Thursday, September 29, 2011

Finished: Girl's Best Cardigan

Monday night my husband was away again (just a one-night trip this time), so I told myself firmly that I was going to finish my daughter's sweater (pattern: Girl's Best Cardigan; yarn & sticks info in my Rav entry). I can get so distracted sometimes! But I only had about half a sleeve to go, and finish it I did. Tuesday my daughter and I went looking for small buttons. She very much wanted to buy them herself, with her own dollars, which she keeps in a wallet that looks like mine, in a pink zippered bag that also matches mine, in a backpack, because everyone else in the family carries a backpack. So she sat in the store cart, handed the cashier the buttons, took her pink bag out of her backpack and her wallet out of her pink bag, I helped her count out the dollars (it was a whole bag of buttons, because we do like playing with buttons), and she bought her buttons for her sweater.

I blocked out the lace and the top and bottom edges, and last night I sewed on the buttons. This morning my daughter woke up and said, Did you sew the buttons on my sweater? Oh yay! Can I try it on?

Wouldn't it be great if I could get both of those side by side? But I'm having enough problems as it is with Blogger's new interface. Anyway, she's obviously well versed in modeling the new clothes, isn't she? I really love the length of this sweater. It's easier to see while she's walking, but it goes past the hips and flares out nicely--it's a pretty cute sweater. The buttons are tiny enough to be fiddly, both in sewing on and in fastening, at least for my fingers, which off and on can struggle with tiny fiddly things. Be forewarned if you knit this, the loops on the picot cast-off form the "buttonholes." Make sure you cast-off loosely (you know, like you're always supposed to do anyway).

So, yay! I finished something. And this upcoming weekend looks to be the only one for a few weeks that might have a spot of time long enough to sew. Me and the fabric, we're excited.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bits and Pieces

I wish I had something finished to share, but progress is sooo slow. My daughter and I had gotten into a pretty good rhythm in the spring, which allowed me to occasionally squeeze some of my own projects into the day. Then her brothers were home all summer, and we all did lots of cool things together, and when we weren't, she still had them to play with her, and now... now, my day has no cracks into which to squeeze anything. We might eventually get back to a rhythm that allows me to do some things alongside her, rather than right with her. Probably right before school gets out in the spring...

Meanwhile, though, I have nothing much to share. The Girl's Best Cardigan only needs the second sleeve and some itty bitty buttons. It took nearly an hour and a half to cast off the entire edging with the picot cast off! This is what I work on in the evenings, although one evening I took a break and did this.

This is a pinecone from the Split Stitch pattern, and it means I've begun working on some Christmas presents. This is on linen, and I plan to make little sachets with some pine needles added inside. I'll add a ribbon for hanging, too.

All week I've wanted to get to the fabric sitting on my ironing board. Finally, finally, I managed to cut it, and this, sadly, feels like a Great Achievement.

We have toddler pants (the flower print), jammie pants for my 7yo (the red; see below because it's so cute), and material for the girl's caterpillar/butterfly pillowcase. Now I just need to sew, which is easier said than done. My 7yo says the noise keeps him up, and I can't get to it during a weekday at the moment, and our weekends have been crazy lately. Maybe next weekend? Anyway, this is the fabric I'm using to make new jammie pants for my sensitive-to-sewing-machine-noise 7yo:

How cute is that?!?! Robots. On sale at Fabricworm. It just screams 7yo Boy to me. (To him, too; he approved it before I ordered it. I believe in having the kids pick out their own yarn/fabric/whatever, since it helps guarantee happy recipients.)

In other news, it was my birthday this past week. I requested, and received, a tiara, a proper metal and crystal one, not plastic. My daughter is modeling it here (hair wet from a bath), because if I modeled it, you'd get a close-up view of all my grey hair.

I wore it to parent-teacher conferences, which were on my birthday. Then I wore it the next day, too, because it's sparkly and pretty. I think I'll wear it a lot. I would have worn it to the zoo on Friday but it was drizzling a little and I didn't want my tiara to get wet.

And finally, Pam, a fellow knitter in London, did the most lovely thing this week. A couple of weeks ago she emailed to say she was planning a trip to Normandy. She remembered I'd written (on my old blog) about visiting my great-uncle's grave in the American Cemetery there and wondered if I could send his name and where his grave was located, and if they visited, she'd bring flowers. She did indeed visit. I woke up to an email this morning with pictures of his grave with the flowers she'd brought. It made me tear up. Her post about her visit is here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Progress: Girl's Best Cardigan

Last week was one of those weeks that would have been a bit challenging even if my husband hadn't been traveling. Nothing major happened, just a series of kid-related Stuff that underscored how important it is to be able to bounce these things around with the other parent. My husband was at one of the conferences that is flat-out the entire time, so I spoke to him around 8 am my time (he was two hours behind) and then that was it--he often didn't even get to check and reply to any emails until late at night. Somewhere in the middle there I started up with symptoms of a gluten reaction, although I can't figure out where or how I poisoned myself, and I know now that that was affecting my emotional equilibrium as well. (Me talking to myself: "Why do I feel so shaky, parent-wise? I'm usually not this shaky. Why am I having trouble breathing?")

This is all to say that not coincidentally, when I sit down to work on my daughter's cardigan this evening, happily watching a football game to which I have no emotional attachment, I'll be ready to begin the picot cast-off.

It looks sort of like a drawn-up mess right now, doesn't it? The edging is knit in an interesting way--this is all one long piece of yarn (especially since the Bendigo balls are so darn huge). You start with a provisional cast-on, and when you finish the body, you just start picking up stitches right up the opening, knit across the provisional cast-on at the neck, pick up stitches down the other side of the opening, and knit back across the bottom. Then you do the edging in one continuous piece.

It's clever, and it minimizes ends to work in (although I think I'm going to need to start the other ginormous ball of yarn during the picot cast-off), but I'm reserving final judgment until I'm done. Sometimes, when I pick up stitches for the edge of a cardigan, I do a row or two and realize I'm not quite happy with it, so I undo it and start again. I can't tell if I'm happy with this or not, since it looks like a drawstring pouch at the moment, and if I have to undo the bazillion stitches that go around this thing, I'm going to be mighty cranky.

At any rate, given my limited knitting time, I think working my way down the body in a week isn't too bad. (The sleeves will fly; stockinette in the round always does.) This is the absolute only project I have going at the moment, although I have fabric spread out on my craft table in a hopeful manner, waiting for a weekend day when we are not flat-out with kid/house/errand/yard stuff. The fabric is hopeful, but sort of in a wistful way...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nothing To Do For It But Knit

It's been a bumpy transition week, and my husband will be away this upcoming week, so I don't anticipate next week going any smoother for any of us. When I feel all agitated and I don't know what to do, the best choice is simply to knit something.

This is my progress so far on Girl's Best Cardigan, found via Bells, who recently posted about the one she knit for her niece. I showed my daughter this pattern and Olearia, by the same designer, and she heartily approved the Girl's Best. When I saw it calls for DK weight, I dug up the Bendigo Luxury 8 ply I have in brick, and my daughter approved that, too.

Interesting story about this yarn--it came to me April before last thanks to my husband, who had a work conference in Melbourne (I know) and Bells, who lives in Canberra. I ordered several Bendigo yarns and had them shipped to Bells, who, with her brother-in-law's help, forwarded them to my husband's hotel room, and then he ferried them home, thus saving the international shipping. I'd chosen the Brick Luxury with Little Liza Jane in mind, but when my daughter showed very little interest in another jumper-type dress I'd knit her, I decided not to make it. (She prefers skirts, so I've sewn her three of those so far instead.)

So it seems just right that this very Australian yarn, acquired with the help of an Australian blogging friend, is being knit up into a sweater found through that same friend, designed by yet another Australian. I'm working down the body now, back and forth with just the lace panel and some increases every bit, not too straining for a busy mind stuck in a turbulent mode. Because really, sometimes, there's just nothing else to do for it but knit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Embroidery Fail: Materials Mis-Match

Learning a new craft (anything, really) always seems to involve that bumpy bit where you're figuring things out as you go, yes? Especially if you're self-taught, and especially if you decide to venture out into Doing Your Own Thing. Back in the beginning of my knitting days, I decided to knit a simple blanket for first child (he was my only child at the time). The pattern called for cotton yarn, but I couldn't find the yarn listed, so I found a mercerized cotton in a color I liked. Now, the blanket is still in use, still on his bed, and it served its time as a cape and all manner of make-believe props, but mercerized cotton (not that I knew this at the time) is, well, kind of heavy and droopy for a blanket. When I had my next child, I knit him the same blanket out of Mission Falls 1824 cotton, which is fluffy, soft, and light. Totally different cotton. These are the things you learn as you go, unless you plan to be a slave to always using the yarn specified in the pattern, of course!

And then there's sewing. I still find the array of fabrics daunting, the different types of 100% cotton a bit overwhelming (quilting cotton? lawn? voile? different weights, different feels, so hard to figure out, especially when there's no place to touch them all in person). Oh, and colors and patterns--truly, the minute you take matters into your own hands, you're increasing your potential for mistakes, but it's the best way to learn, isn't it?

Which leads me to my latest miss. Remember the sea star from the last post, and how I was a bit wary of that dish towel fabric? The napkins are a bit heavier, so I switched to that for my next pattern, a hermit crab. (You may recognize this guy; he evolved from the sketch at the end of this post.)

Well. When I bought these I was mainly looking for a light solid color and a decent weight. I should have looked more closely at the weave, for starters. Also, because it's a little bumpy (see the horizontal lines? bumpy), I had trouble using my usual transfer method of tracing right onto the fabric. I wasn't getting a clean line at all. I have a couple alternatives on order (Sulky transfer pen and some wash-away stabilizer), but of course I'm impatient--hello, those haven't even shipped yet, and they're coming from the other side of the country!--so I used what I had, which is the tear-away stabilizer I used when I stitched the last, different hermit crab.

What a disaster with this napkin. Tearing away stabilizer from a loosely woven fabric is all sorts of bad news. I soaked it in the sink for a bit, and that helped get a couple more pieces out, but then I just gave up. Luckily, something small like this doesn't take long to stitch, so if you're going to learn a lesson, it's not a bad way to learn; very little time was lost here. And now I know the pattern looks really cute stitched up, so that's something. And we go through cloth napkins pretty quickly, especially since I also put them in the boys' lunchboxes (seconddayofschoolandIhateeverythingaboutit) so the rest of the napkins will get used, even if they're not embroidered. Oh, and they're really soft, unlike the blue one with the other hermit crab, which is so old and has been washed thousands of times but is still kind of stiff-feeling and not too absorbent, which makes me think...

...that napkins for embroidering and napkins for actually using maybe aren't the same thing at all?

(If you have any suggestions for the best sort of fabric for stitching that is also soft and absorbent for napkins, please let me know!)

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Finished: August Stitch-a-Long (& a bonus sea star)

I finished this in August, placed it in the hoop, and took a photo for posting to the Flickr group as we watched Irene's progress towards us; I wanted a photo up just in case we lost power! But now I've framed it properly, so here it is again--not photographed on the wall, as I'd hoped, but outside on the deck, where the light was much better.

If you click on that, it should get a little bigger. This was so much fun to stitch, and I have no doubt that these vibrant colors will brighten my wall and my day in the dead of winter.

Also recently finished, another tide pool creature, this time on one of the "flour sack" dishtowels I bought for this reason. I'm not sure how these are going to hold up--it's a really, really loose weave, which you can see in the photo.

He's cute, though, isn't he? I used outline stitch (or maybe stem stitch; I can never keep those two straight) for the outline, seed stitch in both yellow and orange for the inside, backstitch for the contour lines, and a French knot for the madreporite. I think if I ever get around to offering this whole set as a pattern (I'd have to stitch them all first, and get a nice clean copy in PDF format) I'll have to include information about each animal. They're just such cool creatures.

It's not as "clean" as I'd like--the loose weave! It didn't help matters--but I still like it. I haven't decided if I'll continue with my original plan to stitch four animals along the bottom of this dishtowel, or if I'll switch to the napkins, which are a little sturdier, and just do one per napkin.

Happy Labor Day weekend, to those in the US. Enjoy the unofficial last (*sniff!*) weekend of summer!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Craft-less Post: "Our" Barrier Beach

I set myself a fairly narrow focus when it comes to this blog, but sometimes I can't resist sharing something non-crafty. I've mentioned here before how much I love living so close to the coast and how much I enjoy all the coastal animals my children and I are lucky enough to interact with in their natural environment. This summer, we've been visiting a barrier beach in our town. Barrier beaches protect what's behind them, in this case, the largest salt pond in the state. I've found this very good explanation of barrier beach/island ecology online (that's a PDF link) in a teacher's guide produced by The Wetlands Institute in New Jersey. Because they're focusing on New Jersey, they talk mainly about barrier islands versus beaches, but much of the information applies. Beaches are meant to shift and move over time; sand isn't static. Pages 11-12 of the PDF explain how the natural effects of wind and waves are only a "problem" when humans try to impose their will on the sea.

All this to say, the kids and I were very interested to see how Tropical Storm Irene may have changed "our" beach. This isn't usually a crowded beach and seems to be more popular with out-of-state visitors than Rhode Islanders. The parking lot is very small, so you have to get there early, and there are no "amenities." Since we bring our own food, don't mind compostable toilets with no running water, and don't need a shower because we live so close, this is all fine with us. We think a salt pond full of critters is a fine amenity anyway. So the beach isn't very built up, but the parking lot is between the dunes and the pond, and a road runs along the dunes, with houses on the opposite side (part of the way). In the other direction, a beach road open to permitted vehicles runs the length of the beach, behind the dunes, to the permanent breachway. In other words, enough is going on that the barrier beach and pond are no longer left to do what they want on their own.

When we arrived, a backhoe was scooping up the sand that had washed into the parking lot and depositing it back onto the beach. During the storm, the waves had crested the dunes and water had flowed into the lot. (The big concern on the coast here during Irene was the storm surge coupled with an astronomical high tide caused by a new moon.) The beach itself was scoured. Instead of a covering of soft sand, the hard-packed, moister sand was revealed, full of iron. We've been bringing magnets to the beach all summer, and at this beach, the sand had scant iron (except on the pond side), but now we could see the darker patches everywhere. The topography of the beach was different, too. There was a sort of sand bar, which the waves sometimes washed over, and in front of that, between the sand bar and the dry sand, were pools of water.

When I took this picture, I was standing where the waves were hitting the sand. In front of me is the sandbar, then a pool of water, in which my two younger kids are playing. (At high tide, some of these pools got as deep as my daughter's chest in spots.) Behind them, you can see the dry sand and the backhoe. Behind the backhoe, you walk down the back of the dunes on a path to the parking lot.

This is the same view, with a wave gently flowing over the sandbar.

As high tide approached, currents developed along the edge of the dry sand, like a visible rip current. A channel flowed right to left (in the photo), and another one down the beach flowed left to right. Where they met, they flowed back into the ocean with a very strong current, so strong that I wouldn't let go of my daughter's hands or let my sons wade out too far. It wasn't deep, just fast. The lifeguard told me it probably could bring the boys out up to their necks.

Over time, the waves will change the sand again, and it will level out. But it was really, really fun yesterday. That big pile of sand was a blast, too. Once the backhoe was done, the kids climbed it and jumped, climbed and jumped.

The beach was also different in that it was full of rocks and shells. Except for our very first visit in the early summer, we haven't found much to collect here. Usually the sand is clean. We find things in the salt pond, but not on the beach. Irene changed that, depositing all manner of rocks, shells, and animals onto the beach (including thousands of comb jellies). After my younger son found a moon snail shell--not something I've ever found on our south shore beaches--I began paying even more attention, and I found a really large one myself, buried in the sand at the bottom of one of the pools. We later discovered the shell was housing a dead hermit crab.

Well. We like the shell, but we can't keep it with a decomposing hermit crab in there. They don't just fall out though, so my husband collected an assortment of small pliers, I found one that would fit, and I gently pulled it out. I can tell you that hermit crabs are far more attractive with their borrowed shell (and also, alive), but of course I'm going to show you, too, because aren't you at least a little curious about what they look like in there?

That large thing at the back that looks like a tail is, I think, what keeps it clamped in its borrowed snail shell--it began to uncurl after I pulled it out, which was kind of freaky. This is the larger species of hermit crab found around here, not the tiny ones we find in tide pools. It lives in deeper water, and I assume it was brought in by the enormous waves, poor guy. I can't imagine that was a fun ride.

The PDF I linked to above has a section on how storms affect barrier beaches and how it will roll over on itself as the sand is moved behind the dunes (like it was in this storm), but obviously that's not going to be allowed to happen at this beach. Still, it was an incredible experiential demonstration on the effects of wind and water on a beach, all the better because my kids "know" this beach. And I hope you feel like you know it a little now, too.

(School now starts the day after Labor Day, which is how it should have been all along.)