My Go-To Gift

bow@www.wowMy older son visited from Dallas last weekend. In a Monday evening text, he asked if I’d like to have lunch with him on Tuesday. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I realized I needed a quick gift to send back to Dallas with him.

Zip It bagsI’ve made a number of Nancy Ota’s Zip It bags over the past few years. My grandchildren’s teachers received bags for Christmas last year. I frequently give them as gifts to friends who will be traveling.

My favorite use is for all the adapters one needs in this age of technology. No more digging through every pocket in my bag‐they’re all in one place. On our recent trip to Italy, I packed all my jewelry in one of the bags. I made one in the “Project” size to give to my girlfriend who is an event planner for organizations like a university fine arts department and a public radio station. She can keep all her information for an event in one place.

Nancy Ota designed these bags using Phifer PetScreen, a vinyl-coated polyester mesh that was created to avoid pet-claw snags on screen doors. You can buy it in black in rolls of 10′ or so in the screen department of your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. Or several stores sell it in brilliant colors for more variety in your bags.

I always use high-quality quilting cottons, as they will wear better over time than the cheaper and lighter-weight fabrics you might find in your local everything-but-the-kitchen-sink (JA’s) store. I find excellent themed fabrics at eQuilter.com. I frequently gear it toward an interest of the giftee. My son is a network administrator—his bag featured animals sitting at computer screens. My girlfriend, the event planner, received at bag with an opera print. eQuilter has an excellent search function. And when I find a fabric I like, they also have a “Related Products” button that presents the other prints in the line.

Fabric panelThe band of fabric, topstitched to the screen fabric, normally goes on the front, under the zipper. But for my son’s bag, I wanted to display more of the fabric print, so placed it on the back. And I like to edge the fabric panel with a quarter-inch binding of a complementary fabric. (When I couldn’t decide which hand-dyed fabric looked the best, I texted a photo to my friend, the graphic designer, for her input.)

Don’t forget to attach a charm or bead or narrow bit of fabric or embroidery floss to the zipper pull for a little bit more personalization.

Finished bagAnd here’s the back of the finished bag. On the front, there’s just the mesh and a black zipper.

The bag makes up (depending upon how organized you are) in about two hours or less. It’s the perfect spur-of-the-moment gift!

Summer Project: Swirl Shawl

Swirl shawlOnce I returned from my recent vacation to Italy, my time was consumed first by the Verdi Requiem, then by blogging about the trip. It’s amazing how much one can forget in 30 short days! I’ve been totally unmotivated by knitting or any other handcraft.

Then today I was cleaning up all artistic detritus hanging around the family room when I found a knitting kit I purchased a year ago on one of my taking-care-of-Mother trips to Asheville.

So the next knitting project is a shawl pattern from Jojoland.

It knits up in individual hexagons. Okay, so there are 82 hexagons, but if I tackle them one at a time, they’ll be manageable, right?

We’ll see how well these 82 hexagons hold my interest.

Pattern Review: Vogue 8582, Marcy Tilton Top

I have taken several Marcy Tilton workshops and find her to be an inspiring teacher and innovative designer. Besides that, she’s a very special and thoughtful person and friend. As I’m preparing for an Italian vacation this summer and obsessed about what to pack, I decided to make Marcy’s tunic top, Vogue 8582.

On one of my most recent trips to check on my mother in Asheville, I stopped in at Waechter’s Fine Fabrics and came away with a couple yards of an olive poly/rayon/spandex knit, similar to this.

I normally eschew polyester. (Define:eschew – to avoid habitually especially on moral or practical grounds) But this blend neither feels nor wears like your typical poly knit. It feels great, sews up great, and looks great. A triple threat!

I love cowl neck tops, but wasn’t sure about the dip-on-one-side of this top, so decided to cut the non-dip side of the front and back on the fold so it would have a straight hem rather than the dipped hem.

Here’s my take on the pattern:

Pattern Description: From the pattern envelope, “Semi-fitted asymmetrical pullover tops A, B, C. A: contrast neck and armhole bands. B: neck band and unfinished three-quarter length sleeves. Wrong side of fabric will show on all bands. C: cowl “twisted” collar and long sleeves.”

Sizing: Misses 8-22. My measurements indicated an 18, but when I checked my knit fabric against the recommended stretch on the pattern back, this fabric was not as stretchy as the original, so I cut a 20.

Fabric Used: Poly/rayon/spandex knit from Waechter’s Fine Fabrics in Asheville, NC. (They’ll send you swatches …. Just sayin’!)

Needle/Notions Used: Universal needle size 12, tricot interfacing to reinforce the shoulder seams

Did it look like the photo or drawing when you got through? Yes – considering the changes I made. I think it looks great—see pic below.

How were the instructions? Here’s where I cannot praise this pattern enough. Marcy has written an extensive preface to the instructions detailing how to work with knits, how to work with the garment pieces during construction to ensure a good fit. I will be applying her techniques to every knit garment I construct in the future. This instructional preface is, simply, brilliant!!

Once into the actual construction, the instructions and illustrations were clear. I don’t think there were any steps that left me scratching my head. Marcy’s suggestions for hemming (hand-sewing, double-needle sewing, wooly nylon, etc.) were, again, brilliant.

Construction Notes: After reinforcing the shoulder, I sewed the shoulder seams and pinned the sides seams (wrong sides together) per Marcy’s preface. When I tried it on, I didn’t like how the armscye gapped in front. I am, alas, a 36-DDD. These girls cause problems! I decided to take a little dart in the armscye to remove the gap.
I had to play with it – sewing and unsewing several times – to get it right, but once it was done, I was pleased with the fit.

The cowl was simple to install, and Marcy’s method of creating the drapey cowl was just brilliant. (Okay, I’m overusing this word, but do you sense a theme here? I have such high regard for the brain inside her head!)

Then it was time to sew in the sleeves. Of course, when I got to the front where I had removed about 3/4″-1″ of the armscye for the dart, I had more sleeve than front. Thank [insert name of favorite deity here] the knit is forgiving. By just pinching and sliding and pinching and sliding, I was able to fit it all in. A good pressing removed any remaining pucker.

When I got to the hems, I used the hand sewing method for the sleeves. For the bottom hem, I wanted to get it done quickly to wear to that evening’s St. Paddy’s party at a friend’s home, so decided to spray with some Sulky spray adhesive that I had on hand and use the double-needle method. I didn’t mask off the garment from the hem area, and got some of the spray on the body of the garment. A few dabs of alcohol and a quick wash and dry after the hem was finished took care of the overspray.

I mitered the corners, which was not suggested in the instructions. I just like that finished look on the inside. Then I used a double needle (4.0, I think). Turning the corners was challenging, but I just tried to hold the left side in place and pivot the right side, so was pretty successful in getting the left needle to keep going into the same hole. I didn’t post a picture of that detail, but I’m pleased with how it looks.

Likes/Dislikes: I don’t love basting, but had challenges with sewing the inside of the collar down with just pinning. Next time I will hand-baste, then stitch-in-the-ditch. And I might make the side opening a little shorter. I like to raise my arms without anyone seeing my exposed waist.

I didn’t have any wooly nylon on hand, so my double-needle hem is raised a little. No big deal, but next time I’ll try the wooly nylon to have the hem without a ridge.

Other than that, I don’t like the pattern—I love.love.love it.

Would you do it again? Would you recommend it? Yes and yes, absolutely. I have some pink silk knit that I want to make up in View B, with the dipped hem this time. Then I want to go to Marcy’s website and grab one of her “cool combos” to make the sleeveless version with the contrast trim.

I also recently purchased the Amy Knit Top from StyleArc, an Australian pattern company with exquisite designs. I have some great knit yardage in a strong geometric pattern in brown and turquoise that I got from Ann Steves’ Gorgeous Fabrics. Paired with a pair of skinny brown knit pants, this combo will also go into my suitcase for Europe.

Conclusion: I wore my new top to my chorus rehearsal last night. My friend and fellow sewist, Amanda, admired it and told me she had never worked with knits before. This pattern is perfect for her and others who are apprehensive. Marcy’s instructions deal with all those niggling fears one might have, and leave the sewist with a stylish, perfectly constructed garment. Many congratulations and thanks to Marcy and to Vogue Patterns for this pattern!

YarnSensory Overload

RovingLast Sunday I had the opportunity to spend three short hours at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, known to avid knitters simply as “Rhinebeck.” I have never seen so much yarn and knitting accoutrements in one place. I only visited about 5 of the buildings. There were probably 20.

I don’t believe I had ever seen alpacas before. I wanted to bring them home with me! How cute!! (And in answer to my son’s question last night – no, I didn’t immediately want to begin raising them. There are limits …)

And the yarn. Oh. My. Gosh. Would you like to hear what I got?

  1. At the first barn I entered, I fell in love with a super bulky hand dyed and spun fine merino yarn with a rayon wrap. The colors are much warmer than the photo (below). The color is Copper Canyon, and the 90 yard bundle will make at least 2 scarves. I spent probably twenty minutes deciding which of Christine McKay’s yummy yarns to buy. And I almost bought several of her knit dog leashes for friends. These leashes are fabulous!
  2. Next I saw the Tess Designer Yarns booth. Holy Mother of Sheep!!! I’ve seen Tess’s  ads in knitting magazines before, but have never seen such lusciousness all in one place. I didn’t buy anything, but will be visiting her website the next time I need any yarn!
  3. At Jennie the Potter‘s booth, I got some sweet little stitch markers. I had just discovered Jennie’s blog the day before, and saw her tweet that she had just had a baby boy that morning! Her mom was manning the booth, and I got to see her iPhone pic of her darling new grandson. We shared stories of our grandchildren, and how much we love being grandmothers. What a treat!
  4. Next I stopped at Still River Mill‘s booth. I’m trying to dye a lavender Eileen Fisher jacket to a deeper color, maybe even black. My first round with acid dyes didn’t get very far, and Still River sells green (fewer chemicals) dyes. I got a jar of their Midnight Black to try, and picked up a skein of laceweight 100% cashmere and a pattern for fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm in the office.
  5. After quickly navigating one more barn, I went over to the three large buildings to find the Creatively Dyed Yarn booth. But I got waylaid! I was smitten by Koko Noelle‘s buttons and shawl pins. I got a shawl pin for the sweater I knit last year. If the color doesn’t work, I’ll just have to knit another sweater to go with the pin! And I picked up a couple of great buttons for my collection.
  6. Then, alas, I saw Noni‘s booth. Noni is known for her felting patterns. All sorts of fabulous bags, flowers, and other accessories can be knit and then felted to create wonderful works of art. I’ve made one of her bags before, and think she is a genius. Well, her booth displayed many of her bags, finished so you could see what the pattern would make up like. But better than that, she had feltable yarns in every imaginable color. And they were rainbowed across the wall in such a manner that you wanted to just burrow your head into the stacks of wool. Incredible! I bought one skein of lime wool to go with a variegated wool I bought from Happy Fuzzy Yarns at the last show I attended. These two will be knit together in a mitered square scarf. And I bought one of her great bag closures. Now I know where I’ll be getting all my bag hardware in the future!
  7. Turning the corner to walk down the other aisle of the building, I saw Dianne’s Creatively Dyed Yarn booth. The name says it all! She has some of the most beautiful color combinations I’ve seen. I bought two skeins of worsted weight that is 80% superwash merino, 10% bamboo and 10% seacell. This will be knit into a sweater for me-me-me! The colors? Rust, olive, avocado, turquoise, teal, charcoal, cream, yum!!! And I got a hank of roving that is 30% seacell and 70% wool. I’ll use this in the next Nuno felted scarf.

By this time, I had been at the show a little over three hours and was feeling like I couldn’t look at another skein of yarn. (Or spend another dollar!!) I stowed my bags on the passenger seat so I could continue admiring them on my six-hour drive home.

After a couple of hours, I stopped at a Wendy’s along route 84 to get a late lunch. Three women walked in, one carrying her yarn. I watched where they sat and went to sit near them. We started talking, and I learned two of the women were from Meadville, PA, (60 miles NNE of Youngstown) and one was from Madison, OH (where my guy and I and our friends go for 4th of July week every year).

What fun to meet other women who are as crazy as I to take a 400-mile trip just to touch wool.

Tochay's Rainbow Yarns & Fibers

Stitch Markers

Jennie the Potter's Stitch Markers

Still River Mills' Cashmere and Fingerless Glove Pattern

Koko Noelle's Shawl Pin and Sheep Button

Noni's Booth

Creatively Dyed Yarn's merino/bamboo/seacell

Easy Gifty

Berroco LinkIn October I’m going to a house party, and need to come up with some elegant gifts to take to the two elegant ladies whom I will join at this party. I’ve been racking my brain for something that would be not too expensive, not too time-consuming, and yet very welcomed and cherished by the giftees.

In one of the yarn and yarn shop e-mails to which I’ve subscribed, I read about Berroco’s new super-bulky “Link”. It comes with a free scarf pattern, “Wink”.

Now here’s the thing: Wink knits up on size 35s, i.e. whopping big needles. And if you’re a knitter, you know what that means: quick construction.

Wink ScarfYou cast on four (FOUR!) stitches, knit for an hour, and finish a scarf that started like this.

Can you say, “Cool!”

The yarn is soft and cuddly. One skein yields one scarf, and costs $29.00. Okay, so these had better be special friends to get a $29 gift, I know. But these ladies are special friends, and I’m having a ball preparing these gifts.

I ordered the yarn from Jimmy Beans Wool, as the other stores I normally order from didn’t have the colors I wanted in stock. I was alarmed when I saw that Jimmy Beans would be shipping from the other side of the Mississippi River. I thought I’d have to wait ten days or more for it to arrive. Two days later the box appeared on my porch! And Jimmy Beans gave me the option to buy another $5 worth of yarn and avoid the $5 shipping fee. Fast delivery and free shipping. What could be better?!

The pattern is free from Berroco. You can download it, or if you buy the skein of “Link”, the pattern is printed on the wrapper.

Won’t I be the welcomed guest?!