Friday, February 28, 2014

relaxing. also, yarn.

The long weekend in celebration of Dave's birthday, er, President's Day afforded us the rare opportunity to 'get the heck outta dodge'. We both needed a break and had vowed with the start of our 'real jobs' to take advantage of three day weekends to do something fun. And TOGETHER. 

Back when we thought we'd be leaving California for other adventures, we made a list of all the things we wanted to do in the state before we left. Hearst Castle in San Simeon was right at the top. So we went. 

The 'castle' is actually an estate built at the top of a hill in the coastal range where the Hearst family owned a large ranch and used to camp in tents. William Randolph Hearst, of San Francisco media mogul fame, built the estate as he got older and, apparently, tired of tents. The ranch is still a working ranch, and we were lucky enough to have *perfect* weather to enjoy the vistas from the hilltop 'ranch house'. 

We saw the outdoor pool,

and the indoor pool.

We (and by we I mean mostly me) goofed around in the gardens, which were stunning.

We went down to the beach and stood out on the pier where ships unloaded all the building materials and art that eventually made it to the top of the hill. Looking out at the Pacific Ocean never ceases to impress and amaze me.

On the way back home we reveled in being Californian and drove with the wind in our hair through some absolutely beautiful country. We are lucky, indeed.


What does this have to do with crafting? Not much, admittedly, but there was a yarn shop in Cambria, just a few miles down the highway from our hotel and Dave was a lovely person and took me there. He was even lovelier and bought me yarn. And to cap the trifecta, he was super awesome and helped me pick out yarn. I'm lucky in so many ways!

This particular shop, Ball & Skein & More, had Manos del Uruguay yarns in just about every color they make, if not every color. Which surprised me because I didn't see a whole lot of solids in fingering weight wool. So I settled on this beautiful skein of Alegria that Dave picked up. He's good at finding something I wouldn't normally pick and saying something like "honey, look it's like the sunset we watched last night" to make me see it in a completely different way. He was right, these are the colors of the San Simeon sunsets we saw over the ocean out our hotel window. I'm a sucker for sentimentality.

Before setting foot in the store I told myself I needed to pick a project for the yarn I would surely purchase. Getting the yarn in a destination is great, but actually using it for a project that will remind you of the place is even better. Laura Aylor's Litchfield Shawl has been on my list for a while, but I've been holding off on buying more yarn to make it happen. The designer's version is pretty beachy and makes me want one for coastal evenings like the ones spent that weekend. I originally wanted to use sandy neutrals, but really a San Simeon sunset is pretty good, no? 

I found this beautiful dove gray/brown to go with it, and I think I have enough of some other yet to be determined color in my stash to serve as the accent stripe color. Possibly the rest of the light blue from my Independence. shawl. So I will manage to have some beach-inspired neutrals along with my crazy sunset hand painted yarn. I'm not sure how the colors will pool, and I'm a little nervous I'm not going to be wild about it, but given the confluence of all other factors I think this yarn has to be this shawl. So unless it's really awful, onward Litchfield. 

I am, however, showing at least some restraint and not casting on until I finish at least one of the projects I have going right now… for now. Mainly it's because the lady at the shop seemed really overwhelmed when I asked if she could wind my skeins for me and so they're still all twisted up. But shhh I'm not telling anyone that part. :)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Slowly, slowly catch the monkey

Dad used to say that all the time. It's just one of those weird things I remember from growing up, for no particular reason. Really it's just to say 'be patient and take it slow' which I have to keep telling myself about this quilt.

I brought this quilt up to Sacramento thinking I'd spend hours stitching away on it in the evenings and have it done by January. Ha. I hadn't touched it until last week when, sensing the stress of an upcoming deadline, Karen invited me over for soup and quilting one night. She worked on piecing a baby quilt, I gratefully nestled onto her couch and got some momentum going on this.

I started this quilt quite some time ago, and worked my way through the top in the summer of 2012, eventually basting it that December. Fast forward a year and a bit, and here we are. A lot has happened in life since then, but alas not much hand quilting. I've considered many times just machine quilting the rest of it, but that seems an awful lot like giving up, and I'm not sure I'd be as proud of it as I hope to be when I finish the last hand stitched dash. I just needed to get jump started again, because now my fingers are itching to get back to it -- a good sign. 

I'm going for subtle stitching, trying to use the colors I have to blend as much as possible. It's a pretty busy piece as it is, and I like the texture of the hand quilting, but I'm not sure I want a bunch of stitches asking for attention especially since, ahem, they aren't all even. "Organic-looking" right? I'm debating what I'm going to do for the dogwood shapes in that big sky blue border -- I will likely use one of my brighter colors, gold or coral, to make them stand out. I could also see using the cream, though. No worries I've got a lot of little squares to outline before I get to that point. 

Despite my lack of progress and apparent lack of enthusiasm during the last year of this quilt's hibernation, it is pretty special to me; it was my first big project where I used so many different techniques in one piece, the first where I challenged myself to use only the fabrics in my cabinet (hence the odd assortment of colors and textures), and it is certainly the first piece I am hand quilting. I am glad I'm happy to be working on it again instead of irritated and overwhelmed with it. I shall keep in mind the monkey and how I must move to catch it. Hopefully that will inspire me to patience and remind me it's ok to take it slow!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

no reason in particular

I started this in January in the midst of my bulky cowl knitting extravaganza. I wanted to have a project from my queue going in tandem with the new shiny ones that landed in my lap, and this scarf with light fingering yarn from my stash seemed like a nice complement. 

That beautiful ball of loveliness is madelinetosh merino light in 'well'. Every time I go into Nine Rubies, I end up leaving with a random ball of this yarn because a) I love any madelinetosh yarn and b) the colors are so appealing. I've got an orange one floating around somewhere, too. My first mt experience was at Knit, Purl in Portland where I bought madelinetosh Vintage yarn to make my now-favorite cowl, so I had a great introduction.

I thought for some time about using this yarn together with the orange and a dark brown to make a Litchfield shawl, but kept putting it off because I wasn't totally in love with the idea. I wanted the color to be able to shine by itself. I found the Unsinkable pattern, read the story behind it, and really liked the version the designer had done in barely-there ice blue. This yarn is a little deeper blue, but I think it will look comparably intriguing when finished. The subtle shading in the yarn is looking nice already.

It's an interesting pattern that starts out with the edging, a wonderfully complex looking lace pattern that while easy to do is slow because it includes a lot of ribbing. It also requires a bit of focus and concentration on my part, meaning I don't always find the motivation to pick it up if I have just a few minutes here and there to knit. But that's nice. It will keep this project meander-y and relaxed. I'm not doing it for anything or anyone in particular, just for the joy of knitting something different. I have been switching off with the scarflet I'm working on to keep the stitching interesting. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Lest it seem like I've abandoned my knitting needles in favor of hexagon piecing…. another knit for the office! Third time's a charm. 

Tara found this really amazing looking leaf scarf while googling for a knit project she wanted me to make. "Can you make this?" turned into a few hours of searching around for a pattern. I managed to find the Anthro-inspired scarflet pattern on Ravelry (my go-to resource) and I had this pretty blue yarn in my stash. 

I'm about halfway through it and having loads of fun. I got those short bamboo needles recently from a colleague who was getting rid of knitting supplies, and I have to say it's kind of nice to knit on straight needles for a change. It's important that they are short, though or else I could totally see my hands getting really tired. Anyway, love them. The pattern is going to be pretty monotonous for the next 12 inches or so but it's a nice project for me to get back to watching my shows with. I'm behind on Downton. And I haven't even started the next season of House of Cards. I know, rough times, indeed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

flip a coin

Which of these color combinations do I like the best? It's hard to say! I think for sure the bright pink wins but with which color? Green or teal? Like they say, let's flip a coin. Both colors set off the pink and maroon beautifully. I enjoyed finishing these blocks up on the couch Sunday evening while Dave had some much-deserved video game relaxation and Newton purred on my feet. 

I didn't end up having any trouble with the pieces not being basted to the paper templates. The paper stayed put and behaved rather nicely. I didn't even need to press the hexagons at all before piecing; the fabric took a finger crease quite well. I will remember this next time I do any EPP for myself, because the templates were really easy to just pop out when I took a row out to fold for mailing. I wonder if you leave the basting threads in? 

At any rate, this bee is all wrapped up now, February is the last month, so far as I am aware. It was really fun and cool to realize that I do have time for a little bit of hand sewing at least once a month. Makes the whole idea of working on future hand sewn projects that much more approachable. I'll sign off tonight with a pair of 'lucky pennies': 

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Bam. A lovely stack of basted hexagons for my piecing pleasure. 

I just started working on my block for the last month of the Get Your Hex On bee. The queen bee this month chose Lucky Penny fabric which has a wonderful combination of teal, mossy green, and fuchsia.  I love these colors!

The hexagons are nice and big, which counterintuitively makes them really fast for me to work on. I like the bigger pieces because the blocks grow so fast! There is such motivation to add 'just one more' piece to the project so despite the extra length for stitches I end up spending more time stitching. 

The instructions for this suggested using an alternative basting method that did not include stitching through the paper templates. I had to look up how exactly this worked; basically when the corners are folded over you take a backstitch over the fold to tack it down as you baste around. Upon reading this, I was totally unconvinced it would be sturdy enough to hold. I was wrong. Using coated hand quilting thread, the thread has enough 'stick' to keep everything nice and together as I stitch. I'm not sure this method would be as successful with smaller pieces without pressing, but I didn't find pressing necessary here. Yet another thing bees are good for… I learned something! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

finally up to date

I finally finished my November block from the Get Your Hex On bee. Sorry, Celine! It'll be on the way across the pond at long last. I'm ashamed it took me so long, really! The logistics of me and fabric meeting up to realize any sewing has become somewhat of a barrier since Sacramento came into my life in November. I brought up Christmasy colored fabrics (i.e. red and green) the last time I was down with my stash, basted hexagons last Thursday night, then packed them up in my hand stitching kit to take with me on the train Friday night.

Oh how lovely that train ride was. It finally rained here in California, we need it (!), and so I was especially thankful that I decided to try out the train down to the Bay Area for the weekend instead of driving in it. The ride was about two and a half hours long, which was plenty of time for me to stitch up this block as the wet miles zipped by outside the window. The thought has occurred to me that I could likely finish quite a few EPP blocks on the train over the course of the next year and get a quilt together. Hmmmm…. As if I needed a reminder of this year! I think I'll remember it just fine. I digress.

Luckily I finished December's block and January was my month to send out packages so I got a respite.  I have received several of my blocks back and they are looking great. It will likely take me longer than the time I have until my nieces' birthdays to finish that quilt up and get another one done ("one for you, one for your sister") but I'm sure they will make fine Christmas presents at the end of this year. I haven't done my own block for January, but if we don't think about that, I'm all up to date! It's a good feeling.