January 09, 2012

Sewing Cabinet Success!

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf this year, with a much more consistent attempt at recording finished projects. There was a burst of productivity at the end of last year, so I’ve got lots of catching up to do to help me along!

First, though, was my very successful rehabbing of an old radio cabinet. Last time I think I had successfully removed the odd bits of plywood and new wood that someone had put inside the cabinet, and some very necessary dusting and vacuuming was done.

With some great help from dad, and a lot of borrowing of supplies, the outside surface of the cabinet got help next. First, some wood oil applied to the nicks and scratches helped darken them and add to a more uniform color and appearance:

August 29, 2011 286Before (notice the nicks along the top and inner corners)

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After (though a bit blurry)

Dad the handy man helped me by making some custom fit shelves from some scrap wood:

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We were originally thinking of three shelves, but I had forgotten to measure what clearance I needed for the middle shelf (thinking that my sewing machine would fit nicely on the lowest one). Next? Fun with fabric and spray adhesive! 

I had done some testing with fabric – with, of course, my ever-present supervisor – pinning in some potential pieces to see how I liked them. It took a little bit of experimentation, mostly with the size of the pattern needed (I originally thought I needed a bolder print, but it turned out that smaller, or a mix of medium and smaller, looked more balanced and natural).

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Two fabrics would cover what had been the speaker panel, and the second fabric would also be used to cover the interior shelves. That’s where the spray adhesive came in. Even in my well ventilated balcony area, the fumes were intense!

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For the speaker panel, panels of the two winning fabrics were sewn together and stapled to another piece of scrap wood from my dad, on which I had marked the pattern of the cabinet’s front slats.

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Next, the cabinet needed some serious help with mobility. I wanted to keep the open back of the cabinet tight to the wall, but have some way to easily slide it out and back. Solution?

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Little holes were drilled in the existing framework on the bottom of the cabinet,

and the Sliders were screwed in

Finally, after several months and trips back and forth to my parents for the use of my Dad and his handy workshop, my new sewing cabinet was born:


P1044890                                                  P1044900

January 03, 2012

Christmas close-call

I love my cats dearly and wouldn’t change or trade them for anything, but I  always thought Portia would be the cat that would drive me to drink. She has it out for all yarn, and has learned to open my closets in order to get to any possible secret stashes. Every time I work on a project, I am guaranteed to have a guardian with a helping paw or four. When I'm sewing, I always have to remove the warm, cat-shaped fabric weight before I can actually use my machine. And her history with Christmas ornaments is well known.

Portia fabricHuman, you are mistaken. This is my nest, not your fabric.

This year, I should have known better when not a single ornament was drowned, taken off the tree, or disturbed in any way. She was buttering me up – for Nicholas.

A few nights after Christmas, I was curled up with a knitting project, doing the final assembly of some knitted boxes that were getting fabric lining. It was a rare bit of hand sewing, and I was remembering how much I liked doing that. In a silly bit of vacation-time overachieving, I was also trying to speed-defrost my freezer (at 10pm at night). Getting up to refresh the containers of hot water in the freezer from the just-having-whistled teakettle, I put the sewing needle and leftover bit of thread aside on my magnetic pin rest. A pin rest which is usually neatly contained in my new sewing cabinet.

While I was in the kitchen, that lovely, unique yowl rang out that most cat owners know as the warning signal of that most delightful gift, the hairball. I looked over to track Nicholas so I would know where the necessary cleanup would be needed. The details I'll spare, but the delivery wasn't his normal behavior at all, and when he started growling at Portia I got alarmed. After watching him some more I knew that he was in distress, and I prepared for a whopper of a cleanup – but the gift never arrived and he wandered off. So I curled back up to finish sewing and went to pick up my needle, but it was gone. The little bit of thread that had been hanging from the needle was also nowhere to be found.

After searching all around and in my chair, still no needle or thread. I tried to check Nico’s mouth, but he wanted absolutely nothing to do with that, thank you very much! I called my parents, slightly panicked. Had they ever had a cat eat something like this? I called the vet and left a message, asking if they could give me any advice. To say that I slept well that night or that the next day was easy would be a lie. All the vet could say to do was watch Nico’s behavior – but he was eating, playing, and using the litter box as normal.

I’m kicking myself now, but it was a day and a half until the uncertainty got to me, and we went in for an x-ray (of course, the day before New Year’s Eve). The minute the vet came back, I knew, and to say that my heart sank was putting it mildly. The needle had somehow made it – and I’ll never know how it did so safely – all the way to Nico’s colon, and was now lined up almost perfectly with his backbone and resting about two inches from his tail. Surgery was an option, but it’d be tough to do it cleanly or easily. There was a slim option that it might pass, or that the vet would get lucky and be able to retrieve it from, well, behind. Nico got checked in and the vet went to work almost immediately. Some people might not think it’s worth praying for an animal, but boy was I working on that for the next couple of hours.

Somehow, by some stroke of amazing luck and a lot of careful work by the vet (and probably some details I don’t want to know and Nico thankfully won’t ever remember), surgery was avoided. I got to go pick up a slightly dopey but oh so happy cat. The vet got to keep the needle and thread.

P1034884A duplicate to the ingested needle, measuring in at 1 11/16”

Moral of the story? Once cats start eating thread, they are literally hooked and reel it in until they find the end. Nico’s saving grace was that the needle at the end of his thread went down non-pointy end first, and his cast-iron stomach saved the day.

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Picture is from May, I didn’t want to show his poor, shaved backside.

But that look of relief is very accurate!

For the first few days back home, pain meds were a necessity for the poor guy, as he was moving around like an old man and could barely  jump onto the bed. Now we’ve mostly returned to normal, since Portia finally realized that Nico is not some alien creature, trying to take over her space and human (he must have reeked of the vet that first day back, and she would not stop growling or hissing at him, or swatting when he got too close). Needless to say, all crafting supplies are even more securely stashed away, and no feline is left unattended around any yarn or thread. We’ve all learned our lesson!!

August 18, 2011

Tuning in for something a bit different

My family is a family of stuff. My maternal grandparents were borderline hoarders (which side of the border depends on your perspective, and what period of time you spent at which of their houses). There were a themes in their hoarding beyond what things might be of use (including, inexplicably, jars of mercury that I remember sitting in the living room). My grandma was a great collector: of books, Hummels, depression glass . . . and I think I caught her bug. She had a plaque on her wall stating, “I have so many books I want to read, I’ll never die.” Well, I’m certainly carrying on that tradition, and with her trusty knitting needles I’m following along in that hobby as well. Now I’m getting into antiques as well. It started with a few bits of furniture, and is slowly branching out into other areas. I’m keeping a firm handle on it though, keeping to items that I know I will use or repurpose so that they are useable. There may not be any Antiques Roadshows in my future, but I have things that I love and that I use every day, like my desk, and old steamer trunk I use as a storage space and coffee table, a side table (which is an old sewing machine table, with the sewing machine [broken beyond reasonable repair] removed). (I hope to post some pictures of these later – you can sort of see the side table in previous posts.)

The newest edition is an old radio cabinet, which is soon to be the greatest sewing cabinet ever. A random find on Craigslist, the cabinet was a mere $10. I was semi-inspired by the efforts of Jen and John at Epbot with their radio cabinet. Shoot, all of her posts inspire me, and I feel like my brain has been belching out new ideas since I found her blog. My radio would never be steampunk worthy, it’s from the 1930s rather than the Victorian era, but I knew there was potential for another purpose.

Step 1 was picking up the cabinet and doing some serious dusting, once, of course, the cats thoroughly inspected the new interloper.

After recovering from the subsequent allergy attack, step 2 including removing extraneous (and mysterious) bits of wood. Then I carefully took out the old fabric, which was glued to a piece of thick cardboard that was far beyond saving. Before that was thrown away I made a pattern of it on a piece of newspaper.

Step 3 was a bit of thinking. The overall structure of the cabinet was still sound, even at 70+ years old. The wood, although in many places veneer, was pretty decent, just a bit scratched and beaten up. There was almost one shelf in the inside, the remnants of where the radio used to sit. After some talking with my dad, a woodworker, we had a sort-of plan. Add a bottom, maybe a second shelf, and either attach the cabinet to a base and back so it would swing out to be an accessible storage unit, or figure out how to add wheels or slides to the bottom so no back or hinges were needed. The next step for me would be to head to the fabric store to find something to replace the speaker panel.

Next up: Fabric, the workshop of wonder, and getting some new shelves.

June 05, 2011


(Note, I’ve had this blog post in progress for almost 2 months! I never meant this to be an every day recording of crafting progress, but I had hoped to post more frequently that once a quarter. I’m just having too much fun crafting!)

My first commissions!

I’ve made a lot of things for other people over the years, and I love passing on a little bit of homemade love to people I know will appreciate it. Friends and relatives ask me if I’ve ever though of opening an Etsy shop, and the honest answer is both yes and no. Yes, I’ve thought about it, but no, I don’t think I’ll ever do it. Right now, as I work full time and knit at home to relax and melt away some of the everyday stress, it’s just not in the cards. I want to keep loving what I do, and I want to be able to have the freedom to randomly make something for a nephew, niece, or friend.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I look gift commissions in the mouth :) A few months ago (and where is this year flying off to again??), in a round-about way, the sister of a friend of a friend (yes, try to say that three times fast) contacted me and asked if I’d ever made one of my stuffed animals to sell. Although I hadn’t, I was open to the idea and we came to an agreement on the project, which eventually developed into two things, and a price. For fellow crafters who sell their wares, you’ll know how hard it is to set a price on a project. It’s not just a matter of material cost but of time – how do you figure out what to fairly (for yourself and the buyer) price something at? A coworker suggested I charge $10 an hour, and I think he was surprised when I couldn’t help but chuckle and tell him that no one would be able to afford the finished product. Most people don’t know how long a seemingly simple thing takes to make. For toys, it’s often not in the knitting but in the stuffing and assembling that time magically gets sucked away. As I usually knit in front of the TV or when I’m talking with friends, I’m considerably less than an efficient knitter. But that’s why I want to continue to knit for fun and not profit – I love the process of creation, the magic that makes an unassuming ball of yarn into something utterly different.

So, the (long-) finished commissions:

Giant Sack Boy

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Pattern: Alan Dart’s Sackboy

Made for: a friend of a friend’s brother-in-law (the sister, his wife, commissioned it for an anniversary present)

Yarn and needles: Paton’s Shetland Chunky in Taupe and my trusty Boye needlemaster needles in (I think) US7s

Changes to pattern: oh, how I wished I had written them all down. My main goal was to get a Sack Boy that was about twice the size of the one produced by the original pattern. For the most part, this called for a straight doubling of stitches and rows. Sometimes it got more complicated, with increases being done on purl rows, and a row being skipped here and there. Since the finished product was going to be so big, I figured a skipped/extra row every here and there wouldn’t make a huge difference – and it didn’t. The only part I had to redo was one arm, because the first pattern I tried for the thumb looked ridiculous (no pictures were taken of the hitchhiker’s thumb from hell). The second try on the thumb was great – I did one extra cast on stitch instead of double the cast on stitches for the thumb.

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The mouth was also a change from the pattern, because something a bit more expressive was requested. I had some felt on hand, so I cut out a half circle in black and sewed it on, and played around with a bit of red until I had something that looked right. The tongue is only sewn on across the back, so it has a bit of movement. (And Portia must always check out everything that moves – especially if it involves yarn!)

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The internal stabilization was important for this Sack Boy, because of the size. If nothing was inside to keep the head straight, it would have flopped over like crazy. Straws wouldn’t cut it, and I was afraid that a wooden dowel wouldn’t put up to prolonged stress – and if it broke, splinters might poke through the stuffing and “skin.” My dad had the perfect solution, an old aluminum arrow. The head and fletchings had long ago disappeared; and after the arrow was broken in half, with the sharper ends bent over and taped, I had a perfect backbone. Light, strong, and slim.

next, The Crowning Achievement


Pattern: Princess Hat

Made for: same guy, this time as a Valentine’s Day gift

Yarn and needles: Caron Simply Soft in dark country blue, and Hobby Lobby’s I Love This Cotton in Buttercup; needles – my favorite, the Boye needlemaster US 5 and 6.

Modifications: Detailed on Ravelry (link is accessible to non-Ravelers). One of the easiest modifications I’ve done. It was just a matter of carrying over the written mods from the smaller sizes – adding a few extras rows and stitches increases where called for. The finished hat was 24” around, and although I carefully double checked on the size requested (men’s 7 3/4 size) and exact measurements of that (24 1/2”), it was a bit big. C’est la vie.

February 17, 2011

Hats fit for royalty!

I’m once again catching up with finished projects. With a recent, much-needed upgrade of my computer to Windows 7 (Goodbye Vista! Won’t miss ya!), I’m hoping to update more frequently. To start out with, the oh-so-fun hats for my nephews and niece:


and with a little help from Chris Moose:


These hats, once I got over my unfortunate rookie mistake of misreading the needle requirements, were very quick and easy. To give the chainmail portion a bit of sparkle, but to keep it soft, I held together two yarns: Lion Brand Vanna’s Glamour (which has a silvery, sparkly strand woven in), and Caron Simply Soft. The i-cord crowns were an addition, to individualize the hats with I. and J.’s favorite colors and to help keep them separate but equal. I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing with the crown shaping at the beginning, and I started off just trying to make sure I had plenty of i-cord to work with (long enough to wrap around the hat twice, plus a little bit). Then I played around with pins for a bit:


The pins got to be a bit of a pain, quite literally, so I ended up eyeballing it. The main trick was keeping a consistent number of rows and stitches in the crenellations, and sewing enough of the key points on to keep it mostly kid-roughhousing proof.

For the little siblings were corresponding prince and princess hats, made with some of my favorite cotton yarn (at least for softness): Hobby Lobby’s I Love This Cotton.



To make this similarly separate but equal, both hats use the Princess Crown pattern. For the more masculine version (i.e., no picot edge on the hat band), these mods were done:

rounds 4-5 knit
round 6 purl
rounds 7-8 knit
round 9 purl
rounds 10-14 were knit

All four hats were complete successes. I.’s face, when he first opened his book and hat, was priceless! We ended up having a small regiment running around the house for a while, and some persuasion had to be employed to get a few family pictures without the hats. : )

Up next: a fun crafty exchange gift, another belated Christmas FO, and getting my first knitting commissions!

January 03, 2011

I love being an aunt

I love being an aunt. I have four nephews and one niece, and they are all amazing. A few weeks ago I was talking on the phone with my middle brother about Christmas ideas for his four kids. Their family has started using an online wishlist, to help keep all the ideas together, so I was going over some of those ideas with him. In the background I suddenly heard his oldest boy pipe up with “but doesn’t she usually make us something?” I have to confess my heart melted more than a bit at that. Six can be a hard age to please sometimes, and I love that he looks forward to things that I make for him. He and his siblings are the main recipients for the toys and fun little things that I make, and it’s a perfect excuse for me to be like a kid again and play with those toys!!

It’s been so long since I’ve posted that I lost track of the projects that I’ve finished in the meantime. For a while I was in a writing funk, but was the complete opposite with yarn. So without further ado, the beginning of FO parade.

The twins – my youngest nephew and niece – are lucky they’re adorable, because I almost kept their birthday gifts for myself. For my last birthday I got Susan B. Anderson’s Itty-Bitty Toys, a fantastic book and one that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf. I had already made the bunny for my friend’s daughter, so I knew how easily the patterns flowed – I really like how Anderson constructs her toys as they go, it makes the final bits of assembly and finishing so much easier. The bunny was one of the few patterns I’ve done where I didn’t really change anything, or have to rewrite anything to make it easier on my poor literal brain.

For the second birthday of the indomitable E & E I decided to make a go at the reversible toys, and they turned out to be a ridiculous amount of fun. Don’t get me wrong – the little fiddly bits like the mouse feet and nose, and the turtle’s spots were kind of a pain, because they were so small. But the final assembly was like magic. It turned a mass of turtle spots and wiggly frog legs into something that made me giggle like a little kid. I finished what I dubbed the Furtle or Turog at work during my lunch break and promptly had to show it off to my coworkers – one of whom almost stole it from me! The pictures do not do this toy justice – they can’t show how fun it is to turn it inside out, revealing the hidden toy.

Start to finish the Furtle took barely any time at all. I worked on it a couple of hours a night, and during some lunches, and had both the Furtle and Cat/Mouse done in a week. [One recommendation to help with turtle spots – do pin them all on before sewing. That helps a lot with getting the proper spacing.] The reaction from E & E was everything I could have hoped for too. My nephew immediately found the turtle side and proudly walked around with the “tuh-tle” the rest of the night. His sister greeted Cat/Mouse with the cutest little “meow” and had great fun trying to switch them back and forth – for a two year old that does require quite a bit of concentration and maybe some help with coordination for the switchover.

But back to Christmas . . .

After overhearing my nephew, I took a look at their online lists to try and find some inspiration, thinking maybe I could find some kind of fun hat or small toy or something to go along with something from the list. Coming from a medieval history and literature background, as soon as I spotted The Knight and the Dragon and The Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions on the lists of the two oldest boys, I was sold. A quick search of Ravelry found me a perfect companion – chainmail hats (available originally here)! In a perfect twist of fate, as I was telling my brother about this, he told me that the oldest had been wondering if I could make a chainmail hat for them! In order to help distinguish the two hats, I’m going to do a mess of i-cord and sew the outline of a crown around the top of the hats, red for I., and blue for J. For the twins, so the boys hats don’t get immediately stolen, are coordinating princess and prince hats. The princess one is nearly done (I just have to sew the hat bad down), and the prince one is begun.

Pictures will come next time (and there won't be a 3 month wait, I promise!).

September 29, 2010

Fiber Festival Finds

What now feels like ages ago, I finally made it to my first fiber festival. It’s really only been a few weeks, but with the way that this summer (now fall, ugh!) is going, it could have been a different year for all I know.

I took an embarrassingly small number of pictures, and completely missed the sheep I almost put to sleep – turns out sheep really like getting their chins scratched! Who knew?

However, I did capture these a super cute dragon

and the awesome wizard hats of this booth (The name of which I also forgot to write down. “I’ll take: Distracted by All the Pretty Fibers for $800, Alex.”)

The rabbits were amazing puffs of fluff (and this was by no means the fluffiest):

except for this poor guy.

There is absolutely no dignity in being a rabbit sometimes – although I’m sure he was a lot cooler after his haircut.

For being my first fiber festival experience, I held to a very strict buying budget. I had to get some Socks That Rock, though narrowing down to one colorway was very difficult (which I think is Princess Plummy, from the Watercolor Wave grouping; lightweight sock yarn. Lenore was a close second.)

Also, since I was gifted with a spindle from a wonderful friend, I wanted to pick up some beginner fiber. From the woman who gave me a quick demonstration on her spindle and then handed said spindle over to me to keep going for a few more inches, 4oz of Shetland/Angora mix:

From a few stalls over, in another building, 4oz of this lovely merino:

I’ve finished and/or made great progress on a few things from my last post, most notably the lace shawl. I may actually get it done for the last of this month’s weddings! (It’s been a beautiful but busy time – weddings on 9/18, 10/1, and 10/9.) A few cute and quick projects also leaped into my lap and got made, and I’ll tell more about those in the next entry.

For now, though, I leave you with a very dangerous new website to peruse. The Fiber Cooperative is exactly what they say – an indie, online fiber festival. I’m especially in love with a Knits in Class sock yarn called Eat Your Veggies. That might have to be a post-wedding-traveling gift to myself. For such a long time I resisted wearing a lot of green, and thus avoiding (what I thought was a stereotype) of a redhead wearing green. Shoot, I wasn’t just resisting, I was refusing. Blue was always my first choice, and still tends to be in my top 3 go-to colors. With mostly blue eyes, that made sense. But now I can’t get enough green, and this sock yarn hits a bull’s-eye in my need for green.