Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Travelling Hat comes to visit!

I have been enjoying a visit from a lovely lady lately - the gorgeous travelling hat, Adelaide - the work of talented milliner and wonderful sister Tanith of Tanith Rowan Designs. It has been a joy seeing Adelaide's earlier stops around the world and so even opening the box and getting my first proper look was exciting. 

Adelaide emerges from her hat box!
I had big plans for my outfit for Adelaide. I'd been wanting to make a 1920s one-hour dress for ages, and using Bianca at The Closet Historian's thorough guide, I set to work. I also had crocheted a vintage collar pattern in a blue that I thought would go with Adelaide's colours. All good, right?

Except I don't like it! The dress style does not suit me very well, or maybe is just too big (as the dress is cut based on bust measurement, and normally I'd do a full bust adjustment on patterns to stop them being too big elsewhere). Whatever the problem, I just don't like myself in it. It may just need a belt. I'm still going to experiment and haven't ruled out trying it again with some tweaks.
However Adelaide is the star of the show, and here I wore her tilted to the side with a black snood.
Adelaide with my attempt at a 1920s one-hour dress.
Now while I adore vintage and am incorporating a few more elements into my wardrobe each year, it isn't a staple part of my day to day outfits the way it is for many of the people Adelaide has visited. So I also styled Adelaide in the way I would be more likely to regularly wear such a hat, were she mine. Here I am wearing her further back on my head, with loose hair, and a dress I'd wear to a wedding or similar formal event.
Adelaide with an outfit I'd wear to a wedding. 
And just for fun, I gathered my hair in a half ponytail, put Adelaide center front high on the head, and paired her with a casual outfit of denim skirt and black bamboo top. The boy decided he wanted in on the action at this point.
Casual Adelaide and a scene stealing toddler. 

I've had so much fun playing around with Adelaide and will be handing her off with some reluctance. Thank you, Tanith, for letting me be a part of Adelaide's journey!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Vintage Snood Pattern reviews: a belated Snoodtember roundup

As part of Tanith's #snoodtember initiative, I wrote a guest post for her blog, giving some quick read-only reviews of some free crochet snood patterns from 1930s and 1940s Australian papers. In doing so, I got intrigued by several and decided to try them.

I have crocheted two snoods before, using patterns that other people had discussed.  I tried the 'Perky Snood', seen and well discussed at the lovely Bonita's blog Lavender and Twill in a white stash yarn and that saw a lot of wear during #snoodtember. I really like this pattern as it has minimal shaping and it is easy to get into a groove.
The Perky Snood during Snoodtember

Back view of the Perky Snood

I made this pattern in black but made the elastic a little too tight so it kept creeping off my head. I decided to use this snood to experiment with ribbon instead of elastic and discovered that I am Not A Fan of that method.  This pattern does require a bit of attention as the chain lengths vary each round, but it does produce a lovely back view.
Back view of the snood showing its centre detail

Having made two different snoods, both fairly basic meshes, although one worked in the round, I was eager to try some variations.

Lacey Snood with Rosettes:
Weekly Times, Aug 6 1947
The snood itself was not that much of a variation from a basic mesh apart from the central curtain ring (I used a 2cm split ring from a key ring I was decluttering) and it worked up quickly. I used Sullivan's Royal Rayon 3-ply crochet yarn and my trusty vintage 'Stratnoid 13' hook (2.25m) The instructions were basically complete, although I decided that it was meant to be worked in completed not spiral rounds and hence needed slipstitching to the centre of a loop to start each new round. (The original was a bit vague.) It certainly looks neat this way.
Lacey Snood, without rosettes yet, and temporarily attached with a ribbon. You can see the foundation 'curtain ring' at the centre back. 

Rosette from the lacey snood pattern, 
I only did one rosette and was actually really impressed with how much volume was achieved from this pattern. With two able to be 'propped' up against each other thanks to the central metal rings, it could give a suitably frilly look. The contrast white bands at the edges of the two layers of frills is very effective.

I only made one as I could already tell that the whole snood wasn't going to work for me. I find the way the metal ring looks at the back of the snood a bit odd and it just isn't to my taste. I can see how it would suit other people though.  (I didn't follow the instructions to crochet over the elastic for the same reason. I think it is there because the pattern says to do the snood in coloured thread, and this way the elastic wouldn't stand out in the very wide edge holes.)
Snood and rosette, flat. What will I do with this?

Snood and Collar Set
Weekly Times, Dec 6 1944
I made three attempts to start this. I did some detailed tension calculations, working out how many rows would be in the completed diameter and taking an average diameter size from several other existing snoods, hence getting a number of rows per inch  -- and I couldn't make that happen. Two different hook sizes with one yarn, and one with a different yarn and none of them worked. I know which way I need to go on hook and yarn for my next attempt but it may never happen as I abandoned it in favour of...

Basic Crochet Snood

This pattern was incredibly basic- make a mesh and follow these size instructions. It didn't even have a picture, as it was an answer to a reader request rather than a featured pattern. In my review I said that as the sizing information was so complete, one could do any density of mesh or even a solid pattern to these specifications and get a good result. I decided to test that by using one of my favourite mesh patterns - a trellis stitch  - and I love the final result.
The trellis stitch underway.
I used yarn leftover from a cardigan I'd made - I remember it was a sock yarn but can't recall brand or exact details- and a 3mm hook. It handily used up all the yarn I had left with maybe 25cm over. Perfect stashbusting.
Back view of the completed trellis stitch snood

I used their instructions for where to put the fullness and gathering, and did the ribbon binding at the top too. I am so happy with how it looks on me.
Finished! I missed doing so in #snoodtember though

The snood on a display head; you can see the ribbon binding more easily here. 
I have a sneaking suspicion that unless I am testing another specific pattern, I'm just going to make up whatever stitch suits me into this size for any future snoods I need. I do at heart prefer working up my own patterns and so this middle ground - taking a workable sized template and filling it with whatever stitch pattern I prefer - suits my crochet style.

I hope these further reviews help if anyone is thinking of venturing into the world of vintage crochet snood patterns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On craft days and exhaustion

Since becoming a mother what I miss most for my crafting is the ability to "binge" on a project. I miss being able to spend six or eight or ten hours across a weekend or even a single day just indulging my love of craft and my obsession with a current project or pushing a project to the finish line before a particular deadline. Getting used to crafting in stolen moments of calm and short bursts of the evenings has definitely hurt my sewing, if not my crochet, which is better adapted to being picked up and put down in a hurry.

So one of the joys of the last two years has been a friend's monthly craft days. One Saturday a month I get to leave toddler at home and catch a train by myself and spend the day with other craft inclined people and work on whatever I want. Some months I start lots of projects, getting them past the initial tricky stages to the  point where they are more mindless and can be worked at odd moments. Some months I spend all day finishing projects. Whatever I want! And no little hands wants to "help" and no little voice demands I play instead. Because as much as I love my son and being a mum, I do need the occasional break.

This last month has been very stressful. I got a diagnosis. I got started on medication. And sadly September craft day was cancelled! I hadn't realised just how much I'd been craving that day. Because now I'm not just battling the time and attention demands of my zoomy boy (and all the other work of the house) to spend time on craft. I'm battling with my body and energy levels too. I hate being exhausted. I hate the way the medication makes me feel and can only hope that as we keep looking we find meds that work better for me.  This is just another change to my routines that I'll cope with. I'll work out how to keep crafting despite exhaustion because I can't imagine my life being fulfilled without some kind of craft.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A choc-coconut obsession: vintage recipe experimenting

Over at the wonderful Jessica's blog Chronically Vintage, she recently shared a vintage recipe (from an advertisement) for chocolate coconut marble bars as a treat she was considering making for her husband's birthday. I liked the look of them and decided I'd try them too.
1952 advertisement featuring the recipe. Original source here; via Chronically Vintage's post here

I made the recipe as written except I used their allowed  substitution of self-raising flour and instead of heating the chocolate, sugar and water in a double boiler I used the microwave, as I generally do for all chocolate melting tasks. I also skimmed over the pan size (inches too tedious to convert) and grabbed my default slice pan.
Take one: too cakey. 
They were tasty but were honestly cake. Does this resemble those flat slices in the advertisement? No.  And the chocolate mix to marble on top was just weird. A horrible consistency. It made way more than I needed for the drizzling on top. It did marble very nicely though.

Take two involved two pans, more in line with the actual specifications in the recipe. I went back to plain flour with the added baking powder and salt. I also halved the amounts for the chocolate mix and did it in a double boiler. This made it much smoother, but now it resembled hot chocolate - definitely chocolatey, but a thin liquid rather than the chunky suspension of version one.
Take two: where did my marbling go?
As a result, the marbling on this version was barely noticeable. These pictured ones have the most distinct marbling of the lot - many squares were just a uniform brown as the chocolate mix was making puddles instead of lines. The height was better but it still didn't seem as I'd imagined.

Take three involved two changes. First, I abandoned the chocolate sugar water mix and just used melted chocolate. Second, I used only two eggs, as modern eggs are generally larger. I added an extra half a tablespoon of milk to help compensate but I was being urged to by my toddler assistant and it could have coped without it.

Take three: so close!
I'm finally happy with the main bar height and consistency but I'm not sure the straight chocolate was great for marbling - it looks amazing on the surface but didn't go into the main body of the bars at all.

So if I made this again, I'd stick with only two eggs, and the two pans.  I might go back to the first take on the chocolate mix, but use half the amount of chocolate and a quarter of the sugar and water.  If I do though it will be in a while - all these experiments have made my household a bit tired of them. When offered a piece, my toddler announced "not that cookie". Oops. Perhaps I have been a bit obsessed.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hats on display

A rather embarassingly long time ago, having read my sister talking about decorating display heads at our shared Jupiter Hollow blog, I picked up my own styrofoam head to decoupage at a Lincraft sale. I finally got around to doing it over the last fortnight. The small boy helped. With some modest interest in paper choice and ripping but enthusiastically when it came to paste. (We later decoupaged the cut out firetruck you can see in the foreground of the picture below. And a box. He really got into pasting.)
The head in progress.
I selected a range of pink and green card-making papers which I got for free in various craft magazines. 
And now that I have a classy decoupaged display head, I can take better photos of hats.

This cloche in variegated pink wool was I believe made from a magazine pattern that I've since discarded. I liked it because it has a facing, an unusual feature in crocheted hats. This means the underside of the brim is a separate piece, joined at the brim, giving extra weight and a crisp edge. This has been my go-to hat this winter. 
The cloche has a facing which makes for a nice brim.
The other hat I'm showing off today is my leaf beret. The original vintage pattern is from a Coats and Clark leaflet "Hats and bags" (number 74)  reproduced by Bramcost Publications. You can see why the original picture attracted me as I went though.  
Such a jaunty beret!
Their version is all in ivory, which probably gave a very subtle effect, but I embraced the leavy air in green and brown.
My version of the vintage pattern.
I don't think I handled the millinery wire around the edge of the crown very well so it lacks something of the crisp angle of the original. I adore it though. 
The leaf decoration, also wired.
 I had to adapt the pattern slightly and there is one ambiguously worded part of the side crown instructions which I've completed one way here and am trying another alternative in the version I'm making for my mother.  But that's why we love vintage patterns.

I'm amazed at how much difference a display head makes to how the hats photograph. They look so polished! It almost makes me wish I'd done the decoupage a few years ago... except then I wouldn't have the memory of my son proudly showing off the head he helped mummy make in our Skype with my mother. That's worth three years of no decent hat photographs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A month of medical madness

June 16th was my birthday.  It was a nice day - my dad came down to visit for lunch, it was my husband's rostered day off as well, I had a roleplaying session that evening and there was cake. All good, low-key fun. I had the promise of yarn still to come as a present.

A few days later I got sick. The GP said it was a gastro virus, and I believed that right until the morning I woke up unable to see out of the top half of my left eye. Over the course of  the day spent seeing an optometrist and then in the emergency department, I lost it all. I had no perception of light in the left eye. I don't mind admitting I was scared out of my mind. They admitted me to the neurology ward that night.

Since then... it has been an overwhelming and reactive time. I've had an MRI of my brain and I've got a spinal MRI scheduled for later this week. There's been medicine. There's been so much blood taken for so many tests. I've had a lumbar puncture so they can test spinal fluid. And I've been having plasma exchange sessions which are freaky and draining and horrible and I can only be glad that I can do them as an outpatient (only spent five nights in hospital thank goodness) and that they are making a difference - my vision is returning rapidly.

I'm still waiting on more tests for a diagnosis but the doctors have hinted at what they think it is. I'm trying not to worry too much until I get said diagnosis.  Easier said than done!

While in hospital and fretting about my lack of vision I got my husband to bring in two hooks (9mm and 6mm) and some DK weight yarn and I did some experimenting with an almond stitch pattern I'd seen in Simply Crochet magazine and wanted to try.  The almond stitch is wavy rows of dc, htr, tr and dtr alternating with rows of dc with spike stitches in the lowest points. The example in the magazine is done in various shades of pink with dove grey in between and it looks very elegant.

The 9mm was way too big a hook for the yarn, It served its purpose - yes, I could see well enough with only one eye to crochet - but it created a big mess. I did get some comments from nurses and other patients in my bay.

On to the 6mm hook, I did this one in red and green yarn and it looks quite Christmassy.
Experimental almond stitch in red and green
Sunday was a friend's birthday party. A little while ago she had been to a spa and they'd used a crocheted wash cloth and I was going to make her two for her birthday. Sadly I was running behind, with about an inch and a half of one washcloth done in Tunisian crochet before my medical drama started. I was determined to give her at least one as a birthday present so hurried to get it done.

It got finished on the morning of the party so it isn't blocked, leaving it not square and a bit curly at the edges.  I'd made one for myself in silk but this friend is a vegan so I went with an eco cotton in a lively variegated green.

Even without blocking, I'm glad to have finished it in time and also relieved to know I'm recovering enough to craft.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

New dresses!

When going through my wardrobe in the #konMari process, I realised I wanted more dresses. Today, I present three new additions to my closet!

The first two were ones which were living in my mother-in-law's warehouse and I was gifted them when we were cleaning up.

The first is a basic loose shape (so it is helped by a belt) but I find the pattern charming and the fabric is comfortable. Incredibly easy to wear. I've dressed it up here with a lovely frangipani head piece made by my talented sister of Tanith Rowan Designs.

Free is the best price.
The second is this striking metallic dress. It is sadly a little bit scratchy around the neck and sleeve hems but I'm willing to put up with that for the awesome retro vibe. I have not worn this out yet and am still pondering how best to style it.
I try not to laugh as the toddler creates behind the scenes havoc
The third dress joining my wardrobe is one I've made myself.  It is my first try making a garment from stretch fabric, using specialty stitches on the sewing machine. For many years I avoided knits "until I got an overlocker" but lately I've been willing to experiment. I'm very happy that I pushed myself, because the machine did better than I expected and it opens up lots of new options for me.

It is an incredibly basic caftan dress sewn from two rectangles of fabric, as explained in this online tutorial. I used stash burgundy jersey, sewing the seams by machine, but doing the neck, sleeve and bottom hems by hand. Dame Esmerelda helped with that process.
Using my dress form to sew the neckline.
You end up with a straight, shapeless dress (with quite nice drapey short "sleeves"), and I personally wouldn't wear it without a belt.
I also made a long belt of the same fabric from the leftovers.  As a change, I added a cloche and a pansy brooch for a 1920s vibe.

I don't usually take outfit photos for the blog and the little boy was very interested in the process. We have quite a few photographs featuring a short photobomber.
Just like this. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bavarian crochet and a break from blogging

It has been a while since my last blog post. I have to blame a combination of factors, sadly. The first is that the small boy has absolutely, no question, for real dropped his daytime nap (we've had maybe six daytime naps in the last two months). Then I got a paid contract to do a book index, and without a daytime nap all that work had to go on in the evenings, eating into craft time. And when I did get free time, I was eager to create, not blog.

However the index is done, I've got my evenings back, and I can spare some time for the blog.  I have a heap of blog posts planned around recent projects but I'm behind with taking photographs, especially ones of me in outfits, because I need someone more skilled than a toddler to take them.

One topic for which I could take all necessary pictures is my current obsession with Bavarian crochet.
I just sent this lovely potholder off to be sold at Wattle Flat Crafts.
Made with yarn leftover from a vintage hat project, I think the retro colour scheme works well with the kitchen kitsch image of a hanging potholder. The Bavarian crochet pattern has a dense finish that suits the purpose too.

Back view of the potholder, showing the wrong side of the Bavarian crochet.
 I've also been playing around with Bavarian crochet in rows, using some handspun yarn that I was given as a gift several years ago and that has been waiting for a suitable project.
Starting the rows.
 I decided to make a set of cuffs for my planned winter coat. I'm still in the "find a pattern I like" stage of that planning so the cuffs may be waiting for a while yet!
The finished cuffs, waiting for sleeves.

I have enough yarn to make a collar or maybe a hem band as well but I really need a clearer vision for the coat first. At least I've got the start of a colour scheme, and can coordinate the coat fabric to these. I have a vision in my head of an off white coat with a blue lining but I'm reminding myself that there is no use looking at fabrics until I've chosen a pattern. I don't think this coat is being made for this winter but the next.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Meet "Dame Esmeralda" - Duct Tape Dress Form party

I'm doing a Craftsy class that includes a lesson on making a duct tape dress form. As you cannot do it yourself, the instructor suggested "have a party!" 
And so I did.

Four wonderful friends came around one Saturday afternoon last month (I packed the small boy off with my husband) and they wrapped me in duct tape.

Starting off. 
At this stage I was getting woozy.
Doing the sleeves.
Not long after we did the sleeves they cut it off me and we seem to have neglected pictures in favour of stuffing. While we did, we had a lively discussion about what to name my dress form and somehow we decided on Dame Esmeralda. I cannot quite recall all the conversational ramblings we took to get there. 

Dressing her up in one of my shirts. Very happy with the fit.
Face off. 
There is something very confronting about seeing your body in a three dimensional likeness, especially when you are plus sized and not 100% happy with your body all the time. 

Esmeralda is going to help me fit clothes that I'm sewing but also help me design a crocheted cardigan. I've never actually had a dress form before so I'm looking forward to it. If I was going to do this again I might wait til Winter (it did get uncomfortable) and I might consider a less shiny silver armour duct tape. But these are minor issues. Overall, a very successful afternoon's work and at least one of the others is pondering making her own.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Post-Christmas present round up and resolution scorecard

Absolutely the worst thing about crafting presents is being unable to show them off until after you've gifted them. Sometimes, if the recipient is either very young or a Luddite, you can share it early, but not when the gift is (for example) for your sister who follows you on every social media platform. (As I do her, to be fair!)  I have been BURSTING to show off some of the gifts I've made this year and now I finally can.

But first....
My scorecard.
Back in April I made a resolution that, apart from gifts for my husband and geek exchanges, I'd have 75% of my gifts handmade, and 75% of those be made from stash or edible.

So how did I do? Not so well. Only 33% were handmade.
However a further 18% were second hand or were books bought with store credit earned from trading in culled books. Another 10% were bought edible, which while not consumery good at least won't be cluttering up the recipient's house for long.
I did much better on the secondary goal, as 88% of the handmade gifts were edible or made from stash.

I'm going to make the same resolution for next Christmas, at the same levels, and see if I can achieve it this year.

Onto the pretty pictures!

Daffodil brooch

I crocheted a brooch for my mother, a small cluster of daffodils. Done in a variety of stash yellow and green embroidery floss, and sewn onto a green felt backing, I adapted a magazine pattern but changed it slightly for each flower.
Such cheery daffodils for a Welsh winter

Cthulhu heat pad

I bought this fat quarter from Spoonflower a few years ago and this year I finally made it up into a gift for my sister-in-law. This was a design in one of Spoonflower's weekly design competitions. Filled with rice to be microwaved and heated, she can take it to work and display her geeky credentials even more.
So cute!

Pizza pendant

This year I participated in Chronically Vintage's Vintage Secret Santa exchange. My target said they liked quirky jewellery like hotdog earrings or ice cream brooches, so I thought that as well as the items I bought for her I'd make this crocheted pizza slice. Made from stash embroidery floss, and adapted from a full size pattern, I attached a clip so it could be put on a chain to use as a pendant or used as a key ring or bag clip.

Fancy a slice? The finished pizza.

Crocheted feature buttons

I made several gifts for my sister including these crocheted buttons. As I only made one in each design, they'll probably be used as a feature rather than as a closure, but that's up to her! Both yarns were bought in a vintage sale, and I crocheted to fit over self-cover buttons.

Last year I downloaded a dozen or so free craft e-books. Many were ... lame. One that stood out was Quirk Books D.I.Y. Gift Guide  which is a sampler of projects from 8 or 9 books published by Quirk. My favourite was these mini-books from their book Microcrafts
The signatures (groups of pages) are sewn together and the covers made around card. They are tiny! Fiddly but fun.

The sewn signatures and the cover waiting to be assembled. 
Top down view. The coin gives scale. 
The finished books. 
As it happens I also made a hat for my sister and in line with tradition totally forgot to take a photo. I'll do that in a different post.

Overall I'm very happy with all my homemade gifts this year (I made a lot of edible gifts that I didn't photograph, and a few other little sewn items) and with how they were recieved. (Although I have no idea how my #Vintagesecretsanta target felt with my gifts!)
But I am disappointed that I didn't meet my 75% target, and sadly aware that part of the problem is giving too many gifts!