Posts tagged ‘crafts’

Knitting Season Begins

I can finally get back to blogging about my craft projects!  I don’t want to go anywhere near knitting during the summer, but almost overnight we went from 80 degrees to 40 degrees around here, so suddenly knitting seems like a good idea again.

I have a lot of knitting projects lined up — mostly Christmas decorations and presents — but I had a few projects that I needed to get out to people quickly.  A good friend from high school (K) has a 3-year-old daughter, E, who has been having a rough time recently.  I decided that I needed to knit her a hat and a toy to go with it.  Another friend’s mom is going through chemo, and she put out a request for hats, so that seemed like another good project to work on quickly.

I had seen a yarn store not too far from my house a few months back, but I hadn’t been in yet.  I decided to go check it out, both to get yarn for the toddler hat, and to scope out whether or not there was a knitting group nearby.  I have definitely missed having a group to knit with, and I figured it wuld be a good way to try and make some local, IRL friends.  It turned out there is a knitting group that meets at the shop on Thursdays, so I got to kill two birds with one stone — make new friends, and knit E’s hat!

I wanted something very soft and fuzzy for E’s hat, and I found an unusual yarn.  I discovered later that it is designed to knit up like terrycloth, but this is what it looks like:

fuzzy yarn

I haven’t worked with a lot of fuzzy yarns before, but I knew that it would be a little challenging.  The fuzziness makes the individual stitches impossible to see.  It also could be less yarn than it looks like, so I asked the shop owner whether I could get a toddler hat out of a single skein.  She said to buy a second skein to be safe, so I did.
I got to the knitting group late, and missing most of my materials.  I had all my needles, but forgot the rest of my toolkit, and the pattern book I typically use as a guide for hat measurements.  But I have knit so many hats in the past, I figured it would be no big deal to do this one off the cuff.  I did have to ask the store owner for the appropriate circumference of a toddler hat so I could get started, but that was no big deal.
The first problem I ran across was figuring out my gauge.  I started to knit a swatch, but I couldn’t see the individual stitches to tell how many I had per inch.  I tried to guess, and was waaaay wrong the first time — when I saw the knitting start to curl up on my round needles, I knew it was much too big.  When I took it off the needles, it was at least 40″ in circumference!  So I eyeballed it, and the second time I got roughly the right size.
Then, as I started knitting, I realized that I was going to have a hard time ribbing the edge of the hat, since I couldn’t tell my stitches apart.  I typically use ribbing or seed stitch on the edge of hats to keep the rim from rolling up.  But I had a hunch that this yarn might not roll.  More consultation with the store owner and looking up some patterns using that yarn confirmed that it shouldn’t roll, so I could do stockinette stitch for the whole hat.  And the best part of the yarn was, even though I was halfway through my first row, no one would ever know that I was switching from ribbing to stockinette!
The last problem I ran into was the decreases.  I first learned to make hats by doing regular decreases up to the crown, making a smooth, beanie-style top, rather than the gathered top that is created by doing a rapid decrease at the end.  I never use stitch markers for this, and don’t even own any, because I am used to being able to see where my decreases are.  But that was impossible with this yarn.  So I needed stitch markers to keep tabs on where my decreases would go.  And the great thing about knitting in a yarn store — I was able to buy stitch markers on the spot!
Despite having to start twice, I had most of the hat done by the time I left the sit and stitch.  I just needed to switch to double-pointed needles for the final decreases.
On Saturday, I sat down and decided to finish E’s hat.  It took less than half an hour.  I realized once it was done that I hadn’t upped the number of decreases quite enough at the end, which had resulted in a pointed top, but it looks adorable, so I decided to keep it.  The best part is, it looks good whether you roll the bottom or keep it straight.

straight brim

rolled brim

In the process of gathering up my knitting materials for the sit and stitch, I had discovered an unfinished hat I was knitting for T last spring.  So I picked it up and started working on it again.  Apparently, I had run out of the black yarn I started with, and continued with a different black yarn.  It resulted in a black striped look that I really like.  Something awfully strange had gone on with the knitting a row or two below where I picked the project up again — it looks like I pulled out sone stitches and picked them back up twisted — but it took a while for me to notice it, so I didn’t go back and fix it.  It took an hour or so to finish this project, and when it was done, it looked like this:

black striped hat

Finally, I decided to work on the hat for my friend’s mom.  I hadn’t used the whole first skein for E’s hat, so I decided to use the second skein for this.  I know that it will look goofy instead of elegant, but I thought the yarn would feel really nice against her head.  But I was afraid that there wouldn’t be *quite* enough yarn for an adult-sized hat.  So I looked through my stash, and found some super-silky fuzzy yarn that I picked up during a stash swap.  The green would go well with the baby blue yarn, and I thought a stripe would help the hat look a little bit more grown-up, while also helping stretch the terrycloth yarn.  This time, to get my gauge (since I never really figured it out last time around), I knit a swatch of 10 stitches.  Ten stitches was a little less than 4 inches wide, so to make a 21-inch circumference hat I cast on 56 stitches.  The silky green stuff was SO silky it was difficult to knit with — I was glad that I only had a few rows worth of it.  But I think the finished hat will be really nice and cozy!  I tried not to make it too long, so she wouldn’t have to roll up the brim.  I also went with the quick decrease, so there’s a little bit of gather at the top.  Even after making a full-sized hat, I still have some yarn left over.  I hope it fits and she likes it!

chemo cap

The next thing I need to make is a stuffed toy to go with E’s hat — I have a pattern for a cute little frog that I think will be perfect.  And my plan is, with the little bit of fuzzy yarn I have leftover, I will make him a hat that looks just like hers.  I don’t have enough green yarn to do him all in the same yarn, so I decided to wait until next Thursday and buy a new skein at the next sit and stitch.  I can hardly wait!


Christmas Crafts, Part II

I started making presents for my family as a kid.  My mom wanted my sister and I to give back to all of our cousins, aunts, and grandparents, so she started the tradition.  Once I got to college, I kept making presents for everyone, basically because I was poor.  At this point, it has become a tradition and a challenge for me to make something different every year.

I try to make something that is either functional or consumable.  This year, I came up with a great craft idea: making magnets using those glass pebbles they put in vases to hold flower arrangements.  I had seen homemade ones with family photos in them in a cubicle at the county planning office in Ogden.  The glass magnifies the photo glued to the backside, and it seemed like a simple and useful gift.

I have a variety of magazines, including several old National Geographics, that I thought I would use for the pictures.  I also saved my AAA magazines and any catalog that came into the house in December, just in case (which turned out to be a good thing).  The biggest problem I had was finding clear glass pebbles, and I thought that was going to be the easy part.  I could only find them in the small size, and even then, when I went to work with them, I discovered that most of them had iridescent paint on the backs, that got in the way of viewing the picture.   I decided on a set of 5 magnets for each person, and needed a total of 11 sets. I sorted through the pebbes I had bought and managed to find just enough that were either clear or had very little paint.

So I had tiny glass pebbles, about the size of my thumbnail, and now I needed tiny pictures.  The National Geographics weren’t of much use, but there were enough small images in the catalogs and the AAA magazines that I managed to find enough pictures that fit. I used a single pebble as a template, to see if the image was likely to fit, and then snipped out small squares from the catalogues to give me some wiggle-room.  I wanted to make each set themed, and had a few themes in mind, so as I went I looked for some kinds of images in particular.  I also realized that simple patterns made nice images too, and collected several of them.  Once I had a wide selection of squares snipped, I went through them all and chose the individual sets that I wanted.  I decided on additional themes at this point, and in some cases I had to go back through the magazines to try and find enough images or patterns of that type to complete the set.

some of the sets

Because there was variation in the exact size and shape of the pebbles, once I had my sets of images chosen, I would grab a pebble, trace the outline onto the paper, and then cut each one out individually.  That also helped me frame the image as well as possible, since several of the pebbles were more oval-shaped and some images fit better either vertically or horizontally.  Once each piece was cut from the paper, I used a little paintbrush to spread Modge Podge on the flat back of the pebble.  I pressed the paper to the Modge Podge, with the image I wanted visible facing down, then immediately brushed a second layer of glue onto the back on the paper.  This helped seal the paper from both sides, and also saturated the paper, keeping it from curling back from the pebble.  Once the glue was on, I would press the paper onto the pebble, making sure all of the edges were smoothed down.  It meant that my fingers got sticky and messy from the glue, but did a good job of getting the paper flat.  I just had to be sure to put on enough glue to begin with, and to work quickly, otherwise the glue would get tacky and start to pull the back of the paper off and onto my hands.

I let all of the pebbles dry thoroughly, paper-side up.  Then I took small round magnets and attached them to the backs of the pebbles, on top of the paper, with glue dots.  It turned out the dots were exactly the same size as the magnets, and I hoped they would be strong enough to hold the pebbles on securely.  When I was done, it was easy to scrape any dried glue off the front of the glass pebbles with a fingernail.  Then I wrapped each set in tissue paper and tied it with some raffia.

I didn’t get pictures of every set, but here are a few examples.


I popped most of the wrapped packages into a box with the rest of my presents going to RI.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to put much packing material in the box.  As it turned out, during shipping the magnets all tore out of their tissue paper wrappings and stuck to one another, and some of the magnets did come loose from their pebbles.  My mom had to re-group and re-wrap all of the magnets.  I described the sets for her in an email, so I hope that people were actually given the sets I had designed, but if a few magnets were off, it’s not that big of a deal.  From what I heard, everyone enjoyed figuring out what was on their set and showing their magnets to each other, so the gifts were a success!

I wanted to make some for myself, but as I said, there weren’t enough clear pebbles to have any left over.  So I guess I’ll just have to do this another time if I want a set of my own!

Christmas Crafts, Part I

Now that the holidays are over, I finally get to post pictures of my homemade Christmas presents!

To start, there are the knitted gifts.  I got requests for three different knitted gifts this year.  My mom wanted a small gift, and my cousin M had requests for her daughter, A, and her brand-new granddaughter, L.  I guess the knitting I did for Christmas last year, and L’s knitted baby gifts, have let the cat out of the bag when it comes to my knitting abilities, but I don’t mind.

M’s first request was a hat for her granddaughter, L.  The original pattern she found was a purchaseable  pattern on Etsy.  It was made from a chunky yarn, and absolutely adorable.

the inspiration

But M wanted a hat that was multicolored, and specifically asked for all different colors so that it would go with anything.  I looked around a little bit, and found a very similar free pattern for the POOF baby hat by Julie Armin online.  Her pattern had a smaller gauge, as it wasn’t written for a chunky yarn.  I figured, in order to get the multicolored hat, I would find a nice variegated yarn.

Well, I’m not sure that the yarn I chose would be described as “nice.”  In fact, blindingly bright would be a better description, I think.  But it was the only yarn I could find that wasn’t variegated in a single color scheme.  I hoped that M and A would like it, since I knew L wasn’t going to have much of an opinion.  But honestly, I was so worried about the color, I almost made L a second hat in a different yarn just in case.  The only thing that really stopped me was the fact that I ran out of time!  I wanted it to be a little chunkier, so I actually knit this up with double yarn, finding the same point in the variegation so that the colors of the two yarns would remain consistent, even though differences in tension made the colors creep a little bit relative to one another.  The only thing working for me was the fact that the variegation lined up in a way that it looked tie-dyed, and not just a jumbled mess.

is it tie-dyed?

The next request was from my mom, for some little pumpkin decorations she also saw on Etsy.  They were super cute, tiny fall decorations, in an interesting color palette. 

tiny pumpkins

But they were actually made from solid wool felt, and weren’t knitted.  I know how to make felt from raw wool, but I had no idea where to find raw wool.  So I decided to knit them.  I tried to duplicate the colors, but my options in 100% wool were rather limited.  I found a more saturated pink and a much brighter green than the mossy green shown here.  I also now realize that I completely forgot to put stems on them!  But I knitted up completely round balls in garter stitch, stuffed them with fiberfill, pulled the tails through the centers to help flatten them a bit, and then felted them in the wash, with each one tucked inside the toe of a sock.  I then used the tension of some brown embroidery floss to really flatten them and to make the ribs, and made hanging loops from the floss as well.  They have a very different texture than the originals because of the knitting.  I think they came out pretty cute, but I now realize, I never got a finished picture of them!  Tragic.  Here are the first two steps at least.



The next request was from my cousin M again, a pair of long cabled mittens for her daughter, A.  I recognized them immediately as  Twilight-inspired knitting, and had little difficulty finding a free pattern online at Subliminal Rabbit’s blog.  I haven’t done a whole lot of cabling, but this looked like a fairly easy cable to work.

the original

M specified that the gloves should be either black or gray, so I decided to go with a nice, soft silvery-gray washable nylon yarn, to make sure that they would hold up to some washing without a lot of special treatment.  The pattern knit up quite easily, as I suspected the cable pattern was fairly simple, and the only problem I had was with holes appearing around the added stitches around the thumb gusset.  But I always seem to have that problem, so I simply used a long tail on the end of each thumb to help fill them in.  The silvery yarn didn’t photograph very well, so this is the best I could do.

finished mitten

Once I had these three project finished, I realized that there was one more cousin I needed a gift for, my 15-year old cousin C.  It seemed like it might be nice to knit him something too.  I asked his mom what he might like or use, and she said he liked to go snowboarding, and tended to wear earflap hats.  She also said that he had a hat with a mohawk on it, so I decided that the wilder this hat was, the better.

I had tried to knit earflap hats before, but had always added the flaps onto a completed hat.  This time, I decided to find a pattern and do it properly.  I surfed around and found a basic pattern by Leef Bloomenstiel that seemed to be clearly written.

the inspiration

I wanted to do a completely different design from hers, however.  I had a skein of thick, black wool yarn, which I realized wouldn’t be really easy-care for a teenaged boy, but it should do a good job of keeping his head warm.  I decided to include some of that rainbow yarn that I had used on the baby hat, to add interest.  The hat pattern starts with the earflaps, then you cast on the remainder of the circumference and knit the rest of the hat.  I settled on black and rainbow stripes that start on the earflaps, and then stop a short ways up the hat.  Instead of the rounded top, I took the final stitches and knit them as an I-cord for a little less than an inch, to put a little point on the top.  I finished it off with braided black-and-rainbow ties on each flap.  I finished it very early the morning before I had to mail everything out to RI, so the pictures I took are before I finished weaving in all the ends, but I think it came out pretty good.  Just ridiculous enough for a teenaged boy to think it was cool, I hoped.  I also included a slip of paper warming C’s mom that the hat needed to be hand washed, unless they wanted it to shrink to a third of its original size.

snowboarding hat

The biggest news in all of this was the fact that I finally, for the first time, “fixed” the way that I knit.  Ordinarily, I purl correctly, but I knit into the backs of my stitches.  This puts a twist into those stitches, but if I am working on a two-sided project, my purl rows undo the twists.  If I am working in the round, however, like you do when you knit hats, socks, and mittens, my twisted stitches never untwist.  This tends to make the tops of my hats spiral, and also makes my socks and other projects spiral.  In hats, it’s not a big deal, but with other projects it is a problem.  The one pair of socks I have knit for myself almost never get worn, because the heels are always trying to make their way to the top of my foot.  Since I didn’t want this to happen with A’s mittens, I taught myself to knit “properly,” knitting into the front of the stitch.  No twisted mittens!

I also made a bunch of non-knitted gifts for my family, like I do every year, but that will be the next post.  Stay tuned!

Paper Snowflakes for Grownups

As soon as Halloween was over and the first white flake was floating in the air, my coworker C was making paper snowflakes.  She has a passion for them, and makes dozens every year.  Soon, not only did the windows of her office start to fill up, but snowflakes started appearing in other people’s offices too, all snipped by C.

flakes indoors and out

I’m pretty good with paper and a pair of scissors, and I always loved making snowflakes, even into my teens, but it had been a long time since I’d made one.  Then a lovely, delicate snowflake appeared on my office window:

C's flake

The gauntlet had been thrown.  I had to make a flake.

Because some of the curlicues in C’s flakes reminded me of the designs the Kyrgyz people use in their felt carpets, called shyrdaks, I decided to make a shyrdak-inspired snowflake.  My their nature, these designs are bi-laterally symmetrical, so I knew they would work well in this medium.  I also had practice drawing these designs, since I wrote my thesis on them, and often sketched a design in my field notes.  I folded my sheet of copier paper into eighths, took a long while to draw a complete design out, and then started snipping away.

Kyrgyz-inspired flake

the inspiration

(I was really quite proud of how this came out, and am trying to figure out how I can preserve it once the holidays are over.  But that’s another post.)

Meanwhile, C was still snipping away.  Turns out, she does all of her flakes freehand.  Since I used to make snowflakes that way, I decided to try one.  It came out looking like the Girl Scout symbol in tiger print.  I hated it, but C pretended that she liked it, so it went in with the growing collection on her office door.

find my flake?

 It was back to the drawing board, literally.  Once I realized that symmetry was the key, I started thinking about other possible themed designs.  Since I’m an archaeologist, I figured I needed to make one of these:

projectile point flake

And then for the historical archaeologists in the office, I of course had to make this one:

bottle flake

 I started looking up actual photographs of snowflakes for inspiration, and realized that ice crystals for in a six-spoke pattern, not an eight-spoke one.  So I folded a sheet of copier paper in half, then accordioned it into just three folds, and lined up the edges as best I could before creasing.  (I shared this technique with C, as you can tell from a few of the flakes on her office door.)  Looking at real snowflake outlines for inspiration, I drew and cut this flake:

ice flake

When I tried another one, attempting to somehow integrate all the great patterns created by ice crystals in the center of real flakes, I ended up with something that looked like Eastern European folk art, or a wood block print:

Polish flake

Meanwhile, I had mentioned colored snowflakes to C, who was having a great time experimenting with them in her office:

bright flakes

spiders, crabs, or frogs?

Finally, she gave me another inspiration for a snowflake design, something she does all the time freehand, but that I had to draw out before I could pull it off.  Can you figure out the basis for this design?

mystery design

In a year when budgets are tight, why not try making snowflakes for your office, home, or tree decorations?  You don’t need to be a little kid to like them!

Button necklace

I intended to post my arts and crafts projects on here — hence the name! — but I have been so busy with work and trying to buy a home that I have hardly made anything recently.  But I do have one new item that I put together and completely forgot to post about!

A few weeks ago, T humored me by going to a craft fair in SLC called Craft Lake City.  The theme of this craft show is DIY and recycling — so there were lots of really cool, funky found-art items for sale.  I was keeping an eye on the jewelry, since that’s what usually catches my eye at craft fairs.  And people made jewelry from everything — bottlecaps, magazines, records, wire, beads, baubles — you name it, they had it!  And one table in particular caught my attention, a vendor who made lovely necklaces from antique buttons.  I took one look, and said, I can make one of those!

I was lucky enough to inherit my grandmother’s button box, and I am always looking for ways to use her buttons.  I have put together three shadow box displays that hang on my walls.  I have decorated a two-deck card box for my dad (they are from his mother), and a little jewelry dresser for my sister with buttons.  I allowed my old knitting group to take buttons for their projects, and I knitted a series of neckwarmers for my cousins, aunts, mom, and sister using those buttons last Christmas.  Ialso  knitted a little felted sheep that I covered in buttons to be his “wool.”  But I still have a TON of buttons left, especially those little mother-of-pearl ones, and I knew that this project would be a great way to wear some of her buttons on a more regular basis.

Two or three years ago, I made a quilt square for my friend TC’s daughter’s baby blanket.  She and her husband are HUGE into cycling, and I decided to find a necklace with bicycle charms on it to use on the square.  I snipped off the charms, but like the crafting packrat I am, I held onto the chain to use in the future.  As soon as I saw the button jewelry booth, I knew I had finally found a use for that necklace!

I don’t make a lot of jewelry, but I have a basic set of jewelrymaking pliers, a bunch of jump rings, and some other odds and ends.  The chain had little black beads on it, which I liked, but I didn’t have enough matching black buttons to go with them.  Then I remembered that I had trimmed the end of my wedding necklace, where the large links you use to make a necklace adjustable were interspersed with tiny pearls.  Of course, I had kept it, so those pearls went on in place of the black beads (which I also squirreled away for the future, of course *smile*).

Grandma's buttons with my wedding beads

It took some finagling and experimenting, trial and error, until I had the right number of buttons that laid the right way when I put the necklace on.  But I think it came out pretty well, considering that I had to undo and redo it several times before everything was said and done!

I am sure that there are plenty more button projects in my future, too.  Feel free to comment if you have any ideas!