Sewing technique continues to interest me as a research topic. The public library has pick-up service so I’m getting books again, but I’m also modern enough to embrace YouTube. One of my favorite sew-ists there is Bernadette Banner, who strongly recommends a leather thimble for faster hand sewing. Why not make one?, thought I.

Step 1: Rummage around your coffee table until you find, hiding between two knitting magazines, the 35-cent scrap of leather you bought to use with your supported spindle for cotton spinning, and fish an envelope out of the paper recycling.

Step 2: Position the top joint of your needle-wielding (presumably dominant) hand’s middle finger on the edge of the envelope and awkwardly trace around it using your non-dominant hand with a pencil. Cut this out of the paper, trace it twice on the leather with a pencil, and cut out the two pieces of leather.

2021-01-31_thimble-making-1_tracing

Step 3: Your leather needs holes evenly-spaced along all but the bottom edge. Try poking unsuccessfully with an unbent paper clip before you remember you have a small awl. Locate that mini-screwdriver set you got from the customer gift bin at the gravestone-maker’s shop in Germany as a kid (when your grandmother worked there and knew how proud you would be to own tools) and get the awl. Position the awl at the edge of your leather, notice just before disaster that your laptop has been underneath your work this whole time, and swap that out for a cutting mat. Position the awl again and poke holes evenly-spaced along the edge of each piece.

2021-01-31_thimble-making-2_awl-holes

Step 4: Stack the 2 pieces with the desired outside sides on the outside and sew together with a whip stitch. I used heavy-duty polyester button thread and sewed it through twice at the beginning and end sets of holes. The needle’s eye needs to fit through the holes; the needle itself can be sharp- or blunt-tipped. You may need pliers to pull the needle through; mine went OK with a good push with a quilter’s thimble.

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Step 5: Ta-da! Wait, you avocado… all these months of sewing, and you’ve forgotten the importance of seam allowances? This thimble fits your pinky. (And you didn’t use a mini-tripod so the photos are blurry.)

2021-01-31_thimble-making-4_too-small

Step 6: Make a new paper pattern, this time adding a narrow seam allowance. Cut 2 fresh pieces of leather, poke holes, and sew together. It took me only 20 minutes to make the first thimble, and the second went even faster.

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Step 7: Ta-da! (And the tripod got a clear photo of your bethimbled finger in the evening light.)

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The thimble works well when I push a needle with the flat of my finger. I’m having trouble with the top — too much leather in the way — so I need to rip the seams, trim the top leather, and sew it together again.

Don’t have scrap leather? You can remove the leather patch off the back of a pair of blue jeans (hey, they don’t pay you to advertise for them, do they?) and use that for your thimble.

This weekend should have been Stitches West 2021. I haven’t missed it since the first time I went in 1999. Boo. It’s OK. I’m not missing it alone and I have lots of yarn and fiber in the house. I do truly miss the 3-day yarn party with like-minded friends. We’ll have to have an extra big one when we once again are able.

From 2 fox blocks in 6 hours last weekend, the cookie sheet of piles of cut fabric pieces

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turned into 13 more foxes on Friday, bringing me to 15. All those eyes, looking up at me…

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Someone asked me whether Mr. MmmYarn wore only blue-and-white shirts. No, he had variety. But these are the shirts I kept, mainly because they are 100% cotton.  

Making multiples at once was such an efficient process that I cut 10 more sets of shirt fabric on Friday evening and used it up, bringing the count to 25 complete foxes by this morning. My piece alignment continues to improve, although challenged by using fabric from many-times-washed shirts, which is a bit warped. Gripe: cutting is so time-consuming! I cut tall piles of green, white, and navy eye/nose fabric last week and have gone through it all. [Uh, let’s see… 14 x 25 = 350 pieces so far, not counting the discards. Yeah, that’s a lot of cutting.]

The biggest assembly efficiency is continuous chain piecing: chaining until I have some 10 pieces hanging off the back of the machine, cutting off the last 9 and pressing as needed, then continuing to chain until all straight lines are sewn (you also waste far less thread chaining than sewing them one at a time). Chaining doesn’t work for the diagonals on my machine, but I learned I can lift the foot to pull a completed diagonal back an inch-and-a-half, and as long as I lift the needle to the point where the top and bottom threads are completely separate, I can stick in the next diagonal, saving thread and aggravation. The separation is important; slightly crossed threads jam my machine each time because they get caught on the point of the diagonal.

My quilting friend recommended I use “a fairy” to start at edges. Maybe it’s spelled “ferry” because it’s ferrying your project fabric’s edge under the presser foot. You stitch on a scrap of fabric for just a few stitches, at its edge closest to you, and then you chain piece it to your project fabric. I learned in October to stitch an inch on a scrap at the start of every machine sewing session just to verify everything is threaded and tensioned correctly; it didn’t occur to me to keep going with the scrap.

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Those sly 2 foxes are actually piles of 5 blocks each

This afternoon, I assembled the pockets for the Casey Skirt (using the scrap fabric trick so my stitches could start right at the edge; bliss!) and began hand catchstitching the interfacing to the inner waistband so I can maybe finish that tomorrow. And I snuck in another hat as knitting relief throughout all this cutting and sewing. Busy, busy. Fortunately, no one is watching what else is (not) going on around here because there were compromises. The laundry is done, plants watered, and bills paid; the floors and other areas may be wanting attention. Ahem.

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Watchful snowy egret, about to nab a fish

I realized with surprise it’s mid-afternoon already, which means I have been hard at work for over 6 hours. Furlough Fridays are for crafting, but it really is time for a break. Here is what I have been up to today:

2021-02-05_Skirt-hat-quilt-blocks

In the background is the navy skirt with its coral lining, still in progress. I have the front, back, and side seams sewn and all 8 properly finished (so much hand felling!), and the zipper is in, although I see it’s crooked at the top 1.5″ on one side, so I have to unpick and re-stitch that bit. Next is pockets and waistband. And a big hem…

After taking a knitting break for the entire month of January (??), I made a little hat the last few nights. Actually, it’s one I made in December, but I didn’t like how floppy it got after a wash, so this week I unraveled and re-knitted it with needles 2 sizes smaller. This left enough yarn at the end to make an i-cord at the top, and, just for fun, I tried a 2-color striped i-cord. The fabric feels good after a wash, so I’ll weave in the ends when it dries.

I spent most of the day on Fancy Fox practice. Recent fabric shopping went well. I got green batik and off-white, which I cut up this morning, along with an old shirt of mine, into piles of different-sized pieces, then got to assembling. The first two blocks I pieced are in the unpicking pile because they’re lined up about as poorly as the practice block was. I learned the reason: my sewing machine’s presser foot’s edge is a little more than 1/4″ from the needle and that makes a big difference when a section is 5 pieces across! For the two blocks in the photo, I ran the fabric along the edge of the feed dog slot instead and got nearly perfect 1/4″ seams. I’m not aiming for precision blocks that look as though they were made by a robot, but I need them close enough to the right size so I can actually make a quilt top with them.

Where else did the day go? I spent time on triangle research. You can absolutely piece triangles but they’re fiddly. While I’m a beginner still trying to get pieces lined up properly, I will stick with squares cut on the diagonal line after stitching. I carefully unpicked the shirt before cutting, taking notes on shirt construction as I went. And after a lovely fabric-and-thread snarl around mid-day the sewing machine’s timing got thrown out of whack again, so I spent a while with a screwdriver and reading glasses, cautiously adjusting until things were working again.

It feels like two fox blocks isn’t a lot to show after a good crafting session, but all I learned — more efficient cutting, lining up that 1/4″, chain piecing, drawing the diagonal line in pencil on all to-be-triangles pieces in one go, sewing machine repair — means the rest will be easier. I also made design choices while tinkering. The shirts I’m cutting up are striped. I want the fox forehead to have a horizontal stripe and the rest to be vertical stripes, so I have to be a little fussy about cutting, but I am not going to worry about matching ears or cheeks along the stripes. If I had a vertically-striped forehead piece, it would bother me when the ear and cheek stripes didn’t line up; this way, with that horizontal break, I’m fine with it.

 

After work tonight, I rooted through the box of fabric scraps and cut out the 14 pieces needed for a practice Fancy Fox quilt block:

2021-01-14_Fancy-Fox-quilt-practice-block-1

Less than 45 minutes later, a finished block looked up at me. During assembly, I found I cut the white fabric the wrong size so changed those out for yellow/white pieces:

2021-01-14_Fancy-Fox-quilt-practice-block-2

Oh, dear, I am rather hard on the eyes.

Positives: I only put in one piece upside down (one moon is doing a headstand), and only had to unpick one seam that I sewed together the wrong way. The two triangles at the bottom are supposed to overlap exactly as they do.

Negatives: I am certain I had all the pieces the right size and stitched with 1/4″ seams, yet the lower part of the block came out narrower than the top forehead/ears part. I have to re-measure tomorrow with fresh eyes to see if it’s me and my cutting or stitching, or a typo in the piece measurements given in the pattern. Getting all pieces lined up exactly will come with practice.

I am glad I did this because… I have to shop for fabric. Again. The project requires 4 types: I have a pile of shirts to cut up for the faces and a dark swirly navy for the noses and eyes; I don’t have a pale fabric for the cheeks or anything for the background. I planned to stitch the blocks and shop for background fabric further on, but I learned here that the background (purple) is required for block assembly. You can’t add it later. Binding and backing fabric can wait.

Research question, also for tomorrow: When piecing, is it usual to cut squares when the goal is triangles or trapezoids? It seems a waste of fabric to cut squares and sew them together, then cut off a chunk to get your diagonal line. Though thinking about sewing a triangle’s edge on the bias makes me cringe.

Tomorrow is Furlough Friday, during which I will spin. I joined the “Spindlers” Ravelry group’s monthly challenge of spinning a skein in a month (see last post’s end photo) and tomorrow’s the 15th and I am not at the halfway point yet, so some serious twirling is in order. Whee!

F is for Friday, and for furlough. To kick off 2021, after months of being closed to the public (= no revenue coming in), my workplace put employees on an 80% schedule, with Fridays off for the first 3 months of the year. The corresponding 20% pay reduction makes me grateful for my crafting stash because there won’t be money for extras. I am definitely pleased to have 3-day weekends for a while. What to do with the time?

F is for finishing. I hope to finish some projects, crafting and non-crafting, that have languished.

F is for fabric shopping. After I cut out the Casey Skirt and pinned it together, I decided I want a bit more heft and easier seam finishing so I bought some thin cotton today to use as flatlining material. It’s a hard-to-photograph vivid shade of salmon orange/pink, which will look nice against the navy when the wind inevitably exposes the lining to the world. I also bought two tools that were on my shopping list, a curved ruler so I can finish the flowered linen skirt I started re-making in October, and a little square grid ruler to make small cuts easier.

2021-01-08_lining-fabric-and-rulers

F is for foxes. When I gave away most of Mr. MmmYarn’s clothing, I kept some of his shirts, intending to make a memory quilt, uh, “someday,” with a mix of his and my old shirts. I bought the quilt pattern for Fancy Fox in summer 2018; it’s time I used it. F is also for foxing, common on household goods in an ocean-climate residence, so I have to send the whole lot through the wash before starting.

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F is for phooey (phoenetically, it is). It’s going to cost me 2 loads at the Laundromat because I can’t wash the salmon fabric with the shirts. It means a trek to the bank to plead my case again for a roll of quarters. Looking at the photo, I also just realized I don’t think the darkest striped shirt will work for eyes and noses. We’ll see.

F is for frogging (sigh). These are mittens I made a good while back and decided to unravel because, while beautiful even without blocking, they have nowhere to go.

2018-07-01_Octopus-Mittens-front

Pattern: Octopus Mittens by Emily Peters
Yarn: Dragonfly Fibers Traveller, 100% merino, just about 57g / 140 yards each of purple and orange (no yarn labels in this kit)
Needles: US size 0
Started 12/21/2016 and finished knitting 1/25/2017, except thumbs, which I made 7/1/2018 (but never added the orange to them)

2018-07-01_Octopus-Mittens-palms

Such a pretty design, and I really like these colors. The mittens can’t go in the big box of finished items because no one ever wants mittens from me, and they can’t go in the Wool-Aid box because they depict an animal. So the yarn will be something else. Frogging/unraveling is all part and parcel of the knitting game and it means I get to enjoy this very lovely yarn a second time, and I can use the octopus chart on something else.

What could be more fun than first fourth (of the year) Friday furlough fox-y fabric frolicking? I had better be fleiβig*.

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* (German for industriousness and diligence, definitely needed in this household)

 

Although a small earthquake jolted me awake at 5:45am today, I intend to make it to midnight tonight so I can assist 2020 out the door none too gently with my foot. The year threw the family one last curve a few hours ago, and I for one am ready to see it go. Movies and booze are in order. I have “The Rise of Skywalker” to start off the evening, and pulled out some other entertainment to keep me going the remaining hours:

2020-12-31_ready-to-stay-up-until-midnight

This was the only little bottle of screwtop champagne the store had; I have no idea whether it’s any good but a screwtop is a must. I am averse to pulling champagne corks since The Incident that ended 2017…

I wish you a 2021 full of many happy hours of creativity. Cheers and Prosit!

 

If you are looking for knitting that brings you suspense! excitement! anxiety!, a project that keeps you on the edge of your seat 4 times as you watch the balls of yarn get smaller and smaller with each passing row, I will steer you toward the Andy shawl:

2020-08-13_Andy-Shawl_1

I totally won at yarn chicken in this, 4 times, ha! I have a yarn butterfly each of the gold and aqua yarns, and only a wee bit more each of the pale gray and pink, remaining. This is my first project with mini skeins and I’m not sure I can handle this level of excitement a second time, because yarn chicken comes with risks: you never know whether you will beat the chicken, or it will beat you.

I bought the pattern and yarn as a kit, together with project bag, at Stitches West in February. The kit colors differ from the pattern colors and I printed the pattern in black and white, so I took a black-and-white photo of the yarns to help me choose the order in which to knit the colors:

2020-03-27_Andy-Shawl-yarn-planning

CC1 in the original colors is the darkest. For me, that was Wish You Were Beer (gold).
CC2 is 2nd lightest: Barbie Girl (pink).
CC3 is lightest: Jackie O (pale gray).
CC4 is 2nd darkest: Set Sail (aqua).

This shawl starts at the top with a garter tab and works out to the point. The pattern has you change the order of the colors in the third color section, I presume so you can have enough of CC1 to finish the border. The designer contradicts herself on page 2, stating gauge is important and is not important; I can clarify that gauge is important if you have these particular mini skeins and intend to have enough yarn to finish, not important if you have more yarn. In that case, as usual with shawls, your gauge is perfect if you like the drape of what’s coming off the needles.

2020-08-13_Andy-Shawl_2-detail

Pattern: Andy by Laura Dobratz (Ravelry link) — I used version 3 of the pattern.
Yarn: Emma’s Yarn in two put-ups, 80% merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon.
Main color: Hella Hank (large): .9 skein, 135g / 540 yards of Thanks 4 Noticing Me.
Contrasting colors: Practically Perfect Smalls: nearly all of 20g / 87 yards each of Wish You Were Beer, Barbie Girl, Jackie O, Set Sail.
Needles: US size 6
Size: 72″ across and 25″ tall
Started 7/31 and finished 8/13/2020

Two minor deviations from the pattern: I worked row two of the main color’s border section in knit instead of purl (to make a narrow garter stitch edge instead of stockinette), and I didn’t pin out the picot points when blocking because I don’t have a large enough blocking surface, so they curl a bit. The pattern is written out, not charted, and I needed a marker only on the center stitch. I found it helpful to circle the (k1) that was the center stitch to help me keep my place.

The shawl is a size I like, is soft and comfortable, and reminds me of ice cream with caramel sauce.

 

When Jupiter and Saturn approached their Great Conjunction, I pulled out the big binoculars that I have hardly used since March. I got a good look at the planets, and a lot of fluff in my eyes. I had forgotten the fuzzy lining of the binoculars case began to disintegrate some time ago, dusting everything in and around the case with what’s probably polyester fibers. Seriously, little black fuzzy bits that static cling to every surface, get in my eyes, it’s probably not good to be breathing around them, and I know it’s not good to wash them down the drain.

I intended to remove and discard the inner lining, but found it’s not a lining; rather, it’s part of the case’s fabric, whatever that’s called when two fabrics are completely fused together into one. What to do… how about a lining to cover the lining? I took careful measurements yesterday, then got out 3 candidates from the fabric stash.

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Only the chicken fabric in quilting cotton was long enough, so chickens it is. I cut the pieces with a 1/2″ seam allowance,

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(chicken fabric by Robert Kaufman according to its selvedge)

sewed the lining together with surprising ease, even around the dratted corners where I joined the side panels to the main part (handling slippery rayon for hours must have taught me a thing or two about sewing),

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(I marked specific points along the edge with a bright pink rollerball pen so it would all line up properly)

laid it out next to the case to ensure it actually fit,

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and began back-stitching it to the case. Here it is, about 1/3 done yesterday right before I lost the light:

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It’s secret sideways chickens! Added bonus: the bright lining will mean I won’t go hunting for the dark lens caps inside a dark bag anymore.

The mask I made yesterday has secret chickens inside, too. Well, secret eggs and chicken legs, at least. No cord yet, because I’m too stupid today to make a 4-strand braid, apparently (actually, I blame the sprained finger). The two masks I made months ago have secret kitties on the moon inside:

2020-12-27_Masks

While stitching through the thickest part of the mask, where the seams join, the sewing machine made a terrible clunk/grind noise and stopped picking up the lower thread. Ugh. It was just in the shop a few months ago for pulling the lower thread only halfway around the bobbin. It turns out that’s called a timing problem and costs $99 to fix. Thank goodness the technician wrote the diagnosis on the shop slip; knowing what it’s called is helpful. I spent 45 minutes yesterday learning what a timing problem is and tinkering with the machine and it’s working again. Flush with success (ha!), I also fixed the doohickey in the toilet tank that stopped working properly 3 days ago. Not so much luck with my only pair of sneakers, which went kablooey on Christmas Eve: I went shoe shopping today.

There might just be yarn in the next post.

Christmas was quiet. My county has a Stay At Home order in place so I am spending the holidays –and the furlough days from work — at home. A mid-day family phone call of caroling was a nice perk. The day was also dark and rainy, making sewing with navy thread on navy fabric impossible even though I was eager to sew. I tidied the apartment instead.

Remember the blouse I started in November? I could call it finished yesterday, 12/26. Yay! I put about 35 hours of work into this thing so I’m calling it a minor miracle that I stuck it through to the end.

It went from pieces:

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To sewn together (which you have seen here before):

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To something hemmed and finished:

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Ignore the goose bumps , and glamour shots have to wait until the day I can actually visit someone who will wield the camera.

The pattern is Ngaio Blouse by Scroop Patterns (link). I made size 36 in size small for the top half and went out to size 40 for the bottom half, starting at the waist shaping. I also lengthened the sleeves by 2 inches.

Things I did well:

  • I wrote down the needle size and stitch tension, so when I came back to it after a few days’ break and may have used the sewing machine for something else in the interim, I didn’t have to guess.
  • I noticed (right before cutting!) the fabric’s print is directional and arranged all the paper pieces so the print would be right side up.
  • I thought ahead and fussy cut the front gather strip so the large flower was right side up and on top.
  • I picked the right size for me.

Things I learned:

  • Check the fabric before it’s cut at the fabric store. A section of my fabric has far less saturated colors than the rest of it, noticeable in one of the lower front halves and one sleeve. I would have grabbed another bolt had I seen this.
  • No chalk or sewing pen I own will make a mark on this fabric, and I have 5 types in the sewing box. I ended up using a regular ballpoint pen, very carefully and with low pressure, to mark certain areas, and made tailor’s tacks to mark the darts.
  • When using the rotary cutter to trim back the seam allowance that connects the top and bottom sections of a front, be careful to not cut across the front bodice of what you have already assembled. Because then you get to undo it all, cut a new piece, and sew it again more sewing practice, yay! Thank goodness I had extra fabric.
  • Why is rayon not called fray-on? I mean, the cut edges just shredded to pieces while I was trying to get them tucked into seam finishes.
  • Whacking the desk in sheer frustration after trying to fold fabric over into a tidy sleeve seam is a good way to mildly sprain one’s ring finger. It is puffy and sore today. There may also have been was unladylike language involved, and I’m certain the neighbor downstairs heard me when I finally lost it.
  • Cut notches outward instead of inward when working with a fabric that frays like mad. It will make finishing seams easier.

In knitting, I say that what goes on on the inside of a sweater is nobody’s business. The same can be said for a sewn blouse, but as this is intended as an educational record, here is the inside of one armscye, with finished sleeve seams:

2020-12-26_Ngaio-Blouse_interior

The part at the top of the photo is where I got into trouble. After sewing and unpicking 3 times (having to wait for a bright, sunny day each time), the fabric was dreadfully frayed, so I left it. It’s at least stitched over so it will stop fraying at some point. Every time I got it neatly folded over in that area, it came undone as soon as it hit the presser foot (hence the desk whacking). You can see I had less trouble with the seam finishing at the bottom of the photo.

All in all, I am pleased with the top. The print is not my style, really (after trekking to 3 fabric stores, I went with “least objectionable” rather than “print I like the most”), but I will wear it with pride.

ADDENDUM: How much did it cost? The pattern was $12.00 (and I used it twice; talk about a bargain when it comes to dollars per hour of entertainment!) I used my own ink and paper and tape to put the pattern together. I paid $10.58 for 1.5 yards of fabric and used about 2/3 of it, so about $7.05 of fabric. Close to half a big spool of thread (lots of ripping and re-sewing). Let’s say $21.00.

Some hard crafting time in the past 2 weeks and I have the Ngaio Blouse with non-sheet fabric assembled as of this evening, photographed poorly in evening light:

2020-11-30_Ngaio-Blouse-WIP

I will indulge in some gloating tonight, because I got the underarm seam of each sleeve to match up precisely with its corresponding side seam, something I typically fail to accomplish even with stick-to-itself quilting cotton, and this rayon stuff likes to slide around and spontaneously eject pins before I can get the fabric near the presser foot.

2020-11-30_Ngaio-Blouse-WIP-detail

What remains? I need to finish the interior sleeve seams and neck, hem the sleeves, possibly adjust the back darts, then hem it and done. Maybe 5 more hours of work? So much could still go awry that I will enjoy this bit of triumph.

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