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Back on the Long Arm

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I know I know… I keep saying I will write and never do. Life is busy and it is just hard to find the time to slow down  and document everything. Especially when it isn’t like I really have a following here, just a handful of people see these posts. Maybe not even a handful. So, what have I been up to since my last post back in October?

Mostly I have been knitting (a couple scarves and a couple hats), but I of course don’t really have good photos of those things. Just a couple quick pics of some of the things I have been knitting. The second hat I knit I am unhappy with and am going to rip the whole thing apart and reclaim the yarn, so no point in even showing a photo of it.

Baa-ble Hat

I love the first hat I made though, back in October. It was my first attempt at stranded knitting (color work) and it came out pretty good; although my yarn choice wasn’t the best as it turned out. The colors were perfect for what I wanted, but the silk content of the yarn affected the… puff? fluff? of the wool, so you can see where I carried the black yarn behind the white of the sheep and I am not excited about that. Overall I am really happy with it though, and I am itching to try another stranded knitting project. It was really really fun! I learned so much making it… reading charts, working with two colors, new ways of holding yarn, how to make a pom pom, etc etc. (Pattern link… it’s free!)

After that I made a scarf for my mother out of some really fancy yarn made with a blend of baby alpaca, cashmere, camel, and silk. No, I don’t even want to tell you what this scarf cost after using 8 skeins of the stuff… but she is allergic to wool so my options were limited. And this yarn was just so awesome I couldn’t pass it up. I used the Shibui Mix No. 26 pattern, which called for using two strands (held together) of light fingering weight yarn… but the yarn I used was more like a sport weight (little thicker than fingering). It came out thicker and heavier than I wanted. I really regretted not going up a needle size or two. In the end it curled horribly… blocking it helped, but from what mom says it has reverted to its horribly curled state now. Sigh. I think I am going to have to ask her to give it back to me to remake with a larger needle and see if it fixes it… or maybe just pick a different pattern or drop one strand of the yarn even though it would then be thinner than it was meant to be. Sigh. I don’t know which way to go with it. It sure came out pretty after it was blocked though! Too bad it is now a curled up mess again.

While knitting that scarf for my mother, it occurred to me that my husband didn’t own a scarf and never had. When I suggested to him that he needed a scarf, he scoffed at the idea at first. Later he started to really like the idea of my making a scarf for him though, so I told him to pick out some yarn and I would make him one. He chose a very nice hand painted (which means he got a $50 scarf!) fingering weight wool yarn and I got to work. We eventually settled on a simple garter stitch that went together pretty quickly over my Christmas vacation and I finished it up just in time for it to snow. He seems to really like it and has said several times that he is shocked at how warm and cozy it is. I don’t have a completed photo of it… the second it was off my needles it was around his neck! Of course, this being North Carolina, it was only cold enough to wear the scarf a few days and then it was back in the 60s and 70s. Here is a quick photo if the scarf when I had just started out. The only thing I would do differently if I made this again would be to slip the edge stitch to make it a little smoother, but he is happy with it and that is all that matters.

My current knitting project is kind of at a stand still. While shopping for that yarn for my husband I found some purple yarn with flecks of sparkle that just screamed, ‘your mother in law would LOVE this yarn!!’ so I bought that to make a scarf for her as well. Of course, with NC weather even if I had finished it immediately after the one I made for my husband it probably won’t be cold enough to wear it until next winter… but I just needed a little knitting break after plowing through two hats and two scarves. I have started her scarf several times over actually, but haven’t been very happy with anything I have tried. Right now I am trying to make myself get a little ways into a King Charles Brocade stitch pattern to see if I like the way it comes out… although I keep finding myself seriously pondering getting some white yarn to go with the purple and playing with some stranded patterns.

At this point you are probably saying, “But this is a SEWING blog! Stop with all this knitting talk… what have you been SEWING??”

Well, not much frankly. I made a couple shirts for my daughter, some pencil pouches for teacher Christmas gifts (filled with sharpies and pens), and I started on a jacket for my daughter forever ago… and the jacket is still not done. I had it mostly together, but then just lost the umpf for it right at the end. I think it was just that I tried it on her and didn’t really like the way it hung. I need to kick my butt in gear and finish it. All that remains is top stitching, then sewing up the cuffs, and sewing up the hole in the lining that I used for turning it right site out. See? Nearly done! But there is absolutely no sewing happening right now because my sewing room is completely torn apart. I do not exaggerate!

The clutter was getting out of hand and the tiny room was in serious need of reorganization. Last week I suddenly had some time on my hands because I was laid off work (hopefully I can say ‘no big deal’ and have it be true… after four years I was ready to leave that job anyway, and am excited about finding a new role at a new company). So, after a couple days spent chilling, followed by a several days starting the job search… I found myself with nothing pressing to do and decided to just attack it while I had the chance.

Right now my sewing room looks like a bomb or three exploded in there. It is completely unusable! I can’t even get to my machine. But the process has been good… the little bit that has now been organized again looks great, and I have become reacquainted with all my UFOs and the thousand or so kits just waiting to be made. I hardcore want to get in there and finish some of my UFO quilts (although I am still markedly less excited about finishing that jacket).

Right now I am at a point in the reorganization where I am feeling a little stuck because what I really want to do is tear the useless cube-shelf-thingies out of the closet and replace the whole thing with a nice Elfa set up like I have on one of the sewing room walls… but that is pricey and… well, no job. So, right now I am weighing the ‘find temp place for this junk’ (i.e., shove it out of sight and hope it doesn’t fall on my head and kill me next time I open the closet) until I can create (read: buy) a good place/way to stow it… versus continue futilely trying to find some tidy solution within my current constraints. It is at the point now where I look at the pile of stuff and have a conversation in my head something like, “Where do I put this stuff? I have no where to put this stuff. OMG I WILL NEVER SEW AGAIN BECAUSE I CAN’T REACH MY MACHINE. Okay, don’t panic… you had this stuff stowed somewhere before, right?? Yes, I did! But it was all kind of piled in front of the closet door… and then I couldn’t get in the closet without shuffling all this crap around… and…. OMG I AM NEVER GOING TO SEW AGAIN!”

Also, I took a long arm class today! I haven’t used a long arm in over a year (as I didn’t really do much quilting last year) so it was great to hop back in. I wanted to learn how to quilt from a pantograph to both improve my free motion quilting (the muscle memory and control will help) and so that I can hopefully quilt some of my UFOs using designs that are a little above my free motion abilities. I really enjoyed the class and plan on scoping out a pantograph design to order when I am finished writing this… then I shall use that design to conquer the world! Well, I will use it to quilt some charity (read: free!) quilts until I feel comfortable with it, and then I will rent some time and finally finish a quilt of my own for the first time in… 18 months? And that will feel a little like conquering the world.

In case you are asking, “What the heck is a pantograph?” … A pantograph is a long print out (as in, on paper. I know, it is a strange concept in this age of PDFs and digital files) of a continuous line design. That means it is a design that has no stopping or starting point, it is just one long continuous line from one side of the quilt to the next. See some examples here, or just google ‘quilting pantograph.’ You stand behind the quilting machine and following this printed line with a laser pointer that is attached to the long arm. When you get to the end of the row (meaning you have quilted one row of the design from one side of the quilt to the other) you cut your thread, move your quilt forward, move the machine back to the other end of the quilt and trace the printed line all over again.

You repeat this process until you have quilted the entire thing. Today I practiced with a basic meandering line design, and it came out great. I have a tendency to quilt very densely, as many people do in the beginning, because it is very hard to maintain uniform distance when you are quilting freely. Practicing with a line will really help with learning to make bigger motions… and sometimes if you do one pattern enough, apparently you just learn it and don’t even need the print out anymore. Which is great for me, with the way I learn it will be really helpful to have the visual design there for me to trace over and over until it is ingrained my both my muscles and brain.

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