March 2011

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I have had a nice but rather large spice rack for some time. I recently traded with someone who had this cute vintage black spice rack that I intended to give to the girl. But when it arrived, well, I decided to keep it for its intended purpose. Good thing I didn’t tell her. It guilted me into finding her a bigger, more suitable shelf for her little stuffies that we already had in the basement anyway.

Before and after pictures. Just cleaned up the new (old) rack and put only the most used spices on it. It looked immediately at home in our c. 1952 kitchen. Not sure how I’ll use the little drawer but it will easily hold 4×6 or probably even 5×7 recipe cards. Now if I could just clean up the rest of that counter . . .

large wood spice rack vintage painted black wooden spice rack


I’m doing my first test knitting. Am I qualified for that? I don’t know but I volunteered. This is one of those kinds of projects that you probably have to have kids to appreciate. It’s not necessarily the warmest or most practical winter hat, but I think it’s going to be very popular at school.

Knitting Ninja’s Shark Hat – new version to be released soon on Ravelry.

Pictures below of my version. There were some parts I was unclear on so it could be I got some things wrong but it’s still awfully cute and definitely wearable. Nom, nom, nom. I think I’ll be making more of these.

hand knitted shark hat

And surprise, surprise, girly girl thought it was the best thing in the world. She begged to wear it to school (sorry, not yet) and chased her brother around the house wearing it.

knitting ninja's shark hat pattern hand knitted shark hat with button eyes

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Area farms that make maple syrup open their gates to the public on the last weekend in March around here. This was the first year that we were able to make the timing work. Having recently watched a horse movie, we chose to visit the Cooper farm where they raise miniature horses, creamy white Charolais cattle, and a number of exotic birds as well as tapping their maple trees and keeping bees. The air was crisp but sunny and we enjoyed the walk around the farm squishing our boots through the Maine mud and ending up in the warm, steaming sugaring house, drinking in the smells of wood smoke and maple sap cooking down into syrup. A sampling of maple syrup drizzled ice cream provided the happy ending. We brought home powdered maple sugar, some maple cotton candy (the only kind of cotton candy worth eating), and local honey.

miniature horse

pheasants, peacocks and chickens


running jumping on shrink wrapped hay bales


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The boy’s class had an Arctic Celebration this evening complete with readers’ theater, songs, artwork, games and snacks, and surprise—snow—so appropriate to the theme and late March in Maine.

handmade cookie cutter polar bear

I had volunteered to bring something baked and at the last minute (not a surprise) I decided that I just had to make polar bear shaped shortbread. Had to. A piece of aluminum roof flashing, a pair of pliers and a few minutes of careful bending yielded a serviceable cookie cutter in a graphically simple shape of a polar bear reminiscent of Inuit sculpture. The boy helped me make the simple shortbread dough and we had just enough time to bake the bears before heading off through the snow to see his classmates and their families at the school.

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hand-knit pink sweater dress

Over the last month I have been knitting on this project nearly every night after a certain princess went to bed. The free pattern is the Oriental Lily dress by Georgie Hallam and I followed it pretty closely except for using size 3 for the width and size 5/6 for the length. Not only is this the biggest project I’ve knitted but it is has also been one of the most interesting, not because of any detail of the pattern but because of the way in which it came together.

In so many ways this dress (Ravelry project link) was a group effort. Two different members of the Ravelry community gave me the two yarns I knit together for the main color. My dear neighbor E. gave me a huge bag of odds and ends in which was the perfect contrasting berry color. I read through the notes on Ravelry from the other knitters who have made up the pattern before me, allowing me to make the perfect size. When I was done with the bodice but having a mental crisis on whether the dress was hideous or Pinkalicious, so many people on Ravelry responded to my forum post. They gave me the overwhelming support I needed to go on and finish with confidence.

The girl was quite pleased and came bounding into our room this morning full of thanks. She whirled and twirled all day and then proclaimed that she wants to wear it every day, forever!

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Spinning purists beware . . .

Months ago I was spinning some nice wool top and had the realization that my left hand was actually doing very little. Some minor tension, a little adjustment here and there—actually my right hand wasn’t doing that much either, I just had the tension on the wheel set a bit high and I was allowing that tension to draft the top right out of my hand. My mind raced ahead and wondered if it was possible to spin with just one hand. I immediately dismissed the possibility as I’d never heard or seen it mentioned anywhere. Being self-taught, I felt too silly to ask anyone online in the various spinning forums I have poked my head into virtually. I occasionally played around to see if I could spin without using my left hand and would manage a yard or two.

I didn’t really pursue it until several outside influences came together. My spinning godmother, Annie, unexpectedly sent me a book called Spinning for Softness and Speed by Paula Simmons. Within the pages was a section specifically about spinning with one hand! The technique she described was a little different from what I was doing but I was encouraged by the possibility that it could be done at all and her explanation helped my own process along.

The other influence that gave me a sense of purpose was a post on the New England Textile Arts (NETA) forum from one of the members asking about spinning with one hand. While she received many responses, no one had ever seen or tried it before. I reluctantly admitted I had tried it and recommended the above book. Several weeks ago I met Beth, a.k.a yarndemon, at NETA’s annual get-together in Freeport. (Go see Beth’s lace socks knit with one hand!) We had chatted via e-mail but she wanted to see how I was actually doing the spinning so I practiced quite a bit beforehand. We discussed various techniques, wool preparations and experiences pertaining specifically to spinning with one hand. She was encouraged that we were using a similar technique and achieving similar results. I was encouraged that I was able to spin with one hand (or at all for that matter) in front of strangers!

Since my discussion with Beth, I’ve been able to sort out a bit more about what was working and not working for me. I’d had several attempts that looked much worse than my very first spindle spinning. There were long thick barely spun sections and tightly overspun thin sections. What I figured out was that although I was spinning a woolen yarn, the best prep for my one-handed method was actually combed top. (Any purists still reading may now keel over.) I finally managed a soft single out of naturally black merino that was still thick and thin but with just the right amount of spin. In fact, it was not unlike a commercial thick and thin singles yarn from a popular manufacturer. The blue in the photo below is commercial Malabrigo Aquarella and the dark merino is my handspun.

Malabrigo Aquarella thick and thin single and handspun thick and thin black merino

My fourth attempt involved a merino/bamboo/nylon combed top from Spunky Eclectic. I had intended to spin this semi-woolen with two hands to a two-ply fingering or sport weight. It slid so well out of my hand that I decided to try spinning one handed and see if I could get a more even single with a smaller grist. Success! I did not hold myself to spinning the entire 3 ounces one-handed but I’d say at least half of it was spun one-handed. I haven’t wet-finished it but I’m going to guess I’ve managed an airily soft, fairly even sport/DK weight at 230 yards from 3 ounces. While I don’t have a reason to become fully proficient at this technique it has been an interesting experience and I have learned quite a bit about the way I spin from the attempt.

I know that some of you spinners out there are thinking this post is worthless without video. Sorry, while I can spin with just my right hand, my left hand could not manage holding the camera! And I think I’m going to need a wild handpaint to really show what’s going on. So please comment if you’d like to see video.

handspun two-ply yarn Spunky Eclectic PANDA blue chip merino bamboo nylon

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Rosalina is a character from Super Mario Galaxy, a game for the Wii, which builds on the story of the long running Nintendo video game characters—plumber brothers, Mario and Luigi. She is the benevolent caretaker of baby stars called lumas. I previously made a few lumas out of felt for the kids.

The girl recently requested a Rosalina dress for her Groovy Girl doll, Sarah. Since she plays with Sarah quite a lot, I decided it was worth doing. I had several fabric choices in my stash and could have gone with a dressier velvet that wasn’t quite the right shade of blue or a satin that would have looked good but would have been very difficult to work with on such a small scale. I decided to use an outgrown tee shirt in the right color for ease of sewing and dressing the doll. Since I’ve made a few other dresses for this doll, it wasn’t too hard to draft a pattern that suggests the general look of Rosalina’s dress. I used a thinner white cotton knit for the trim, using the inherent trait of knit fabric to roll over in my favor. It’s a bit rough but I spent about as much time as I’m willing to spend on a doll dress. Done is better than perfect.

Groovy girl soft fabric doll dressed as Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy hand sewn handmade Rosalina dress Super Mario Galaxy

The star brooch and the crown are made from Sculpey molded over a paper skeleton, baked and brushed with silver paint and decorated with plastic jewels. I had intended to make those accessories out of fabric as well but I couldn’t find anything remotely suitable. Hopefully the paper skeleton inside the polymer clay accessories will give them some chance of survival.

hand made Sculpey polymer clay crown and brooch for Rosalina Super Mario Galaxy

Not that I’m particularly a fan myself, but I suppose this could be considered fan art. Or fan craft. Or something like that.

And yes, Sarah has big feet. Maybe I should have made the dress a little longer.

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leather doll shoes made by hand Liv fashion doll Barbie Blythe

I make shoes. With no cobblering tools or training other than what I’ve been able to find in a few obscure books. That probably qualifies me as insane right there. In the past I have made several pairs of shoes for myself on homemade lasts, and lots of baby shoes. Now I’ve made doll shoes. Actually these aren’t the first doll shoes but these are the first that are actually made of leather and made with fairly traditional shoemaking techniques. I won’t bore you with the details. Alexia, is my daughter’s Liv fashion doll. Along with her rather garish outfit, she arrived with plastic boots. So although I have yet to make her any new clothes, I suddenly decided to make her new shoes today. Her feet are about an inch long, I don’t know exactly because I didn’t measure anything. These were a very simple pair of slip-ons made of thin suede and leather scraps leftover from baby shoes and a tiny scrap of floral cotton for the insole. I actually did not do any sewing, I used fusible web to construct these. My intention was to sew after but it doesn’t seem necessary. We’ll see how they hold up.

slip on leather doll shoes handmade

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Winter in Maine means months of sweaters and snowpants, hot chocolate and mittens. For Christmas, the girl received a beautiful puzzle inspired by Disney’s Snow White with artwork painted by Tim Rogerson in a style subtly reminiscent of Picasso. I know that sounds like a strange combination but click through to see the original artwork, the artist really makes it work. Apparently the artist’s style made quite an impression on the girl because a few days after we worked on the puzzle she created this mitten picture beginning with a tracing of her own hands.

child's drawing of mittens

Later, the boy saw her picture and got an idea. He very carefully explained how we could sew mittens by putting our hands down on fabric instead of paper, tracing and cutting. He went on to describe how he would sew the mittens all around the hand and thumb. He even had some ideas about how to add details such as the hearts in the girl’s picture. I wish I could say we carried out his plan but he lost interest at that point. Sigh.

I did however incorporate his plan into mittens for myself with a little help from the kids. We traced my hand and cut out the pattern. I decided to use the fair isle decorated sleeves of a felted sweater to make my mittens. This lovely wool sweater was sent to me by my sweet friend Amy who thought that I could do something with it. Here’s what we did Amy!

cutting felted fair isle sweater into mittens
partially sewn mitten upcycle recycle refashion wool sweater sleeve

Although I kept the part of the seam that was already sewn, I decided not to sew a standard seam around the thumb and hand. Instead I overlapped the fabric, basted across the overlap and then used my needle felting tool to felt the overlap. My intention was to eliminate a hard seam on the inside, especially at the fingertips. This worked with some success. The sides of the mittens and thumb felted together well leaving almost no visible seam. The fingertip area, unfortunately, did not hold together so well. In fact I’ve been wearing them with the basting stitch holding the ends together which sort of negates the point of wool mittens. But despite the little draftiness at the ends they are still the warmest, softest mittens I have. I do intend to take a minute to work some more on the fingertips and thumbtips to close them up. If I can stop wearing them long enough.

mitten sewn from felted recycled upcycled refashioned wool sweater

P.S. Just in case you want to make your own sewn mittens, I highly recommend sewing in a diamond shaped gusset between the thumb and first finger. If you pin your mitten together and try it on, leaving that spot open, you’ll see why you need just a bit of extra fabric in there.

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