Tag Archives: crafting

imperfect but cozy; learning to knit lace with the hemlock ring

10 Jul

Hello Dear Readers, assuming you exist! Although it has been more than a week since my last post, I have a few posts percolating that I’m excited to share soon. In the meantime, so that I don’t leave you hanging too much, I wanted to share a knitting project that I completed this February.

sneak preview! hundreds of words about knitting this baby await : )

I learned to knit in a class that I took with a couple other girls when I was around eleven years old. A friend from church asked me to take the class with her; I’m not sure knitting would have crossed my mind as a potential hobby otherwise. As these lessons took place several thousand miles and almost 15 years ago, some of the details are fuzzy. But I definitely remember learning the knit and purl stitches, and completing my first real project: a red and green knit scrunchie complete with elastic inside. I gave it to my mom for Christmas in 1997.

In the years since my first knitting lessons, I broke out my needles only on rare occasions. My freshman year of college I caught the creative fever and knit scarves for my whole family. I spent hours in the yarn aisles of my local Joann Fabrics and accumulated a stash of acrylic yarns and a few different pairs of needles.

It took me a while to branch out from knitting only rectangles and variations on rectangles; I remembered how to do a few increases and decreases, so I was able to pull off a toboggan cap for myself and even a sweater for my parent’s maltese puppy. But it wasn’t until this winter that I decided to get serious about learning some new techniques and expanding my knitting possibilities. I joined a knitting website. I got excited about natural fibers. I used books from the library and Youtube tutorials and taught myself how to knit in the round (on a pair of mittens. For the record, I don’t recommend learning to knit in the round on a pair of mittens.), and perfected my cabling technique. I am by no means an advanced knitter, but I think I’ve safely progressed to the intermediate range.

One of the first popular Ravelry projects to catch my eye was the Hemlock Ring lap blanket, a pattern adapted from a vintage doily by champion knitter Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed. Since Flood published his instructions for the adapted pattern in August 2007, literally thousands of knitters have tackled this blanket in dozens of different yarns. I was struck by how beautiful the Hemlock Ring was, and many people on the Ravelry forums recommended it as a good project to learn lacework, since it is essentially a very large lace doily in a bulky yarn.

the nice drapey center of the blanket

just hanging out pretending to read, cozy-lap style

Knitting this blanket was a learning process, but it was much easier than I thought it would be given the complex look of the final product. It helped me gain confidence in my knitting abilities, and I am fairly happy with what I accomplished. The biggest hurdle I had was with the blocking process.

Lace is typically knit in natural fibers like wool. While it is being knit, it looks a bit like a blobby mess. But once you have cast off, you can wet your knitting and pin it into the shape you want it to hold. Damp wool is pretty flexible and can be shaped more or less as the knitter desires. For a blanket like the Hemlock Ring, getting that circular shape means hundreds of pins and quite a bit of time during the blocking process. It’s a lot of work, but the result is beautiful. Unfortunately, if you want to wash a wet-blocked wool blanket, you will have to pin it out and block it all over again.

I knit my Hemlock Ring with the hope to give it to some friends as a wedding present. Because of the intensive nature of blocking and reblocking a wool blanket, I did some research on knitting the Hemlock Ring in acrylic blend yarns. Hundreds of Ravelry knitters had used acrylic blends or even 100% acrylics and had varying degrees of success. Acrylic yarns can be blocked using heat, and although it isn’t always an easy process, once they are blocked, they stay that way. You can machine wash a heat-blocked acrylic blanket and it will retain its shape. That seemed much more appealing to me as a gift-giver, so I took a calculated risk and made my blanket using Lion Brand Wool-Ease, an relatively inexpensive blend of 80% acrylic and 20% wool.

I spent hours pinning and repinning my blanket and trying my best to block it. I just couldn’t get it to hold the flat shape of my knitting dreams, even after I tried “killing” the fabric. While the middle of my blanket has a nice drapey feel to it, I wasn’t satisfied with the scalloped edges and in the end didn’t feel it was giftworthy… at least not as a wedding present. So for now, my first lace project lives on the couch in my living room. I’m okay with that. I still feel proud of what I accomplished and now I’m better prepared for my next “learning something new” project.

Thanks to my dear friend Annie for the photos in this post.


budget frame collage

21 Jun

I spent a few days last week rearranging the furniture in my bedroom. Despite the hassle of unpacking and repacking bookcases and the subsequent burn in my pathetic biceps, it’s felt like a real blessing to be able to change things up. My Aunt J swears that no matter how she rearranges furniture, it makes a room feel bigger. I don’t think I’m deluding myself in the thought that a physical change can be symbolic of starting a new chapter. And it’s my hope that this chapter will be better than the previous one. The best is yet to come, and all that.

With a new furniture layout, I found myself taking down all the photos in my room and contemplating new arrangements and walls for them to live on. I also found myself struck anew by the intensity of the pistachio green paint on my bedroom walls; it was definitely one of those “better-on-a-paint-chip-than-saturating-an-entire-room” colors. I thought briefly about repainting, but the thought of moving those bookcases back away from the walls was not enticing. I can live with my pistachio room a while longer.

Rearranging gave me a little more space to work with in terms of wall art, and after hanging my old frames I had a few ideas in mind for that space. I headed out to a favorite local thrift store and spent some time looking for interesting pieces. I didn’t see any awesome Velvet Elvises or creepy owl paintings, so I decided to focus on finding some cool frames.

John and Sherry Petersik, the couple in Richmond who write one of my favorite home improvement/DIY blogs, Young House Love, were my inspiration for the following project. They’ve done a number of frame collages in both their first house and their current one. From early efforts in their guest bedroom to an adorable heart-shaped collage in their daughter’s nursery to their dramatic new hallway with two frame collage walls, I’ve admired this look for being both charming and modern, and a great way to add visual interest. With the caveat that extra visual interest might not be necessary in a pistachio green room, I decided to attempt a frame collage of my own.

I picked up ten frames at the thrift store as well as a fun (bronze) leaf ornament. I was looking for frames that were diverse in size and texture, decently made, and inexpensive. I paid about $13 for my eleven items, which felt like a mission accomplished. Here are the fruits of that labor, laid out on the living room floor. Sorry for the poor image quality, this was taken with my phone.

I knew from what I’d seen on YHL that there are a few ways to tie frame collages together. If the photos and art featured are composed of many different colors, having frames of the same color is helpful to keep the look cohesive (see John and Sherry’s hallway, with all white frames of many sizes and shapes). If you’re using black and white photos, you can probably get away with a rainbow of frames. Given the bold color of the wall I was working with, I decided to paint my frames a neutral gray color. I used inexpensive acrylic paint from Pat Catan‘s, and I actually decided to make my frames range from light to dark gray. I used a combination of lights and darks on the leaf ornament and really liked how that looked. I applied 2 coats of acrylic, and then a coat of Mod Podge in matte finish to act as a sealant. As far as the artwork, I used some photos I had on hand, and I went through some artsy magazines and even pretty cards from friends and family. In the largest frame, I made an attempt at some amateur graphic art.

Here’s the finished product on my wall:

I’m feeling good about the way things came together. I agree with John and Sherry that it’s tempting to keep adding more frames and grow the collage further. Since it’s only been up for a few days, I’m going to enjoy it as is for a while. Maybe if I stumble across a fun creepy owl that I need to add I’ll break out the gray acrylic again and my hammer and nails again!

Total Cost of this project:

10 frames + 1 bronze leaf ornament: $13.20

three bottles acrylic paint (light gray, dark gray, and silver): $4.85

Mod Podge and paintbrushes: already owned.

artwork for frames: free!

Total = $18.05

By painting pre-owned frames instead of purchasing new ones, I definitely saved some dough. I did invest a few hours in the painting process, but I mostly worked on it while watching TV with my roommate. It’s totally unique to me, and I think it adds something sweet to my room. I’m calling this project a win!

an egg of a different color

14 Jun

I first came upon the idea of using silk neckties to color easter eggs on a crafting blog several years ago. When I Googled this time around, I found several tutorials with instructions. They all said essentially the same thing: you have to use 100% silk (whether it’s a necktie, handkerchief, or some other garment), and wrap the egg as tightly as possible because the transfer will only happen where the egg touches the silk fabric. Martha Stewart’s tutorial also says that you have to use an enamel or glass pot to boil the eggs. I used a metal pot (mostly because of a lack of reading comprehension) and my eggs turned out just fine.

I didn’t take many of pictures of this process, but some of the links above have beautiful step-by-step photos. Here’s what I have to share:

eggs waiting to be dyed

I used 100% silk neckties, cut into squares just large enough to wrap around the eggs. I wrapped the raw eggs as tightly as possible in the silk, and then wrapped them in pieces of scrap cotton. I boiled them for about 20 minutes in water with 3 tablespoons of white vinegar. Then I removed the pot from the heat, drained away the boiling water, and allowed the eggs to cool.

I unwrapped the cooled eggs and rubbed them with a tiny amount of olive oil, which put a slight sheen to the egg’s surface.

dyed, cooled, and rubbed with oil

And then I showed them off to anyone who would look. I think I’ll definitely be using this method in the future– it’s so easy and fun to do. Not to mention relatively inexpensive.

total cost of this project:

8 eggs: $1.45

pieces from 7 neckties: already owned, and all purchased at thrift stores. If I had to guess at what I originally paid for them, I’d say $.25-.50 each. Let’s go with the high estimate: $3.50

scrap cotton: from an ancient t-shirt (free)

total: $4.95