Category Archives: Making

WIP Wednesday

start date: 12 May 2017
time elapsed: 3 weeks 5 days
completeness: 100%

This is the me-too shirt for Númenor’s robot shirt.  Of course, it’s a different pattern.  Not just a different one, but a more complicated one as well.  No matter, I thought.  At this stage in my sewing, I reasoned, I can handle just about anything.

Thereby I disproved the existence of god.  Because if there were such an entity, everyone would have heard them laughing at me.

This pattern was okay in terms of difficulty.  It wasn’t too fiddly, and the instructions were pretty clear.  But I used a pattern from a designer I’ve had trouble with in the past without making a muslin first.  Their clothes are so freaking cute, but I already knew that they really struggled with armscyes and their facings sometimes just didn’t work.  And I should have relied more on that past experience.  But it was so cute, and the size promised in the pattern was perfect.

And most of the pattern was fine.

But the neckline.

The neckline.

I finished the bodice and called Ithilien over so I could double-check the sizing by popping it over his head.  But it wouldn’t fit over his head.  It wasn’t even close.

So I unpicked the bodice and tried again.  This time he could put it on, but it was tight across the chest and stranglingly tight in the neckline when zipped up.

I unpicked some more.  I re-worked the side seams to give him an extra half inch in the chest, and took the zipper out, and cut the back split down an extra inch, and cut the whole neckline an extra half-inch lower.  Now it fit fine.

But the neck facing from the pattern obviously wouldn’t work anymore.

So I made up some bias tape with my new, beautiful, antique sad irons, and finished it off with a button and a loop.

And now, well, it’s perfect.  Which could be seen as all this effort paying off.

But for me, the thing that makes it most worthwhile to have finally fixed this cute little top is that it reminded me– very painfully– to consider the source when I sew up a pattern.  Next time, I’ll be working from a designer I’ve had good experiences with.

Maybe I’m just cynical, but caveat emptor seems to apply even more when it comes to things offered for free.  Maybe the modern advice would be closer to caveat usor.

Or, you know, semper muslinus prius facere.


The pattern, which I can’t recommend, is Modern Baby Doll Top by Shwin & Shwin; in addition to the modifications to the neckline and closure discussed above, I also gave it a straight hem.  The fabric is the same as last week.  The buttons are from my collection.  The irons are Geneva 8s, purchased on Etsy.

WIP Wednesday

date started: 12 May 2017
time elapsed: 2 weeks 5 days
completeness: 10%

Númenor is of a certain age now.  He’s transitioning from being a little kid to being an unmodified-kid.  And part of that, in our family, is that he has recently become responsible for his own wardrobe.

Babies and little kids, the way I see it, live in borrowed clothes.  They are welcome to have favorites and to refuse to wear certain things and give input for purchasing decisions as they get older, but nothing really belongs to them.  I decide what to buy, what to keep, how and when to mend it, when and how to care for it– they just live in it.  But where little kids’ sizing ends, at around size 6/7, that changes.

Whereas in all the smaller sizes Númenor has already had clothing waiting for him when he was big enough to wear it, when he got big enough to wear a 6X/7, there was nothing in the hand-me-down bin.  Instead, he got a checklist of clothes and accessories that needed to be in his wardrobe for the summer, and a budget to spend on them.

Of course, one of the ways he’s allowed to allocate funds is to ask me to make things for him.  And of all the things he needed, the only one he couldn’t scrape together for himself was short-sleeved shirts.  So I pulled out a cut of organic cotton sateen I bought on clearance years ago and showed him a selection of patterns that would work for the fabric, and we got to work.

And, as a bonus, we had enough fabric left over to cut a shirt (from a different pattern, natch) for Ithilien.

This is the first of a pair of coordinating-but-not-matching robot shirts for our summer adventures.  The pattern Númenor wanted is a modernist send-up of a huipil– very simple, slightly boxy, with this lovely, smooth-against-the-skin blanket-stitch neckline cut to frame the collarbones.

Believe it or not, I had never used a blanket stitch to encase a rolled, curved hem like this before.  It is ideal for the task technically, and a perfectly lighthearted design element for a child’s garment.

All in all, it makes for some gorgeous sunny-afternoon-on-the-back-deck sewing.


The fabric is “Robot Factory Screen Print” from Robert Kaufman.  The pattern is Purl Soho’s embroidered denim jumper.

And, as an aside, here’s how last week’s WIP turned out:

WIP Wednesday (only slightly delayed)

start date: 19 May 2017
time elapsed: 6 days
completeness: 50%

Last summer, in a fit of pique, I tried to resign myself to doing shoes for the smalls the conventional way.

I was frustrated with my inability to make a shoe that stayed on Númenor’s foot, and I was out of the natural rubber soling material I use for all-purpose shoes anyway, so I gave in and bought shoes for the smalls.  Or at least I tried to.

I went to the websites where I normally buy shoes for Robert and myself.  I tried the vendors I’ve been hoping to win a pair from but couldn’t really afford, assuming their kids’ shoes would be cheaper.  I tried the brands I’d heard were for hippies.  None of them had acceptable shoes for children.  Several brands didn’t have kids’ sizes at all, a couple had adult sizes and baby booties but no shoes for children, and the few that had shoes in the right sizes for my kids were so aggressively gendered I couldn’t find anything I would consent to buy, much less anything my funky, post-gender kids were interested in.

So I finally just bought some cheap crap on Zulily.  And the smalls loved the way their “storebought shoes” looked, but they were stiff-soled and uncomfortable to wear, and the sneakers took too much work to get on and off, and they couldn’t be laundered, and one of the pairs of shoes I bought after trying my hardest to find things that passed the minimum standard STILL came with a California Prop 65 warning.

And now, 8 months in, the sneakers are worn through in the toes and aglets.  The flats still look okay, but they don’t have much time left in the toes, either.

So, to review:

Homemade Shoes

Pros: cheap, recycled/recyclable, easy to mend, washable, biodegradable, uses fabric scraps, custom, ergonomic, unique, sweatshop-free

Cons: time-consuming to make, time-consuming to repair, tend to slip off Númenor’s feet, last 4-10 months

Storebought Shoes

Pros: fast, novelty materials (glitter fabric, etc.), secure on the foot, reusable/recyclable boxes

Cons: non-biodegradable, produced with fossil fuels, assembled by slave labor, MUCH more expensive than homemade, produced by the thousands or millions, difficult for smalls to use without help, stiff soles, narrow footbed, cause cancer or reproductive harm, difficult to clean, nearly impossible to repair, packaged in unnecessary plastic, last about 8-10 months

And so, here I am making new shoes for the smalls at home again.

But in the intervening time, I came to a couple new conclusions: first, I only want shoes for the smalls to last less than a year at this point because they grow so fast, that’s about the lifespan of footwear for them anyway.  Second: I have been causing myself unnecessary grief using western-style shoes and a storebought pattern.

This time I’m trying a new approach: breech moccasins from a custom pattern I drafted from a water-resist impression of Númenor’s actual feet.  The toebox is nice and wide, and the soles are natural rubber crepe, cushioned with a layer of wool blanket and lined with a scrap of cotton muslin.  The uppers are sewn together from the few usable bits of an old pair of Robert’s twill pants and hand embroidered in variegated cotton floss.  They are designed to be lightweight on the foot and flexible, while still giving moderate protection from rough terrain and the elements.

So far, I love them.  They should stand up well, and be easy to mend and patch for a few months, and then, probably at the end of next fall or in the spring, they’ll be ready for the wadding bin.


The skull-print muslin is Blackbeard Skull in Black from the “Blackbeard’s Pirates” collection by Riley Blake Designs.

WIP Wednesday

I don’t know what it is about the last month or so, but I am stuck.  I currently have nine WIPs going– everything from fabric I just finished dyeing and haven’t cut yet to a nearly-finished soft toy– and none of them is speaking to me.  To make matters worse, when I push forward and try to work on something anyway, I inevitably screw it up.

Case in point: this shirt yoke.  I decided that, out of the THREE projects in my current workbag, it was the one that would be easiest to force my way through so I could build momentum for the rest of my life.  I nearly finished it this afternoon, sitting on the deck in the sunlight, and when I tried it on Ithilien, I discovered it was too big and the whole thing would have be made over, from the cast-on, so that it could be SIX stitches smaller.  Six.  Which is actually for the best because the lace I was trying to add to the bodice was a total wreck, because I hadn’t taken the time to chart the line-by-line instructions before I started so that I would have any hope of working it on an increasing piece.

How do I feel about that?  Well…

So, I’m giving up.  This day can suck it.  I’m going to have some cookie butter and try to forget my troubles.

I will be back in a few days to show pictures of our new chicks, and maybe talk about the last things I *did* successfully make before I got stuck in a Philadelphia.

And with any luck and a lot of streaming of sub-par horror movies, maybe next week there will be a real WIP Wednesday.

Free Pattern: Sengi

The sengi, aka elephant shrew, is a small mammal native to the forests, grasslands, and rocky outcroppings of south-eastern Africa.   They have a long, flexible snout that allows them to use their amazing sense of smell in any direction without moving their eyes, and it is from this feature’s similarity to the elephant’s trunk that they received their rather fanciful English common name.

Genetic studies have revealed that the sengi is, in fact, more closely related to elephants than to true shrews, despite being only a few inches long and having a lifestyle more typical of rodents than ruminants.

The tiny rufous sengi, one of the smaller varieties of sengi, is less than 4″ long but can run at speeds over 8mph, making it the fastest terrestrial animal on earth relative to its size (it’s about twice as fast as a cheetah).  Each individual maintains a complex network of pathways through the grass and scrub of the savanna which it uses to hunt for food– mostly insects, but also seeds in the right season– and escape danger.

The rufous sengi is also basically Elvis for my children right now.  We were watching a BBC nature documentary about small animals (Hidden Kingdoms, it’s streaming on Netflix right now and I highly recommend it) when they first discovered it, and for the last month, sengis have been EVERYWHERE in their art, play, and imaginations.

Here’s a knitting pattern for a toy rufous sengi, suitable for an advanced  beginner.  She measures about 3.5″ from tip of nose to rump, with her tail about the same length as her body, and she stands a petite but powerful ~2″ tall on her specially-adapted long back feet (for zooming) and bitty front feet (for batting obstacles out of her paths in a dismissive manner).  Her white “socks” mark her as an adult– juveniles have brown legs and feet.  She is perfect for a stocking or an Easter basket, fits in a pocket, and is equally at home racing along the highway or just doing chores!

Sengi “housework”– gotta keep those paths clear!

The sengi’s body is knitted from tip of nose to tip of tail in the round, starting and ending with I-cord.  Her ears and front legs are picked up and knit from the body, and her hind legs are knitted separately in the round starting with I-cord and then sewn on.

Supplies:

  • dk yarn, about 40 yards, in light brown, tan, or rust (MC)
  • dk yarn, less than 10 yards, in white or cream (CC)
  • dk yarn, less than a yard, in chocolate or dark brown
  • two 8mm round black beads for eyes
  • small amount of stuffing (I used wool)
  • double-pointed needles, size US 5
  • yarn needle

Pattern:

using MC yarn, cast 3 sts onto a single needle

working as an I-cord, knit three rows

k1, kfb, k1 (4 sts)

knit one round

*kfb* all around (8 sts)

at this point I arranged my stitches on 3 needles, with 2 sts on the first needle and 3 on each of the others– this arrangement makes it easier to predict the shaping in the head

knit one round

k3, kfb, k1, kfb, k2 (10 sts)

knit one round

k4, kfb, k1, kfb, k3 (12 sts)

knit one round

k3, kfb, k2, kfb, k1, kfb, k2, kfb, k1 (16 sts)

knit one round

kfb, k15 (17 sts)

knit one round

s1k2tog psso, *k2tog* to end of round (8 sts)

knit two rounds

*kfb* around (16 sts)

knit in stockinette until the piece measures about 3″ from the base of the snout (about 3.5″ from the tip of the snout)

*k2tog* around (8 sts)

knit one round

stuff body and head firmly with the stuffing of your choice, remembering to add a little extra if you’re using wool or another stuffing that compacts a lot over time

*k2tog* around (4 sts)

knit 1 round

k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)

slide all sts onto a single needle and work I-cord until tail is about 2″ long

k2tog, k1 (2 sts)

continue in I-cord until tail is about 3″ long

k2tog (1 st)

break yarn and pull through remaining stitch to cinch closed

Front legs:

On the underside of the torso, just after the neck shaping, pick up 5 sts in a ring

with MC yarn, knit 1 row

k2, k2tog, k1 (4 sts)

switch to CC

knit 1 row

k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)

knit 1 row

break yarn and thread end through remaining 3 sts, cinch closed

repeat to place a second front leg next to the first

Hind legs:

using CC yarn, CO 3 sts and work I-cord

knit 4 rows

k1, R-inc, k2 (4sts)

knit 1 row

switch to MC

knit 2 rows

k1, R-inc, k2, R-inc, k1 (6sts)

knit 1 row

k1, R-inc, k4, R-inc, k1 (8 sts)

knit 2 rows

*k2, k2tog* around (6 sts)

*k1, k2tog* around (4sts)

*k2tog* around (2 sts)

leaving a generous yarn tail, break yarn, bring end through remaining sts, cinch to close.

Stitch the top of the sengi’s little drumstick securely to the side of her rump with the bind-off edge oriented directly to the top.

Repeat for other hind leg.

Ears:

All shaping is done on the OUTSIDE edge of the ear– the round begins at the inside.

Starting about one stitch away from the top midline of the head and moving outward along the same row of knitting, pick up four sts on one needle, then pick up four sts directly behind those sts on the head (8 sts)

Using MC, knit 2 rows

k3, L-inc, k2, R-inc, k3 (10 sts)

knit one row

k3, k2tog, k2tog, k3 (8sts)

*k2tog* around (4 sts)

break yarn, lace through remaining sts, pull to cinch.

Repeat for second ear on the other side of the midline of the top of the head.

Finishing:

With CC yarn, stitch a shallow “V” shape on each side of the sengi’s nose to frame her eyes.

With dark brown yarn, stitch two short lines from just in front of each her ear about 1-2 stitch lengths forward.

Sew the beads in place securely– between the endpoint of the dark brown line and the angle of the CC “V”– on either side of the head to make eyes.  I sewed on both eyes at the same time, securing them with a figure-8 stitch through the inside of the face to help nest the beads into the face more realistically.

Weave in and trim all your yarn and thread ends, and your sengi is ready for whatever fast-paced adventures life sends your way!

 

 

WIP Wednesday

start date: 8 March 2017
time elapsed: one week
completeness: 20%

I had quite a conundrum last week.

I was on strike last Wednesday, you see.  I had a whole day to myself, to do whatever I wanted.  But I couldn’t work on things for my family or my house, because that would have been scabbing.  So I started something new, something that looked fun and would probably teach me things I could stand to learn, but that was far from practical and totally unnecessary.

Something for me.

Those are pretty rare projects, honestly– I usually prioritize the children, then Robert, then the house, then my extended family, my communities, the earth, strangers, and finally myself.

But I had been gazing wistfully at the Ravelry page for this pattern for months, and it was just so pretty, and my crochet skills lag significantly behind all my other pursuits, which would make it a challenge to begin, much less complete.

So I pulled some leftover scraps of yarn out of my stash and started out, tentatively.

I made a flower, and then expanded it to a star.  And in the week since International Women’s Day, I made that star into a sun, and the sun into an octagon, in spare moments here and there between my other work.  Now I’m turning the octagon back into a star, slowly but surely, as this project eats up scraps and leftover single skeins from other projects.

As for what I’ll do with it when I’m finished, well, I don’t know.  For once, my project is about the process, not the product.  Obviously if I finish the whole thing I’ll have a massive piece, big enough to use as a coverlet for my bed, especially if I square up the corners.

Regardless of the finished size, I think what I have here is a fulcrum.  A balance point between frost and fire, in dye and animal hair.  Witchcraft, in short.

Witchcraft.


Yarns, from center of work to edge: Araucania Lauca in 1 French Blue Purple , Stacy Charles Fine Yarns Fiona in 510836, Schachenmayr Juvel in 2 Charcoal Heather, Ella Rae Classic Superwash in 22 Gray, Cascade Rabat in 9 Rainbow, Fyberspates Scrumptious in 316 Charcoal (doubled), Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2646 Saltwater, Quince and Co. Owl in Cement, Cascade Rabat in 9 Rainbow, Malabrigo Merino Worsted in 75 Garden Gate, Beaverslide Dry Goods 2 ply sport/sock in woodsmoke heather (doubled), Berroco Quasar in 8206, Valley Yarns Northampton in 15 Gold, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2607 Wintry Mix, Araucania Riñihue in 1708, Classic Elite Kumara in 5714 Smoke, Malabrigo Rastita in 146 Peacock (blue), Paton’s North America Classic Wool DK Superwash in 12402, indigo worsted/aran from Ithaca Farmer’s Market, unknown silk/merino blend dark gray, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2647 Nor’easter, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2607 Wintry Mix, Araucania Lauca in 3 Purple Dark Teal

WIP Wednesday


start date: today
time elapsed: none
completeness: 0%

Sometimes you spend money and effort and time incalculable on a project for a child, and they are unmoved by it.  Sometimes you throw together something quick and necessary, and it becomes the #1 Best Most Loved Favorite Thing That Accompanies Them Everywhere Until It Is Destroyed By The Sheer Force Of Their Adoration.

Meet Ithilien’s alligator pants.  Or what’s left of the seat of his alligator pants, after nearly 3 years of weekly or better wear for the rough-and-tumble kinds of activities which small children find most appealing.

Frankly, I think they held up really well considering they are just linen and muslin and a few errant patches of baby wale corduroy.  But now they are no more.

In fact, they met their demise about two months ago, when Ithilien slid down the boulder next to the chicken yard for the bazillionth time.  And he was completely distraught when I told him that they were too far gone for the mending basket– not only were they worn transparent in the seat and the cuffs, but they had a permanent crease where I’d let out an earlier hem, and they were size 4T on a child who is now wearing 6/7.

I promised that we could make new alligator pants.  And he said, tears still shining on his face, “I want them to be soft and fuzzy like my favorite gray pants.”  Which are, of course, some synthetic fleece sweatshop-produced crap that my parents bought at Target when Númenor unexpectedly needed back-up pants while staying with them.

I hemmed and hawed and tried to convince the child of the merits of wool flannel and the all-seasons practicality of midweight linen-hemp canvas and briefly considered buying $24/yard organic cotton sweatshirt fleece in a green he didn’t think was alligatory enough before finally caving in and buying a yard of bright green polyester fleece.

I hate it so much I think I might die.

But Ithilien loves it.

And I’m trying to see the bright side: at least it’s warm.  It was cheap.  It won’t fray.  It looks okay with the patches and accent pocket from the old pants.  I won’t lose it in the laundry.  My parents can machine wash and dry it if necessary.

Oh, the things we do for love.


I’m using Rae’s Parsley Pants pattern in size 6.  I know she designed it for woven fabric, but I’m a rebel (and the previous alligator pants were Parsley Pants).  I’m not linking to the cheap polyester fleece, and you can’t make me.

WIP Wednesday (on Friday…)

I was all set to do WIP Wednesday this week, and then life happened.

So here it is, a little belated.

start date: 8 January 2017
time elapsed: 3 days
completeness: 80%

Númenor has a January birthday.  It’s tough, having a birthday a few short weeks after Christmas, because everyone is kind of over buying presents and eating to excess.  And your poor parents are likely feeling glutted for toys and books, not that I would know.

People can’t spend the kind of money and time on January presents as they could on summer birthday presents, but you are just as special to them as you would be if you were a Gemini.

So the things you get are simpler, more likely to be homemade, more likely to be experience-based than object-based, but life is still good.  For one thing, a January birthday is a great excuse to get new add-ons and accessories for your favorite Christmas presents– a sequel to your new favorite book, perhaps, or an extra set of wheels for your fancy new building set.

And, of course, everyone is ready for a little deviation from the usual winter flavors, too.  A strawberry cake in November might seem unseasonable and strange, but a banana cake in January is refreshing and novel.

And so is ice cream.

This knitted and crocheted ice cream, for the smalls’ play kitchen, is high in fiber (alpaca and wool!) and warm to the touch, making it perfect for winter.  And it’s festive enough to be a gift for the happiest of birthdays, of course!


Project details on Ravelry.  The ice cream sections are my own improvised patterns.

Spiced Citrus Beard and Scalp Oil

This luxurious blend of oils encourages healthy, supple hair and skin, supports new hair growth, and helps fight dry, itchy winter scalp.

  • 4g argan oil
  • 5g castor oil
  • 7g sweet almond oil
  • 8g extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 drops cedar essential oil
  • 6 drops bergamot essential oil*
  • 5 drops tangerine essential oil*
  • 3 drops frankincense essential oil

*citrus oils can cause photo-sensitivity, so please substitute these for another favorite essential oil (rosemary, sandalwood, or lavender would be nice) if your intended recipient will be getting a lot of sun

Weigh the carrier oils into a small bottle with a dropper top.  Drop in the essential oils, cap, and shake.

To use: apply a few drops (2-4) to the face at the roots of the beard or crown of the head and use fingertips to massage in a circular motion.  Best used immediately after a shower.

Too Much Jam

I have this heady fantasy that someday, while I’m browsing the shelves of a used book store, I will happen across an old, stained, turn-of-the-20th-century book with a title like “Too much of a good thing: how to use up an excess of anything.”

This fantastical book will have chapter titles like “What to make with too much ________” and “How to use up extra _______” where the blanks are filled in with those things I usually don’t have enough of, but sometimes manage to be totally buried in.  Things like milk, and little scraps of leather, and decorative rivets, and palm-sized bits of cotton calico, and those temptingly sturdy boxes fancy chocolates come in, and jam.

Yes, jam.

Right now, I have a scraping of raspberry preserves, a scraping of quince paste, two and a half jars of quince jelly, and about 3/4 of a jar of huckleberry compote all clamoring for my attention in the fridge.  And we *just* managed to use up a pint of strawberry jam, after I shamelessly instructed Ithilien to scrape out the last spoonful and eat it straight.  I know how this happened: we were out of jam at the end of the summer, so I bought a jar of raspberry preserves on special.  Then I borrowed some strawberry freezer jam from my parents to make Ithilien’s birthday cake.  Then I found a forgotten pint of quince paste from last time at the bottom of our canning jar stack.  Then we canned our quince jelly for this year, and had an awkward half-jar leftover, plus two jars that didn’t seal.  Then my dad got some huckleberry compote for Christmas that wasn’t sweet enough for his taste and I volunteered to take it home because, for real, who wouldn’t accept free huckleberry jam?

And here we are.

So I’m spending my new year making homemade Pop Tarts and Jammie Dodgers in the desperate attempt to turn the preserves that we use sparingly at breakfasts and on the occasional PB&J into things we can eat up right away without any particular effort.

Which I suppose bodes well for our new year, because an embarrassment of riches is an auspicious way to start anything, right?

Happy (and sweet and sticky) 2017 to you and yours!  May this year be as kind to us all as possible.