Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Silver clay get together

In early September, Michele and Judy came over for a silver clay play date.  Michele had some ArtClay from a kit she bought, and we ran out to Artist & Display to get some ArtClay for Judy.  Unfortunately, ArtClay is not my favorite, but that is all A&D sells.  It was too late in the day to go farther afield.  After Michele and Judy worked with it and saw how much longer I could work with my PMC3, they decided it wasn't their favorite, either.  We had a good time, however, and we made a number of pieces.

The following pictures will show the process I've previously discussed in other blogs:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, but each picture shows a different piece.  Yeah, I know that doesn't make sense.  But we were chatting, eating chips, passing the camera around, and trying to get Michele's torch to work.  Here's a sample of the hilarity that ensued throughout the day:

We were lucky to get any pieces done.

Here are Michele (left) and Judy (right) working with their clay:

Just to prove I was there, here's my hand rolling out some clay with my very high tech PVC pipe roller:

I set cubic zirconias and gems in some of the pieces using syringe clay.  Since the syringe clay is single use, I had to use it up.  Here is one of the pieces I made:

As I was just reminded... squiggly heart was my husband's idea.  :)  He suggested I use one of my cutters and squiggle the syringe into it so it would conform to the shape.  This was a good idea but a little difficult.  I did another one with a flower cutter which you can see in the last picture.

After the pieces dried, we filed off any rough edges.  Then it was off to the torch.  We used my fire-safe brick on top of the stove so nothing would accidentally be set aflame.  Here's Michele:

And here's a close up of the torching.  Once the piece gets to be a little "peachier" than this color, you keep torching it for about 2 and a half minutes:

Once the piece is fired, you can drop it into a glass of water to cool it quickly, using tweezers, of course.  Otherwise, you'll be running your hand under cold water for many hours.

Using a wire brush, you take all of the white residue off:

You have to be a bit careful with this step, too... those little wires like to find their way under cuticles and nails.

In Michele's kit there was a rubber block.  That got passed around as well as my camera.  It was very nice, and I may have to invest in one.  Here is one of Michele's pieces on the block.  She used a stamp I've used before - it makes a very nice impression in the silver clay.

After filing, we put some of the pieces in liver of sulfur to darken them up.  Those then got polished and burnished to brighten up the raised parts, leaving the indentations darker.  Some of the pieces we left shiny.

The last picture is of all the pieces we made.  Some haven't been completely polished yet after the livering of sulfuring, so you can see how that looks.  Judy and Michele both had small packages of ArtClay, and I had a large one of PMC3 plus a syringe, so most of the pieces you'll see are mine.

We had a lot of fun, and Judy has gone on to take an official PMC class from Irina Miech at Eclectica, and she's talking about taking the certification class in March.  I've created a monster!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thoughts on Christmas (with pictures of Christmases and jewelry)

This blog post is going to be quite different than my other ones and a lot longer, too.  I've gotten serious from time to time, but I feel the need to get a number of things out of my head and "out there".  I truly hope I don't offend or upset anyone.  These are thoughts I've had for quite some time, and I feel if I don't make sense of them I will burst.  Don't worry – I'll intersperse pictures of jewelry I've made so you'll have something nice to look at.  Here's one now:

Peyote Christmas tree bracelet (Steve's idea)

I'm not "feeling" Christmas this year, and it has bothered me tremendously.  Thinking back, I don't think I've really felt in the Christmas spirit for quite some time.  It seems surreal to me.  I would say, "All of a sudden everything changes," but it starts creeping up on you around Halloween.  First one store puts out a few Christmas decorations, then you hear "Jingle Bells" or "Winter Wonderland", then Christmas is in full bloom.

For a brief time every year we wear different jewelry and different clothes, we rearrange the d├ęcor of our houses, we listen to different music (which I'm doing right now, actually, to keep my thoughts focused and to try to get myself into the spirit), we watch different TV shows and movies, and we eat different foods.  Then all of a sudden, on December 26th, it's gone.

It begins like a season, slow and steady, but it ends like the closing of a book.  True, there are some leftovers of food and snatches of music that people hum, and you can get away with wearing wintery clothes and jewelry, like this pin:

Snowflake pin - stamped polymer clay with peyote bezel

But, this is just like when you close a book – you still have thoughts about the story after you're finished, and you may talk about it to your friends.  The after-Christmas talk is usually about presents and meals, and maybe about how pretty someone's house is.

For the moment we'll ignore the Christmas lights that stay up until March.

Like I said, it just all feels surreal to me, and I've been trying to figure out why.

Christmas is a time of giving and spending time with family and friends.  Well, that's not something that's reserved for one time of year only.  I spend time with family and friends a lot, and I know others do, too.  I give when I can, and I've been known to declare "Just ‘Cuz" days with my mom and stepfather, hiding little things in their garden for them to find.

Polymer clay stamped pendant with spiral rope

Christmas is also a time of tradition.  In my youth (oh, goodness… that sounds like I'm 80 years old!), we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my mother's family.  Sometimes we spent some time with my father's family, but not much.  Over the years the players changed somewhat.  When John married my mother, we included his parents quite a bit.  After I moved out, there was frequently a boyfriend or husband in attendance.

On Christmas Eve we would have traditional German food (right now "Kling, Glockchen" is playing, and I'm tearing up):  German potato salad (Kartoffelsalat), wieners, sauerkraut, and cucumber salad, among other things:

Christmas Eve at Mom's in 2006

Presents within the family are exchanged.  I remember in 1996 we were at my Uncle Werner's and Aunt Senta's house, and Omi, who always gave money later in her life, asked my husband at the time (Chris) to bring her the little bag full of the envelopes.  Each envelope had a name and a bow, with a card and money inside.  She stood up and called out, "Come and get it!" while holding the bag upside down over the floor.

Later in the evening my grandmother (Omi) would heat up the Spechkuchen (I don't know if that's how it's spelled) that she made earlier in the day.  It's a kind of sweet dough with bacon and onions inside, because that's what Germans love to eat – bacon and onions.  (I can still taste it in my mind whenever I cook bacon and onions together).  The kuchen are baked golden brown, and the smell is tremendous.

Christmas morning found me at my mother's for more present opening and for breakfast.  It was frequently done in pajamas, and after I moved out I'd go over there in my pajamas then go home to get ready for Christmas lunch.  We usually went out for lunch, mostly at the Country Squire, the former Sears estate, which is always beautifully decorated.  The food is outstanding, too.

Mom and me outside The Country Squire Christmas Day, 2006

Over time our traditions have dramatically changed.  Our family has dwindled.  Uncle Werner and Aunt Senta have moved up to Eagle River, Wisconsin, which is much too far to come for the day.  We've lost a number of family as well:  Oma and Opa Koffler (Aunt Senta's parents), Mom's Aunt Tillie, John's mom and stepfather, Hap (my stepgrandfather), my Omi.

 Omi and me, possibly 1975
For a few years, it was just Mom, John, and me, but now I have Steve, and it's the four of us for most holidays.  The first Christmas we lived in Milwaukee we hosted three parties:  One for Mom and John, one for Dad and Barb, and one for Steve's family who live in Illinois.  Last year Steve and I spent Christmas Eve alone and went to Mom's for Christmas Day.  We'll be doing the same this year.  Unfortunately we don't have the energy to host any parties.

Polymer clay stamped pendant with a peyote bezel (I love the peyote stitch!)

Now, I love Mom and John very much, and we spend a lot of time with them.  Maybe that's why Christmas seems odd – apart from the clothes and music and some fancy food, it's just like a normal Sunday dinner.  We cannot afford to visit Steve's parents in Florida, not to mention visiting our relatives in Germany.  Although I've only seen them less than a handful of times, I miss them terribly and wish I could get to know them better (both my in-laws and my German relatives).  E-mail and Facebook is helping with that, though, even if my cousin Olaf wants me to write in German!

Maybe it's the passage of time that's bothering me, like it does every Mother's Day I go without being a mother.  Christmas is the end of the year, and you tend to reflect on what's happened.  I have a husband, cats, and a house I love very much (Even though my feet are rather chilly from being too close to an outside wall.  Yes, Steve, I'm wearing my slippers.).  I have wonderful in-laws and parents who consistently go above and beyond.  I am by no means ungrateful for what I have.

Holly necklace using the netting stitch

Last Christmas I had a job I hated with a horrible commute.  When it snowed, my ride home took 2 hours.

This Christmas I don't have a job.  I quit in March due to the commute and a whole host of other reasons that I'm working to get over.  With the job market as it is with the skill set I have (or don't have), it's been very difficult finding anything to apply for, let alone getting an interview.  Financially we've been doing okay, due to the extreme generosity of those who know who they are, but it's starting to get tight.  Mom got sick this summer, and I've been helping by taking her to her doctors' appointments and chemotherapy treatments.  We decided to skip another of our traditions this year – giving little Advent presents.  Each year Mom and I switch off, and this was my year to give to her.  I asked what kinds of things she'd like, and she said, "Why don't we skip it this year?"  It broke my heart to do so, but she truly doesn't want anything.  She's not getting off so easy for Christmas, though – she IS getting presents!

My web design company isn't going too well, mainly due to my not having time to market properly.  I am going to expand my business to include my jewelry sales.  I had a fairly successful craft sale at the beginning of December, and I'm setting up a table at my bank on Friday with my jewelry and my web design information.  I'm hopeful that I'll soon be able to "hold my own" and take the pressure off of Steve.

My table at the St. John's craft fair in Waukegan on December 4th

A lot of people say that Christmas is for the children.  Many aspects of it are:  Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, candy canes, presents…  Every year that goes by, the more I feel the absence of a child.  It's just not possible right now.  I'm getting old (yes, 39 is getting old to consider having a baby), I need to lose weight, we need to be more secure financially, and… what kind of a mother would I be?  There are many insecurities and many non-insecurity reasons to consider.  We're comfortable how we are right now, and a baby would disrupt all of that.  Oh, but what a disruption!

And, yes, I realize there is a religious reason for Christmas.  I'm not up for discussing religion in this blog – too many people have very strong opinions, and I don't want to entice anyone into a flame war.  All of the other stuff I talked about (food, presents, decorations, etc…) doesn't really have anything to do with the religious reason anyway.

Christmasy polymer clay pendant and focal beads

So, what have I learned in the last 2 hours and over 2 pages of straight typing?  I don't like change (that's not a big shocker), but there are some changes I long for.  That's not horribly profound, is it?  After all these years, I miss my grandmother more and more.  I can hardly think of her lately without tears welling up.  Maybe that's because Mom's been so sick, and I'm afraid I'm going to lose her, too.  Her prognosis is very good, but she feels so awful sometimes that I worry.  You know, typing that out actually helped.  I think that is why I'm so upset about Omi.  I know it will happen sooner or later, but I'd rather it be later.  Much, much later.

You hope that every day, every month, every year will be better than the last, or at least not terribly worse.  Although there are a number of good things in my life (I keep using the disclaimer so you know I do not take Steve or anything for granted), I do feel that in some ways each year is worse than the one before.  I am working to make it better, but I get tired of the struggle sometimes.  I know it could get a lot worse, and I fear that if I can barely handle what's going on now, how could I handle things if they got worse?

That's what has been swirling around my head this December.  Steve has been wanting to decorate for Christmas, and I have been resisting.  It's important to him, though, and after getting all of these thoughts out, I think I'm ready.

Steve and Fe with last year's tree.  Yes, I know it's tiny, but it's cute!

At the very least, I'm on the right track to be in the Christmas spirit.  There will be tears for those we miss, hugs and kisses for those we can reach, and love and light sent to those we can't.

If I hear Feliz Navidad one more time, though… all bets are off.  :D

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Second knitting project

I have crocheted for at least 10 years and have made a number of projects from dishcloths to sweaters.  Here are a few links with posts about two of my sweaters:  New crocheted sweater and More on crocheting....  I have done more sweaters than just these two, including a sweater that ended up being far too wide and short to wear, made with some pretty stiff yarn.  That one got donated to Salvation Army after I was laughed at one time too many.  If the yarn wasn't stiff, I probably could have worn it.  I've also made a sweater for my stepfather that fits him well, but he's always warm so rarely wears sweaters.  I've also made a few cute things for my friend Sherri's daughter, Sydney.

Okay - you twisted my arm.  Here are a few pics of Syd from when she was a few months old and when she was 2 or 3:

Sherri put her IN a pumpkin wearing this.  She was less than thrilled.

This jacket turned out really cute, and I even made toggle buttons with polymer clay.

So, the upshot is:  the construction of a sweater does not scare me, nor do I find it daunting.

Emboldened by the bag I discussed a few days ago I picked a hooded jacket (the kids call them "hoodies" nowadays) from the cover of the Fall 2010 Knitscene magazine.  It looked pretty easy.  I thought it was well within my skills and could be knit with yarn that had survived my stash-purge before my move up to Milwaukee

Yeah.  Looks can be deceiving.

Okay, folks!  Hold on to your hats and buckle up...  This is going to be quite a rocky ride.

The first thing you generally work on is the back, starting from the bottom.  The first 18 rows of this sweater is worked in seed stitch, which is knit one, purl one across the row, then the next row is purl one, knit one, so you're purling on top of a knit stitch and knitting on top of a purl.  There is a lot of yarn movement (yarn behind the needle for a knit and yarn in front of the needle for a purl), and you can't easily tell what's going on until you're a few rows in.  In this regard, crochet is pretty easy - you can generally tell if you just did a single crochet or a double.

I mainly worked on this when Mom was in the hospital.  I do not recommend this unless you're very familiar with what you're doing.  I got interrupted a lot by techs, nurses, and doctors coming in, Mom needing something, my phone ringing, or whatever else you can think of.

Attempt #1:  16 rows in
I finally figured out what seed stitch is supposed to look like, and my version definitely did not look like that.  It's the band at the bottom of the sweater that fits a little tighter but will expand if necessary.  It did resemble that in spots, but there were expanses that looked like jumble.  If you don't get the stitches exactly right, it doesn't work.  I was keen to leave it as is, but my husband said, "You're going to have to rip it out.  I know my wife - you won't be happy with it like that."  I threw the ball of yarn at him.  So he could wind as I ripped it out.  That's the only reason - I promise!

Attempt #2:  3 rows in
The phone rang, and I set my knitting down without pushing the loops farther on the needles.  I dropped a stitch, and being a new knitter, I didn't know how to fix it.  (I think I got the hang of it now, though!)  The worst part about this?  It was a wrong number.

Attempt #3:  14 rows in
I was doing well.  Really, I was.  But I got confused on which row I was supposed to do - did I start with a knit or a purl?  I undid the row and tried again, but I misread my tick marks and got it wrong.  I didn't realize it for a few more rows.  Argh!

(As an aside, by now I was doing great with the seed stitch as long as I moved the yarn right after the stitch.  I still got confused but usually could straighten myself out by counting "knit, purl" or "purl, knit" on the loops of the right needle.)

Attempt #4:  about 15 rows of stockinette past the 18 of seed stitch
Everything went great.  I finished the band and was working on the rest of the body, which is worked in easy stockinette stitch (row of knit, row of purl).  I kept looking at it, though.  The pattern calls for size 7 needles, but I didn't have any.  I had size 6, though, which I purchased for something else, so I figured I'd use that and up the pattern by two sizes.  I crochet tightly, so I assumed I'd knit tightly, too.  After I showed it to Steve, he said, "That's the whole back?"  I threw the yarn at him again and tossed my needles into the bottom of my bag.

Attempt #5about 4 rows of stockinette past the 18 of seed stitch
Now for reasons I don't remember, I purchased size 9 needles instead of the recommended size 7.  On the up side, I decided to knit my own size instead of two sizes up.  Less stitches = quicker sweater.  Theoretically.  I got really far that day at the hospital, finishing at the end of a row to make sure I didn't drop any stitches.  After dinner, Steve and I watched TV, and I picked up my knitting and dug in the bottom of my bag for the other needle.  Do you see where this is going?  I didn't... for about 6 rows.  I was wondering why some rows were really tight and some were really loose.  Then I finally looked at the size 9 needle in one hand and the size 6 in my other.  Oh, crap.  Both are the really nice, smooth bamboo needles (the same color, of course), and it didn't even occur to me to check the sizes before I started.

(Now, a sane person would have thrown both sets of needles, the very tired yarn, and the magazine in the trash.  I am, obviously, not a sane person.  My darling husband is now very good at winding yarn back on the skein, and the size 6 needles were banished to another location.)

Attempt #6:  SUCCESS!!
I'm now pretty good at seed stitch.  I really ought to be at this point, ya think?  I flew through those 18 rows and have completed 18 rows of the stockinette stitch so far.  I have put it aside to work on jewelry the last few months, but after this post, I may just pick it up again.  Want to see what I have so far?

That part on the bottom is the seed stitch.  Imagine how it'd look if you get off the pattern even one stitch.  I did not take pictures of attempt #1.  I weighed the options of humor vs. humiliation, and I opted to just tell you about it.  So sorry!  (not)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First knitting project

Since it's been months since I last posted about knitting, you may want to refresh your memory on my rocky beginning by reading my previous posts:  Stop me!!! and By Jove....

I decided that since I finally could knit I should do a project instead of just a sample, so I made a bag.  Most of it was knitted while my mother was in the hospital.  I had two yarns - Elsebeth Lavold Chunky AL in the Wet Earth color (50% Alpaca and 50% wool) and Louisa Harding Kashmir Aran in the red/purple color (55% Merino wool, 10% Cashmere, and 35% microfiber).  The Aran has a beautiful texture to it, and the two yarns look nice together.  I chose to use the Chunky AL for the body of the bag and the Aran for the sides and strap.

The pattern was very easy, and it didn't take me long to knit the bag.  I felted the body of the bag then knit the sides and strap to make sure they'd match up right.  I did not know if the Aran would felt, so I didn't want to risk messing anything up.

Michele was over when I felted the bag and took some pictures.  Unfortunately, my camera is a little tricky (the picture doesn't get taken immediately after pressing the button, so you have to keep the camera still for a few seconds afterward), and the pics are somewhat blurry.  How odd, though, that the picture she took of Steve's shaving cream is clear as can be.

Here's the bag before felting:

The curling is normal for stockinette stitch - I didn't mess it up.  I did some research online (because I thought I did mess up), and this article on TECHknitting gives a very good explanation of why it happens.  For those of you who don't want to get into the nuts and bolts....  it just does.  That answer was good enough for me, but that article was very informative!

Felting is a process of purposely shrinking wool to make a tighter fabric using hot water and working the piece to get the fibers to stick together (agitation).  There are great instructions on how to felt in a washing machine with numerous pictures in the How to Felt a Project article on  I only wanted to lightly felt the bag, and I was a bit anxious to get it done before bed so it could dry by morning, so I chose to felt it by hand in the bathroom sink.  There are two camps on felting - soap or no soap.  We had a huge, ugly chunk of soap remnants, so I thought I'd put it to good use (and get it off of the sink!).

This is me washing and working the bag (and probably saying, "I sure hope this works!").

This is my "I sure hope this works!" face:

Michele loves this look on my face.  I think she's a crazy person.  The water was HOT, and my back was starting to hurt.

Ha!  I'll use your picture taking against you, Michele...

Oh... a word about our bathroom.  I believe I've talked about how retro our house is - nice light wood throughout and original fixtures.  Well, the bathroom is more of this, but someone must have been on drugs when they chose the wallpaper.  There are two different colored (similar, but different) green tiles around the bathtub, and the floor has green and white tiles.  The bathroom counter is yet another green.  Why on earth did they choose pink wallpaper and curtains, and how do you match anything to all that?  I think the shower curtain from my other house works well with the greens, but not the pink.  I'm hoping that we'll paint the walls a nice cream color or something that will work with the stuff we can't afford to change.  The mirror is huge and has an aged look to it.  Steve doesn't like it, but along with the rotary phone in the kitchen, I think it adds character to the house.

Where was I?  Oh, I remember.

After working the bag for a while, I rolled it up in a few towels to get the water out and to further agitate the fibers:

I repeated this 4 or 5 times until it looked kinda felted to me.  Yeah, I should have used the washer.  It would have been quicker, but then you wouldn't have been able to see my lovely bathroom!

The sides and strap didn't take too long to knit, then I sewed them to the body.  Here's the finished bag:

It's a cute bag.  It's not terribly large, but it comes in handy when you have a lot of little things to carry.

As with most of my projects when I don't exactly know what I'm doing, I would have done things a little differently.  I love the look of the non-felted purple on the felted gray, but the strap is, um, a little boingy boingy.  I assure you, that's a technical term.  If I carry heavy things in the bag, or use it too much, the strap will stretch out.  That might be okay, or I might crochet the edges with a stronger yarn - the gray if I have enough of it left.  I may not.

I also would love to have a flap made out of the purple.  I definitely do not have enough for that, but I may have enough for a loop for a button.

Emboldened by this, I started working on a hooded jacket.  Yes, I know I'm crazy, but that's a tale for another day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fastest turnaround ever!

Hi!  I'm back after another hiatus - hopefully my last one.  Mom is doing much better.  She's gone through three chemo treatments and is tolerating them pretty well.  She's still weak, but we did her Christmas shopping for my stepfather yesterday.  It was brief but complete!  Now that things have calmed down some I can get back to blogging.

I have been making a number of pieces of jewelry in the last few months.  The Loose Bead Society participated in a sale called Loominosity at the end of October, and I made quite a few pieces for that sale with silver clay focal elements - earrings and necklaces.  I also made some new things using my new stitching skills for a craft sale at a church last weekend in Waukegan.  Both sales went pretty well, and they got my mind thinking about how I can get my items "out there" more.

There is another big project in the works, but I'm not ready to divulge that information yet.  Mum's the word!

The project I'm going to show you today is the most recently done.  Yeah, I know that doesn't make any sense, but it's the most handy.  In computer terms, this is called LIFO: Last In First Out.  Tomorrow I'll show you my first knitting project that I completed a few months ago.  That will get me started in a more normal chronology.  I've always preferred FIFO (First In First Out).

While my husband was looking on eBay for a new timer for our kitchen, he tried to find one that looked like a piece of sushi.  I used to call this a "sushi timer", but after some confusion about why a timer would be needed for raw fish, I had to stop using that term.  Anyway, Steve found an auction for 6 glass lampwork sushi beads at a very good price - 99 cents for the opening bid!  Steve won them for just $1.29, plus shipping.  If you search eBay for "Sushi Lampwork Beads", you'll find other lots available.  None of them is as cheap, but they look like the same ones.

The beads came in the mail yesterday.  Once Steve gave the nod that I could open the box (I didn't know if he'd withhold them until Christmas like the adorable cat jacket we found in a Fair Trade store), I had the beads out and a finished bracelet in about a half an hour!  I dithered a bit about what beads to put with them, but with Steve's suggestions, I decided to use all black, faceted beads.  They give the bracelet some class without distracting the eye from the sushi.

From left to right the sushi looks like egg, roe (fish eggs), super white tuna, California roll, tuna, and shrimp.  All very tasty, and I'm looking forward to wearing my new bracelet whenever we eat sushi!  (For those of you who don't eat sushi - not all of it is raw - there are a number of types of sushi that are cooked or fish-less that can ease you into it.  Egg is cooked, of course, as is shrimp.  A shrimp tempura roll is quite tasty!  Eel with avocado is very good, too - you don't even realize you're eating eel!)

Now I'm hungry.  Time for lunch, although unfortunately it will not be sushi.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why I've been gone...

My mom has been sick for quite some time, and she's been in the hospital for about 2.5 weeks.  They just figured out that she has Lymphoma, and they started her chemotherapy today.  She will get 8 treatments in all, with three weeks in between each treatment.

I've been at the hospital nearly every day, making sure I understand what's going on and trying to take care of her.  I can't really do more than cover or uncover her, give her a drink of water, or go get the nurse when the IV is beeping, but it makes me feel like I'm doing something.

I recently learned about, and I created a website for Mom so I can post updates for everyone who has asked about her.  She thinks no one cares, but I've fielded calls and e-mails from quite a number of people.  I hope this will help.  If you have a loved one who's been sick or injured, you know what this is like.  I didn't know a site like this was available, but it I'm glad it does.  If you're interested, my Mom's site is

While I've been at the hospital, my hands have not been idle.  I've been knitting quite a bit.  I made a small tote bag and am now knitting a "hoodie".  At home I've been working on jewelry or more knitting.  When I have some more time, I will show you my projects.

Since I have been (and will continue to be) busy with Mom, I'm pushing the "Happy Things" contest back another month.  I'm hopeful that I'll be able to add "My Mom's return to health" to the list.

Do me a favor?  Kiss your loved ones and tell them how much you care.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

By Jove...

I think I've got it!

There was a nice surprise on my blog this morning - a comment by Adrienne Martini, the author of Sweater Quest, which I wrote about in yesterday's blog post.  She said, "Keep at it. You'll get it!"

I squeed.

I then e-mailed her to ask how she found the blog (and only squeed a little bit in my e-mail to her).  She replied and let me know she sometimes Googles "Sweater Quest" to see what's out there, and that's how she found me.  How cool is that?!?

So, armed with encouragement from such a great author and knitter, I read another chapter or so of her book, and I knit a few more rows.  There was no swearing, so I decided to look up how to purl.

The purl stitch is much easier than the knit stitch.  I picked that one up almost right away.  Then I alternated rows of knit with rows of purl, which I knew would give that "look of knitting" (also called the stockinette stitch).

I kept it up while we watched the season premiere of "Castle" (which we've recently started watching - primarily because of Nathan Fillion and our love of "Firefly") and the series premiere of "Lone Star".  Yes, I know they aired earlier this week.  I couldn't tell you when.  This is why we have DVRs in nearly every room of the house.  TiVo really has revolutionized the way I watch TV.

So, between 5:00 and 8:00 (minus time for eating the wonderful ham dinner my husband cooked), I added a considerable chunk to my test piece, and I think it looks nice:

For all my non-knitters out there, that's all the "V" lookin' rows.

I also joined Ravelry today (I'm taotte, in case you want to be friends there) and have looked through free patterns of bags to use some yarn I bought at a local yarn store when I thought I was going to teach a crochet class there.  Crochet class is out, but a new knit bag is in my future!

Yes, I should be doing something simple like a dishcloth, but as frequent readers of my blog can attest to, I never do anything simple.  The pattern I chose is pretty easy, though - I know my limits!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stop me!!!

I love crocheting.  I have crocheted for years and have made many, many items:  sweaters, purses, doilies, bags, baby booties and bonnets, a halloween costume for a baby (she was so adorable!), and a few more sweaters.  (The links refer to previous blog posts I've written about crocheting.)

So why is it that I keep feeling the pull to learn to knit?  Well, if you look at podcasts through iTunes, there are millions of podcasts about knitting and hardly any about crocheting.  No, there are not millions of knitting podcats - it just feels like it.  I've listened to some of them, and knitters are so passionate about what they do.  Some of them have even learned to spin.  They talk about wool and roving ("A roving is a long and narrow bundle of fibre. It is usually used to spin woollen yarn." according to Wikipedia) and colorways and patterns and OOOH!  Look at that yarn on this Etsy site!!  It's amazing. (drool drool twitch)

Members of the Loose Bead Society frequently bring their knitting to meetings and seem to get a lot done.  A number of the best patterns in magazines I've seen are knit.  There are a number of great crochet patterns, don't get me wrong, but it seems that knitting is just, well, so cool.  It's not just for grandmothers anymore.  The sweaters and socks look comfortable and so trendy.

Then when browsing in Barnes & Noble I saw the book Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini.  She decided to knit a very complicated sweater by the designer Alice Starmore, who I had never heard of, but through reading this book on our trusty Kindle, she's brilliant in her Fair Isle patterns but is brutal in protecting her brand.  I hesitate to even write her name in passing.

Anyway, I started reading this wonderful, funny book, and my fingers started itching.  I have flirted with knitting a few times in the past, including one humiliating experience where I used my mother's dining room table as a prop to get a needle through a loop.  My mother and my Aunt Senta laughed at me.

As a crocheter, I, of course, have spare yarn.  I also have some knitting needles from previous attempts and from finding them on clearance (I can't pass up a clearance price on something there's a remote chance I'll use).  I did have to weed through a large number of long crochet hooks - single and double ended - but I do have a few pairs of needles I can use.

The first thing you do is a slip knot.  No problem there.  Same thing is used in crocheting.  The next thing is casting on.  This is what puts the yarn in loops on the needle.  I found a good website with text and pictures, but for some reason it just wasn't doing it for me, and I was very confused.  I remembered that I used to be able to cast on.  I never had a problem with that.  So I sat back from the computer and just let my hands do what they wanted to do.  They, too, remembered that I used to be able to cast on, and in no time I had 40 or so loops on my needle.

Then comes the knit stitch.  All the loops need to move from one needle to the other, then you switch the needles and do it all over again.  There are two basic stitches to do this - knit and purl.  You have heard these terms hundreds of times in your life, even if you've never picked up a needle.  I'm left handed, so I knew I was going to have some problems - most everyone is right handed, so most directions are going to be for the majority.  It should be no big deal - I do a number of things right handed.  I'm pretty sure I've discussed this in the blog somewhere, but I can't remember where.

Through reading Sweater Quest, I found out there are two ways to hold the yarn - in your right hand (the needle you're knitting onto) or in your left hand (the needle you're knitting from).  I tried holding the yarn in my right hand (called English knitting), but I couldn't get it to work.  So then I tried Continental knitting, holding the yarn in my left hand.  According to Wikipedia, this is also called German, European, or left-handed knitting, so maybe it makes sense that I can get that to work.  After a quick call to my mother a few minutes ago, she confirmed what I remembered - she holds the yarn in her right hand, so that must have been what I tried to do in previous attempts.

I am now on my fifth attempt this time around.  I've had problems with yarn splitting, dropped stitches (where you lose the loop and it comes unraveled), and much swearing.  Steve says he can tell how it's going based on the severity of my cursing.  My biggest problem is that I'm knitting too tightly, so I'm having difficulties getting both needles through the loop where I need them to be.

My mother says I've always done things like this too tightly.  Here's a quick crochet story:  My mother and I used the exact same yarn, pattern, and size of crochet hook, and my hat could have fit a child, and hers was nice and roomy.  I wish I'd have taken a picture of them together.

So what I need to do is relax.  (Yes, I am aware that I need to relax all throughout my life, not just with the knitting - no comments necessary from my friends and family, thankyouverymuch!)  My hands will not cramp as much, my arms will not tire so quickly, and, most importantly, I'll be able to get my damned needle into the loops.

I have not yet started to purl.  There's a video online that says, "Once you're comfortable with the knit stitch, you can purl" or something like that.  I instantly stopped the video and started knitting more rows.  I will continue doing this until the swearing stops and rows take less than 5 minutes a piece.  As you'll see, the rows are pretty short, so you can tell how difficult this has been.

I like it so far, though, even through all of this.  I picked up a magazine this weekend, and there are so many neat sweater patterns in it, and there's an article that explains how to knit socks for every size foot!  I have duck feet, and none of the patterns I've seen will work for my fat feet.

At a recent Wisconsin Handweavers Guild meeting (I went as a Loose Bead Society representative with our President Elect - we're joining the Guild for a "Loominosity" sale at the end of October at the New Berlin Public Library) I bought a cone of something in between thread and yarn.  I think there is enough there to make a short sleeved sweater, but it's really hard to tell.  I would love to knit with it, but...

I have a really long, long, way to go.  (This is standard cotton yarn, not my new stuff.)  Fortunately, I found a cute short sleeved sweater in an old Crochet Fantasy magazine.  I think I'll do that instead.

Stay tuned for more knitting drama!  I'll keep the swearing to a minimum (in here, at least!).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I love to organize!

Next to creating something, my favorite thing to do is organize.  If you haven't seen my craft room yet, you can read all about it and see some pictures here.  Part of that is my stamp index, which is the epitome of OCD, and I've posted about that here.

So when Brenda Schweder, author of Vintage Redux: Remake Classic and Collectible Jewelry, Junk to Jewelry: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Found Objects in Jewelry You Can Actually Wear, and the upcoming Steel Wire Jewelry: Stylish Designs * Simple Techniques * Artful Inspiration (who is also the President of the Loose Bead Society and a good friend of mine) asked for some help organizing her studio, I jumped at the opportunity!  She is very eclectic in her work and the objects she has in her studio, and I knew it would be a great challenge.

Brenda teaches classes in steel wire, resin, and mixed media jewelry, and she needs easy access to all of her supplies.  She's been really busy with shows and classes and all kinds of other events, so she hasn't time to get everything back in order.  The first thing we did was to go through boxes and bags.  We made some piles, threw stuff away, put stuff away, put some stuff aside for Goodwill and to donate to Mount Mary College, and put some stuff in a pile for me to take home (woo hoo!).  We were able to clear lots of space off and under tables.  It sounds worse than it really was - seriously.  Do not envision the TV show "Hoarders" - it's more like Christmas after opening presents.

When we were done, one big pile was for resin kits.  I really wish I had taken a "before" picture, but it's probably best I didn't.  I went back on Friday armed with extra plastic containers, my StazOn inks, and a few letter stamp sets.  We cleared out and consolidated a few of her cabinets (culminating in more stuff for me to take home as well as more stuff tossed and set aside for Goodwill), then we set up a long folding table and started separating, labeling each section with a Post-it note.  Between what Brenda was able to clear up and what I brought, we had plenty of plastic cases to store everything.

Then I set to with my stamps.  The cute doodle font didn't show up all that well, but the brushstroke font and my dark green StazOn worked perfectly.  I stamped on one end and along the side to the left of the end that I stamped for good visibility.  I put the boxes in the cabinet to let the ink dry (it was so juicy!), but I impulsively organized as I went:

While I was stamping, Brenda kept organizing, and she exclaimed, "I can now find where things are supposed to go!  This is great!"  Here she is showing her incredulity:

Now when she's getting ready for a resin class or to work on a project, she can grab just what she needs and (hopefully, time permitting) put stuff back in the right places after she's done.  We're going to keep going on other areas of her studio.  I can't wait!

Thanks for letting me help, Brenda!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A funky necklace

One of my favorite vendors at the Bead&Button show is Priscilla Marban.  The two times I've been at the show she's been all the way at the back of the vendor area.  She's well worth the walk, though.  Some of her beads and pendants are made with sawdust.  Yes, sawdust.  I show one of her pieces in my Matched Set blog post.  The picture doesn't do it justice.

She also has decoupage beads which were very cute and reasonably priced!  One of the ones I kept going back to and eventually decided to get was a long, rectangular bead with two holes depicting an Asian woman wearing a blue and purple kimono.  Almost right away I knew I wanted to do something different with this - one strand of purple and one of blue.

Looking through my trusty Mastering Beadwork book by Carol Huber Cypher I found a netting that I thought would look nice.  I experimented with a few color variations and decided a mix of purple and blue didn't look right.  I ended up using two different shades of each of the colors.  The lighter purple and blue were silver lined so they would stand out more.  I have another light blue that looks great with the darker blue (both of these were used in my butterfly challenge piece for the Loose Bead Society), but so close together you couldn't really tell a difference.

Off I flew to Midwest Beads again (they're the closest bead store to home, in case you haven't figured this out yet, and they have a great supply!).  As usual, they saved my bacon!  They're always so helpful and don't ever seem to mind my rambling.

After talking to Mary at an "artsy get together" that I go to once a month, we decided that it could be even funkier if the colors were flipped then flipped again.  I had never done a fringe before and decided to wing it instead of trying to find instructions.  My friend Michele had my Mastering Beadwork book, and that was the only place I knew for sure had fringe instructions.  How hard could it be, anyway?  The last thing I wanted to do was to go through all of my books and magazines (again) to find something.  I think it ended up okay, but they were sticking out some.  I made a little "ring" to hold them in.  Again, I made it up as I went along.

Wow - that's a lot of talking for one little necklace.  Why don't I just show you what I came up with?

This is pretty different than anything I've done before, and Steve didn't like it at first.  I nearly tossed it in the bin (I don't like making something he doesn't like) but I did wear it over a black shirt to meet Michele (who liked it, by the way).  When Steve saw it on a solid black shirt, he said he liked it better.  I was wearing something busy when I finished it and just put it on without changing.

I like the netting - it's pretty and goes together quickly.  I stitched 2 sections for each side and stitched them together.  I didn't think I could figure out how to start the stitch up again after the bead.  I did taper each of the ends, except where the fringe is, adding 3 beads to each of the ends to help the tapering along.

What do you think of my funky necklace?  Have you done anything funky yourself?  Send it to me (, and I'll feature it in one of my blog posts!

About Mastering Beadwork... Do you have this book yet?  If not, you should check it out - it has a number of techniques and projects, and I've found it a good resource!  It's spiral-bound, so it stays open while you're working.  Guard it around your friends, though, or you'll be texting Michele when the pictures you took with your cell phone don't give you enough information for a new technique you want to try!

Mastering Beadwork: A Comprehensive Guide to Off-loom Techniques

Friday, September 3, 2010

Our "new" kitchen!

It started well before Christmas, and it's all my Gypsy's fault.  For those who don't remember or who are new to my blog, the Gypsy is a design tool for the Cricut cutting machine that lets you plan out what you want to cut before you cut it.  I show it and my original Cricut (including a video!) in my A Gypsy-rific transformation blog post from June.

One of the benefits (or curses) of the Gypsy is that you can see all of the designs for all of the cartridges, not just the ones you own.  I say it's a curse because the number of cartridges I now have is about 4 times as many as I had before I got my Gypsy.  Now for the various mothers of mine who read this blog, we've found them cheap and/or on sale, so please don't fret.  There are a number of Gypsy owners who have far more cartridges than I have because they go "exploring" in their Gypsy.

I'm (slightly) digressing.  A few months before Christmas I was looking through the cartridges in my Gypsy and looked at "From My Kitchen".  I love scrapping family recipes, so I'm interested in anything I can use for future pages.  One of the features is a set of words relating to cooking such as "bake", "chill", "cut", etc...  They're put together in fun way (as you'll see in a little bit), and I instantly knew what I wanted to do - decorate the soffit or fascia or whatever the hangy-out part of the wall is called.  I showed my husband and explained what I wanted to do.  He thought it was a good idea and got me the cartridge for Christmas.

Fast forward 8 months, and we finally got around to washing the walls (yuck!) and painting the kitchen.  It was pretty boring and off-white, with curtains that had lots of little reddish flowers and leaves and vines and stuff.  We were not going to change the floor (green and off-white), so we picked two shades of green paint - the dark one for the soffit/fascia/hangy-out part and the light one for the rest of the walls.  We also found some easy-to-apply metal-ish sheets to use as a backsplash behind the stove.  I purchased beige vinyl from, which has a lot of colors and is pretty cheap.

So, a few days after we finally finished painting and put up the new curtains (the old ones were dry clean only for goodness sake, and they were dusty and covered in cat fur from Katy sitting on the shelf all the time, so we pitched them), I set to work on the vinyl.  I used the Gypsy and my new Expression (thanks again, Cyndy!) to maximize the size of the words and how many I could cut out of each sheet.  To get the words up on the wall without making a mess out of everything I used transfer tape.  It's still a little tricky, however.

The first step is cutting the words out on the Cricut, of course.  You can set the blade depth and pressure to cut the vinyl and not all the way through the backing.  That makes it much easier to remove the backing from the cutting mat.  I thought I wrote those settings down, but I can't find them now.  Practice first!  Pressure was around the middle, and I think the blade depth was 4, but please don't quote me on it.  I've used my Cricut since and changed the settings, so I can't look it up.

The next step is to take the backing off of the transfer tape and set it sticky side up on the table.  This step can be a bit frustrating because, well, it's sticky.  I ended up tucking a corner or two under to stick on the table.  That helped.

Then, you take the vinyl (including the backing) off of the cutting mat and put it backing side up on the transfer tape.  If you have multiple words or shapes on your mat, I recommend cutting them apart and working on one at a time.  With the tongue-depressor-looking-thing you get with the vinyl or transfer tape (I'm not sure if you get it from, though) or with a bone folder or credit card, burnish the vinyl to make sure it sticks onto the transfer tape.  Carefully peel off the backing.  If the vinyl comes with, put the backing back and burnish some more.  Then pick out the parts you don't need.  I recommend getting off your butt and going downstairs to get your Cricut tool kit instead of just using the scissors you brought to separate the words.  However, it can be done with just the scissors.  The Cricut tools are easier, of course.  You might want to practice first or make sure you have extra vinyl (I'll explain why later).

This is what you have when you're done and ready to put it on the wall:

If you're anal, you probably want to figure out the center of the wall where you want to put it, horizontally and vertically.  With the playfulness of these words, I didn't want to do that.  I wanted there to be some variation, and I'm just not that anal when it comes to stuff like this.  About other things, yes, but not this.

Stick it on the wall and burnish it again:

Then very carefully peel up the transfer tape.  If any of the vinyl comes with, put it back down and burnish again.

Before the big reveal....

One of the things we love about our house is its retro look.  It was built in the 50's and looks it.  There's light wood throughout and has lots of built-ins and cubbyholes.  The kitchen phone is still a rotary phone.  Steve wanted to replace it, but I thought it was too cute to remove.  The "From My Kitchen" cartridge has a retro feel to it, so when I planned out what I wanted to cut out of the vinyl, I included a number of images to go along with the words.  I could have used other cartridges, but I wanted to have everything "From My Kitchen".

However, images look better with more than one color, and I had only purchased beige and purple (Of course!  One can never have too much purple vinyl).  Steve had given me a lighter shade of purple and black vinyl, but none of those would go with the kitchen colors.  In my "I don't even want to go downstairs to get my Cricut tool kit" laziness, I did not feel like driving 25-30 minutes to Brookfield to get another color of vinyl.  I thought about where else I could get vinyl and remembered a sign store a block away on Appleton called Signs & Banners - Today!!.  I called them, and they had vinyl!  I walked over there after lunch and picked out a nice contrasting color.  While chatting with Neal, the owner, we discussed the possibility of me working on his website.  How cool is that?!

Armed with two colors, I now can cut and place images!  Here's one view of the kitchen with a number of words and images:

You know I mentioned before that things can get tricky and that you should practice or get extra vinyl?  That's supposed to be a strainer next to "strain":

I was going to piece together beige and brown so the beige would be prominent, but everything's so darned sticky, and I couldn't get it to lie right.  I was out of beige, so I cut another strainer out of the brown, but it had to be smaller based on the brown I had left.  Argh.  I used the "holes" from the original beige strainer, and it looks okay, kind of, but I'm not that happy with it.  I am going to get more beige and try again.  I thought I had bought plenty of beige, but I would have been happy with 2 more sheets.

Back to the reveals.  Almost everything indicates what that part of the kitchen holds.  It's not complete, of course.  That would look overloaded.  Besides, there's not a "Kraft Mac 'n Cheese" shape in the cartridge.  But I hit the basics.

Working around the kitchen to the left, next to the stove ("bake" and "cook") we have where the aprons are stored and a potholder (because I could not think of a thing from the cartridge that could go over the doorway to the rest of the house - anyone have any ideas?):

I think the apron's adorable:

Again - this is tricky because everything sticks to everything else.  The lace isn't perfect, and the pockets could be straighter, but unless you're going to look closely like you are now, you don't really notice it much.  I added the embellishments after it was on the wall - something else that's tricky, especially if you're short like I am.

Next to the doorway is the refrigerator, etc...

Yes, I labeled the clock.  Isn't that a cute retro clock?  It works with the rest of the kitchen so nicely!  Next to the toaster oven:

Now visitors can find the dishes and the silverware and the phone (as if they could miss it!).  Around the corner is the last of the vinyl:

The second color really makes a big difference!

One final picture for you - the other part of the kitchen with the new Katy-fur-resistant curtains and Miss Katy herself:

She'd really have to stretch to get her fur on those curtains!

All in all, even with the so-so strainer, I love the new look of the kitchen.  Yes, just painting and getting new curtains would have looked nice, but the vinyl accents make a huge difference in making it OUR kitchen, not just A kitchen, if that makes sense.

Let me at the rest of the house!