Sunday, September 30, 2007

Laurel Burch 1945 - 2007

I just heard that Laurel Burch died on Septmber 13. I may be the only one in the world that didn't know that but, for some reason, I had a very strong reaction to the news. I went to her website to learn more ( and was intrigued by her story. I love her designs ... the whimsial cats, the bright colors and high quality materials have always attracted me to her work. All the more interesting is how she left home at the age of fourteen to make her own way in the world while also dealing with a crippling disease. It looks like she is a whole industry by herself and we will continue to see more of her work for a while. You can read more at her site.


A couple of months ago I read about a site called Ravelry that was starting up for knitters to post information on their projects, store ratings and other general knitting fun. I submitted my name and discovered that I was many thousands of people down on the waiting list to try out the site. A couple of days ago I got a notice that I was now able to login and I have been playing with the site.

First of all I discovered that I am not the only person in the world who doesn't have a decent digital picture of themselves to post. I'd say at least half of the people on Ravelry have pictures of their pets rather than themselves. I use Alex's head shot from a while ago. The problem with not using your real photo is that others cannot recognize you when they meet you at events. I'll have to ask Paul to help me get a decent shot when we next get together.

I also discovered that this site has a huge database of patterns, books, fibers and tools for the knitter or crocheter. I have a skein that I love the look of but have no idea what to do with it. the site gave me information on a couple of books with patterns just for one skein and a bunch of projects that others had done with the same yarn. All reviewed by real live knitters so I have a clue about how hard it would be to use the patterns suggested.

I dd post a couple of patterns that I had completed and I have gotten a couple of hits already. I don't know if I will continue to use the site but for now it is a great resource. If you are a knitter or crocheter you might enjoy getting in on the action at

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Few Bits and Pieces

I've not been posting for the last few days but I have been fighting my ragweed allergy that turned into a huge sinus infection that bordered on bronchitous. Needless to say I've been taking a slew of drugs and trying to get some sleep... between forcing fluids and then getting rid of all those fluids. Such is life :-). To make up for it I have a bunch of things I think you may be interested in hearing about.
Steve and Barry's
I'd heard about this company on Oprah (of all places) and was intrigued by their marketing plan. The chain's stated goal is to provide reasonably priced fashionable clothing for the masses. They signed up a basketball star to design inexpensive but desireable by kids, running shoes. The shoes cost at the most $25.00 and several mothers on the Oprah show were very grateful. I had never been to one of their stores and, frankly had never seen one, but I goggled them ( and found several Houston locations. After driving past the mall where it is located just off I45 many times, I finally stopped in to check it out. The store is definitely fashionable in a very Gap/Old Navy kind of way.
There were very few customers but, then again, I was there at 6:00 PM on a Friday night so maybe they were all eating dinner with their families. I made a couple of purchases from the sale racks and came home with a decent pair of jeans for eight bucks, a pair of ballet flats in hot fushia for nine, a couple of shirts for twelve each, and a cute T-shirt for six. I also picked up a couple of head bands at six each, which seemed expensive to me but they fit so I should be happy. I also picked up an exra large emerald green and navy tote bag, similar to those sold by Land's End, for ten dollars.
All the clothing fit well though the jeans were made for those with saddle bags hips which I don't have as one of my figure flaws. The only real disappointment was the T-shirt as the cut was good for me but the cotton knit was really cheap.
If you see one of these stores, check them out. I can't vouch for the running shoes but my son said they were a little chunky and not cut for his feet but your kids or yourself may have better luck.

Embroidery Play
I have had a chance to play with one of the projects from the seminar I was at on Friday and Saturday of last week. I tried out the faux cut work and liked the results. Here is a photo of what we did in class:
The cream on yellow linen was preferred by the presenter but I really like the brown on yellow one. All the cut work I have, and I seem to have a lot from various relatives, is done either white on white or pale blue on white. Here is what I did with it:

As you can see I was cruising right along but ran into a problem. I needed to change my bobbin out and foolishly removed the embroidery frame and the whole design was lost. I now have an overly embellished Steve and Barry's emerald green tote with navy trim and a reminder to save designs with elaborate placements before doing something stupid. I backed the cut work with a blue patterned silky piece of fabric that I had in my stash rather than have the plain navy blue lining show through the cuts..
Anyone who has done cut work by hand knows that you do all the stitching before cutting the background. In this pattern, by Anita Goodesign, you back the pattern area with stabilizer, outline the cutwork, do the cutting then do the satin stitching. If you are going to wash the project anyway, I believe cutting can be done either way and you would get good results as any the linen ends will shrink a little into the stitching. Of course, doing it by machine is a whole lot faster than by hand.
The Red Scarf Project
I finished my contribution to the Red Scarf Project. I used a Yarn Harlot simple rib pattern (knit, knit, knit in the back, purl, continue and end on a knit 2) with a nice wool that wasn't red. After I knitted the 72 inch scarf I then died it using 4 packs of cherry Kool Aid and one pack of black cherry. It came out a little brighter than I had anticipated but I love it none the less. Again I seem to have a problem with the eveness of the dying but I actually like the result. I hope the foster kid who gets it will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it. Here's a photo of the finished scarf with a ball of the original wool all on the mums outside my front door.

My Shadow
Alex continues to be my shadow. I'm not sure if its because of his natural curiosity in EVERYTHING going on or if he is just being a pest but it is kind of endearing. Right now he is settling for sitting under my desk chair as I am typing this note with my laptop on my lap. He just doesn't fit... though he has begged three times by scratching at my thigh to wiggle up here. Here is a picture from this afternoon with him inside the storm door (begging to be let out) as I took the picture of the red scarf project.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Sharing

I just spent two days in a machine embroidery seminar hosted by Anita Goodesign ( and Brother sewing machines. Going into it I had a pretty good notion that a lot of selling would be going on but I was really looking forward to seeing what is available for my new machine. Yes there was a lot a selling, which seemed to cut into our learning time, but I also learned more than I expected about what kind of projects I can expect to complete without growing a third brain. The selling time was well used by me to do some shopping and I came home very much poorer. I think it was money well spent but only time will tell.

There is a whole new class of projects that are completed within the embroidery hoop ... even down to applying zippers! We made a snail design with two kinds of applique fabric, a lady bug sun visor, three pieces of lace joined by a couching stitch, feather stitched multiple quilt squares joined with ribbon, faux cutwork on linen (very clever!) and a neat calico note pad holder. I want to try out all the techniques on my own as we shared one machine among 5 or 6 of us. My biggest issue with this seminar, which is probably the same for all similar seminars, is that a lot of time is spent just doing the embroidery. Once you know how to embroider one design, the act of embroiderng becomes as exciting as watching paint dry. The interesting techniques that make an embroidery machine so versatile could have taken an hour or two without having to create the embroiery.

I will try out the techniques I learned over the next few days and let you know how successful I am in recreating what I saw in class. Then we will see how good a student I am and how good Steve Wilson and Kinda Winzeler are at teaching.

Let the sewing begin!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Swap-o-rama Rama

The Austin Maker Faire is coming up on October 20 and 21 at the the Travis County fairgrounds. I have been intrigued by this concept ever since I first learned about it last November. It looks like a lot of fun and a great way to get the creative juices going.
One part of the event is called the Swap-o-rama Rama. It is organized by Wendy Tremayne ( . The concept is that you bring a bag of clean, in-season clothing to give away. You then can take whatever you want from everyone elses discards. In one video I saw on this concept it said that 5 - 7,000 pounds of clothing can be recycled at an event like this. While at the fair you can then take the clothing you have found and re-make it into something else... clothing, accessories or home dec items. There are sewing machines, threads, sergers, silk screens and designers available to help you realize your vision. Does this sound intriguing or what?
I have volunteered to help out that weekend but I will also be a willing participant. I'll let you know how it all turns out. Be on the lookout for similar events in your area as I am sure you would have a good time as well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Yarn Harlot

I just got back a little while ago from seeing Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee, aka The Yarn Harlot ( She is a delightful speaker and kept about 300 people laughing for over an hour. It was nice to be able to knit during a talk as the lights were left on in the auditorium making it easy to see my progress and others to read their incredibly complex patterns while still enjoying her talk.

One of her schticks is that the knitting community is not taken seriously by the rest of the business world. She related that Blue Moon Fibers ( had approached a bank about helping with credit card orders for a monthly sock yarn club. When ordering opened the bank decided that it had to be a scam because thousands of people could not possibly want to order a monthly sock yarn club and refunded everyone's orders. I understand that litigation is still on-going.

Another story had to do with Stephanie's personal charity, Knitters Without Borders, which has raised over $300,000.00 for Doctors Without Borders. It took a couple of years for the group to meet its first goal of $120,000.00 after the Southeast Asian Tsunami. Stephanie then had another $120,000.00 goal announced on her blog and it took 72 hours to meet that goal. Now Doctors Wihtout Borders is asking her how to raise that much money.

In both cases knitters are shown to be a powerful economic force both in business and charity work even if the general community may not recognize this force. HOWEVER, we have met the enemy and it is us. To get respect you need to act like you already have it. Stephanie admits that she does not introduce herself as a writer of humor based on knitting. She has published five books, two of which have made the best seller lists and one of which has earned a prestigious award for humor writing. She introduces herself as a writer only and is unaware of how many books she has actually sold. I agree that with 50 million knitters in North America knitters can be a powerful force for good in the world but if one its most visible boosters is embarassed by her vocation its no wonder that the rest of the world is unaware of that power.

Felting Fun

I mentioned previously that while I was in Canada I picked up a bunch of used wool sweaters. I felted them up and got mixed results. The chunkier sweaters did not really want to felt much. After two hot washes they shrunk less than 10%. There was one handmade sweater and it felted diferently for each section done in a different color. It seemed to me that the brand of yarn changed from section to section thus the variances in shrinkability. A couple of the sweaters felted beautifully and one I decided to play with and dye to give it a deeper, richer hue.

Not only did I want to change the color of the sweater but I have been working on a scarf for the Red Scarf Project ( and since I didn't have any red yarn available when I started I decided to knit the scarf first then dye it red. This dying experiment of the sweater was a test for dying the scarf when it is complete.

One final complication was that I wanted to experiment with dying with Kool Aid, a process I had heard about at an ASG heighborhood group. With Strawberry Kool Aid in hand, instructions that I got through Google and a felted grey sweater that I had cut up into four pieces I filled a cheap four gallon stainless steel pot with water and vinegar and proceeded to cook the sweater as directed.

From this

I got this.

The dying came out a little unevenly - a lesson learned about stirring more frequently. From the results I attempted to make a box, an idea had seen on Martha Stewart's web site. Martha's box was round and made out of a beautiful white Aran knit sweater. Mine is sort of square and I inter-lined it with some Timtex so that it would stand up better. I lined it with fabric from a top I made a couple of years ago for a contest. The top turned out not to fit at all so I have no tears about cutting it up for this experiment. Here's how it all turned out:

I don't know what I will use it for but as it is about nine inches tall and the bottom is approximately seven inches square it is a usable size. The wonky flower was created to use up some of the scraps so I wouldn't have to think of something else to do with them.

On a final note, while I was trying to photograph this project, Alex and the girls arranged themselves at my feet protecting me from the vicious leaves blowing through the yard. Good Dogs!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Craft Leftovers Fun

A couple of months ago I ran across the Craft Leftovers blog ( by Kristen Roach. Since then I have received a couple of things from her in the samplers I ordered from Home of the Sampler. One was a sample of her beautifully dyed merino sock yarn and the other was a kit to make a a dish cloth. The yarn is lovely and is on my list for purchasing when I make my next pair of socks. The dish cloth really is the best I have ever had due to the use of soft cotton with a really scratchy wool. The two crocheted together in a brick stitch make a great dish cloth that holds the soap and really scarpes off the yuck on your dishes.
I like Kristen's enthusiasim for all things crafty and her innate generosity of spirit in sharing what she knows with everyone without any ego. In August she wrote a pretty sad entry about her sewing machine dying and how she would need donations in order to get another or to get it fixed. I have quite a number of sewing machines... from a 50+ year old Singer Featherweight to my latest acquisition, the Brother 4000 embroidery machine. It so happens that an older Babylock machine of mine has been waiting for a new home. I had been scouting possible placements when I read Kristen's note. She was offered a cheapy from a discount chain store that I know would have been inadequate so I offered her my Babylock. It was in great shape and offered a zillion options not on a standard machine like an automated threader and cutter.

I was happy to pass it on to someone with an entreprenurial spirit and I hope she has much success in her business and crafty desires. Besides many gracious comments from Kristen (blush, blush) she has added me to her monthly subscription list as well as some extras. In September I received:

Two Tissue holder kits
One pencil case kit
One crocheted headband kit
One dishcloth kit
One little magazine,
Ten+ buttons
Two pieces of Vintage fabric
One vintage iron-on applique
One reusable loose tea holder
Several Craft Leftovers buttons and patches WOW!
I had a lot of fun putting the kits together and then adapting my own materials to the instructions.

Here is a picture of the kits I made up using Kristen's materials including a close-up of the cute car fabric on the interior of the pencil case. The crocheted headband (bright blue) is the first one I have owned that actually has stayed on my fat head for hours at a time. The tissue holders are completely reversible. The ribbon on the pencil case was supposed to be applied straight but went a little wonky on me. Its the perfect size for my Nintendo Game Boy Advanced and DS games.

And here is a picture of my own materials with Kristen's instructions. The Headband and wash cloth are made out of varigated kitchen cotton yarn. The headband fits very well and the cloth will probably go into my shower rather than be used in the kitchen. The fabric for the tissue holders and pencil cases is a cotton lawn from Japan printed with Martini glasses that I just love and have in two color ways!And, here is a photo of all the other bits and pieces that came in the package.

The little magazine includes instructions for a fold-over style sandwich bag, a soothing tea recipe, a soothing eye pillow idea and a bunch of ideas for keeping our creativity from becoming a burden. And check out that great fabric.... what will I do with all of this?

The subscriptions go on sale on Monday and they seemed to have sold out quickly last month. If what I have described seems like something you would like to try, please keep Kristen's enterprise in mind and shop her Etsy shop for little fun kits and other stuff.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Funeral Purse

While I was away in Canada my son's girlfriend's grandfather passed away. Born in Viet Nam in 1921 he left behind a huge number of family including one great-grandchild. I decided to attend the funeral and it was held Saturday at Holy Rosary church in Downtown Houston. There were hundreds of people at the church for the all Vietnamese service. The internment was near here at Brookside in an area that seems to be exclusively set aside for Vietnamese graves. It was interesting to see the blend of old and new traditions in the graveside service and I loved the smell of joss sticks that seemed to be burning at most gravesites. A most unusual aspect of the graveside service, at least to me, was when the grandchildren removed their traditional white garments and laid them in the grave with many flowers added by the attendees. I had been curious about the voluminous garments and was horrified at the poor quality of the fabric and construction... not realizing that they would be discarded at the end of the grave side service.

While anticipating my attendence at the funeral I realised that I wanted a new handbag to carry that could hold those few things I might need like a handkechief and allergy medications. I had noticed previously that the Amy Buter "In Stitches" book had a sew along group and that their current project was the patchwork handbag.

I wanted to try one of her patterns so conceived of a little dark but flowery bag using some clip art images of fairies and angels. I created a sheet of fabric transfers and proceeded to search the stash for appropriate fabric.

That was when things began to go very wrong.

I realized that I didn't have just the right bunch of stash fabric to complete the purse as anticipated but I did come across a yard of over-dyed cartoonish glamour girl fabric I had purchased a few years ago at the International Quilt Festival.

Out the window goes the flowery, girly concept, in comes the naughty lady concept. I did not change the basic design of the bag but I added a couple of 'jeweled' zipper charms that I had made previousy instead of using the provided zipper fob pattern. I also used a purse zipper that has two pulls so that the bag can open in the middle rather than just from one side.
I have not added a firm base to the interior (I may not) but I added two long pockets on the inside to organize the bit and pieces of my life.
I may do some additional top stitching to crisp up the edges but that will take a while before I am motivated to do more work on it.
I did not use the handbag at the funeral... some how it seemed really inappropriate but I think I will get some use out of it when running around town or as a small knitting project tote. This was a fun project to complete. The instructions were extremely thorough but it is definitely not a project for a raw beginner. The lining is hand applied after the exterior is completed so I actually had to pick up needle and thread to finish it off which I did while waiting in the car for the attendees to come together before the funeral.
I wonder if I will ever have the nerve to carry this bag at a funeral? Probably not but it will forever be associated with funerals on a hot Houston morning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oh Canada!

I returned from checking on my Dad in Canada this morning to torrential rains and a nasty cold. My Father is looking at months of rehab before we can even think about where and how he should be living. Forutnately many of these decisions must be made by his medical staff as my analysis shifts from bleak to dim to cautiously optimistic at the drop of a hat. While I was up north I had a lot of time to reflect on the differences between living near the fourth largest city in the US (Houston) and living in a small city between Toronto and Detroit.

Butter Tarts - Oh how I miss warm butter tarts with raisins and a good strong cup of Tim Horton's coffee. I got to indulge while I was there at least once a day and I may have gained a few butter tart pounds at the same time. Why anyone would put pecans, rather than raisins, in a butter tart is beyond me.

Wool Sweaters - I went to a Value Village while in Kitchener to check out wool sweaters for potential felting projects. I was very surprised at how few there were as the majority of the sweaters were cotton and acrylic. I picked up eight of various weights and styles for about $5.00 each. Even though they were quite bulky I still managed to get them in my suit case without going over the weight limits.

Barbecue - I know Canada is not generally known for its barecue but I had the opportunity to try a few meals of it and have come back with a new appreciation of honey based peppery sauces. Yum Yum!

Diversity - Kitchener is a very small city but I found excellent examples of many different ethic restaurants within a short distance of each other. When I return for more Dad Duty, I have a full list of places I want to try including the Korean Barbecue place downtown and the Indian place in the strip plaza down the road from his apartment. All this diversityin a small area also means there is quite a bit of ethinc tension and there is a debate I heard about about sending everyone back to where they came from, something the members of the first nations might find to be a good thing.

Trees - Large maples, oaks, elms and pines were every where. The shade canopy throughout the city was glorious and I can hardly wait for the leaves to start changing there. With great ecological awareness most grass fertilizers and weed killers are banned so the grass was almost universally brown and not at all attractive. It seemed that most lawns were dying and the parks were given over to mulched play areas and/or flower beds rather than large expanses of green.

Brick Houses - Especially around the hospital there were many large all brick homes with wrap around porches, unusually shaped windows and victorian gingerbread trim. I love being in an area where most of the homes are over 60 years old and, although sligthly expensive, are affordable for most middle class families. One of the joys of living in a smaller city. Heating these places means that the lovely original windows have been replaced by newer triple pained glass or are covered with aluminum storm windows. Yuck!

The War - When Canadian solders who have been killed in Afganistan are brought home for autopsy and burial, they are all returned to the base in Trenton and then driven to Toronto. Canadians line the over passes over Highway 401 to pay their respects to these fallen ones. It is quite moving to see and this stretch of road has been renamed the Highway of Heroes. On the other hand there was a 'support the troops' rally in the city of Calgary, Alberta and only 16 people participated.

Then there is Canadian Tire money, bilingualism, provincial politics, the CBC, TVO, heavy money, 15% sales tax, government run liquor stores, eh! and many, many other things that let you know you are in a foreign country Even with all these differences and similarities we still share the longest unguarded border in the world. Oh Canada indeed!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It never rains but it pours...

Just an FYI that I will be incommunicado for a few days and probably not updating this blog. My father had another stroke last week and, although I have two brothers who live near him, I will need to be with him for about a week as the boys will be unable to check on him. One of my brothers is going out of town to a rock concert for a few days (interesting entertainment choice for a 51 year old!) while the other had a heart attack two days after my father's stroke and is now scheduled for heart bypass surgery in a couple of days.

I have a ton of little projects I have completed in the last few days that I wanted to share but, frankly, I am too distracted by all these health issues to do photos and post. Some how I can knit and sew but not post.... interesting!

This should be an interesting few days. Wish me luck!