Category Archives: sewing

Journal: 22 February 2015

Homemade yarn

Homemade yarn, just beginning the plying process

It’s been a bit of a while since I posted—I blame my busy social calendar and regret nothing—so I’ve got a fair bit to share with y’all today.

Yesterday I had a really good crafting day: I successfully re-dyed a shirt that had gotten pinked in an Unfortunate Laundry Incident, as well as playing with dyeing tatted pieces. I worked a little bit on the blouses I’m assembly-line-ing, and had good luck with my serger. I also had good luck with plying my home-spun wool; I came up with a way to make the colors work out and it’s looking like real yarn now.

I’ve also done a fair bit of tatting in the past month, started and nearly finished a pair of mitts out of my Christmas present yarn, and chugged away on the blanket and scarf I talked about in my last journal post. The blanket is now about halfway done, hooray hooray, and I’ve picked up enough yarn to finish the scarf.

In tatting news, I did a bit of design, both yesterday’s pattern and a modification of this pattern that I like rather better but is fiddlier to do (I intend to post a pattern for it in a bit). I’ve been playing with variegated thread, reproducing the beautiful bracelet that I made as a gift and failed to take pictures of, among others. I also made a butterfly bracelet with beading, which worked well. Photos:

Stripey mitts

Stripey mitts

The mitts are pretty straightforward double-crochet spiral things. I am striping them in the two yarn colors, with the interface between stripes being alternating stitches of the different colors. I’m pretty pleased with the starting row—I chained along the length of my hand, then chained back putting a treble crochet every third stitch to make four separate finger holes. The yarn is bamboo/wool, so very soft and warm, and it’s thicker gauge than I usually work with so the mitts are going quite fast and coming out bulky and lovely. I made the two mitts have opposite colors—red on top vs. gray on top—on purpose, in case you’re wondering.

Opposite colors

Opposite colors

I did intend to learn broomstick lace crochet with this yarn, and I tried to make a pair of mitts that way, with the first row of lace holes being the finger holes. Suffice to say broomstick lace in the round is tricky and not for beginners with improvised tools. So I ripped that out and started again with ordinary crochet. I do want to do broomstick lace at some point—probably the next time I have yarn that’s begging to be a scarf. I did learn that the packaging for a zipper makes a pretty decent flexible “broomstick”, for whatever that’s worth.

Sewing table with serger

Sewing table with serger

In sewing news, I picked up some fabric a while ago and it has been patiently waiting to be turned into blouses. I finally cut it this week—stacking all three pieces of folded fabric and cutting together, so let’s hope I don’t find any wrinkles—and hauled out the serger yesterday. I was, let’s say, pleasantly stunned to find that this old beast was still in good working order, threaded (!) in the correct color for two of the blouses (!!) and had good tension settings for the fabric (!!!). I was expecting to chew through quite a bit of scrap fabric getting it into that state, as the last time I recall having the machine out it was not doing so well on any of those counts. Evidently I either a) have completely forgotten the last time I used it, or b) have an infestation of wonderful. wonderful sewing-machine-mending gnomes in my house. At this point I can’t even think of any project I’ve made that would’ve used the serger and blue thread, so I’m leaning towards explanation b.

Lovely serged seam

Lovely serged seam

At any rate I am pleased with how the serger is doing. I tend to think of it as for knits only, but I’ve been irritated with the thick seams on the other blouses I’ve made, so I decided to give it a go. I’m a little nervous about a few things—the measurement of the seam allowance on curves, for one, since the knife and needles are fairly far apart and the guideline is at the location of the knife; I’m also worried about fitting the very different curves on the front princess seams, since I have to take the pins out at the knife point and hope the fabric stays in place until the needle. I guess that’s what the foot is for and I should just trust it. Wish me luck!

In dyeing news, I had an Unfortunate Laundry Incident a while ago where a non-colorsafe red thing pink-blotched two of my favorite shirts (the patchwork ones), plus a shirt I didn’t care about as much, a bathroom rug, my nice gray sweatpants, and so on. Two of the affected shirts were blue, so I decided to pick up some purple RIT dye and see if I could remediate them that way. I’m pleased to say it worked on the one I cared less about, and used only half the dye, so next time I have a good chunk of free time I think I will try it on the blue patchwork one. Not sure what to do about the brown shirt, unfortunately. Plus, while I had the dye out, I dyed a test bit of tatting just to see how it would do. The results are lovely, meaning I suddenly have a lot of options for all this white thread I have around. Photos:

The color is a little blotchy/uneven, but it looks a lot more deliberate than the single pink splotch it had before. I’m hoping it’ll be even less noticeable on the patchwork shirt, which is made of patterned fabric and is lighter-weight than this one, making it easier to dye evenly in my little basin. I’m particularly pleased with how similar the coloring is between the shirt and the lace bits, considering they’re made out of different fibers and all; I was prepared to have to snip the lace off if it didn’t work well. I did learn one interesting thing: slight deodorant stains make the fabric pick up more (purple, RIT-brand) dye than it would otherwise; hopefully not by a noticeable amount when it’s worn.

3-plying setup with crochet hook.

3-plying setup with crochet hook.

Last but far from least, I am thrilled to report that plying the homespun wool is going well. I had been planning on 2-plying it, matching end to end and working towards the center, making the yarn be multicolor at every point. I tried that. It looked terrible. So I laboriously un-plied the few yards I had done and tucked the thread away for a while to think about what it had done. Eventually I came up with a brilliant idea: 3-ply the sucker, working in crochet-like chains, making each section of yarn be all one color. It’s going really well: I love the colors of the yarn, and 3-ply brings me a lot closer to the sock-weight store-bought yarn I’d like to use it with. I’ll report again once I get more of it plied, but am really pleased so far.

Journal: 1 February 2015

spinning_doneToday my big news is that I finally finished my spinning! I still have to ply it (or decide not to), but I am so glad to be done with the spinning. I think I’ve already said all I really want to about this project: I am glad to have done it, but glad to be done and not planning to do any more.
presentI received a slightly-delayed holiday present that I’m quite excited about: two skeins of lovely soft wool-bamboo blend in muted gray-green and burgundy or dark fuchsia, and a short skein of purple and gray, 100% silk that is so soft you guys, oh my goodness. I already have plans for all of it, although nothing cast on: I’m going to learn broomstick lace and make some chunky arm warmers with both colors of the wool blend, and learn hairpin lace and make either jewelry or a summer scarf with the silk.

scarf_progressI’ve cast on and made progress with the weird yarn two-tone scarf. Other than using it as a travel/waiting in line project, I have been letting it languish a bit because I think it will need more yarn, so I want to get back to the store and see if I can match dye lots before getting too invested. The scarf is working up wonderfully thick; I should probably make it a priority to get back to the store and finish it before the cold weather goes away.

clutch_faceI’ve been doing a bit of utilitarian sewing that I may get a pattern up for eventually: I wanted a little zippered bag to keep in my desk at work and put band-aids, ibuprofen, and so on in. I’ve been wanting to try a quilting pattern I saw on somebody’s blog a while ago, of sewing short strips together into a braid or brickwork pattern. So I combined these two desires, and made the little clutch shown at right. It uses four each of three colors of strips, 2.5″ by 4.5″, sewn into a loop in the zig-zag pattern with quarter-inch seams. The top I sewed straight across, then set a zipper; for the bottom I pressed under the seam allowances all around, matched up the loose corners, and whip-stitched them together. I should’ve lined it, but got lazy, and now it is at work serving its purpose and will probably never get lined. Ah well. I also made a little coin jar using more or less the same technique: I made a loop of two strips of each color, sewed the bottom closed, and turn in the loose edges on the top and sewed around the rim. The bottom closure was a little tricky: I had three right-triangles loose at the bottom edge, so I sewed these together along the normal seam lines. This made the bottom a pyramid, which is not really ideal, so I just gathered the middle bit until it more or less sat flat. Photos of both projects:

blanket_progressFinally, I’ve got a mindless crochet project that I meant to only work on when I’m too braindead to work on anything else; perhaps predictably it’s progressing a lot faster than anything else. It’s a fractal blanket patterned on the Sierpinski carpet; I’ve done a Sierpinski blanket as a gift before (pre-blog), and liked it so much that I decided to make myself one. This one is in Bernat baby sport yarn; I’m expecting to use two pound-skeins of the stuff in the taupe colorway. I’m using filet crochet, with (ch1 dc) for the open pixels and (yo, insert hook in next st and pull up a loop, yo and pull through two loops, yo, insert hook in same stitch and pull up a loop, yo and pull through two, yo and pull through three; dc) for the closed pixels to give a little darker of a fill than normal (dc, dc) filled pixels. There’s a one row/2dc border all the way around. The 81-pixel, fourth-order fractal pattern made a good blanket width, and I’m planning to do two repeats to get a good length. I’ll probably write up a more explicit pattern and post it here once the blanket’s done and I can get good measurements off it. Right now it is definitely a little off of square, which I’m hoping some aggressive blocking (even though it’s acrylic yarn) will fix; it’s not the end of the world for me if it stays off-square though.

Journal: Back from hiatus edition

Hello, internet. It’s been a while. As promised, now that I’m mostly settled in from the big move, I’m back! Not too unexpectedly, I didn’t get too terribly much crafting done, what with most of my WIPs being in boxes and that whole full-time job thing. However, there were some long flights and a holiday in there, so I have some things to report.

So close!

So close!

Mostly I’ve been chugging along on my spinning, and I am getting so close to the end of the roving. I am pretty excited about that—spinning was a new adventure, and I regret nothing, but until/unless I get a fiber farm and a spinning wheel, it is not going into my set of regular hobbies. I’ve also picked up some gray yarn that I think will complement my hand-spun yarn, with the intent of making a gray shawl with a big color block in it. I’ll keep y’all posted as that progresses, for sure.

bracelets_jan15I’ve made a bunch of tatted bracelets, some as gifts and some simply as something to do on airplanes and such. I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of one of the gift ones, as I think it’s the most beautiful one I’ve made to date; I’m planning to make another like it for myself at some point, though, and I’ll be sure to get a picture then. The ones I’ve still got on hand are pictured at right.

Finally, I started in on another pair of honeycomb mitts, using the burgundy and white yarn left over from my shawl. I made a couple of edits: instead of the single inkline, I’ve made a column of six TSS stitches in each row, and I distributed the increases and decreases evenly on both sides of this column rather than all on one side of the inkline. I like how they are turning out so far, both in terms of color and pattern. Photos:

I also finished the grey and tan silk-bamboo scarf I’ve been working on in the background; I’ve got a pattern written up and will get around to finishing and publishing it soon. I finished the blouse that I was muttering about a couple entries ago, although I don’t have pictures for you today. My other WIPs—the lace scarf and cashmere mitts—are still in progress, but haven’t come out of the protective wrappings I put them in for moving yet.

blouse_fabricOne final crafting-related activity to do with the move is that I’ve had to check out all my local craft stores. So far I’ve just hit the local incarnations of the big chains; I intended to just case the joint and come back when I actually needed something, but on all three excursions I came out with new materials. Between two fabric stores, I came out with fabric for three new blouses (pictured at right) and a pair of slacks. If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed I haven’t yet finished the Great Five-Blouse Project; the plan is actually to put off the last of those for a bit and assembly-line these three on the machine just to put some more options in my closet ASAP.

green_cream_yarnI also bought some new yarn at one of the fabric stores. Some is some cheap baby-sport yarn which will become a low-mental-energy crochet project and then a why-did-I-move-to-a-place-with-real-seasons-in-the-middle-of-winter blanket. The other is something I just thought was pretty and unusual—it appears to be a mesh of white cotton/acrylic threads caging a core of colorful wool fibers. So both a somewhat unusual blend of fibers and interesting from a mechanical perspective. It’s Patons “denim-y”, if you’re interested. I think it will become another two-tone scarf.

multi_threadFinally, at a non-fabric craft store I got a couple more colors of tatting thread. The bracelet I mentioned above being so beautiful came from a variegated colorway, so I’m going to experiment more with that. I’ve got a purple/lavender/white and a navy/denim/white multi.

Journal: 7 November 2014

Today I should start with a bit of housekeeping—well, it’s pretty much the focal point of my life at the moment, but housekeeping to the blog: after more than a year of un/under-employment, I’ve accepted a full-time job offer. I’m super excited about it; the work is in my field, at the level I have trained to, the company is generous and the people seem kind. I’m a little less excited about relocating and all the logistical hassles involved, but such is life. The upshot for the blog is that for the next month or so my crafting and posting are going to take a hit, after which I should stabilize but at reduced levels. Wish me luck!

I'm told this is very disconcerting to see not attached to me

I’m told this is very disconcerting to see not attached to me

Also unrelated to crafting, but it amuses me: for various reasons I decided it was high time to reduce the length of my hair. I’ve mentioned incidentally here that it was quite long, at least when I was talking about making scrunchies; last night I got the flatmate to chop off well over a foot, which I plan to package and send off to an ACS-approved charity. I can no longer make a bun, or make more than a stitch or two of braid, but man do I feel free. Anyway, photo at right is the disconcerting disembodied ponytail waiting to be packaged up.

deliveryIn more crafting-related news, but still on the logistical side of things, I took delivery of a whole bunch of yarn and thread the other day. I’ve got a whole bunch of new tatting thread in many colors, the yarn to finish my gray&tan scarf, and some lace-weight merino for when I finish my current two fiddly lace-weight projects.

scarfThe gray&tan scarf is proceeding apace—it’s a good travel project, so I’ve kind of been saving it for all the flying I’ve got coming up, but I couldn’t resist working on it a bit as soon as the delivery came. I’m pleased with the yarn—I got the new stuff from a different store, and got the old almond-color skein long enough ago that matching dye lots would be hopeless anyway, but both colors match well enough that I can’t find the join just by looking at the scarf. So, good enough for me.

The Great Five Blouse Project is also making progress, albeit slowly. If I’m good I’ll get the buttonholes done before my sewing machine gets packed up to move, and if I get that done I can probably finish the shirt for my first week of work, but I’m going to forgive myself if neither happens.

So much yarn, you guys.

So much yarn, you guys.

Finally, the current project I’m most excited about is a new knit-lace scarf in one of the yarns I got for my last birthday. I was a little unprepared for just how much yarn came in this hank: it’s really, really fine yarn so a perfectly normal-looking, normal-heft hank comes in at nearly 1500 yards of yarn. I found this out the hard way when I was trying to ball it up, spent an hour or so winding the yarn and still was nowhere near done. So my yarn is half-balled, half still in the hank which I re-tied and -twisted, and I am getting good use out of my little crafting basket to keep everything together.

Scarf in progress, staked out to simulate blocking

Scarf in progress, staked out to simulate blocking

The pattern comes from the “eyelet diamonds 1” stitch pattern on knitting fool; many thanks to andresue’s blog for introducing me to that website. I’ve modified the pattern a bit, done four repeats width-wise and added a garter stitch border. I’m really happy with how it’s coming along, although it is such fine yarn that it’s going to take a long long time to get a respectable length scarf out of it.

I’ve named it the Pharaohs scarf on ravelry, and will probably publish a quick pattern under that name, because the triangular bits between the yarnovers look like faces and the straight stockinette bits look like either the beard or a headdress thing, at least to me (and I’m told, “can’t unsee it”). The flatmate calls it the spaceship pattern because of how the yarnover holes line up. Here’s some more photos of the project and of a test swatch in the remnants of some sock yarn; you decide:

I learned a couple of new things about knit-lace work during the inception of this project. First is yet another reason to always, always, always make a test swatch before starting the main project: in complicated lace patterns, you really want to make all your haven’t-learned-the-pattern-yet errors in a little bitty thing that you can rip out without too much remorse, not in the real project. I was really good with this project and even blocked my swatch, although since I used a different yarn and needles it won’t give me gauge: the pattern is in sections of stockinette and reverse-stockinette, so I wanted to see how it looked blocked flat instead of all bent at the boundaries between the two. The other thing I learned is that you can get a sense of how the project will look blocked before it even comes off the needles by staking it out, dry, with pins. Having done a bit of proper blocking before gave me a sense of how much I should stretch it in this process. This is how I got the reasonable photo above, even though unstaked it’s all crinkly and bumpy.

Journal: 27 October 2014

It’s been a bit of a while since my last post, so I’ve got quite a lot of finished items to show you. The fabric I was excited about in my last journal entry is now an A-line knee-length skirt, the honeycomb mitts are finished along with a matching hat, and I’ve resumed the Great Five-Blouse Project. In the interstices of those projects I’ve also been making tatted bracelets, bringing my total up to five. The scarf I was working on in my last post is on hold—I finished off my yarn, but it is not yet a sufficient length, so on my next trip to the store I will need to get more.


The crowns edging works very well for bracelets, although they are a bit wide, so I made a couple more in different colors, and I tried out the braid edging for a less ornate bracelet. I’m especially pleased with how the green one sits—it’s a larger thread than the other two, so I skipped one full pattern repeat and ended with a slightly snugger bracelet that sits happily at the narrowest part of my wrist.


Simple A-line skirt

Simple A-line skirt

The fabric I was talking about last time turned into a skirt in what I think is record time for me—I cut the fabric the afternoon/evening of my last journal post, and finished just at bedtime the following day. It’s entirely hand-stitched, too; having the nice sewing machine hasn’t spoiled me yet. It helps that it’s just about the simplest skirt you can imagine: a knee-length A-line skirt with no frills, although it does have a set-in-side zipper, an in-seam pocket on the other side, and a button and buttonhole tab on the waistband. I’m not entirely thrilled with it—I wasn’t paying enough attention to line up the pattern on the side seams, and the button/tab arrangement is a little hinky (I should probably move the button at some point)—but it will serve. I used the Simplicity 2758 D pattern, which I’ve used before (and more faithfully), but omitted the pleat and pockets and all.

Detail of button and tab

Detail of button and tab

I did find the perfect button for it—too bad I generally wear my shirts untucked, so the button will just about always be covered!

I don’t have any new photos of the Great Five-Blouse Project, but I’ve cut the pieces for the lavender blouse (#4) and started sewing the side seams. I’m planning to do the buttonholes at least by machine, and probably the hem and plackets as well, possibly in a decorative stitch. I started the seams by hand, though, because matching curved seams on the machine is hard and prone to puckers, so it’ll be an interesting hybrid of machine and hand sewing.

Mitts and hat


Mitts and hat in Tunisian crochet

Well, I think I’ve gotten the Tunisian honeycomb bug out of my system at last. After finishing the mitts I had a fair bit of yarn left, so I decided to make a hat in the same style. I ended up a little short of the solid purple for a beanie, so it’s got a fairly wide shell edging in normal crochet. I’m not really a hats sort of person, so we’ll see how much I end up wearing it, but it’s quite comfy and promises to be warm. I’m planning to write up a proper pattern for both, so I’ll not say too much about the construction now, but here are a bunch of photos:

Journal: 15 October 2014

The back of my couch is starting to accumulate blankets...

The back of my couch is starting to accumulate blankets…

The main thing I’ve accomplished since my last post is to finish my quiltlet, about which I am very happy and proud, but I think I covered it pretty thoroughly in my pattern post, so today I’m going to talk about what else I’ve been up to.

Christmas-mix yarn dyed with Rit tangerine

Christmas-mix yarn dyed with Rit tangerine

I conducted a new yarn-dyeing experiment, using the same yarn as before but with proper, commercial made-for-cotton dye (Rit brand powder dye). I’m much happier with the results, which is not too surprising. I think I was successful in turning a Christmas mix yarn into more of a harvest colors mix. I was hoping the green would turn more brown and the red would get a bit darker/deeper, but overall I’m pretty happy. I brought the finished item to my local knitting/crochet group the other day, and nobody commented on the yarn or speculated it used to be Christmas colors, so although I can still see it I consider that a success.


Simple basket in dyed yarn

I started pretty much immediately to turn the yarn into another little basket for holding works in progress; this one has a smaller footprint than the other and correspondingly (same total yardage) taller sides. I chained 28, worked back and forth in single crochet until I had a good shape of rectangle (23 rows), then started spiraling around the entire base to make the sides, putting a decrease at each corner of every second row for the first ten rows or so, and then working even until I ran out of yarn. Photos:

Mitts almost finished - I plan to stop close to the elbow

Mitts almost finished – I plan to stop close to the elbow

As you may be able to tell from the above photos, I’ve also been chugging along on my Tunisian honeycomb mitts, which are now probably 80% done. I love how the honeycomb stitch looks, but unlike TSS I can’t just sit down and crank it out forever; my wrists get tired, so these are going a little slower. Still happy with how they are turning out, and because of the thick, cushy back of Tunisian crochet, I expect to be very happy with them come colder months. The pattern is also working out very simple; I’ll post it when the mitts are done.

Neutral-color scarf

Neutral-color scarf

Detail of pattern

Detail of pattern

In order to have something to do that wasn’t honeycomb stitch and didn’t require the sewing machine, I started another new crochet project. I’ve had this one single ball of yarn, worsted-weight bamboo-silk blend in a light tan color, sitting around for literally years; I got it because I ran out in the middle of another project, but couldn’t find the right dye lot and it was noticeably off. Anyway, I picked up another skein of the same yarn, but in a grey/silver color, when I was at the store for dye and quilt batting, and have been working them together into a fairly plain neutral-color scarf. The pattern owes inspiration to this one, but is different enough that I plan on posting it once I finish the scarf, especially since the colorwork is entirely my own invention.

Blue fabric

Blue fabric

Finally, I want to mention a new project added to my queue: I picked up some absolutely lovely blue cotton fabric at the store, because even if my list includes bits and bobs for three or four very distinct projects, I can’t leave without an impulse buy or two. The plan is for this to be a knee-length, A-line skirt suitable for professional wear. The tape is for scale: the medallion designs are fairly large, so this would not be suitable for a shirt, but I think will do well in a skirt.

Pattern: Bargello mini-quilt

Bargello mini-quilt, newly finished

Bargello mini-quilt, newly finished

It’s finished! Which means it’s time to share my pattern and design process with all of you. I don’t know how many people will be interested in one or both of these, but I intend on the one hand to share the instructions for making the same quilt, with measurements and all, and on the other to share the code that I wrote as a design tool to design many related quilts, in case the overlap of people who like quilting and speak Matlab is larger than just me. Actually I’ve tried to make the code pretty friendly, and I’m pretty confident that somebody that has done a bit of coding but no Matlab could use it, but I don’t want to try to be your programming 101 tutor today.

I am pretty darn happy with how this turned out, although I am less than perfectly pleased with the quality of my freehand quilting. I did everything for this project on the machine, which means a) it went super fast, b) the machine is officially broken in, and c) I was less comfortable with the method, so my freehand curves were worse than if I’d done it by hand. Photos:

Instructions for the identical (except color choices) quilt:

You will need:

  • A half jelly roll, or 20 strips of different, coordinating fabrics, each 2.5″ by 44″; mine was 2 strips each of 10 different colors
  • Backing fabric, 42″ by 38″
  • Batting, “craft” size or crib cut down to size, 41″ by 37″ (I used 36″ craft-size and stretched it a bit)


  1. Order your strips however you want—gradients tend to look nice—and number them 1-20. Color 1 will be in both bottom corners or your quilt, and color 20 in both top corners. In my quilt, colors 1 and 20 are the two lightest ones.
  2. Sew all your strips together along their length, with a quarter-inch seam allowance, lining up the edges on one end and letting the other end be jagged according to the different lengths of the strips. Press all seams open and flat. Strip 1 should be sewn to strip 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, etc., and finally strip 20 should be sewn to strip 1, making the whole bunch into a tube. It’s a good idea to backstitch occasionally to reinforce the seams, but it’s kinda a lost cause anyway, and you need to unpick some of the seams, so don’t stress about it.
  3. Cutting as straight and even as you can, cut the tube crosswise into strips, each of which will have a chunk of each fabric, according to the chart below. Unpick the indicated seam, opening the tubes into flat strips.
  4. Lining up all seams as best you can, sew strip A to B, B to C, etc until the quilt top is assembled, again with a quarter-inch seam allowance. Press all seams open. Note: I actually recommend starting at the center and working outwards—the center strips are the narrowest, so they are most susceptible to coming apart at the seams, which attaching to neighboring strips helps prevent.
  5. Leaving an inch of the backing overhanging on each end, sew the two long sides of the quilt top to the backing with a quarter-inch allowance, right-side to right-side. Press seams open or against the backing.
  6. Turn the quilt right side out and insert the batting.
  7. Turn the short ends of the backing over onto the front, making a 1/2″ edging, and top-stitch all the way around.
  8. Quilt: I chose every third color, and followed it across the quilt, curving as best I could to follow the curve implied by the pattern.


  • A: cut 3.5″ wide; unpick between fabrics 1&20
  • B: cut 3″ wide; unpick between fabrics 1&2
  • C: cut 2.75″ wide; unpick between 2&3
  • D: cut 3.25″ wide, unpick 3&4
  • E: cut 4″ wide, unpick 4&5
  • F: cut 2″ wide, unpick 3&4
  • G: cut 1.75″ wide, unpick 2&3
  • H: cut 1.25″ wide, unpick 1&2
  • I: cut 1″ wide, unpick 1&20
  • J: cut 1.25″ wide, unpick 19&20
  • K: cut 1.75″ wide, unpick 18&19
  • L: cut 2″ wide, unpick 17&18
  • M: cut 4″ wide, unpick 16&17
  • N: cut 3.25″ wide, unpick 17&18
  • O: cut 2.75″ wide, unpick 18&19
  • P: cut 3″ wide, unpick 19&20
  • Q: cut 3.5″ wide, unpick 1&20

Note: the final piece is only a little longer than a square yard, so definitely a lap quilt or display piece, not a bed quilt.

Code and some notes on use:

This code was written in Octave, the free clone of Matlab; it should also work in Matlab if you have access to it. Octave is, as mentioned, free; if you are a windows user you will probably need cygwin or similar to run it. To run, open Octave (or Matlab), cd to the folder containing the file, and run “bargello”; wait a minute or so and you should get a figure and some output to the terminal. The list “lscuts” that gets output is the cutting widths, which you can substitute in order into the chart above. Where to unpick the seams you will have to work out from the figure. The number “totalwidth” is the total width of fabric you will need; the program throws an error if you try to exceed the fabric width it thinks you have (which is set in the first few lines of code).

Code: dropbox link; make sure that you save the file as “bargello.m”.


Program output for my quilt

Presumably if you are interested in the code, you want to do more than just reproduce the same quilt; unfortunately you will need to do a bit of spelunking into the code to do so because I haven’t got a nice interface built. I’ve done my best to comment, though, and it should be fairly straightforward. The main places you want to modify are the lines that define “switchpts” and “ls”, about in the middle of the file. Fiddle around with the numbers here until you have a design worth building in fabric.

I’ve included a couple of designs that I was playing with today; what’s currently in the code is the S-shaped quilt I made (albeit mirrored because I was not paying attention when unpicking my seams), and there are two other designs that are simply commented out: a design with a single central peak and a design with wavy diagonals:

The code is general enough to make larger or smaller quilts: the first block of definitions tells the code how much fabric, and of how many colors, you have. The third chunk (the second chunk is devoted to choosing colors) is also related to the size; it tells the code how many vertical bars to use in the pattern. The fourth chunk starts to define the shape of the pattern, telling the code where to put high points and low points in the pattern, and the fifth sets the strip widths. The remainder is the work-horse part of the code, but you shouldn’t need to mess with it unless you are doing something really complicated.

I have to admit I’m really curious if anyone will even touch the code (or, for that matter, put in all the work to make a quilt designed by an internet stranger) so I’d love to hear from you if you find any of this useful.

Journal: 4 October 2014

Shawl worked in Tunisian simple stitch and honeycomb stitch

Shawl worked in Tunisian simple stitch and honeycomb stitch

Since my last journal post, I finished the Tunisian-crochet shawl that I was working on, and set to work on two new projects that I am pretty excited about. Actually everything I am going to talk about today will probably eventually get its own pattern post, but in the meantime I want to share what I’ve been up to.

tunisian_yarnFirst, the shawl: this is another project from my big box o’ random yarns. I had three variegated yarns that more or less coordinated and more or less formed a nice gradient from light multi to dark reds (see photo). For the curious, this is Premier Yarns/Deborah Norville Serenity sock weight in “saffron”, “paprika”, and “purple spice”. I also had, not pictured, some of the same brand’s solid-color yarns, including “soft white” and burgundy. I also had a ginormous Afghan hook, although it turned out not to be long enough—I started with a 9″ J hook and replaced it halfway through with a 13″ J hook. My last real journal post talks about how I constructed it; the colors ended up working out such that the last variegated yarn gave out just at the end of a TSS section, which was convenient. I edged it with the burgundy yarn: a row of single crochet and then a row of double crochet shells worked on an H hook. I blocked it to stop it curling, and got an extra 10″ of wingspan out of it. Photos:

Because so very much yarn went into its construction—because of how thick and fluffy Tunisian crochet is, even when you go up several hook sizes—this beast is quite warm and snuggly; I am looking forward to the coming cooler months to wear it.


Honeycomb mitts in progress

As soon as I put the shawl out to block, I set in on my next Tunisian crochet adventure, a pair of mitts, even though I still have another pair of mitts stalled on needles. This was inspired by a honeycomb section of the shawl where the multi yarn happened to line up such that several rows had orange/pink for the posts and green/blue for the back chain, which I thought was just the most beautiful thing. I wanted to recreate this effect in a more deliberate way—using one dark color for all of the posts in a piece and a different, variegated color for all the back chains. This requires working in the round, I believe, which requires a double-ended, proper Tunisian style crochet hook. I had one on hand in size H.

mitts_hookThe yarns are two that I had on hand, (you guessed it!) more serenity sock weight yarn, this time a solid purple and the “teal tease” multi left over from my first pair of knit socks. I think if I were to start again, and start from the yarn store rather than my stash, I would choose a darker solid, either black or a dark grey, and a brighter multi. Part of the inspiration for this project was the stained-glass-like effect you get from framing bright colors in dark, and that is not really coming through in the project. I do really like the sections where the backing yarn is the bright teal, though.

Finally, I have a sewing project I am super excited about. Like, received the fabric on Monday, halfway done with a (lap-sized) quilt by Friday excited. I have been taking a break from the Great Five Shirts Project, so this gets to be the project to break in my new sewing machine.

I don’t know how many of you will be familiar with the Bargello quilting style—if you’re not, do an image search right now. A friend of mine mentioned these to me a while ago and I am a little obsessed. Like, break my post-queen-sized-fully-handstitched-scrap-quilt moratorium obsessed. Like, throw my ethic of “all quilts should be scrap quilts” out the window. The style is so beautiful, and the execution is so clever, that I had to try it myself.


Color pallette

The bargello quilt starts with a bunch of strips of coordinating colors, so I picked up a half jelly roll—turns out you can get Bali Batik half rolls for $15 from amazon, in a whole range of colors. I picked up a green one that doesn’t seem to be available any more. I got 20 strips, each 44″ or longer and 2.5″ wide, in ten distinct batik patterns, shown at right. Step 1 was to sew them together, lengthwise, in some sort of coherent way; I arranged them in a gradient from light to dark of the yellowish greens and then from dark to light of the bluish, then repeating. You actually sew them together completely, into a tube, and then to make the flat quilt you unpick some of the seams.

Quilt mock-up in octave

Quilt mock-up in Octave

The second step is planning the cutting and construction: all basic Bargello quilts start the same way (although there are variations that don’t), but the next step is tricky. The sewn-together tube is cut into strips, crosswise to the original strips, of varying widths, and then sewn together at an offset, creating steps. The widths determine what the pattern will be. I needed a way to mock up the quilt and decide on the widths; I decided to do this in Octave (free knockoff of matlab), which I am fluent in and which has decent graphics capability. It’s a very small piece of code—I gave it a set of colors, and set the widths manually, and it plots a bunch of rectangles of those colors and widths, and warns me if my widths would exceed the total fabric width. After many iterations of adjusting the widths, I settled on one I like, shown above.

bargello_asplodeI’ve done the cutting and started the re-assembly process; at right is a photo of the semi-exploded quilt top. Some of the strips at the center are sewn together. The next step is sewing the rest of the strips together; then I will need to sort out batting, edging and backing, and try out the quilting foot that came with my sewing machine. The final piece will be about 36″ by 40″, plus whatever border happens, so definitely a lap quilt or display piece.

Journal: New sewing machine edition

Machine and all the parts it came with

Machine and all the parts it came with

I mentioned in my last post that I was tremendously excited to have a new sewing machine on its way. It arrived Wednesday and I’ve had some time to play around with it, and I am just as delighted as I expected to be, if not more. In addition to being probably the fanciest machine I’ve worked on—my grandmother’s, used for a cumulative three days tops, may beat it—it is as quiet as a whisper to work on. Which is to say, not quite silent and probably annoying in some situations, but it doesn’t go clackety-clackety like my old one. I should probably disclaim that this post should not be construed as a particular recommendation for this machine—it should be clear that I haven’t got experience with any of the comparable machines on the market—but simply as an expression of my excitement to have a nice machine at last. Although, if this sale comes up on Woot again, I will say: it comes with a lot of parts, runs smoothly and quietly, has a good stitch selection (and automatic buttonholes!), is quite well engineered, and so on, so definitely worth the much-reduced price.

The first thing I did was demolish the packaging, set up the machine, and try out a bunch of the stitches. In addition to the utility and decorative stitches, it has a monogramming font, which took me a few tries to figure out how to use (turns out you need to program your sequence ahead of time, not pick letters on the fly). The buttonholing feature works perfectly, although the buttonholes (automatically sized to a button placed in the back of the special foot! so clever!) are a wee bit looser than I would make by hand, so I may adjust the size down a notch in future.

New coin pocket with fans outlined in machine-stitching

New coin pocket with fans outlined in machine-stitching

Yesterday I made my first project using the machine—although most of the stitching was by necessity done by hand. The coin pocket on my wallet has been wearing out, so I decided to replace it with a double-layer of a slightly sturdier cotton fabric. One of my concerns from playing around with the machine was that the presser foot and feed dog were too good at holding the fabric, making it difficult to follow tight curves, so I decided to outline some of the patterns on my fabric with the machine, to see how well it did in a low-stakes context. The stitching will help stop rips in the fabric, so it wouldn’t have been wasted effort even if the decorative effect had failed. And, fortunately, it worked just fine; I had to go slow and had to pick up the presser foot after every few stitches on the tightest curve, but could follow the lines quite accurately. That done, I wandered back to the couch and attached the fabric by hand—it would take quite a machine indeed to blanket-stitch through the holes I already established in the vinyl, and I didn’t want to detach the zipper and reattach it by hand just so I could sew the cloth and zipper together by machine. At any rate I am quite pleased with the new coin pocket and expect to get another few years’ use out of the wallet.

Bug, my straight-stitch poor-college-student machine

Bug, my straight-stitch-only poor-college-student machine

Just for sentimental reasons I took photos of my other two machines and intend to talk a little about them. First up is Bug, the first machine I owned (although for most of high school I basically owned my mom’s machine, a table-mounted Singer, by squatter’s rights), which I bought for a grand total of $40 from Target. It has one stitch, straight, and three discrete speeds, all of which are fast. I kinda adore this machine—its exploits include sewing through seven layers of heavy denim to make hakama for a friend, and crossing campus in my backpack only to sew paint-spattered canvas in a dingy basement for decorations for a carnival booth. It’s still going strong, too—I recently used it for my canvas grocery bags, which involved many layers of canvas in attaching the handles. On the other hand, it is loud, has the jankiest tension mechanism ever and a broken spool pin, and as previously mentioned has only the one stitch.

The serger

The serger

My other machine is the serger, which for some reason mostly inspires vague feelings of guilt. It was a gift from my then-boyfriend’s mother, who had had it gathering dust for many years and was happy to get rid of it. I think I feel badly because it was once quite a nice machine, and I have a lot of hangups about Properly Appreciating Gifts, but by the time I got it it was rather out of repair, and between my preference for hand-sewing and my preference for non-stretch fabrics, it has not seen much use at all and doesn’t even have a name.

Anyway, watch this space for new machine-based sewing exploits; I intend for one of my remaining Five Blouses to be my real getting-to-know-you project for the machine.

Journal: 18 August 2014

It’s been a bit of a while since I’ve posted here—I don’t want to be one of those blogs where half the space is spent apologizing for not putting up more content, but I do want to mention that I may be posting less often for a while but that I am not hibernating. For a long while there I was binging on designing tatted lace, which makes it really easy to put up a new pattern every few days; I was also completely unemployed. More recently I’ve been feeling a bit tapped out on tatting, having embarked on a couple ambitious knitting projects instead; I’ve also picked up a very, very part-time job which is reducing my need to feel productive by blogging. This particular long break between posts was a combination of the above factors, plus I spent this past week on a family vacation with really poor internet.

Today I have a couple of hand-sewn blouses to show you—both of which showed up in my last tutorial post, but I have a couple more pictures that didn’t really fit in. I’ve got a little bitsy crochet meta-project: a box to hold in-progress projects. I’ve also got a knitting project that I am rather excited about, although I actually have no clue if I’ll like it at all when I’m done.

Sewing blouses

First, progress on the Great Five-Blouse Sewing Project: I have now completed three of five. Photos:

I’m still quite happy with the pattern, McCalls M6035, on the whole, but a little disappointed with how the stand-up collar and short-sleeve variants came out. I love Mandarin collars, but the collar coming forward all the way to the overlapping front makes it rather awkward. I kind of like how it looks with the collar folded down, but a) it’s a very old-fashioned look, which is sometimes but not always a good thing, and b) I used a non-reversible fabric, so you see the wrong side and it looks less professional. My complaint with the sleeves is just that they’re too tight—which may be more to do with my chubby upper arms than anything, so your mileage may vary. The green one is a little frumpy—using the full collar and bishop sleeve variants—but I did it deliberately, so I’m okay with it.

One final bit of news about my sewing situation is that I recently found out that Woot occasionally sells sewing machines. Really nice ones. For half their usual going price. So I’ve got a 185-stitch Brother with automatic buttonholing features in the mail, about which I am exceedingly excited. For anyone keeping score, this brings my total sewing machines up to three, and I barely use the ones I have—on the other hand, there are good reasons I don’t use them. At any rate, I am designating one of the remaining blouses as my getting-acquainted-with-my-new-machine project, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

Crochet project box


Basket, full of cashmere knitting, in amongst my other crafting things

I’ve got some odds and ends—all right, several skeins—left over from the big bag o’ cotton yarn I got a while back; they are awkward colors that I don’t really want in my kitchen, but I hate to waste good yarn and I don’t mind having a, well, eclectic crafting space. I also have a knitting project on sock needles with cables, with really delicate yarn—so I thought it would be nice to have some way of holding all those little needles and all together and protect the yarn from the rest of my crafting space. Putting two and two together, I made a quick basket in single crochet out of the hideous yarn, and am rather pleased with the result. It’s not the flattest or most beautiful thing I’ve made, but it serves its purpose well enough.

Detail of claw feet

Detail of claw feet

I don’t have a pattern for this wee beasty—I bet you could do as well or better on your own—but the general idea is a flat rectangle worked in spirals, then side walls that use decreases to slope inward a little bit and hold everything together. I do rather like one detail I came up with, which is to give the corners a bit of a claw-foot. The first row of the sides is in normal single crochet, working in only the front loop of the last row of the base; the second is in single crochet except a few stitches around the corners, which are: yo, yo, yo, insert hook in back loop of a stitch on the base, pull up loop, (yo and pull through two loops) twice, insert hook through both loops of a stitch on the side, yo and pull through all remaining loops. From the inside it looks just like a sc or possibly an hdc; from the outside it is a raised column. I did this to the five stitches directly on each corner, then on one stitch to each side separated by one sc. Anyway, a couple more photos:

Knitting a drape-neck shell

Drafting and pattern creation!

Drafting and pattern creation!

drape_frontSo I’ve done a little bit of drafting of sewing patterns in the past—mostly by modifying commercial patterns. The one shown above is traced and modified from New Look 6483; I removed the seam allowance, moved the bust dart, and heavily slashed the neckline to create a drape-neck. I had an idea a while ago to make this in diagonal knitting, but ended up getting too frustrated and scrapping it. In the meantime I added the seam allowances back in and sewed the shirt shown at right, which I wear pretty frequently and like. Just before heading off on vacation, though, I realized I didn’t have a project to take on the airplane, so I hauled it all out and set to work.

Back piece of shell

Back piece of shell and first few rows of front

For some reason—I am not at all sure why this is—I hate the thought of making knits in sections and then joining them, even though I don’t mind sewing at all. I think it just offends my sense of elegance: there are so many shaping tools you can bring to bear in knitting, so you should be able to make fairly complicated garments all in one go. Plus, I hate cutting yarn, in case I decide later to rip out the project and do something else with it. At any rate, this means the construction plan needed some thought. I figured out that I could do a one-piece sleeveless shell by starting at the back, at armpit level; working upwards to the neck; working the neck like a buttonhole with a bind-off and then cast-on in the middle of a row; working down across the bust to the armpit; then reconnecting with the back and working the torso in the round. Connecting this plan to the sewing pattern required making a gauge swatch, then taking a lot of measurements across my pattern and converting them to stitch counts. At the end of a couple hours’ work I had a plan of increases and decreases.

Shoulder showing slip-stitch shaping

Shoulder showing slip-stitch shaping on outside edge

The first cast-on, since it needs to be joined later, is the double-sided cast-on you’ll see sometimes for toe-up socks: the yarn is just wrapped around and around two needles. The main part of the work is all in stockinette, since I don’t have the patience for complicated drafting plus lace at the same time, on oversized needles. The armhole shaping, which is horizontal, is done with simple decreases and increases. The back-neck and shoulder strap shaping, which is vertical but doesn’t need to be precise, I did by making some sections of (slip 1, k1)/(slip 1, p1) work, which compresses vertically. Apparently this stitch curls a lot though—hopefully I can get it flat in blocking, or failing that by sewing in a facing.

Detail of front showing cast-on

Detail of front showing cast-on

The bind-off for the neck is the usual knit bind-off, with the trick of working a knit-in-front-and-back stitch at the beginning to avoid gapping or distortion. The cast-on for the neck I wanted to make a little decorative, so it’s actually the tatting double stitch, which does just fine and creates long, lacy loops at the edge. Now I’m beginning the long, slow slog of decreases to shape the drape-neck and front armholes.


Detail showing yarn colors

Detail showing yarn colors

The yarn, by the way, is premier yarns’ serenity sock weight, which I’ve mentioned loving before, in the Harlequin colorway. It’s coming through really dull in my photographs, for some reason, and indeed in the online-yarn-store photographs I can find, but in person it’s a really vibrant mix of Mardi Gras teal, purple, gold, and a bit of leaf green. It’s somewhat of an interesting experience to work with—in some lights I love it and think it’s the best thing, in others I hate it and suspect I will never wear the shirt. So I’m feeling a bit of trepidation about this project. On the other hand, this yarn definitely does not want to be a shawl or a scarf or anything, at least to my mind, so I’m not sure I lose anything if the shirt doesn’t turn out great either. Wish me luck!