Sunday, April 22, 2012

24-hour Library Knitting Challenge

During the last two weeks of the semester, affectionately known as Dead Week and Exam Week here at Purdue, two of the libraries on campus remain open 24 hours a day. One of them happens to be one of my libraries. As a result, for two weeks, I work weird hours. While I might not particularly enjoy going to work at 3:30 am, it's a good idea to remind myself WHY I'm doing it.

We're there so that students can have access to the resources they need to study for exams and complete their final projects. They are working really hard to do well. They are sort of like academic Olympians. They are pushing themselves both mentally and physically to perform well. They've spent the last 14 weeks preparing for these final exams and projects; now is their time to test everything they have learned.

So, in the spirit of Knitting Olympics, I've decided to present myself with a 24-hour Library Knitting Challenge. The Knitting Olympics take place during the real Olympic Games. Knitters all over the world choose challenging knitting projects, pledge to cast on during the Opening Ceremonies and set a goal for themselves to finish their projects before the end of Closing Ceremonies. I have participated in Knitting Olympics three times--and I failed twice. Once because I ran out of yarn and once because I fell ill two days into the games. The whole point is to challenge your skills and abilities while watching the Olympic athletes do the same.

Well, if I'm going to spend the next two weeks watching students challenge themselves academically, I should do the same knitademically. :) 24-hour Library began this morning at 11am. It ends Saturday, May 5 at 5pm. Today, I chose my pattern, the Dovecote Triangle by Anne Hanson.  I'll be using Briar Rose Sea Pearl yarn in two colorways--a green with blue and purple; and a purple with a little green. I purchased the former skein yesterday; I purchased the latter several years ago.  I love this yarn so much there aren't even words. I've entered the pattern into Knit Companion on my iPad, and I'm ready to cast on.  For the next two weeks, I'll be spending every free minutes I have working on this shawl. Should be a fun challenge!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Somebody stop me...or don't. :)

I went a little crazy on drawstring bags this weekend. I didn't sew all weekend long. I had other things I needed to accomplish--like getting groceries, cleaning the kitchen, and doing laundry. But I spent pretty much the rest of my time at the sewing machine, ironing board, or cutting table (which wasn't really a was a 2x4 foot piece of masonite on the floor in the living room).

I started with two headbands. I figured that would be a good way to get my feet wet. But, I forgot to take pictures of them. I used this pattern for a 10-Minute Headband and this pattern for a  Double-Sided Headband. Success with both! I really like the double-sided one, but will need to alter the pattern to fit my giant head.

Buoyed by this success, I decided to jump in with both feet and improvise my own draw-string bag pattern, complete with lining. How hard could it be, right? Well, it's functional, but the proportions are a little weird. It's wider than it is tall, and very closely resembles a shoe box. It's a little weird. But I learned from it. A) How to make a casing for a drawstring. B) How to do fairly decent top-stitching. C) How to appropriately adjust thread tension. D) Don't try to improvise your own pattern before you really know what you're doing.

So, then I chose to actually follow a pattern. The Easy Cotton Drawstring Bag. I cranked out two of these puppies in what seemed like no time at all. In reality, it took almost an entire afternoon. :)

The one on the far left is the weird shoebox-shaped one, but the other two were created following the pattern. I love them! The fabric is from a single collection of fat quarters. Each bag uses two fat quarters: one for the lining and one for the outside.

Sunday, Victoria and I went on a mission for more sewing supplies. She decided she wanted to make a bag too, and I needed more fabric. We went a little crazy, and came home with more than we should have. By the time we were done with our errands, and got the laundry started, I only had time to turn out one more bag.

This one was inspired by the really really cool knitting wristlet sold by Chicken Boots on To make mine, I used the pattern mentioned above as a jumping off point. I omitted the drawstring, added a separate top with a casing for elastic and a wrist strap...and voila! My own little cute sock bag. And it looks really springy, don't you think? Also, don't look at the top stitching. Ick.

So that was my weekend. It was really fun. I'd like to make a few more of the sock bag, with a slightly shorter wrist strap. Maybe next weekend, I'll tackle some bigger bags.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring means......

Every year, about this time, I start getting the urge to crochet. I know, it's weird. I'm a Knitter. But, I was a crocheter first. My Grandma and Mom both crocheted. I learned from them. But, after I taught myself how to knit in 1999, I rarely picked up a hook except to pick up a dropped stitch in my knitting. I mean, I would occasionally crochet something, but not much. But there's something about this time of year that makes me want to crochet. As the weather gets warmer, it's what my fingers want to do.

But not this year. I have no desire to crochet this year. None. What do I want to do instead?

{deep breath}



There. I said it. I want to learn how to sew. I don't feel a burning desire to make clothing. But I keep seeing really great bags and boxes and altered store-bought clothing on Pinterest, and I want to make them! I have a huge weakness for bags anyway, so the idea of making my own is enough to make me giddy with excitement. My current arsenal of sewing skills is pretty limited to straight lines. I can make a curtain panel A couple of months ago, I made curtains for our great room (kitchen window, patio door, and living room window).

The lovely and absolutely perfect burnt orange fabric was actually tablecloths and napkins I picked up on clearance at Target! The print fabric, which I love, love, love!, was from JoAnn's. So, I had to measure and cut and hem and seam. But it wasn't hard.

I think my goal for the spring and summer is to expand my sewing skills. I have a couple of bag projects I want to tackle this weekend. I'm planning to make this Little Boxy Pouch. It uses a small amount of fabric, and I've never set in a zipper before. I figure this will be a good way to learn. I also want to make a couple of these Grocery Bags. So much prettier than the ones from the store! I also wouldn't mind having a couple of these Drawstring Bags for small knitting projects. I think the fact that it has a lining will be a good learning experience. I have a lot more I'd like to make, but I think these three projects will keep me pretty busy this weekend, on top of the usual house-cleaning and laundry.

Do you sew? What kinds of projects do you recommend for someone looking to expand her skills?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Conducting a Yarn Stash Inventory

Let's see a show of hands: Who collects yarn? Yeah, I thought so. Rare is the knitter who just buys one project worth of yarn, knits it completely, then buys more yarn. I've never been that kind of knitter. Ever. I have a lot of yarn. No, seriously. You might *think* you have a lot of yarn, but honey.....

I try to regularly "air the stash." I don't remember who I heard that term from, but I like it. As in "Nobody bother me today! It's time for the annual airing of the stash." (said in a British accent, always.) Well, I don't get around to it annually. It's more like every 18 months or 2 years. But this year, the first weekend of the year, the stash got some air. A lot of air. It wasn't just an airing of the stash. It was also a project purge. I ripped out tons of old projects, recovered lots and lots of needles....but I'm getting ahead of myself. We must start at the beginning.

I have yarn in several placed throughout my house. In the living room, there's an armoire that holds all of my current projects. Upstairs, in the hallway, there's the big linen closet. In the master bedroom, there's the small linen closet and the cedar chest. All of these locations had become poorly organized and no longer made any sense. Time for an intervention.

First, I gathered my supplies:
  • Giant cup of Diet Coke from the Family Express
  • Digital Kitchen Scale
  • Ball winder
  • iPhone (equipped with Knit Minder; also for taking photos)
  • Battlestar Galactica, the complete series on Blu-Ray (which was an anniversary gift from my husband. You might choose some other form of entertainment while working.)
  • Baskets 
    • small--for organizing projects to be kept
    • large--for transporting all the freshly frogged and newly-wound yarn upstairs to join the rest of the stash

I tackled the armoire first. Any "current projects" that I knew were destined for the frog pond were pulled, ripped, rewound, and returned to the official "stash" upstairs. This, by itself, took an entire day. There was sorting and weighing and winding to do.
 This is the armoire before I emptied it. Complete mess. Each basket held its own project. Some of the baskets hadn't been taken out of the armoire in a very long time. Plus, there was stuff just crammed in, not in baskets at all. Sigh. (The bottom of the armoire holds Christmas dishes on one side and a file bin with nicely organized magazine clippings on the other.)
Clean slate! Diego liked it. So what happened to everything?
I spread it out on the living room floor for evaluation. Only several projects survived the purge. Most of the projects got ripped out, reclaiming the yarn for the future. Once the sorting/ripping/rewinding happened, it looked like this:
This is the yarn that was ready to move upstairs and be reintegrated with the rest of the stash. But the newly-organized armoire, full of projects I actually have plans to finish now looks like this:
See those baskets on the bottom shelf, on top of the bolt of fabric? Those are EMPTY! Ready for new projects.  (Supplies: Baskets are all from the Dollar Tree; I made the canvas circular needle holder myself.)

That was one full day of work. The next day was dedicated to the usual "airing of the stash."  I started with a big linen closet, small linen closet and cedar chest that looked like this:

Please tell me you can relate to this mess. I had just been shoving yarn in wherever it would fit. I'm really good about keeping an accurate inventory in KnitMinder, but sometimes I had to dig through the closets and the cedar chest before finding what I knew I had.

So, I pulled out EVERYTHING. My queen-sized bed isn't big enough to hold all of it at once, so I went a few boxes or bags at a time. I pulled the yarn out, gave it a good looking-over for moths, a little fluff, and reboxed in a way that made sense. For example: sweater-quantities (or project-quantities) of yarn went into individual boxes; most of my fingering weight sock yarn fit into one box. 

Short break to pet the kitties:
Spinning fiber went into X-Large Ziploc Bags.  I also picked up some sweater bags that were like cheap space bags at the Dollar Tree and used those for the yarn that would be stored in the cedar chest.

Then, I opened the bin of "leftovers." You know what I'm talking about. The partial balls that are leftover after you've completed a project. I can't bring myself to get rid of them, so they go into a bin, waiting for the day I come up with some brilliant way to use them.  A bin of unattended leftovers can be worse than a room full of unattended children:
 I love the challenge of detangling yarn. But this was ridiculous. I salvaged what I could and tossed the rest. In the end, my closets and cedar chest looked like this:
(I've since done something about the ugly pocket organizers on the door too, but I'll save that for another post.)
(If you noticed that I conspicuously left out the top shelf of this closet, you might like to know why. It's a mess of bags and purses I'm unwilling to part with. I'll deal with those later as well.)
I realize that, visually, the cedar chest doesn't show a huge difference. But, trust me, it's a huge improvement. 

Every time I complete an airing of the stash, I update my inventory in KnitMinder (as I mentioned before) and in an Excel spreadsheet. KnitMinder is handy and useful because it's on my iPhone. I can see what I have, what I've used for past projects, and how I'm planning to use certain yarns.  But, the Excel spreadsheet in useful in a different way.

I create fields for the standard stuff: yarn name, color, quantity. But I also include yards/ball and price/ball. This allows me to quickly calculate fun little things. 

What's the average yardage per skein of all of the yarn I own? 435.25 yards. (I own a LOT of lace weight yarn.) 

What's the average amount I've spent per skein? $11.46. Which is awesome....until you start doing some more math--or rather, letting Excel do the math for you. 

How many full skeins of yarn do I own? (I don't count the leftovers.)  656 full skeins. Yikes. 

How many yards of yarn do I own? Do I really want to know? 169,814 yards of yarn. 

Convert that to miles: 96.5. I own 96.5 miles of yarn. And I don't even remotely feel bad about it. I know it's all yarn I will use someday. I know it's all quality yarn that I love. No one I live with gives me a hard time about it. My husband has his own hobbies and hang-ups, so he knows better (you should see the vacuum tubes and vintage electronics in his project room!). 

Now, go organize your stash! If I can make my 96.5 miles of yarn look tidy, you can do the same with yours!