Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year in Review

It's that time of the year for reflection on the past year and looking forward to the next. I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, but I think planning for the next year's crafting is its own thing. But before I get to that, I want to look at the crafty highlights of the previous year.

2013 was another year of knitting Ysolda patterns. I have a few favorites from the year, including my Veyla replacements and a Gretel for me, but the one that takes the takes the cake is my handspun Strokkur sweater. It's definitely the best thing I knit in 2013.

I also did a little sewing in 2013. While my second Peony dress was a great project, my favorite sewing project of the year was definitely my dirndl. I have already worn it twice this year and I'm sure that living in Milwaukee will offer many more opportunities for wearing this outfit.

In terms of other crafty projects, the best of 2013 was definitely the rosary husband and I created for my goddaughter. Not only was it a great team project, but it turned out beautifully.

I hope that 2014 yields results that are just as wonderful. I'm already planning to knit a few projects--a Stripe Study Shawl and Ysolda's Mystery Knitalong (!)--and hope to do a little sewing as well. More importantly, I would like to finally finish one of the two big WIPs I have laying around, either my Telemark Ski Sweater or my PhD quilt. The hope is to be able to "sleep on zero" (have no WIPs) at some point this year, but we'll see what the year brings. I hope it's a great one!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Star Bunting

I love having random bursts of crochet inspiration. I never know when this inspiration is going to strike, but it's always fun to take a break from my knitting needles and pick up a hook. My most recent crochet inspiration came when I ran across this adorable "twinkler star" pattern on Pinterest and immediately wanted to make some stars.

First of all, I must say that I love this little pattern. The stars are simple to make, quick to finish, and by my second star, I had the pattern memorized. About the same time I memorized the pattern, I realized that the stars would make an adorable bunting strung along a crochet chain. So that's what I did and hung the results in my previously plain cubicle where it makes me happy while I work.

I should add that I blocked each star to give it nice points, but the stars are also pretty cute in their chubby unblocked version. There may be more crocheting in my future because the blog that published the pattern, Cherry Heart, has me ogling over all types of crochet and wee buntings. I definitely want to crochet All The Things right now.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

OWL Mittens

I love finishing handknits right in time for a cold snap. This winter's just-in-time knits are my OWL mittens, which I started at the end of August. The project was slow going because the pattern was so detailed but things did speed up a bit once I learned an easier way to manage long color repeats in fair isle.

So now I have some decidedly nerdy mittens. At least the low color contrast means that they don't scream their nerdiness for everyone to see. It makes me quite happy to know that I'm wearing Harry Potter mittens that others won't recognize.

For all that I like these mittens, it's sometimes hard to see the words clearly on the palms if the light isn't right. Part of me likes this subtlety but another part of me is annoyed that I did all of that work and the pattern isn't coming through clearly. If I had to do it all over again, I would up the contrast a bit to make the words sharper. At least the back of the hands look great in all lighting.

All in all, this was a fun project and I'm looking forward to seeing how these mittens wear now that it's cold.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Scaling Back

It's been a little quiet on the blog lately and I'm sad to say that it's likely to be that way for the next year or so. I have some big projects on the docket and I don't expect to have a lot of time for knitting, let alone blogging, in the near future. For all I'm going to miss being here, I know it's best for me to not try to keep up with this blog right now.

The good news is that I'm not going on a complete blog hiatus. I plan to drop by every so often to share what's on the needles. So thanks for understanding and I look forward to popping back in here in the near future and sharing my yarns with you.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Dress Upgrades

I have a bit of a dress obsession. I wear them regularly and they are one of my favorite things to sew. But for all I've filled my closet with dresses, I've come to realize that my favorite dresses have 2 features: pockets and bra keeps.

Variety of bra keeps in my off-the-rack dresses

Dresses with pockets need no explanation for their awesomeness, but you may be asking 'what the heck are bra keeps'? Well, they are the little ribbon/snap combo that you sometimes find inside the bodice of a dress at the shoulder seam. Bra keeps make sure that your bra straps stay hidden beneath the dress, which is especially useful for sleeveless dresses and those with wide necklines.

Handsewn bra keep in my Colette Peony dress

You're more likely to find bra keeps on high-end dresses, though one of my Gap dresses has them and all of my dresses from my new favorite dress shop, eShakti, have them as well. Once I realized how useful bra keeps are, I decided that my handsewn dresses should have them too. They're particularly needed on my two Colette Peony dresses (one, two), where my straps are either visible or off my shoulders trying to work around the wide boatneck.

Bra keep making supplies

To add bra keeps to my Peony dress, I used the following materials:

  • 3/8-inch wide ribbon
  • Size 2/0 sew-on snaps
  • Needle and thread

I constructed the keeps as follows:

  • Cut two matching pieces of ribbon of 2 to 2.5 inch length.
  • Fold each end down 3/8 inch and sew into place.
  • Sewn one side of a snap onto one end of each ribbon.
  • Sew the snap-less end of the ribbon down on the inside of the dress near the shoulder.
  • Sew the other side of the snap onto the inside of the dress near the neckline, making sure the ribbon lays flat when the snaps connect.
  • To use the bra keep, lay bra strap over ribbon and snap the keep shut. Straps should stay within the keeps all day.

Open bra keep

Doing all of the sewing by hand, it took me between 1-2 hours to assemble and install the keeps in my dress. But it was definitely worth the time and effort because I no longer have to fight my bra straps while wearing this dress. So hurray for bringing more bra keeps into the world!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Friendlier Fair Isle

Every once and a while, I come across a new technique that revolutionizes my knitting process. For example, since I started using spit-splicing and Russian joins, I spend significantly less time weaving in ends. My latest discovery has revolutionized the way I knit fair isle.

I was made aware of this technique after complaining on Ravelry about how fiddly my O.W.L. mittens are; I'm constantly having to twist the two yarns during long single-color runs. Ravelry member aj12ski pointed me to this video which demonstrates 2 new fair isle 'stitches' (stitches 3 and 4 in the video) that interlock the yarn without the fiddly twisting. Since I started using these 2 stitches halfway through my first O.W.L. mitten, I've had a lot less frustration.

I have no idea if this technique has a name, but it's definitely my new favorite thing for fair isle knitting. It's going to make my second O.W.L. mitten (and all my future fair isle projects) go much more smoothly. So if you do any stranded colorwork, I definitely recommend you check out the link above.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Roll Out The Barrel

I am happy to report that the dirndl was finished in time to wear at Oktoberfest this weekend. I think the in-laws had a great time at the event and I know that I certainly did. Milwaukee must really be growing on me because I'm starting to believe that an event combining good food (two words: roast pig), good beer, good polka music, and good company is just about the best thing ever.

I got several compliments on the dirndl and was very proud to say that I made it myself. I only saw a few other dirndls and was surprised to see that they were outnumbered by lederhosen and lederhosen-like outfits. I'm trying not to succumb to lederhosen envy (is that even a thing?) but husband may just find himself in traditional German garb next Oktoberfest.

Geez, just typing that last sentence makes me want to Google 'lederhosen sewing pattern'. Must resist.

Let's not discuss how my paleness has saturated the camera. Again.

Having worn the dress out for a night, I must say that it is comfortable to wear for all that it is closely fitted. I only have two negative things to say about the outfit, neither of which really concerns the pattern, Folkwear 123. First, there are blouse size issues that I mentioned in my previous post. The second is that the center front boning (which is used to support the hook and eye closures in dress view B) sticks out. The boning was rolled up while stored and the curve does not want to come out. Any suggestions for getting plastic boning to lay flat other than sandwiching it between 2 dictionaries for a while?

Overall, I'm really pleased with the outfit. It's a little plain, but I think that some embroidery or edging on the bodice will liven things up. That's a project for next year. In the meantime, I hope to find many more opportunities to wear this dress!

(And here's the point where the hat-obsessed writer of this blog totally admits to acquiring a new hat at Oktoberfest. What can I say? It was inexpensive and went with German theme. The only problem is that I'm going to have to fight the husband for the hat as it looks just as good on him.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen some photos of my latest work in progress: a dirndl. I've actually been dreaming about making a dirndl since I went to Oktoberfest last fall. I told myself I would make one for this year's Oktoberfest, but I was still awfully surprised when September rolled around and I realized I needed to get at it if I wanted to make that deadline.

Thankfully, I already had the pattern on hand, Folkwear 123, so it was just a matter of buying fabric and actually making the dress. I got some lovely olive gabardine for the dress, white rayon challis for the blouse, and a beautiful purple faux-silk for the apron. It's been fun to branch out into new-to-me fabrics. Plus, I think the fabric choices will significantly improve the look of the final outfit.

I'm getting close to finishing the dirndl but already have some thoughts on this pattern:
  • The dirndl is very fitted in the bodice. I found matching the sizing measurements to my personal measurements to be sufficient to choose the right size to fit me; this makes me think that this pattern is written for little-to-no ease. This sizing estimate worked out so well that I was able to trace the pattern for one size in the bust and another in the waist to get the perfect fit.
  • The version I'm making (View B) uses single fold bias tape as a facing to finish the edges of the bodice. This may be new favorite finishing technique.
  • I made the blouse for a small/average bust I don't think it's sufficient for anything larger than an A-cup. If I make this pattern again, I will use the large bust blouse pattern.

I'm looking forward to wearing my new dirndl when we take the in-laws to Oktoberfest this weekend. It will be so nice to not have 'dirndl envy' this year, though I will probably still admire all of the dresses to get ideas on decorative finishings. I might add some embroidery to the dirndl in the future but for this year it's enough just to have a finished garment. I promise photos next week!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wisconsin Sheep & Wool

It's that time of the year again--time for another visit to the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool festival! I've been going to the festival on and off for a few years, most recently in 2011. It's always a great time, between the yarn shopping, looking at sheep, and watching sheepdog herding. If you have never seen a dog herding sheep, you are missing out on life (here, let me fix that for you).

Clockwise from front left: IsisonEarth, Erulin9, OneNeedleKnitting, MariaCrafts, HoneySpoon, StacyMarie, Jayannell, PorcupineSnuggles, bandbabe, xamonster

This year's festival was particularly notable for the large meet-up of Ravenclaws from the Harry Potter Knit/Crochet House Cup on Ravelry. In addition to seeing my former Madison knitting buddies, there were folks visiting from Illinois, Iowa, and many parts of Wisconsin. It's hard to explain to Muggles just how awesome these people are and how not creepy it is to get together with people I only know from the internet.

Shopping-wise, I exercised a lot of restraint this year and came home with only 2 skeins of yarn: MadTosh Merino Light in Calligraphy. It's probably not the thing to go to a local festival and buy yarn you can find anywhere, but this stuff is gorgeous. And I already have the pattern picked out for it: the Orchid Thief shawl (who wants to guess who that pattern is by?).

I will end my Sheep & Wool post in the customary way: with a photograph of a sheep. This lamb is only a day or two old may just be the cutest thing I have ever seen. Ever.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Owl Post

I’m a person with predictable tastes. If you know me, you know I love tea, Harry Potter, knitting Ysolda patterns, and wearing dresses. I try not to splurge on these things too much, but sometimes something comes along that I can’t resist. Like the new "Unofficial Harry Potter Knits" magazine from Interweave.

This magazine contains over 30 Harry-Potter inspired patterns, ranging from sweaters and shawls to socks and mitts. Some of the patterns are overtly Potter, like the O.W.L. mittens and modern house scarves, but most are just beautiful patterns inspired by the books. I especially enjoyed seeing knits from the books, like Hagrid's giant yellow sweater and S.P.E.W. caps, imagined in real life.

The patterns themselves are great but what really makes them stand out is the styling. The models representing Luna, Hagrid, etc. really look like the characters and the scenery is straight out of the books. Taken together, it really makes me wish I had gotten my Hogwarts letter. Alas, another year has gone by and the Hogwarts Express left without me.

I like a lot of patterns in this magazine, but I absolutely adore the O.W.L. mittens and knew at first glance that I had to knit them. They have little owls on the back of the hand but what absolutely gets me are the spells written on the palms. I'm making my pair in two close shades of gray (the actual contrast is a bit better than in the photos) so I can have the secret pleasure of wearing these mittens while still appearing to be a muggle.

If you are a Harry Potter fan and a knitter, I think you'll like this magazine. It won't give you patterns for knits seen in the movies (for that I recommend Charmed Knits), but there are a lot of beautiful wearable garments with echos of Potter in them. I think that's all the better, as I have enough overt Harry Potter stuff as it is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I feel like every time I finish a big project I declare, “This is my favorite handknit ever!” So of course my latest project is my favorite thing ever too. Still, I think a better declaration is in order in this case: “This is the most epically awesome thing I have ever knit!” And it really is.

This project is special in a lot of ways. First, it’s my very first handspun sweater (yarn blogged here). Second, it ended up being something of a mother-daughter project (more on that in a moment). Third, the final sweater fits me perfectly. Fourth, it’s just a really lovely garment from a really lovely pattern, Strokkur. Finally, the pattern's designer Ysolda featured my sweater on her blog! Head over there to see the full story of this sweater and get a coupon code (until Sept 4) for knitting your own Strokkur.

Wow, I'm still getting over the whole "Ysolda featured my sweater on her blog" thing. Where was I with this blog post again? Oh yes, mother-daughter crafting.

I didn't realize until recently how big of a hand that Mom had in this sweater. Not only did she give me the wool but she helped me set and de-grease the yarn. She also played a key role in determining the colors for the yoke, as she both consulted on color choice and dyed the skeins for me. I may have done all of the spinning and knitting, but this sweater would have been very different without Mom's input.

Mom and I often chat about our current projects but I really relish the opportunities to work on something with her in person, whether it is blocking lace or degreasing handspun. She has taught me a lot about working with fiber and always adds to the projects she helps me with. So thanks, Mom, for being a big part of my epic sweater project! And thanks to Ysolda for featuring it on her blog!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Sweater-Sized Lot of Yarn

Like many knitters, I have a significant amount of stash. Some of it is oddballs, left over from a project, and some of it is yarn set aside for a particular project that may eventually be made. And then there are the sweater-sized lots of yarn; I have just a few of these. One lot belongs to a sweater that I started but haven't touched in 6 months, the second is hanging around because I didn't end up liking the pattern it was originally intended for, and the third has been waiting for just the right pattern.

The third sweater lot is something really special: 1500+ yards of handspun that I spun up almost 3 years ago. My original idea was to make it into a Cria sweater, but I decided that a fair isle yoked sweater would be even better. So I had my mother dye 2 of the 8 skeins, one olive green (it came out more golden green) and one brown. Then it became a matter of finding the right pattern.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I ended up picking out a Ysolda pattern for this yarn, her newest pattern Strokkur. I'm still not sure if it's my ideal colorwork pattern, but I don't want to have to come up with my own pattern and I know that any Ysolda design will be a good knit.

So this week I've set to swatching. I'm really happy with how the handspun is knitting up, though I do wish there was a little more contrast between the green and brown in the colorwork section. I guess that's the downside of using hand-dyed yarn, for all of its beauty. But judging by how the rest of the swatching has gone, I can't wait to get started on this sweater!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hello Baby

My mother in law sent me this photo this weekend: my god-daughter wearing a sunhat that I sewed for her. She's such a cutie and I can't get over how adorable she is in her hat.

The hat in question is made from McCall's M4478 and fabric that I had left over from the lining of this sunhat. This hat proved that sunhats are super fun to make, no matter if they are adult or baby sized. And having sewn them in both size ranges, I could probably draft and sew one entirely from scratch at this point. Maybe I'll do that for my next sunhat (because there certainly will be a next sunhat).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Knitting by Train

One of my favorite times of the year for knitting is summer, mostly because vacation time is a great time to get some knitting done--especially if that vacation involves train travel. I'm convinced that the train is the best way to get anywhere cross country if you have the time for it. It's relaxed and comfortable and all you have to do is watch the scenery go by. In other words, it's perfect knitting time.

This year's summer vacation involved a family reunion in San Diego with my parents, my three sisters (below), and their families. It was an amazing trip, with time to hang out and play with my nephews balanced by more traditional vacation stuff like a visit to Disneyland. I came home from the trip happy and relaxed in a way that means it was a really good vacation. I think the train had a lot to do with how relaxed I felt, even from the start of the trip.

The main part of our travel to California was on the Southwest Chief, Amtrak's line that connects Chicago and LA and runs through the American west. I have several strong memories from the ride: the beauty and sparsity of the landscape as you go further west, the swaying and slight claustrophobia of the upper bunk in our sleeper, listening to a little boy despair over a forgotten stuffed animal named Nuzzle in the lounge car one evening (so adorable), and the downpour that hit right as we pulled into Albuquerque and I was finishing my first Twiglet mitt.

For all I couldn't decide what to knit on vacation until right before we left, the Twiglets turned out to be a great travel project: portable, complex but not overly so, and the perfect size to make quick progress. And I love the color of this yarn; it's Verve from The Unique Sheep in the gold colorway. It's not the go-with-everything color of my favorite Veyla mitts, but I kind of like them better for it.

All-in-all, it was a wonderful vacation and I will always think of some of the little details of the trip whenever I wear these mitts. I'm of the opinion that we put a little bit of our current thoughts and experiences into our projects as we knit them. These mitts will therefore bring happiness and sunshine to my future self, which is a happy thought indeed.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Yet Another (Ysolda) Hat

Though I've knit a mountain of items since I first picked up the needles, a few finished objects stand out above of the rest for their beauty and wearability. One of them is my Veyla mitts (which were tragically lost and then reknit) and another is a Gretel hat that I made for a friend. Gretel has now followed in the footsteps of the Veylas and has been reknit, this time for myself.

The Gretel I made for myself is almost identical to the one I made for my friend. The yarn is different, Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted instead of a yarn I bought at the farmers market, but still a close match. I don't know what it is about this grey color, but I really love it in handknits.

I realized the other day that this is the 6th Ysolda hat pattern that I have made (one, two, three, four, five), meaning that I'll have a lot of hats to choose from come wintertime. Somehow, I think that I'll be reaching for my Gretel more often than the others.

So now I have yet another hat to wear. At the rate I'm going, I'm going to be buried in a mountain of hats soon--Ysolda knit hats for the wintertime, big sunhats for the summer, and store-bought structured hats for the times in between. One hat at a time, I'm determined to bring hats back into fashion.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Quilt Shop Hop

While recent blog posts attest to the fact that I've been logging a lot of time at my sewing machine, I am by no means a quilter. This is evidenced by the fact that the one quilt project I actually started is still languishing in the corner waiting to be finished. Despite my mixed success with quilting, I've discovered one thing I really love about the hobby: the quilt shop hop.

The Wisconsin State Quilt Shop Hop is currently taking place until the end of the month and I participated this past weekend in conjunction with the (extended) extended family: my brother-in-law's girlfriend, her mother, and my mother-in-law. The premise of the hop is to visit stores statewide in order to shop and participate in shop hop activities. The later includes getting your shop-hop passport stamped, buying special shop-hop quilt-square kits, and entering into drawings.

Despite not being a quilter, I really enjoyed touring the fabric stores and even came home with a few items. I got:

  • a pattern book to make 4 placemats and a table-runner using yardage and a charm pack
  • two lovely fleece fat-quarters (to be gloves using McCall's 6450)
  • some laminated fabric (to be a rain-proof hat)
  • an embroidery stitch guide
  • a small bag kit that uses this mini charm pack

And though it's cheesy to say, the best thing I came home with is honestly the inspiration to get sewing!

I really had a lovely time with the ladies and would definitely do another shop hop in the future. Since we visited 5 stores near Madison--Stitcher's CrossingSaving ThymeJ.J. StitchesMill House Quilts (first photo), and Village Creek (above)--I think next time I'll hop in some shops near Milwaukee.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Game-Day Knitting

I'm not much of a baseball fan, but sometimes I think that knitting and baseball are a match made in heaven. I mean, I can't knit without watching something and I can't watch baseball without doing something with my hands, so it's really a perfect combination. And when you throw in a Gretel hat-in-progress and a dominant Brewers win, then you have a great day at the ballpark.

The Gretel hat in question may look familiar, as it's inspired by the one I'm wearing in my avatar. I sometimes think of that hat as 'the one that got away', as I was in love with it but gifted it to a friend. Thankfully, I'm finally making one for myself. Because I obviously do not have enough hats.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Problem of Pins

While making my new Peony dress last weekend, I noticed that I don't have a very good way to deal with pins as I sew. I obviously have a pincushion, one of the old-school tomatoes, but it's not possible to pull a pin out and stick it into the cushion without stopping my sewing momentum. Dealing with pins is currently a two-handed job, one holds the cushion and the other the pin.

It's seems to me that a pincushion mounted to my wrist may work better for me, as it would only require one hand to put the pin in the cushion. I'm willing to give this new cushion type a try, especially because I had an urge to do a little embroidery this week.

To put the cushion together, I used two 3" square pieces of felt and embroidered one of the pieces using lazy daisiesfrench knots, and split stitch. I then machine-sewed the two felt pieces most of the way around with a 1/4" seam allowance, simultaneously sewing both ends of a 1/2" strip of elastic in place. I turned the felt right-side-out, stuffed the cushion will Polyfill, and hand-sewed the hole closed. Voila! Pincushion!

I'm not sure how easy this pincushion will be to use at my sewing machine, mostly because I made the elastic too short. It is definitely not comfortable to wear it around my wrist, though it may work to wear it around my fingers as shown above. We'll see how useful it ends up being when I sew up my next project!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Little Things

There is nothing better than a 3-day weekend full of friends, good food, and a doing the small things that make you happy. For me this weekend, that included baking a bienenstich (a German cake that is my new dessert obsession), playing Mario Kart Wii, and logging some time on my sewing machine.

On the sewing front, I finished a Peony dress. This is actually the second time I've made this pattern (the first Peony is blogged here), but it's such a classic silhouette and a straightforward pattern that I'd be happy sewing 100 Peonies. This time, I changed it up with a fun print and short sleeves.

I'm still having trouble with zippers. I've finally gotten over my confusion about inserting an invisible zip (Colette's invisible zipper tutorial helped) and am now working on inserting one, well, invisibly. You can see below how the blue zipper tape shows down the back of the dress. I think the key is ironing the zipper flat before sewing to put the seam line as close to the edge of the zipper teeth as possible. We'll see how my next invisible zip goes using this trick.

The zipper exemplifies where my current sewing skills are: I feel comfortable with a lot of the techniques of sewing, but I'm still working on the small details of the execution. For example, I'm not fazed by bust darts but need to remember that there is bust awkwardness if you accidentally end them in the wrong place (ask me how I know that one). So yeah, good with the mechanics, need to work on the execution.

It's not that my execution is bad, it's just that getting the details right is one of my goals going forward. In the meantime, I'm creating clothing that I love and am happy wearing. This dress is definitely in both of those categories.