Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Yellow-Haired Doll

I have been a busy bee, although that does not mean I have finished my beehive sweater (the influx of tepid as opposed to freezing weather nipped the sweater embellishment bug in the butt). Instead, I'm working on the dolls. (And trying very hard not to think about Argyle socks, especially of the knee-high variety. Let's not even say the name of the project.)

I just finished this 18 inch doll this week. I very creatively call her The Yellow-Haired Doll.

I keep the expression kind of neutral. My daughter, V., has a doll bed and it's frankly creepy when dolls stare up at you with bright-eyed, bushy-tailed expressions. No wonder they figure into horror movies. I find the slitted-eye look could be interpreted as closed eyes. And that's supposed to be the point of this kind of handmade doll, anyway: the child emotes whatever feelings they desire on the doll's expression. It's about open creativity, not spoon-fed feelings.

Does she look a little self-satisfied?

The Yellow-Haired Doll is hidden button jointed. That means the buttons that allow her arms and legs to move freely are inside the limbs, rather than outside. This took a bit of fussing; I find I prefer my button-joints with pillows, so that the button stays in the center of the limb, not against the covering fabric.
She was originally going to have a purple dress but it ended up all FUBAR (that darn learning curve!) so in the end, she got this outfit, which I am actually darn pleased with. I reflected the red flowers on her dress and bloomers in her shoes by making them red. The shoes took me TWO DAYS. They were also a part of the vicious learning curve, but I am older and wiser now and used some cheap felt for the first four drafts before making these final versions out of real wool felt. They are soft, and I adore them.
Of course, despite how it whiled away the hours, I didn't do this for my own amusement. This doll is for sale. It can be found at my etsy shop, The Concept Cat.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Remind me to never again make pseudo-Argyle stockings.I don't know if my housemate just is big-boned or what, but I had him try on the stockings again and her couldn't get it all the way past his heel. I should have frogged it back to almost the start of the calf shaping. I'm not even sure what to say about this, except, doesn't V. look peaceful and carefree?
She has no knitting conundrums, or bills, or laundry to do. OK, she does have laundry to do, lots of it, because she is four years old, but being four years old also seems to exempt her from having to do it herself. By proxy it becomes my laundry. If any of you have a solution to this, aside from nudism, (did I mention it's still cold?) I'd be glad to hear it. In the meantime, much like with sweeping and doing dishes, I am having her apprentice to me daily in the hope that one day she will be able to practice independently.

Friday, February 07, 2014


I've addressed my moth problem somewhat before, and how it caused me to do some drastic repairs to a handknit sweater. Those pernicious moths also attacked my collection of well-worn lightweight store-bought sweaters. I have quite a few of these. They are close to literally being a dime a dozen, since they are partially shrunken, mass-market brand sweaters in neutral, inconspicuous colors, and I easily mistake one of them for the other. So I don't blame anyone who thinks I don't change my sweater from day to day. But now they will not be indistinguishable: they will have names even. Today, I introduce the Butterfly Sweater.

It began sadly enough. Witness below.
I gave up on the hoop after a while.
Moths took a few bites out of this heathery brown sweater at just about my left shoulder blade. I happen to have wool felt so I got the grand idea of appliqueing something over the holes after I mended them. (Not Godzilla. He needs to be on the front of a sweater.) I decided on butterflies. I have really no idea why. I tried to improvise the first couple butterflies that went over the holes, and then I submitted to the potato chip principle: you can never have just one. Or two. Aw, shucks, let's have a swarm!
I looked up images of butterflies on my smartphone for better verisimilitude, did some quick sketches, then made templates to guide me in cutting the felt. Took me about ten minutes, if that. I think I spent most of the time trying to find a working pen. (Four year olds are not known for their felt pen conservation skills.)
Took me a while to find the pencil sharpener, too.
I grabbed some gaudy fingering weight wool yarn and set to it. I didn't bother with a pretense of making it look professional. I like the homey look.

Left shoulder blade
The light blue and lilac butterflies in the above photo are on the moth hole damaged area of the sweater. All the others are just for company. My skill at making butterflies really improved by the time I had a dozen done; the copper and yellow one on the top of the photo was one of the last stitched, as was the yellow butterfly.

Back of sweater
I was intending to put all the butterflies only on the left side of the sweater, but the lilac one on the right got away.

Front of sweater
Some of the butterflies are dramatically different than others. I like the whimsical effect they lend an otherwise eminently practical and blah sweater.
Front shoulder
When I made the templates I traced them from these quickie ink drawings I made. If this project looks like a fun idea to you, and you need some butterflies for your moth holes, too, feel free to print the ink drawing below and cut it up and resize it and whatnot for your own templates. Go crazy!
Click on photo to enlarge.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Vintage Thursday: Argh-yle Stockings

I have been struggling all week with the Men's Argyle Stockings. I'm learning the hard way that it is very, very important to not have too much tension on the yarn you are carrying on the back of a colorwork piece. I already sort of knew this, but I didn't know it in such shocking technicolor as I do now.
The puckering is my tension problem. Which causes a tension problem. In my temples.
This pattern conspired against me. The colorwork goes all the way around the stocking, and when I got to this point I had my housemate try it on because of some kind of subconscious fear I was having. And as it turns out, my fear was justified. It didn't fit. It didn't fit spectacularly. He could only get his foot half way down the stocking, if even that far. The colorwork area just didn't stretch much, and the pattern has one reduce to about 76 sts just before the ankle. That's not exactly giving one a lot of room on US #1 needles to begin with. My entire stocking (well, OK, 2/3 of it) was FUBAR. And that wasn't even addressing my issues with the foot.
He fit it until about here.
I did have the foresight to work the heel with the additional thread that Jawoll sock yarn has in its skeins just for that purpose. I was feeling pretty good about myself at that point, but then I looked at the directions for the colorwork on the foot.

I was expected to simply carry the red on the back of the black all the way across the sole.
All my loose ends.
And I did. I tried. It lasted about two inches, and then I noticed my tension problem. So I cut the red yarn and knotted it at the end of every row. Not a pretty solution but it seemed workable at the time. Another inch or two in and I had the housemate try the thing on. And as I have already mentioned, I had problems. I had to backtrack a considerable distance.

Of course, all that cutting and knotting on the foot means that unraveling becomes complicated. I took a breath and just chopped the foot off.  

This was Tuesday. Or Wednesday. It all just kind of blurred together in my head, as these kind of things do. I may have a kind of knitting trauma, since I have practically knit this stocking twice already. Plus, it is just so darned cold. I don't fare well in these East Coast winters and reknitting a hundred or so rows on US #1 dpns didn't exactly warm my hands any. Somehow, I carried on.

I started unraveling the foot and using the yarn from it to knit the rest of the stocking leg again. I kept changing my mind about what kind of join to use, but at this point, does it really matter? It will probably block just fine. Or else.
I began at around where you see the safety pin, which coincidentally marks Row 100 of the colorwork. I am not decreasing from this point on, and I'm being much more careful about my tension. Right now, I'm at about Row 145 of the colorwork, and have about 20 more rows to go before beginning the heel flap all over again. Contemplating that ridiculous carrying business (Part of why Argyles are worked flat, dagnabbit!) has me cunningly considering other approaches, such as a sole worked separately, or modifying the pattern to work it flat. I'm on the fence about it. All I'm really certain of is that I am certainly not doing it the way they say to do it in the pattern.

Friday, January 31, 2014


Off and on this week I have been plugging away at the Men's Argyle Stockings, and I have only needed to rip it out an inch or two every now and then. Not so much as to be going backwards; the progress is forward, overall. Especially now that I've gotten past the tricky bits of the calf shaping. (The instructions basically told me to wing it the first couple rows! The gall of some of these old patterns!) I'm now in a rather happy place with these stockings, somewhere around Row 80 of the color work portion.
Safety pin marking Row 70.
Since I have vintage things on the brain lately, I've been digging about in my collection a bit. A while back I happened to come into possession of Susan Bates Presents 101 Ways to Improve Your Knitting (1968). I've had this little book before, back when I was learning to knit. I can't recommend it highly enough for beginners, because while it wasn't actually the book that taught me to knit, it certainly reinforced me in times ahead. Generally I recommend Knitting Without Tears to beginners, but it doesn't have ton of hand-holding pictures to help the novice along in moments of insecurity, and you really have to read through it to find what you are looking for. 101 Ways augments it perfectly, because it has a lot of pictures and (most importantly) has a very clear table of contents. It won't give you clever ideas or a knitting philosophy, or address advanced topics, but it will get you out of a jamb and clear your head.

I'm thinking about 101 Ways at the moment because in the back it has a pattern for Plain Socks and a pattern for Argyle Socks. The stockings I'm knitting are Argyle-ish, and not true Argyles. This pattern in 101 Ways is true Argyle. There is even a chart for making the diamonds.

Now, I have never actually made a pair of Argyle socks. I've wanted to for years, but just never got around to it. I'd probably be happiest making a pair from a pattern around the 1940's, when it seems hand knitting them was en vogue among college girls and just about anyone else with a pair of knitting needles to rub together, but this might do. So perhaps there will be Argyles in my future soon.

Among other things I found during my rummaging was this pattern, which came to me wedged between some vintage sewing patterns from my grandmother's.
1960's? 1970's? I don't know.
It's a pattern for a knitted vest, on a large sheet of paper that folds out like a map.

I've seen this kind of thing before in mail-order patterns, etc., but I couldn't say what exact decade this pattern is from, except to say that it doesn't reflect vanity sizing. As you can see below, a 34 bust is a Size 12 in this pattern.

The illustration gives one a reasonably vivid idea of how this knit would look. It's pragmatic, and not overly flattering. Nevertheless, I'm tempted to make it. But perhaps if I'm going to make a pattern at random, out of sheer curiosity, it should be one of the hand written mystery patterns I have. You know the kind; they're in your grandmother's or great aunt's sewing room, stuffed between the pages of a book or in an envelope somewhere. Someone, at some point, wrote down a pattern that someone else told them about. It might have been passed around the neighborhood, or passed around the family. Sometimes it's origins are very clear because it's titled "Aunt Violet's Cardigan" or some such. Well, I have a quantity of them, just as I have a quantity of hand written recipes that I've found in thrift store cookbooks. And maybe I'll make one of them. Right after the Argyles.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vintage Thursday: The Little Princess Baby Bootees

Don't let the name dissuade you; the Little Princess Baby Bootees are great unisex baby booties. There's none of the funky feminine frills found in some of the other vintage booklets I have. (And believe me, there is quite a bit in those. I may have to work some them up to prove it.) I knit a lot of bootees when I was expecting V., and these became my favorite. They are now invariably my go-to gifted bootees - virtually everyone I know who has had new baby around me has a pair of these from me. The perks to this pattern, aside from it's comparative readability, is the simplicity of the design and the fact that V. could not wiggle or kick them off. (That in itself was worth any amount of knitting fuss.)

Knit with Regia sock yarn on US #1 (2.25 mm) dpns
I love these bootees SO much, I am passing the pattern on to you. It is from Bear Brand-Bucilla Baby Book Volume 328, last copyrighted in 1944, so it is now in the public domain. I could just scan the pattern and try to sell it to you, but that somehow feels cheap to me. No offense to those who have done just that - I am grateful to you, since I use those patterns! But being the perfectionist I am, I don't feel like I'm working for it enough if I do that. However, in future I will offer for sale vintage patterns, with the catch that I will also include my interpretation of the pattern and knit a sample up myself, if possible. That seems far more appropriate.

The much loved (a.k.a. falling apart) cover of my copy.
And now, on to the pattern!

Little Princess Baby Bootees #1874

The Little Princess Baby Bootees are part of a set, but I've only included the bootees here.

I find that just about any fingering weight yarn will do. I've knit these bootees in everything from the coarser sock yarn like Regia or Jawoll to very soft, all merino yarn that has no added nylon. I used US #1 (2.25 mm) dpns, and found that the the sizing is pretty much correct: sometimes the bootees fit an infant, and sometimes a 3 month old, sometimes older. Kids vary.

As far as working the actual pattern is concerned, when it came to decreasing the sole I worked "k2tog, ssk" rather than "k2 tog twice," simply because it's more symmetrical, and I used the three needle bind off inside of a conventionally bound off and sewn seam. I also didn't make tassels; those instructions were not included anywhere in the booklet. I suppose knitters in 1944 just knew how to make tassels. (Along with argyle socks.)

I hope you enjoyed these bootees! Please feel free to comment with any questions or remarks.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stalking the wild robin

Since we survived going outside yesterday, V. and I tried it again today. After all, there are errands to run, and snow to eat. (You can guess which one of us was doing which. Or at least, I hope you can.)

Right away we ran into a slew of robins who were very busy picking through some recently thawed lawn. Today was in the twenties for the most part, so you can understand their enthusiasm.

Unrequited love.
V. is unconvinced that wild birds will not come and feed out of her hand like park squirrels, even though her margin of success with squirrels is in the 1% range. 1% fed, therefore it's a fact that all those other 99% might feed, too, if she just keeps at it. Such is the probability calculations of a four year old. Perhaps they would even like to be pet?

V. and the robin discussing their boundary issues.
The robins were hungry enough that they really didn't want to do much more than hop out of arm's reach. They may have been in much more peril if V. hadn't have been so encumbered with winter clothes, but they'll find that out for themselves in the spring.

The hat that V. was running around in today (and which oddly enough matched the robins) was a UFO I found this morning in my box of UFO's. (Yes, there's a BOX.) Originally, it was just a simple Malabrigo yarn beanie, but then my philosophy on children's hats evolved and I added a kind of earflap/scarf hybrid. All that was left to do this morning was finish binding the scarf off and weaving in ends. I rather like it, and I may work up a pattern very similar to it.

I was very glad to have it, because V. seems to be as much of a Weather Wimp as I am. Any time either of us had our mittens off, we were kind of freaking out, and half way through errands she was ready to be carried home. Just like yesterday, she had to be bribed with hot cocoa.

Ok, we both had to be bribed. Is this the face of someone enjoying an outing?
Note the bold use of orange.
On the bright side, I found a weird little shelf in somebody's recycling while we were out.
The snow was free, too.
I find all sorts of things while out walking about, and I probably should show more of them. But in the meantime, this shelf will make a nice little project. I'm going to sand and paint it, then hang it like a little curio cabinet. I've had my eye out for something like this for quite some time, so my enthusiasm level is pretty high. Especially since it's small enough to be an indoor project.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cabin Fever

Today V. and I did the unthinkable and ventured out into The Weather. There comes a point when even the steadfast Californian must trek out into the snow, despite having a plentiful supply of canned and dried goods to consume through the long winter. That point is when 1) the sewing machine has to be dropped off for a repair, and 2) all the clean underwear has been used up. We donned our mittens and our respective wooly or puffy coats and tried to remember how to unlock the front door.

This is what greeted us:

It's a good thing I'm over my pink issues.
This might not look too bad to you, but that's because you are likely in Maine or Canada. If it does look bad to you, we're on the same page. It's 15 degrees outside before the wind chill factor. I was reminded as a trundled my laundry and a 1961 Singer sewing machine down the icy sidewalks of that epic first day in Boston that I often speak of, whereupon a simple walk around the neighborhood for a place to dine resulted in a painful wind burn that I had to aloe up for days and days. Cold is not my friend. (And neither is a heat, wet or dry. I know. I'm a wimp.)

This is what my back stoop looks like:
Our impression of sparrows.
There's a serious bird feeder just outside the kitchen window (Squirrel TV has graduated to Squirrels vs. Sparrows TV), so there was much sparrow action. Apparently the local hot spot - our three tube feeder - gets really jumping when there's snow on the ground.

When I am managing to stay shut in, I'm mostly working on dolls. The sewing machine going caput in the middle of everything has been a hindrance, but I almost have one done. It's an 18" girl doll with hidden button joints. I rather like "un"-hidden button joints, because they seem to stay tighter and move better, but I worry about them being chewed off. So I put them inside. This is my fifth Waldorf inspired doll, so I am developing some technique, and I am not too humble to state that they are getting progressively better. One innovation as I learn the process is a button pillow.

I have never seen anyone else do this, but for all I know it is being done. I did it because it gives the joint a better foundation, almost as if it were outside the limb, and on the grand scale of things it's barely any extra work. (Although as someone totally willing to unravel a sweater to make another sweater, I suppose that statement is highly relative.)

She's not really this bow legged.
I'm very pleased with #5. The limbs are a vast improvement over #4's limbs, not just because they are "pillowed" now, but because I completely refashioned them. The proportion and stance of them strike me as being more realistic.
And here we have #5 so far. Her hair is very yellow, her eyes green. The dress is a prototype based on a vintage doll dress pattern my grandmother recently gave me. The final dress for the doll will be of the same fabric, but the pin tucking will be different, and I think I'll add a Peter Pan collar.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The problem with orange

Recently, I have been up to my ears in earflap hats. (Witness the photo below, which was taken after I had knit so many earflap hats that I was discovering earflap hats hidden away in various niches in my room. I honestly couldn't say how many there were in the end. Perhaps they were breeding in those niches...?)
4 earflaps + 1 Seaman's cap, and I was almost warm.
They were mostly very earthy, such as the ones you see below, because they were made from hand spun and naturally dyed yarn created by a friend of mine who somehow, miraculously, does not knit, despite my threats offers to teach her.
This is the best my floor ever looks.
Earth tones are comfortable to work with. They hardly ever clash and they almost always go with anything, especially other earth tones. They can lull one into a false sense of crafting cockiness confidence. And of course, as we all know, that is always when something unexpected happens, such as running out of a discontinued yarn on the second sleeve of an almost complete sweater or finding, for instance, that it is possible to "naturally" dye a color that looks like a woolly traffic cone, it is so bright.
The orange is actually brighter than it appears in this photo.
Which brings up to the problem of orange.

Orange is one of my favorite colors. Given a choice, I will gad about in orange. I do not fear it, despite the bad rep the '70's gave it. (And avocado green and sunflower yellow, although they may have had it coming.) As a make-do kind of knitter and thrifter, I've had to deal with some seriously volatile colors before. There is a trick to it, and I wish I knew a lot about color theory to give it to you in learned and technical terms, but I don't. I just have some practical applications that I can pass on to you, Dear Reader, so that you may make lemonade from lemons. Or a decent knit from something truly appalling. (I dare you! Your friends will be impressed - if they care at all about such things.)

It's pretty straightforward: reduce contrast.

Which means if you have chartreuse or hot pink or CalTrans orange, don't pair it with black. Don't pair it with white. Get an earthy tone, something that might be called a neutral tone, or its near cousin, or get something that is close to the offending color, but not quite it. (And is not offensive in itself, otherwise you have a bigger mess to deal with.) If you go look at my Hex Scrap Afghan, which was an exercise in making do with horrendous '60's and '70's Orlon yarn, you'll see the various combinations I've used.
This actually was the best looking earflap hat.
With this particular hand spun orange monster I combined a tannish colored yarn - a neutral. I worked it in stripes rather than big blocks of color in an attempt to diffuse it somewhat. (IMHO, there is less overall contrast if the color goes over all the project, as opposed to say in a foot wide circle in the middle of your sweater or something. Unless you really do want a bulls eye on your chest.) This tamed the eye-searing effect of the orange, and strangely enough it became a very beguiling hat which won immediate favor from all those who were fortunate enough to look upon it - even over its more subdued, earth tone siblings. I'm fairly certain it didn't get gifted over the winter holidays by my spinner friend, who made some kind of noise about keeping it for herself.

She was also kind of shocked that orange can be "fixed." Now you know, too. 

Don't fear the orange.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Funky Toddler Socks

I never have enough leftover sock yarn. It is just so incredibly useful, and not just for colorwork. You can make mitred square blankets, or (my personal favorite) baby socks. Now that V's older, it has moved on to toddler socks.
I lost the socks I originally used the yarn for. :(
Technically, I suppose this is "vintage" project, because the pattern I'm using is from my favorite vintage booklet, Bear Brand-Bucilla Baby Book, Volume 328. I've knit a ton of things from this booklet. My favorite is the Little Princess Set #1874 booties, which is the best bootie pattern I've found so far. They were the only booties I knit for V. when she was an infant that she couldn't kick off. It may sound like a little thing, but keeping socks and booties on kids is an epic battle, especially in the wiggly phase.
Still a little big on the kid
This sock is Sturdy Socks #1917. It's just a basic, all-around useful sock with a 1x1 ribbing up top that changes into a wider rib with a heel flap and round toe. Many vintage patterns for kids are very basic and practical like this - hence there are often titles on the booklets like "Practical Knitting", etc. - and I have seen patterns repeated almost verbatim in various booklets. (There's a lot of recycling in Bear Brand booklets.) I know we are spoiled by the abundance of patterns now available to the savvy Internet browsing knitter, and that we have grown quite accustomed to unique designs (sock patterns that move away from the linear process come to mind here), but there is something to be said for a good standard pattern. (On some very cold days, such as today, I feel like I'm channeling Elizabeth Zimmermann. I really need to knit some slippers.)
V. just about fits them now. I use them as over socks; she puts on a regular pair of machine-made socks, then pulls these on over top. Then I feel like we can finally go outside. It's that cold.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Learning to Paint

Sometimes I take side excursions into the world of art, not just crafting. Not that crafting is just crafting - obviously I have a lot of respect for it, when my tongue isn't in my cheek. (Like art, there is good crafting and bad crafting, and which is which can depend on something as trivial as blood sugar levels. Let's just say that short of something being unqualifiedly bad - such as a sweater out of gauge with one sleeve a foot longer than the other - you know, what non-knitters notoriously think homemade knits are like - it's really just a matter of preference.) But my craftiness stems from my artsiness, rather than vice versa, so on occasion, seemingly out of the blue, I will do a post like this about, say, oil painting. I haven't really finished any of them, except this one. (However, I did just recover my old self portrait, which I thought I had lost. Now I can ponder finishing it.)

I took an oil figure painting class during the Fall at Fleisher, but I only managed to complete one of the two paintings we did there. A live model was present, and I took pictures of my painting at each break to track my progress. Taking photos gives me a perspective on what I'm doing. Sometimes I get ideas from them, and other times (most of the time) it allows me to see where the painting is not quite right. Such as with the eye on the left side of the drawing below.
I like the shadow
The instructor wanted us to heavily pencil in our portrait before painting. We spent the entire first class just drawing. I managed to break my pencil, which just goes to show that maybe I should lay off the caffeine.
I should have stopped at the final break instead of forging ahead, because when I was done it was like a gob of graphite.
The left eye is still a problem
Then we worked on the background. I got the background done rather quickly so I moved onto flesh tones. Which I totally didn't know how to blend. I'm largely self-taught, so I've managed to get this far with art without understanding a lot of basics that are covered in remedial art classes.

The model really did have hair this color. And the left eye continued to be a problem, but I finally got it tamed somewhat in the final class.
Bad photo, I know.
The final painting. I was pretty happy with it, even though I took slipshod photos of it. I have it hanging on my wall, where I swear it looks better than this.

The left eye was still a bit of a problem
Hopefully the above detail shows the painting to better effect. It's not the Mona Lisa, but I don't think it has one sleeve a foot too long, either.