds as much, if not more, than Kit and Ruthie!

Paula’s note: As cool as the beds look in photos, they’re even more impressive up close. On Christmas we were all inspecting the work and every little detail Mark & Mary put into making Reese one of the best gifts she’ll ever receive.

Here come the (felted) bangles!

A couple weeks ago my sister-in-law told me “heavy wrists” are in style this season – the more bangles the better – so I decided to make some.

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My marble rolling pin made an excellent form for drying and shaping the bracelets. (I only set them on the wooden tray after they were thoroughly dry, and then only long enough to take a photo.)

Late last year I made a few felted bracelets following a pattern someone else developed.

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These were my first attempts, using the other pattern. I decorated a few with needle felting, but broke several felting needles because the bangles are so dense. Needle felt at your own risk.

Some turned out really cute, but some wound up with a groove down the back where the edges curved in during felting. I knew there had to be a way to make smoother edges, so I created my own “pattern” by knitting and felting i-cord.

What’s i-cord, you ask? It’s a small tube of knitted fabric that looks kind of like knitted rope, and is often used as drawstrings or handles on bags.

Knitting i-cord is faster than knitting the same number of stitches in a flat piece since you never turn it. It’s sort of like a micro version of knitting in the round – using only two double-pointed needles.

This is a 5-stich i-cord.

This is a 5-stich i-cord.

My “pattern” is simple: knit about 12″ of i-cord from feltable wool yarn, then whip stitch the ends to form a circle. Some are made using 3-stitch i-cord, some with 5-stitch i-cord, a couple with 7-stitch i-cord.

Once you’ve knitted a few, pop them into a zipped laundry bag or into a pillow case tightly closed with rubber bands (I usually knot it, too). Set your washing machine for a small load and hot water. I like to add a tablespoon or so of baking soda to alleviate the “wet wool” smell. They might felt perfectly the first time, but sometimes it takes two or three cycles to achieve the look you want.

This is my trial batch, before felting:

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Looks like a bunch of hair scrunchies, huh?

The same bunch, after two feltings:

A bunch of little bangles, all in a row.

Like magic, the stitches seem to melt away during felting.

I put them on a marble rolling pin to dry because it seemed about the right circumference for bangles. It was perfect. My first batch was made with single stranded wool using size US 10.5 double-pointed needles. Next, I decided to try double stranding on size US 13 DPNs. That let me mix colors as desired. The result: slightly bulkier bracelets.

These also took two feltings.

These also took two feltings.

I kind of like mixing and matching the thicker and thinner bracelets. Pardon the odd angle, but it’s a bit tricky to take a photo of your own arm…

My favorite warm tone bangles...

Some of my favorite bangles all in a row!

Heavy wrists might be in vogue, but I think I may have overdone it a bit. In  my defense, they all went well with what I happened to be wearing that day.

If you’re a crocheter who’d like to try making felted bangles, let me know. Crocheted stitches don’t dissolve as nicely as knitted stitches, but I’m up for trying to test some ideas for crocheting some felted bangles, too.

Upcycling ancient cedar shakes

Thanks to a hail storm, a couple months ago the old family bungalow got a brand new roof. The original part of the house had three layers of asphalt shingles on top of the original cedar shakes, so the roofers did a total tear off.

This little pile accumulated outside my office window.

This little pile accumulated outside my office window.

Being both sentimental and crafty, I decided to save a small box full of cedar shakes in case inspiration struck. I cleaned them with TSP and let them dry in the sun, as advised by the helpful people at a neighborhood hardware store.

Over 50 years ago, a previous owner accidentally started a house fire, so some of the shingles were a bit scorched, but most were simply well worn. I set them on the table and started toying around with ideas. I decided to make frames and wound up buying simple wooden photo frames at the craft store – unfinished wood that’s ready to be painted or decorated.

After  arranging the pieces, I glued the shakes together with strong glue and weighed each frame down with a large book. Twenty-four hours later, I glued the shakes to the photo frame using the same process. I didn’t like seeing the light wood from the sides, so I used good old crayons (black and various shades of brown) to help camouflage the edges.

This is what I came up with:

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I made two, and didn’t even realize that I’d crossed them in opposite directions. I wanted each frame to have at least one scorch mark and a nail hole or two. I made the frames for my brother and sister, so on the back I wrote a note about where the shakes came from. My sister happened to see the shakes piled on the table during my first attempt to nail them together (turns out the wood is too delicate for that). She thought it was a cool idea and suggested gluing them, so she probably wasn’t too surprised to unwrap one!

The frames are light weight, but I really hope the glue holds! (If not…re-glue!)

Next I’ll make one for myself.

What are some creative ways you’ve repurposed something destined for a landfill, and what did you make from it?

Some holiday obsessions are hereditary

My family had an elf on the shelf long before the Elf on the Shelf book was first published.

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Since the elves came before the book, it means the story about them has to be true, right? Christmas magic is real.

Also real? Christmas obsessions.

My brother and I both veer perilously close to the “obsessive” side of Christmas, but our sister isn’t quite as extreme as either of us. (That said,  you know it’s the holiday season when Lisa starts “glinging” Christmas tunes. Glinging is ideal if you can’t remember the lyrics – just sing “gling.” Repeatedly.) But it’s really not our fault. It’s hereditary. And according to family stories from Grandma Bussey, we can trace it back to our grandfather.

Grandpa Bussey died way before any of us were born, but left a wonderful legacy. I have tons of Grandma and Grandpa’s old ornaments on my tree, even if you can’t see them all here:

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Grandma loved bells, and pretty much every bell on my tree used to be on hers.

In the basement I have a heavy, old, battered tree stand. It only holds about a cup of water (that’s before the tree is added), so it’s not exactly practical. Grandma said she hit the roof the year Grandpa bought that stand – which at the time had poinsettia lights on its decorative base. It was expensive even by today’s standards. One day I’d love to see it restored, but poinsettia bulbs aren’t easy to find.

Grandpa Bussey didn’t just buy things, he made things too. I’m told he made this wooden Santa that’s so cool I leave him standing in the stairwell year round. It makes me smile to see Santa waving at me when I go up or down the steps.

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He’s a little hard to see by the tree, so here he is in broad daylight….

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And check out the log fence Grandpa made for beneath the tree (hey – one of Grandma’s bells got in the shot):

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Grandma said Grandpa collected all of those branches on their property (which she referred to as a “farmette”), cut them to size and assembled the fence. It even folds up for easy storage. The fence is made of ten 12″ sections that are hinged and can be positioned however you like. It still has faint remnants of “snow” on the top of each rail, too.

I never got to meet my Grandpa, but his love of Christmas lives on through us – and the cool things he made.

What are some of your family’s special holiday keepsakes or traditions?

Pink Sock Monkey Sisters Update

I’m thrilled to announce that our favorite pink sock monkey sisters, Cupcake and Endura, are now happily ensconced in their new homes!

Once my sister, Lisa, got her hands on the girls, she dolled them up with some jewelry and added notecards introducing each monkey to her new caretaker.

Endura brought her new person some fun laces for her running shoes, while Cupcake gave hers some pretty pink cupcake liners. Thoughtful little monkeys, aren’t they?

I hope Cupcake and Endura will bring their new people plenty of comfort and cuddles for many years to come!

For the Love of Remnants

I can sew well enough to make simple things with straight lines, and do a little fabric piecing (it’s like puzzles with fabric!), but sewing isn’t really my thing. Yet when I walk into a fabric store, I usually head straight for remnants.

Remnants are great for quick projects. You can get small pieces of expensive fabric for a tiny fraction of the original price. Good drapery and upholstery fabric can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 a yard, maybe more, but remnants of the same fabric might only be $5 per yard. I happened to stop in on a day when the $5 drapery and upholstery fabric remnants were on sale for $4 per yard. I spotted this thick, textured fabric in colors that work with my hodgepodge of a living room:

It was three-eights of a yard – exactly wide enough for a pillow form I’ve wanted to recover for a while now. I knew I could get a smaller pillow out of the remainder, too.

Total cost of fabric: $1.50 (plus 12¢ sales tax).

I only had to make one cut – I folded the fabric right sides together, ensured I had enough to cover the pillow form and allow about half an inch for seams, then made a straight cut. I pinned the edges, leaving a gap to turn it right side out and insert the pillow form.

See the white pins? I should have left a little more space to fit the pillow form in. I had to pull out a few stitches to get it in.

For a cleaner look, I sewed along the folded edge, too. Once it was turned right side out and the pillow form was in place, I folded the raw edges in and hand stitched the opening closed.

Once that pillow was made, I folded the small remaining piece – the remnant of the remnant – to see if I wanted a long, thin pillow or a fatter rectangle. I chose the fatter rectangle and followed the same procedure as the first pillow, only filling it with fiberfill (leftover from the pink sock monkeys) instead of a pillow form.

I might add some of those silky pre-made tassels at a later date, but I think my $1.50 was pretty well spent.

I wish you could feel the texture. I love my new pillows. Imagine what I could have done with a full yard of that fabric!

Similar deals can be found in the remnant bins of your local fabric store, so why not recover a tired old throw pillow or two?

What good bargains have you found lately?

Pumpkin Obsession: Extreme Edition

In honor of the season, I thought it would be nice to revisit a popular post from the past:

 

My brother gets a little crazy every autumn. Brice is always buying pumpkins in October, and he carves them all, or as many as time allows. Gourds aren’t even safe from him at this time of year.

As of Monday he said the current count was 26. That was nine pumpkin-shopping days before Halloween, so he may have even more by now. (I think he’s regretting not following through on his idea of planting a pumpkin patch this summer.)

It all started way back when little Bricie won a ribbon in a pumpkin carving contest. Not that lots of actual carving was involved – his creativity caught the judges’ attention.

Every Halloween season, Brice & I wind up talking about pumpkins. When I carve jack-o-lanterns, I only do one or two. I carve slowly, but add special touches like freckles (by plunging a metal skewer through the shell) or scars (by scraping skin and a little flesh off the pumpkin). Brice? He uses power tools.

Use extreme care when using power tools – especially on round objects.

Brice’s carving isn’t completed yet for this Halloween, so let’s take a tour of their yard from a Halloween past. (The great photos are by my sister-in-law, Jeanne.)

Hmm, doesn’t that white jack-o-lantern way back there appear to be eating something? Let’s take a closer look….

This last one looks a bit Seussian, don’t you think?

All right. It’s time to admit my role in my brother’s autumnal obsession. A couple years ago I gave him two Extreme Pumpkin Carving books by Tom Nardone.

Hey, Bri, it seems Nardone has an annual pumpkin carving contest. Enter it, and maybe you’ll repeat your childhood success with another win!

What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions? How many pumpkins do you plan to carve this year?

I Love Yarn Day

Happy I Love Yarn Day, everyone! It’s like Christmas for knitters, crocheters, weavers, felters and anyone who enjoys working or playing with yarn.

I am a yarn-a-holic.

The first clue? As a kid my favorite Dr. Seuss book was A Big Ball of String. (Second runner up: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.) What can I say? I never liked eggs or ham.

What do I love so much about yarn? Aside from obvious things like textures and colors, I love how each skein of yarn holds multiple possibilities.

Some yarns tell you what to make with them. Others sit there a while before you think of the perfect uses for them. Sweater. Scarf. Throw pillow. Afghan. Mittens. Hat. Wrist warmers. Cowl. Headband. Shawl. Lacy curtains. Toys. Bedspread. Table runner. Place mats. Socks. Dishcloth. Decorations. Even jewelry.

Yarn can be made of nearly any fiber. Some are natural fibers – cotton, wool, alpaca, soy, silk, even bamboo – others are man made. Some are blends. There are even yarns made of recycles fibers.

Along with macrame-ing the pool table pocket nets from worsted wool, here are a few things I’ve made from yarn in the last year or so:

Wavy scarf (Alpaca blend)

Dan’s hockey socks

Felted Easter eggs (worsted wool)

Barbie’s “mink” (made of extra long fun fur / eyelash yarn)

My favorite afghan, then on the needles (wool-acrylic blend)

Reese’s hat & scarf (bulky wool roving)

A pile of Bohemian shawls (acrylic-wool blend medium weight roving)

Aidan’s knitted/woven toy ball (self-patterning acrylic yarn)

Sweater coat I’m wearing as I write this (super bulky acrylic)

Yarn is incredibly versatile stuff. No wonder I love yarn.

What are some of your favorite things made from yarn?

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