Yarning Along the Stephen West Way

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I have jumped on the Stephen West bandwagon, and I’m riding high on the #WestKnitsKal2015 knit-a-long, The Doodler!

As I mentioned, I watched Stephen’s class on Craftsy while doing the Craftsy binge, and while I’m still raising an eyebrow (or two) at some of his designs, I’m trying to embrace his wild and free aesthetic.  I knit Daybreak in a flurry to wear to the Chargers game last week in Baltimore:

The Chargers, of course, managed to lose in the last 18 seconds, as they did again on Monday night football, but at least I do really love my shawl/scarf.

Even though I had just finished a successful WestKnits project, I was on the fence about signing up for the KAL because the last time I was onboard for a WestKnits mystery, the mystery was a big bummer – intarsia!  Ick.  So, hesitantly, I hit the buy now button on Ravelry, but I didn’t cast on until I saw a few wedges popping up on Ravelry, and I thought, ok, I’m good with this, and here’s my Clue 1:

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As you can see, I tried my hand at a “flat lay.” Flat lay?  I’m so not hip – I had no idea that those highly stylized, collage photos you see on Instagram actually have a name, but then I stumbled onto Emily Quinton’s feed, and her video, Styling a Flatlay.  Even during the height of my photography frenzy, I never really styled a photograph – I was more into slice of life photography, and I still am, I guess, even though my Project Life is totally at a standstill.  I’m so far behind, I’m frozen.  But, I digress.  The flat lay.  When I posted my first snippet of my Doodler on Instagram, I went to sleep, and woke up with 60 likes!  For me, that’s like being picked not last for the kickball team!  I decided to step up my game a bit, and try the flat lay.

I have to admit, I had some troubles.  I just don’t see what flowers and leaves have to do with my knitting.  And, while so many of these photos use lovely wooden backgrounds, my wooden background just looks like my kitchen floor to me.  But, I embraced the concept – it’s all about pretty I guess, and I went to work.

Here’s Olive – of course, she has an opinion!

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In any event, my stylin’ needs some work.

But, back to knitting – My Doodler is part Cascade Heritage Sock, part ToshSock.  That unwound skein of orange is going to be my color 3 for that big wow color pop that is so characteristic of WestKnits.  So, I await Clue 2 on Friday, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

On the reading front, I’m reading the new Robert Galbraith Cormoran Strike novel:

According to the Kindle, I’m 25% in, and I’m enjoying it as much, if not more than the first two.  I love a consistently good detective series, and J.K., er I mean, Robert Galbraith, does not disappoint.

Knit on everyone!

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Yarn Along – Post Traumatic Knit Disorder Cured!

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So, as I mentioned on Monday, I’ve been doing some serious Craftsy binging as a result of a crazy $10/all you can watch month of October.  So much so, that I even started to feel guilty that I was watching too much . . . but then I got an email from Craftsy reminding me that I only had 11 days left of my open month, and that I should eat up.  So, there you have it – more Craftsy!

As part of  strategy to get the most out of my $10 (and believe me, I’ve definitely gotten the most of my $10), I decided to watch the classes that were not on my wish list, but classes I woudn’t have thought to buy – and for the purposes of this yarn alongy post, I’m just going to talk about the knitting classes.

First I dove into Cut Your Knitting, Strand and Steek with Confidence.  Now, I’ve cut my knitting several times, but the last time I cut a steek, it went horribly awry, and I ended up having to cut an extra inch out of the cardigan to straighten up the I don’t know how it got so crooked cut I made.  Huh, maybe I’m not the clever knitter that I thought I was.   After that bad experience, I developed a little post traumatic knit disorder about cutting my knits, and when I finished Kate Davis Bliathin well over a year ago, I put it away to cut another day.  And, that day came after watching Strand and Steek.  I immediately turned off the Craftsy and pulled out my burried cardigan -thinking, it’s now or never.

The class covers three different ways to secure your stitches before cutting – sewing with a sewing machine, and two different crochet methods – a slip stitch crochet method, and a single crochet method.  I opted for the single crochet method.

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Success!  At this point it was 10:30 p.m., and the common sense knitter in me said, it’s late, cut tomorrow.  The devil knitter on my shoulder said, no! it’s now or never!  Get the scissors!  So, I did:

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Ta da!  Easy peasy!  I sighed with relief, and undertook the rest of the finishing the next day.

Stranded and Steeked then goes over three methods of finishing the steek, including sewing decorative tape over the folded back edge, securing the edge with an overcast stitch, or tacking it down with a blanket stitch.  Kate Davies, however, provides her own method of securing your steek, which she calls the sandwich.  So, I went with her method, figuring she’s the expert.

For the sandwich method, you pick up stitches on both sides of the work, first the front, then the back.  You knit 6 or so rows, and then, when the fabric has  grown over the crocheted edge, you knit the two flaps together, sandwiching the cut inside.  This took a long time, and I’m not sure it was worth it.  The stitches are definitely secure, and the edge is very neat, but it seems a little bulky, since there are now three layers of fabric – the two pieces of “bread” and the steek filling.  If the edge had been folded back and sewn, there only would have been two layers.  But, it’s a bulky sweater (Bartlett Worsted yarn), so it’s all good.

And, here it is:

There’s that bulk I was talking about – and the icord bind off.  Kate Davies loves her icord.  The entire cardigan is bound of with applied icord.  I definitely had a repetitive wrist injury (I was just stiff and sore) after finishing it.
  
Because the sweater is so heavy, it took forever to dry.  But, once it was, I bought some nice wood buttons, and I’m ready to sew them on.

But, um, where did they go? I have misplaced the buttons I just bought, darn it! I’m sure they’re going to turn up. Right? They’re just in the house somewhere. Yes, they are.

Anyway, Steeked and Stranded definitely put me back on the cutting horse.  I have to admit, I didn’t watch the colorwork section – I know how to read color charts, and how to knit with multiple colors and get a nice fabric.   And that doesn’t mean I’m doing it the “right’ way, I’m doing it my way, and I’m happy with my way.  I know that there are faster ways, but I’m ok with my pace.  In fact, there are a few classes on Craftsy about knitting faster – one on continental knitting (I pick and throw) and one on Portuguese knitting – but you know what, I don’t need to knit faster.  It’s not a race.  I’m not test knitting for anyone anymore, and I’m not on any kind of deadline.  I don’t need to knit faster, it’s all good.

So, once I finished my project, it was back to the binge.  Here’s a run down of the other knitting classes I slurped up:

Design Your Own Cowl.  In this class, Laura Nelkin explains how to design cowls that are knit flat, cowls that are knit in the round, and moebius’s.  I have to say, this class is filled with generosity – she not only does she provide the  math for you for every type of cowl you want to knit, she provides templates for creating a pattern, so that you can use her math with your creative idea, and sell your own patterns.  If you’re interested in design, and what goes into creating your own pattern, this class is for you.  This class lead me to two other classes – Moebius Knitting with Cat Bordhi and Getting Gauge, Perfect Knit Fabric Every Time.

First, Moebius Knitting.  I really had no idea that moebius knitting had its own cast on.  I thought, it you put a twist in kntting in the round, you had a moebius.  I am wrong, as Cat explains.  In Moebius knitting, you learn, and visual understand the construction of moebius, the moebius cast on, and applying moebius construction to not only cowls and scarves, but baskets.  The biggest a ha moment however, came when Cat was demonstrating how to bind off a continuous edge on a cowl, so you don’t get that nubby thing when you pull the yarn through the last loop.  She reveals that that method is really a crochet thing, not knitting, and to finish knitting, it’s no more complicated than pulling open the last stitch, and pulling it tight – because only your working yarn is actually moving – and you can pull it into a knot with the last stitch.  Voila!  It was really a miracle like moment.   Anyway, I am totally motivated to design my own moebius now,  and I’m definitely going to watch the moebius cast on part of this class again before I lose my access to the class at the end of the month.

To further supplement and reinforce what I learned in Design Your Own Cowl, I took Getting Gauge.  This class was just ok.  There are a bunch of little projects designed to show you what a pattern looks like in different weight yarns, different size needles, etc. to give a visual demonstration of gaugue.  This, to me, is a waste of yarn.  The only section of the class that I really had a lot of takeaway from was the actual lessons on measuring gauge, which included two different methods and accompanying worksheets.  So, I got what I needed from the class to help me overcome my magical/wishful thinking getting gauge nonmethods, and get the right size fabric.

Sticking with the design classes, I then took Amy Singer’s Plug & Play, Custom Scarves and Shawls.  So, I didn’t like this class, and I can’t really put my finger on why.  Amy Singer is the editor of Knitty, and I really respect how’s she’s managed to stay afloat with a free online publication in the age of Ravelry.  I just didn’t like it – I don’t know, maybe her snarkiness that I didn’t find funny.  I watched the whole class though, and there are valuable lessons in the material, and I think, based on the class, I could pretty easily use her plug and play method to something  make a straight scarf, but that’s about it.

I followed Amy Singer with Stephen West’s Shawlscapes.  First, I have to say, I’m not sure what they were aiming for in this class.  It’s kind of a how to class, it’s kind of a technique class, but at the end, it’s really a showcase class.  What I mean is this – it was a showplace for Stephen West’s shawls, a little insight into how he designs, and a geometry based analysis on how his elongated triangle shapes grow.  I came out of the class with a new respect for his work.  Before the class, I just thought his stuff was frankly ugly.  After the class, I thought, you know what – you be you dude.  You’re dragging knitting into modernity, and you’re stuff is unique, and special, and not for everyone, but its fun, surprisingly thoughtful, and knit with love an excitement.

Next up Knitting on the Bias.  If math is not your thing, this class isn’t for you.  So, it wasn’t for me – mind numbing math right out of the get.  Onward.

Then, Custom Knit Yoke Sweaters.  Eh.  The teacher is a disciple (assistant) of Meg Swanson, and everything is Amy says this, or Elizabeth (Zimmerman) says that.  It’s an ok class.  You can definitely design and knit a yoke sweater by the end.  But, you could also save your money, and read Elizabeth Zimmerman as well.

Slipstich Colorwork, Mosaics and Beyond.  I took this class after Shawlscapes because almost all of Stephen West’s shawls incorporate slip stitches, and he never really explains how they work.  This class was simply a survey of different slipstich patterns, and I think I finished the class because I didn’t want to admit that I struggled with the instructor’s thick accent.  Faina Goberstein teaches the class, and I am a big fan of her designs.  But, it was hard . . . and I felt like a really bad person.

I finished up my knitting class binge with Wee Ones Seamless Knitted Toys.  I watched over a half hour of it, and Susan Anderson hadn’t stopped talking about herself yet, so I turned it off.

And, that’s where I am.  Currently, I’m watching some embroidery classes, and before my 11 days are up, I’m going to hit up the crochet.  I also watched a few of the photography classes, but since I was a member of Scott Selby’s site for a good two years, these classes were so similar, they were repetitive.  So, free form crochet, here I come!  Also, I know there are two classes starting on Monday that I’m going to have to squeeze in before the end of the week, and my $10 is up – Sew Sweetness has a handbag class, and Maureen Cracknell has a quilt as you go class – definite must takes!  Hope I can squeeze them both in under the gun!

And, what am I reading – that would be a big nothing – I have Craftsy coming out of my eyeballs, and I will resume my regularly scheduled nonprogramming in November!

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Thread Art Project Done!

And, she’s done!

I thought there was a gigantic possibility that I was going to mess it all up once I tried to color her in, but I think it went ok.

So, what to do with her. I could cut her out, bind her, and hang her on the wall. Or, I could make her part of a tote bag. Decisions decisions. I have a minute (my clients always refer to time as “like a minute” – how long did you wait for the detective to come in? Lke a minute (2 days). How long were you in the store? Like a minute (a half hour) to think about it because I had to order textile medium to seal the color. So, while I wait for the finishing magic to arrive, I’ll think on it. I’m leaning towards turning her into a decorative pillow – round, with piping. I’ve never made piping, or applied it, so that could be an adventure.

And, for my next project, I’m thinking Frida Kahlo, since my doll was a big fail. I’m thinking that I’ll stitch her, but then, instead of stitching the flowers, I may do some ribbon embroidery -I think that might be pretty cool. We’ll see.  Maybe I’ll do her as a doll.  I have a few minutes to think on it.

In the meantime, here’s a gratiutous pic of Olive – look at that face!!!

Craftsy on Steroids – Binge or Bust

In the beginning of October, Craftsy ran a $10/all you can watch for the month of October promotion.  I didn’t get an email about it, and I didn’t see an ad for it, but someone posted about it in the Crafty Gemini Facebook group, and I ran, tripping to jump on that Craftsy train.  I’m thinking that it wasn’t very highly publicized because it’s some kind of a test or experiment for a subscription model business plan a la Netflix.  And, I would be all over that deal if it was every month.  Because Brave Girls – the ultimate Netflix of art/craft videos – no way, Craftsy – hell yeah!

So, I strapped in for the month of October, got out my knitting needles – because if you’re going to watch crafting, you might was well do crafting – came up with a game plan, and went to watching.  My plan, oddly, was essentially to watch all of the classes I wouldn’t actually pay for.  You’d think I’d start with my wish list – but, my wish list are classes that I’d pretty much agree to pay for as stand alones.  So rather than start there, I went for things I was interested in, but wouldn’t have thought to take. So, I started with knitting.

Never pay for a knitting class?  But you’re a knitter, you say, puzzled.  But, the things is, as far as techniques go, if I need to learn something to start or finish a project, I’m an experienced enough knitter that I can watch a youtube video, and pretty much figure it out.  I certainly don’t need to take any of the beginner knitter classes, or project classes like my first hat or socks or sweaters.  So, I narrowed it down to classes that couldn’t be learned on youtube, design classes.  For a run down of the knitting classes I took, and what I thought of them, pop back in on Wednesday when I chit chat about knitting.

Today, I’m going to focus on the class I took when I had exhausted my knitting options.  After knitting, I moved on to sewing.  I didn’t start with sewing for two reasons – one, I’m not sure what happens to these classes at the end of the month, and two,  when I take sewing or quilting classes, I pretty much do the projects with the instructor and that’s not so good for binge watching.  Here’s what I mean about the uncertainty of these classes – Craftsy classes are normal lifetime access.  The $10 deal was all you can watch in October.  In theory, I could have started the first lesson of every single class on the site, and added them to my library.  And, that surely couldn’t have been what they meant with the $10 deal (of course, if i had read the deal all the way through before I clicked on the Buy button, I’d know the answer to this question – I was just too excited!).  I’m assuming that whatever I “bought” in October is going to expire at the end of the month.  So, for that reason, I’m watching the entire class (unless it’s simply not what I thought it was going to be) all the way through before I start another class.  So, watching a project class all the way through to the end, then watching another one, etc., I may not be able to go back and watch them when I’m actually sewing the project.

So, again, the first class I clicked on was a class that I wasn’t sure I’d actually end up making a project, something I had an interest in because it’s interesting, and something I probably wouldn’t have even thought to buy – Thread Art with Lola Jenkins.

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Can  I just say this – SO  MUCH   FUN!  First, Lola is a character, and she’s really very encouraging with her repeated emphasis on there being no mistakes.  She starts off the class with a brief introduction of herself, in which she shares that after suffering through some of her own health problems, she then lost her husband.  To cope, she bought a sewing machine, and taught herself how to make her own brand of thread art.  See, here’s the way I like how art and healing can be incorporated in an online medium – her art saved her – she shared that with us, and then taught us her techniques.  That’s it.  No faux unlicensed therapy, no you are enough, no martyrdom – just get to work, and maybe you’ll feel better like me.  Or maybe you’ll just make something you love.

Once the life advice was dispensed, Lola moved on to teaching her seven step process to creating thread art pieces.  She made it look so easy, that at the end of the class, I stopped watching Craftsy, and started actually crafting.  In the class, Lola works through The Girl with the Pearl Earring.  Someone in the forum posted a Modigliani, and asked what Lola thought, and she said, perfect.  So, since I’m more inspired by Modigliani, I went with that –

Unfortunately, I don’t have any light, semi-solids in my stash.  I either have solids, or patterns, not so much with the batiks or the motled solids.  But, I did find this fat quarter in one of my mystery boxes, and while yellow isn’t my favorite color, I think it’s ok for this project.  There are some mistakes – oh well, it makes it less Modigliani, and a little more me. That’s ok. After stitching out the girl in the hat, it was time to fill in the background.

For the border, I went with one of three background fillers that are discussed in the class, the Lola’s wiggle – basically, hatching with wiggles. Perfect for those of us who don’t sew so straight.

Then, for the background, I went with my own version of pebbles – meaning, I did my best, but it’s a little messy. But, I still think it looks ok.  Tonight, during the Eagles/Giants game, I’ll move on to the next step – adding colored pencil.

Anyone looking to take this class to learn free motion quilting, you’ll get the flavor of it, but it’s not a full blown class on free motion stitching – she really doesn’t talk about how to set up your machine for free motion work, or how to move your fabric, or how to keep your stitches even, and that’s ok.  She’s self-taught, and free motion is one of those things you really learn by practicing.  I did binge watch one of Leah Day’s free motion classes – and of course, she’s an excellent source for free motion technique.  So, I’m not sure how I would have done with this stitching had I not watched Leah’s class first, but I still think that Lola makes everything look so easy, that anyone could get started.  And, as you can see from the number of projects posted on the class platform, a lot of people were inspired to try what was  probably a new medium for them.

So, I highly recommend this class !  Even if my project doesn’t work out so good in the end, I enjoyed watching Lola create, and I had fun making my own thread art – at least up to this point.  We’ll see how coloring and football goes tonight!

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One Super Girl and One . . . Something Girl

So, this weekend, I went back to the books – or at least one book, We Make Dolls, an anthology of dollmaking edited by Jenny Doh.  This time around, I made a super cool character doll by Nichol Brinkman of Pink Cheeks Studios.  Nichol has three patterns in We Make Dolls, Mr. Strong, Mr. Grumpy and Super Girl.  I went with Super Girl.

How cute is she?


The face stitching on this doll worked out so much better than the stitching on the failed Frida – no ingrown hair problem here, since the muslin is backed with some batting.   Mine does looks a little different from the one in the book, though – I didn’t embroider the eyebrows and nose, rather I just used a sketch stitch on my machine.  I didn’t trace the template for the mouth, I just cut out a football shape, so mine’s more elongated, and I think, comparing it to the photo, my face doesn’t seem to be as long.  No matter.  My Super Girl seems a little more sassy in her bad self pink boots, and Nichol’s seems a little more bad ass.  Anyway, here she is hanging with the Tildas.

Could be the new Dreamgirls, eh?  Super Girl and the Tildas!

I made Super Girl on a whim.  What I was really jonesing to do was paint.  And, as I’ve mentioned I have a doll girl crush on DanitaArt, so I made my own little pattern, and went to paint town.

She started out looking like this:


And, ended up looking like this:

I like her face, but if this was the face I had intended to make, I probably would have put it on a different body.  I was really going for a more childlike, whimsical face a la Mindy Lacefield.  I started out with the big eyes, and the fingerpaint, and I ended up painting over the eyes at least three times, until I ended up with these.  Maybe next time I’ll paint the face first, since I really have no idea what I’m doing, or where a face is going, and do the body second, because I definitely would have put this face on a more proportional body.  But, no matter, she’s an art doll after all.

Here she is hanging with the girls:


I was really bothered by how long her neck turned out, so I gave her a fancy scarf.

She just looks like, “whatever.”

And, since we haven’t had  a gratuitous Lemon and Olive photo for awhile, here they are:

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Cloth and Clay Doll done!

And, here’s where we left poor Dolly – stuck in a bottle while I fought with the Gunnislake Pullover.

Since she was still hanging out in the bottle, I did clean her eyes up a bit, although there’s no getting around the fact that one eye is more smooshy than the other eye. But, no matter – no one’s face is perfect, right? Well, some faces are perfect, and I guess if you’re fabricating a face, it could be perfect, but this face, it’s not perfect.

But, she’s presentable enough that she deserves some limbs:

I had some trouble sewing the arms on because I really didn’t leave very much fabric around the arm area when I was putting down my first layer of clay.  Can’t sew into clay, that I found out.  But, I was able to get them attached, and I moved on to clothing the poor thing.

I took a little dive into the box of novelty/vintage/costumey fabric that I bought when I went through my crazy quilt phase (which, if you hadn’t noticed is so over), and emerged with a gauzy embroidered piece, and a scrap of velvet that was already cut into a semi-circle, perfect for a skirt.  For the shirt, I just traced around her to get the placement of the armholes, left a wide opening to get either her head or limbs through, and then gathered the collar with silk ribbon.

And, here she is – hanging out with the rest of the girls.

She does look so prim and proper,eh?  I’m thinking I might paint some boots on her, although I’m also thinking I’m pretty done with her.

And for my next attempt – I’m going a little smaller I think. I got my Poppet tutorial Ebook – so I think I’m going to go with this kind of body –

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But, I’ll probably go my own way with the face – I’ve found that it is impossible for me to duplicate someone’s work – as you may have noticed when I scrapped the original face off of this doll when I tried to recreate Gritty Jane’s folk art doll.  But, we’ll see.  I’m definitely going to make more of an effort to get the eyes the same shape and size before I give up in frustration again.  And, I’m still totally jonesing to take Danita’s art doll class, but I just can’t justify the cost right now -maybe after I get some holiday cash in December.  We’ll see.

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Yarning Along – One Success and One Big Time Fail

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Hello knitters! Long time no see. But I have been knitting! Pretty diligently too. And, as with all things that rely on the law of averages, I have one success to report, and sadly one fail – one sad, pathetic fail.

But, the good news first. Remember that Miss Babs I bought at Maryland Sheep & Wool? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t – but here it is! Just like I said it would be – as a finished Wickerwork!  Look how pretty that yoke is!

Wickerwork is by Gudrun Johnston, aka the Shetland Trader, and was published in Twist Collective sometime last year.  Have I mentioned how much I love Twist? Each pattern is a separate PDF, which means that when the powers that be edit a pattern, there’s no concern about leaving space for ads, or the next pattern, or more ads – the only concern is about making the pattern readily understandable to the average knitter.  I don’t mean there aren’t pattern repeats designated with asterix, or that there aren’t our familiar knitterly abbreviations.  I just mean that huge chunks of necessary explanations aren’t condensed into incomprehensible run on sentences in order to save column inches.   Every Twist pattern I’ve ever bought is easy to follow, and edited with the knitter in mind.  And that’s not to say they’re easy patterns, or beginner patterns.  Some are, but the patterns for advanced knitters are written in a way that you don’t need a Rosetta stone to translate them.

Unlike the latest issue of Interweave Knits.

And, here I present the fail.

Look at that ridiculous pyramid yoke – it’s supposed to be a yoke – a circle, not a triangle!!  And you know what, that’s not my fail, pattern – that’s your fail!  Yep, that’s right – I’m calling you out, pattern.  Pattern fail, not knitter fail.

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That, above is supposed to be the entire upper yoke of a sweater for my 6’4″ husband.

Ok, let me back up.  After knitting myself a sweater, and numerous shawls and what nots, I decided that it was time to knit my husband a sweater.  This is a big undertaking in every sense of the project.  My husband is 6’4″ – that’s a lot of yarn – so it’s a big purchase.  My husband is very sensitive to the itchies, and is really picky about the fabric he wears.  He’s the one that checks the thread count when we buy sheets.  So, it’s a big, expensive purchase – no cheap yarn for him.  And then there’s the actual knitting – knitting a sweater for that tall a guy doesn’t just mean the torso is long – it’s also the arms.   The sleeves are endless.  And, of course, there are two of them.  So, it’s a big time commitment.

When I saw the Fall issue of the Interweave Knits, I was immediately drawn to this:

The Gunnislake Pullover, by the new editor of Interweave Knits.  I liked that it was rugged, and that it was knit in Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter.  I liked that the sleeves were set in sleeves, and I liked the placket – I thought it would give my pretty broad husband extra room.

So, I bought the digital pattern through Zinio Magazines.  First mistake.  I don’t know if it’s the case if you buy the digital magazine straight from Interweave, but through Zinio, it is impossible to zoom in on the instructions without the pages flipping to the back of the magazine.  Also, the magazine isn’t a pdf, so it can’t be opened in ibooks, nor can it be converted to my fav, KnitCompanion.  If you are very careful, and zoom only slightly, the magazine won’t flip pages, but it’s a real pain in the butt.

After buying the magazine, I made a huge dent in my yarn allowance for probably about three months, and bought 14 balls of Shelter in the main color, and then two balls of the white contrast, and one of the red.   Because I wanted the same dye lot, my yarn store had to order it for me, and I waited two weeks for it to come in.  Then, there it was – and I cast on.  The first time I cast on, my gauge was ridiculously off – I’m a wishful thinking swatcher. But for the second go, I had Knittyd check it for me, and I was good to go.  And, just to be sure it was going to be big enough, I cast on the largest size, thinking it’s never bad, with a sweater like that, to have a bit of extra room.

And then, I started knitting.  To get started, you need to read through the entire first part of the pattern to get going and because of the way it’s written, you need to read it a few times, and a few times more, because it is edited to the nth degree to ensure that it only fit into one tiny column in the magazine.  Because of the way she did her increases – in the sleeve, and in the front, and at different rates, I had to set up a columned chart to check off the increases as I did them, and to ensure that I was on the correct row.  Ok, done. Then, it was time to start the color work – and frankly, it really didn’t look right at the get go. I put my stitches on waste yarn, and held it up to my husband – it seemed to just fit.  I figured, with the increasing in the yoke, it’s going to grow, I’ll keep going.  So, then I started the sleevecap increases, and the color work, and the  . . . nope – no chest or back increases.  Just increasing in the sleeve.  Who is this sweater for, I thought, a beanpole.  And, the increases were every other row.  Can you picture it – no increases in the front, no increases in the back, and a triangle growing at each sleeve –  totally pushing the neck up in the back – and the whole thing started to grow like a pyramid.  See photo above.

On top of the crazy increases, the colorwork repeat was squished into one chart, with different arrows for starting the front, sleeve, and back, for each size with no accounting for the increased stitches – just work them into the pattern, it said.  I think that if she had actually charted the increases, with the stitches, visually, she would have seen that this wasn’t working in the larger sizes, which had a different rate of increase than the sample that was knit, and that the model is wearing.

So, I took it off the needles again, as you see above, and I couldn’t even get it over Joe’s head its so ridiculously shaped.  So, I said fey, and threw it aside, never to be touched again.

But, I did have all of that yarn I invested in – big time investment.  Luckily, there’s a lot of pattern support for Shelter, and I went with this pattern from the ever reliable Ann Budd:

I know Ann Budd’s work, and I know the pattern is going to be correct.

But, I can tell you, it’s going to be a long time before I buy an Interweave Knits again.

Rant over.

So, what am I reading.  Like much of the reading universe, I just closed the book on The Nightingale, by Kristen Hannah.

For the first about 150 pages, I just really didn’t see what all the fuss was about, but then all of a sudden, the book was on fire, and I couldn’t put it down.  And, at the end, although I hate to admit it, my eyes were definitely wet, and as I finished it right before bed, I think my pillow may have gotten a little soggy.  Loved this book, truly.

And now, on the recommendation of a friend at work, I’m reading this:

I’m not very far in – but I have to say, it’s strangely charming so far.

So, hope everyone had a great summer, and I am totally excited that fall knitting is well underway!

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The Many Faces of Dolly

If at first you don’t succeed . . . just scrape off a face, and make a new one.

So, I decided to finally try to make one of Gritty Jane’s Cloth and Clay Dolls.  I haven’t provided a link (the link is just to a photo advertising the old workshop) because the workshop is no longer available.  First, it was an online workshop on her blog.  Then, it was part of a ning community, and then it transferred to Jane Spakowsky (formerly Gritty Jane)’s art ning The Trodden Path.  When the Trodden Path closed its doors, Jane sent out an email with the links to the tutorials to those who had paid for the class, and set up a private Facebook page.  So, yep, I took this class years ago, and am finally trying to make this folk art doll.

What stopped me before wasn’t the clay, or the painting, neither of which I’m particularly good at, but at least I have no fear,  but rather it was the sewing.  Back then, I was so inept with my sewing machine that I just couldn’t see sewing the thin little pieces, and getting them turned.  Everything about sewing before I knew what I was doing was a hassle.  Curves – right, no.  So, now that I have overcome my fear and inexperience with the machine, and with my current doll making kick, I thought I’d give it a go.

Of course, I failed to save the pattern.  I emailed Jane, but she didn’t get back to me.  And, I can’t blame her – at all – she has done everything in her power to make the class continue to be accessible, and it’s certainly not her fault that I failed (or lost, I’m not really sure anymore) to download the course materials.  So, I found another pattern based on an Izannah Walker doll (an historic cloth and clay doll)  on Pinterest, and plunged ahead.  I watched Jane’s sculpting videos several times, covered my doll in paperclay, and made an attempt to sculpt a face.


Poor thing – she has the nose that ate the world.  Jane starts her dolls with the nose piece, and then continues to add clay to shape the chin, jaw and cheekbones.  I think I used enough clay for her nose to make a whole other face.  Oh well.  She’s not so cute.

Easy solution – I just scraped the face off, and started again.  This time, I didn’t really follow a tutorial, I just tried to make the clay into what I thought to be a face.

And, while her eyes went goofy, as do all of my eye experiments, I was happier with this result – here she is in a painting stage –

And, here she is pretty much done – or at least on time out. I think I’ll probably still try to clean up her eyes, but since the clay is cock-eyed, they’re never going to be perfect anyway.

Overall, I’m encouraged – I see definite improvement from face 1 to face 2.  And that’s what practice is about, right?  Next time, I think I’m going to hollow out an area for the eyes, but I won’t put clay eyeballs in, I think I’ll just paint them in – maybe I’ll have better luck at making them the same size that way.  We’ll see.  In any event, I am going to finish this dolly up, attach the arms and legs, and make her a little skirt.

So, tomorrow starts my Popavacation – the Pope is coming to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia is closing up shop for business.  I’ll take it!  So, I’m off for six straight days – thanks Pope Francis.  Tonight, ironically, starts Yom Kippur, and I would have been off anyway tomorrow, fasting, but what a bonus that I don’t have to use a vacation day!

And what am I going to do with my six days?  When I’m finished fasting and atoning, I’m going to  . . . oh my!  so many things – I can’t even get my thoughts together!

You’ll just have to wait and see.

By the way – I love painting with the doll shoved in the jar!

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Jess Brown Dolly

Finally, the weather broke – literally, the clouds finally cracked, rain poured down, and my craftroom is now, once again, a pleasant place to be.  And,  while my Jess Brown doll might be sitting around in her skivvies, I was comfortable in my t-shirt and shorts.

How cute are her little pantaloons??  So cute.  The clothes in the book are super simple to make, and were probably the least time consuming process of making little dolly.

This is the drawstring dress that’s on the cover of the book.  In keeping with the themes of the book, I did plunder my tiny stash of vintage fabrics for this embroidered piece.  While I love it, Joe thought she looked kind of nun-ish, with the smock like shape of the dress, and the high neck.  I love the simple look of the dress, but I think my niece might agree with Joe at least as far as the fabric goes – I don’t think she’d appreciate the vintage fabric – I think she’d just think it was old.  So, I think I’m keeping this doll experiment, and that’s ok.

And now for a look at the hair.  During the week, I said a heartfelt goodbye to all of my moth riddled sweaters.  I had them stacked in a pile, while I came to terms with the fact that they were too destroyed to be fixed.   That process took a few years.  But, finally, I felt ready.   Even though they were filled with holes, it was with a heavy heart that I threw them into the washing machine to be felted beyond recognition.  So, this head of hair was born from my favorite GAP sweater.  The handmade sweaters that I felted turned out much to thick for hair, but will find their ways into other projects.

As you can see, I had no idea what I was doing. The instructions in the book tell you to cut strips and sew them to the head. Not that helpful really. So, I started with the ribbing, and sewed that on, like they were bangs, I guess. Then, I sewed on a strip across the back of the head. Then, I got the idea to cut shorter strips, and roll them up at the bottom, like curling hair, I guess. I think it would have looked better had I not sewn that strip down the middle – but that I had sewed the vertical strips to the front bang strip. I don’t know. It’s just hair, no biggie.  And it is super soft.

And here she is, finished! Well, for the most part. I think I may use a ribbon around the neckline of the dress instead of the embroidery floss that the pattern talked about. But, for the most part, done. And, I do think she’s very sweet.

So, final thoughts.  As far as the pattern goes, it’s simple, but . . .  I think the pattern was designed for the sewer who is afraid of sewing curves.  Pretty much you sew a straight line, pivot, sew.  The only true curves are around the head, hand, and the foot – sort of – the leg is folded in half, and sewn.  I think if I were to make it again, I’d definitely do the base of the doll differently – so that it doesn’t come out like a triangle with pencils sticking out of her.    And, to avoid the pencil like leg, I think I’d make them longer, with a knee bend.  And, if you sew the arms on after – whether you attach them with buttons or just sew them on (like Tilda), you don’t need the stuffing hole in the back.   We’ll see.

And, in keeping with the notion that every child deserves a “comfort” doll as Jess Brown calls them, I chatted with my niece last night about making rag dolls as part of her bat mitzvah mitzvah project.  Right now she volunteers with my nephew’s autism meet up group, The Friendship Circle.  I thought maybe I’d make a bunch of doll parts, and Danielle would help me stuff them and dress them, and then we’d give them to the kids at Hanukkah.  Danielle thought that was a great idea, but we’ll see if there’s any follow through there.  If there isn’t, it’s no biggie – she does enough work as it is with the kids.  I would like to make some dolls to donate though.  While I don’t have any problems with the pricing of Jess Brown dolls – they’re handmade, with the best material, and have a definite high end vibe to them – I disagree that they are in fact affordable.  They are affordable to a certain market, sure, but not the market I’m privvy to.  Maybe if my plot with Danielle doesn’t work out, I’ll think about donating them to a pediatric ward of a hospital or something.  Our office does a toy drive every year, but doesn’t accept handmade toys.  I”m thinking if I leave off removable parts like buttons or plastic eyes, they should be ok.  I don’t know – still plotting.

The great ragdoll experiment continues!

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My Low End High End Ragdoll – Making a Jess Brown Doll

As I mentioned, I decided that before I start winging it with my own patterns, I thought I’d make some tried and true patterns to get the hang of construction and popular aesthetic.  So, over the weekend, I downloaded Jess Brown’s Making of a Ragdoll.

Before I downloaded the book, I did check out a hard copy at Barnes & Noble.  It really is a beautiful hardback book.  The photos are lovely, and give the book a vintage, natural feel.  Much is lost in the digital copy, and if you’re at all interested in this book, I would recommend spending the extra $15 and get a paper copy.  Jess Brown intends her dolls to be “comfort dolls,” and much of the curl up with the book comfort is lost with the digital version.  Also, piecing together the patterns from the downloaded digital version was a total pain in the butt.  The digital version directs you to an online PDF.  The PDF contains instructions for printing, and which options to choose in your print menu for tile printing.  Then, the pattern prints like puzzle pieces, that have to be cut, and pieced together with small x’s as guides.  Cutting and piecing the doll pattern as well as the clothes and the accessories took well over an hour. Oy!


Before cutting, piecing and taping, I did read Jess Brown’s narrative about the birth of the dolls and her love for all natural materials like corn fiber stuffing, bamboo embroidery thread, and non-plastic buttons.  I envied her that her job requires her to haunt flea markets for vintage fabrics and other textiles (as opposed to my job which requires weekly prison trips).  While the story of the dolls served as a nice introduction to the why of the organic materials, I had actually already heard the story told by Jess Brown on the While She Naps podcast, and the podast interview is really so much more interesting than the book.  For instance, in the book, she talks about how the first doll she made for her daughter was sewn from cashmere sweaters that had been destroyed in the wash.  In the actual telling of the story in chit chat way, without the formality of a book, it’s her husband who decided to do the wash that day, and destroyed the sweaters – this teeny tiny detail makes for a better story.  And, in the podcast, she goes into the effects of having Martha Stewart feature her dolls, working on a fashion week installation with life size ragdolls, and how she runs her business, including producing the dolls, pricing the dolls, and her thoughts on actually writing the book.

In this doll quest of mine, I’ve perused Etsy, looking at all sorts of dolls – art dolls, clay dolls, rag dolls, Tilda dolls, etc., and it’s was no surprise that there are a lot of Jess Brown knock-offs out there.  So, it was understandable when she talked in the podcast about how ambivalent she was about writing a book after being approached by Chronicle.  Why should she write a book, reveal her secret sauce to her pattern, and hand the keys to the kingdom over to these copycats when this is how she makes a living?  And, I’m really glad that I listened to this analysis of coming to the decision to write the book, and coming to a compromise of creating a new doll for the book that’s not THE doll.

Yes, the pattern in the book is not THE Jess Brown doll, but a Jess Brown doll.  The doll has all of the elements that make a lovely comfort doll – the simple body, instructions for her signature star eyes and felt heart shaped mouth, and cute patterns for a sun dress, a long sleeve dress, a coat, a hat, a duffle bag, and pantaloons.  But, if you were hoping for instructions on how to make her 22′ inch doll, with arms that are attached with buttons, this is not that pattern.  And, after listening to the podcast, I was totally ok with that.  It’s still a Jess Brown doll.

The pattern itself is pretty easy to sew.  I decided to transfer the 1/4′ seam lines to the backside of my fabric.  To do this, as you can see above, I used chaco paper, which is basically carbon paper.  The photo above shows the back of the doll.  I won’t go exactly into how this works – you’ll have to buy the book, but after sewing the two halves of the back together you have a more rounded head, and an opening for stuffing up the back.   This, apparently, is another departure from THE doll.  From what I can tell from online photos, THE doll has a pretty basic body – and if there’s any shaping of the head, I can’t tell.

Anyway, this chaco paper transfer was particularly helpful on the front of the doll, which does require you to transfer pivot points at the under arm pits of the doll.  If I had one qualm with the pattern it’s definitely these arms.  While the button shoulder arms may be one of the signature features of THE doll, it’s not original, not like the star eyes or the felt heart mouth.  I think she was giving away more secrets describing the eyes, than having separate arms.  But, in any event, having the arms attached to the body leads to a little kink where it joins the body.  Eh, so she has a wrinkle.  But, if you want to create a really simple, accessible pattern, I think it’s much much more simple to sew the arms separately and attach them to the body then sew around this really narrow area, and turn it seemlessly.

And, just in case you’re looking to make a doll like this, or any doll with skinny arms, here’s a good way to flip them rightside out.

1. First, stick a straw in the limb:

2. Then, turn it upside down, and stick a chopstick, or as I’ve used here, the stick that comes with polyfiberfil, into the tip of the outside of the limb, shoving the stick into the straw.

3. Then slowly, you don’t want to poke a hole in the end of your limb, roll the fabric down over your chopstick/stick and voila!

Limbs succesfully turned! Ownward. The next step in the book is to stuff and sew up the body, and do the face after it’s stuffed.  She gives you instructions to do the signature star, pulling the thread out through the back of the head, I guess to be covered with hair.

I opted not to do the star eye.  Confession time – I think the star eye is creepy.  So, what kind of an eye then?  I thought about buttons, but if this doll turns out ok, it’ll eventually be gifted to a 2 year old – buttons not so good.  While thinking about it, I happened to listen to another While She Naps podcast with Christina Platt of Bamboletta, and she talked about the theory behind Waldorf style dolls.  Apparently, the idea is that a doll should be fairly expressionless because this allows for the child to fully access their imagination when playing with the doll – they can imagine the doll to be happy or sad, and they’re not limited by a constantly smiling, happy faced doll.  So, while I didn’t love the star eye, I did want a neutral face, but a pleasant face.  So, after looking at a lot of doll eyes, I used this one, which I embroidered in a hoop before sewing the doll together:

I did go for the heartshaped mouth, because I think it’s sweet. THE Jess Brown doll’s heartshaped mouth is not red, it’s more of a dull yellow.

Anyway, so here she is so far.

Ready for stuffing!  The instructions in the book have you just sew across the front of the doll while attaching the legs, leaving a raw edge.  Since I’m not using any kind of special organic fabric, but kind of crappy but soft cotton from Michael’s, I think I’m going to turn a hem under.

The two year old I mentioned is one of my niece’s on Joe’s side, and she’s just learning to walk.  THE doll, the 22″‘er, came into being because Jess Brown’s daughter was learning to walk at the time she was creating the doll – so she measured from her arm to her feet, so that the doll would be a walking companion.  I like that idea.  So, if this all works out, I think I may make another one that’s more like Tilda – make the body bigger, get rid of the seam in the back, sew the arms separately, make them longer, attach them with a button, make longer longs, with maybe jointed knees.  We’ll see.

First, I have to figure out how to attach hair – because that’s not explained so well in the book.  Stingy on the secret sauce there. Eh, who can blame her?  Not me.

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