Monday, March 27, 2017

Major FO: I'm So Crafty I Made A Baby!

Guys - this project has been 2 years in the making, so I warn you ... there are a lot of photos, lol. According to Ravelry, I started this on May 26, 2015, and I finished it March 5, 2017. I just kept setting it aside for other more pressing makes, but this past month I really got the itch to just finish it up, so I did :)
I started this at a pretty difficult time in my life. Things were not going well and I needed a project to really get involved in to occupy my brain. I've loved the Baby Doll Set pattern from Itty-Bitty Toys by Susan B. Anderson ever since I bought the book as a newbie knitter years ago. My first project (and reason for buying the book) was for the (Not So) Itty-Bitty Giraffe pattern that I made up in 2013 along with the Craftsy class. This was a huge project for me at the time, definitely my biggest up to that point, and it really improved my knitting. I made that giraffe as a "for my future children"" project, and he still sits on my étagère in my sewing room. Way back when I made that giraffe, I thought how cute it would be to make the baby doll set when I have a kid to play with it. This thought sat in my mind for all those years, and then in May of 2015 I decided to hell with waiting to have a kid - I want to make that baby now! lol So I started knitting. I think I made the head and half the body before I stopped to make other things (I believe it was for the Outfit Along). I would pick it up occasionally, but never really got very far. Isn't it funny how some projects just feel like they can be set aside like that and others just want to be worked on until they are finished? I had finished up all my other WIPs earlier this year, and this one was majorly taunting me. So after finishing a few gifts and whatnot, and being that I was on a real toy making kick, I decided to pick this up. I started in February and had the head, body, ears, and arms (with thumbs) done. So I had to make the legs, hair, nose, belly button, clothes, hat, and face to finish. I worked on it little by little and finished a few weeks later :) Anyway, let's look at this cute baby.
The baby itself is really a clever design. The head and body are just round and oval, but the body has a nylon stocking filled with poly pellets inside plus poly fill stuffing, which gives the body a nice weight and she is able to sit up like this unaided. The arms and legs have cute shaping for the hands. I love her little thumbs (even though I kind of sewed them on upside down without noticing and it was so long ago that I didn't want to undo it now, lol, I don't think anyone will notice but me) as well as the little belly button and nose details. They're tiny pieces, but they really make such a cute difference. It was a bit of a challenge to get the legs sewn on at a good angle - the pattern tells you to make them angle, but that's all the instruction it gives and you just have to rely on the few pictures it gives. I got there in the end, but there was much seaming and then unpicking before I was happy.
She also has knees and ankles! Which I think is adorable, and they help her sit like a real baby would. And look at the toes! They turned out much better then I thought they would, I'll be honest. They are actually just embroidered on and cinched in with yarn, but it's a great effect.
Next came her diaper, which sadly ended up a little big, but I wasn't about to redo it, lol. This was odd since I used all the same yarn and needles for everything on this baby. Everything is made in Vanna's Choice yarn. The body is in beige, white for the diaper, chocolate for the hair, wild berry and mustard for the clothes. I remember I picked Vanna's Choice because it was the skin color I liked best out of my stash, so I just followed suit all this time later and kept with the same brand for consistency. The diaper is seamed at the sides and even has darts for the tush. The pattern includes a ruffle as well, but I left that off. I may go back in the future and add it though - we'll see.
Next came her dress. I started out following the pattern, but I made changes as I went. I wanted the dress to be long enough to cover her diaper, so I made it 2 stripes longer. I also was afraid it was going to be enormous after the incident with the diaper, so I decided to start decreasing after the first few stripes. At first I just decreased at the sides, but that wasn't doing much so I started decreasing every 10 stitches every other row, then every few stitches, etc. until I liked the width, then I did the ribbing at the top. I also knew I wanted the straps to be shorter than the pattern, so I just knitted until they looked right - I think mine are 38 rows if I remember right.

I'll admit - my changes might not have been for the best, lol. She looks cute, to be sure, but it's a tight fit in the bodice. It's a bit of a challenge to get the dress on her, but once it's on everything is fine. I'll just have to make sure my kid leaves her dressed, ha ha , when I have a kid, that is.
Next came the hat. Here was another mistake, lol. I started knitting thinking that it seemed like an awful lot of stitches to cast on for a doll's hat, but I kept going. Then when it looked about deep enough for the doll, I looked to see when to start the decreases only to read I needed to knit several more inches... Ok? So I kept going. Finally I knew that any longer and the rolled brim would start to look ridiculously thick, so I started the decreases. It wasn't until I had almost finished the hat that I realized I was reading the pattern for the child sized hat. See, the set includes instructions for the doll's hat, then on the page adjacent there are instructions for a toddler sized hat to match the doll. I accidentally read the child hat instead of the doll, meaning the entire thing was too big - like 30 extra stitches around too big according to the patterns. I was not about to rip out all that work at that point, and the hat still looked cute - just with a more slouchy look to the top, which I could live with. I just finished it off with the child sized loop on the top in the mustard color for contrast and called it good :) I also made the braids a bit longer than the pattern said - I measured 10" strands.
Next I went back and made the hair - again making it longer than the pattern says. I started off with the patterned length, but they just looked too short. I can't remember how long I cut though, lol, I just played with it until I liked the length. This brought back memories of the loop stitch on Spud the Sheep (and my pointer finger gets sore just thinking about it, lol). It is an adorable way to make hair thought. I love this little touch, by the way. I think she is cutest with the braids on the hat, but I love that she's got some baby hair when the hat is removed so she's never bald :)
I left her face until the very end. A big part of what I love about the pattern example is the pretty embroidered face that Susan made, and to be honest I was afraid of messing it up. Looking at the other finished baby dolls on Ravelry, the face could really make or break your finished doll. Some of them are knit beautifully but have really strange faces, which just seems like such a shame after all that work in knitting the doll and putting in the time only to have an odd looking baby in the end. I wanted to make sure I got all her features in the right places, so put on the hat and studied Susan's photo intently. I had to pull the eye out a few times because I would start too high or too wide. In the end, I grabbed a pair of 12 mm safety eyes and put them in place like Susan's were, then just made sure to embroider in the same spots that the safety eyes filled. This way I was able to make sure everything was even on both sides because I knew the exact point to start from. The eyes are done with a spider web stitch, which I had never done before, but I really like them. Her eyebrows aren't perfectly even, but I didn't see that until looking at these pictures, so it doesn't bother me in real life. I think her cute little face is really what makes this doll so adorable :)
I love everything about this doll. She is surprisingly real baby sized and with the poly pellets inside she has some heft too, making her really hug-able. I may sound like a creeper, but I like to just give her a squeeze and set her around. I still haven't given her a name. I'll leave that for later when she needs one. Right now she's just called Baby. I'm glad I decided to make her even though I have no practical reason for her. She makes my sewing room a little more fun. She also would be a great doll to make a whole set of clothes for, and if I have a daughter who likes baby dolls someday then I probably will make her more things. In the meantime she will just keep me company :)

I can't recommend this pattern enough! If you don't mind a big project, she's very much worth the effort. Thanks, Susan, for another great design :)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Refashion: A Few New Hems for Old Lady Skirts

This might not be the most exciting post, but I always like to show the simple fixes as well as the more complicated ones. As an avid thrifter, I come across many of what I call "old lady skirts". These skirts are the type that you take one look and know the age of its previous owner. They are from brands like Alfred Dunner and Bon Worth, among others. They usually have a high, elastic waist, and they have hems of indecisive length - are you a midi? or are you just for short people? Back in January I found these skirts for 50¢ each and saw their potential, and this time I actually got right to work at fixing them so they could be worn :)
First is this floral number. This one is elastic all the way around on the waistband, which I normally stay away from completely as it doesn't really do my shape any favors, but I could not help but be drawn to the fabric. Not only is it a pretty floral print, it's also one of the nicest feeling poly crepes I've come across. Also - this baby has pockets! I decided it was worth the 50¢ to see if I would wear it. So I put it on, pinned up the hem until I liked the length, and cut it shorter (this one was about 5.25" inches off the finished hem), pressed under 1/4", pressed under 5/8" and top stitched. I was finished in about 20 minutes :)
These photos are for documentation only - I would never wear this with a shirt tucked in, lol. Now the skirt just covers my knees - my favorite length.
And check out the pockets! How can you resist a skirt with pockets? This feature alone takes this from a pretty looking skirt to one that is functional for work (I keep keys in my pockets all the time, so it's really inconvenient to not have pockets at work).
And check out the swish factor! I really love the drape of this fabric. At the risk of being shunned for admitting that I like a polyester, poly crepe ranks up there in my favorite fabrics to wear on my bottom half. They make for such a swishy and fun skirt, but they are nice and opaque so I don't need any other layers. They pull away from the body, making them really comfy for the hot Florida weather. I just love them!
Back view - I also really appreciate that this skirt is pleated at the waistband instead of just gathered. Gathers add bulk in a way I don't love, so I stay away. These pleats lay nice and flat :)
Realistically, this is how the skirt is worn in public - with my shirt untucked to cover the elastic. It looks particularly nice with a woven fabric shirt, but the knit tee isn't bad either.
I lucked out with this project because I happened to have the perfect color periwinkle purple thread. I love that even though it's top stitched, you really wouldn't know unless you look close.
Here's where it gets a little odd (at least when you start to think about it). This skirt is Koret brand, but there is a name written very haphazardly on the tag: Conny Frost. Having had elderly family members, I know this means that this belonged to a woman named Conny Frost who luved in a nursing home of some kind. Meaning that the fact that she wore it at the end of her life, and the fact that it was at a thrift store more than likely means she is gone. I know that's often the case with most things in thrift stores, but I've never bought anything that had such a vivid reminder of where it came from. So now I call this the Conny Frost skirt.
Thank you, Conny, for you pretty skirt :) I hope it made you happy, and I will certainly enjoy wearing it as well. And I'll really enjoy those great pockets.
The second skirt is even Bon Worth brand, lol, which I usually stay away from. But this was another case of a fabric I loved so I knew it had potential. The original skirt was just a bit too long to be flattering on my legs, also the extra length seemed to peg the skirt in more which I didn't like. So again I just measured how much to cut off (4.25") and followed the same double turn and top stitch process for a skirt I can now wear everyday and feel comfy.
Again - these photos are for documentation, lol. This skirt has a slight tulip shape, which I normally don't love on me, but it's not that bad here. I love that it's a button down, and I love that it's such a great basic fabric: a charcoal gray cotton/linen blend. It's sturdy and pulls away from the body without being super stiff. Also this is another skirt with fantastic pockets - they are slanted, but they hug the body nicely and they are nice and deep so I can fit all kinds of things in them, lol.
AND here's the old lady-ness coming out, lol. This one has a gathered elastic waistband on the back, but again I will never wear it tucked in like this so now one will know. It does lay nice and smooth on the back though.
This is how it looks when worn realistically. I'm all for it :)
Here's the new hem. I made sure the new hem was just long enough without showing another button hole (which is on the inside of the hem now). Again I lucked out that I had the perfect color thread on hand, so this actually looks identical to the original hem - I made it the same depth and everything. 
And the front view with how I actually wear this. I've really worn this skirt quite a lot in the past few months. It's just such a great basic! It has all the things I want to reach for everyday, plus since it's gray it looks great with everything and matches some of my favorite shoes (which are also gray).

Sorry if this was a long post for two such simple projects, but it's always nice to be reminded that alterations don't have to be super involved to be worthwhile :) Sometimes all something needs is a simple change to make it into something fresh and new and ready to be worn and loved again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

FO: Uni the Unicorn

Continuing on my crochet baby toy adventure lately, I had another gift I needed to make. My best friend, Leigh, had her 3rd baby and her 1st girl at the end of January. I had the flu at the time, so I didn't want to risk a visit (even though she was ridiculously cute and I really wanted to meet her), so I waited until all signs of illness were gone. I wanted to make her a meaningful gift, so I started wracking my brain about what I could do when I remembered something that Leigh had made for the baby.
Leigh was inspired by a very pretty children's book called Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigitte Barrager. The book has beautiful illustrations, and Leigh decided to paint her own copy of the cover for the baby's room. Didn't it turn out great?! She's so talented :) I knew that making a Uni the Unicorn toy would be a good choice, so I looked through Ravelry to find a suitable pattern. Oddly enough the one that had the best body shape for Uni was actually from a Creativebug class.

Twinkie Chan has a class to make your own Crocheted Unicorn on Creativebug. The class includes the pdf pattern and then the video walks you through every step to make your own unicorn. I made slight modifications to make my unicorn more like Uni, but overall the pattern worked really well and is very simple to make.
I dug through my stash to find fun yarns that would match the inspiration picture. I used Red Heart Super Saver in white for the body (an easily washed acrylic workhorse). The hooves are actually made from a rayon metallic yarn I acquired by unraveling a thrifted sweater. It was really the perfect yarn - gold and sparkly :) The horn is made from Aunt Lydia's Iced Bamboo size 3 crochet thread - I held a strand of Aqua Ice and Icicle together as one to get the sort of twist in the colors.
The hair was the most fun to choose. I used Premier Everyday Soft Worsted in Aubergine for the main purple color and mixed it with Red Heart With Love in Hot Pink, Golden Bamboo Fingering in Rose Red, and the gold I used for the hooves. I think the hair turns out really fun with just a bit of sparkle.
For the eyes I went with some of my beloved Suncatcher 6mm ones in teal. They are safety eyes, but just look at how vibrant the color is! For them being only 6 mm that's pretty impressive :) They seemed the perfect color so I just had to use them.
I ended up stuffing the legs on this. I left them unstuffed at first, but when I sewed them on the unicorn just couldn't hold herself up with such flimsy legs. Stuffed it is! I added just enough stuffing to get them to stand firm and now she's able to stand up just fine.
And that is my unicorn. Well, Elliot's unicorn :) I was finally able to go visit her at the beginning of March, and while she's a little young to really do much with her toy right now I hope she grows to love it. I added a rattle to the tummy, plus that gold yarn is so sparkly and the legs are so easy to put in a small mouth that I'm sure this will get some use, lol.
And here's the beautiful little girl with her unicorn :) Isn't she adorable? And look at all that hair! I just love her. Welcome to the world, Elliot :) I hope you enjoy your own little Uni.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trying Something New: Playing With Watercolor (and Creativebug Class Review)

For most of my life, I've just accepted that there are things I am good at and there are things I am not good at. Most of the things I've deemed myself "not good at" (most sports, math, etc.) were things I never cared enough about to improve. The one shining regret though is that I am not better at art. By "art" I mean fine arts: painting, drawing, etc. As a kid, I showed very little natural ability, so I was never encouraged to try harder. I just knew that the art I produced didn't look anything like the artists I loved (Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet), so I thought I was just no good and I set the dreams of being an artist aside and went on doing things I knew I was good at. I've developed my skills in sewing, knitting, photography, baking, crocheting, and much much more. Some of these skills required a lot of time and work, but I grow more confident in them all the time and I enjoy the time I spend in these types of activities. Ever since I started knitting, I've slowly realized that most any skill just requires determination and practice. I've suspected this about art as well, but it wasn't until I started watching drawing and painting classes on Creativebug that it really sunk in: I could do this - I just have to work at it.

The glory of the Creativebug class platform is that when you subscribe you can watch any class in their catalog that you want. I've always loved Craftsy, but since you purchase each class individually I've always stuck with things I knew I would use and apply (mostly sewing, knitting, and baking classes). When I subscribed to Creativebug and started looking around, I got pretty into watching their beginner art classes. For one it's mesmerizing to watch someone paint who really knows what they're doing (*cough* Yao Cheng *cough*), but in each class I've noticed the same theme: anyone can do this if they devote the time to practice and learn. What a novel thought, huh? 

I started by watching Molly Hatch's Introduction to Drawing, which inspired me to get a set of pencils and give things a try. I've noticed a little improvement since I started, which is pretty great :) From there I really became interested in water color painting thanks to Yao Cheng's Beginning Watercolor class. Her paintings are beautiful, but they are very freeform. She constantly says that you need to try to capture the feeling more than the intricacies of the piece you are painting, and I definitely feel that in her work. She paints beautiful florals, and she just makes me want to give it a try.

Now considering that I did not know if I would enjoy painting enough to make it a real practice, I did not want to spend a lot of money on materials to give it a try. Enter ebay. Guys, I've probably mentioned it before, but did you know that you can buy a lot of things for a fraction of what they cost in the US when you buy from a Chinese seller on ebay? I feel like I'm putting on my salesman voice here, but I'm talking these are the exact same products that we can buy here, you're just buying them direct from the source and so you are paying far less. The packaging may not be as fancy, but who cares about the packaging? I was able to get everything I needed this way and I spent quite a bit less than I would have here if I'd bought similar products. (Also I do not get any form of a kick back for mentioning this, just so we're clear).
This is what I bought:
I'll admit that the palette was a slight splurge since I could've bought the round ones for about $1, but I liked that this one folded up. I also bought a larger paint set with 18 colors instead of the basic 12 colors from the same company, and that cost $1.28 extra. But that's just compared to other Chinese made prices. The cheapest I found these types of supplies in the US was at Michael's in their Everyday Values section - they were identical products and the 12 tube set cost $5, a set of several flat palettes (not close-able like this one) was $5, and a brush set was $5. So I spent $10 instead of $15 but I got more paint and a palette like I wanted. Any time I try a new hobby, I check ebay first for the supplies. Anyway, let's move on (end rant, lol). The other things I already had (the pad of watercolor paper and the little metallic paints). just for the record.
I decided to start out my painting journey by watching the Playing with Watercolor class by Lindsay Stripling. She goes over how to make yourself a color chart before you begin, and I thought that would be a great place to start since I was in no way familiar with my paints. I made a grid on my paper and followed her instructions to make my own color chart with fades and tints that turned out pretty awesome if I do say so myself.

Once I started actually trying to paint something, I realized how easy the chart was, lol. Give me a grid to fill in with a pretty color, no problem. Give me an entire blank page to fill as I liked ... crickets. In all my fine art experimentation, I think the hardest thing for me is figuring out what to paint or draw. I'm surrounded by neat objects, but I'm just not used to looking at them artistically. I started off by doing an exercise from Yao Cheng's Beginning Watercolor class where you paint a shape (circles, triangles, etc) over and over again in different colors, but you allow just one tip of the shape to touch a previously painted one, causing the paint to bleed over just a touch. It looked cool in the class, so I gave it a go. Turns out I'm not so good at making shapes that look even yet, lol. So I tried it for a while and soon just started doodling with paint. This was my resulting masterpiece:
Ha ha see why I never pursued painting? It's not as bad as it could be (maybe), but it certainly doesn't show any artistic vision. I stopped after that painting and continued with my day. Later that night though I decided to give things another go. This time I decided to draw something first and then paint it. I went with one of my favorite plants right now: My Christmas Cactus. 
This is my subject in real life. It's already past blooming, so this was just about the plant itself. I figured simple leaves and variations on the same basic shape would be a good place to begin. First I drew my still life in a 2H pencil:
Then I used water color paint to fill it in:
Still not a great work of art, but it's passable. You can tell that it's a Christmas cactus in a pot. Adding the gnome was a bad choice (he's a clay watering thing in my real pot), I see that now. Also I tried to add depth with color, but I kept running into problems with my previous painted areas being completely dry, so the paint wouldn't blend at all, or being too wet still and the paint just spreading around and changing the color. These are the things I really need to work on to improve, and that will just come with time and continuing to see what the paint does in certain situations. I'm reasonably proud of my little art work though for just beginning :)
A short while after the cactus, I watched another of Yao Cheng's classes - Intermediate Watercolor - where she shows tips for painting her iconic florals. I was really inspired, so I decided to give things a try. My attempt is certainly not anywhere near Yao's standard, but you can tell they are flowers, and I tried a few new techniques with this that actually worked out, so that was cool.

It's really interesting learning the ins and outs of a completely new medium or expression. I plan to keep painting and drawing simply to improve - I know these are borderline embarassing paintings by the standards of any "real artist" out there, but I wanted to share them almost because of that fact. You have to start somewhere, and there is no shame in trying something and then working to get better. So now these are on the internet for comparison so I can see if I do, in fact, get better. I just need to devote the time and keep trying :) You can do it too!
I shared once before about Creativebug, but there is a new deal that I wanted to let you know about. First time members can get their first month for just $1 AND get a free class to keep forever even if you don't keep up your membership. Like I said before, this is an affiliate link, and I do get something if you join, but in total honesty I wouldn't share it here unless I truly liked the company, which I absolutely do! I find myself watching their classes just for fun instead of watching a movie, lol. I'd rather be learning something new. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of this offer and watch as many classes as you like while you have that free month, then decide for yourself. If they can get me to try art again, they can help you do pretty much anything :) Go here to sign up!