Old Year, New Year

Yikes, where did the first day of the new year go? Justin and I were having so much fun visiting with family that we lost track of time. No matter—it’s never too late for a recap and a look forward!

I launched this blog almost a year ago, after a feverish four-day weekend spent customizing my site. In my time online, I’ve made 64 posts and garnered 8 comments. While I’d hoped to connect with more people, I’m proud that I’ve averaged just over a post a week. I know that these posts have been concentrated in the beginning and end of the year, so I’d like to work on increasing both my frequency and regularity of posting. I really do enjoy the writing, even if I’m excruciatingly slow at it.

A long car ride on New Year’s Eve gave me plenty of time to mull over my goals for 2016, and I feel confident that these are the things I want to focus on, and that they’re all achievable. In no particular order:

  • Set up a permanent sewing space. In our last apartment, I had plenty of space to create a dedicated sewing area, but I never bought or built the furniture I needed to make the space work, so it mostly served as a dumping ground. In the new house, we have an office and a guest room, both of which provide a place to put a sewing table and possibly a cutting table. Having my machines, tools, and supplies ready to go at all times will enable me to spend less of my time preparing to sew and more of my time actually sewing.
  • Stop feeling constrained by my fabric stash and sew the garments I need and want. As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a small bin of fabric that consists mostly of quilting project leftovers and de-stash pieces from my mom. Not wanting any of this material to go to waste, I’ve often looked for projects to use it up. The problem is that these projects are not themselves necessarily things that I need or want, which means even when they’re successful they’re not particularly useful. If I want to make T-shirts, I need to buy fabric suitable for T-shirts. I don’t have to use up the scraps first; they won’t go bad. If I need them for a project down the road, they’ll be right where I left them; if I don’t think I’ll ever use them, I don’t need to contrive a purpose for them—I can just give to someone who will use them.
  • Be a more productive knitter. I completed only 6 knitting projects in 2015, including one I started in 2014. This is roughly on par with previous years’ output, but I know that I’m capable of more. I’m a largely monogamous knitter, and I don’t suffer from startitis. Quite the opposite—I usually struggle to decide what to cast on, which means I can go days or weeks between finishing one project and starting the next. I don’t enjoy these long breaks, and become anxious and dissatisfied until I get a new project on the needles. To combat this, I’m going to be more mindful of queuing projects so that I have time to purchase patterns or choose yarn before I finish my current knit. That way, I’m not trying to decide on a new project while feeling agitated that I haven’t started something yet. I may even try out casting on before my current project is complete so I never have a time when there isn’t something on the needles.
  • Learn how to dye fiber with natural ingredients. Dyeing, particularly natural dyeing, is an art I’ve wanted to research since I visited Old Salem for my birthday in 2014. Justin gifted me The Modern Natural Dyer for Christmas, and I’m eager to start learning and experimenting.
  • Transform one area of our new house. It doesn’t matter to me what room, or part of a room, we change. It doesn’t matter if we accomplish the transformation with paint, furniture, art, textiles, or a little bit of everything. I just know that after living in our last apartment for two years, you could count on one hand the number of differences between the way it looked on the day we moved in and the day we moved out. I don’t want that to be true of our house. I don’t expect to “finish” the house in a year, but I want to be able to look back at the before photos and say, “Wow, can you believe how far we’ve come?”

On the whole 2015 was a good year for us, which makes me even more excited for the possibilities of 2016.

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If this is any indication, things are off to a great start. 🙂

Procrastinating

When presented with a deadline, I always start out with the best of intentions, and can even claim to have some pretty solid habits. I’ll come up with inventories of tasks and resources and identify interim milestones that I want to achieve. I’ll make lists, take notes, sketch or outline as needed. But in the middle of this process, when I’m far enough from the beginning that I no longer feel the thrill of starting a new project and yet too far from the end to be able to visualize how things will turn out, I tend to veer off the path and into the woods. You could call it a lack of discipline; you could call it a lack of focus. Maybe it’s denial about how invested I really am in the work.

But if you ask me, the answer is a lot simpler: I get bored. And when I’m bored, I get distracted. It doesn’t matter how much I like the project, or how dire the consequences are for missing the deadline—I have a complete inability to motivate myself to work on this project because I need the novelty of doing something, anything, that is not this project. I’d rather learn about grog, go virtual window-shopping for sheets, or find out if my city will allow me to raise chickens and bees.

Luckily, my survival instinct usually kicks in about 24 hours before a deadline (48 hours if it’s a work deadline, since those inevitably involve FedEx overnight shipping) and I put on a sudden burst mental speed and go briskly walking sprinting to the finish line. I never failed to turn in a college paper on time (although there is a strong correlation between “number of college papers assigned” and “number of nights I didn’t sleep”) and—knock on wood—all of my work proposals have reached their intended clients by the due date.

Unluckily, this power apparently doesn’t apply to self-imposed deadlines.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I have not finished my Outfit Along 2015 ensemble. The cardigan is done, but the dress is still in pieces. I stalled when I realized that there was no possible way I could get away without underlining it, and despite having heaps of cut-up white bed sheets, I didn’t have enough fabric to do the job. I have the fabric now, and the pattern pieces pinned thereto, but stalled again.

So, in an effort to not be completely unproductive while shooting furtive glances at the cotton sateen engulfing my dining room table, I decided to take this…

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…and turn it into this:

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Pretty, no? I accomplished this in about two hours, if you don’t count the time spent running back and forth to the computer consulting tutorials for fear that I’d somehow turn my yarn to mud or melt it or something—I don’t know.

This isn’t a tutorial, however, just a little photo journey through my own process. If you want a tutorial, there’s a fantastic Ravelry group called What a Kool Way to Dye that has compiled a list of tutorials tagged by heat source, color source, and dye application method. I used one from PieKnits for temperatures, timing, and vinegar amounts. I relied on an old Ravelry post for color amounts, but more on that in a minute.

For the record, there was nothing wrong with this yarn per se, but it was an impulse buy (on sale, pressure from the husband) and as soon as I brought it home I realized I had no idea what to do with yarn that looks like watermelon, sort of. It has long repeats at least, but none of the projects using it convinced me that there was a place for it in my wardrobe, so it sat unloved for about two years. I thought about overdyeing it before, but imagined that it would require special chemicals or something. Hint: it does not. All it took was normal kitchen tools, water, white vinegar, and two pots of Wilton Icing Colors concentrated gel food dye. Yep, food coloring. Yarn made from 100% animal fibers can be dyed with ordinary food coloring and an acid. (Coincidentally, those are the two key ingredients in Kool-Aid, which is a popular way to transform yarn on the cheap.)

I chose to overdye some of the yarn with yellow and some with blue, since basic color theory (and a memorable childhood moment involving a fuzzy poster—remember those?—and markers) indicated that using either red or green would just turn one-third of the yarn brown.

The first step was unwinding the ball, winding it into a hank, and then dividing the hank into quarters and tying it off to prevent it from tangling when immersed in liquid. I meant to split my 100-gram ball into two 50-gram hanks, but the yarn had other ideas, so I ended up with roughly a 67-gram hank and a 33-gram hank, minus a couple of yards due to snarls (of my own making, blegh.)

I soaked the yarn in water to make it more receptive to dye and more likely to absorb it evenly. I hadn’t intended to soak it overnight—I’m not that patient—but ended up doing it anyway. A long soak certainly doesn’t hurt.

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The next day, I gathered up my supplies, and silently thanked my mom for buying me a candy thermometer one year for Christmas. 2015-08-13_3_Dyeing-Supplies

Not pictured: said candy thermometer, and the quarter-teaspoon I used to measure of the dye. Not needed: the plastic knife, which I thought would be necessary to get the dye out of the canisters. I really need to work on staging actually accurate supply photos.

I was skeptical about the amount of dye called for in the PieKnits tutorial, so I went back to Ravelry and found a post from the very prolific user NekkidKnitter, who recommended using about 1/4 teaspoon per 50 grams of yarn. I figured that 30 grams is close to 50 grams (ha!), and more importantly I wanted a nice saturated color, so I used 1/4 teaspoon of Wilton’s Lemon Yellow for my smaller hank.

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I added about a cup of hot-from-the-tap water to it and stirred it up. For the record, the quantity of water doesn’t matter, just the ratio of dye to yarn. Our water isn’t especially hard or soft, so I wasn’t worried about using filtered or distilled.

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Because I didn’t break up the gel blob first, it didn’t completely dissolve in the water no mater how much I stirred. I was a little worried that it might leave abnormally saturated spots of color on the yarn, so I made sure to stir the blue dye before adding the water as well as after. For the blue, I used 3/8 teaspoon of dye. I figured 67 grams is approximately 50% more than 50 grams, and the recommendation is for 1/4 teaspoon for 50 grams, ergo use 50% more than 1/4 teaspoon, or 3/8 teaspoon. (That right there is some questionable math and/or logic. Hope my dad isn’t reading, he would not approve my slapdash mathery…)

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I added the water and dye mixture to the pot and then filled the pot with cool water from the tap.

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I gently lowered the yarn in the dye bath, being careful to avoid jostling it since it seemed prone to felting without any water involved.

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I immediately lifted a sliver back out to see if it was taking dye. It was, but only barely. That’s why heat and time are important. I clipped my candy thermometer to the pot, and then cooked according to the instructions.

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When time was up, the dye bath was nearly clear, and the yarn had taken on a yellowish cast.

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I was a little concerned when I took the yarn out that the yellow wasn’t pronounced enough, but I think it was just the poor quality of the light in the kitchen giving that impression.

I followed the same steps for the blue overdye, then hung both hanks in the guest bathroom with a towel underneath to catch any drips. Here they are wet…

2015-08-13_12_Wet-Dyed-Yarn…and dry:

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From there, all that remained was to clip the ties and wind them into cakes.

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The orange/yellow/green one makes me think of citrus.

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The green/blue/purple one makes me think of sour candies.

In case you need a refresher, they started out looking like this:

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Isn’t the difference huge? It’s enough to convince me that no yarn is completely unsalvagable so long as you like the fiber content, and it’s nearly enough to drive me to rescue orphaned clearance skeins from my nearest LYS and give them new life. Somebody hold me back; my it’s-not-a-stash is big enough already.

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Now all that remains is deciding what to make with them. Since there isn’t a ton of either color and it is only laceweight, I pretty much have to use them together in a single project. Should I color block it (knit all one yarn, then the other), or do some kind of alternating bands or stripes? Lace work, or plain fabric? Help me pick!

Wardrobe Architect Week 12: Adding Accessories

Rather than making a list of requirements for my functional and decorative accessories and deciding how many I need of each, I’m going to focus on the things I think are missing from my current accessory collection. The items below are more inspiration than specific shopping list, especially since accessories are, by definition, not essential and therefore not as high on my to-make-or-get list.

Hat & Sunglasses

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Ultrafino Monte Cristo Straw Fedora Panama Hat // Ray-Ban RB2132 New Wayfarer Sunglasses

I’m fair-skinned and fair-haired with light eyes, so these are a no-brainer. I really like how I look in hats, but I only own one: a lightweight athletic hat I picked up for a trip last summer, more practical than pretty. I think I’d like to get something with a slightly tailored fit (rather than a big floppy-brimmed number), like a straw fedora or a Panama hat.

On the other side of the equation, since I got contacts and can finally wear whatever sunglasses I want, I’ve been paralyzed trying to find a pair I like. Everything I’ve tried either overwhelms my face, or doesn’t feel at all like me. I don’t need trendy or statement-making shades, I just need something that doesn’t make me look and/or feel like an idiot! Suggestions welcome.

Shoes

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Dr. Scholls Friendly Striped Ballet Flat // Audrey Brooke Newport Metallic Flat
Me Too Buckle Reptile Ballet Flat // Franco Sarto Jinelle Flat Sandal
Franco Sarto Jinelle Flat Sandal // Crown Vintage Marley Flat Sandal
Kelly & Katie Brice Wedge Sandal // Kelly & Katie Madeline Wedge Sandal

I’ve been living in a pair of black ballet flats since the weather turned warm. Before they completely fall apart, I’d like to pick out a new pair or two in my new palette. The navy and white stripes are right up my alley, but gold and red are both versatile choices that I’ve been meaning to add to my collection for a while. I wish I could rock a pair of boat shoes, because I think they’re quintessentially summer attire and I hear they’re pretty comfy, but every pair I’ve tried on just didn’t look right. *sigh*

I’d really, really like to get a pair of flat sandals this summer. I have a pair of white slip-ons, but they’re not great for a lot of walking because they’re slip-ons—I need some kind of security otherwise I’m liable to fall off my shoes. I love that sandals come in a rainbow of happy colors these days. What I don’t love is that so many styles are just so dang uncomfortable! I’ve avoided thong styles and their accompanying chafing, but it’s a crapshoot whether the insoles on most sandals offer any cushioning. Here’s hoping this summer’s search is more fruitful than last year’s.

Finally, I’d like to throw in a pair of low wedges for variety. Anything to occasionally lengthen the ol’ leg line is much appreciated by this petite.

Bags

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Striped Weekender Handbag – Gray // Vertical Buckles Backpack Handbag // Tote Handbag with Strap

Strictly speaking, I don’t need any more bags, but I do love them so, and it’s nice to have a bag suited to every purpose and occasion. For example, Justin and I make a weekend trip to visit family every couple of months, and we usually share a rolling suitcase for our stuff. Sometimes it isn’t big enough, but the next size up in the set is way larger than we need for such a short trip. I used to have utilitarian duffel bag, but it was retired when the strap on it broke; it would be nice to replace it with something pretty. A small, backpack-style bag would be nice for outings to the flea market or along one of Raleigh’s many greenways, because I could bring my usual kit while leaving my hands free and avoiding the switch-shoulders-every-15-minutes game. Bonus: both the weekender and the backpack coordinate with a wallet, purse, and tote I already own—matching for the win! The green purse is just for color, since all of my other purses are neutral.

Jewelry

Anything colorful and a little statement-making. Natural materials and textures, like leather, are fun too. I definitely favor graphic over intricate or ornate. Beyond that, I don’t know. There are so many pieces of beautiful handmade jewelry online that I have no idea how to narrow it down, let alone choose.

That about sums it up. Ours is not a climate for scarves, even lightweight ones (too humid), so these are the things I reach for when I head out the door in the morning.

Do you use colorful accessories to mix things up and keep outfits fresh, or do you tend to stick to neutral accessories and wear more interesting outfits? Maybe you go for head-to-toe neutrals for a timeless look that goes with anything, anywhere?

Housekeeping

While I spent most of the weekend valiantly fending off the cold that had Justin laid low for a week, I did take time out to enjoy the spring weather teaser and visually document a couple of projects that I completed last year but never photographed. Since those projects are 6+ months behind me and aren’t particularly noteworthy, I don’t see a reason to rehash them here, but if you’re interested in taking a look just follow the Ravelry link (the lowercase “r”) in the sidebar.

It’s surprisingly fulfilling to have them done. Every time I opened my projects page I thought about how I ought to just snap a few pictures, but I’m not satisfied with grainy phone photos (I prefer grainy point-and-shoot photos, ha!) and I like to use knitwear photography as an excuse to get out and see new places around town. Even though these photos were taken just a quarter mile or so from our apartment along the Greenway Trail, we went in a different direction than we usually do and got a chance to take in some new scenery. Now that they organized and uploaded, I feel like a lingering to-do has finally been crossed off my list. And there are few things I enjoy more than crossing things off lists.

What about you? Do you feel like a project isn’t really finished until it’s documented—whether that’s through photos, a blog post/status update/tweet, or a triumphant text message to your best friend—or are you happy to just enjoy the finished project and roll right into the next one?

Surfacing

The last ten days have been such a rush of events that I actually had to look at the calender and count back to be sure that it hadn’t been longer. In that span, we bought a car; we tried and failed to figure out why our washer has started to sometimes overflow during a cycle; Justin started a new job; we both stayed home from work due to weather; we entertained a house guest for two days; and Justin came down with a nasty cold that he’s still in the thick of.

All of this is to say that very little in the way of creative endeavors has been happening around here lately. Quite frankly, it makes me itch—I’m much more even-keeled when I’m making steady progress on something. That’s why I had to blog, even though I don’t have anything to share today: this is a thing I enjoy and not doing it, even when there are no deadlines and I know everyone would understand, makes me feel antsy and disconnected.

I expect everything to normalize by the end of the week, and I hope to have at least one new project to share. In the meantime, might I direct you to a favorite blog of mine, Things I Make. Plus Rocks., which today is showcasing adorable pictures of furry woodland creatures from the Yukon? The mountain goats are my favorite—what’s yours?

Restarts

If January started with a bang, then February definitely began with a sputter and cough for me. I wanted to carry the momentum of the January Cure into the new month, but my bank account had other things in mind. I had hoped to have finished knitting and sewing projects at the beginning of this week, but that just didn’t happen. No projects meant nothing to write, and that felt like I was failing to meet the two-to-three-posts-per-week target I’ve set for myself. Even though I knew it wasn’t the result of laziness, it felt like I’d let myself down. Combined with a bit of bother at work and time spent dealing with (minor) repairs to our only car, it definitely felt like this week was keeping me down.

Fortunately, I managed to bounce back yesterday, just in time to head into the weekend. Not only did I finally finish my first knitting project of the year—and my first selfless knitting project ever—and get it in the mail to the lucky recipient, but I also got two-thirds of the way through a new knitted cowl during a bout of insomnia AND restarted a sweater that I’d nearly finished for myself back in November that, sadly, had to be frogged due to fit/gauge issues.

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It’s not much, but it feels so promising to have those 2 inches of ribbing on the needles. I probably won’t fly through the knitting the way I did the first time since it’s working up on considerably smaller needles this go-’round, but I expect to have it done before cold weather leaves. And I will definitely photograph it in better lighting than I get in my east-facing apartment. At night. In the winter.

With any luck, my packet of knitted goodness will be in the new owner’s hands tomorrow, and then I can post the pictures I snagged before I sent it off. If my luck holds, maybe I can even coax a few modeled photos to share too.