Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Little Bit of Everything

Been a while, huh?

I haven't yet washed and photographed the sampler afghan.  I just haven't felt motivated, for a number of reasons, but I do plan to do so before too much longer!

My main project, lately, has been making a pair of hedgehog mittens for my youngest sister.  The Christmas before last, I offered to make her something, and right around the 2016 holidays she made her request.  (She recently got a pet hedgehog, which inspired her choice.)  She knows the mittens might not be done in time to use this winter-- and honestly, this winter has been so warm in our area, aside from one or two cold spells, that there may be little need for mittens, anyway!

She shared some cute mitten photos she'd found online, and I tried to find a pattern that would match them as closely as possible.  Unfortunately, most of the patterns I liked were sized for children-- but the basic concept seem fairly straightforward:  Make a pair of mittens in the right size, using a plain mitten pattern that has a fairly pointy finger area (because that's the hedgehog's nose).  Make two rectangles in furry yarn.  Attach the furry rectangles to the mitten tops.  Embroider the eyes and noses.  Oh, and if you want ears, whip up a little something and attach those, too.

Of course, this would be a lot easier if I'd ever knitted mittens before.  ;o) So far, it's working out well enough.  I'm learning along the way, which is good, though if I'd known/remembered some of these things before, this pair of mittens would look somewhat nicer.  I think they'll turn out ok, if not perfect.  And really, nothing I've ever knit has been perfect.  That's part of the charm of hand-knit, right? (g)

In any case, I'm up to the point where I need to finish the thumbs, then I can move on to the furry yarn and the embroidery.  All of these parts intimidate me.  (g) And I'm not even 100% sure they'll fit, so I really ought to get her to try on the plain mittens before I dress them up.  If they don't fit, I'll have to start over or... I don't know... Is it worth it to rip back?  I'm not sure what I'll do, in that case.  Starting over would give me a chance to make some improvements, but it would also take more time, of course.

I'm glad that this project pushed me to try making mittens, at least, because now I can feel more confident trying some of the other patterns I've had my eye on for years, including fingerless mitts and socks.  I took the trouble of learning to make these mittens two-at-a-time with magic loop because I knew that would be my preferred method for making those other projects, down the road.  (Also, I worried that making the mittens separately would yield two differently sized mittens, if my tension changed too much from one to the other.  My knitting tension is far from rock-solid reliable.)

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Okay!  Enough of the "wall o' text".  (I do have a tendency to ramble...)

So, other projects.  I wanted some extremely simple projects "on the side", so I decided to use up some things that have been languishing in my stash.

There were some small remnants of kitchen cotton which turned into "color block"-style pot holders/trivets.  I used linked double crochet, which creates are more solid fabric than traditional double crochet.  Linked double crochet has a nice rhythm to it, too, and is fun to do.

Extremely Simple Pot Holders

You can't get much simpler than that...

Extremely Simple Pot Holders

They're not going to win any beauty contests-- the last one in particular, with its true "use it up" scrappy style-- but they'll serve a purpose in the kitchen.  ...And I like a little of that make-do aesthetic (especially in small things like this that can be hidden away from sight, if need be).

Extremely Simple Pot Holders

Next project!

I’ve had this next passed-along skein of vintage acrylic in my stash for a while, but because it is “Christmas-colored” and I have no wish to make a seasonal project with it, it’s just been languishing. Now I’ve decided to use it for some very practical dish-scrubbers. Sure, they’ll be Christmas-colored, but that doesn’t really matter to me. (I don’t typically leave my dish-scrubbers out on display, anyway!)

The yarn is named “Merry Pop’n Christmas Yarn”, in the “Old World Christmas Green” colorway, which is predominantly dark green, with a strand of dark red.

Boring Dish Scrubbers

These are also linked double crochet.  (It's an addictive stitch.)

These still need their ends woven in, and there's more of the skein left to crochet before the project's done, but I've set it aside for a bit.

Boring Dish Scrubbers

Still on the theme of using up some stash yarn, I decided to turn some nice, mercerized cottons into mesh bags.  They're commonly called market bags, but of course you can use them for toting anything that won't fall through the holes of the mesh.

Crochet Mesh Bags

The pattern is Haley Waxberg's "Grocery Bag".  I've used it a couple of times before.  There are a number of similar patterns for crochet (which this is) and knitting.  I made a slight change at the end of the bags.  It's nothing big, but I like to crochet another round along the top of the bag for increased sturdiness to the top edge of the bag and the two handles.

Crochet Mesh Bags

The yarn is some I found in a clearance bin years back.  Patons Grace in 'Spearmint' (pictured below) and 'Tangelo' (above).  I get one bag per skein, with a little bit left over.  Highly variegated yarn is rarely my cup of tea, but since these were the only colors in the clearance bin... They work fine for something as utilitarian as a mesh bag, but I do think less boldly variegated yarn looks nicer.

Crochet Mesh Bags

The final yarn project that I've been dipping into lately is what will probably be a "dribs and drabs" long-term project-- another granny square scrap-based afghan.

Scrappy Granny Squares

I just love making granny squares!  They're soothing-- they're fun-- they're carefree-- they're whatever you need them to be at the moment.  (Going overboard?  Well, only a little.)

They make me happy.  What more can you ask?

Scrappy Granny Squares

The current plan is to keep them small, three rounds each, then connect them using continuous join-as-you-go.  I think I'll probably try to calculate and buy enough yarn to use the same color to join the whole blanket-- probably a light/medium gray-- but there's also the option of joining them into four-patch or nine-patch blocks with a variety of colors for joining.  Either way would work.  The benefit of the latter method is that I could work from stash only.

Scrappy Granny Squares

For the time being, I'm just enjoying making my little three-round granny squares!

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And before I close this long blog post, here's a sneak peek at the machine piecing I was working on a week or so ago.  It will eventually be a curtain for the window in the kitchen door.  Just don't look too closely or you'll see all the imperfections.  (My sewing skills could use more practice!)

Piecing in Progress



Friday, December 23, 2016

Small Crochet Projects

One of our family Christmas gatherings was scheduled for last weekend, and I ended up wanting a couple of little "extras" to go in with a gift.  (Doesn't that always seem to happen?!)

First, here's my purple Dumpling Kitty:

"Dumpling Kitty"

Pattern:  "Dumpling Kitty", by Sarah Sloyer
(free pattern, available on Ravelry)

"Dumpling Kitty"

I always struggle with the embroidered faces... I do think those orange button eyes were a good choice, though!  I could only find two of them, so it worked out perfectly.

"Dumpling Kitty"

This pattern is not difficult, but small stuffed toys almost always have some fiddly bits, and this one's no different.  The color changes for the stripes on the back were a nice touch-- and the pattern explains how to change colors, so don't worry if you've never done it before.

"Dumpling Kitty"

And then there's this green cloche-style cap:

"Olivia's Butterfly"

Pattern:  "Olivia's Butterfly", by Valerie Whitten
(free pattern, available on Ravelry)

This pattern had been in my queue for a long time.  I like its 1920's vibe!

You could easily whip up several of these cute, simple hats in no time, if you needed quick, matching gifts for a few people.

The only tricky part is figuring out how big to make it...  Read through some project notes to see how others have changed the pattern to yield larger hats.  (I myself made a couple of small changes to the pattern, which you can see in the link above the photo.  The hat turned out about right-- though maybe it could've been a little bit larger.  I always have trouble looking at a hat and telling if it's the right size...)

I definitely recommend working this pattern in a continuous round (spiral), if possible.  If you're familiar with crocheting in a spiral (the way you crochet most amigurumi, for instance), this should be a simple change, and of course that eliminates the visible "seam" that you can sometimes end up with when joining with a slip stitch and chaining up every round.

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Though I took some time away from the sampler afghan, I have started joining the blocks.  I'm nearly on the last long seam, but I'm still not certain what the border will be...  There are several edgings bookmarked, though, so it's just a matter of making a decision!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Last Two Sampler Blocks!

I've woven in the ends on my last two spring-themed sampler afghan blocks!  Just have to find the perfect arrangement ;o) and the perfect join ;o) and then get them all attached!  Seriously though, I'm planning to not nit-pick this too much.  Though all the blocks have the same stitch-count, some are a bit bigger/smaller than the average, but I'm hopeful that it'll even out when they're joined.

Here are the two final blocks...

"Spiro Star of Spring":

"Spiro Star" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Spiro Star", by Helen Shrimpton
(free pattern, available on Ravelry)

"Spiro Star" Afghan Block

Some of the project notes I read suggested that it was best to use the photo tutorial version of the pattern (avoiding errors), which I did through the twelfth round.  At that point, I followed a fellow Raveller's rewrite, which is meant to reduce rippling (see my project notes on Ravelry for the person's Ravelry handle).  Following this method, I think it turned out pretty well.  It seems to lie flat, at least.

To get my target size and stitch-count, I converted the last two rounds to single crochet.

I'm not sure how I feel about my color placement.  Maybe there's too much of a concentration of green in the center... It should be okay when mixed in with the other blocks, though, and the design itself is very pretty.  It is reminiscent of one of those "Spirograph" doodles.

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"Spring is Rebirth":

"Rebirth" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Rebirth", by Magdalene Lee
(free pattern, available on Ravelry)

"Rebirth" Afghan Block

This is one that is actually on the official CAL list.  (Appropriate to finish with it, perhaps.)

I had such trouble getting started on this one!  It's not that the pattern is particularly difficult (well, if you don't mind puff stitches, at least).  I think I was just distracted.  In any case, I had to restart three times.  The third time was indeed the charm, but by then I was so sick of making puff stitches that I swapped the second round of them out for popcorn stitches.  (That's the round of pale green in the photos above.)

I think it looks fine with popcorn stitches instead of puffs-- just a little different; still nice-- but it did necessitate changing the next round slightly.  I also made a few other minor alterations.  (Details in my project notes on Ravelry.)

This is an interesting block with tons of texture and room for color-play.  The double zig-zag is very eye-catching!

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Here's the stack of afghan blocks...  All twenty-four of 'em.  Anyone want to volunteer to join them for me?  ;o)

Stack of Afghan Blocks

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I may have mentioned that I was planning to sew some quilt-style, pieced curtains for my kitchen windows.  I finally chose my prints and started, over the weekend.

The pattern I've decided on is made up of half-square triangles (HSTs), and because I'll need a lot of them, I decided to try making them 8-at-a-time.  (You might remember that I've made a quilt top-- yet to be made into a quilt sandwich-- that was constructed entirely of HSTs.  That time, I made them "only" 2-at-a-time.  I guess it's good to try new methods-- especially when you're still a beginner and there's so much that's new to you!)

I'm still on the "trimming down to size" step:

Pieced Curtains in the Making...

Once these units are finished, I don't think it should take too long to make, but it is getting close to Christmas, so it'll probably take longer than it otherwise would.  I'm just looking forward to pressing them open and starting to arrange them!  :o)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Two Down, Two to Go!

There are two more blocks (for the spring-themed sampler) finished and photographed!

- - -

"Firenze in Spring":

"Firenze" Afghan Block

Pattern: "Firenze", by Julie Yeager
(paid pattern, available on Ravelry)

"Firenze" Afghan Block

This block is easy to crochet, with great graphic appeal.  It's another that can look very different depending on color choice and placement.

I changed the last round to sc to match the size of the blocks I've already made for the sampler, but otherwise, I think I stuck to the pattern.

My block is skewing/twisting a bit, but I think it'll straighten out once it's joined to the other blocks-- certainly well enough to suit me.

- - -

"Emmalynn in Spring":

"Emmalynn" Afghan Block

Pattern: "Emmalynn", by Carolyn Christmas
(free pattern, available on Ravelry)

"Emmalynn" Afghan Block

This is a pretty, floral pattern with an interesting construction.  Each corner (pale blue and lavender, in my version) is joined and worked separately; this leaves more ends to weave, the results are very nice.

I "doubled" Rnd 2 by working it twice in two different colors, in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps. It worked out ok, but it would’ve been easier to just "dc 2" in each stitch of Rnd 1, if I’d thought of doing that before cutting the yarn…

I changed up the last two rounds slightly. Instead of two rounds of dc, the first is hdc and the second is htr in back bump only.

I went back and added some single crochet "surface crochet" to the edge of the last "petal round"-- an effort to add some textural oompf.

- - -

The next block is actually already "off the hook" (ha ha), but the ends are still waving free and loose, so no photos of that yet.  I've selected the pattern for the final block, so it should only be a matter of days before the blocks are ready for joining.  (I hope!)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Two More Blocks

I've finished two more blocks for the spring-themed sampler afghan.  That brings the total of finished blocks to twenty, which was my goal-- but now that I've laid them all out together, I've decided to make four more, for a 4 x 6 layout instead of the 4 x 5 I was originally planning.  So I need to make four more blocks, on the double!

I've started the first of the Final Four, and I've also begun considering the joining and border. Since each block has its own border, I'll probably use a simple slip-stitch join.  As for the whole-blanket border, I've marked several possible options in Edie Eckman's Around the Corner Crochet Borders.  (These are affiliate links, by the way, as are the clickable book-cover photos.)

Side-ramble:  I love that book, by the way, and highly recommend it to anyone who crochets many afghans-- and you can use the patterns for edging any project, of course, not just blankets.

While looking up that link, I just saw that Edie Eckman has another book of edgings coming out early in 2017-- Every Which Way Crochet Borders.  (It's already available for pre-order, and there's a nice, juicy preview of the book on Amazon.)  There are some real lookers on the cover, and it's spiral-bound, which is great for books of crochet or knitting patterns.  Spiral-bound books stay open on their own much better than most other bindings, which is very helpful when you're using both hands for crocheting. ;o)

- - - - - - -

Time for photos of the latest afghan blocks!

The Excellent Beauty of Spring:

"Excellence in Beauty" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Beauty in Excellence", by Margaret MacInnis
(available to purchase on Ravelry)

"Excellence in Beauty" Afghan Block

This one was a bit trickier than I'd expected.  Maybe it was just me, but I had trouble understanding exactly how to make the "X stitch"-- where/how to place the stitches.  I think it worked out ok, though, and I do like the scallops and the trellis effect of the interconnecting X stitches.

I changed things up a few times-- mainly by crocheting in the "back bump" (as opposed to the back loop) for a couple of rounds.


Fantastic Spring:

"Fantastic" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Fantastic!", by Julie Yeager
(pattern available for purchase on Ravelry, or free on the designer's blog)

"Fantastic" Afghan Block

This pattern reminds me of something I've crocheted before... Maybe these dish scrubbers?  Anyway, the central motif is a fairly straight-forward "fan and fpdc" starburst.  Quite pretty, with lots of room for variation, depending on which colors you choose and where/how you use them.  I decided to change colors just about every round.  More ends to weave, but it's worth some extra effort to get the look you want.

And here's a peek at the latest block, which is still a work in progress:

"FIrenze" Afghan Block (WIP)

It's nearly ready for the "Canada Geese" border, so it's not too soon to pick out the next pattern!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Two More Sampler Squares (and Crumb Blocks)

I have two more sampler afghan blocks to share today!

Maude in Spring:

"Maude" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Maude", by Polly Plum
(paid pattern, available on Ravelry)

This felt like a fairly complicated pattern, in places, but as usual with Polly Plum patterns, the instructions are extremely detailed, which helps.  The "woven corners" (Rnd 8) are particularly tricky, but it's possible to leave them un-woven, if you prefer.

I changed things slightly to get my block to the right size to match my other sampler blocks.  (Details on my project page, linked above the last photo.)

Tons of scope for playing with colors here.

"Maude" Afghan Block

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Springtime Victor:

"Victor" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Victor", by Polly Plum
(free pattern, available here on the designer's website, everytrickonthehook.com)

This is a pretty block-- and it's free!  When it was first released, it was only a 9-inch block, but the designer has since added a free 3-inch border, which was a happy surprise.  (I was expecting to have to improvise to get the block up to size.)  This border may not be quite so eye-catching as some of the borders featured in Polly Plum's "Lovestruck Collection" (which includes a few of the patterns I've already crocheted for this afghan), but I think it's interesting-- simple, but attractive, with quite a bit of textural appeal.

I used one round of dc instead of the last two rounds of the built-in border (to get the block to the correct/matching size).

This pattern can look very different depending on color placement.  I think my colors, this time, ended up looking a little busy and ineffective, but I wanted to squeeze in as many of the sampler colors as possible... And it will be fine, mixed in with all the other blocks.  It's not bad, just not the best it could've been-- but they can't all be my favorite, I guess.

"Victor" Afghan Block

I only need two more blocks to reach twenty!  I'm crocheting "Beauty in Excellence" next.

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I've been procrastinating starting my next sewing project, so in the meantime, I'm just playing around with crumb blocks.  I think I mentioned before that I decided to increase the size of the crumb blocks, so I'm joining up the smaller ones and adding to them to bring them up to size.

I still don't have a very wide variety of small scraps, so the crumb blocks are a little more homogeneous and boring than I would like.  I probably won't make too many more until there are some new additions to the scrap box.

Crumb Blocks

Crumb Blocks


(Some of these fabrics look very wrinkled.  I did press them...)

Crumb Blocks

My next sewing project is partially sketched out.  The next step is to narrow down the fabric options to those I'll actually use, and then I can get started cutting fabric and making more half-square triangles!

Monday, November 7, 2016

My First Real Quilt!

I've completed my first "real" quilt!
(Though I like them, "rag quilts" aren't the same, in my opinion, as a REAL quilt.  I've made a few rag quilts, but this is the first blanket I've sewn with a pieced top, a backing, batting, quilting, and binding.)

I don't want to admit how long it took me, from start to finish-- so I won't!  Mom put together the kit for this string quilt years ago, as a birthday present.  It sat for a while until I decided I was brave enough to start working on it.  It's been a big learning experience, and as I approached each new step (joining blocks into strips, joining strips, making the "quilt sandwich", pin basting, machine quilting, binding), it went into time-out until I could muster up the courage for whatever came next.

No wonder it's taken so long!

But now that I have this little quilt under my belt, I feel much more confident and excited about turning my other quilt top into a finished quilt-- and (of course) working on piecing the next quilt top!  (Building the quilt top is definitely the most fun part of the process for me.  I enjoyed seeing the blanket come to completion, but the piecing was much more fun than the basting and quilting.)

Here are a few lessons, off the top of my head, that I'll take away from this experience:

--Polyester batting doesn't shrink with washing-- or at least doesn't shrink as much as cotton or cotton-blend batting can.  (Cotton shrinks the most, apparently.)  Batting shrinkage is what gives some quilts much of their "crinkled" look (though the quilting itself does some of it).  I like the crinkled look, so I'll be interested to try something different, another time. (This quilt's batting is 100% polyester, because I already had it, and it was the right size.)

--While assembling the quilt sandwich, it was easier to work on the vinyl floor than on wall-to-wall carpet.   For one thing, the pins caught the carpet a few times.  For another, on the vinyl, I could more easily (and securely) tape down the backing.  (Always tape down the backing.)

--If at all possible, make a tiny "quilt sandwich" of extra materials, to test the settings for stitch length, etc.

--Don't forget to increase the stitch length setting on the sewing machine when quilting.  I increased from 2.5 to 3.5, this time, and I wish I had increased it even further, or at least tested it at a higher setting.

--Machine quilting tires out my shoulders!  Take it slow and easy, and don't expect to do it all in one session-- maybe not even all in one day, depending on the size of the blanket.

--It is very easy for the quilt to get hung up-- to weigh down-- to pull against the machine when quilting on a small, domestic sewing machine.  You might not notice right away, except that the stitches start getting too small/short.  Stop and adjust even more frequently than you think you need to, until you get into The Zone. ;o)

--When machine quilting, it is best to start in the middle and work your way out (first one side, then the other).  This time, I tried to cheat a bit by starting in the middle, then going out in larger increments (stitching in the ditch down each column), and finally going back to fill in the blocks with lines of quilting.  No, that was not a good idea.  (The quilt started puckering in a very unpleasant way.)  I ended up wasting lots of time-- picking out a few lines of quilting, repinning that section (as well as I could), and sewing it again.  Next time, I'll know better!

--I still need to work on my binding skills.  I have a tendency to pull the binding too far when I'm preparing to attach it to the back, which left the binding a little on the short side on the quilt front, this time.  It's okay, but I'd like a more even look, next time.  Maybe it would be a good idea to start with a 2.5" strip of fabric next time, instead of the even 2" I used for this quilt.  At least I could pin a scrap of fabric in place to get a feel for how it will look, before I decide one way or the other.

I'm sure there were more lessons, but that'll do. ;o)


Now for some photos!

Here it is after pin-basting.  I used a broken nut pick (the kind that comes with a nut cracker) as a makeshift "Kwik Klip" tool.  It worked pretty well, but I might try to cover part of it with polymer clay before basting my next quilt.  A small crochet hook might also work well, though I'd want to use one I didn't particularly care about, because using it this way might scratch and mar the finish, making it less useful for crocheting.  (Or you could just buy the real thing.  They're less than $10, so not a huge investment, but hey, that's money that could go toward fabric, batting, or some other, more exciting tool/notion!)

String Quilt WIP

For future reference, the batting is Poly-Fil Traditional Batting, 100% polyester-- only the cheapest best for my first real quilt. ;o)  Hey, it's non-allergenic and made in the USA!  But seriously, it worked just fine, and based on the few reviews I've read, it sounds like it should hold up pretty well.  I'm satisfied, so far.

Here it is all ready to quilt!

String Quilt WIP

So then I quilted it (straight lines on the sewing machine), trimmed the excess batting and backing, and made and applied the binding (from the same fabric as the backing).

Because I wasn't sure how much it might "change" (crinkle, shrink, bleed) after washing and drying, I decided to take some "before" photos.  I ended up with quite a few of them...

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

Here it is with one corner flipped back to show the backing, which is a polka-dotted sheet passed along to me from Mom. :o)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

After its trip through the washer and dryer, it was ready for another quick photo shoot.  (I really need to find a better way to photograph blankets-- both quilts and afghans...  I'm taking the lazy way out, lately; they could look so much better!)

As you can see, it didn't change a whole lot after washing/drying, but maybe there is a slight increase in "crinkliness"...  Quilting it more densely would also have made a difference, wouldn't it?  But of course, the more it crinkles/shrinks, the smaller the quilt becomes. (g)  I guess you need to take all that into consideration, if you're particular about the finished size...

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

So there it is, my first REAL quilt!  I know it's not perfect, but I'm happy with it, and I'm looking forward to snuggling under it when the weather turns cooler.

Now that I know I can make something resembling a quilt, I'm excited to try it again!