Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spring Cleaning

It's funny how predictable I am.  Every year I go through similar cycles, with jobs and friends and activities and even foods.  One thing I can always count on is that around March I'll start to feel antsy in my living space, and finally in May I'll make some moves to change things.

This year I started by cleaning out my apartment of any unnecessary "stuff" (aka crap) and either throwing it out or giving it away.  I got rid of an entire dresser's worth of clothing (and managed not to refill it at the clothing exchange my friends and I threw last month) and yesterday got rid of the dresser as well. 

Thursday I rearranged my kitchen, creating more counter space and clearing out the piles of debris that had been forming in the room over the previous months.  Still not quite satisfied, I then turned my attention to an extreme source of tension over the last couple weeks: my craft space.

This entire month I've been thinking about how to best arrange my craft supplies and work area.  For a long time I've had my sewing machine in a totally ridiculous, polar-opposite-of-optimal location that really does not lend itself to my wanting to sew.  Not that I'm a big sewer, or that I aspire to be one, but it'd be nice if I didn't dread repairing the odd pair of jammy pants just because I don't want to fuss with the lack of sewing space. 

And the rest of the craft zone was pretty much a disaster as well.

So finally, after redoing the kitchen (since it didn't take that long, really) I turned my attention to the craft space.

This is not the first time I've completely rearranged my craft area.  But while it's been in adorable working order before, it's still always had a lack of good work space.


Also, note the sewing machine location.  I mean, come on, how are you going to sew with that little space, and that much crap bordering each side of the machine? 

Anyhow, I pulled everything out just like last time and eventually resituated all the counter space to be far more useful.  And voila!


A far more functional craft space is born.

Already this weekend I've re-covered four throw pillows, repaired my jammies and shirt that have been sitting in the craft zone for almost a year, and re-sized some straps to a new tank top from the clothing exchange.

Yay spring!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fancy Cookies

My friend had a baby shower recently and the definite hit of the party was this plate of delicious salted chocolate chip orange pecan cookies.  They were so good we started pulling them out of the bag they came in before the person who brought them even had a chance to sit down.  At plating time there were roughly 50% fewer cookies than there should've been, and until they were all eaten we clustered around them like vultures, trying to justify our decisions to have a sixth or seventh (and hide them from people who hadn't yet had a first).

Cookies that good leave a definite impression, and since the shower I haven't been able to get them off my mind.  Finally this weekend I messaged the cookie person, Emma, and asked for the recipe, which she thankfully sent right over.  I had a batch made within 3 hours, and by the end of the night had eaten 13 of the 16 cookies I'd baked that afternoon.


If you'd told me 10 years ago that one day my favorite cookie would feature orange zest and chocolate chips, I would've hit you in the face.  I've always hated fruit plus chocolate (in truffle form at least) and nowhere was this more true than in terms of the orange-plus-chocolate combo.  But these cookies are AMAZING!


They're made with a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, and oats, which gives the dough this great homey, comforting, wholesome texture and taste.  The pecans add crunch and caramel flavor, and the orange citrus is not just a delicious accent, but a visual and olfactory excitement as well.  Throw some semi-sweet chocolate into the mix and voila--you'll find yourself eating 13 cookies in a single day, too.


But the coup de gras has to be the coarse sea salt, sprinkled (in my case liberally) over the balls of dough right before they go into the oven.  As a child (which is not to suggest that I don't still do this, mind you) I loved going to the movies with chocolate in one hand and salty, buttery popcorn in the other, and shoving bits of both into my mouth for a salty-sweet combo.  These cookies are a (far more) sophisticated version of that move.  I feel cheated, in fact, that I've had to wait 30 years before tasting the deliciousness of sea salted chocolate chip cookies.

I'm not sure where the recipe came from so if you recognize it as yours feel free to let me know and I'll happily give credit where it's due.  If you don't recognize it, I suggest you familiarize yourself with a batch of your own post haste (I don't want to be the only fatty in a bikini this year).

From Emma:

Salted Orange Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup canola oil
zest of 1-2 oranges
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (plus more for sprinkling)
1 cup oats
1 cup pecans, broken
2 cups semi-sweet choc chips

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Cream butter, oil, zest, and sugar. Add eggs and then vanilla. Dump flours into bowl, and before mixing, add in the baking soda and salt and mix into the flour with your tsp before incorporating everything together. Add oats, nuts & chocolate chips. Spoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for 9-11 minutes. Cool on a rack. If you can stop yourself from eating them all.

The cookies actually test better if you stick the dough in the fridge overnight. Nuttier. But you can't go wrong whipping them up in 15 minutes either.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Flatten Vinyl

I haven't even started on Peanut's new sweater.  What an awful pseudo-girlfriend I am.

I have, however, been working on a different project, which has involved an awful lot of sewing and a little bit of gluing.  I can't get into details, though, because it's for a product I'm designing with the intention to eventually try and market it and I wouldn't want you to swipe my patent-less idea.  :-)

In any case, part of the design for this mystery thing involved using clear vinyl, so I headed to the (lame) craft superstore in our town mall to pick some up.  Lucky for me there were several odds-and-ends folds of vinyl sheeting in the half-off section, so I grabbed a medium-weight flat and picked it up for roughly $7.  I didn't need as many yards as I wound up with, but who knows--maybe I'll want to make myself a see-through dress some day.

Having worked with vinyl before (the Happy Hooker has an adorable crocheted ipod case that's an animal face on one side and a clear vinyl panel on the other)


I knew that stored vinyl can get wrinkled, but I've never tried to unwrinkle it before.

Clearly, ironing is out of the question, so how do you make folded vinyl flat again?  I pondered this as I drove home from the store, thinking that microwaving would probably work, but since I'm smart I made sure to Google my options before actually throwing any plasticky sheeting into the oven.

Google had a couple different suggestions but the one that appealed to me the most was flattening via hair dryer.  As someone who still occasionally uses the hair dryer to get wrinkles out of the shirt I'm already wearing, I am familiar with the process.

I'm happy to report that blow drying vinyl works a helluva lot better than blow drying cotton.  I cut a few squares out of my big fold, stored it away, and then put each square on the carpet (maybe not the best placement but it didn't melt or anything).  It took about 30 seconds to a minute to get a nice flat piece of vinyl from what was previously a bumpy lumpy mess and wound up being one of the easiest things I had to do in the process of making the mystery item.

This morning, thankfully, I finished my project (wouldn't want to leave any loose craft ends before The Rapture) which means now I'm theoretically free to start working on a new pattern for Peanut.

I'm sure he will be thrilled to get a new sweater just in time for summer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Baseball Redux

It didn't fit.
I knew it was a possibility--I've knit from this pattern before with dubious results (especially on Minnie's Chug-shaped body) but I'd hoped that was the fault of knitting inexperience.

It wasn't.

The pattern, which (for its sake) shall remain nameless, is, frankly, a fail.

Oleg and I headed over to Elaine and Ken's on Saturday for a brief birthday hello, and while there delivered the new sweater to Mr. Peanut.  However, though he may not look it, Peanut is an elderly gentleman and the sweater, with its awkward arm placement, did not go on very smoothly.

Once fitted, Peanut had a helluva time trying to move around in the thing. All of us were disappointed, me especially.  I'd wanted to make a nice treat for my buddy, instead I wound up making him a torture device.  But from failure comes further inspiration--"Screw that pattern," I said, "I'll make a better one!"  And that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Since Peanut's joints are creaky with age, I've decided to redesign this little baseball look so that he can put it on front-wise, instead of over the head.  This means I'll have to split the back, and add a way of fastening it (I haven't decided what, but I'm thinking either velcro or buttons, or both).  And because the arms (which are really the greatest fail of this particular pattern) are a little too far out, I'm going to reshape the chest piece to bring them in closer--you know, in a more dog-like shape.

And here's the good news: once I'm done, not only will Peanut have a dashing new sweater, you'll have a free new pattern because guess what?  Suck it, old sweater pattern, I'm posting the redux so no one ever has to suffer through your dummy tight arms again!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Boyfriend Sweater

Lately the number of times I've found myself delving wholeheartedly into a new craft have been few and far between.  My mother's new pair of gloves (rendered entirely redundant the day after I started knitting them when the California sunshine came out in full force and said, 'Hey, Bay Area, welcome to early summer!') is not even half finished, the lone tube of magenta knit perched accusingly on my coffee table for the last few weeks.  And even less frequently than that do I choose to embark on a project that involves--shudder--sewing.

But the other night I was hanging out with my boyfriend and my buddy Elaine said, "You should make him a sweater."  And it's been a long time since I've made a sweater, but since my boyfriend is the most adorable thing ever, I thought, "You know what, I should."

This, by the way, is my boyfriend:


Jealous much?

His name is Peanut and he's an older Pomeranian gentleman who rocks a short coat and relaxed demeanor like nobody's business.  And I heart him--see, that's what his egg says, "I heart Peanut."

I haven't made a dog sweater in more years than it's been since I actually voluntarily sewed with yarn (there's just something about the texture of yarn for sewing that I hate) but Peanut is pretty awesome and one pattern in particular struck me as the only right choice for him.  So the other night I grabbed a favorite color combo and set to knitting.

The sweater I chose to make is knit in four pieces: a back, a front, and two arms.  You have to knit them on regular needles (can't recall the last time I did something on anything other than a pair of double-pointed metallics...) and then set them aside.  And then you have do another thing that I kind of hate: block them.

Blocking is weird.  If you're not familiar with it (though I don't know why anyone reading this blog wouldn't be--welcome, person who randomly wound up here by Googling something weird like pterodactyl baseball or kitten stirrup pants!) it's just a way of relaxing your knitting into a flat piece.  Plain knitting (without any fancy stitches) tends to roll in on itself, which makes sewing the edges together all but impossible, so once you've made a piece of flat stockinette (that's just a fancy way to say "plain") fabric, you have to do something to flatten it out.

 
roll in, much?  

Two popular blocking methods are to soak the thing in water and let it dry, or to iron it.  I find both unsatisfactory, at least with acrylic yarn.  Blocking robs the fabric of some of its bounce and fluff and leaves it oddly thinner and looser than before.  But if I have to choose a method, I think ironing is the way to go.  You've gotta use steam, and use it sparingly, and if possible iron just the edges so they flatten (though, as was the case for this project, sometimes you'll have to block the whole thing to completely eliminate the rolling issue).

Once blocked, the parts look much more like sweater puzzle pieces.


Then comes the next step: sewing.

When I first started knitting dog sweaters (long story...sad, too) I was a very new knitter and found the piece work very confusing and incredibly time consuming.  After a while I figured out I could eliminate a lot of steps by rewriting patterns to be knit as one piece on circular needles.  It was a pretty successful endeavor, and a great way to learn more about knitting and teach myself some pattern writing in the process.  It also made me hugely more confident about my knitting chops in general, which lead to better and more complex endeavors.

In any case, my dislike for sewing flat pieces of knitting together continues to this day.  Yarn begins to unravel when you're knitting long seams with it, and it feels squeaky, and if you're sewing for too long your fingers will get sweaty and then the squeaky, unraveling yarn will become moist, and that's enough to make you frog the entire project right there.  Not to mention that after the first seam I tend to get impatient (or maybe just bored) and the quality of my stitches begins to deteriorate, making me like sewing even less.

But I was mentally prepared for all of this, and since I knew it'd probably be the only time I'd sew knit pieces together this year, I was okay with it.


Most patterns tell you to use mattress stitch when you're sewing pieces together.  Let's see if Google can find you a graphic illustration.


Hey now!  That's not what I meant, Google!

 

So if you're not clear what's going on there, when you knit something it's got a front and a back side.  The front side looks like this:


And the back looks like this:


When you use mattress stitch you sew the yarn under the back loops (shown above) so that they've hidden by the knitted loops on the front side (previous image).  Kind of clever, I guess.

Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my years of crafting experience have made me a much more capable mattress stitcher than I'd previously been.  Check out this quality craftsmanship:


Pretty darn lovely, I have to admit.

But still painfully tedious, especially when you have 6 seams to create.

After a while, though, the sweater finally started to take shape.


And five episodes of Sons of Anarchy later (I know, but my real boyfriend kept telling me it was a good show and damned if, even though it's about bikers, it is.  I credit the Hamlet allegory...) I did a little round of crochet edging and voila!  It was done: a boyfriend sweater for a furry boy friend.


Stay tuned for what's sure to be the cutest follow up post ever: Peanut models his baseball jersey boyfriend sweater.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gloves for Mom


The other night I was out to dinner with my mom and she said, "You know that blue yarn you used to make my gloves?"  I thought back and remembered--it was a variegated wool that I picked up at the fancy yarn shop in town.

"Yeah," I said, "Why?"

"I lost one of my gloves so I was wondering if you could make me another." 

"I don't have any more of that yarn," I said, "But I could just make you a new pair..." 

And so I have a new project to motivate me to test-drive yet another pattern.  I'm using Debbie Stoller's magenta wool blend (love that yarn line!) which is the same yarn I used to make Mom a cowl at Christmas.  It's such a great color that my original plan to use the magenta and a purple yarn from the same line completely fell through, and I wound up using just the magenta for the project. 

I've started the pair and the pattern works (yay!) so I can add it to the collection of finished gloves.  Working on a bigger project based around my patterns, but shh--I'm not ready to talk about that yet ;-)

I also just finished a rapid crochet project to accomplish 2 goals: 1) get rid of some yarn! and 2) make a blanket for my boyfriend's freezing cold apartment.  It took me about a week and a half to do because I was very determined not to be cold anymore.  Haven't photographed the end result yet but I will--it's a striped number with some cream, black, grey, brown, red, and green shades to it.  That's right, I managed to use up a bunch of my yarn stock with this thing. 

Now I can finally go buy more yarn...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Substitution

Well hello.  Obviously it's been a while since I've posted.  This is not because I've stopped crafting, of course, but because I've been spread pretty thing lately.  Between the real job, the social life, the crafting, and the other hobbies, blogging has certainly taken a back seat--I mean, it's way more fun to do the stuff than to just sit and discuss the stuff, right?

And though I've been crafting, it's definitely been slow-going.  I was working on a pair of leg warmers (pictures at a later date...) whose second piece was a headache.  I'd started them because I've decided to try and knit (or crochet) up all the yarn in the house--no small feat--and I had these two almost-entire lovely rolls of soft grey acrylic yarn.
I'm not a fan of acrylic yarn.  It's fine when you're beginning, or if you're making something like a beer coozy or a phone case, but for clothing items it's mostly harsh.  Over the past few years, yarn producers have started coming out with some better blends of acrylics that maintain the low price of the standard bulk skeins but have a softer feel.  The yarn I had was Red Heart Soft in Charcoal, which I recommend as a better option for those beginners working on beer coozies.

I started the leg warmers in a Chevron stitch and they came out absolutely adorable, but as I neared the end of the second warmer I realized, "Oh, crap, I'm going to run out of yarn."  When the whole point of a project is to use up the yarn you already have, the last thing you want to do is create a situation where you need to buy more of that yarn.

But that's what I did.  And without even a bobbin of extra charcoal yarn in the house, I set out to try and find a third (argh!) skein.

What the hell, Red Heart?  Why did you discontinue this yarn?!  Or at least, why does it appear that way?  I went to the local stupid craft store (I call them stupid because they stock a lot of overpriced junk, and their yarn inventory always dip to near empty and stays that way for weeks before they re-stock anything) but I couldn't find the yarn even though that's where I bought it originally.  I thought.  I was pretty sure.

Pretty sure meant a trip to Walmart.  I know, right?  But they've recently started stocking yarn, and I go once a month to pick up a prescription and I thought, "Well, maybe that's where they have the yarn."  But no, they did not.

I even tried the local artisinal yarn shop on a long-shot, but as expected they only had fine Merinos and NoRo yarn or fancier acrylic blends.  No Red Heart anywhere on the shelves.

Over the weekend I toyed with the idea of dragging my boyfriend (who lives in the city) on a quick and painless (meaning one shop only, and only for that single skein of yarn) trip to another craft store, but quickly nixed the idea.  He's sweet to say he'll go with me, but who wants to do that to a someone who isn't into knitting or crafts?  I decided finally that even though it would mean waiting a little while longer, and paying shipping, I'd try to find it online.

But it is gone!  Gone, gone, gone.  No charcoal soft yarn anywhere in sight.  

Fellow crafters, I'm sure you can relate--nothing sucks like running out of a color and having to find a suitable substitute.  It means dragging your partially-finished project around in your purse and holding it up to potential candidates to see if it will be obvious that it wasn't your first choice.  I tried a Vanna White charcoal, but it had too sleek a look, and was just a shade too dark, and I knew that the last 2 inches of leg warmer would just scream "replacement yarn" if I went with it.  Eventually I settled on an odd choice: a grey yarn that was exactly the same shade as the original, only with the occasional weird fleck of cream or tan.  It's very weird--not your usual speckled yarn, which is why I chose it.  The base yarn was right, and the flecks were so few and far between, and so poorly woven into the grey, that they were easy to pull off.  I finished the leg warmer that night, after about 10 minutes of knitting, and sighed in relief.

And then I was on fire to finish all those crafts I'd left sitting in my craft space, untouched, for the past few months.  One of these was the Bulltrue Medal I'd started embroidering way back when I was blogging on the regular last summer.

That's right--it's finally finished!  And it came out pretty well.  The fabric was too dark to use my charcoal transfer paper on the front so I drew the image on the back, which meant I wound up free handing the last few bits of the grey diamond and you can totally tell when you compare the left side (thick) to the right side (skinny).  But I'm still happy with it, if only because it's finally finished.