Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gansey Legwarmers

Yes, some knitting! Oh, the knitting. It's been a hard road this summer. After I finished the pocket-on-a-string, which, by the way, I've been using all summer and love to bits and thank goodness I decided to line it, I tried some cabled gloves. I messed up the cable, a whole bunch of stitches fell off the needles when I tried to fix it, and I turned the glove back to yarn. Then I tried a doily. A whole bunch of stitches fell off the needle while I was trying to switch from DPNs to a circular, I got frustrated, and I turned it back to string. So I decided to forget the cables, forget the lace, but maybe, just maybe, I could handle some knits and purls? You think? (In my defense, my fingers have been hurting all summer. They don't seem to work right. But still.)

These are the Gansey Leg Warmers from Interweave Knits Weekend 2011, which I saw while buying the circular for the ill-fated doily and decided to bring home with me. If you click over to the Ravelry pattern page, you'll see that mine are a bit less slouchy than the originals. I swapped out yarns, using Reynolds Soft Sea Wool that I already had, so my gauge was a little off. I don't mind, since these still reach from my ankle to my knee. (Is Reynolds still making yarn anymore? I can't find a good link to share. I'm really out of the whole yarn-buying groove and I have no idea what's out there. I could not buy yarn for years and still knit away.)

If I'd been paying attention, I could have just added a few more repeats of something or other to each leg, but I wasn't, so I didn't. I had two skeins of natural and two of grey, and while I think these would look great all in natural, I didn't think 100 g would do it. (I was right; these took 113 g.)

The pattern has you doing four different repeats and gives you the order, but you only do the star repeat once, and it's not in the middle. This drives me a little batty, but since I was going to be batty anyway, I decided to do that one in grey for the first legwarmer. (You can tell that more easily in the top photo; the star is in grey on the right legwarmer.) To continue the apparent theme of utter randomness begun by the pattern, I knit one of the diamond repeats in grey on the second legwarmer.

When I finished weaving in ends and showed my husband, he said, "Are you going to wear those?" Well, that was the general idea, yes. I love the Reynolds Soft Sea Wool; it's so smushy and soft (truth in advertising!). But it doesn't wear well as a sock, despite having all that sock pattern support. But I can wear these under jeans, or over leggings with a skirt, because you know what? It gets cold here in the winter. I hate being cold.

I maybe even got my knitting groove back in time for autumn, because I'm wanting to cast on something new...

(We fared remarkably well during Tropical Storm Irene--she got downgraded before she reached us--much, much better than most of the state, since we never even lost power. We've gained a couple extra days of summer vacation, too, and I'm thrilled. School shouldn't start in August in New England.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Creative Space: August 25

My goodness, where did the week go? In between a full and busy weekend and a few days having my nearly grown-up niece to stay, I managed to craft a little.

First up, today is my husband's birthday. After the boys were so successful in creating their own superhero shirts, I suggested we make a shirt for their dad's surprise gift. They know his favorite superhero is Wolverine, so despite the fact that Wolverine doesn't really have a symbol like some other superheroes, they were adamant(ium) (ha! you'd have to know superheroes, I guess, to get that). We ended up with a three-color deal, lots of arguing spirited debate about design and placement, and the banishment of one child altogether when it became clear that he was arguing because he likes to argue. The shirt, shown here before I ironed it, was largely the work of my nine-year-old (although I cut and ironed the stencils).

That X in the circle is the X-men logo, but you can tell the shirt represents Wolverine because of the claws coming in from the side. (I know more about superheroes than I ever wanted to, and most of it has seeped in without my conscious knowledge.)

Next up... I'm almost done with my Feeling Stitchy August Stitch-a-long piece--and in case you missed it, John had such kind words to say about my progress as of last week; he totally made my Saturday morning--so I put it in the hoop to see what I want to do next. Up until that point I'd been embroidering at whim, but I figured I should make sure what I have goes into the hoop in which I want to frame it in a logical way. I don't want to cut off any of the embroidered bits. So I took this photo to help me remember which part I'd decided to "frame."

It's a poor, flash-lit photo, but really, I took it so I wouldn't forget. Then I roughly sketched it out so I wouldn't forget. I'll probably forget anyway. But I'm almost done, at any rate, and just in time, Wendi posted a video on how to neatly frame embroidery in a hoop; I was kind of fuzzy on how to do that.

The final picture: a heap of stuff on my ironing board, which represents projects to come.

The caterpillar is on one side of a folded panel; on the other is the butterfly, of course! I bought this when we visited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art about a week and a half ago, because my daughter would like a caterpillar pillow. I haven't decided if I'll make a throw pillow out of it and put it over a pillow form, or if I'll get some coordinating fabric so it's large enough for a pillow case. I wanted to wash it first and then measure it again. So now it's been washed, and it needs an iron. (You can see the full panel on this page; it's the first item.)

The pile of white cloth to the left is four flour sack dishtowels from Target. Nothing fancy, but I wanted some plain dishtowels for embroidery. I've been working on more tide pool drawings and I'm just about ready to stitch, once I finish my stitch-a-long piece.

Phew! And along with all that, there was an earthquake (I didn't feel it, but I was on the edge of an island in the Bay, and I wonder if the crazy waves right about that time were related) and now we're bracing for a hurricane. The forecast keeps changing, so we'll get ready while we wait to see what the ultimate danger is. This weekend is my kids' last before school starts on Tuesday. I'd planned to fit in one last beach visit on their last day of summer vacation, but either way, somehow I don't think that's going to happen!

What's been keeping you busy? And you can see lots more creative spaces here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Simple Shell Mobile

This simple little thing took me three days to do, working in fits and starts (which is how most things get accomplished around here!). But truly, it's simple.

The only thing I haven't done is find a permanent home for it, so you've got sort of a busy background in the photos. At any rate, over the weekend we ended up at a beach which often has lots of quahog shells, in all sizes. There were so many with perfectly drilled holes in them that I decided to pick them up to make a mobile. The holes--I don't know if you can tell--are all at the top, near the hinge. They're formed by moon snails, which drill through the shell so they can eat the clam. Bad for the clam, but it sure makes hanging the shells easier for us.

Ideally, I'd have hung these from driftwood, but the beaches we visit don't really offer up much driftwood. I don't know if that's due to environment, currents.... no idea. So I bought a fifty-cent dowel, sawed it in half, painted it white with some acrylic craft paint, and hung the shells from that.

Before stringing, I gathered my shells together and sorted them by size, and then arranged them roughly largest (at the top) to smallest. I used fishing line, which I don't actually enjoy working with that much, but I like the transparent effect. The string is anchored into the smallest shell at the bottom with a couple of small seed beads, and then for the rest the fishing line is sort of half-hitched through the shell and then I tied a knot around that. (I'm terrible with knot identification. I think it was half-hitch-ish.)

I measured evenly to tie the strings of shells on, so it would be balanced, and I sawed a shallow notch so the fishing line would stay where I put it instead of sliding around on the dowel. Then I used some crochet cotton for the top piece, to hang from, because I was tired of fishing line. (I tried fishing line first, but it kept getting tangled up with the strings of shells every time I put it down. Gah.)

Here's another view--less busy in the background, but with lights.

My goal here? To bring some summer with us as the seasons change. I love summer, I love the beach, I love the creatures (we saw the funniest blue crab yesterday! He was Textbook Crab, too, waving us away with his claw as he skittered and paddled sideways), I love the sun and the salt and the sand and the sound of the surf and the birds flying low over the water and I am not ready for summer to end, not at all. So this is a mobile created in August, but really, I think I'll need it most in February.

Shared (a day late!) with our creative spaces. Lots more creative folks here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Process: Hermit Crab

Remember, from this post, that I was trying to draw a hermit crab? He looked well enough, but kind of generic. I was finding it difficult to draw it when I wasn't sure what, exactly, a hermit crab looks like inside of that shell. Fortunately, during our last trip to the tide pools, this hermit crab helped me out by extending about as far from his shell as he could without falling out. (Did you know the last pair of appendages form a clamp, so it can stay in the shell? According to my excellent guidebook to critters in Narragansett Bay, pulling them out of the shell is likely to hurt or kill them. This guy flung himself out all on his own.)

I could have used this to draw a hermit crab the way you typically see them--with just those big front claws and eyes on stalks sticking out of the shell--but I like how he looks, all stretched out like that, so I drew him that way. The ultimate goal with this critter was to embroider him. I used what I had on hand--a blue cloth napkin.

So, there are a few problems here. The background is so dark, and I have this THING where I have a hard time embroidering real critters in crazy colors, so it's kind of hard to see all the lines--although my kids recognized it right away. (I anticipate fights over who gets the hermit crab napkin until I embroider a few more special napkins.) I think he'd look better on a lighter background with a purple-blue periwinkle shell. Because the background is so dark, I used tear-away stabilizer for the pattern transfer, and I spent nearly as much time picking out bits of stabilizer with the tweezers as I did stitching.

As for the drawing itself, I think there needs to be another line in there to show where the opening of the shell curves inward on the left-hand side. But otherwise, I'm pleased with him. I'd like a whole set of tide-pool critters, but I move pretty slowly around here. I have way more ideas than time, and I just have to be content with making slow but steady progress.

(Also, I'm doing more than just embroidery! I know it's been a glut of embroidery posts lately. I'm knitting, too, although slowly. And I have projects to sew, but we've had all these beautiful sunny days and school starts so ridiculously soon that I'm not likely to declare another mama-sews day again this summer.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Giveaway Winner: Embroidery Supplies

Random.org says...
...the winner is number 11, Here and There, who said:

I'm new to embroidery and really getting a kick out of it. Your snakes are beautiful, and thx for the chance to win the giveaway!
You're welcome! I've sent you an email, so look for it. Thanks to everyone who left a comment--I just love to enable new crafting adventures! (And as a reminder, if you liked Sara's snakes pattern, it's available in her shop here.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Progress: August Stich-a-Long

(Don't forget to enter to win some starter embroidery supplies!)

Once I decided to use the flower fabric for Feeling Stitchy's August Stitch-a-Long, I spent one evening mainly staring at it, not at all sure where to begin. Because I'm new to embroidery, my stitch vocabulary--the stitches I know myself--is fairly small. With time, I'll be able to look at an area and scroll through several possibilities for stitches in my head. But right now I feel so limited, like I need a good thesaurus. After I stared, I consulted the two embroidery books I own (Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches and Stich-opedia) and gained my footing a bit. But still, I can't believe it took me so long to remember stem stitch as an option, and I see so much I'd change if I started over. But enough. Let's take a look at my progress!

I began by finding an area of fabric that had a larger flower that I wanted to stitch, and then I started with the lines in the leaves (which I now wish I'd used stem stitch for). Then I worked on the center of the large flower, and I began to fall a bit in love with this project.

I used satin stitch for the yellow ring and purple, French knots for the very center, and seed stitch for the pink. (The colors are almost true but not quite; I waited for the rain to clear and finally set this down right by the slider before we lost the little natural light we received today.) I've tried to work the areas from back to front; in other words, stitching the foreground last, so I'm not stitching a petal that overlaps a leaf before I stitch the leaf.

Speaking of leaves, I really like this one:

My satin stitch is not the best, so I used a little backstitch after I filled in those red polka dots, to define them a bit more. Then I read I should do that in reverse: backstitch, then work the satin stitch over the edges of the backstitching. I'll try that next time. The black circles are backstitched with two strands of floss, and I outlined the leaf with chain stitch, um, just because.

This little flower was also fun, although now I wish I'd used yellow stem stitch to outline instead of backstitch. I used cross-stitches for the orange band and French knots for the pink. Underneath is a narrow circle of green.

Back to the larger flower up above. When I finally remembered stem stitch, I decided to use it for all the black doodles on the petals, again using just two strands--I don't want the black to be overwhelming. I'm kind of tickled with the way it looks.

I'm thinking of outlining those petals in orange buttonhole stitches.

Another thing I'm finding interesting is the ways the colors interact. Look at the big picture again:

The lines on the two purple leaves and the orange leaf are all the same red-orange color, but it really looks pink on the purple background. I find myself squinting and holding the floss against the fabric in good light to reassure myself that I'm getting it right.

So, if I had to start again, I might do some things differently, but it's all part of the learning process, and I'm finding this really fun. It's interesting that I've read that stitching on printed fabric is a good place for beginners to start, because like I said, if you only know a few stitches, that's all you think of to use. I bet if I tried something like this again in a few months it would turn out very different, just because I'd know more.

I'm thinking this will end up in a painted-to-match hoop, hung on the wall. But first I have to learn how I'm supposed to back it and all for that....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Finished Snakes and a Giveaway

(ETA: You can find the pattern for all these snakes in Sara's shop here.)

Sara is wrapping up her "Stitching Angels" series tomorrow, but I'm showing you all four finished snakes here today--plus I'm hosting a little giveaway to celebrate. First up, the Emerald Tree Boa, properly ironed and everything!

I think this guy would look great as an applique or stitched onto some green fabric. Since I was using natural muslin, I lightly shaded the snake with a green colored pencil. Those white patches were my first ever attempts at satin stitch. I learned I don't like doing it much!

Next is, I think, my favorite--the rattlesnake.

For this one, I used seed stitch as the fill stitch, and I really think it was worth it! I was worried for a bit there that the browns weren't going to contrast enough, but they did (whew!) and I'm pretty impressed with the end result. Also, if you don't embroider, I'll let you in on a secret--all this takes is patience. It's not hard at all.

For the next two snakes, I departed from reality and let my kids pick the colors. My seven-year-old chose the colors for the striped snake. I limited him to five, plus one more for the head.

Isn't he colorful!

The final pattern I stitched was a cobra, and I chose to do the small size, mainly to try to show the variation in sizes for the patterns (although you can't really see that in the photos anyway), and I did struggle with it a bit.

I let my two-year-old choose the colors for this one, by the way. I'm pleased with the basket. I wanted to find a stitch to use in there that would look basket-like but not be overwhelming for me to learn in this rather short time period. I looked through my copy of Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches and chose spaced buttonhole filling. The directions have you work buttonhole stitch from left to right—which is the way I’m used to doing it—and then, on the row below, from right to left. You just work it back and forth until you’re done. Working buttonhole stitch in the opposite direction like that was a little trickier than I thought it would be—our hands gets so used to doing the same things in the same ways! I very much like the effect, though, even if it's a bit wonky in places.

Sara drew little ovals down the side of the cobra's flared neck, and they seemed to want to be chain stitches. But at that size, everything got close together and this is where I really struggled on the stitching. I wish I could say I like this one better, but mainly I was glad he was done. I feel I didn't quite do the drawing justice.

So what are we going to do with these snakes?! Alas, if you were hoping, I'm not giving any of them away. My kids would never forgive me. I'm not sure what they'll become--patches on a kid's totebag? A wall hanging? I'm sure we'll know it when we see it. Meanwhile, I hope to encourage anybody out there who is considering trying embroidery--or who knows somebody who could benefit from some starter supplies (a child? a neighbor?)--by giving away some basics that are enough to get you started, assuming you have some fabric scraps at your disposal.

Two hoops--a 5-inch and a 7-inch, which are the sizes I've been using--a package of embroidery needles, and a whole bunch of floss--thirty-six skeins. All brand new. Take a closer look at the floss...

That will keep you stitching for a while. Just leave a comment here before noon on Monday, August 15, to be eligible, and yup, I'll mail it overseas. Make sure that if I don't already know your email address, it's either in your Blogger profile or you leave it somehow in your comment, because if I don't have an email address to let you know you've won, your comment doesn't count.

And my latest embroidery project? The flowers have it.
Happy stitching!

Shared with our creative spaces. See lots more creative folks here!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Inspiration: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor

Last week my kids and I visited Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. We're members, and it really is an excellent place to visit, although we usually skip the village part and focus on the boats, the playscape, and the inside exhibits, which always include something interesting. Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor is there for a few more weeks, and while I'd like to get back and have a bit more time with it, I'm glad I didn't miss it entirely.

I was drawn to those three blocks right away. These were displayed at the beginning, and--how I wish I took notes or at least a picture of the text, too--I believe these are examples of tattooing that early sailors would have come in contact with. This case has instruments from the Dayek peoples of Borneo--I'm just reading the paper right in the case that you can see in the photo, because it's awfully difficult to read anything when your youngest doesn't want to walk, but also doesn't want to sit, and instead is working on slithering right out of the stroller just to see if she can. Anyway, I managed to cut off the bit of the paper that says exactly what those are, but they're tattoo designs of some sort, and I can't help but note the similarity to carved stamps. I really want to get a better look at these.

The exhibit is full of flash--tattoo design samples--including some in books. My 7yo, who loves dragons, wanted a photo of this one. Again, although the artist's name was displayed along with the book, I don't know it.

I really had to twist to get that photo, and then I realized the museum had thoughtfully made copies of the designs, laminated them, and reassembled them as a book that you could flip through, so I took a few more pictures of other designs, directed by the kids.

The kids and I agreed that "tattoo artist" was definitely the right description--these folks are amazing artists. (The exhibit also included a big-screen TV that was showing examples of modern tattoos from area tattoo artists.) I have two tattoos, but they're small, basic, one-color designs: a salamander (oh surprise!) and the zodiac symbol for Virgo, both from the year I was 21. I'm considering one more, but I can't settle on what.

But I don't intend to say these are inspiration for a third tattoo; they're too big for me. But they are inspiring--the designs, the artwork, the level of skill and detail. Just to be able to draw that on paper, never mind transfer it in ink to someone's skin--it's an art and a craft and a skill. And if I leave an exhibit feeling inspired to draw based on what I saw, that's pretty cool all by itself.

What about you? Are you a tattoo person, or not so much?

Friday, August 5, 2011

August Stitch-a-Long: The Next Embroidery Project

Do you read the Feeling Stitchy blog? (If you embroider, or have any interest in beginning to, you should!) I began following shortly after I fell headlong into the embroidery rabbit hole, but I've never joined in with a stitch-a-long before. They host them every month. Either I'm busy with something else, or the pattern doesn't speak to me, or the pattern speaks to me and says, "Be intimidated!" THIS month, though, I'm on the ball. This month, the stitch-a-long is to stitch on fabric of your choice, following the design. This is something I've had in the back of my mind to get to anyway, so this seems like perfect timing. (I did a little bit of this on one of my sewn cuffs, here.) So, the first step is to decide what fabric.

First I looked in stash. I have some cool dragon fabric (I didn't photograph it), but the dragon is HUGE. I mean, HUGE. It would take forever to go over it in thread, plus then what would I do with it? So I decided that would become something else... someday. On the way home from the library with all the kids the other day, I ducked into the local quilting store and bought a couple fat quarters.

There weren't a lot of options for large-patterned fat quarters, so I went with the one on the right. I bought the one on the left because I liked it and thought it might make a cute sewn cuff. But I also have this fat quarter in stash, sent to me from Tasmania by Tinkingbell:

At first I thought those little insects were way too small for stitching, but I put it to the kids, and we really looked at all the fabrics. We all like the Australian fabric, and we thought this guy would look great stitched up:

I had all the colors I needed except for the darkest green, too. So we went to pick up some dark green floss, and I took the other fabrics with me. We picked out loads of floss colors and then had to leave everything behind when the line at the store (let's say, oh, Joanns) didn't move for ten minutes. And my 7yo instigated my 2yo to misbehave, and she couldn't stop grabbing all that cheap tacky stuff they put along the maze they make you stand in while you wait to check out. And wait, and wait, because they understaff. And then when I picked her up, she inexplicably began screaming at the top of her lungs--not her usual MO--and then for the first time in nearly ten years of parenting I had to leave a check-out line with a screaming child, abandoning everything. (I include all this for any other moms out there who wonder about how come it all looks so easy on the Internet to tell you that it's not.)

So. I was convinced to try again, with only my oldest along, and this is what we have.

The Australian fabric, missing the brown floss: Where did I put that when I took this photo?!

The purple fabric

The flowers
What do you think? I put a poll in the sidebar... I'd love to know which you'd stitch up first, if you were me (because I have a feeling I'll get to all of them eventually). While I still think the purple-printed fabric would make a nice embroidered cuff, I also think hooping a circle of it and stitching up some of the design would look really cool. I love the colors in the flowered fabric. And, of course, the Australian fabric is unique and fun... but maybe I'd want to keep that whole and not go chopping it up for that one section.

Please click through and vote, and feel free to leave a comment leaving your reasoning as well!

If you've considered taking up embroidery but haven't yet, make sure you check back next week. I'll have a giveaway of the basics you need to get started.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

This is Where I Live

I love where I live--in the summertime, anyway. I'm not fond of bitter cold or ice or snow or short dark days, but there's no place I'd rather be from May through, oh, October. And summertime is when I feel most thrummingly alive. I wanted to share some photos taken during the past couple of weeks, because I feel so fortunate to live here, because I think the ecosystems we get to explore as a matter of course are incredibly cool, and because this all is part of what inspires me.

I live in Rhode Island, nicknamed "The Ocean State," and our summers--mine and my kids'--revolve, in large part, around the ocean. Less than fifteen minutes after pulling out of my driveway, I can be unpacking the car at any of several beaches. Rhode Island has done a wonderful job protecting its coastline. We live on the southern coast, so the beaches we go to are Atlantic Ocean beaches. (If you were to sail straight out from the beach the kids and I go to, you'd pass between Block Island, which is part of Rhode Island, and Montauk, which is at the tip of Long Island, New York.) Rhode Island also has many beaches on Narragansett Bay. I prefer the southern coast ocean beaches.

This particular beach is a barrier beach. Behind it lies Rhode Island's largest salt pond. It has an average depth of 4 1/2 feet and, being a pond, is extremely calm. This makes it a great place for the kids, even my two-year-old, to play in.

We see fish and jellies (both non-stinging and sometimes stinging, watch out!), lots of oyster shells, crabs, and even, once, a horseshoe crab.

On the beach side we play in the sand and the waves, collect rocks, look out at sailboats...

Yesterday we used magnets to draw some iron from the sand. Isn't that cool?

And I try to catch some fleeting little girl footprints. They're getting big, fast, my kids.

Last week my boys were in half-day art camp in Jamestown, on one of the islands in Narragansett Bay. Because they were in opposite half-day sessions, I spent lots of time in Jamestown last week, getting to feel lucky that this is where I live. One morning, my oldest, my youngest, and I hung out at Beavertail State Park while my middle child was at camp.

We happened to be there at low tide, which meant we could find tidepools in the rocky shore.

They were full of critters...

This is a periwinkle snail. If you hum to them, they will start to come out of their shells. My son was the best at it, of the three of us.

That's a little spider crab. They're camouflaged by the algae that grows on their shells.

That's a wee little hermit crab, just poking out of his shell, on my daughter's hand. We saw lots of them. They're really fun to watch--I think hermit crabs are full of personality.

And, of course, this is a sea star. It's not a starfish; it's not a fish at all. I spent some time working as an environmental educator, and my kids all call these sea stars too, because that's what I've always called them.

Later in the week, my husband brought our middle child back to Beavertail at low tide so he, too, could investigate the tide pools. They wandered all over the rocks, finding their own crabs and sea stars to hold and investigate.

My oldest and youngest, sharing a view.
These are the sorts of views we often get during our daily routine. Water is all around here, and I love it and need it. And like I said, it inspires me. I've begun sketching some of the critters I enjoy so much... here's a hermit crab.

And, using this tutorial from Craft, I extracted a color palette from the first photo I posted above.

The green and the dark blue are from the water. The water at that beach is full of greens--it's beautiful and nuanced, and I've noticed when my two younger kids draw water they add all sorts of colors to it, not just blue. The light blue is from the sky, and the two browns are from the sand. I want to keep playing with beach palettes. I think it might be nice to have something in beach colors when winter rolls around.

So, this is part of where I live. I hope you enjoyed the little tour. Does your local environment inspire you? In what ways? I think it's one of the luckiest things in life, to really love where you live. So much else flows from that.