December 20, 2013

Embroidered Pillow

Nothing screams "beginner" more than a hastily-made pillow. Since I've been a beginner for more years than not, I've certainly made my fair share of substandard pillows. In third grade sewing club, pillows were produced in bulk by girls and boys alike, all of which were of juvenile quality. These messes are such embarrassments that I've long undone the worst masterpieces from this era. Most of the pillows I made were simply two pieces of fabric sewn together, turned inside-out, and stuffed directly. Some had a little bit more flair by having a quilted, appliqu├ęd, knit, or simple embroidered pattern, but are nothing special to look at. 
From experience, I've learned that as the effort put into a project increases, the amount of pride upon its completion also increases. I've also learned that as the project becomes more ambitious, its completion is increasingly less likely. One must look no further than my blanket saga for proof of this. But when there is an incentive to finish a project promptly, like birthday or class deadlines, bigger projects are more approachable and more likely to be finished.

So it was great to tackle this beast of a pillow in my Fiber Arts class. It took the greater part of 2.5 months where I worked at least four hours a week. After a dysfunctional relationship with Google Images endlessly searching keywords like "flower embroidery patterns," "flower outlines," and "flower bouquet stencils," I finally found a pattern that I liked. After printing it, I traced the pattern with a transfer pencil, ironed on the pattern to the fabric, dug out my great-grandmother's embroidery thread collection, and finally began the stitching. 
"Wildflower Bouquet Embroidered Pillow," completed October 2013. 
My design was one of the more complicated patterns in the class, but I still finished soon enough to have enough time for the next project. I did a significant portion of the work at home (as in, all of the French knots on one popping Friday night), and have remember enough embroidery from elementary school that I could work rather efficiently. Nevertheless, I was so thankful to be done when I completed the embroidery. 

My mother graciously made an expedition to the craft store to buy the fabric for the pillow and a pillow form so I could die in college app land instead. A pillow form is basically a pillow that looks exactly like a pillowcase-less pillow that belongs on your bed (aside from the size). This pillow I made is only a pillowcase that goes over the form pillow, technically speaking.

After attaching the embroidered piece to the fabric and sewing the pillow, it was done! This is by far the most intricate embroidery work I've ever done, and I found it pretty enjoyable. I hope to do more embroidery projects in the future when I'm not knitting or quilting or singing or living life in other satisfying ways. 
I spent the bulk of my hours working on this wildflower bouquet embroidery pattern. You can find the  pattern here

Close-up of embroidery. Prominent stitches: satin, French knot, stem, chain, leaf, split
Thanks for taking a peek! Stay tuned for next time. 

Happy Crafting,

December 14, 2013

The Two "First Sweaters"

Some experienced knitters might say that one's first sweater is a rite of passage that helps the young unskilled knitter transition to a more experienced level. For me, my first "first sweater" emphasized the fact that I was not ready to be promoted to the status of "supreme knitter" because it was a downright failure.

I embarked on my "first sweater knitting adventure" during the summer of 2012. I found my original pattern from one of my favorite knitting books, Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'n Bitch: A Knitter's Handbook. The book was published in the early 2000's with a feminist flair. While this makes the actual book very entertaining to read, the fashion styles of early 2000's-feminism do not bode well with my tastes. Yet I still chose the "Under the Hoodie" pattern by Kristin Spurkland, ran straight to my local yarn shop, invested in $50 worth of yarn for the adventure, and knit ferociously while watching the 2012 London Summer Olympics Games on television. 

After about three weeks, I had the front and back portions of the sweater completed without once measuring it for size or testing the gauge. This would become a big mistake for someone who has always been a loose knitter! After twenty-five knitting hours, I loosely basted the front and back together to test for size, and learned it was way too wide. Even if I gained 100 pounds, it still may have been a loose fit. However, it was the perfect length because I had measured that part accordingly. 

When I came to this realization, I started a second back piece with a needle a size smaller. Yet fifteen rows later, I realized that I had still not completely compensated for my loose knitting. I was not willing to knit my first sweater with needles smaller than size 5, so I gave myself a break of this whole sweater disaster to let myself decide whether I was going to salvage my work or just start over.

I took a year-long break from the endeavor. I finally picked a different pattern after some mindless research and wandering on, which I actually liked considerably more than the original pattern. I made up my mind that I was going knit this beast until it became a beauty. 

One can be sure that I made a nice large gauge swatch before starting this project. My loose knitting tendency was actually beneficial for this pattern's sizes. I was literally halfway between a small and a medium size, but taking into account the difference between the desired gauge measurements and my knitted result, I realized that I could knit a "smedium" without any trouble or pattern tinkering. 

I used the unused yarn from my sweater project before ripping out the pieces from first "first sweater" to spare my soul. When I finally did have to rip out the first attempt, no tears were shed. ;) 

Fortunately, no major obstacles inhibited my progress, so I finished my second first sweater in eight days. I literally knit between two and six hours a day over the course of one week, specifically the first week of school this year. I would wake up with throbbing hands and bigger knuckles each morning and inundate my friends at school with sweater updates that they couldn't care less about. It was kinda sorta totally my life for that week. I would read my textbooks, take notes, and knit simultaneously, sit up knitting past midnight, and beckon my hands to move just a little bit more swiftly the next day in spite of all the muscle stiffness.

When I finished all the pieces, I sewed them together, exhausted. I was shocked and relieved to learn that I had made the project with such accuracy that I didn't need to block it.

I finished the sweater in the middle of a hot spell called "summer" so sadly, I couldn't wear it until a few months later. The first time I did wear it, however, I learned of my allergy to wool and the yarn with which I knit the sweater. Good luck doesn't like to stick with me during this project, evidently. Yet I will still wear it plenty of times this season. There's something about it's being handmade that tones down its itchiness. 

The "First First Sweater" Photo Gallery:
Front of "First First Sweater" failure, August 2012.
The pattern is mostly stockinette with size 7 needles. A hood would have been attached if sweater was completed. Also notice kangaroo pocket.

Close-up of attached kangaroo pocket.

Back of sweater, left, loosely sewn to front of sweater, right. Although there is no clear scale here, overall width is about 40". This width can be compared to the <30" my completed sweater measures to be.

Close-up of hood allocations.
The "Second First Sweater" Photo Gallery: 
"Shirred Yolk Sweater." Knit September 2013.
The front (or the back--it doesn't matter) of my first completed sweater! It was really easy to make because the front and back is just one piece knit in the round. After the sleeves were done, I just combined them all to knit the yolk in the round, so I didn't have to learn how to fit sleeves. 
Close-up of yolk. To make the yolk, I increased one on each stitch and then decreased for the garter section. At my peak I was knitting over 300 stitches in one round--exhausting.
If you made it this far, congratulations and consider yourself an authority on my sweater adventure. Stay tuned for next time.

Happy Crafting,