Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stitching for "The Shoe"

WAAAY back in January I got a Facebook message from my friend Geri:

I've been asked to be in a wedding and I need some accessories to match these shoes. Can you make a headband, necklace, ear rings, bracelet and brooch to match? How much would that cost? The wedding is August 3 so you've got time. Here are the shoes:

I'll pause for a moment so you can take that all in.

My first thought was, "Damn!  How is she going to walk in those?"  Second thought was, "Damn!  Those are HOT PINK!"

Geri and I became friends some time around Junior High, I think.  We never did go to school together, but she went to Jack Benny Junior High in Waukegan, Illinois with my cousin Dawn.  I met her through Dawn.  I have a vague recollection that we didn't like each other at first, but then we did, and we spent a lot of time together watching Doctor Who and talking about boys all through high school.  We also painted her room once (although I think more paint got on us than on her walls).

I remember I had to use up my roll of film so we could drop it off for processing.
I am SO glad those days are over!

(I also have pictures of some guy sitting on Geri's lap in 1985, but I figure her husband wouldn't want to see those.)

So when an old friend asks for help, you do it, right?  As soon as I had fully processed "the shoes", I thought that something funkier than stringing or stitching would be required.  I decided that wire crochet would be just the thing, and I sent her a message with a link to some examples.  She said that was fine, and she had a certain amount in her jewelry budget - would that be enough?  I said I didn't know, but we'd make it work.

Through Facebook messages we covered all the details and chatted about other things, like her health, my health, our parents, Florida, how close she lives to my in-laws, oranges (because Florida), and all sorts of things.

I asked for some color samples, like a piece of scrapbook paper or something, but she wasn't able to find anything.  I hate to admit it, but I freaked out a little.  You would think a color is a color - hot pink is hot pink, as Steve says, but that's not really the case.  Think of red - there's fire engine red, dark red, light red, cherry red, and all the reds in between.  Having a picture is a good start, but not all devices show the color the same way.  For an example of this, go to Best Buy and look at the TVs.  If they're all on the same channel, you can see that no two TVs really look the same.  Oh, they're similar, but there are variations in all of them.

I also asked for a down payment so I could start buying supplies.  She surprised me by saying she would pay the full amount she had budgeted, and she sent the check inside a cute card with a dog in a sombrero with little pom poms all around the hat.  This is huge when you're doing custom work - the payment, not the cute card.  There's always a bit of anxiety around getting paid.  I told her that I would keep track of all expenses and time and send back any extra.

In March I was at a retreat in Racine with the Loose Bead Society.  One of the highlights of the retreat is going to Funky Hannah's bead store for a reception and shopping!  I decided now was the time to start getting beads for "the shoe".  I picked out a few different strands of hot pink beads, and everyone who looked at my tray said, "Wow!  You must like hot pink!"  By this point I had downloaded the picture of the shoe on my phone because words just cannot fully describe the shoe in all of its ... "shoe"ness.  See - I can't even describe it now, and you've seen it already!

So whenever anyone even started raising an eyebrow at my tray, I just whipped out my phone and showed them the shoe and explained my quest.  Their first reaction was always what mine was: "How is she going to WALK in that?!".  Then I pointed out the skulls on the bow.  I frequently got a "Good luck!" as my friends walked away, bewildered.

I was able to find a few great strands of hot pink beads at Funky Hannah's.  A few were "Miracle" beads in different sizes.  These beads are great - they look one color in this light but a different color in that light.  They shine, too, which I thought would go well with shoes.  The other strand had glass hot pink beads with little silver specks in it.

I looked for skulls online because I figured that'd be the easiest way to find them.  I ended up getting a good deal on 10x6 silver-colored skulls on Etsy and skull and bone toggle clasps at Fire Mountain Gems.  I was so pleased with those clasps - they fit the theme perfectly!

The Bead&Button Show was in June.  While shopping for items for kits and trying to find people I can purchase wholesale from, Steve and I were on the lookout for more hot pink.  I wanted a few different pieces (not just simple round), and I lucked out.  Lucite flowers from The Beadin' Path were perfect, as were some bright hot pink Thunder Polish beads (I'm not sure if they're glass or plastic, but they are bright!), some large-holed wire mesh beads, and some 6/0 and 11/0 seed beads in a few different hot pinks.

Along the way I also picked up some black beads to supplement what I already had.

June passed, and July was well under way when I finally started working on the jewelry.  I was excited to start, but I was nervous.  What if she didn't like it?  I even told her I was anxious, and she said not to be.  She said she'd seen my work through my blog, and she trusted me.

I decided I should do a test piece to see if I even liked the concept.  What's funny is that I believe I came to crochet about 15 years ago (or more?) because of wire crochet.  I liked it and wanted to try it, but I had to learn how to crochet with yarn before I could crochet with wire.  I loved crocheting with yarn and thread and never did try it with wire.  It just didn't look right to me anymore.  But I was willing to try it now because the style would work with the shoes.

In my library I already had a book on wire crochet (Crochet with Wire by Nancie M. Wiseman).  I knew how to do it (as I had crocheted with beads using yarn and thread), but I wanted some inspiration.

Another resource one could look to for help with wire crochet is Laura Timmons from Vintage Moon Creations.  I know she has taught classes on this at the Bead&Button Show, and she has kits on her website.  Not only is she very talented, but she's truly a lovely person in general.  So nice and helpful and quick with hugs.  Please check out her stuff and tell her I said hi!

When you crochet or knit with beads, you have to add all of the beads first before you start working on the project.  With my test piece, I strung a number of purple and frosted white beads in different sizes and shapes and crocheted a band inspired by one of the designs in the Crochet with Wire book.  I modified the design a little to have tapered ends, and in an evening, I had a bracelet:

I really liked it but found that my hand was very sore by the time I was done.  I had a death grip on the crochet hook, and I hadn't taken any breaks.  The next day I could barely move my hand, so I needed to take some time off before starting on Geri's jewelry.

To guard against further cramping and soreness, I held the crochet hook more loosely, and I took a number of breaks.  That helped a lot.

I was able to plan the beads out in the bracelet because I had my test piece.  I knew Geri's bracelet would be a bit smaller, so I counted rows and planned out what I was going to use in what order.  Although this is a more free-form technique than I usually do, I still wanted to make it symmetrical if possible.  It worked very well:

Those beads that seem to glow are those "miracle" beads I mentioned before.  Here's a close up of the middle of the piece:

You can see the flowers, the wire mesh, and the skulls pretty well in this picture.  Those skulls do not want to stay where you want them, so you see the back of one on the left and the front on the right.

The earrings were next.  Geri wanted something simple like studs, but I talked her into some small dangles.  I strung a few beads and added them to posts:

The pink beads here are those Thunder Polish ones I described above as being very bright.

I made the pin next.  I found a free crochet flower pattern on Ravelry and made some adjustments for using wire and beads and for attaching the pin back and a skull for the center:

The black beads around the skull are primarily there to try to keep him looking straight out, but they also help draw the eye to him.  Notice how I'm referring to the skulls as males?  I don't know why I'm doing that.  They look male to me.

For the headband, I had originally purchased white plastic headbands at Funky Hannah's in March.  In talking with Steve we decided that they looked too cheap, so I used a fabric headband of my own.  No, no, no, no... I did not give Geri a used headband.  I had a bad haircut a while ago where I let the stylist give me bangs.  Long bangs, but still bangs.  She said they would help keep the hair out of my face.  They did everything BUT keep the hair out of my face.  Steve brought home a pack of headbands, and the only one I was willing to wear was the black one.  The rest of them were burgundy, navy blue, and a few browns.  Ew.  So they sat in a drawer in their original packaging, for over a year.  Steve suggested the burgundy one for Geri, and we compared it with the beads and with his hair, since it's the same color as Geri's.  It's very handy having a ginger in the house.  Geri wanted a picture of Steve with the headband on, but he didn't want to stretch it out.

I got the idea (and instructions) for the headband from Crafting at the Spotted Canary, a TV show starring Joy Macdonell, who I actually met at the Archiver's ScrapFest in 2005:

When I started watching the show, I was thinking, "Where do I know her from?"  Her hair was a lot shorter, but I quickly figured it out and ran for my scrapbook to show Steve.

Anyway - they did a beaded headband project on that show, and when the opportunity to make one came up, I knew just where to turn!  The best thing about this project is that you don't have to string the beads on first.  You can add them as you go, and it was very easy.  I think it turned out cute:

For some reason I saved the necklace for last.  I think it was because I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do.  I had one design in mind - strings of beaded chain (chain stitch, not actual chain) twisted together with the wire-mesh beads as coming-together-points in three places.  I realized before I even started that this wasn't going to work.  I ended up using a design from Nancie M. Wiseman's book.  I made "bead tendrils" of varying lengths that stuck out around the necklace.  I planned out a design, row by row, and strung the beads:

This is in the middle of the stringing

Here's a close up of the tendrils:

Here's the whole piece:

While I am very pleased with how it looks, I know now to not try to plan the design out.  I ended up having to add beads because I didn't have enough.  That meant either I had to cut the wire to add on or string from the end.  I didn't want a potentially weak spot in the necklace (or a chunky one) where I secured one end and started a new one, so I unraveled the wire from the spool and added on to the end.  Steve helped me get it back on the spool, but there were so many twists and turns that it took forever.  The kitten thought it was great fun, so we had to block him from the wire while we were untangling it and re-spooling it.  I got lucky in that I added just the right amount of beads the second time.

If I do this again, I will not try to plan a design, and I will add about double the number of beads I think I'll need.  Actually, I have notes on how many beads and which ones I used for this necklace, so if I make it again I'll know much better what to do.  I also had no idea how long this would take (not even including stringing extra beads), so next time I can give a better estimate.

I sent off the jewelry to Geri in plenty of time for the wedding (which is this coming Saturday).  I wasn't going to blog about it before the wedding, but she is unable to go due to family reasons.  She's very sad, but she absolutely loves the jewelry.  She's posted pictures on Facebook and told me that she plans on wearing the shoes and the jewelry with a different outfit to an Adam Ant concert.  I think that'll be awesome!  I'll post pictures if she sends them to me (hint hint, Geri!)

Remember my concern about matching the color of the shoes?  Geri posted a picture showing just how perfectly the jewelry matches:

Woo hoo!  Score one for Traci!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tool Review: Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper

Welcome to my first Review Friday!  As I mentioned earlier in the week, I'm planning on reviewing tools, books, beads, yarns, and whatever else strikes my fancy.  I've written it in my calendar for the rest of the year, so tune in every Friday for a new review!  Right now Frisco (our new kitten) is playing on my desk, chewing on everything including my beads, papers, and Pixel's tail.  If he doesn't simmer down, I'll review him!  Katy (our 20 year old cat) is on the desk now, too, and her review of Frisco is unfavorable based on the growls she's giving him.

A hiss was not far behind
(yes, the screen shows me writing this very blog post!)

Remember, if you ever want to look back over my reviews, scroll down until you see the "labels" section on the right side of the blog.  Look for "review" for all of them or "review - " for a specific type of review ("review - tool", "review - book", etc).

Now on to the tool.  I first saw the Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper at the Xuron Bead&Button Show booth.  Abby and Ashley were there giving demonstrations.  Since I gave a glowing review of the Xuron "Fireline" scissors, and sell them, Abby gave me a sample of the new crimper!  Her stipulation was that I get my husband a new calculator.  (She had such a laugh at the B&B Show Meet the Teachers reception seeing Steve try to navigate my very tiny Fire Mountain Gems calculator!)  I was so excited with the demonstration and the sample that I said, "Glowing review coming right up!"

When I first started making jewelry (was it really over 20 years ago?), my mother and stepfather gave me a pair of Craftsman 4518 needle nose pliers.  I did everything with them: bend, cut, and squeeze crimp beads.  There were many times where I wasn't happy with the crimp and had to do it over and over again because it just wouldn't hold.  I even had to restring pieces because I had to cut the wire to try crimping again.  I got nervous that my necklaces and bracelets wouldn't hold.

Years later I bought actual crimping pliers - the Mighty Crimper and the Micro Crimper.  In looking those up I found there's also a Bead Crimper tool that I think is made by the same company.

The difference with crimping pliers and squeezing the crap out of the crimp bead with needle nose pliers is that crimping pliers (with the right kind of crimping bead) will put a dent in the middle of the bead in one part of the pliers then you turn it to fold the two halves together.

I had slightly better success with those tools, but I frequently had problems getting the dent deep enough so the two halves would fold together nicely.  I don't know if I was using the wrong tool for the size crimp beads I had or if the dent just wasn't deep enough.  Here's a close-up picture of the Mighty Crimpers squeezed shut:

The first hole is where the bead gets folded over, and the lips-looking one is the part that makes the dent.  See the huge gap there?  I think that was my problem.

Again - I could have been using the wrong size crimp beads.  Remember I mentioned three different pliers by the same company?  The Micro Crimpers are for 1mm beads and smaller.  The Mighty Crimpers are for 3mm beads and larger.  I guess the Bead Crimper tool is for 2mm beads.  So you need three tools to cover all the different sizes of crimp beads.  I guess you can just buy one tool and one size crimp bead, but that's limiting.  Somewhere along the way I've misplaced the Micro Crimpers, so I've been limping along with the Mighty Crimpers... Until now.

Here is the Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper in all its glory:

I love the color.  The bright green will stand out on my messy desk (as long as it's not completely covered in papers).  It's actually brighter in person and very pretty.

Let's look at the business end close up:



The back of the package has a detailed diagram of each of the parts of the pliers.  From left to right there's the 1mm folding station, the 2mm folding station, the 3mm folding station, and the crimping station.  I think it's so cute that they call them "stations".  There's also a step by step guide for how to use the pliers.  And... Bonus!  The tip is a chain nose plier.  You can use the crimping pliers to help you bend the wire into place instead of grabbing another pair of pliers.

Did you notice the difference in the crimping station?  It's a tight V instead of a loose U.  This makes a world of difference.  Also, the 3mm folding station is a lot smaller than the one on the Mighty Crimper.  I know it's for crimp beads 3mm or bigger, but I think the hole was too big to properly work on 3mm beads.

Let's see the Xuron Crimper in action.  I have quite a mix of crimping beads I bought from who-knows-where.  The only ones I'm sure are actual crimp beads are long, so each part of the process needs to happen twice: making the dent twice and folding twice, once at each end of the bead.

Here's the initial crimping (making the dent):

In action (hard to do one handed while taking a picture with the other hand!)

Final result after crimping twice

I find it's easier to have the V with the opening at the bottom.  Gravity keeps the crimp bead in place while the top part comes down to crimp.

In case you're wondering, I decided to take pictures while making a necklace instead of wasting a crimp bead.  I put the loop of the clasp through the wire's loop instead of using jump rings which can pull apart during wear.  I don't want to risk the wire slipping out of the jump ring's slit and having the piece fall off.

I then turned the crimp bead to the side so the dent is horizontal (like this: < ), and squeezed it in the 2mm folding station:

After squeezing both ends, here's the final result:

That sucker isn't going anywhere!

The one thing I wish the 4 in 1 Crimper had is a "cutting station".  Once I have the wire crimped, if the end is too long, I need to reach for my cutters to trim.  It's not a huge deal, of course, but it would be nice.  Doesn't hurt to dream!  :)

For anyone who strings jewelry at all, this is the tool to use for all your crimping needs.  I have used it numerous times - it's easy to use, and I have had no problems with any crimp beads sliding out.  I love the bright green color, and since Xuron makes it, I know the quality is high.

This is not going to be the case with every tool I review, but I sell this 4 in 1 Crimper along with the Fireline scissors and split ring pliers.  You can find them at any bead show I go to (see my website for my calendar) or on my Xuron tool shop page for $22 plus $3.50 shipping.  You can find them cheaper elsewhere, but you'll have my undying gratitude, and if there are any problems with the tool, I have a direct line to Xuron.

Happy crimping (for once)!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cats and kits (Kits rant #1)

Happy Tuesday!

Before I get into things, I'd like to introduce you to two cats who need a home: Trixie and Twilight:


My friend Barbara's grandson is very young and very allergic to them.  Barbara and her daughter have been trying to find homes for the kitties but have been unsuccessful. The cats are about five years old and sisters, so they really should be placed in the same home. Barbara is in Indiana, but she is willing to bring the cats anywhere or meet someone somewhere to hand them over. This is very important. They are sweet cats who love people. If you can help, please contact me at traci@creative-pursuits.biz so I can get you in touch with Barbara.  Thanks!

Blog update:

After much consideration, I have decided to monetize my blog.  This means I'll have ads on it, but I will do my best to keep them unobtrusive.  Right now there will be one over on the right side under the "my business" section as well as a link to my friend Carol's Etsy site for handmade bags for e-readers, tablets, cell phones, and more (if you order from her, please tell her I sent you!).  I might add more, but I really don't want them to be annoying.

Why am I doing this?

I'll lie here for only 20 seconds.  Better hurry!

When I told my mother about bringing Frisco into the house from the bushes, one of her concerns was how we would pay for a new cat.  While the kitten itself was free, the vet visits would not be.  I said, "I'll figure it out!"

Well, this is me figuring it out.  Yeah, I know one ad on a small blog won't amount to much, but it's a start.  So, please, if you see an ad for something you might be interested in, please click it.  I'm hopeful that after a few more posts the ad logic will start picking relevant products.  After today's post, though, we might see pet food ads.  That wouldn't be so bad - everyone in the house is eating the kitten's food (now that he's no longer in isolation), so I'd like to see some good prices on Purina Kitten Chow.

One more update:

Friday is going to be review day!  I have had success with blogging every Tuesday (+/- a day), so I'm going to try writing on Fridays, too.  There are tools and books that I have been planning on reviewing, and if I run out of ideas then I'll "review" different types of beads and yarns.  We'll see how this works.  If there's anything you'd like me to review, please feel free to e-mail me at traci@creative-pursuits.biz and ask!  Each review will be labeled as such, so if you ever want to review my reviews, scroll down to the "labels" section and click on the appropriate review label: "review - tool", "review - book", etc.

Now for today's actual topic:

Making kits for designs!

I'd like to use the Tuesday blog spot for writing about things I've been working on, but my most recent project is in transit and will be worn at at wedding on August 3rd, so I won't be able to blog about it until after she sends me pictures.  You can get a hint of it in Frisco's picture, above.  I also had grandiose plans for making something new (to me, anyway), but that has not happened yet, so that will also have to wait.

Instead I've been working out kit colorways for two of my designs that use pretty much the same beads:

It's Got Legs

Cobblestone Path

"Cobblestone Path" is a wider version of "It's Got Legs" (Steve came up with that name - isn't it cute?).

With the Milwaukee Bead Show coming up in October (not to mention Bead&Button Show class submissions and next year's Madison Bead Show), I figured I should start gathering supplies for kits, but I have been finding it very difficult to come up with kit colorways and all the pieces that go into them.

The colors in the "Cobblestone Path" picture were chosen so there would be a high contrast for the tutorial.  I take pictures of each step, and I wanted the beads to be easily distinguishable.  I had a plan, too - each color is a different part of the "path".  When I was done, though, I found I liked the combination a lot more than I thought I would.  I had it out at Bead&Button Show Meet the Teachers reception, and many others liked it, too!  So that was the first colorway I decided I wanted to "kit up".

At the Bead&Button Show marketplace, I picked up some pieces for a black/silver set, and in looking at colors online, I decided on (big surprise coming up:) monochromatic purple (it will look different from the "It's Got Legs" picture here).  Steve suggested one with red, orange, and yellow for a sort of flame look.  I'd like to do more, but four colorways are enough to juggle.

Now on to ordering!  Since my business is small, I can't afford to order wholesale, so that's one challenge.  I'd like to go to one vendor and buy everything I need for all four of the colorways at very good prices so my kit prices don't go very high, but I can't afford the large minimum ordering amount that I'd need to order wholesale, so I've had to go hunting.

However, I found out today that I wouldn't be able to get the supplies at just one place.  At least, not one that I could find or have access to.  I will be ordering from... wait for it... five online stores to get everything I need.  I couldn't believe it!  This one has some of the beads at great prices but bad prices of other things with yet other things not available.

I guess this isn't as much of a blog post as it is a rant.  :)  Fortunately once I place the orders I'll have enough for at least a few kits of both designs plus some extras for something else I have in mind.  In the meantime, though, my eyes have crossed, and I have quite the headache.

So the next time you see a kit for sale, you have a bit of an idea of all that goes into putting it together!  Whew!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A newcomer and adapting a plan...

Last week I mentioned that I had "soft and sharp" things going on and that I'd fill you in on it this week if everything went well.  Many of you have heard about this already, so you already know our little secret:

We rescued a kitten!  A week and a half ago (on Saturday) Steve woke me up telling me that there was a kitten sitting on our stoop meowing.  I'll spare you all the details of us getting Katy to meow so we could locate the kitten in the bushes and the over-an-hour-chase through this bush and that while looping a YouTube video of cats meowing (Katy got sick of having milk dangled over her head).  Finally, though, I got him with the help of our neighbor - he was in their bush at the end.

He was very terrified and a bit aggressive, but we fed him, gave him water, and fixed up the spare room so he could be quarantined and get used to being in a house.  We handled him with gloves for a day, but except for a bit of hissing when we reached for him for the first few days, he was very gentle and even cuddly.

This is him just two days after we brought him in:

I took him to the vet, and he was only 1.2 pounds, and that was after three days of him eating as much as his little stomach could hold.  Turned out he had lice and roundworms, and we're giving him the medicine he needs as well as taking extra special precautions that Katy, Pixel, and Fe don't get anything.  We're washing our hands and changing clothes like surgeons, and we dosed everyone with the same medicine the kitten had just to be safe.

After a number of days of being very cuddly, he's now comfortable enough to play.  He's so playful, actually, that he doesn't want to cuddle very much right now.  We're sure that he'll get back to that once he gets a little older.  He's getting braver every day, and we're so happy we were able to rescue him.

His name?  Why, I thought you'd never ask!  I'm sure you all know by now that Steve is a train nut.  Katy is actually Miss Katy, named for (I have to look this up every time) the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad ("the Katy"), and Fe is named for (thank goodness for Wikipedia) the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.  Pixel was my cat from before Steve and I met and was named for computer pixels and for the cat in Heinlein's book The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (which I haven't read yet - I should get on that).

Steve has been adamant that any new cat who comes into this house would have a railroad name.  Le sigh.  A few of the names he mentioned were Burlington (Burly for short) from the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad and Frisco from the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway.  I think "Frisco" is cute, so I was calling out to the kitten in the bushes, "Frisco!  Come here, Frisco!"

So I give to you.... Frisco:

And here's the cutest picture I've been able to get of our little Frisco so far:

"I look crazed, but I'm really just sleepy"

I could talk about this little furball all day, but this is a craft blog, so I need to show you some crafts!

A few times a year Rings 'n Things goes on tour with their bead shows all over the country.  Check out their bead show page and show schedule.  It's always a lot of fun, with shopping, chatting with friends, Tootsie Rolls, and more shopping.  You can find some very interesting beads such as these Mirage fly "mood beads" that change color and the longer beads in the following necklace:

The smaller round ones I already had.  I made a bracelet and earrings to match, but they sold the first time I set them out!

Another great find was the dyed white wood saucer beads that I used with peanut beads for my Simple Stitched Saucer Set design which is modified Right Angle Weave:

These beads are great - they're lightweight and come in a wide variety of vibrant colors!  (If you're interested in making the above set, please contact me at traci@creative-pursuits.biz for the instructions and kit.  I have five different colorways: red/black, hot pink/black, lime green/pink, purples, and blues.)

Possibly the most interesting beads I've come across were found at the clearance table.  They're 20x4mm Opaline sticks:

Yup, that's right - some are drilled diagonally, and some are drilled straight across:

I found the diagonal ones fascinating and tried stitching Right Angle Weave (RAW) with them, but it didn't work too well because the beads overlapped each other.  I ended up making two triangles stacked on top of each other with one bead in common:

I really liked the final result.  It reminded me of a futuristic mobile or piece of art.  I used Fireline and had to stitch through each triangle a number of times for it to hold its shape.

I wanted to make earrings since my dream of making a bracelet wasn't going to work, but when I stitched the second one, the Fireline kept breaking.  I must have tried at least three or four times, and Steve said, "The holes on some of the beads must be sharp and are cutting the thread."  He's a smart man.  Don't tell him I said that.  :)  I had assumed I was pulling too hard, and that's why the thread broke.  I even tried different beads, but it still broke.  I must have gotten lucky with the first set.

So I had to adapt my plan.  I used very, very thin wire to create the same structure.  I could only go through each triangle a few times, but the shape is holding very well.  The wire shows through, but I don't think it detracts very much.  It's not ideal, but if I wanted those earrings, I had to adapt.

The bright side of switching to wire is that I could make wrapped loops for hanging on earring wires.  With thread I would have had to figure something out, and the thread might have slipped off of the earring wires' loops.

Here are the final earrings:

So the moral is: don't get set on just one way to do things.  If it doesn't work after a few attempts, try something different.  You may find that the new way is just as good or better!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The train hat (finally)

Tomorrow is shaping up to be a busy day, so I'm posting A DAY EARLY!  Woo hoo!  If all goes will with tomorrow's stuff, next week I'll fill you in.  Suffice it to say for the moment that it's soft and sharp all at the same time.

Last week I discussed my knitting adventures and finished up talking about a Sockie which is knit in the round with DPNs (Double Pointed Needles).

I've been teasing you for a while now about this train hat, and now it's departure time.  Take your seats and have your tickets ready.  If you're in a sleeper car, keep your clothes on until after your tickets have been punched, thankyouverymuch.  We don't want a repeat of last month's incident.

I mentioned last week that Steve's coworkers keep getting their wives pregnant.  No, I don't think they've taken a bunch of train rides in sleeper cars, but those folks at Model Railroader are all big train buffs, so you never know.  That could be what happened.

Every year they go to a bunch of houses of Model Railroader employees and friends to see their layouts.  They make a day of it with breakfast and lunch out in area restaurants, and there's lots of driving from house to house because they're all scattered.  I usually don't go to any of the other houses, but I'd been to lunch before because it's relatively close.  Milwaukee folks: they go to Saz's.  If you haven't been, go - it's good food!  This year our stop was one stop away from lunch.  I stayed home and baked cookies and set out drinks and snacks and stuff (because I like being a hostess that way), and after our stop was over I rode with Steve to the next stop then to lunch.  After lunch I went to the remaining stop, but after a big, tasty Saz's lunch I kinda wish I'd gone back home to take a nap.  It was a very long drive there and back.

Anyway.  At lunch I got wind of the imminent pregnancy.  She had about three months left, and this was February, I think.  Three months really isn't a lot of time to determine a gift and to knit it, especially with someone who is as slow as I am.  Everything lately takes me a long time to do.  I blame Fibromyalgia and insomnia.  So that night (after the nap that we both just had to take), I went onto Ravelry's website to look for patterns.  That's easier than combing through my books, and there are a LOT more there.  Ravelry has thousands upon thousands of patterns that are either references to items in magazines or books or are downloadable for free or for a fee.

To give you an idea on what this is like, I just typed "baby" into the pattern search bar.  There are 21,400 crochet patterns and 38,892 knit patterns.  That's pretty overwhelming, right?  Fortunately for any search there are refinements:
  • With or without photo.  This is big - why would you try a pattern you haven't seen before unless you're having fun?
  • Craft - Crochet, knit, machine knitting, or loom knitting
  • Availability - Free, purchase online, purchase in print, Ravelry download, or in my library (what you've already downloaded).  So if you only want to see free patterns - one click turns over 60,000 patterns down to just over 17,000.  Nice feature!
  • Category - Clothing, accessories, and stuff like that.  Also very helpful.  If I want to knit a garment, I don't want to look through a bunch of afghans.
  • Attributes - Colorwork, construction, crochet techniques, and stuff like th...wait... "Mature content" has 28 for a search for "baby".  Must investigate.  brb.  Okay - a few baby blue risque items (lingerie and a flogger of all things) and baby doll nighties, but most of the rest of them are breast baby hats that promote breastfeeding.  So when the baby is wearing the hat and breastfeeding, you see a boob.  That's brilliant!  Not appropriate for a coworker's wife you barely know, though.
  • Gender/Age/Size/Fit.  There's also an "Ease" option in this box.
  • Weight of yarn.  This is good if you're looking for a project to do with a particular yarn in your stash.
  • Yardage.  Also good for that stash yarn.  You'd hate to be in the middle of a breast cancer awareness pillow and find out you don't have enough pink.  You'd never find the exact same shade (dye lots are a pain), and then one boob would be a different color than another, and everyone looking at the pillow would suggest you go get a mammogram.
  • Meterage.  I'm American.  We don't use the stinkin' metric system.  (Actually, I do when it comes to beads, but not with yarn.)
  • My notebook.  That's a personalized thing for patterns you've saved to your notebook.
  • Pattern source type - Book, magazine, website, etc.
  • Hook size for crochet.  I guess this would be if you only had one or two hooks or had a favorite you're itching to use.
  • Fiber - Acrylic, alpaca, bamboo, wool... Well, now we're just getting picky.  There's not a lot populated in this box for my search, so I don't think many patterns have this labeled.
  • Needle size for knitting.  Same as for the hook size, I guess.
  • Rating - What other Ravelry people have rated.  Only a few patterns in this search are rated, and I find that surprising.
  • Difficulty.  What fun is that?  :)
  • Ravelry designer - Yes/No are your only options.
  • Language.  This is great if you don't speak other languages, but again, this field must not be entered much, as there's one Danish pattern and 25 English patterns out of over 60,000.
  • Other search options I'm not going to list.  They're all in one box.
Wow.  I never looked down that far before.  If I had known that before I started typing them all out, I would have reconsidered my approach.  Once I got to "Yardage", I felt I was committed.  Look before you leap, my friends.

So you can get that list of patterns whittled down to a manageable size in no time.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to knit, so I looked around for a while.  I found some very cute animal hats, but Steve wasn't too keen on them.  He said, "Is there anything with a train on it?"  I was able to find a few things that weren't too cutesy or Thomas the Tank Engine, but I didn't want to do a full sweater or an afghan, since there were multiple colors used in the cutest ones.  I hadn't done colorwork yet, and I was pretty afraid of it.  In the book "Sweater Quest" by Adrienne Martini that I still want to review, she talked about working with color and holding one color in each hand, and I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to figure it out.

I settled on the Choo Choo Child hat by Deborah Tomasello.  I ordered the yarn online because I couldn't find Fingering weight yarn in enough solid colors at Michaels.  I figured it'd be easier and probably cheaper to order online.  The recommended yarn is wool, but I didn't want to use that just in case the baby had allergies.  I've had some wool allergies in the past, and I was concerned about my own itchiness as well.  I found a good alternative, but there was no sky blue.  Seafoam looked pretty close, but when it was delivered I was a bit dubious.  We decided to try anyway, as I wanted all the yarn to be the same brand to make sure that if something went wrong it'd be me, not the yarn.

Then it was time to actually knit.  This made me very nervous.  Apart from cuffs and neckline of the sweater I showed you last week, I hadn't worked with different colors in knitting.  That sweater actually doesn't count because the whole row was done in the same color, and this hat has different colors in the same round!

A while ago I bought the Knitting Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face, Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask for the Kindle.  I downloaded it onto my iPad, and it's been very useful.  I'm rarely far away from my Pad.  I did a lot of reading on colorwork and weaving the unused color in while knitting, and I knit a small test piece with larger yarn and bigger needles.

However, I couldn't put it off forever, so I finally got started.  The bottom of the hat is ribbing (K2P2)  with the knits in one color and the purls in another.  I didn't have to worry about weaving the unused yarn in for these rows, and it went surprisingly well.  The yarn kept twisting, so I turned to the Knitting Answer Book.  Unfortunately the solution was to NOT twist the yarn.  Ha ha ha.  Well, I tried it, keeping one yarn to the left and one to the right and paid attention to where I put things down, and it actually worked.  Color me surprised.

The next few rounds were just one color.  Yay!  I flew through those.  I was a bit surprised that I didn't have many problems with the thinner yarn and the smaller needles.  There are only 4 needles for smaller in-the-round projects, and I guess I was elated that there was less to juggle.  I did have to be careful of leaving the loops in the middle of the needles, though, instead of near the edge.  I had a few drop off.  Fortunately I was able to scoop them back up.

The actual colorwork started with the train wheels.  As I suspected, I had a bit of trouble weaving the unused yarn in as I worked.  You need to do this so there are no big loops on the inside of your piece that can pull during wear.  I guess that can mess things up.  The difficult part is "catching" the unused yarn in the working yarn so it's trapped between two stitches.  It can show through a little, and if you pull too tightly on the unused yarn it can cause misshaping in the piece.  I think I didn't pull TOO tightly, but I should have been a little looser because the hat doesn't stretch much.

Unfortunately the "don't twist the yarn" advice doesn't work with weaving unused yarn in.  You have to twist it to get it to catch.  Eventually I realized that I needed to untwist it manually at the end of each needle or I would go crazy.

I had a bit of a problem figuring out the decreasing at the top of the hat, but fortunately the designer, Deborah Tomasello, was just a Ravelry message away and provided help.  She's very nice!  The top looked very cute.

One final thing was needed - filling in some of the details with the duplicate stitch.  I could have done three or more colors while knitting the top part of the train, but the pattern suggested not doing that because it would make that part too bulky.  So I grabbed the iPad and looked through the Knitting Answer Book and learned how to do duplicate stitch!  It was a little tricky because the light blue (seafoam) showed through the black, but I improvised and did long stitches down the length of the smoke stacks where necessary.

You're either on the edge of your seat waiting for the pictures, or you've wandered off by now.  Hopefully you're still with me.  One of these days I'll be able to explain things concisely, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Before I show you the pictures, I do want to say that I changed the colors of the train a little.  We wanted it to have colors more realistic to "prototype" trains (that's what they call the full-sized ones).  Also, the green was a bit close to the seafoam for comfort.  At the top it looks nice, but the cab was just thin lines that might not work with colors that are too similar.

Taaaaa daaaah:

All done up the seafoam doesn't look too green.  Yay!

I sure hope that was worth the wait and that it will fit this child's head.  :)  It's supposed to be for 6-month-olds.  I asked my cousin Dawn how big her baby's head is since she was about the same age (or a bit older) than 6 months, and it seems like it would fit.

So now that I've done the "reveal", here's a link to Deborah's pattern so you can knit your own Choo Choo Child Hat:  http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/choo-choo-child-hat.  It's only $3, and (once you know what you're doing), it's not that hard.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My knitting is growing up (like the babies I've been knitting for), part 1

It has been forever since I posted something not related to organization or classes I'm teaching or other non-crafting things.  That's really not much of an exaggeration.  I looked, and apart from pictures of things I've done, I haven't discussed any of my creative pursuits (see how I just threw my business name in there?) since last September!  That must and will stop now.

Let's talk about knit, baby!  Let's talk about loops and purls!  Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that knit brings.  Let's talk about knit... let'stalkaboutknit!

Now that that song is planted firmly in my ear...  If you need to catch up on all my knitting exploits, please see the following blog posts:

Stop me!!! (September 21, 2010)
By Jove! (September 22, 2010)
First knitting project (December 8, 2010)
Second knitting project (December 12, 2010)

Goodness!  I haven't blogged about knitting in 2 1/2 years?  Yeah, that sounds about right.  That also must and will stop now because I've grown to really like knitting.  That cardigan I rant about in the "Second knitting project" post is still in process.  I had numerous other attempts to complete the back.  Fortunately I jotted down the problems and will post about them when I'm actually done with the sweater.  I have completed the back and the two front panels, and I'm working on the hood.  This hood will take a very long time.

I have actually completed a few knitting projects, mainly because Steve's coworkers keep having babies.  That sounds like a lot, but in 2011 a baby boy was born to one family, and this year another baby boy was born to another family.  The first family is expecting again, but they don't know yet if it will be a boy or a girl.

Steve made scrapbooks for each baby - pages all done except for pictures and journaling - and I knit things.  I think we set a high bar for ourselves if babies keep being born, but it's fun, and we're happy to do it.

The first baby got a sweater that he could grow into.  When I looked for the picture today to show you, I could have sworn that sweater was crocheted.  But, nope, the pictures were in my knitting folder, and the pattern says it's knitted.  It must not have been that hard to do because I wasn't traumatized by it.  This sweater is from the "Pullover and Puppy Booties" set from the Loops & Threads "Pocket Pals" booklet.  You can see the booklet here, but it doesn't seem to be available for sale.  You might be able to find it in your local Michaels store.  Each of the patterns is adorable and uses the Loops & Threads Snuggly Wuggly yarn, because what else would you call your baby yarn but "Snuggly Wuggly"?  I unfortunately don't have a picture of the baby wearing the sweater, but here it is before we gave it away:

You might notice something missing...  There's no pocket!  I knit the pocket and blocked it along with everything else, but I had a devil of a time sewing it on.  Then I decided that since I wasn't making a pal to go into the pocket (and since a baby doesn't need to carry change or a wallet), that the sweater really looked fine without it.

The construction of the sweater (now that I'm remembering it) was pretty easy, but I learned a little bit of color change, decreasing to make raglans (the things there where the sleeves join the front and back), and making a slightly fancy V neck.

After the sweater I took a little break and worked on the damnable cardigan off and on (mostly off).  Earlier this year I decided I wanted to learn to make socks, but since I have duck feet and cankles (yes, I said cankles), I was a bit leery of trying.  I didn't want to spend ages knitting a sock just to have it not fit.  I was also concerned about the basic sock construction and working in the round.  Could I figure it out since I'm really not that good of a knitter (baby sweater notwithstanding)?  I found a pattern for slipper socks called "Sockies" on Lion Brand's website: http://www.lionbrand.com/patterns/L10576.html.  Hopefully you won't have to log in to see it.  It's a free pattern, and the e-mails I get from Lion Brand always have other free patterns, so you might want to consider registering on the site.

Anyway - the Sockie ("You keep saying Sockie, but I don't know what a Sockie is!" Steve kept saying) has the same construction as a regular sock but uses thicker yarn and bigger needles.  I had a few bumps getting started, but I contribute that to:  being left-handed knitting right-handed, having problems with spacial things in general, and only watching one YouTube video on knitting circularly before I got started.  I think YouTube is wonderful for figuring out probably everything you need to do while knitting, but I highly recommend watching at least 2 videos on a topic before getting started.  My other mistake was watching a video of a guy explaining circular knitting.  :::ducking before Steve throws things at me:::  I actually assumed that if a guy could explain it to me then I'd have a fair shot of figuring it out.  The problem was that either I misunderstood him, or he was doing it backwards.

Let me explain a little bit about circular knitting for those of you who don't knit or who haven't been sitting in the room with me while I screamed about medieval torture devices.  On larger circular projects you have one very long needle with two metal pointy ends and a flexible middle so you can endlessly knit a tube without having to switch needles around.  I haven't done that yet.  I think it's brilliant.  For smaller projects such as Sockies, socks, or baby hats, you need to use DPNs, or Double Pointed Needles.  For bigger smaller projects there are 5 needles, and for smaller smaller projects there are 4 needles.  I decided to try my hand at circular knitting using 5 needles.  You cast on the total number of stitches then distribute them among all the needles (except for one that you'll use to knit with).  While trying to keep the stitches from falling off, you're supposed to then join one side to the other without twisting.  That would create a Mobius strip, I think.  Not very conducive to putting on your foot.  Joining took a few tries, but finally I got it.

Then you knit the stitches off of one needle onto the spare.  Once that needle is empty, you use that to knit the stitches off the next needle, all while keeping this mess in a circular state and the stitches from falling off.  There's a fair amount of repositioning that needs to be done, and I found that I kept putting the empty needle down or in my mouth, and then I was knitting stitches onto a needle that already had stitches on it, which I guess isn't good.  That took a while to get used to.  I think the turning point for me was the "clink" of one needle being dropped onto the needle that was already in my lap as I was about to knit stitches off of the next needle.

Well before I got to the heel flap, I was confused.  It seemed that I was knitting inside the Sockie.  At first I assumed that I'd just turn the piece inside out once I was done, but that didn't make sense, and the instructions didn't say anything about that.  Also, I extrapolated that if I was knitting a hat, I'd have a hell of a time once the decreasing really kicked in.  So I did the only logical thing I could do:  I called my mother.  However, Mom had no idea what I was talking about based on my confused ramblings.

Bing!  (that's the sound of a light bulb switching on)  We'll use Skype!  I'll show her how I'm knitting, and she'll tell me how to fix it.  Well, that opened up a, um, can of worms, let's call it, because for some reason the webcam on my laptop no longer exists.  I can see it.  I'm looking at it right now while I'm typing this sentence.  But my laptop no longer sees it.  Steve and I both messed with that for probably an hour and a half before we gave up.  It was late, and... and... I figured out what I was doing wrong.  The one and only YouTube video I watched about circular knitting either showed me (or I misinterpreted) that while I was knitting the bulk of the piece should be next to my body with the knitting happening on the other side.  So my pretty V stitches were on the inside of the piece instead of the outside, and my stomach kept getting poked with needles.  What's actually supposed to happen is the knitting should take place next to the body with the bulk of the piece (and most of the pointy bits) on the other side away from the body.  Once I figured that out (which I did while getting increasingly pissed at the webcam), I went back to the YouTubes for more videos.  At this point I had told Mom to go to bed, and I was curled up on the couch with my iPad.  Yes, my iPad which has a built in camera.  I noticed that while watching videos confirming what I had suspected, and the next morning we tried Skyping using the Pad, and it works just fine.

I was able to finish the Sockie with no more serious problems, and I found that following the instructions line by line for the heel and all the rest of it really wasn't all that difficult.  I even finished the second Sockie.  I do not have pictures of them because they're really baggy.  I don't know if it's the yarn or my gauge (Gauges?  We don't need no stinkin' gauges!), but they're really, really baggy.  They look normal except for being baggy.  I think I'm going to put a ribbon around the ankle to hold them on.  I've held off on that because I think that would complete the feeling that I'm wearing bags on my feet.

Now that I've been typing for over an hour, I think it's time to stop.  I'll finish my knitting update next week, and you'll finally see the train hat I've been teasing you with.  Don't worry - it's worth the wait.