Saturday, March 20, 2010

End of an era

This is the Clock Tower in my town of Hudson, Ohio.  It's a famous landmark locally.  It was paid for by our town benefactor, James Ellsworth.  I grew up in a another small town with a benefactor.  Redlands, California was the pet project of the Smiley Brothers.  Smiley Library, Smiley Heights, Smiley School, etc.  Hudson is much the same.  Our downtown has underground utilities, thanks to Mr. Ellsworth.  Many of the houses sport red Spanish tile roofs.  My understanding is that Mr. Ellsworth was so enamored with the roofs after a visit to Spain that he offered to pay for anyone in town to re-do their roof in Spanish tile.  That's the kind of small town story I love.

Hudson is a GREAT town for raising kids.  Small enough that you know lots of people but big enough to have a downtown.  People help each other in Hudson.  I had some ankle surgery about 18 months ago and was on crutches for 9 weeks.  For six of those weeks, I had meals delivered to my house 3 times a week.  Unbelievable.  The same drill happens if you have a new baby or some other sort of family crisis.  I really can't imagine living anywhere else right now.

The schools here are excellent.  My oldest son (HS freshman) goes to an all-boys school about 20 miles away.  We're big fans of single sex education.  Next year all three of our boys will be going to the same school.  This means 2010-2011 will be the first year in ten that we don't have a son in the Hudson schools and, to me, that is a Big Deal.

You may remember from previous posts (search Small Gifts) that I like to make things for teacher gifts.  I usually have about a dozen Small Gifts for secretaries, music teachers, coaches, etc.  I like coming up with a different project each time and, I think, everyone likes seeing what I've come up with.  Since this June is our last in Hudson, I wanted to do something with a Hudson theme as my end-of-year goodie.  So, I came up with the Hudson Tape Measure.  Silly, I know, but that's kind of the point.

I love these little push button tape measures.  If you find the right source, they're about $1 each.  You see them on Etsy and other venues dressed up as sheep (you KNOW I have 2 of those!), clowns, snails, etc.  I've turned them into flowers and penny rugs.  Well, this spring, they're going to be Hudson Clock Towers.

I started with red wool plus some black and white plaids.  I made a small cardstock pattern of a tower.  The tape measures are just 2 inches in diameter so you have to really watch your sizing.  Here's a shot of my wool circles (4 inches in diameter) and my little pattern.  The red will end up on the inside of the wool "sandwich" so I traced my pattern onto the red.  I am doing a reverse applique on these.  I stitch onto the red then turn it over and cut away the plaid to reveal the red Clock Tower.

Here's the two pieces of wool ready to be stitched.  For the other half of the sandwich, I have two more circles.  After this side is completely finished, I stitch them together almost all the way around, insert the tape measure, and finish with a zipper foot.  In the final stitching you pull out some of the tape so it doesn't end up sewn inside the circle.  I also take a scrap of fabric and cover the plastic end of the tape measure.  It's easy to sew right through the tape.  Just take a small rectangle, fold it over the plastic end, and sew on three sides.  Cut away the excess.

Here's the finished tape measure.  I'm using a heart-shaped button in place of the clock face.  These buttons are not quite right.  If found some perfect buttons on Etsy and I'm hoping those are with the postal service as we speak.  I ordered a small flat circle button with a heart carved in the center.  These shank buttons sit up too high but the flat buttons will be perfect and will look more like a clock face. 
When you make tape measures, give some thought to the button that you push to retract the tape.  I am careful to put that little button on the undecorated side of the finished tape measure.  That way it's easy to find.

I'll post a new picture with the final button once they arrive.  I have 11 little clock towers all ready and waiting for buttons.  I'm hoping my gift recipients will love their little taste of Hudson.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rug Hooking with a Deadline

First, let's give credit where credit is due.  This rug is a design available on .  The rug is called "Potted Pineapple with Pomegranate" and I think it is simply stunning.  The picture above is from the website and I DID NOT HOOK THAT RUG.  But, I am hooking this pattern. 

I don't really believe in buying a kit for a rug.  For one, I love choosing wool.  I love the hunt for the perfect red or variegated green or whatever.  If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know that I love going to thrift shops and buying old wool.  I also love to play around dyeing wool, although I have about 100 years of learning to do in that department.  So, I bought the pattern on linen and am hooking it myself.

In retrospect, this may not have been the wisest choice.  You all know I am a knitter first.  Rug hooking is way down on the hobby list for me.  After Sewing, after Gardening, after Chauffeur for my boys.  Also, with a single exception, all the rugs I've made have been geometrics.  I've never done anything remotely pictorial and this rug is not only very pictorial but very large.  Over 30 inches in each dimension.  But, I could not resist the fabulous pattern so off I went.

The first change I made was in the far outside border.  I felt like the rug was very dark and wanted to brighten it up a bit.  So, my border is in shades of yellow/mustard.  My 1836 house has a lot of mustard.  Using this color ensures I can hang this rug in any room of my house and it will look great.  I also think this border picks up the pineapple colors quite nicely.  My plan is to hang this one over the fireplace in a new room we are adding on to our house THIS YEAR.  Hooray!

The second major change I made was to the urn holding up the pineapple.  The original rug had a red urn.  Red looks great in my house and certainly looks great in the original rug.  However, I have been on a quest to put more blue in my house.  The urn you see is the second version.  The first version used a much lighter blue -- almost a robin's egg blue.  And, the wedge-shaped pieces were in a bittersweet shade plus a terracotta.  The combination looked great together, but looked TERRIBLE in this rug.  This is more of a dark, colonial blue and the wedge pieces are in a fabulous orange and a tweed that combines all the shades of the rug -- red, blue, gold, green, etc.  The tweed came from a thrift shop blazer.  Anyone that recycles wool knows that getting wool from a blazer is a royal pain.  Interfacing, 5 million seams, pockets, etc.  You don't get a lot of fabric to work with and it takes a ton of time to cut the darn thing up.  Still, this tweed was so amazing and included so many of my favorite colors, I had to do it.  And, I'm glad I did.  It's perfect.

Moving on to the leaves.  There are three different sets of leaves:  the pineapple top, the lettuce leaves under the pineapple, and the grape leaves sticking out each side of the urn.  I pulled out all my greens and tried to sort them into three distinct groups for these.  I knew the pineapple needed to be dark because pineapple leaves are dark.  So, I picked those greens first.  The lettuce leaves ended up being the middle tones.  I'm not 100% happy with the lettuce and may need to pull out and change the center rib.  It is two different wools, but the shades are so similar that the vein disappears into the rest of the leaf.

The oak leaf is by far my favorite of the three but it was no picnic getting there.  The first edge tone was very bright and too clear a tone for this rug.  I tend toward the muddy tones and anything too pure looks wrong.  So, I dug back in my bags of wool strips and found a whole bag of mixed greens.  In there was a variegated green that went from chartreuse to sage to loden.  Perfect.  I had to change the vein color too.  But, I had a loden that exactly matched the loden in the edge color.  This is why we have so much wool.  You never know when you're going to need that exact shade!  The field color of the grape leaf is the only one that worked with my original choice.  I think the leaf looks great.

Late afternoon every day I make sure I have something to work on while I sit with my family in the evening.  Tonight it's the other oak leaf.  Plus some of the background.  This rug has a lot of background.  I'm using a black tweed, an impossibly dark green, and solid black all mixed together.  There's so very much of the background that I try to do a few square inches every night so I see some progress.  I would hate to finish all the fun stuff -- the motifs and the detail -- and then be faced with weeks of nothing but black.  Ugh.

As for the title of this post:  Rug Hooking with a Deadline -- that refers to the fact that I'm attending my very first rug hooking camp in about a month.  I'm taking a class with Dianne Kelly, a well-known rug hooker from right here in Northeast Ohio.  She's amazing and I'll be knitting one of her patterns.  It's another pictorial and it has chickens!!  Three chickens that I'll model after three of my own girls in the backyard.  So, I'm trying to finish this rug before the camp.  I'm not sure I'll make it, but I'm making some real progress and hope to have it down to just background and finishing at the very least.  I'll post more pictures as I go.  My next thing to tackle is the large tulips at the top of the arrangement.  I'm thinking more orange...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What?!! Another purse?!

During the winter months, I live in long-sleeved t-shirts and sweaters.  I have lots of T's but noticed this fall that most of them were too short.  I wish I could say I got taller, but this is not the case.  I think it's a combination of laundry shrinkage and a change in t-shirt styles to a longer silhouette.  Anyway, many of my shirts were a little skimpy in the length.  And, not having the long lean figure of which I have always dreamed, any exposure (either perceived or actual) is definitely not the way I want to go.

So, I replaced a lot of shirts this past fall.  Gap, Target, Kohl's, etc.  And, I went through my drawer and pulled out the offending shirts and stacked them up to go to Goodwill.  That's when I noticed how nicely they all went together.  I had about 6 shirts -- chartreuse, grey, mauve, dusty blue, pale blue, and a soft brown.  What to do...

I did some research on line and on Etsy to see what other people were doing with old shirts.  There are lots of creative people out there making jewelry, clothing, and accessories out of old stuff.  Many are knitting with old shirts.  They cut the body of the shirt in a spiral, creating one long piece of "yarn."  So, I got out my scissors and started spiraling.  That's when I discovered that cutting up a shirt takes a LONG time.  I think it took about 20+  minutes per shirt to get it all done.  And I still have the sleeves and above the armhole pieces!  Still, I perservered and had a large pile of rolled t-shirt yarn.

I did a guage swatch on size 15 needles.  Two stitches to the inch!  Wow!  So, I sketched out a simple bag, cast on, and off I went.  I usually start with the bottom of the bag, knit back and forth.  Then I pick up all the way around and knit a tube for the rest of the purse.  I like shaped bags so I usually decrease a few times before getting to the top.  But, I always leave the top 2 inches straight so it's easier to line the bag.  The photos here show the bag before lining.  I purposely left all the knots and tails to the outside.  It actually looks quite cute!  I'm thinking about stringing some beads on there but the bag is already kind of heavy.  Cotton is not a lightweight fabric!

For the lining, I had the perfect Amy Butler fabric.  I found it in my embroidery/beading cupboard when I was cleaning it out.  I had bought it to go with a project from my sewing group but never did anything with it.  The color match is unbelievable!  So, free yarn from the t-shirts and free fabric from the supply cupboard.  Okay, I had to pay for the initially, but I love using things on hand rather than buying new.  Naturally I had interfacing down in my newly organized Purse Supplies bin.  I also had a cool leather belt purchased at a thrift store.  That would be my handles.

I lined the bag, added the handles and am all done.  Naturally, I have some odds and ends left.  I looked back through my t-shirts and found a couple more that are too short.  Now that I know what I'm doing, I'm going to make a second bag.  A little bigger this time and a little less garter stitch.  I'm thinking all grey and oatmeal on the top half and then all the colors at the bottom.  I'll post pictures when it's done.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Baby

My son's teacher had her baby on Sunday.  Early.  Mom and baby are doing just fine.  Eleven weeks early, but he's doing fine.  Some of the moms have been working on some fun things for the kids in anticipation for a small classroom baby shower in April.  All those plans are still in place.  The kids are excited.

My consistent gift for new babies is a hat.  I've made more hats than purses over the years and that truly is saying something.  When my youngest was born, he spent 15 days in the NICU with tachypnea, a breathing issue.  On his first birthday I took 15 preemie hats up to that same NICU to thank them for watching over my baby.  Nate was anything but a preemie, though.  He was 6 days late and weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces.  He looked positively huge compared to the other babies. 

My son's teacher's son is about 3 1/2 pounds.  My normal baby hat is 16 inches in circumference and fits a baby up to about 6 months old.  Obviously, that's not going to work for a baby less than 4 pounds.  I looked up some statistics and a preemie baby head is about 10 inches in circumference instead of 14 inches.  10 inches.  Wow.  Take your tape measure and see what that looks like!

I decided on 12 inches.  This baby is going to grow fast and strong.  I prefer to knit baby hats in the round so there's no seam.  But, the smallest circular is 16 inches.  They make one that's less, but it's really cumbersome.  So, I decided to use 2 circular needles, a technique made popular by sock knitters.  Easier than double-pointed and still no seam.  It's still awkward, because the hat is so darn small.

On size 8 needles, I used 55 stitches.  My favorite, all-time, best-ever knitting pattern is Welting Fantastic which appears in the very first Barbara Walker Stitch Dictionary.  Truly, if you don't have at least one of her volumes, you aren't a true knitter.  I have all four.  Thousands of stitches and no repetition.

Anyway, Welting Fantastic is done over a repeat of 11 stitches and creates a wonderful chevron pattern that looks great in almost any color combination.  I chose baby blue and buttery yellow.  Happily, since my yarn re-organization yesterday, finding the yarn was no trouble at all.  I started the hat last night and finished this morning, in time to run it over to school for a teacher friend planning to visit the hospital after work.

I hope she likes it.  And, I hope the baby wears it in ever-better health.  Welcome to the World!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I could look at this all day long...

When we last spoke, I was in the midst of some supply cabinet re-org.  I have completed the large cedar closet and the small cabinet that houses my beads, embroidery supplies, and some miscellaneous knitting stuff like my swift, ball winder, etc.  This was all an evasive maneuver, though.  The really task ahead was The Yarn (cue Beethoven's 5th, here).  The cedar closet was definitely a big job, but at least the stuff was all inside the closet to begin with.  The yarn...not so much.

I have been knitting since my junior year in college, circa 1984.  I visited my grandma that Christmas.  We were celebrating my grandparents' 80th birthdays, I think.  I come from exceedingly good genetic stock.  Both my father's parents lived to 103.  Anyway, Grandma taught me to knit that Christmas.  We went downtown and she insisted that I only buy 100% wool.  She taught me to cast on and knit and I was completely hooked (or perhaps that should be "needled.").  Since that time, there has never been an extended period of time where I wasn't knitting something.  That first project was a simple garter stitch scarf.  I remember having the finished scarf on the needles from about February until school let out.  Grandma didn't teach me how to cast off!!  But, I found a yarn store in Tacoma, Washington, where I went to school and learned.  I think my next project was a simple sweater.  It was supposed to be a crewneck but ended up as such a scoop neck that I had to pin the shoulders to my bra straps to keep it on!!!

25+ years later, I still learn a little something with every single project.  I've done hundreds of purses.  Literally.  I had a business for awhile making felted bags.  But, demand was high and I ended up with tendonitis.  I had to stop knitting for 6  months to allow my wrist to heal.  Pure torture.  After that, I switched to the recycled sweater bags that I still make today.

In case you're wondering the point of all this, when you've been a knitter for 25 years, you end up with a lot (A LOT) of little bits of leftover yarn.  I've put together a couple of purses simply by pulling all the yarns of a single color out of the cupboard and working them together.  Here are a few examples of those bags:

    The green bag I kept for myself.  The red one sits patiently in my Etsy shop for someone.  The yellow one sold to a lovely lady in Arizona who was rewarding herself for reaching her weight loss goals.  I liked that a lot.

The great thing about these bags is that they were almost free.  I had to buy handles for them, but the yarn was all in my stash.  Which brings me to today's project:  the single balls of yarn.  You never EVERY want to run out of yarn on a project.  By the time you get to that point, every last ball of your yarn in your color and your dye lot will have vanished from the face of the earth.  Better to have 1 or 2 (or 6) extra.  So, after all this time and all these bags and sweaters and scarves, I have hundreds of single balls of yarn.  Wool, cotton, mohair, eyelash, cashmere, etc.  Many times I group similar yarns together in my larger yarn storage cupboards.  But, for the onesy-twosy balls, I use a CD cabinet my dad made for me years ago.

How gorgeous is that!!  I spent about two hours today getting things squared away.  First step was to dump all the balls onto the foyer rug.  Then I sorted by fiber, then by color.  I have issues with putting cottons next to wools.  Maybe the cotton was allergic in a prior life.  I don't know.  But, I would never knit a garment or purse mixing fibers like that.  Wool with mohair is fine.  Cotton with silk is fine.  But, never wool with cotton.

The top 2 1/2 rows are all the wools.  Now, mind you, this is just the single balls.  I have TONS of wool since it's the fiber I prefer (thanks to Grandma).  It's funny how you have a pile of 6 different reds and they all seem to go together even though one is a rusty red, one a cherry, and one a burgundy. 

The bottom 2 1/2 rows are the cottons and miscellaneous.  This is every bit of cotton that I have in my house.  I really only use cotton for baby hats and sweaters.  There are many reasons for this and I'll come clean with all my fiber biases at another time.  But, I do like cotton for babies.

The cabinet is now a work of art.  I'm going to try to put together a new banner for the blog using the photo of the entire cabinet.  Truly, I could look at this all day long...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life in an old house

I haven't talked much about my house.  It's old.  Built in 1836.  When I think about that, I'm in awe.  The Declaration of Independence was 60 years old.  Ink barely dry.  The Civil War hadn't happened.  Andrew Jackson was President.  My home state of Ohio had only been in the Union for 33 years.  Crazy.

There are many, many charming things about living in an old house.  I love the woodwork.  I love the beams in my basement that are basically logs with the bark partially removed.  I love the solidity.

I have found that textiles look great on the walls of an old house.  And, because I'm the Wool Girl, I have created many of the pieces that hang in my house.  I took up rug hooking a few years ago and particularly like the way rugs look.  I've created a series of square rugs where the pattern is an old quilt block.  I take the pattern to Kinko's, blow it up to about 17-inches square, and then hook the pattern.  I'll post some photos of those another time.

Project of the Day is my stair risers.  I saw a photo in a rug hooking magazine where the artist had made a rug for every stair of the house.  When you looked at the stairs, all you saw was fabulous, fabulous color and pattern.  I was completely smitten and wanted to create a similar look in my house.  But, I'm a knitter first and rug hooker second or third or somewhere down the line.  I thought it would be great to make risers using all the different crafts and techniques that I've learned over the years.

Here's a shot of the whole stair.  I still have 3 more risers to complete but I'm waiting for inspiration.  From top to bottom, the techniques are:
Wool applique using recycled sweaters
Rug hooking
Knitting  (lace)
Rug Hooking
Wool applique, felting, and embroidery
Wool applique (penny rugs)
Proddy with rug hooking

My favorite hooked panel is the one I drew myself.  It's my house in the fall.  I love a primitive, folk art style and drew the house in that manner.  Actually, I'm not a great artist when it comes to drawing so the primitive style is just about all I can manage!  The one below it has many styles all together and was the first one I made.  I found a great product -- wool fleece that was carded and pressed into very thin sheets.  You can cut the sheets into shapes.  So, the red rectangle is a piece of felt.  I cut the bird shapes and the flower shape and then wet felted the whole thing.  I was inspired by Frakturs.  Once the felt was done, I embroidered to define and accent the motifs.
I truly love my penny rug panel as well.  Penny rugs are great because you can combine many different textures and colors in a very small space.  Each penny is at least 3 different wools.  This panel is all blues, golds, and browns.  I used leftover wool from one of my quilt rugs.  The buttons came from a very cool blouse I had with small shell buttons sewn all around the bottom.  Naturally, I spilled something on it and had to throw it out.  But, I cut the buttons off first!

The newest panel is my sheep.  I collect sheep (being the Wool Girl and all).  I knew one of the stairs would be devoted to sheep and the long, narrow shape lends itself to a little parade.  I have three boys so the mama sheep has three lambs.  I used a different recycled sweater for each sheep.  The mama is a beautiful Talbots sweater that had wool background and then an overlay of lacy wool.  Perfect.  The lambs are a plain wool, a textured knit, and a cable knit.  The "grass" is a strip from a really great coat I got at a garage sale.  As you know, I love fringe!  The background is a hunk of wool I dyed myself.

The panel below the sheep is my own version of a Log Cabin quilt.  These type of rugs are called Hit or Miss because you use a different strip of wool for every line.  I have a big rug made like this and I love the color mix.

I need to highlight my knit panel because, after all, I'm a knitter first.  I love lace knitting.  It's intimidating at first but is no more difficult than cable patterns.  The needles are just WAY smaller.  A few years ago I bought a cone of very fine Merino wool at a mill going out of business.  I think I'll be using the wool off this cone forever.  This panel is made from that same wool.  The background wool is hand-dyed by me.  Blue looks really great in my house.

I'm not sure what I'll do for the final risers.  Something will inspire me and I'll be off and running.