Thursday, October 30, 2014

WIP Thursday: It Has Begun!

Sorry I'm a little late this week - a day late and a dollar short as they say. But better late than never, right? It's been one of those months weeks. Anyway, I think I'll start with progress on something you already are used to seeing, lol.
I finished the right front of my Emelie! Isn't it exciting?! It's looking more and more sweater-like all the time.  Even with my nice progress and excitement around this sweater, I have had to put it aside again :( I am getting a jump on my holiday gift knitting this year so I'm not a frantic crazy person like usual (well, let's face it, that will probably still happen, just for different reasons, lol). Anyway, I officially started my Christmas knitting on Sunday night and I already have one item 90% finished!
This is the only sneak peek you get, I'm afraid. I hate not being able to show what I'm making here, but I would hate for one of my family members to actually read my blog and spoil their gifts (I don't think they do read it, but just on the off chance...). I just had to show something because this is a project I've always wanted to make, but just couldn't justify for myself. So someone else will get it instead, lol. Don't you just love the colors?! The gray is Patons Classic Merino in Pearl Gray and the variegated is Malabrigo Merino Worsted in Alpine Pearl (ooh, fancy!). Even better - both of these yarns came from a thrift store! Crazy, right? I can't believe someone would donate Malabrigo anything, but it was 100% unused and even wound into a cake when I bought it. I love the subdued colors and I love this combo of purple with gray. Anyway, I think this year I will show mysterious closeups like this so at least I can say, "Look! I MADE A THING!" and have something to show for it :)
I've also been plugging away diligently on my first Dahlia dress. As usually happens though, I have hit an unfortunate road block. I'll admit, I did make this project much hard than it should be - I decided to use a super drapey rayon-type fabric, then decided to underline it, then decided to match the pattern - all of these things I have never done before. I thought I was in the clear after a ton of work on my muslin last week (like I am talking ALL of last Thursday was spent in my sewing room) and I cut into my "real" fabric. I've slowly poked along, working on things a little each night and Monday was the day I finally got things together enough to try it on and double check ...

It doesn't fit.

I think I've figured out my error, but that doesn't make it any less depressing. I must have cut out the bodice piece along my sewing line by mistake because no joke I cannot even make the side seam touch where the zipper should go. I know what I need to do - remove the entire bodice (which means undoing more than half of what I've already done), recut the main fabric and the lining, and reinsert the new pieces. Man, is that going to suck. On top of it not fitting, I also discovered that this fabric is so not "me". When I have it on, all I can think of is how I would never buy a dress in a store with this type of print. *le sigh* Oh well, I am going to finish it anyway just for some much needed closure. Honestly, I really just didn't need that this week, lol.
Here's a little look at my technically failed pattern matching - though it was a diagonal print so I don't know why I'm disappointed. Also the fabric is totally printed off grain - so yeah, I just did the best I could. Also here is a look at the insides - all nice and enclosed. Ah :) I treated the bodice as 'underlining' simply because the pattern doesn't give any lining instructions, so you can see the seam allowances, but I enclosed the waistband and did the skirt as 'lining' to keep things more flowy. I've learned that really drapey fabric is not exactly flattering on my lower half. For my body shape, "flowy" seems to equal "clingy", which is why I decided on adding a lining at all. The lining is there to pull the drapey pieces over my lumps in a more pleasing manner and it has definitely succeeded :) I really wish I was the kind of person who could just make up the dang pattern with no lining, but I will pick lining it every time - it's just so much nicer!

Oh, and I tried making bias tape for this project and I am honestly having to curb my ill-mannered words while typing this just by recalling that horrific experience. I followed the directions of the Colette Sewing Book with the black cotton batiste I used for the waistband and I even used a bias tape maker - what a load of crap that thing is. I've read countless sewists out there on the internet saying casually, "I made my own bias tape for this project," without batting an eye - WHAT AM I NOT GETTING HERE?! Is it really this eye-gougingly-frustrating for everyone and they are trying to sound nonchalant, or am I just missing the bias tape making gene? No joke, I actually had to make myself not scream in frustration and throw the wad of fabric across the room. To save my sanity I dug out some pre-made bias tape from my stash and used that. I'll willingly admit that I don't like this option - the fabric is really scratchy, especially compared to the rest of this dress - but I didn't have to try making it again so I'm ok with it. Ugh! Bias tape!

So, those are my projects this week :) On top of my crafty problems, I discovered 3 big time house problems in about 3 days - not fun! Hopefully things are going a bit smoother for you, lol. Anyone else started their Christmas crafting?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

I have been extremely remiss in reporting on the books I've read over the last few months. This does not mean I haven't been reading (though I will confess about a month or so break). The past month I've been right back in my usual old lady groove of audio books and granny crafts.

Believe it or not, I had never read Animal Farm by George Orwell until last month. I'd read exerts, seen the animated movie back in high school, and I had to know the main points of the plot for one of my AP tests, so I've always known what it was about. Now that I've read it, it's kind of amazing that I didn't take the plunge before given my fascination with Russian history. Anyway, Animal Farm is the story of the Russian Revolution told with farm animals. The animals don't like how the farmer is abusing them and taking all their resources, so they revolt and take over the farm. The pigs are the smartest of the animals, so they run things and decide on the rules. Snowball and Napoleon are the two main pigs that are in constant opposition. At first Snowball is the more ideological one - he establishes the absolutes of the animal world and paints 10 rules on the side of the barn for all to see. Eventually when Napoleon stages a coup and runs Snowball out of the farm, the animals start noticing differences in the 10 rules. The absolute statements now have additional justifications added that seem to make all the awful things Napoleon is doing seem ok because they technically still abide by the rules. As time goes on, Napoleon basically reestablishes the farm exactly as it was in the time of the farmer, and no one can even tell the physical difference between the pigs and humans anymore.

That's an extremely condensed lot synopsis. Oddly enough this book humanized the sad event that was the revolution. After the ideology of Vladimir Lenin was established and woo-ed the Russian people, Stalin came in and took advantage of the people's trust. It doesn't take long in the book before the animals start to think about how they are working harder than they ever had to under the farmer, yet they have less than they did while he was in power - which is a great correlation to Russia's situation under royal rule. Things weren't great then, but they certainly weren't worse then they became after Stalin gained power.

I'm sure I've completely botched this explanation, lol, but it made sense to me. This book was a very poetic representation of the sad irony the Russian people experienced. Funny how a book told with animals can put human actions into a better perspective. I really enjoyed this both for the factual representation as well as just the story itself. I can certainly see why it is still reputed as such a classic. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 27, 2014

FO: Luke's 2nd Birthday Present

(Warning - this was a large project which translates to a long blog post with lots of pictures - you've been warned!) :)

Well, it's that time of year again - when I come up with some awesome idea for my nephew's birthday and then give myself barely enough time to accomplish it, lol. In my defense this time I have had this planned since July/August, and I had all the amigurumi completed by a week and a half ago, I just put off the sewing until last night. At least it's an improvement from last year when I made the fishing pole about 30 minutes before the party :) Yay, progress! Anyway ... here's what I made this year:
It all started when I discovered Lucy Ravenscar's patterns - which include all the main characters from the old Star Wars series. My sister and her husband are big Star Wars nerds (I mean, their son's name is Luke, ok? this was no coincidence), so I knew that these would be a big hit. Luke himself may not know who these people are, but he certainly will soon anyway. I figure he may not appreciate this so much quite yet, but he will grow into them. So, let's look a little closer at these guys :)
Originally, my plan was much grander. I wanted to make ALL THE PATTERNS! But when October rolled around and I realized how much time each one of these figures take to make, I shortened my to-do list a bit. I figure I covered the top 5 here (and then I have more characters to make for other occasions - I'm looking at you, Christmas!). I did make one small change to how these are made - I used worsted weight yarn and a size H hook like I always do. This made the figures bigger than the pattern intends, but I think that's a good thing :)
Luke Skywalker came first (of course). I made half of his head and when I went to get eyes for him out of my safety eye stash I discovered a hiccup - the pattern calls for 7.5 mm eyes which are a specialty size (meaning Joann's and Hobby Lobby don't have them, and therefor I don't have them). I had to make a decision - spend $15.00 ordering all the eyes I would need for the whole cast of characters (so I didn't have to order them again in a month or so), or make felt eyes. Since I'm trying to be ultra frugal right now, I opted for felt eyes. Thank heavens for Sizzix Paddle Punches :) Love those things. Anyway, I made all of the figures first and added their eyes later. I majorly raided my stash for all the yarns used in these since you need very little of most colors. Luke is made using Vanna's Choice in Beige (his skin), Chocolate (his belt), and Linen (his boots) as well as Loops & Threads Impeccable in Yellow (his hair) and Premier Everyday Soft Worsted in Cream (his clothes) with some random scraps of black for his mouth.
Han Solo came next since he and Luke are the same, just different color combos :) Han was a bit more complicated due to his colorwork, but still nice and easy :) I love the little stripe of red on the sides of his pants! Such a cool detail. Han is made using Vanna's Choice in Beige (skin), Toffee (hair), Chocolate (belt),and Black (vest and shoes) as well as Premier Everyday Soft Worsted in Cream (shirt) and Really Red (stripe) and Red Heart With Love in Peacock (pants).
Princess Leia followed. I was worried her buns would be hard, but they are just flattened 3-d circles - so simple! Leia is made using Vanna's Choice in Beige (skin), Chocolate (hair), Cranberry (lips) and White (dress) as well as Patons Canadiana (Vintage) in Silver (belt). I decided to get fancy and add eye lashes to her eyes as well.
Yoda was another simple design. The pattern includes two versions (like this or with a removable robe) - I went for the simplest option. His ears are also very cleverly made. Yoda is made using Red Heart With Love in Lettuce (skin), Patons Canadiana in Flax (clothes), and Vanna's Choice in Chocolate (belt) with a scrap of black for his mouth.
Darth Vader was the last figure I tackled for this gift. I'm glad I waited to make him last because he was definitely the most complicated of all. He wasn't too difficult or anything, but much more so than the others. The construction order is pretty neat and I love that the head is all one piece including the helmet (meaning you don't sew the helmet on later). You do sew the nose on, which I just couldn't get quite as triangular as the pattern example photo - sadly mine looks a bit more like a black pig snout, lol. Oh well, you have to look really close to even see it at all since it's all one color. I do really love the embroidered tummy area. It was a pain to do, but totally makes the design. Darth is made using Vanna's Choice in Black with Patons (Vintage) Canadiana in Silver along with scraps of green and red. Darth has felt eyes as well, but I didn't add white French knots since they are just part of his helmet. Darth's cape is a solid piece of felt that I whip stitched to the back of the neck. The pattern includes an actual pattern piece for the cape, but since I used larger yarn I had to scale it up considerably. 

I was really happy with all of these patterns. Everything is explained really well and each figure took 2 to 3 hours to make, so really not bad at all. Interestingly enough you can no longer buy these individual patterns, but it's because Lucy Ravenscar got a book deal! How exciting :) Star Wars Crochet will be available to buy in spring of 2015. You can see all her particulars here.

Now for the bag ...

I hadn't really thought much about making a bag until I came across this adorable fabric on Spoonflower (I would post a link but it seems to not be available anymore). I ordered an 8x8" swatch of Eco Canvas knowing I would incorporate it somehow - I just didn't know how until Friday night, lol.
The black is actually some kind of old polyester table cloth that felt canvas-like. I got it at a thrift store in their fabric section a while ago for something like $0.50. The previous owner had already cut a big section off, so it was perfect for my purpose. Even my zipper was one of the crazy bag full that were $0.10 each. Hooray stash busting!
So since I only had a few hours, I buckled down and decided on a bag design. I chose to make a box bag with handles and I wanted to make it big enough to accommodate the whole collection of figures when I get them done. Look at my "oh so official" pattern, lol. I decided to make it 12" tall x 11" wide and 3.5" deep - I just added 1/2 seam allowance to all sides and and cut them out with a rotary cutter.
I put in the zipper first - the one I had in my stash was 9" long so I had to get creative with extra fabric to cover the space it left since I wanted the zipper exposed from the top for a nice pop of color. I used Wonder Tape to set the zip in place before sewing it in - man how did I even insert a zipper before I knew about this stuff?! I'm not sure if I did the rest of construction in the "correct" order, but I sewed the narrow strips together for the sides first. Next I turned the edge under on the pocket twice and sewed it on as a patch pocket - I did it this way so I could use as much of the swatch fabric as possible. Once the pocket was on, I sewed the front and back pieces to the edges. I added the strap after the rest was completely constructed - they are just two lengths of polyester grosgrain ribbon from my stash. I made sure to really go over where the straps connect to the bag several times to make sure they are very secure. Once that was done, I finished all the inside seams with pinking shears and then pressed the daylights out of everything to make it look more professional - it's amazing the difference that makes, really.
And here is the finished product :) I figure the bag can be used for lots of other purposes as well. It doesn't stand up on its own, so I stuffed it with netting for these pictures, lol.
All the nice finished details :) Look at the insides of that pocket! Mmm... love it. I burned the heck out of my fingers while pressing under those tiny edges, so I am particularly proud of the insides. I wanted to make sure the canvas wouldn't fray with use though, so it was worth it for the bag to have more durability. The top stitching isn't perfect since I used a weird foot (I just grabbed one with a guide I could follow and it didn't have quite as much tension as usual. It's close enough though and like a kid is really going to notice anyway :) I'm also quite proud of how nice the zipper looks. All in all my bag came out very boxy just like I wanted :) And as you can see all the figures fit in it quite nicely.
I love the results :) It's funny - this year's gift was so much more work, but definitely not as well loved by the kiddos. I know Luke will grow into them though.
Poor guy - he was much happier than he looks in the photo. He hadn't napped all day and it was about 6:30 pm when we did presents at his party. It was a Halloween themed party and he was Russell from UP! My sister was Kevin (the bird) and her husband was Carl. They looked really cute :) Luke was a little preoccupied by his other noise making presents, but Kelly and Nick were very excited so it's all good. I think these will end up as room decor until Luke is old enough to know what they are, lol.

Anyway, the secret is finally out! Yay! lol I hate keeping big projects like this a secret, but I do love the reactions to the reveal. The cat is now out of the bag for subsequent gifts since I plan on increasing the set, but I know they will be well loved. 

Happy Birthday, Luke!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Actual House Progress: The Pink Bathroom

Guys, I'll level with you. I'm basically the worst homeowner ever. I used to be so gung-ho about fixing things when we first moved in ... then suddenly we found more and more problems that we had to fix before other more aesthetic things could be done.

One of these problems was the pink bathroom (a.k.a. the main bathroom we use right now). I pulled all the cheap wire shelves out of the closet so I could replace them and paint the walls (it's just drywall in there). Upon closer inspection it turned out that the paint from the walls that came into the edge of the unpainted closet was peeling up in reasonable sized sheets. When I talked to my trusty Sherwin Williams man, he said that this means the drywall hadn't been primed ... and judging by the chipping of the paint around holes from old wall anchors, the rest of the room hadn't either ... which means it will eventually all peel off the walls! Ugh! Turns out the only way to fix this is to literally scrape all the paint off the walls and ceiling in the entire room and prime then paint it all again. Yeah, I think you can guess how excited I was about that prospective task. The worst part of all was that all of the items I had to hand up on the walls had to wait around and take up space in other parts of my house.

Well, last Sunday I decided I'd had enough. Sure, there are still holes in the walls that need to be fixed and I still have to scrape the paint, but I have no impending plans to get that done. Why not at least enjoy a little organization in the meantime? So I spent a little time and finally hung things up ;)
Ta Da! I didn't take a before picture, but imagine it exactly the same just without anything on the walls and much dirtier, lol. I decided over a year ago to embrace the pink tile and it has since grown on me - I actually like it now :) Anyway, my progression around the room began in the shower:
We bought one of those corner bars with multiple shelves on it last July, but no joke it didn't last until November. I was standing in the shower one day and it fell on me - the spring had no tension. I always intended to take it back to Target and say "What The Heck?" but it's not exactly easy to bring something in that's so large. Anyway, fast forward to before last Sunday and we've been setting all of our shampoo and whatnot on the towel bar and in the corners of the tub ever since. I had this small glass shelf from our condo that I had above our kitchen sink - it hasn't been used since we moved. So I thought it would be a great replacement :) It's mounted just above the tile, so it's kind of high but luckily my husband and I are reasonably tall so it's not a problem for us. Now everything is out of the way yet easy to get to and we don't risk bumping other things off the narrow towel bar to fall to their death. Also, I got a small white hook to hang our "to be used imminently" towel on while we are in the shower. I hung it between the tile and the window - again out of the way but easily accessed. Now  no more slightly damp towels when we need to dry off and we don't have to set our towels on the sink and lean over almost slipping to our own death. Look how much death was avoided with these small changes :)
Next came this Ikea shelf unit - again this was in our guest bath at our condo and has sat in our spare room since we moved. I really wanted to get something else in this bathroom since I felt this looked too wimpy in here (I was envisioning an actual cabinet), but I haven't found anything yet and I already have this. Up it went! I decided to hang it above the toilet instead of centered in the space on the wall, which gave a little sliver of wall that is perfect to hang up this little porcelain flower piece that belonged to my Great Grandmother. Incidentally this porcelain piece also lived in our guest bath at the condo, but it works really well with the other colors in here I think.
The final piece I hung was this sweet Ikea mirror. I've loved this mirror ever since I was first introduced to Ikea furniture, but I never had any place to put one. When we decided to go with a black and white and floral scheme in this bathroom, this mirror was the first purchase I made :) Nothing like finally having an excuse to get something you want. I admit it's a bit ornate on such a small wall, but I don't care, lol. While I love this mirror as a decorative item, I have to level with you - this was the most awful thing I have ever tried to hang in my whole life. I am meticulous about hanging things - I always center and level everything, sometimes even coordinating gallery walls. Hands down, this thing was harder than all those combined. There are no angles, very little even-ness, and it has those stupid little plastic holes on the back that the screws have to line up with perfectly. I spent at least 30 minutes just measuring and marking before I figured how to hang it up and still center it on the wall; even then I was just barely off and I had already drilled anchors and everything. I was able to just whack the anchored screw to the side a few millimeters and it sunk right in (never to be moved). I even managed to get the bottom point perfectly centered in the tile grout :) I bashed the crap out of my finger, but in the end I won and now I finally have this up on my wall. Success!

It may not seem like much, but when you've lived with blank white hole filled walls in a room you use multiple times a day for over a year the difference is amazing. It's a downright pleasure to hang out in the bathroom now :) I gained not only better looks but also better organization. Sure there are plenty more things I want to do to this room, but I think it's safe to call this a Stage 1 renovation that I can appreciate for now. The funniest part of all this is now that I see these pictures, that window is screaming for a curtain - it just looks so naked! Luckily I have quit ea bit of black fabric in my stash, I just have to decide on a design.

Hooray for actually making progress on my house!