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We went to see my parents last weekend and my mother gifted me with several odd contraptions and a book I can’t read. Ha ha!

This one is a yarn swift which is used for winding yarn into hanks or skeins. It folds up like an umbrella into that cute pink box.

yarn swift

This one is a ball winder which will wind yarn from skeins into center pull balls. I remember helping my mother wind yarn with this when I was a kid. You’ll see I immediately put it to good use.

yarn ball winder

And this book about how to make seams in knit and crochet pieces. Really amazing, all in Japanese but with great pictures and illustrations of each technique. There are some incredible pictures of invisible seams in what seems like pretty complicated knitted pieces.

vintage Japanese knitting and crochet finishing/seam technique book page detail from Japanese book on knitting and crochet seams pages from Japanese book on knitting and crochet

These will come in handy for my spinning and knitting projects.

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If you’ve ever made your own bias trim or piping, you’ll know that it is not the easiest task but produces a most rewarding and unique embellishment. My 1953 Singer Sewing Book makes reference to a bias cutting gauge made by Singer which could be clipped to your scissors to automatically cut the perfect width strips of fabric.

illustration of bias cutting gauge

Intrigued I searched the internet to see if I could purchase one of these handy gadgets. I found a vintage example for sale at a ridiculously high price. Karen of OneGirlCircus, found a modern version at a very reasonable price, but while quite adjustable, it seemed rather large in comparison and frankly, I was reluctant to pay the shipping to buy one item.

So, of course the next logical step (for me) was to attempt to make my own. The first version was quickly bent out of a leftover piece of metal flashing (that would be the kind that goes on your roof). Worked great, a little flimsy, not so attractive.

diy bias strip cutting guide/gauge handmade bias cutting guide

Version two was formed out of a flat bobby pin. Bingo, definitely a winner—slim, smooth and easy to use. Now just today I ran across a much better photo of a vintage version which shows how it was adjustable. I think with a little tinkering I can incorporate that into the next version. I’m not sure which excites me more, having this great new tool or the fact that I figured out how to make it myself!

DIY bias cutting gauge
using the handmade bias cutting guide

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First off I have been wanting a copy of any Mary Brooks Pickens sewing book and I scored this 1953 edition off eBay for less than $10. The outside looks its age but the inside is totally clean! It’s full of all sorts of great knitpicky sewing details that you can’t find in modern books. Now if I can just find a 40’s/50’s vintage pattern drafting book I’ll be all set!

inside of Singer Sewing Book 1953 by Mary Brooks Pickens

I think there was also some household shopping in there which involved a new watchband for me—exactly like my old watchband—just not falling off the pins, a very stylish linen shirt for DH, a bargain pair of pink-trimmed sneakers for the girl and a few pairs of much needed jeans for the boy. Yes, I broke down and bought them. I promise to still finish the scary pair.

But the highlight of my weekend was a visit to Spunky Eclectic. I’ve been searching for a local yarn shop that also carried fiber and spinning wheels/spindles. I had found a few but was kind of intimidated out of actually going for one reason or another. Then I found Spunky Eclectic’s site which just seemed so much more inviting, and not any farther away so I decided I had to go! The shop was full of all sorts of beautiful hand dyed fibers and yarns and so many textures to feel that I’d only had names and word descriptions of previously. And the proprietress, Amy, was so nice, showing me around and answering all my questions, I’m afraid I talked her ear off! I went to buy sock yarn and look at wheels and spindles and fiber. There was just too much to take in, I’ll have to go again of course. But I came home with a Cascade spindle and a sampler of different wools to try spinning. It was really interesting to feel the subtle differences. I didn’t know which to start with. I thought about dyeing them but I don’t have any acid dyes besides Kool-aid and I’m not really thrilled with the idea of citrus colored socks that need to be handwashed . . . so . . . I started spinning anyway. And I forgot to buy sock yarn. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to knit what I spin!

wool fiber sampler from Spunky Eclectic and a Cascade spindle

And yikes. Amy gave me a little demo. I have been spinning all wrong. Of course what I was doing worked on the silk but it did not work on the wool. Well, sort of. I’ve been working hard to do the park-and-draft that she showed me but it’s very difficult. My left hand does not like it at all. I’m not left-handed but I’m pretty ambidextrous. And apparently my left hand likes to be in control! I’ll keep working at it.

Gettng back to books! Annie mentioned that Amy had a new book coming out so I asked about it and I got to thumb through her advance copy of Spin Control which is due out in June I think she said. It looks wonderful! I’m not very good at following directions especially of other people’s ideas, I generally like to just figure things out on my own, so I can be very particular about what few books I will buy. This looks like a book that would be really useful to me. There are a lot of very specific pictures that are just the sort of details that I find helpful to really understanding and mastering a new skill, as well as the pretty pictures that can be inspirational.

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Generally when you need to wind a skein of yarn into a ball before use, you would use a ball winder and a contraption called a swift to hold the skein. Since I own neither of those mechanical aids, I had to do it by hand. The first skein I did completely by hand and it was quite a mess. I resolved to find a better way to wind the second skein.

At the transfer station (otherwise known as the dump) I spied this old folding mug rack. Once home, I set it on a lazy susan and clamped it with bulldog clips into the right position to hold the skein taut. And presto! Not perfect, as the oval shape made the whole thing turn in fits and starts, but certainly passable. On the other end of the yarn is the crafter’s oft used but least praised tool, the empty toilet paper tube. While it makes a decent center-pull ball of yarn, I think I’ll be looking for an alternate method there as well.

makeshift swift using an expanding mug rack and a lazy susan

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sock knitting on dpns

This is what has been keeping me away from the sewing machine. And probably some other things I ought to be doing. I’m knitting wool socks, in May, I know, but maybe they’ll be done by fall. Of course this is Maine, I wish they were wearable right this minute.

I’m sure I mentioned in an earlier post about having a sudden desire to knit but having no yarn in the house, which lead to some knitting with crochet thread and spinning silk and making some homemade knitting needles. So last week I had taken the girl out to the playground and she wanted to go for a drive before heading home (it’s just a bit too far for her to walk.) So I headed out of town on Main Street and was just about to turn around when I saw a little sign that said yarn shop. Out here? So I followed the sign and ended up at a nice little house with a garage that had been converted into a tidy array of yarn. The proprietress was patient and helpful and the girl was fairly patient once I handed her a $2 ball of pink yarn out of the clearance bin. It took me a while to decide but I picked out a superwash merino wool with nylon blend called Happy Feet in an autumnal colorway that will go with just about anything I own. I also picked up some size 2 double pointed needles aka dpns. I already had a pattern picked out, some ultra simple socks with no heel shaping from Vintage Purlz. Yes, I’m afraid of heels. But really I just wanted to start my first knitting in more than 15 years with something simple. I guess I could have gone with a scarf but I’m always reading about and her socks . . .

I admit to already having modified the pattern. I know, I know, what am I thinking? I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m modifying the pattern? Well, as someone I know recently said, if you mess up with knitting you can always take it apart and still have what you started with, yarn. That’s pretty comforting when compared to cutting fabric. So I’m enjoying the fact that I can do it anywhere in the house and that it’s fairly mindless since this is a simple and easily memorized pattern. Which makes for a soothing craft, almost no mental energy needed. Which is probably why I keep picking the knitting up instead of sewing already cut out garments and several pairs of the boy’s pants in need of knee surgery. Tomorrow. ;)

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scherenschnitte or papercutting of children dancing
This is my first attempt at scherenschnitte or papercutting in the Swiss/German style. I made this artwork for the spring music program at the boy’s school. Since the program will be photocopied, I was thinking about how to create a strong design in black and white and one thing lead to another . . .

As usual I never make a simple first attempt at anything. I had to include people and words, neither of which are easy in any medium. I cobbled together my design with a combination of sketching by hand and sizing and moving around silhouettes and type on the computer to get the general arrangement I wanted. I then printed out my rough and temporarily stuck it to black paper. Rather than use the traditional tiny scissors, I used a new X-acto blade to cut through both the pattern and the black paper, allowing the knife some freedom to vary from the sketch. I cut on my Merry Glo Round light box which is a treat because it spins freely as well as lighting from underneath! I’ve always “drawn” better with scissors than with a pencil. Years of comping concepts for advertising projects and cutting the occasional stencil has made me pretty handy with the X-acto!

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the result. I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot of scherenschnitte as it is a bit hard on the hands, but I don’t think this will be the last time either. I took inspiration from several blogs of people who take scherenschnitte much more seriously and do amazing work, particularly this one, another Cindy.

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I posted a little about organizing my sewing space a while back. I did manage to clean up the shelves and they are already looking completely unorganized again. Hmmm. But some things have improved. I put the thread rack on the wall and found a place for all of my rulers in the space behind the door. Much easier to keep track of now that they have a home. I did not mount the ironing board to the closet door, I can’t get out in a hurry if I do that and with young kids, I need to be able to. Back to the drawing board.
ruler rack idea board

I also put up a temporary idea board, it’s just a 2’x3′ piece of black foamcore but I can pin or thumbtack my little notes and swatches to it. Unfortunately it’s made me realize that I am incapable of cutting a swatch out of uncut yardage. Just . . . can’t . . . do it. So the swatches that are up there are all from completed projects. Oh well. I’m working on it.

I’ve also realized that I desperately need a large flat space for two reasons. Drafting and cutting, and ironing. I find myself on the floor for both of those tasks and that’s not so great on the knees. Given the constraints of this room, I think the only possibility may be to horizontally hinge a door to the wall over the futon that can be latched up against the wall when not in use. Might be a bit too much carpentry for my poor skills.


old pin cushion

A few years ago an older friend of ours passed away. She left behind a house full of memories. I inherited a few of her sewing things, including this old pincushion with the heart shaped stickpin and the pearl headed corsage pins. Nothing special about it, you’ve seen them everywhere right? I decided to use it because Anne wouldn’t want anything of hers to go to waste. So the last few years I’ve used it with the increasing realization that it was just falling apart and there was nothing I could do about it. I had some idea of taking it apart to see how it was made so that maybe I could make my own out of a cheery print.

As I opened it up and made an incredible mess, all of these old needles spilled out with the dusty sawdust filling. I was struck with the thought of how Anne had used every one of these needles on some project, for herself or her children. Maybe for the house or for a neighbor, for a grandchild or a friend.

A lifetime of projects sewn with love. Sewn with these needles. A lifetime of needles.

empty old pincushion and needles


wool roving colors

wool roving colors

I’ve been looking for this bag of wool roving for a felting project I’ve been working on. I can’t remember when I got it or where but it’s been handy to have all these yummy colors for little projects. I didn’t pack up my craft stuff very well when we moved so unfortunately I can’t find the things I want most of course. In the same box I also found lots of hand sewing needles, yay! thread, buttons, elastic thread, yay again! and various knitting needles and crochet hooks, triple yay! Now I have to find an organized place to put all this stuff. Sigh. Now, if I could just find the drop spindle. I’m seriously considering laying it all out on the driveway in the spring so I can sort it out properly.

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making heart shaped crayons

I know this post is probably a little late, seeing as it’s 11pm EST on Valentine’s Day but I’m posting it anyway. We did these earlier in the week, I just haven’t had time to upload the pictures.

The boy and I, with help from the girl, made heart shaped crayons for Valentine’s day for all their school and church friends. This is quite easy to do and you can use up the broken crayons this way. There are lots of instructions already available on the web but I will give my method and suggestions having done it several times now. The easiest way to make your own heart shaped crayons is to use:

  • Crayola brand crayons*
  • silicon mini muffin molds in any shape
  • toaster oven at 300°
  1. First peel the paper off the crayons. Using a craft knife to slice down the paper makes it much easier. If you are using new crayons, you will need 9-12 crayons to fill 6 wells of a mini muffin tray.
  2. Cut up your crayons with craft scissors or a kitchen knife. If you are making single color hearts it doesn’t matter how small the pieces are as long as they fit in your molds. If you are using multiple colors, I like to cut them into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch size pieces depending on the size of your molds.
  3. Silicone molds are the easiest because you can easily pop the finished crayons out when they are fully hardened. If you use a metal tray, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes and the molded crayons should come out fairly easily. In either case use at least a layer and a half of crayon bits to make a 1/4 inch thick molded crayon. More bits makes a thicker crayon. Do not fill all the way to the top of the mold!
  4. If you are using individual molds, like I did, place them on a cookie sheet so you can easily slide them in and out of the toaster oven. Be especially careful when removing from the oven as you want your pretty colors to stay separated. Stirring the melted wax is not necessary and will leave a mark on the other side. Depending on your oven and the size of your molds it can take 5 to 10 minutes for the crayons to melt.
  5. Allow the molded crayons to cool fully before unmolding. Be patient!

The bottom side will be the prettier side. Any little edges sticking up can be smoothed by simply sliding the crayon over paper. I like to use two to three complimentary or analogous colors. But experiment and find your own favorite combinations! Pair a handmade molded crayon or two with a little notebook for a nice little gift any time of year for a friend of any age. Everyone should draw with crayons, not just kids!

*If you have used other brands of crayons there will most likely be a layer of clear/cloudy wax that hardens on the top. This is not pretty and it’s frustrating to kids. You can fix this by very carefully sliding the crayons across a vegetable slicer until you have removed the clear layer.  This will actually make the inferior crayons draw better than before because the process concentrates the pigments and removes excess wax.
It’s also prudent not to use the same tools for food and for crafting. I admit to not always being prudent. eek!

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I’ve been feeling reluctant to make any permanent changes to the room where I have my work space. Because I no longer have my business I think I’ve been feeling guilty about having a room all to myself for my sewing and crafting. Okay, the guest bed is in there too. But today I’ve decided that this house is too small not to use the space well. At some point this will probably be a bedroom for one of the kids but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use it fully now for storing and using my tools and machines. I do plenty of utilitarian sewing and fixing in here as well as creative pieces and it’s good to have a place to keep those projects away from little hands and prying eyes. Not to say that I don’t let the kids in here because I do. And the cat. I like to hear him peacefully snoring away. The kids have taken over the living room and the cat owns the whole house anyway . . .

So, all that to say:

  • I will screw the thread rack to the wall.
  • I will mount the ironing board on the closet door.
  • I will figure out a way to store my rulers and t-squares on the wall.

That’s a good start, don’t you think?


shrink plastic heart charms

While the boy was gone to school, the girl and I worked on shrinking some pink. I drew and cut out the shapes for her and she colored them. The toaster oven works well for any pieces of shrink plastic up to half sheet. All I had was an unknown brand of matte white but this also comes in clear and black and some can even go in your inkjet printer! This is great for making coloring sheets for little ones. We made these rings and heart charms from the remnants of the planets. I won’t include a tutorial here as there are lots of good ones already available.

shrink plastic rings

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baking shrink plastic in oven

baking shrink plastic in oven

the shrink plastic solar system

the shrink plastic solar system

Monday the boy and I made the solar system. That’ll tire you out! I happened to find the shrink plastic and the boy has been interested in outer space lately so I suggested making the planets. He got out his Wall-E Leapster game which has a game that shows the order of the planets, smart thinking! I got on the internet to find out what colors we should do each planet, which we sort of followed. It took us two sessions of cutting, coloring and baking to finish all the planets. Most of them were done in the toaster oven (one of my favorite crafting tools), this picture shows the kids watching the baking of the sun in the regular oven because it was too big for the toaster oven. They loved watching the plastic curl and wiggle as it shrank down to a third of its original size. After all the planets were finished, the boy decided that we should tape them to the window, and he advised me on the correct order.

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This could be a very long list but I’m going to try to limit it to an arbitrary number, say 10. I do a lot of different kinds of crafts so that makes it hard but I’m trying to think of the things I use a lot and would not want to do without. Then maybe I’ll talk a bit about each one at some other point.

  1. My Mac of course. Being a graphic designer, almost everything I do gets touched by the computer at some point.
  2. My sewing machine. I do a lot of sewing and mending, I think this is a must-have for every household.
  3. My serger. Hmmmm. Yes, I could do without it but it’s fast becoming my right hand for sewing projects.
  4. My good Japanese fabric scissors.
  5. My lightbox. I think my parents got it for me when I had just started the advertising design program. This year I got another lightbox that is round! and it spins! It won’t replace my traditional rectangular box but it probably deserves its own post.
  6. An X-acto knife and a metal ruler. I’m going to lump these together because they almost always get used together. Can I squeeze the self-healing cutting mat in here too?
  7. My Japanese sewing awls (meuchi) This probably warrants its own post as well to explain why.
  8. roll of 18″ wide white paper. Someone gave this to me when I was in college and I have been using it ever since, mostly for drafting patterns but not just for sewing.
  9. Flathead pins. If you sew anything these are really the best. Get the finer size with the heat resistant heads.
  10. Beacon’s craft glue. I hesitate to single this out but I discovered it last year and now I use it for everything. It bonds in a similar way and almost as fast as hot glue but without the heat, yet you can also apply it thin and get a repositionable bond like spray adhesive, without the mess.

Well, I can already think of a few more things, like Frances, my dressmaker’s form, made by my husband. You can read about her here.

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Here’s a plain boy’s tee shirt turned into a one of a kind piece of wearable fun with tie dye and a fabric marker. I can’t remember how I got this idea but the boy has been very much into all kinds of animals lately and maybe we were talking about lizards? Anyway, something about the chameleon’s curly tail and the tie dye spiral made me wonder if I could combine the two. I found a chameleon coloring page online that I then juxtaposed over a tie dye shirt in Photoshop to try out my idea. It looked great so I went ahead and tie dyed several tee shirts with the center of the spiral farther down than normal. If I do it again, I’ll also need to move it a little more to the right but it worked out okay anyway. I also tried several different patterns of applying the dye colors and this is the one that I was most pleased with for this particular use. After the shirt was dyed and dried I then used my lightbox to trace the design with a fabric marker. My lightbox is one of my favorite tools for crafting and graphic design. I also found a groovy font to typeset the word “chameleon” and added that to the design. Surprisingly I found several pictures of real chameleons in that bright blue combo online! But they can’t really change color to match their background, sadly that part is a myth.

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