Friday, September 27, 2013

Quickie: My new friend Amelia

Hi, all!  I know I usually post reviews on Fridays, but I have been too busy getting ready for the Milwaukee Bead Show, which is October 6th, and the class I'm teaching at Knot Just Beads tomorrow afternoon (or today if you're reading this on Saturday, or yesterday if you're reading this on Sunday...) to delve into anything to review.  I do have a stack of beading books (actually, a few shelves of them) that I can review, so hopefully I'll have some time to read one and review it next Friday.  If not, there will be another quickie post.

For the most part I do my grocery shopping on Wednesdays.  It's a double coupon day, and I've found that I can keep our food spending down if we do menu planning and shop the sales.  Theoretically we shop less frequently, and we save more money.  Since I've been keeping track of our grocery spending and have a goal, we've been doing wonderfully.

This Wednesday I went to my local Pick 'n Save as usual but saw that the Marshalls next door that had been closed for a number of months was selling off their fixtures.  I typically don't find too much at these things because my needs are limited (portable jewelry displays), but at another such sale I found clear acrylic U shapes that I use as risers.  They were very cheap ($1 each, I think), and they work wonderfully.  I throw a cloth napkin or two over them, and they add height and dimension to my displays.

This fixture sale didn't have any of those available, probably because it had been going on since Monday.  However, I found something I absolutely adored:

I have long since wanted a bust that I could use for displays and for taking pictures, and I finally found one!  The two larger mannequins were $50, and the smaller one was $30.  Someone said she was coming back for all three of them (she didn't have cash, and it was a cash only sale) and was going to be back in an hour.  After a number of texts with Steve, we decided I would do my grocery shopping, get cash, and wait until either the woman came back or 1:01.

When I came back it was 12:55, and the guy said I could go ahead and get it.  But if I was the one who was coming back for it, I'd be upset if it was gone before the time I said I was coming back.  On the other hand, she should have just gone to Pick 'n Save and gotten cash.  I'm glad she didn't, because I was able to get it and not feel guilty when I checked out at about 1:06.

I was pleased to find that the bust can come off of the stand, so if I want to put it on a table at sales where I can't have free-standing displays.

I found a perfect place for her in my studio...

... and I've named her Amelia.  She kinda reminded me of Amelia (Amy) Pond on Doctor Who because they're both so slim.  Turns out my stepfather has an ancestor named Amelia, so that's nice, too.  I can sound less geeky if I say I've named her after an ancestor.

I've already decked her out in my Loose Bead Society 2010 Challenge piece:

Steve said I can also put sweaters on Amelia to blog about, "if you ever finish one."  Ha ha, husband.  Very funny.  Just because I have two sweaters in process right now doesn't mean that I won't eventually finish one.

I'm very excited about my new addition and can't wait to take her out for a spin at shows.

One more thing I got was one of the letters off of the wall.  They were just giving them away.  They're mostly made of foam with some particle board or something on the front.  I really like Ts and have a number of them around my room.  This one looks cute up on one of my knick knack shelves:

It seems to want to fall over, though, so I'll need stronger adhesive or to find another place for it.  We might stick it right on the wall.

So whenever you're out and about and notice a fixture sale, stop in!  Folks who sell their wares might find great things for shows, or you might find something neat for your studio or even your kid's room.  Send me pictures of your finds at, and I'll post about it!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mistakes and how I make them, or... 10th time's the charm

Again I have insomnia, so instead of lying awake trying to force myself to sleep or getting up to play Candy Crush Saga (again), I decided to get a jump on my day and blog now.  Most of what I was ruminating on while not sleeping was what I would blog about, so I'm really doing myself a favor in getting it all out of my head now.  Fortunately I am not lonely, as I have a kitten purring on my desk, moving my papers around.

Recently I was talking to my mother (who is feeling better, by the way... she is SO ready to come home) about the Crochet-Along sweater and how I could have made two of them by now if I hadn't had to rip things apart so many times.  She said my problems have discouraged her, so I decided this blog would be about my mistakes on this sweater and the "damnable hooded cardigan" (different project I've ranted about before) and try to determine why I make mistakes and what I can do to minimize them.  Hopefully this will help my mother and you, too.

The "damnable hooded cardigan" is one I first blogged about in 2010.  You can read about it here, and I recommend doing so before reading further, so you can get a full picture of how this sweater got its nickname.  I was going to wait until the sweater was done to tell you more about my escapades, but this is a good a time as any, and I can finally throw away recycle this piece of paper I've had in my basket for over 2 and a half years.

Attempt #6: 37 rows of stockinette past the 18 of seed stitch
Now, if you read the post I mentioned above (this one here), you'll be awfully confused.  "Wait!" you'll say.  "You had success!"  Yes, dear reader, that is true.  I had success.  Then I screwed something up.  I don't remember what, but I couldn't fix it.  I asked someone for help, and she told me the sweater would be too small.  I took it all apart and started over.

Attempt #7: 4 rows of seed stitch
Yes, I screwed up again.  I did not document what happened, but I bet it was something stupid.

At this point I decided that the yarn was too thin for what I was doing and switched to a BouclĂ©, which is a bit thicker and has some loops.  It's also variegated, and I figured that would hide any number of mistakes.  Ha!

Attempt #8: 2nd row of seed stitch with new yarn
During the first row (after casting on), I thought I screwed up (I ended on a knit instead of a purl or some such thing), but I decided to keep going.  On the second row, I had the same problem.  I counted and found out that I had cast on 102 instead of 101, which threw everything off.  The one time I didn't recount after casting on!

Attempt #9: 8 rows of seed stitch
I thought I had dropped a stitch but didn't.  One of the drawbacks to a loopy, variegated yarn is that you can get confused.  I added a stitch when I shouldn't have, and at some point I realized my error and ripped it all out again.

Attempt #10: TRUE SUCCESS!
The tenth attempt at the back was, truly, a success.  I may have had some problems, but I was either able to fix them without too much cursing, or I was able to live with it.  I have finished both front panels and am working on the hood, which will take me forever (especially since I'm avoiding it at the moment).

There will be a picture of it when it's all done.  Right now it looks like a poncho with too many slits.

Now for the mistakes I've made on the Crochet-Along Colorfully Modern Cardigan.  I've mentioned that I've had to rip out due to chaining far too loosely (or too tightly) and because the pocket was going to end up too high.  There have probably been a few other things I've mentioned.  Oh, yeah, there was that morning at the car dealer where I thought I was supposed to decrease the armhole for 26 rows instead of until 26 stitches were left.

The newest screw-up was me crocheting the left front panel even for 10 inches after starting the armhole shaping like I did the back.  I totally missed the part of the directions where it said to start neck shaping at 5 1/2 inches.  So you know where I mentioned on Friday that I ripped out 4.5 rows so I could show you that knot in the skein?  Yeah, well, I should have looked at the directions again at that point.  I would have ripped out a few more rows and have saved myself a lot of time.

Fortunately it didn't take me all that long to rip out the (many) extra rows and to finish the panel.  All the decreasing for the neck shaping helped.  That panel is now done, including all the weaving in of ends and sewing the pocket on, and I am well into the other front panel.  I have my notes embedded in the pattern, and I'm sure there will be fewer problems, if any.

Now let's discuss the basic categories for my screw-ups, based on these two projects but with a few other examples:
  1. Inexperience.  The vast majority of my problems with the damnable hooded cardigan were due to me flat out not knowing what I was doing, and that's okay.  There's a learning curve with everything new, and I needed time, patience, and practice.  I'm not going to say that I'm never going to make a mistake again now that I have a lot more knitting and purling under my needles, but basic stitch errors are fewer and farther between.  Steve's happy about this because he doesn't get yarn thrown at him all the time anymore.

    For the Crochet-Along Cardigan, a bunch of people (including my mother and me) have had problems getting the ribbing right.  Ribs have been completely slanted, or just a few have gone astray, and sometimes the stitch count gets off.  After working with it for a while I developed a sense for what is supposed to go where, and I haven't had any more slanting ribs (which would either be a good name for a band or what we should have for dinner tonight).

    One of my first bead-stitched necklaces was a black and white twisted herringbone.  You may recognize it from the profile picture I used to have on my blog.  Of course, I can't find that picture now, but here's what it looked like when I had just a few inches done:

    I didn't tie off one of the thread ends enough, and it started to come apart.  Since then I make sure I do a lot of weaving or tie a few half-hitch knots so my project doesn't come undone, which is a colossal waste of time.
  2. Distractions.  A number of other mistakes can be chalked up to getting distracted.  When I knit while visiting my mother in the hospital in 2010, I had a lot of interruptions and frequently lost my place.  I learned how to recover from that by making sure the yarn was in the right place for the next stitch (behind for knit and in front for purl) and by pushing the loops all the way down the needles before I put the project down.  That took a little practice, but I'm pretty good at it now.  Other distractions include: telephone calls, e-mail, watching TV, cats jumping on the couch, and blinking.  Yes, I said blinking.  When I'm counting stitches, I can't blink unless I'm on a number divisible by 10.
  3. Design decisions.  I'm loathe to call this a mistake, but it's a cause of ripping things out, so I'm counting it.  In the Crochet-Along cardigan, I decided to have a shorter back panel than the pattern called for because I'm "vertically-challenged".  Because of that, I decided that the pocket needed to be added a number of rows before the pattern called for it.  I didn't determine that until after I had already added the pocket (and a bunch more rows) and decided that it would look rather goofy where it was supposed to be.  It'd have been nice if I'd determined that earlier, but now I know, and I've written notes for the other pocket and in case I make this sweater again.

    In beading recently I had to rip out a peyote bunny pattern I was making for a key twice because there wasn't enough of a color contrast.  I thought it was the background blue that was the problem, so I cut it apart and switched colors when I was halfway through the bunny.  With the new blue I knew from the first gray added that it still wasn't right, but I kept going until half the bunny was stitched.  I cut it apart again.  I kept the second blue (I liked it better) but switched grays, and I was much, much happier:

    The lesson learned here is that I need to trust my instincts.  I have wasted so much time trying to make something work when it just will not.  The second after I get that niggling feeling that something is too high or not enough of a contrast, I need to stop and figure it out.
  4. Inattention.  I was going to call this one "Carelessness", but that's so much more negative than I want to be at 2:30 am.  The "decrease for 26 rows instead of until 26 stitches" and "keep going for 10 inches and completely forget about neck shaping" types of problems fall under this category.  Sometimes it's due to being bleary-eyed because I'm frequently tired, but sometimes it's because I make assumptions.  Just because something was done this way on the back doesn't mean it's going to be the same way on the front.  Also, just because two knitting needles are the same color doesn't mean they're the same size.

    Since I developed Fibromyalgia, I've noticed that some days it's harder than others for me to pin down what the instructions say.  They call this "Fibro Fog" (here's a brief description of it on the National Fibromyalgia Research Association website).  In extreme cases it can interfere with driving safely and other areas of daily life, but where I find it most irritating is in coming up with the right words to say (I frequently ask, "What did I just say?" because what I was thinking didn't jive with what I just heard myself say) and in following instructions in a pattern.  Folks who have had chemotherapy (like my mother) have the same problem.  Things seem slippery, and no matter how hard you try, you just can't get it.

    The solution is to recognize when a mistake is caused by plain not paying attention or if it's because things just don't make sense.  If it's the former, I need to take some time and read the directions.  If it's the latter, I need to put it down and probably take a nap because I'll be useless for anything else.
  5. Miscellaneous.  There must be a catch-all, you know, because I'm sure there are other categories I'm just not thinking of right now.  Also, there are one-off mistakes that defy explanation.  I like to blame those on the cats, even if it's not their fault.
To sum up: unless you're perfect, there will be mistakes.  Knowing what your common types of mistakes are can help you avoid them, recover from them faster, and forgive yourself for them.  Now don't be afraid to crochet that sweater or knit that Airedale or finish that damnable hooded cardigan (me)!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yarn Review: Vanna's Choice by Lion Brand

Since I've been pretty busy this week, I don't have any brilliant ideas on what to review.  No one sent in any suggestions, so I'm reviewing the yarn I've had the most experience with lately: Vanna's Choice by Lion Brand.

You may be asking why that sounds so familiar... This is the yarn I'm using for the Lion Brand Crochet-Along that I've been posting about (here's the original post).

Here is one of the skeins I'm using for the Colorfully Modern Cardigan:

The first thing you see is Vanna's smiling face.  If you like Wheel of Fortune, this might be soothing to you and give you a good feeling about the yarn.  If you hate Wheel of Fortune, you might be tempted to steer clear because what does a letter-turner on a very successful TV show (she's had that job for 31 years!) know about yarn?  Since you asked, Vanna is an avid crocheter and knitter and has her face and/or name on a number of books.  The two she authored are Vanna's Favorite Gift Afghans (Crochet Treasury) and Vanna's Afghans A to Z: 52 Crochet Favorites.  Leisure Arts and Lion Brand have a number of books using her likeness or the line of Vanna's Choice yarns.  You can see more by searching for her on Amazon.

I chose to use this yarn because it is one of the yarns recommended for the Colorfully Modern Cardigan.  The other is Lion Brand's Unique yarn, which is a little thicker.  I didn't want a very thick sweater, so I chose to do it all in one (variegated) color using the worsted weight Vanna's Choice.

Let's have a look at the label.  The first thing I noticed (after Vanna's very white teeth) is that there are rulers on the outside and inside of the label, in inches and centimeters:

The outside goes to 8 inches (20.5 centimeters), and the inside goes to 11.5 inches (29 centimeters).  This is very handy if you're making a gauge swatch and can't find your tape measure.  I frequently lose my tape measure or am too lazy to go get it so it's nice that they've done this.  They didn't have to, but I'm glad they did.

Here's the informational section of the wrapper that tells you everything you need to know at a glance.

If you have a scanner on your phone or device that can read the QR code (the funny block-looking thing on the left), that brings you to the main Lion Brand website.  From there you can search for patterns (you do have to register on the website to see the full patterns), look at other yarns available, etc.

The skein of yarn in the lower right says that it's a 4/medium weight yarn.  That's good to know if you have a pattern that calls for a worsted or medium weight yarn and are looking for the right kind of yarn to use.  To learn more about the different weights and their designations, check out the Standard Yarn Weight System page from the Craft Yarn Council.

This section of the wrapper also has suggestions for knitting needle and crochet hook size to get a 4" x 4" / 10 cm x 10 cm size swatch.

It also says it's 100% acrylic, which used to be very scary, but the acrylic yarns seem to have gotten a lot better over the years, so I'm not ashamed to use them.  :)

The top part of the wrapper has some cute icons.  If you think they're cryptic, flip the wrapper over:

I really like that this yarn is machine wash and dry.  We're not very good about hand washing anything or laying things out to dry.  I had a blouse I had gotten from the State Fair that had beautiful embroidery at the edges of the sleeves, the bottom, and at the neck.  After it came out of the dryer with a bunch of stuff unraveled, we looked at the care label.  Oops!

So, on to the yarn itself.  It comes in 68 colors, and they can all be seen on the Vanna's Choice page on the Lion Brand site.  It says there are 72 colors, but at the bottom there are four 3-skein value packs of colors that were shown above.

We've already discussed the Purple Mist that I'm using and the Vanilla Twist that Mom is using on her cardigan.  There are 44 solid colors, although some of them look like they have a bit of depth to them like the beige:

I don't know if it's a trick of the light or if there are two colors twisted in there, but I think a project made with colors like this will have more visual interest than just beige.

There are 5 "prints", which are variegated yarns with different colors mixed in.  Here's "Autumn Print":

That should give some interesting striping or patches in finished projects.

Then there are 7 solid-color variants, called "mist".  You saw "Purple Mist" above, so you know what that looks like.  Here's "Rose Mist", which was my second choice:

Finally, there are 12 with flecks or twisted strands.  Here's "Gray Marble" with flecks and "Oceania" with twists:

Let's see if I counted correctly:  44 + 5 + 7 + 12 = 68.  Woo hoo!  That Math minor I graduated with comes in handy again (as does the calculator that comes with Windows).

So Vanna's Choice has a great range of colors, but how does it work up?  With one minor exception, I am very happy with the yarn.  It's soft, it's supple (especially with the P hook I'm using), and it looks pretty:

I haven't had any problems with it splitting on me (unless I do something stupid), and it hasn't twisted on me.

My one problem has been:

Ends knotted together.  It hasn't happened in every skein, and it's only been once in a skein.  I don't know if this is common, but I can't remember too many other yarns where ends were knotted together.  Option one is to cut the yarn at the join and weave in each end, but I choose option two: keep crocheting and make sure the knot ends up on the wrong side of the fabric.  That's worked pretty well for me so far.  I think I've had these joins three times in this cardigan, including the one above.  I took out 4.5 rows (pretty short ones, but still!) so I could take this picture for you.

Apart from the occasional knotted join, I have been very happy with Vanna's Choice yarn and will likely use it for other projects.  The price on the Lion Brand website is $4.39.  At Michaels it's $3.99, but I have gotten it as low as $2.50 at Michaels during a sale or $2.39 using a 40% off coupon.

The next time you're wandering around the yarn section looking for a worsted weight yarn, let Vanna's smile beckon you over!

In case you've missed Frisco pictures the last few posts, here's one of him telling me that I had done enough beading for the night:

He's starting to look like a cat instead of a kitten, isn't he?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Random cool things

Aaah!  It's Tuesday!  How did it become Tuesday already?

Since I last posted (the book and short story review), I have been extremely busy:

Minutes after I posted the review I drove to Chicago to see my mother in the hospital and to go to a memorial service for a friend I hung out with 15 years ago.  I was glad I was able to see my mother - she's doing somewhat better after her stem cell treatment (for her Lymphoma), but there's still an infection that's causing her some difficulties.  As for the memorial service, it was great to catch up with folks I haven't seen in such a long time, even though it was for a sad occasion.  It was quite a drive, though, and it wiped me out!

I had no time to rest when I got home because I was still working on my piece for the Loose Bead Society Challenge, which was due at last night's program.  I knew about it for months but didn't do the bulk of the work until the week before.  Oops!  I'm very happy with it, but I can't show you until the judging is done at the October program.  After that, there will be a deluge of pictures and "how I did this" descriptions.  I will split it into multiple posts so I won't overload you.

Since I didn't have a moment to spare, I haven't worked on the Crochet-Along cardigan much at all.  I did take it to the car dealer when I had my 15,000 mile service done on the car (so I would feel safe driving to and from Chicago), but I ended up having to rip out a bunch of rows because I misread the instructions.  I thought I was supposed to decrease the armhole for 26 rows, but I was supposed to decrease until I had 26 stitches.  That's what happens when I get up too early.

Now onto the random cool things:

  • While reading another blog ( I saw a link to this post from The Busy Mockingbird about art collaborations with her four-year-old daughter.  It was interesting, and the drawings are really neat.  There are even a number of prints available on Studio 9 for extremely reasonable prices.  Ooh, there are other products, too, such as tote bags and iPhone cases.  And, for the eclectic decorator: throw pillows.  They are very cool.  I recommend reading the post before checking out the items.
  • I think the art above reminds me of art done by Kelly Rae Roberts, which is why I like it so much.  Kelly Rae's art is beautiful and a little quirky.  Steve and I first saw her stuff in one of the gift shops at the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.  We were there for dinner and to see "Hello, Dolly!" for our 4th anniversary.  It was a fun place and a fun play.  Anyway, I was drawn to Kelly Rae's art.  They had women with tilted heads and neat, uplifting sayings on them.  Here's a picture of one of the shop's displays:

    Her online shop has prints and original art, and an online shop in Portland called Garden Gallery Iron Works features her items as well as items they've made with iron (unsurprisingly).  The more I see of her stuff, the more I like it.
  • For those of us who knit and/or crochet, making a sweater can be very daunting.  I've talked about it many times: gauging, figuring out what size to make, dreaded dye-lots...  I just read a guest post on the Lion Brand Notebook blog that explains how to get your measurements.  All of them, from neck to hip and everything in between, with pictures so you know exactly where to measure.  I've pinned this one on Pinterest (here are my boards if you want to follow me) so I'll never lose it.  Available from that post is a link to a free sweater planning guide.  They are doing a 30 day sweater challenge in October, and by requesting that guide it does put you on a mailing list for the 30 day sweater challenge.  No, I'm not going to do another sweater challenge.  After I finish the Crochet-Along sweater I need to get back to the damnable hooded cardigan.

That's it for now.  I have some holiday key patterns I'm finishing up for an order, which I will be able to post about next week.  Anyone have any ideas for what I can review on Friday?  Post a comment here and let me know.  Otherwise it may end up being about Vanna's Choice yarn!

Oh, before I go, I'd like to make a request plea for clicks on my ads.  There now two of them, and hopefully they are interesting to you and not annoying.  If you see something you like, please click.  Last month I made just over $13, which is really good, but there's been nothing this month, and I don't get any of it until I get over $100, I think.  Don't click just to click, but please click if you're interested in what the ad's showing.  Thanks!!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Review: The Knitting Answer Book

This is going to be the quickest and possibly shortest blog post I've ever written.  I'm going into Chicago to see my mother in the hospital and later to a memorial service for a friend, and I'm already an hour past when I wanted to leave.  The first book is The Knitting Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face, Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask) by Margaret Radcliffe.  I need to do more of these so I have more quick posts!

Here's the review I wrote on Amazon:
I saw this book in a craft store but couldn't afford the full price. It wasn't much, but we just couldn't afford it. A month or so later the Kindle version was on sale, and I couldn't pass it up. I'm so, so glad I got this book - especially the electronic version.

I'm a fairly new knitter and have had numerous questions. I needed help with colorwork and the Duplicate Stitch. This book helped me out! I would like one or two more charts for the Kitchener Stitch, but it seems very complicated, so I'm supplementing with videos on YouTube. I'm left-handed, so I frequently need extra help.

The reason I like the Kindle version so much is that the table of contents and the index are clickable, and the search function makes finding a topic very easy. I use the Kindle app on my iPad, so this book is always nearby. It doesn't take up any physical space, and it never gets dusty.

It's a must have for your knitting reference needs! 

Here's a bonus review for a free Kindle short story I found when I was looking for help on insomnia: The Allnighter by Stuart Connelly:
I found this story while searching for insomnia books. I knew it was fiction but was intrigued by the title and description. The writing and the story both were really good. Those of us with insomnia know how lack of sleep can make one irritable, and this story takes that to a whole other level. I think I'm going to go back to bed now and try (again) to sleep.

I'm looking forward to trying more of what this author has written!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My new code name and why you want to know it

For the last three Tuesdays I've been talking about the Colorfully Modern Cardigan that I'm crocheting.  It's the Lion Brand Fall 2013 Crochet-Along, and I've been having a lot of fun making it knowing that there's a bunch of people doing it at the same time.  If you've missed my posts (and pictures of Frisco, our kitten), click here and read from bottom up.  If you don't read from bottom up, you'll wonder why the sweater keeps getting smaller.

The one thing I have not enjoyed is finding the yarn.  I have ranted about the dreaded dye lot and how for the yarn I've chosen there seems to be two factions: high variegation contrast and low variegation contrast.  I have gone to four Michaels in the area, and I've gotten confused on who had what, especially if I've purchased all high contrast balls from them.

Last week I had a doctor's visit (a routine visit - nothing to worry about!), so since I'm lazy I like to group errands, I decided to call the Michaels closest to the doctor's office to see if they had the yarn.  I talked with Kris, and we tried to figure out if they had high or low contrast, and she said it seemed pretty high.  I decided to take a chance and check it out.  I brought along a wad of yarn so I could compare.

I was pleasantly surprised when all 5 balls belonged to the right faction.  One of them didn't have a wrapper, and I was curious if it was the same amount of yarn as the other balls.  It just looked smaller, but that could have been because Vanna White's face wasn't staring out at me.

Someone located Kris for me, and I have to say she looked stunning in a Halloween-themed hat.  It was a little thing, jauntily perched on her head, and I declared it was adorable and must be a fascinator (here are images of other fascinators).

We chatted about the yarn and about the Crochet-Along, and I gave her my card in case she wanted to read my blog and see pictures of the cardigan and of Frisco.  Hi, Kris!  If you're reading this, please send me a picture of you in that fascinator at, and I'll post it here.

I asked about the wrapper-less yarn and if it was a full ball.  She said it should be, but she could take 10% off for damaged goods just in case.  I thought that was great, and she called up to the cashier, Amanda, to ask her to take the discount off.  She said it was Vanna's Choice purple.  "Well, purple mist, but you don't really need to know that."  Kris's little aside was just like something I would say!

I wandered around a little bit more then went up to check out.  I walked up to the cashier and asked if she was Amanda.  She said she was, and I said, "I am Purple Mist."  Then I laughed and said, "That sounds like a code name!"  Amanda agreed, and we decided that Purple Mist would now be my code name.

Since I seem to be prone to daydreams lately, I had one where I was a super hero called Purple Mist.  I carried a spritzer of lavender essential oil, and I sprayed bad guys with it so they'd calm down and stop being all mean and villainous.  I also envisioned myself being a lot slimmer so I wouldn't look like an eggplant in my purple spandex outfit.

There's no sense having a code name if it's not good for anything, so I am instituting a new discount program:
  • Anyone coming to any of my shows (craft shows or bead shows) who calls me "Purple Mist" or works "Purple Mist" into conversation (for example, "Did you see the purple mist in last night's sunset?") will get 20% off their purchase.
  • If you take a class with me where I'm selling supplies, the same thing applies.  I really didn't mean for that rhyme; that seems to happen all the time.  I can't take 20% off of class fees or kits, but I can on extra purchases.
  • Also, there is a coupon code on Etsy, PURPLEMIST, which can be used for 20% off anything in my store.
This discount program and Etsy coupon code is good until my 100th birthday, 8/22/2071.  If I happen to live that long, I'm sure by that point I'll just give you the stuff to get it out of my house.  Don't wait until then, though - all the good stuff will be gone.

Crochet-Along update:

Since I last updated you, I have finished the back and crocheted the two pocket linings, and I've started on the left front panel.

This left front has been a bit of a trial.  First I crocheted far too loosely, and after three rows I determined it was huge.  Ripped it out and started it again really tight.  I loosened up as I went, and after about ten rows it looked like an isosceles trapezoid (upside down from the one pictured here), and I ripped it out again.  The third time was the charm, but I am a little concerned it's going to be too big.

I then added the pocket where it was supposed to be, but then I ended up ripping it out and adding it lower.  Since I'm very short, I didn't want the cardigan to be as long as they suggested.  It would have ended up down to my knees, which is not a good look for me.  So after I added the pocket and did ten more rows, I decided that the pocket would probably be up by my ribs, which is also not a good look for me ("You kids get offa my lawn and stop throwing Cognac bottles in it!" Yes, we recently picked up many pieces of Cognac bottle from our yard.).  I ripped out the ten rows after the pocket and another six or so rows before re-adding the pocket.

Fortunately I've been taking copious notes in the pattern using knitCompanion (if you missed my review of that app, check it out here) so for the right front and for subsequent sweaters I know just what to do.

A bunch of people on the Ravelry discussion group expressed concern about the pockets.  They were having all sorts of trouble with them, so I got concerned that I would have problems, too.  I had this vision in my head of me trying to crochet into air to have a gap where the pocket was, and how on earth was I to do that?  There was nothing in the instructions or in Lion Brand's blog post discussing the pocket that explained how to crochet into air for 17 stitches.  It didn't say to chain 17 stitches then pick up on the other side and crochet into that 17-stitch chain on the next row.  Nothing like that.  I assumed that there would be a gap up and down where the pocket was.  Left-to-right: no problem.  Up-and-down: air.  I knew I was crocheting on the pocket lining but just couldn't figure out what to do after that.

After I took some time to think about it, I felt utterly stupid.  When joining the pocket you crochet the front panel for 10 stitches then crochet across the pocket lining (skipping the first and last stitches of the lining so there's overlap).  Then you skip 17 stitches of the front panel and crochet the remaining stitches on the other side of the front panel.  There are two join points - one at either end of the pocket lining.  For subsequent rows, you just keep crocheting.  The gap in the front panel is the opening to the pocket, and by crocheting on top of the pocket lining, that becomes the front panel.  The only tricky thing was adding the ribbing in the right place, but I didn't have any problems with that.  The rest of the pocket is sewn on after everything is done.

Everything's easy once you know how, huh?

I tried to get Frisco to demonstrate the pocket, but he was being uncooperative.

I stopped trying after he pulled on a few loops of the pocket opening.  Oops!  I guess I won't do that again.  Fortunately the loops weren't very big.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Camera Review: Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX80

(Disclaimer:  This post is going to be pretty long.  There will be a Frisco picture at the end as a reward for reading the whole post.  Sure, you can scroll past everything to get to it, but that's cheating.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I got a new camera for my birthday.  (Thanks, Mom and John!)  I had thought that my old camera was perfectly good until I tried taking pictures of my designs for the Bead&Button Show class submissions.

My friend Judy said that if I had a lightbox, then even a point-and-shoot camera like that one I had would work just fine.  So I researched DIY lightboxes and instantly found a great site:  How to Create an Inexpensive Photography Lightbox.  Lightboxes can cost a lot of money, but this guy said if you make it yourself you can get the same results.  I asked Steve to pick up some tissue paper and a posterboard on his way home from work, and he made me a great lightbox starting with a box we picked up at Sam's Club:

Lift the cardboard top up to get a little more diffused light:

Lift up the tissue paper flap (with a dowel at the edge for added strength!) for full overhead light:

I was so excited and set to work taking pictures using my two Ott (natural light) lamps.  I hated the result.  It looked gray and dark.  The next day we went to Home Depot to get higher-wattage daylight (5000K) light bulbs.  We got two types of the light bulbs - 800 lumens and 1600 lumens - so I could test which would be better.  We then went to Target and got two cheap desk lamps that really aren't rated for the bigger bulbs, but we figured that they'll be used for very short durations, and they'll never be unsupervised.

I spent an inordinate amount of time taking pictures of my Divine Vine bracelet: No light, Ott lights, small daylight bulbs, big daylight bulbs. Flash off or on.  Macro off or on.  Cover off or on.  Settings of Auto, Portrait, ISO, and Soft Snap.  I took over 100 pictures in a specific order, setting the timer each and every time (two button pushes each time - timer 10 seconds, timer 2 seconds) to make sure that I was getting a "clean" shot.  I renamed all of the files identifying all the settings before I even really looked at them.  By the time I was done, my eyes were blurry, and I was completely confused.

Then I looked at the pictures.  Every single one of them was crap.  The ones with the flash were too yellow, and the ones without the flash were too gray.  I did a much smaller set of experiments late at night with no background light (with only the desk lamps on), but those were bad, too.  I thought I was confused because there was a lot of background, so I cropped all of the pictures so I could cycle through and see just the bracelet.  That didn't help.  I separated flash-off pictures from flash-on pictures because I knew the flash-on pics were too yellow.  That also didn't help.

Here is one of the best pictures I took:

This was in a dark room with the big daylight bulbs.  Pretty gray, right?  Steve said, "Why don't you just fix it in Photoshop?"  Unfortunately for my husband, that was the wrong thing to say.  Yes, I could fix it in Photoshop, but from what Judy said and everything I read online (which was a lot), I should be getting nice, clean, white-background pictures using this setup.  For some reason it was/is very important for me to be able to take pictures and NOT have to fix them afterward.

Looking at the scene through the screen of the camera, I could see what happened - turning on the light made the scene very bright, then the camera compensated, darkening the whole thing like the light wasn't even there.  It was very frustrating.

At this point the submissions were due in just a few days (fortunately the Bead&Button Show headquarters - Kalmbach - is where Steve works, so he could take my samples in to work with him - that gave me extra time), and I needed the pictures NOW.  Steve's camera had features my camera didn't have of giving priority to aperture or time, and with those I was able to take pictures that wouldn't make me tear my hair out.

Here's one with the TV (time value) setting:

I think it's a little fuzzier than I would have liked, but it was much better than I was getting.  So I took the pictures I needed, finished the submissions, and sent everything off with Steve to be dropped off with a day to spare.  Whew!

Now you would think that I would have had a solution using Steve's camera, and that might have been the case if his camera wasn't as old as mine was (or even older).  It's bulkier, and it seemed to suck the life out of batteries after just a few shots.

Anyway, I wasn't really in the market to get a new camera because of the whole no-money thing, but I was flipping through the Best Buy flier the Sunday before my birthday and saw a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX80 which was $40 off.  My old one is a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W70, so I was immediately interested.  It had 16.2 mega pixels (old one = 7.2), 8x optical zoom (old one = 3x), HD movie (old one = regular movie), and even a setting for 3D pictures for viewing on a 3D TV.  Not applicable for us, but it's still really cool.  It has settings for facial recognition and smile detection, taking pictures of pets, on-camera picture retouching, and much more.  Oh, and it has Wi-Fi capabilities.

Wi-Fi capabilities!  I instantly fell into a daydream where I was working on a new design, taking process shots for my tutorials, pressing a button on the camera, and seconds later viewing the picture on my computer.  If the process shot looked good, I'd move on.  If it didn't, I'd take another picture and try again.  No more taking a bunch of pictures, hooking up the camera to the computer, clicking a bunch of things to finally get to see the pictures, then copying the good ones to the right folder.  It would cut my time in half (or more!).

Also, my old camera takes a pretty long time between pushing the button and taking the picture.  You have to hold the button until the picture takes, or it just doesn't take.  I have taken a bunch of pictures of the back of cats' heads because of this, and every time someone else uses my camera I have to explain this, or there will be no (or blurry) pictures.

Also also, my old camera has a memory card that needs an adapter to fit into memory card slots.  I always used the cord to hook the camera up because I never know where my adapter is.  Funny story:  I just now tested putting the memory card into the slots on my computer so I wouldn't give you erroneous information.  It pretty much fell in, and I had to tilt the laptop pretty far so it would fall out.  Oops!

So I mentioned to Mom and John about this cool, relatively-inexpensive-for-digital-cameras Sony Cyber-Shot, telling them of all the capabilities that the camera they bought me mumble-mumble years ago didn't have and how amazing it is how cameras have evolved.  They offered to buy me this camera for my birthday, much to my extreme delight.

Now we get to the review.  That was a long time coming, wasn't it?  Sorry about that, but long-time readers are used to this by now.  Must have background before reviewing anything that replaces my old way of doing things.

Here's my old camera:

And here is my new one:

It's the same width, a little shorter, and a little slimmer.  I chose the red because that's the one Best Buy offered online.  Besides, it's fun.  :)

The one thing I really like about it is that you push the button and it takes the picture.  Steve laughed at me when I said that, but it's true.  No longer do I have to wait, and if I get a picture of the back of a cat's head it's because I didn't get him to look at me first.  There is a little bit of a wait if you're using the flash, but it's not nearly as bad.

The picture size is adjustable in the camera, from VGA for social networking (remember that term?  I had to strain to remember it) to pretty large.  Using the Auto setting, my pictures seem to be around 4MB and with the old camera they're around 3MB.  The bigger the picture, the crisper it is, which is good.

The camera takes a standard size SD card which fits into my slot perfectly.  Wait.  That sounded bad.  It fits into my laptop's slot perfectly.  There, that's better.  The thing I wasn't thrilled with was that the camera did not come with a card.  Instead of using an old one, I got the type they recommended, the SanDisk Ultra SD card which will, according to SanDisk's website, "give your digital camera a performance boost with speeds twice as fast as ordinary memory cards, ensuring you'll never miss a moment."  I got a 16GB card for about $20 on sale, but they go up to 128GB.  The card I got will store over 2600 pictures using the largest picture size setting, so that will be more than adequate.  I'm pretty good about downloading and sorting pictures regularly, so I don't foresee a problem with running out of space, and if we ever go on vacation, I won't have to skimp on taking pictures.  If I take over 2600 pictures while on vacation then I'm doing more picture-taking and less enjoying.  If I do run low, I can always switch to VGA and get well almost 40,000 pictures.

(Speaking of memory card size, my first TWO computers didn't have a hard drive at all.  My third computer was a PC and had a 20MB hard drive, and I thought I was in heaven.  How times have changed.)

The camera does have internal memory, so in a pinch you can take a few pictures (8 with the largest picture size setting) without a memory card.  That's a nice feature.

The picture quality in general is really good, and I'm very happy with the zoom.  My old camera had a switch for macro (taking pictures of small items really close up - great for jewelry), but this one switches to macro automatically.  You put the camera close up to something, and it switches.  I think that's nice, but it will take some getting used to.  Not much, however, because I was always taking pictures with macro when I didn't need it and without macro when I did.

I'm still not completely sure I have the jewelry-in-a-lightbox thing figured out, though.  There are an awful lot of settings in the camera I haven't played with yet, so maybe there's something I'm missing.

Here's my Constellation bracelet (Divine Vine is at Kalmbach being juried for classes) using the Superior Auto mode (there's an Intelligent Auto, too):

It's still pretty gray, and the focus needs a little tweaking.  I know that's a setting in the camera I haven't fiddled with yet.

I decided to try the Snow setting, which is "Shoot whitish scene with high brightness":

That's somewhat better, and the focus is even better.  Just for contrast, here's the Snow setting with my old camera:

It's too yellow for my taste.

It will take some time getting used to which setting lets me do what - some settings don't allow you to force the flash with every picture, but some do.  With some of my process shots I like to have the flash for extra light.  I don't use a white background, and it doesn't matter as much if there's a little yellow.  It's more important for everything to be seen clearly.  I'll have to experiment to see if that will still work with this camera as it did with my old one.

I'm very happy with the Twilight setting.  I've tried it with my old camera (for non-jewelry pictures - yes, I do take some of those) but wasn't happy at all with the clarity.  They always seemed grainy, but using the flash sometimes is too bright and harsh.

Steve and I were at a family party last night and took the new camera.  We both posed with our goddaughter, Mackenzie.  I used the Twilight setting, and Steve used the flash:


They were taken less than 10 minutes apart.  I like the one with Steve (using Twilight) better.  It looks more natural to me.  I do wish Mackenzie wasn't looking away on the picture with me, because that would have been a really good picture.  I like my hair.  :)

Let's now get down to the nitty-gritty:  How does the camera work with the computer, corded and un-corded?  It's a little putzier than I would expect.

With the old camera, I plugged in using the cord I always have connected to the laptop, click through the Autoplay options, and get an Explorer window where I can manually get to the folder holding the pictures and do whatever I want with them.

With the new camera, there's a PlayMemories application that I downloaded to configure the Wi-Fi (more on that later), but it seems that it has to be open before I get my option to open the folder in Explorer.  I connect the camera using the cord, and the drives don't appear in Explorer before I open PlayMemories.  Then I get a barrage of questions from installing the WiFi to "do I want to import the pictures".  No, I do not want to import the pictures through the program thankyouverymuch.  I like to have control of where everything goes.  The questions don't always appear, but they do frequently enough to irritate me.

The cord goes into a spot on the side of the camera which has a little door.  The door is flimsy and doesn't really give enough room for the plug, which doesn't really feel "in there" when it's plugged in, if that makes sense.  It works, but it seems tenuous to me.

I can get around all this by putting the memory card into the slot, which is what I'm likely going to do most of the time.

The nice thing about plugging the camera into the computer is that the battery charges.  That didn't happen with my old camera, and if I wasn't a little careful, I would run out of battery.  They both take special batteries that last a long time, but you have to plug them into the charger into the wall (or into the computer with the cord on the new camera) or buy a replacement battery to have on hand.

What about my dreams of near-instant viewing my pictures on the computer using the Wi-Fi connection?  Harrumph.  That's what I have to say:  Harrumph.  I had problems installing the Wi-Fi software in the first place.  It's all a blur right now, but on the camera I had to install it at least three times, and I had to change my Firewall settings on the laptop to get it to work at all.  They do say that might be necessary, but it wasn't made clear until I went searching for it.  The user manual says very little ("follow the directions on the screen"), as does the in-camera user guide.  I was able to find out more information online, but not overmuch.

Once I finally got it installed and set up what folder I wanted the pictures to be sent to, I tested it.  It took a long time to connect to the network and to my computer, and many times I was given an error message that it couldn't find the access point.  I pointed to the laptop and told it, "It's right there, six inches away!" but it just glared at me in reply.

A few times it acted like it was going to send a picture, but before anything showed up in my folder there was a message, "Disconnected from network".  One time - ONCE! - it actually sent something over.  It wasn't the picture I wanted to send, but it was the first one in the card.  After the first one, it disconnected from network unexpectedly.  I tried it again, and that picture disappeared.

I don't know if it's a problem with the camera or a problem with our network.  Everything else Wi-Fi seems to work just fine, so I'm inclined to think I have a setting or something else wrong.  I'll keep working on it, but at this point I'm not impressed.

There's another Wi-Fi capability I had more success with:  Sending pictures to my iPhone and iPad and using the device to control the camera.  It was a bit difficult to get set up and figured out.  The camera said to install the PlayMemories Mobile app and follow the directions, so I did that and got quite a weird error message:

"Search the shooting device from the network setting of the terminal and set it."

Yeah, that's no help.  I clicked OK and...

You gotta be kidding me.  Clicking "Reconnect" gives the same error message.

Back to the web.  Turns out that the camera/device needs its own Wi-Fi, so you have to turn off your Wi-Fi in the device's Settings, turn on the camera and select the option to send the picture to phone, wait for the camera's Wi-Fi to show up in the device's Settings, choose it (entering the password shown on the camera the first time you do this), and go back to the PlayMemories Mobile app.  The camera will send the picture(s) that you chose (you can do more than one, thank goodness), then it automatically switches the Wi-Fi back to what you had before.  I don't know why it can't do the switch automatically to begin with.

The one cool thing is that once you have this connection (if you're not explicitly sending a picture) you can control the camera to a certain extent with the device.  You can take the picture and change a few settings.  I took a few "recursion" shots that I thought were cool:


That's me pointing the camera at the iPad, which you can see in the reflection.

I don't know really how useful this might be except for party tricks or trying to catch someone in the act of something, but you have to do a lot of set up ahead of time (even after you've installed everything) for it to work, and the camera would have to stay on which drains the battery.

Except for the Wi-Fi camera-to-computer thing, I'm really happy with the camera so far.  I know that a lot of time will be needed in experimentation to get the jewelry to look really good, but I'm confident that I'll have much better luck with this camera than my old one or Steve's old one.

Along with the camera we bought a $3 case which clips on to bags or belt loops or wherever:

It's hot pink so Steve will feel all manly with it clipped onto his belt loop like he did last night.  Oops.  I didn't think of that when I chose the color.

We also got a table-top tripod because our old tripod is so old that things break when you look at them, and if you bump what you've tucked into somewhere the camera goes whooshing down, and you have to set it up again.  The table-top tripod is really neat and can even be wrapped around poles:

All those little circles are moveable.

Okay.  I think that's about it (or more than you care to know) about the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX80 camera.

I believe I promised you a Frisco picture:

Iz joolry!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Filling an empty spot

Frequent readers of mine know that I'm very fond of reorganizing my studio.  In case you're new to my blog or need to refresh your memory:

Original post about my craft room
Part 1 of reorganization
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Can't leave well enough alone (adding a china cabinet)

No, I am not reorganizing my space yet again, but there was a space on one of the walls I hadn't done anything with yet:

I have a number of pictures of irises (which is the main theme of the room) that I could have put up there, but it just didn't "feel right".  I also have a canvas I've been working on with an inspiration on it, but I haven't been inspired to finish it.  :)  If that ever gets done, I'll have to find another place for it, because I found a something else to put there!

Last week I was wandering around Michaels (armed with the gift card Steve's parents sent me for my birthday) in search of the yarn needed for the Crochet-Along I've posted about, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find a small shelving unit in the clearance section.  I've seen it at Michaels and JoAnn's for a few years, and I really liked it.  It has a number of cubbyholes of different sizes and a rod for spools of ribbons.  Even though I thought it was neat and useful, I couldn't justify spending $79.99 on it or even $39.99 with the rare 50% off coupon.  However, since it was on clearance (and since I had a gift card), I was happy to spend $29.99 on it!

Since yesterday was Labor Day, I put my husband to work putting the unit up:

"How's this?"
"Over to the left a bit, please!"

The poor dear - he spent part of the day yesterday making spaghetti sauce with a bunch of tomatoes from our garden:

"Five minutes prep, my ass!"

I did help him cut some of the tomatoes, but he did most of the work and then put the sauce directly into the freezer.  We'll be having it for dinner tomorrow night.  Hopefully it'll stretch to two dinners because it was an AWFUL lot of work for not very much sauce.

Anyway, after the rib dinner he also cooked he put up my new shelving unit, and I think it looks pretty snazzy:

I had had visions of doing what Cindy did on her wall (which I discussed in one of my Other folks' spaces posts):

But my shelves are a lot deeper, so the bead tubes would be stacked three or four deep.  That might not be viable, so I'll have to give it some thought.  Also, I had grandiose ideas of putting knick-knacks on the top of the unit, but the useable space is sunken.  Steve said we can get some wood to put up there so that my pretty iris plate and whatever else ends up there can actually be seen.  Must use all available space!

Gift cards are great!  Even at the $29.99 price, I would not have purchased the shelves without the gift card.  I may have mentioned that money has been tight lately with various vet/medical/car bills that have come in, and it was nice to be able to wander around Michaels and buy whatever I wanted without any guilt.

I am being thrifty, though.  Practically everything I've purchased so far has not been full price (clearance, sale, coupon, sale & coupon), and I've saved more than I've spent.  Because I'm a geek, I even made a spreadsheet so I can track how much I'm saving.  I do that with groceries, too, although that's mainly so I can make sure we stay within our budget.  I've been getting such a thrill with some of my savings that I will talk endlessly about it to whoever isn't quick enough to change the subject.  I'll spare you the gory details of how I got Cap'n Crunch for $1 a box recently.

Here are just a few more indulgences I've gotten with my handy dandy Michaels gift card:

This little guy fits perfectly above our living room window.  I'm calling him Bubo after the owl in Clash of the Titans (or, rather, in Greek Mythology).  He was less than half his original price, and I think he'll look nice with the color we're eventually painting the living room.

And (of course) more yarn:

I have seen this yarn a number of times in the store and touch it every time.  I have a rule:  If I pick up something three times and I can afford it, I must get it.  Otherwise, I'll be extremely disappointed later on.  This has come up with clothes, jewelry, beads...  So since I fell in love with this yarn and had a 40% off coupon, I decided to get one ball.

One ball, Traci?  What about the dreaded dye lot you ranted about?  Yes, dear reader, I had that same thought.  The sweater on the wrapper is really cute, and it says it takes four balls (although I just looked it up, and it'll take probably 7 or 8 balls for my size), so I was loathe to purchase just one ball.  However, I looked at the dye lots of most of the balls in the store, and they were all different.  How does that even happen?  I couldn't tell any changes in color, so I think I'll be okay getting a ball or two at a time when I'm ready for it.  I just couldn't resist getting this one so I wouldn't forget about it.

Speaking of yarn and dreaded dye lots and Crochet-Alongs, here's my weekly update:

Frisco approves!

As you can see, I'm nearly done with the back.  I have a few more inches before I can do the shoulders, which I should be able to do tonight.  I will have to add more yarn, though, which is slightly irritating.

Mom, unfortunately, has been having some reactions to the yarn.  It's acrylic, so there shouldn't be any problems, but she's been going through chemo which is likely messing with her chemistry.  Her hands were itching while she was trying to crochet, but after putting it down for a day or two the itching has subsided.

If I have enough time this week, I'll be reviewing another birthday present - a new camera!  All the pictures on today's post (except for Cindy's wall o' beads and the table o' tomatoes) were taken with the new camera.  There are a few things I want to try to get figured out before I post a review, though, so hopefully it will be this week.