A Little Handmade Christmas, Part 2

Content with the handmade cheer I’d poured into our home, I set about lavishing it on a few of my loved ones. My sister-in-law and dear friend Heather is a collector of mismatched socks, and it only felt right that she should have a truly special handmade pair in her sock drawer. I’d entertained the idea of making her socks last year, but chickened out at the last minute—I had no doubt she was knitworthy, but I thought there were other things she needed and would enjoy more.

With Justin’s encouragement, I threw my doubts aside and cast on Glenna C’s A Nice Ribbed Sock. The yarn is Hedgehog Fibres Sporty Merino in color Bubble, from my beloved LYS Warm ‘n Fuzzy. I made my usual adjustment of going up a needle size, but otherwise knit the pattern as written. Details (like the length of the leg and foot to fit a women’s size 9.5 shoe) can be found on my Ravelry project page.

I was lucky enough not to suffer second sock syndrome, although I was a little rushed to finish them before we got on the road to see everyone for Christmas. I managed to make my right wrist and forearm rather sore for about a day, which is all the warning I need to take it easy on future projects!

Heather loves them and has hinted that she wouldn’t mind another pair, if I felt so inclined. I’m a bit jealous, though, as I don’t have any handknit socks of my own, so she may have to get in line!

My second gift, and the biggest undertaking of my four Christmas projects, was a casserole carrier for my sister, Loren. She loves to cook, and on many occasions she’s taken meals to friends: to celebrate special occasions, to take care of them when they weren’t able to cook for themselves, or simply to enjoy their company. Transporting a steaming pan of lasagna or enchiladas across town isn’t exactly a cakewalk, though, and last year she casually mentioned that she was looking for a carrier to make it easier to bring hot dishes to potlucks and the like.

As with Heather’s socks, I thought a lot about making her this gift, but again, I lost my nerve. I doubted my sewing was up to the task, feared she wouldn’t like pattern or fabric I picked. I settled for other things I knew she wanted, things that felt easy and safe.

You have to understand, though, that my sister is really, really good at giving gifts. She’s attuned to everyone’s changing hobbies and evolving interests. She’ll be out shopping and see something that reminds her of you, and she’ll bring it home. Maybe she sets it aside for a birthday or holiday; maybe she gives it to you right now, just because. She also has a knack for searching out something you want and, when she can’t find the exact thing, picking something else that you end up liking even better.

I felt I’d let her down when didn’t make her the casserole carrier, but she graciously didn’t say anything more about it, and I squashed the feeling until it didn’t bother me anymore.

It bubbled up again—boiled over, really—when, a full year later, she mentioned a casserole carrier again among the things on her wish list. She was quick to qualify her wish by saying it didn’t need to be handmade, purchased would be fine too if handmade was too difficult—but handmade would be very nice.

Well. That settled that. I wasn’t about to buy this thing when I could, after all, make it. I had my brief; I set to work.

Photo by Loren

The pattern is Simplicity 1236, which offers carriers for a 9″ x 13″ rectangular baking dish and a 2.5-quart oval dish, round bowl covers in three sizes, and soft-sided dishes similar to a key tray or bedside catch-all.

Photo by Loren

The rectangular casserole carrier has a quilted lining, double-zipper closure, decorative piping, and loops to hold a wooden spoon or dowel to create a handle.

Photo by Loren

The pattern calls for “quilted ironing board cover fabric” for the lining. The only ironing board fabric I could find (at JoAnn) was un-quilted. Instead of searching online, placing an order with another vendor, and waiting for it to arrive, I did the only logical thing I could think of at the time: buy twice as much fabric and a package of cotton batting and quilt all of the lining myself.

Indeed, it was probably the most logical thought I had at all, considering I was in my second JoAnn store of the day and having a hunger-fueled meltdown trying to select the fabric for the outer shell. (It was very important to me to get it right, and I could not be persuaded that any number of fabrics would be “right.” Suffice to say that I have a very patient husband.)

Photo by Loren

I relied on my walking foot with quilt guide to get the lines spaced evenly at 1 inch apart on the bias. Initially it was quite easy and mindless to sew, though by the end I definitely got bored and was ready to move on.

Since I knew I’d committed a fair amount of time to making the lining, I went ahead and purchased coordinating piping rather than making my own, and I have no regrets about that. I was able to get a pretty good match between the piping, zippers, and light grey flowers.

I followed the assembly instructions to the letter, and I’m happy with how neatly things came together overall, especially considering I don’t have a lot of experience doing three-dimensional corners. As you can see above, the entire inside is clean finished; there’s only a small amount of hand-sewing needed at the “hinge” to accomplish it.

There are only two things I would do differently. The first thing would be to interface the handles, which felt a bit flimsy. (I entertained the idea of making a second iteration out of a sturdier material like canvas, but I’m afraid that it would get too bulky to manipulate at the end, especially easing the corners).

The second thing would be to find a way to invisibly (or at at least subtly) tack the lining to the shell. As designed, the two are connected at the edges but not the centers, which provides that lovely clean finish but means that the two have a tendency to separate. I don’t think it’s even noticeable when there’s a dish in the carrier, but again, it makes the whole thing seem a bit flimsier than it probably is.

Loren seemed genuinely delighted when she opened this up on Christmas morning, and excited to put it to use. I hope that it holds up well and stands her in good stead through many family-style dinners and special gatherings.

FO: Slant of Light

If it weren’t for the metadata attached to these photos, as well as a recently developed habit of scribbling dates on the paper copies of my patterns, I never would have been able to recall when I started or finished this project. Clearly at least a season ago, judging by the outfit. As it turns out, I knit up this shawl between the end of July and the beginning of August—nearly half a year ago.

The project didn’t begin with the knitting, though. No, it all started with the yarn, which began its life as the leftovers from my So In Love cardigan (Ravelry link), which apparently pre-dates this blog by a year. I had an entire skein still in my stash, the perfect amount for a shawl. But I didn’t really want another item in the exact same shade of pink, and I wasn’t sure that the slightly cooler tone would be particularly flattering near my face either. It was the perfect candidate for a little over-dyeing experiment. My goal was a warm, orangey-pink coral, which I hoped to achieve using Rit liquid dye and the stovetop method.

For my first attempt, I referenced the Favorite Rit Dye Colors handout and followed the recipe for Coral, which calls for 1/2 cup Petal Pink and 2 tbsp of Tangerine. (Interestingly, there’s another color with the same liquid dye decipe, called Sea Coral (Pink). They have different powder dye recipes, which, combined with my own results, leads me to believe that the Sea Coral one is a misprint.) The result was a saturated hue that was almost neon in its intensity, and more orange than I expected to boot.

Despite its undeniable cheerfulness and perfectly even color, I didn’t love it. Since I considered the leftover yarn a bonus, I decided to gamble and try dyeing it again. But since I ultimately wanted a lighter color, I needed to strip the dye first. (Actually, I needed to untangle the yarn first, then remove the color. Long story short, I didn’t tie off the hank in enough places before dyeing, and my enthusiastic stirring yielded a rat’s nest that took the better part of a Saturday to unravel. Do yourself a favor and tie off the hank twice—three times!—as many times as you think you need before dropping it in the pot.)

I picked up a package of Rit Color Remover, which worked shockingly well—and fast. As soon as the yarn touched the water, it bleached to a natural cream color. I followed the directions for soaking, again using the stovetop method, and then rinsing. I honestly don’t recall if I also washed the yarn afterward as instructed, but if I did I would have used Eucalan as my detergent.

Sidebar: I suspect the wool content in Cascade Heritage Silk is made into a superwash yarn using a method that glues the scales down, rather than removing them, because after bleaching the yarn seemed a lot grippier, like a non-superwash wool would be. I think the bleach dissolved the glue. I’d be interested to know if anyone can confirm or reject this hypothesis.

For my second attempt, I used the same amount of Petal Pink dye, but reduced the Tangerine to either 1 tablespoon or 2 teaspoons. (I know, I know, I should have written it down. I had planned to blog about it right away, and I did remember it for several weeks while mentally composing the post.)

As you can probably tell from the pictures, the dye didn’t take evenly on the second pass. Instead, it produced this lovely semi-solid color, which I quite like: it looks hand-dyed now.

Compared to producing a satisfying color, choosing a pattern was a breeze. Not only had Marisa Hernandez’s Crooked Cathedral been in my favorites for ages, but my yarn turned out nearly the same color as one of her samples! Details on the knitting itself are on my Ravelry project page.

It’s been bitterly cold the last few days, far too cold for such a lightweight neck covering, but seeing seeing it shine in my closet, like the light slanting through a stained glass window in late afternoon, warms my spirit.

FO: Toasted Marshmallow

When I was a kid, campfires were a summertime affair. We had them on camping trips, of course, whether taken with family or with the Girl Scouts every other summer or so. But sometimes we were treated to them in our own neighborhood, if a neighbor was willing to sacrifice a corner of their backyard to an impromptu fire pit, hastily dug, maybe ringed with leftover landscape pavers.

On our little suburban street, houses on one side of the street backed up against a strip of woods; houses on the other didn’t. Ours was one of the houses that didn’t, so we had to plead to our friends’ parents to give us a campfire. If the mood and the weather were right, we’d get our wish.

Sometimes, if one of the adults had thought ahead, or the kids begged enough, there would be s’mores, but we were more likely to have only marshmallows, and just as likely as that to have popsicles (there was always a box in someone’s freezer, and you never had to worry they’d gone stale, like graham crackers always do).

Like any kid, I sampled marshmallows every way, from barely warmed in the shimmering air above the flames to fire-caught, charred, and molten on the inside; I’m partial to a tawny exterior and gooey-soft interior, the kind of marshmallow that takes patience to create.

As an adult, camping has lost much of its allure—I enjoy my creature comforts, my soft bed and hot showers—and I don’t often crave marshmallows, but I still enjoy a fire. Perhaps even more now than before.

Then, campfires were a thing for muggy twilit hours, a treat that could be granted or withheld, presided over by adults who didn’t want you to get too close and wouldn’t let you prod a burning log with your toasting stick, to see if you could coax a bigger, brighter flame.

Now? Now I’m the adult, with a house, with a fireplace and a yard of my own. I can have a fire when I choose. Instead of the end of a stretched summer day, I choose cool autumn evenings and chilly winter nights, a time when thoughts are sharpened like the cold edges of the air.

I build the fires, I tend them, and I’ve discovered to my surprise that my secret wish came true—I’m good at it.

I sit as close as I want, feeling the skin on my cheeks tighten and shine with the heat, letting woodsmoke cling to my clothes, tangle in my hair. Knowing that, even days later, a shock of warm water will set the smoke billowing free again.

I didn’t knit this scarf by a fire, though I thought often—and wistfully—of campfires while I knit it. How could I not? It’s the color of a perfectly toasted marshmallow.

It would make for good fireside knitting too, albeit of the indoor variety, as the placement of the eyelets is too unpredictable to trust to memory and demands a decent light to check the charts.

The pattern, Alicia Plummer’s Campside, calls for DK yarn; I used Meadowcroft Dyeworks Cross Creek Sock, a fingering-weight yarn. The yarn was a souvenir skein from Gate City Yarns in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you’re ever that way, do stop in—the staff are some of the nicest I’ve ever met.

Because of yardage differences, I only knit 19 of the 24 rows of the last chart and ended with 5 rows of garter stitch instead of the deep ribbed border. I hope to knit this pattern again, but as designed, for an even warmer, weightier scarf for truly cold weather.

As summer finally surrenders to autumn and the temperatures fall, I’m ready for the season of crackling red-orange fires and toasty woolen accessories.

Me-Made-May ’17: Wrap-Up

Now that I’ve logged my two sewing projects from May and cleared some space mentally, I’m ready to review my Me-Made-May experience. I know we’re more than halfway through June and the sewing blogosphere has moved on already, but you’ll humor me, right? You’re the best. 🙂

Except for one missed day during Week 3, I kept to my goal of wearing at least four me-made garments each week. (Then again, the last week of May didn’t have four days in it, but I managed two me-mades anyway, so I’m calling it a wash.) There were definitely repeated garments, but no completely repeated outfits, which is a feat I didn’t think I’d be able to pull off, especially since I tend to go through phases of wanting to reach for whatever feels easiest or most comfortable at the time, over and over again.

Though I didn’t end up posting weekly here as I’d thought I would, and though I still can’t get on board with Instagram—I’m a words person through and through—I did take photos every day that I wore a me-made garment so that I’d be able to spot trends, reflect on silhouettes, and identify wardrobe gaps.

Week 1: Active in Aqua Workout Top & Pants // Mashion Cardigan & Black Leggings (unblogged) // Black Leggings (unblogged) // Easy Tartan Scarf

Week 2: So In Love Cardigan (on Ravelry) // Sage Pleated Skirt & Holden Shawlette (on Ravelry) // Sunbird Shawl (on Ravelry) // Floral Sorbetto

Week 3: Haruni and the Tree of Stories Shawl (on Ravelry) // Vanilla Skirt // Pumped Up in Pink Workout Top & Pants

Week 4: Rings of Ouranos (on Ravelry) // Easy Tartan Scarf // White T-Shirt // Black Leggings (unblogged)

Week 5: Floral Sorbetto // White T-Shirt

Seeing everything laid out like this, I’ve realized several things:

  • I wear a lot of black. (I wore even more than you see here, on days when I didn’t wear any me-mades.) I don’t actually want to wear as much black as I do, because I find it looks quite harsh against my skin, especially near my face. But since I bought most of my office attire during a few major shopping trips during and immediately after college, and I’ve neither grown out of nor worn through most of it, those initial purchases continue to linger in my closet. I’d really like to phase them out in favor of more navy blue, warm browns, and even some grey, but options in those colors tend to be more miss than hit most seasons at the few stores I shop. I need to either a) expand my shopping horizons and try other petite -friendly retailers besides Express, b) find a tailor I can trust to alter pants from regular misses sizes , or c) learn to sew my own perfectly fitting pants. At this point, I’m not actually sure which of these is the path of least resistance.
  • I’m grateful that the May weather was so variable, because a sizable chunk of my handmade wardrobe comes in the form of handknit accessories. I’m complete okay with this, but could stand to add a few more sweaters, particularly cardigans of various weights, to the mix. There’s absolutely zero chance you’ll find me in handknits in the summer, though—it’s unbearably hot and humid here, and wool, no matter how magical its properties, will never feel good on a 100-degree, 100-percent-humidity-but-somehow-no-rain day.
  • I’ve been gravitating toward skinny bottoms balanced with looser tops. I need to make more of both.
  • I only wore one dress (with leggings) and one skirt (with tights). I’d say dresses and skirts were underrepresented this month, but only barely. I can probably chalk this up to the fact that most of my dresses, me-made and ready-to-wear, are too casual even for my laid back office. My office is also freezing, so I’d just end up covered in a fleece blanket at my desk anyway. But I love the idea of pulling on secret pajamas a comfortable dress and rolling out in the morning, so maybe I need to suck it up and make a dress or two.
  • My outfits are dying for more texture. My wardrobe is overwhelmingly simple, solid-colored separates, which means that outfits tend to fall flat visually. They’re crying out for a statement necklace or shoes, a cute handbag, a textured fabric like bouclé or suede, or a textural design element like pleats, pintucks, ruffles, or visible ribbing. Anything to break up all the solid blocks of color and smooth fabric surfaces.

These observations open up a lot of different creative directions, and it’s so tempting to try to run down every path at once. But I’m going to try to rein myself in and remember that neither a handmade wardrobe nor a strong sense of personal style happens over night (especially since recent household budgetary constraints have me limited to my existing stash, which may not jive with my current seasonal/situational needs).

Despite feeling like my current wardrobe is a long way off from my ideal, participating in Me-Made-May has convinced me that it’s not impossible for me, personally, to one day have a wardrobe where I could wear at least one thing I made every day, if I wanted to. I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve—or even aim for—an entirely handmade wardrobe, but it’s gratifying to see that what I’ve made with my own two hands takes more than two hands to count!

Just for fun, because I’ve secretly wanted to do this every year that I’ve followed along with Me-Made-May, here’s a gif of my outfits each day:

FO: Oxidation

With the leftovers from Justin’s cabled hat and my own, I had exactly enough yarn to create a third hat. I’d hoped for as much when I bought the yarns—just ask Rebecca at Warm ‘n Fuzzy—but it was a huge relief when my little yarn scale confirmed it.

Rather than knit more stripes, because I’ve had enough of stripes for a while, I decided that there was no better time than now to try my hand at stranded knitting. Since I knew my yarn was limited, I didn’t bother trying to find a pattern, and instead improvised based on my most recent hat and some guidance from Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns.

I’ll admit I felt a bit of trepidation, which is silly, because I didn’t feel a single flutter of anxiety when I first tried cables. Maybe it’s because my very first knitting project was cabled, and I didn’t know enough to have the slightest idea what to worry about. Now that I’ve knit a while, I know what to fret about: Tension. Color dominance. Insufficient contrast.

There was nothing I could do about the combination of colors, since I was already committed to using up the yarn, and tension would only be solved with  practice and patience, so the only thing left was color dominance, which I was aware of and could easily look up online. Ysolda has a great introduction to the theory of color dominance on her blog, but the one thing she neglects to mention is the more practical question of how to carry the yarns so that the dominant and subordinate colors aren’t switched accidentally. Enter Dianna of Paper Tiger, who helpfully explains which yarn is dominant when knitting with one color held in each hand, both colors held in one hand, and with one color at a time. Thanks Dianna!

I knit continental, and I was tempted to hold both yarns in my left hand to keep things familiar. But I’ve heard that, once you get used to it, holding one yarn in each hand is quite speedy and prevents the yarn from getting twisted or tangled, so it seemed like it would be worth the effort to learn to do it that way.

It was pretty awkward. As expected, I struggled to keep the tension even. My tight-knitting tendencies are so strong that the blue stitches, which should be dominant/larger, are in several places dwarfed by the background copper stitches. Every time I started to get into the rhythm of alternating hands, I’d notice that things were moving a little more smoothly and promptly lose focus and knit the wrong color or drop the yarn.

But wouldn’t you know, it flew off the needles anyway. Anyone who’s ever said that there’s an addictive quality to knitting colorwork was definitely on to something. Before I knew it, I’d run out of blue yarn and it was time to decrease the crown and cinch it up.

If you’re curious about the knitting specifics, you can check out the notes on my project in Ravelry. The only thing of note is the crown, which has eight sections instead of the typical six. This was purely down to the number of stitches I’d cast on at the beginning. It does work, but I think there’s a good reason that six sections is the norm: this crown doesn’t lie down as smoothly, and it has a tendency to make the whole hat ride up a smidge, which you can see in the close-up above and the two pictures below.

The scarf I’m wearing is also me-made. It’s a lovely, drapey 100% rayon in a pattern and colors that I love that I snagged from Jo-Ann several months ago. Sadly, I should have purchased a longer piece than I did, because the woman at the counter did a poor job cutting it, so I lost a fair amount straightening up the edges. Once the corners were squared, though, it was a simple matter of rolled hemming the long edges, zig-zag stitching the short edges, and then removing weft threads to create a fringe on the ends.

There are several suggestions online for sewing a rolled hem. Grainline Studio recommends sewing a line of stitching to use as a guide for pressing, stitching, and trimming before pressing and stitching a second time. Craftsy suggests using a teeny tiny strip of interfacing to encourage the first several inches of the fabric to roll properly. I chose to take Megan Nielsen’s advice, which is to sew a few stitches without feeding it through the rolled hem foot, pull the fabric free without cutting the threads, and then use the thread to guide the fabric into the foot and sew.

I can confidently say that, after sewing the edges of this scarf, I am about two iotas better at using the rolled hem foot. Megan’s advice certainly helped to get things started, but keeping the hem even as you go along seems to come down to firm and steady tension applied to the fabric and a keen eye to keep it from veering too far into or out of the foot. So, practice.

Luckily, I got a to try my hand at it again on my next make, coming up next week. Today, I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from this shoot:

FO: Andraste

When I started knitting this, hot on the heels of Justin’s hat, I was certain the yarn was destined to become a Dragonflies Hat by Joji Locatelli. So certain, in fact, that when I made it to the crown decreases and realized the whole thing was turning out much too short, I immediately ripped everything out and started again on a larger needle. When I made it to the crown decreases a second time and it was still—inexplicably, disappointingly—too short, I spent a solid evening mulling over ways that I could fix it. A smarter knitter than I might be able to devise a way to repeat the pattern a third time, but I couldn’t tease out a solution, and I also couldn’t convince myself that adding another inch or two of ribbing wouldn’t disrupt the balance of the design.

After setting the pattern aside (with a promise to myself that one day I’ll knit the sweater version instead), I cast about my Ravelry favorites and decided on Droste Effect by Amy van de Laar, a free pattern from Knitty’s Deep Fall 2015 issue. Besides going up a needle size for both the ribbing and the body, I knit it exactly as written. I had a minor hiccup with the Decrease 5 to 1 instructions, but found helpful notes on another user’s project that had me speeding through in no time. While I love to lose an hour scrolling through all the loveliness in the pattern database, I think I’m most gratified when I can find—and give!—that little hint or nugget of knitting wisdom that turns an imminent failure into a success. In fact, my proudest knitting achievement to date is creating a project with notes that have helped 10 people.

What’s your proudest knitting (or crocheting, or sewing, or crafting) achievement?

Me-Made-May ’17: My Pledge

What’s this?

I, Caitlyn of Practice Makes Pretty, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’17. I endeavor to wear a self-made garment at least four days of each week for the duration of May 2017.

That’s right. No more sitting on the sidelines while this great maker community supports, encourages, and celebrates one another. No more watching the parade of lovely handmade garments and accessories and lamenting my own lack of me-mades. No more hollow self-consolation, telling myself “I’ll be ready next year.”

I want in, and I don’t want to wait any more. Time to stop holding myself back.

Am I ready? I don’t think so, not yet. But I will be. I know that Zoe is firmly opposed to panic-sewing, but as she points out in her MMM’17 announcement, “if you want to use taking part in the challenge as the kick in the butt you need to finally hem that half-finished skirt, or rework an ill-fitting garment, then great.” I’d like to think this includes projects that you have the materials for and want to make, but haven’t started yet.

So, during the month of April, I’m (unofficially) committing to carving out time every day to work through as many of my queued patterns and stashed fabrics as I can. I’ve had garments lingering on my to-make list for months, just waiting for me to sit down and sew. But I’m extremely susceptible to indulging the thrill of planning and the borrowed satisfaction of imagining a finished project, then not following through. So I’m done planning. There is no plan, just sewing. (And knitting.) With a focus on finding joy in the process, and on placing more value in the fact that I finished something than the fact that the thing is good.

Consider the fire lit.