Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sewing FO: Quilted Coasters

Just a quickie post this time to talk about my new favorite and fast hand-sewn gift: coasters.  About a year ago I signed up for Verb's Pressed Seam fat quarter club, which means that every month I have six delightful new fat quarters of fabric arriving at my door.  I really love the idea behind yarn/fiber/fabric clubs both as a way to steadily support small creative businesses and as a way to grow creatively myself.  Clubs often get me to try things that I would normally not choose for myself; and as long as I'm careful in selecting clubs that are put together by people with whom I share similar tastes in colors/prints, I rarely get something I outright dislike.  More often opening club packages is a happy mixture of "Ooh, beautiful!" and "I would never have picked this out for myself, but it's so INTERESTING!".

With the fabric club, getting a steady influx of fat quarters is a great way to keep the creative juices going.  The first month I managed to use five out of the six fat quarters right away, and the second month I used three.  After that, I started to lag.  Six months in and I was still wowed by every shipment, but had fallen into the habit of washing the fabric, pressing it, and returning it to the plastic fabric bin.  I started to feel a little guilty about how much fabric I was amassing (although we'll have another post later on stash guilt), and started looking around for ways to use up some of those fat quarters.  Along comes the delightful little quilted coaster pattern from Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts (by the same author as Last-Minute Knitted Gifts).

Quilted Coasters 

I chose several prints and spent two afternoons making about twenty coasters.  About half ended up being a gift for my sister-in-law.  Originally I was a bit worried that the coasters would be too bumpy to be really practical, but they're great!  The only part that really took some practice was cutting out squares of batting and stuffing them in the folded-up coasters, but it got easier after I'd done four or five.  And now that I've done the pattern all the way through several times, I think I could get into a good production-line rhythm with them. Here's the entire set that I selfishly kept for myself, with a large water glass for scale. My favorite one is the butterfly print where the coaster is nearly completely taken up by one giant wing!

Quilted Coasters

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Knitting FO: Bed Socks

In perusing the last few posts, I realized that I never showed you guys the amazing socks I made for myself (and I have to break up the sewing content somehow!). When I heard Clara Parkes talk about socks at Verb (many moons ago) I had recently listened to Brenda Dayne talk about pajama socks. We were able to touch all the samples from the Knitter's Book of Socks at Clara's talk, and I knew that the Strago pattern by Jared Flood would make excellent pajama socks.

My husband and I are both of the same mind when it comes to sleeping: it should be warm enough that you can actually fall asleep, but not so hot that you don't need a blanket or two. We'd both rather be a little too cold than a little too warm. Because I tend to run a little cooler than he does, that usually means that what's comfortable for me is a bit too warm for him.  Also, my feet just get cold if they're not covered.  The Strago socks are perfect bed socks because they're loose-fitting enough that you can slip them off by gently sliding your feet around while half-asleep.

Pajama Socks

One of the main things I was worried about was choosing two colors that were too similar in value for the pattern to show up well, so I tried to get shades on opposite ends of the color wheel.  The two colors of Shelter I chose (Hayloft and Faded Quilt) match my owl pajama pants perfectly.

The only change I made to the pattern was to knit the entire sock on 4 mm (US 6) needles, because I have pretty narrow feet and was worried about the socks staying on my feet as I pad around the apartment in them.  The woolen-spun Shelter yarn happily accepted my tighter gauge, and the fabric feels like soft cushy felt underneath my feet.  We've been getting a few sunny days here and there, but we'll get lots of June gloom as well, so these will probably continue to get lots of use even during the summer months.  
Pajama Socks

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How I Spent My Blogging Vacation

Anyone else ever have to write those incredibly boring essays on the first day of school, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation"?  They always seemed so torturous. First, it was a not-so-subtle reminder of all the fun you'd been having before school started up again.  Second, you had to sit there and listen to your classmates tell you about all the fun they'd been having at horseback riding camp or in Hawaii or something else that was equal parts unexpected and way cooler than anything you did that summer. The message seemed to be "Tell the rest of the class how uncool you are and by the way, you won't be having any more fun like that until the end of December."

My summer vacations were fun, but not in the way that was traditionally considered "fun" in the very American consumerist sense: we didn't take any long trips to glamorous locations or go on expensive excursions.  There was a lot of camping, and as I got older, lots of babysitting my younger siblings.  As a kid I never felt I could brag about my vacations, but now that I'm older I know better.  My childhood vacations were the best kind: they involved lots of unstructured play time among us kids, lots of physical activity (hiking, swimming in various lakes and rivers, running around on the beach), and just wandering about learning about nature in park ranger centers or mukking around in tide pools.  Plus, I now have a healthier appreciation for my long-suffering parents who managed to pull off seven days of camping with three kids between 8 and 13 years old.  Most importantly, I had plenty of time during my summer vacations to read books quietly.  My absolute favorite pastime was reading, and I've had my own library card for as long as I can remember.  Even though my summer vacation essays weren't the most riveting pieces of nonfiction prose ever penned, the vacations themselves were magically both enriching and relaxing at the same time, in sharp contrast to my recent blogging vacation. 

I didn't intend to have a blogging vacation this semester, it just worked out that way.  This term I had a glut of "happy problems": I was offered more classes than I've seen since before the 2009 budget cuts, and decided that on top of a full teaching load I should totally sign on for a side project as well.  I know I'm lucky to be an educator with an overabundance of work opportunities (especially in this state), but it was hard not to complain and get crabby about my job when I was skipping my regular knit night because I was too exhausted from all the grading.  I've learned my lesson: you have to say no sometimes, even if they're offering to pay you, if the commitment will infringe on your mental downtime. This lesson is one I intend to apply as quickly as possible, too.  After a few years of being forced to take lots of personal-enrichment time through a lack of work, I've forgotten that I might need to forcibly protect some of that time when the pendulum swings back in the other direction. 

So I'm planning some structure into my creative time, to make sure I maintain that balance a little better.  I want to be able to rotate between knitting, spinning, and sewing projects on the blog to keep things lively and exciting for everybody.  Just because I'm on a sewing kick doesn't mean that I want my knitting readers to have another three-month-long dry spell!  I also want to try and have one blog post more than 50% written at any time, and another in the planning stages so that I always have something that can be quickly finished and edited in a pinch.  This should be easier over the summer, since I have a (small) backlog of projects from March and April and I'm only teaching two days a week.  The real challenge will be keeping up with the writing pipeline during the semester. 

To get things going, what do you like best about vacation?  Have a favorite memory from your childhood vacations?  Share in the comments!