Archive for the ‘lesson learned’ Category

fabric painting

Today was my day for working on the fabric painted pages for my book. I cut stencils out of freezer paper, and used those to get the letters just right (thank you mom for, yet again, coming to my rescue with new techniques). It worked quite well. The part that takes the longest is definitely cutting out the stencil. I’m quite happy with how they turned out, and I discovered that fabric paints are much more fun than I expected, proved my own skepticism wrong again!

 

Next pages: buttons! I’m excited for the buttons, cause I love buttons. Tomorrow is the first day of my work-week though so it will probably take me a few days to make much progress on the pages. I will, of course, keep you updated.

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continued progress

The first four pages are done! Here are pages one and two, which weren’t done at the last post.

The fifth and sixth pages are going to take the longest because I’m doing them in sating stitch by hand. I have started the fifth page, and they’ll be nice and portable, but it’s slow going. Here’s what I have done so far on that one.

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I machine stitched the outlines of the letters cause I need a concrete border like that when I do sating stitch or it gets all wonky. In the past I’ve just backstitched the border by hand but I figured machine stitching would be faster. It was really hard to do the curves by machine and I can’t decide if it actually made the embroidery harder or not, but I may not continue with the machine stitching.

I skipped over the seventh and eight pages, because I’m going to do those with fabric paint and I didn’t have one big chunk of time today, so I will probably work on those tomorrow. Instead I did the ninth and tenth pages, which are machine embroidery. It’s too bad I’m not a real big fan of the look of machine embroidered letters, because it went wonderfully fast once I got the settings down. I had some issues at first because of a setting on the machine to make the letters “using twice as many stitches”, which basically stretches them out a bit. I decided to use that setting, because it makes the letters a bit bigger, but I didn’t realize it would clear that setting when I cleared the programmed letters so that I could program in the next word. So the second word looked different from the first word, and I couldn’t figure out why, because all the stitch length and width settings were the same. At the same time my bobbin thread was messed up because the bobbin was wound funny, which will teach me not to use a bobbin that I didn’t wind myself,  so the tension was really tight, and I didn’t know why cause, I didn’t see anything wrong. Then  finally the bobbin just bound up and I figured it out. So I ended up ripping out the second word several times, and for a different reason each time, but once I got things all sorted out, it worked like a breeze.

I also discovered that the bobbin thread actually affects the look of the letters. Specifically, if you switch from a black bobbin thread to a light blue one, the stitching ends up looking like it was done with a completely different top thread. Of course I was also perplexed over this one when I first noticed it, but I kept working on the rest of the page and my brain worked it out for itself. Of course I then had to rip the first word out and re-stitch it so that it matched the rest because otherwise it was going to drive me crazy!

That’s where I’m at now. I have three sets of pages that I haven’t even started, but should hopefully go pretty quickly, and the satin stitch pages to finish, which will take a while. And then there’s the illustrations of course, but those aren’t as extensive or as difficult as the letters, which have caused me to decide that our writing system has too many curves in it and we need more straight lines. Just square letters, no curves!

Hedgehogs

I’ve already got the hedgehogs all over this blog, but I haven’t done a post about them yet. They were one of the earliest projects I ever knit that are more complicated than a scarf. The pattern is a Fiber Trends pattern, you can find it here, and they call them Huggable Hedgehogs. And huggable they definitely are! Also quite fun to make. They are knitted out of wool yarn and then felted, and they’re the project that got me really into felting for a while.

In general the pattern is pretty simple, but I learned a lot by making it because it has lots of little things that are common in knitting but not something you learn right away. First was the idea of knitting just a few stitches for extra rows and then binding them off, which is how the arms and legs are made. For the arms you also have to cast on extra stitches in the middle of the piece which I hadn’t even heard of before, but turns out that comes up in patterns a lot.

Next I learned about picking up stitches, which was harder than I expected. In the pattern you first knit the front of the hedgehog, including the arms and legs, and then pick up stitches on the limbs to create paws and finally pick up stitches all the way around the piece to  use to knit the back of the hedgehog. I figured that to pick up stitches you just find whatever loops along the edge you can and knit those, and that’s what I did with a few of the hedgehogs, but that often leaves you with weird holes and is more difficult than it seems. I finally did look it up in a book and it turns out there’s a specific part of the stitches that you’re supposed to pick up. Trying to find the right part of the stitch to pick up actually got me a lot more familiar with the anatomy of the individual stitches, which is a useful thing to know.

My fingers poking through the enlarged holes I get when I pick up stitches

    My fingers poking through the enlarged holes I get when I pick up stitches

Picking up stitches on the arms and legs makes it easy to put on contrasting colored "paws"

Picking up stitches on the arms and legs makes it easy to put on contrasting colored “paws”

 

And then there are short-rows. Pretty much the whole back of the hedgehog is done using short-rows, which are, basically, where you turn the piece in the middle of a row and go back and forth, never quite getting to either edge of the row. I had made a couple of hedgehogs before I was really comfortable enough working the pattern to pay much attention to the structure of the knitting that was being created. But once I started noticing the structure of the knitting I was incredibly impressed at the genius of the shaping! At that point I hadn’t heard of short-row shaping and thought the pattern writer was quite brilliant. As I have learned more about knitting in general I have begun to understand that short-row shaping is not something that was just created for this pattern, but I’m still quite impressed as I don’t know that I could write a pattern using short-rows. It’s just so intriguing how you essentially create a flap of stitches that have been worked more and then you gradually bring in stitches from either side to seamlessly integrate the flap back in, thereby forcing the piece to form a sort of cup shape, brilliant!

That curve to the back is formed by the short-row shaping, so cool!

That curve to the back is formed by the short-row shaping, so cool!

 

Now that I’ve had my geeky knitting moment, back to the hedgehogs . Once you’ve got the whole thing knitted you have this floppy weird looking creature that kinda looks like a hedgehog, but looks more like roadkill. And then you felt it! I felt mine in the washing machine (though when I went off to college I discovered that front-loading washer do not work for felting) because it’s much easier that way, and I like to go the lazy route whenever possible. Because the back of the hedgehog is knitted by working the wool yarn and an acrylic eyelash yarn together, you get the fuzzy bits to stick up out of what seems to be a solid felt back, it works pretty well. And as the wool has felted it usually has shrunk at least a little and the shape of the hedgehog firms up and suddenly it doesn’t look like roadkill anymore.

 

The pattern calls for stuffing the piece and then sewing the bottom closed once it’s felted but, due to a kind of random mis-communication, I prefer to leave the bottom open and use them to store plastic grocery bags. It’s a bit funny how that came about. My mom is the one who bought the pattern for me, after she had seen the samples displayed at a yarn store when she was on a trip. She gave me the pattern and told me that they were used for storing plastic grocery bags, and I thought that was a neat idea and had no reason not to believe her, so when I reached the end part of the pattern where it explains felting and finishing the hedgehog I didn’t keep reading because I knew how to felt them and how to sew button eyes on so I figured I was good. Then, after making five or six of them, I finally decided to read the finishing directions and discovered it actually says to stuff the hedgehog and sew it closed and gives directions on doing a little hand felting to hide the seam. At that point I figured it was kind of stupid to change how I made them since they work so well and are quite popular as grocery bag holders, so I’ve never actually finished them like the pattern says. I asked my mom and she has no idea where she got the idea that they are for storing plastic bags, but figures someone at the store must have said something about it or maybe said they had stuffed theirs with plastic bags and she just assumed. So, happy accident!

 

The hedgehogs also made me realize that you don’t have to follow the patterns exactly. For the first one I made I tried to use real hedgehog colors but they didn’t have real good colors for hedgehogs at the yarn store I went to, so it turned out a kind of weird orange. Then my mom pointed out that there’s no reason it has to be real hedgehog colors, so I started branching out. That year for Christmas I made hedgehogs for lots of my extended family, customizing the colors to try and match their kitchens or their favorite colors, which is why there’s such a variety. I even made one that is supposed to be a Santa hedgehog for my uncle who always dresses up as Santa Clause at Christmas. And I made one that is the colors of my boyfriend’s college, and one that I tried to make cactus colors for my grandparents who live in Arizona. Trying to find all the different colors in eyelash yarn led me to discover the huge range of them that are out there. There are some that seems nice and fuzzy on the ball but when you spread it out the poor hedgehog looks almost bald, and some are quite scratchy, but then there’s my favorite stuff which is very thick and very soft, that’s what I used on the red one and the one that has a blue body and green fuzz. Sadly, I don’t remember the brand of that yarn, but when I went back to the same yarn shop where I got that stuff they said they think the company quit making it, which is a shame. So now I hoard the remnants I still have of the two yarns and periodically pet them.

 

I haven’t made any new hedgehogs in quite a while, but I think I may start making them again. I was reminded last week by one of my cousins that I didn’t make them for everybody in the family, as I used to say, by which she of course meant herself. So I might make more for the family members I missed before, and I’ve still got some yarn for ones I had intended to make but never did, guess it’s time to get working on all my unfinished projects!

Frilly Scarves!

Recently there’s been a bunch of yarns coming out that you just knit or crochet using an edge of the yarn and it creates a lacy, frilly scarf all by itself. They look wonderfully fancy and intricate but are in fact really simple and fast to make, often not taking more than half an hour, maybe a couple hours if you’re going slowly. One thing I have discovered is that there’s a huge variety in these yarns and they are not all created equally! The first yarn I used (which I don’t have any pictures of because I gave away the final product and forgot to take pictures first!) was essentially a ribbon yarn that had an extra section across the top where you knit/crochet. This resulted in the ribbon part bunching together and looking quite fancy and lush, very neat. This yarn was actually found by my mom’s friend and they couldn’t figure out how to use it (really they were doing everything right but the first few rows look like a mess at first) so I figured it out and just knit the whole scarf.

Then I was out getting other yarn and discovered a similar yarn on sale. “Yarn on sale” is just such a dangerous phrase for us yarn lovers! Anyway, this stuff looked a little bit different but was a LOT cheaper than the first stuff I had used and the first stuff worked so well I figured I’d get several colors of this stuff and voila! easy Christmas presents. You might have guessed by my choice of words, but that’s not exactly what happened. Basically the differences from the first yarn made it a lot more difficult to work with. I will explain with pictures.

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This yarn is a mesh rather than a ribbon yarn with an extra border. Doesn’t seem like it would be a big issue, but when it’s wound into a ball the mesh is all collapsed down, and it has a tendency to twist. To knit just the top row of the mesh you have to spread the mesh out enough to find the top row and when the yarn twists on itself that’s even more difficult. That slowed me down considerably and was quite frustrating. So rather than the three scarves I had planned to make for Christmas with this kind of yarn, I made one. The other two may still get made for later occasions but when I make those I’m going to unwind the yarn and flatten out the mesh all the way through before I start knitting, a co-worker has told me that makes it much easier to deal with. The resulting scarf is quite pretty though, and wonderfully fun to pet and play with.

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The other two self-ruffling yarns I’ve worked with are rather different from the first two and are much fancier. I actually discovered these two at a great little yarn shop in the Twin Cities called Unwind Yarn Shop, and, of course, they were on sale, so I just couldn’t resist! One is essentially a machine knit tube which you are supposed to knit or crochet along one edge of, I crocheted, and the other is pretty much impossible to describe but is worked in the same manner. Pictures will help.

Both of these yarns worked like a dream. I don’t think they would have been all that easy to knit with, it just seems like things would get bulky and really tight around the needles, but crocheting them was very easy. And to crochet them you are basically just chain stitching right up the side, so you don’t even need to have any experience crocheting! These also turned out just beautifully. I gave one to my mom, but the blue one is mine and I’m not letting go of it!

That’s my exploration of self-ruffling yarn. It’s some pretty cool stuff. I’m not usually that into yarns that have a specific purpose (like eyelash yarns) but these work just great and are pretty cool. You definitely get what you pay for in terms of ease of use though.

And on a completely different note, this is my thirtieth post! And, I need to learn not to write posts late at night, especially when I plan to be productive the next day! Ah, procrastination.

Thanksgiving decorations

Today’s post is about a project that failed miserably. Gotta just love it when that happens. Thanksgiving in the US is coming up at the end of November and I decided to try making a cornucopia decoration. I’m kinda lazy when it comes to crafting so I decided to try and modify a technique for wet-felting a large carrot that I’ve been told about. Basically you put a bunch of wool in a nylon, tie string around it in strategic places to get the right shape and create the lines you get on a carrot, and stick it in the washing machine. I figured I could do the same but put something in the big end to make a little divot and then add some detail with needle felting to make it look more like a cornucopia. Here’s that process in pictures.

My materials. The yarn is stuff that doesn’t felt, I figured that would be important for taking things apart later.

I tied off one end of the shape so I would have a small, pointy end. Then I started stuffing from there. It was a lot more difficult to stuff than I expected, I guess I don’t have much experience with nylons so it didn’t occur to me how slippery and clingy they can be. Yes, both slippery and clingy at the same time, gotta love contradictions.

I decided this was a good size and amount of wool. That decision was pretty much arbitrary, but I did remember that it will shrink some when felted, so it’s good to make it a bit larger than you want it to end up as.

I decided the best way to make the opening in the wide end was by putting a bowl in it and letting things felt around that. I went with a plastic bowl, even though I had some ceramic ones I liked the shape and size of better, because I didn’t want the bowl breaking in the washer. Then I distributed the wool around the bowl and tied the nylon tight around it to keep things in place.

I tied a few strings along the length of the cornucopia hoping to keep things in place better and to add a bit of dimension to the finished piece that I could work with later to give it a woven look.

Then I tossed the piece into the washer, which is when things  went wrong. I think putting the bowl in there was the main problem, although the washer also may have been too rough for the nylon. Basically I think the bowl rubbed through the nylon around it and the whole thing fell apart. It might have worked if I had to whole bowl covered, and didn’t leave the edge of the bowl right against the nylon where it could rub. But I didn’t think of that at the beginning.

This is what I got out of the washer. It was very disappointing, and I dont think Ill be trying this particular technique again very soon.

I was just going to throw the whole mess away but I realized that the wool had felted into some interesting little shapes that are quite nicely felted, so I’ve decided to keep those. I have no idea what Ill do with them, but I may as well save them, they might inspire me later. If not I can always use them as pincushions or something. Or just throw them away later too.

I haven’t given up on making a cornucopia though! I’ve decided I’m going to try knitting and felting one. It should be pretty simple to knit, the first hat I ever tried to make was very triangular, so I know I can make the shape! And I have patterns for lots of different fruits and vegetables to knit, including a banana that has a zipper in the peel so you can actually peel it! Bananas aren’t exactly your traditional cornucopia food, but I like them and it’s cool, so it’s going in. I might try this wet felting technique again later when I have more patience and time for it, and once I’m not quite to peeved at the way it fell apart, but probably not this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack-O-Lantern

Have you noticed yet that it’s October? I sure hope you have, cause it’s halfway done already! And you know what? Halloween is at the end of October, yay! I’ve always liked Halloween. When I was a kid it was for the candy (of course) but now it’s more for the decorations. I’m not some huge fan of horror movies (in fact I hate horror movies) and I’m not really into the monsters or zombies but I just love the chance to decorate. I think Halloween always marks the beginning of the decoration season to me. There’s not much decorating to do over the summer but after Halloween there’s Thanksgiving, and then Christmas (the best decorating holiday ever) and new year’s then Valentine’s day and St. Patrick’s day and Easter. All great holidays for decorating.

I’ve always liked carving pumpkins but they’re so messy to carve and they rot way too soon for me, not to mention teenagers (teenage boys really) like to go along and smash them and I hate taking the chance mine might get smashed. So this year I decided to make a lasting jack-o-lantern by needle felting it. And I decided I wanted to light it from the inside too! My wonderful BF suggested those battery powered tea-lights you can get, great idea, he’s a pretty smart guy. Here’s the process  in pictures!

The battery operated tea-light. Surprisingly nice for 3/$1 at the dollar store.

Making the pumpkin hollow was a new challenge for me, I have never made a hollow felted piece before. So I decided to start with a ring around the candle, since it would give me some structure to start on, and then build up the sides slowly. Basically to think of it like a three dimensional round piece rather than a hollow ball.

I knew I wanted a face at the front of the pumpkin, so I figured I would do about 2/3 of the pumpkin and get that reasonably structural and then add the face. I discovered that didn’t work. This is about halfway through the process and I was discovering that it was quite difficult to try and make a round piece with a chunk missing, it simply wouldn’t go round.

So I decided to just fill in the whole thing and get it a little felted then felt holes into it for the face. Here it is almost completely rounded out. This was the point where I discovered it was nearly impossible to try and felt a hollow piece of that size through the single hole in the bottom. The hole being where the candle goes.

After a bit of frustration, and discovering that it worked quite well to basically stuff the thing with small chunks of foam, I got the basic face shape. At this point the whole pumpkin was still only loosely felted and was quite squishy, so I spent quite a while just felting it all over to firm it up. It never did get as rigid as I thought it would, but it definitely holds its shape, and that is the important thing.

I added the stem on top and the teeth in the mouth and its done! I originally planned to make the ridges like you get in a pumpkin but that just would not work with the squishiness of the whole piece.

There is a nice little hole in the bottom where the candle can slot into. It turned out small enough that the candle doesn’t just fall out, but big enough that it’s easy to change, which is what I was hoping for.

And here’s the finished piece all lit up. Isn’t he cute? I mean scary, they’re sposed to be scary aren’t they? Whoops!

If I make another one, which I’m thinking about doing, I think I would make the face first and build around that. It was rally quite difficult to do the detailed work for the face when I couldn’t really get much leverage to felt with on the round piece, and I couldn’t get to the back of the face very well because it was on the inside and the hole on the bottom was so small. So now I know, if the piece is going to be hollow, make sure there are big holes or any really precise work is done before it’s put together!

I did learn something quite good on this piece as well. Usually I work exclusively with a single needle rather than the multi-needle felting tools you can get. I like the precision you can get with the single needle and the multi-needle tools just feel bulky and rather like using a sledgehammer to pound a nail in. But for this piece I needed to do a lot of just basic felting that didn’t need to be precise but couldn’t be done with the big 6 or 8 needle felting tools, cause those only work on flat surfaces. Luckily my mother, crafting genius that she is, had gotten me one of these little tools. I had tried it a little bit on a felted chocolate and other little pieces like that and didn’t like the clumsiness and figure I wouldn’t ever use it. I felt kinda bad that my mom had bought it for me and was so excited to have found it and I was so disinterested in it so I tried it on this piece when I did the overall felting and it worked perfectly! It was just what I needed and I’m not giving it up now. I can already see how it could be useful on other projects I’m thinking about, including needle felted pictures, which I will be posting about later. So I guess I learned that tools aren’t very impressive when you don’t use them for what they were made for!

Embellishing Machine

As I mentioned in the post Play Day, my mom recently bought an embellishing machine. Personally I call it a needle felting machine but that seems to confuse some people. Basically the machine uses up to twelve felting needles to, well, felt things. It seems to work fine as long as one of the things being felted is wool. For example, you can use roving to make a design on denim jeans, or you can affix a shape made of wool felt to denim, or cotton or more wool. I tried a bit with two pieces of cotton fabric or some lace on top of cotton fabric and the two pieces just pull right apart. Of course if you’re not going to be manipulating the piece, like if it’s on a wall hanging, that’s not a big deal, but I prefer more durable stuff. Most of the experimenting I’ve done has been with colored roving on a backing of wool or cotton fabric. I played a bit with yarns on felt and really liked the result.

This is plain wool roving on denim. It’s supposed to be the beginning of a flower but the petal on the left was my first attempt at making a shape with the embellisher machine so it looks a bit funny.

This is a bit of yarn on cotton. I think the yarn is actually acrylic, not sure cause it’s just stuff I had sitting around, but it seems to stick quite well. It seems that the fluffy-ness of the yarn makes up for it not being wool, gives it more fibers to be tangled together.

I tried using yarn to make the design on the fabric look like a bunch of flowers but the yarn kind of overpowers the design. Something similar might work better with a more subtle yarn and a stronger design on the fabric.

The work with the bunch of flowers gave me the idea of using strips of yarn to create a tree complete with branches. Then I decided I want leaves, and this is the result. I like it but I think the fuzzy yarn for the leaves obscures the branches underneath more than I want.

You can see the branches under the leaves a little better in this close up. I think the branches would show up more if the yarn for the leaves weren’t so fuzzy but at the same time it also might look less tree-like. This will require more experimenting, oh darn! (and that last bit was sarcastic, which is hard to convey in writing!)

You can see the lines of yarn laid down next to each other in the trunk here. You can also see that the last piece of yarn I felted on didn’t just go straight. The crooked piece seems very visible to me which is something important to note. I think I’ll play with lines of yarn like this more, it could be quite interesting.

The machine also has this fancy little place that you can feed yarn through the top and it’s supposed to be fed right under the needles

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It’s supposed to make using yarn to make lines easier, but as I discovered it works better in theory than practice. I just fed the yarn by hand to make the tree and designs above, which worked fine. Then I was over at my mom’s house, and saw some pearl cotton sitting there. So I figured I would try feeding that through the machine and see how it went. It fed through pretty easily, except getting it through the presser foot, cause you have to try and manipulate it when it’s in the middle of all the needles, but I got it threaded. I was, however, very disappointed at how it felted. If I went over the thread several times I could get it to stay, but then the line was rather jittery. And if I just moved the machine like I would if I were feeding the thread by hand, then the thread wouldn’t get felted down at all. So hand feeding the yarn it is, and now I know that is not an important feature to have on a felting machine.

See how it’s all jittery? That’s cause I had to move the piece back and forth a lot under the machine to make the thread felt down. And even then it didn’t stick the best.

This is what happened when I tried to move the machine smoothly and steadily like when I feed the yarn by hand. I was basically just dragging the yarn around and not felting it at all so I did stop on a spot occasionally which is where you can see it stuck down at the edge of the picture. But then it ended up with little felted spots and big loose bits of yarn between. Overall, an unsuccessful attempt.

The difficulty felting the pearl cotton also probably had to do with it being so smooth, rather than fuzzy, and small, so the needles didn’t really have anything to grip. But the thing is that any yarn that is thicker or fuzzier than the pearl cotton is impossible to feed through the thread slot, so that’s not really an option.

And one last little bit of experimenting I did. My mom likes the look of a style of felting called nuno-felting. I think it’s a neat look but not that amazing, and definitely not worth the usual price of the pieces to me. Nuno-felting is done by wet felting wool roving onto a sheer fabric, often nuno-felted silk scarves are what you find for sale. Wet felting tends to be very time and labor intensive, I just don’t have the patience for it. So at my mom’s suggestion I played with needle felting a sheer scarf to see how it goes. Sheer fabric is used a lot with embellishing machines to add texture and a bit of color on top of other pieces or to add ruffles cause it scrunches up when you felt it, but I’m not much of a ruffle person and don’t like the texture you get from really felting it down on top of other fabric. Not to mention I hadn’t researched nuno-felting at all so I just assumed it was needle felted. Apparently nuno-felting is wet felted but the results I got sure look like nuno-felting to me. Maybe I’ll make more and sell it for large profits at regular nuno-felt prices. But probably not.

My “faux” nuno-felting experiment. It doesn’t look bad, but the look just doesn’t thrill me.

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