Happy Halloween!

The BLT gang is here!

BLT monsters in BLT order

I went looking for trio costumes for Hugs, Stumpy, and Cirrus, and this one leapt out to all of us. Hugs insisted on being bacon and Cirrus said it only made sense for her to be the tomato, which left Stumpy as lettuce. It might not have been his choice, but as they say, it’s not easy being green.

Bacon Hugs

Only the Hug Monster can make a frying pan look like a hot tub.

lettuce Stumpy

On second thought, a ride in the salad spinner was not so good of an idea.

tomato Cirrus

I thought this one was a bit morbid, but Cirrus insisted it was the only thing that made sense to do. She’s the artist!

BLT buddies

The intersection of times with good natural light and times I had available for photos this week was just about empty, but (with an assist from my nice bright lights) I think we did okay. Happy Halloween!

Hot rod hot pads

One of my cousins got married in September, to a man she met because they were both working at the Volo Auto Museum. I went looking for classic car fabric, and after a fruitless search, I asked the woman at the cutting counter, who led me straight to the perfect fabric. I decided on red binding and orange stitching, using feather stitch to echo the flame shape on some of the cars and in the background of the fabric.

hot rod hot pads side 1 hot rod hot pads side 2

The stitching was three strands of embroidery floss, one each of DMC 721, 740, and 947, for texture. The pieces were 6.5″ squares, two of fleece and two of fabric per potholder, each piece of fabric quilted separately to a piece of fleece before pairs were placed back to back, joined, and bound. I cut the fabric on the bias so that the cars would be upright if the potholders were hung, and fussy cut to center my four favorite designs. The loops were originally 5.5″ lengths of bias tape, and since feather stitch isn’t reversible, I sealed their open edge with whipstitch.

Pretty pleased with these. I have to learn to trust myself when I think something like “How about feather stitch? That’s kind of like flames.” I tend to second-guess because the representation is so stylized, but that seems to be what makes it work. In the last two years I’ve started reading about graphic design, and this reminds me of the principle of contrast, which you could phrase as “Make it the same, or make it very different.” I wouldn’t be able to match the flames exactly, so it’s better to go further in the stylized direction than to be close but not quite there.

Mystery solved, part 1

Around the time I began my hiatus, I finished clue 4 of 8 on the mystery afghan crochet-along I’ve been doing. After that I did clues 5 and 7, leaving 6 to afterward because it, like 8, joined motifs rather than adding them. Although I’ve made good progress on them, those two will come later – I’ve had to slow way down, so hopefully November, but possibly December.

mystery afghan clue 1 stitching Clue 1: Beginning of center medallion in dark purple, 12 dark gray popcorn grannies, two dark purple old rose hexagons.

I won’t lie, the beginning of the medallion was a little dull. This whole afghan has endless front post double crochet stitches. Fortunately I’m not in the crowd who were discussing having to space them out because of wrist pain. I’m not sure whether I’d ever made popcorn stitches before, but I’m pretty certain even if so I never made them for anything other than practice or experimentation. They have an interesting slightly pointed texture.

mystery afghan clue 2 stitching Clue 2: Two dark purple solid hexagons, four spiral hexagons in dark purple and either light purple or dark gray, two round ripple blocks in light purple and light gray, 10 light purple front post grannies.

I like spirals. However, the round ripple blocks might be my favorite motif of the entire afghan, though that may be primarily because of how the two light shades look together. In the photo, note that the solid purple hexagon on the right is upside-down and the one on top of the large motif is right-side-up. I got confused, probably in part because of the old rose hexagons of Clue 1.

mystery afghan clue 3 stitching Clue 3: Four light purple scallops blocks (the only motif worked in rows), two dark purple sun rays hexagons (I found these visually indistinguishable from the solid hexagons and may not have split them up correctly for assembly), four two-color hexagons in dark purple and either light purple or light gray.

The scallops were a nice diversion from all the rounds, and I like their look. Keeping my place in the four-row repeated pattern took occasional orienteering, though. I appreciate that JulieAnny spread out the smaller motifs so every clue had something to give you a break from the big motifs.

mystery afghan clue 4 stitching Clue 4: Middle of center medallion in dark and light purple, 12 light gray window pane grannies.

The window pane grannies were quite open, with first-round cluster stitches further condensed by third-round post stitches made on them. The middle of the medallion was tricky but interesting. I had to pull a decent amount of yarn out and redo sections. As painful as that was, I figured I shouldn’t spend as much time on this as I am and then let obvious errors go unfixed. It doesn’t make sense.

mystery afghan clue 5 stitching Clue 5: End of center medallion in light purple, 10 light purple front post grannies.

The end of the center medallion was no more interesting than the beginning, but at least the scenery was better. It was probably one of the largest single items I had worked on to date (well, I mended an afghan for my mother-in-law once, which I don’t think I showed here, and that clearly was larger). Front post grannies, well, are front post grannies.

mystery afghan clue 7 stitching Clue 7: Brick squares in light and dark purple, 8 dark purple old rose grannies.

The old rose grannies were nice, and indeed, the centermost rounds were identical to the old rose hexagons. The brick squares were the most frustrating and least satisfying motif of the entire afghan. After consistently failing to maintain anything approaching normal tension with 5 yarn overs and a hook insertion five rounds below, I made the tall stitches by yarning over once and pulling four loops up through strands of stitches in the four intervening rounds. It was still fussy and slow, and I’m still not thrilled, but my tension was much more reliable and I can hope that joining straightens them out.

If you want to follow along and get sneak peeks, I’ve kept ridiculously detailed notes on my Ravelry project page (Ravelry login required, I expect), and it’s one of only a few projects I’ve put on Rav as a work in progress. The previous ones were probably all from before I started this blog.

Baby shower gifts

I went to a baby shower this weekend for a dear friend and tried to give her something cute and something practical, but also cute.

The first was a crinkle square. I don’t actually have a photo. I ruined the one that I made for the occasion, and had to draw on a backup. I do have an innovation to share, though: crinkle squares shouldn’t be a suffocation hazard to begin with, considering their small size and the fabric layer preventing a seal from forming, but for an additional point of reassurance you can hole-punch the plastic.

hole punched plastic for a crinkle square

I tried something new for the rest of the gift: burp cloths made by backing cloth diapers with flannel. The diapers are quite absorbent and the flannel clings to your clothes, preventing the burp cloth from slithering down off your shoulder mid-spit-up. This was not my idea originally but apparently I did not bookmark the site I found it on (which was also not the origin of the idea, so I don’t feel too guilty). I got a package of 10 diapers by Gerber and washed them all twice (the first time their edges were quite crumply and I thought that might indicate they were mid-shrink – sure enough a second wash smoothed them out a bit). They seemed rather thin so I doubled them up.

The first three burp cloths were large: fabric cut 16″x18″, sewn face down to a pair of diapers at 3/8″ (i.e., presser foot at the edge of the fabric but needle ticked over to the left) with an opening for turning, then diapers trimmed around the edge and the whole thing turned right-side-out. After a good press I topstitched around the edge and did a little quilting to keep the diapers from sagging on the flannel. For the mushroomy one and the elephants I outlined parts of the design, and for the fruit I made some jagged lines. I had a lot of trouble with catching strands of the diaper cloth and shoving them down into the bobbin housing instead of piercing them, even with a brand new fine needle. Fortunately nothing was ruined.

cloth diaper and flannel burp cloths

After I made those three I put one on my shoulder and found it was rather large for its use (though the parents to be are both taller than I am and might not find them quite as overlarge), so with the remaining four diapers I made smaller cloths. Two of them had shrunk enough in the wash that they didn’t have a 16″x18″ flat region anyway, so theirs would have had to be reduced. I ended up making two with fabric that was 9.5″x16″ (out of the two diapers that hadn’t shrunk as much) and one with 15″x15″ fabric (out of the smaller pair). Their quilting was simple: for the checkerboard one, a sort of zigzag the long way, outlining the boxes, for the zebras wavy diagonal lines, and for the monkeys a single continuous stitch line from top to bottom that looped around the monkeys nearest its path.

I tried one other new thing as well: making my own card. I have a Cricut die-cutting machine that mostly sits on a shelf, and it was time to start really using it. The card took an unreasonable length of time given its simplicity (three die cuts on a purchased blank card with a colored border), but most of it was set-up. I’m pretty happy with how it came out.

baby shower card

Alterations reminiscences

For two summers, full time before my senior year of college and half time after, I worked at an alterations shop. I learned a lot in general about clothing and construction and fitting, but there were a few specific things we did differently there than I’ve done in my sewing before and since. Every one of them improved efficiency in some way, but two are impractical now and two I simply don’t do any more. Let me tell you and you can see what you think.

Oh, and happy birthday to my mama!

sewing machine foot from Pixabay

1. Our sewing machines had two pedals: one knee and one foot. They were industrial machines that came this way, and I don’t know how easy it would be to retrofit a home sewing machine with such an apparatus, but one pedal lifted the presser foot and one ran the machine. To be honest I don’t remember which was which, but I assume the knee pedal ran the machine since that motion is much less fatiguing over the course of a day than working a foot pedal. Hands-free presser foot manipulation saves a lot of time over the course of a day.

mallet from Pixabay

2. We tenderized jeans. Hemming jeans even on an industrial machine presents its challenges, and we kept a mallet in the shop to flatten the seams before sewing. Nowadays I use a Jean-a-ma-jig (there’s a similar tool called a Hump Jumper), which works well, if slowly.

3. We used razor blades instead of seam rippers. They are WAY quicker. You want to make sure you have a sharp one so that it cuts threads without much pressure; that keeps you from accidentally slicing into the garment. razor blades from wikimedia commons Of course you have to use it in a particular way: by pulling the two pieces of fabric apart from each other and slicing the taut threads between. For removing, say, topstitching, a seam ripper is probably still better. You do end up with a lot of loose threads, but they may not matter if the fabric is to be trimmed, and otherwise you can try the lint roller trick (not something we did in the alteration shop. I honestly can’t remember how we dealt with threads).

iron from Pixabay

4. My favorite trick and one I will implement if I ever have a sewing space suited to it (and use my iron enough to warrant it): we had our iron cord hooked up high. I can’t remember whether it was the ceiling or high on the wall, but we had an extension cord, and from the iron the cord went upward before going through a hook and heading back down to the outlet. The cord never gets in the way or hung up on anything, or crumples your fabric by dragging against it. It’s a simple, brilliant move.

Attribution: Razor blade picture by Zephyris via Wikimedia Commons. All others via Pixabay.

Now I know where ecru comes from

My purse is dying and I want the next one to be hands-free, but I haven’t come up with a practical hip bag yet. That leaves a cross-body bag, but those straps tend to cut into me in unappealing ways. Well, a piece of luggage led me to realize I could mitigate that problem with a really wide strap – two and a half inches or so. But how to have such a wide strap? Webbing that wide is hard to come by, especially in natural fibers, and I wanted to be able to dye it to match some fabric I picked up while shopping for my project bag materials.

Well, I remembered the wide, flat braids taught on T.J. Potter’s site and found a source for cotton twill tape. I made some test braids with paper strips to check the result of braiding with various widths and ordered some 5/8″ tape. Since the purse probably won’t be laundered, I thought I could stain the strap with tea or coffee. Well, I did that, and here’s the result:

stained twill tape across original natural twill tape stained twill tape against fabric

(That is the stained twill tape in both photos – my white balance is clearly not consistent from photo to photo.) A very effective stain, but not at all an appropriate color. And o ecru, thou art perhaps the least flattering color for my skin tone. [Incidentally, I did this by putting the morning's used coffee grounds and four Lipton tea bags into a big pot of water with the tape, bringing it to a boil on the stove, and then shutting off the heat and letting it sit until it was cool. I may have let it simmer a little while, but not long.]

So then it was time to bring in the RIT. Dark brown and lemon yellow, because that’s what I had. Close, but no banana.

twill tape after one round of dyeing

Looking at it I thought I should probably add more yellow, but a little voice kept nagging me that it needed green. I thought that was maybe crazy and called on my artist in residence for a second opinion. He seconded the green idea, provided it was a dark green. Fortunately I had dark green RIT on the shelf already and could do another round of coloring.

twill tape after two rounds of dyeing

So much better! Now to iron and braid it…