Monday, January 29, 2007

carving a new niche

This weekend was spent at Brookfield Craft Center for a 2-day basic woodcarving workshop. Paige and I took the class together as a birthday gift to ourselves, staying overnight in Danbury to eliminate the need to drive back and forth, and to create the feeling of a true vacation. Mission accomplished.

We ended up being the only ones in the class and thoroughly enjoyed our weekend with our instructor, Wayne Smith, The Grizzly Woodsmith, who is quite skilled and talented as a carver, besides being a great teacher and incredibly pleasant in every way. He was generous enough to let us use his carving tools so we could get an idea of what ones we might want to buy for ourselves later, and equally generous with reference material, wood blanks, and all sorts of tricks and techniques. Bonus prize was a visit to the woodturning shop and plenty of browsing in the store exhibiting Brookfield Craft Center artists' work.

We each came home with three mostly-finished items: a snowman ornament, a spoon with fancy curvy handle (will prob. become our coffee scoop), and the monk/Father Christmas/Black Peter ;-) character shown above. The very first thing we did was the snowman ornaments and, honestly, that's about the most difficult level I expected to attempt this weekend. I was surprised when he said we'd be able to do a Father Christmas figure and even more surprised when it actually started to look like it had a human face! Three cheers for instructors who know how to inspire and support students who are enthusiastic about stretching to reach a challenging goal.

The best part for me is that, prior to the class, I could only think of a couple of things I might want to carve. I was taking the class for the fun of it, just for the knowledge of how it's done, although I didn't expect to necessarily have much use for it. But by midway through the workshop, my head was spinning with ideas. I noticed carving in the movie we watched that evening. We talked a lot about carving ideas. I saw wood shavings and chips when I closed my eyes. I even dreamed about carving that night! And now I'm at a point where there are so many options and ideas in my head that I know it's going to be difficult to choose which way(s) to go with this budding skill that I'd love to develop further. Luckily, I have resources. :-)

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

there she goes with the wood again

My scavenging ways + generous friends have resulted in the presence of a lathe in our basement and I am psyched. Scott tidied up his man cave workshop and helped me find what I needed, and even did much of the prep work, since I am way out of my comfort zone in this new little hobby. On Tuesday evening, we fired the lathe up and put it to work.

I found a few sites with info and tutorials for beginner projects and settled on making a few wooden spatulas with turned handles because we have two wooden spatulas that we use all the time and they're getting pretty beat up...and it looked like a really easy project that even a knitter/needleworker beginning woodturner couldn't screw up too horribly. :-)

Yup, the handle on this one is too short. (Leah says it's exactly her size.) We made the 2nd attempt longer. The blade has now been cut away to spatula thickness and is in the process of being sanded down. There's sooo much room for improvement, which is good because this is soooo much fun!
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Leah finished knitting her own ballet-like slippers yesterday. They're the Twinkletoes pattern from Knitty, made with Rowan's "soft baby" yarn. This project represents a turning point for this 8-year-old knitter, as it was here that she learned to read a pattern on her own and figure out new stitches and techniques based on written descriptions and video, such as at She managed to learn provisional cast-on, wrap & turn, left- and right-leaning lifted increase, cable cast-on, decrease bind off, and p2tog tbl! There are some spots where she has a loose stitch or didn't quite catch the wrap when she needed to knit a stitch with its w&t wrap, and the laces on one are quite a bit shorter than the other (she loosened up the cable cast-on for the 2nd slipper to make it easier to work and also to make the laces longer), but she learned lots along the way and is tickled pink by these pink twinkletoes.
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and back in the yarn department

Oh, we've been a'stitchin' and we've been a'turnin' and we've been choosing upholstery fabric and all that good stuff, but behind the scenes there's still that yarn obsession going on. So it's no surprise that when Lori tagged me for a meme, it's all about the knitting. The meme goes like this:

Find the nearest book
Open to page 123
Type lines 6-8 of said book
Tag three others

(I won't tag others, but I will otherwise play along.)

The nearest book is Jackie Fee's Sweater Workshop, which has helped me concoct patterns for the last three or four sweaters I've worked on.

"Work the sequence in two colors, or as many as will fit into a sweater. Work a
purl round, leaving the sequence in between as stockinette. Work the sequence in
reverse for a yoke."

This section of the book is called Inspiration Abounds. It gives some ideas for pleasing patterns and design ideas, and helps open your eyes to more all around us. It also talks about the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci Sequence, both of which were also discussed in the box turning workshop last weekend.

Anyway, this book is front and center because there's a whole lot of knitting going on here. Both sleeves are bound off and I'm working on the neckline shaping of Leah's sweater. Since I'm making it up as I go along and that requires a little concentration, I decided to start a simple cardigan for myself so I'd have something easy to work on during a knitfest with some of my favorite peeps on Sunday. Again I'm using the Sweater Workshop to work up the pattern. The only enhancement to this otherwise plain stockinette cardigan is a picot edge, as shown on Purlwise. I'm using the yarn Scott spun from a merino and tencel blend. He used three different batts and I was hoping it would blend to give sort of a watercolor effect...and it does. :-) As a nice change of pace, this somewhat thick yarn is working up FAST. I cast on Saturday evening and expect to finish the first sleeve today or tomorrow. That's cool because I can't wait to wear this yummy soft sweater.
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Saturday, January 20, 2007

das good wood

Today I spent a large number of hours creating a small wooden box. This was my third project at the CT Valley School of Woodworking and it was at least as much fun as the pen and ornament workshops. Mine is the box just in front and to the left of the one with blue tape around it.

This was listed as a beginner class, and I'm sure in the big scheme it really is a beginner project, but I'm glad I had the experience of the two prior projects so I wasn't going into it completely blind. We used some tools that were new to me and quite a few new techniques. My favorite new term is "jam chuck" and the one I made fit beautifully. The top of my container fits really well, which was my goal, so it gives a champagne-like "pop" when pulled apart from the bottom. I've always marveled at well-fitted woodwork like that and wondered how it was accomplished. Now I know how and can even do it myself. Yahoo! Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 19, 2007

some things are meant to last.

I can't remember exactly when I started this piece of needlework, but I know I was at least a few years into a long distance cyber friendship that was sparked based on both of us planning to homeschool our then-toddlers. Needlework packs up small -- nothing more than a piece of linen and a ball or two of thread -- so it's a good choice when traveling. It starts with a single stitch on a blank canvas and grows from there, kind of like a friendship starts with a single connection that, if we're lucky, blooms into something more as time goes on.

I remember working on the top portion while camping with friends in CT, sitting around a campfire, having a beer, and laughing...when? Oh, maybe four or five years ago. I can't remember exactly what year that was, but I do remember Sue Adams asking who it was for and I said it was destined for my friend in North Carolina...eventually. No rush. We were in touch every day by email and I knew where to find her whenever I got around to finishing this project. I remember saying that she too gave gifts that were handcrafted with love, so she'd understand and appreciate what's behind it -- a rare trait in this instant gratification, walmartized, blech consumer blech society.

Then I put it away for a while and meandered in and out of other projects and lifestuff along the way. I remember stitching some parts quietly in the early morning hours of each day on our trip to Italy in 2004, specifically one early morning on the balcony of our bed and breakfast in Sorrento, looking out over the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the distance. And when I had a chance, I'd scoot into an internet cafe to send an email update back to Connecticut and Pittsburgh and, of course, North Carolina.

I remember working on the alphabet and other portions while were in Alaska in 2005, stitching in beautiful surroundings while Scott fished and the kids played, looking up at the glorious mountains and the bald eagles soaring above us. I can clearly remember packing my stitching up after just such a day and heading down to the ice cream shop in beautiful Valdez, where the kids had a waffle cone and I sent a message to friends and family.

And in between, during all this time, there were daily emails back and forth, a friendship growing as the finished needlework portions grew. Somewhere along the way, we even met in real life for two fun weekends, one with the two of us at her parents' place in South Carolina and another when our families met in Washington D.C. -- the only in-real-life meetings of a friendship that was probably over five years old at those points!

In a mind-boggling and fantastic twist, that family from North Carolina relocated for a job opportunity in Connecticut a year and a half ago. And still there were daily emails, but now with the added bonus of an occasional visit in real life too!

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that this friendship is probably reaching a 10-year anniversary and both of us are celebrating our 40th birthdays, only eight days apart, and I could probably bring this project to completion if I focused. So it's easy to remember stitching some of the drawn thread work just after Christmas 2006 and the hardanger section at the bottom on my own 40th birthday a week ago.

To further exemplify the long-term nature of this project, I'm especially laughing at myself to realize that when I started this thing, I was able to stitch it at dusk while camping in the middle of a grove of trees and now I need my trusty bifocals and a good, strong light positioned such that my hand does not cast shadows over the linen if I want to see well enough to get those stitches positioned correctly. What a long strange trip it's been. ha!

Framed over the last 24 hours and presented last night in celebration of the 40th birthday of my friend...

The saying on this sampler is:

"Stitched in the tradition of an earlier time,
when gifts of the heart were completed only by hand."

This gift of the heart has been in progress for a long time, but I'm sure what it represents will continue for much, much longer.

The details:
Pattern: Only By Hand, by Emie Bishop, my favorite needlework designer
Fabric and thread: 24 count ivory linen, size 8 and 12 ecru perle cotton, DMC floss
Stitching techniques: Hardanger, drawn thread, counted cross stitch
Frame: from the oh-so-wonderful attic stash, custom re-sized by Scott :-)
Framing technique: lacing, as taught by Thistle Needleworks in a series of classes that I took about 20 years ago
Modifications: Many, many. Recharted the alphabet to include the J, which was purposely omitted on the published pattern. Had a little email chat with Emie Bishop about this along the way. (I also talked with her once before, to show her Leah's xmas stocking , inspired by one of Emie's patterns.) Skipped the queen stitches in the upper grid because I abhor queen stitch. (It's the only stitch I don't enjoy. I gave it a go again this time and still don't like it. Too much fuss, not enough of a result to be worth it, IMO.) Used DMC floss instead of silk, simply because we have so much DMC from the prizes when Scott's entry won the Best of Cross Stitch, Best of Needlework, and Best of Show categories at the Big E years ago. Wove every other linen thread back into the base cloth to right and left of drawn thread sections, instead of satin stitch block on either side, for a cleaner look. Eliminated the disembodied hands from the floral vine section; substituted more flower buds and tendrils. Recharted words in the saying so "only by hand" is all lower case text. Spiffed up the bottom hardanger heart with Algerian eyes around the perimeter and dove's eyes in the central hardanger grid. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


When he tried his hand on beer stitch markers for New Year's Eve, Scott discovered that he really enjoys writing with glass on glass. We've been toying with the idea of making some stitch markers to give away randomly at the Spa Knit and Spin weekend in Maine with the New England Textile Artists group in a few weeks. The next thing I know, Scott comes upstairs and plops this little bunch of goodies on my desk...

He has better handwriting in glass than I do with pen and paper!
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

ahh...Sunday morning

One is making beads.

One is with a friend.

One is sketching a Rube Goldberg invention.

One is stitching.


Four are content.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


From top left: me at 9 and 12 months (1968), crocheting in the 70s, wearing my first handknit sweater in the 80s, stitching through the 90s (mine is the sampler in the top right corner), and onward and upward in the 2000s

Today I am celebrating my 40th birthday in the best possible way I can imagine. This includes doing the work I enjoy, for clients I respect; and then turning my attention to stitching, knitting, stained glass, and maybe even a little fun with wood and a lathe (newest obsession-in-progress); punctuated by calls, mail, and visits from people I love. I can't wait to see what fun the next 40 years will bring!

Live as if you were to die tomorrow,
learn as if you were to live forever.
~ Mahatma Gandhi

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

I'll make you a deal

The scene: Dad out of house on a secret mission. 12-year-old Boy asks Mom to play Xbox with him, knowing full well that peacemonger Mom has simply not discovered the joy that awaits her in those cheerful, loving shoot-em-up games.

Mom, who knows full well that Boy has not discovered the joy that awaits him when using 2 pointy sticks and string: "You want me to play Xbox? I want you to learn to knit. I'll make you a deal. I'll show you how to knit. You knit a few rows and I'll play Xbox with you for five minutes. For every few rows more, I'll play another 5 minutes."

Boy, with gleam in eye: "Deal."
Scene: A little while later, a few minutes into Xbox game.

Mom, who is prone to motion sickness: "Wow, these graphics move fast. It's making me dizzy. Yes, I see the machine gun over there. No, really. It's really making me dizzy. I can't do this. I'm going to puke."

Boy: "Heh heh...Do I still get to play?"

Mom: "Yeah. I need air."

Scene: Mom exits. A while later, Mom comes into living room to discover Boy on couch, knitting.

Mom: "You know I can't play that game with you, so this doesn't get you more video game time."

Boy: "Yeah, I know. But this is kind of fun. Hey, help, did I drop a stitch here? Is it true there are only two kinds of stitches to learn and I already know one of them?"

Mom: "You bet. It's all just knit and purl."

Boy: "Cool. Do you think I could make a hat?"

Mom: "Absolutely!" Posted by Picasa

we start 'em young

The menfolk headed out to West Point Museum yesterday to feed their appetite for military history. Leah and I stuck around home to work in the garden, listen to The Wind In the Willows, and work on our projects together until a much-anticipated gathering of favorite peeps in the evening.

Last night's knit night included seven adult knitters (one of whom was making a rug instead), four younger knitters (some of whom actually did knit or spin when not prancing about in sequined gowns), a toddler who provided much entertainment, and wee little Maddy, out for her first knit night ever at one month of age.

I sent Maddy's mommy home with this hat, which we hope Maddy will grow into in about five years. I have to chuckle about this hat being big because it's the same pattern and brand of yarn that I used for a previous baby hat. That one was 9-18-month size pattern and turned out too small (although I heard from that baby's mommy yesterday and she said it'll fit him fine this winter, if this winter ever comes), so this time I went up a needle size and stitched the 24-36-month size hat and it ended up way big. :::sigh::: I have gauge issues. Thank goodness babies grow. :-) Anyway, the hat is Dale of Norway's Hedda design, using Baby Ull and variegated Socks That Rock yarn. I always love the subtle color changes when variegated yarn is used in fair isle designs.
My current project is this sweater for Leah. It has progressed considerably since I last blogged about it. I love love love this sweater. I was concerned about running out of burgundy yarn, which was harvested from a Goodwill sweater, but at this point I seem to have plenty left, so onward and upward I'll go. The plain strip in the center is where I'll steek (cut) this sweater to make it into a cardigan. The plain part will roll to the inside and a button band will be knit on. The scrap yarn across the bottom of each piece is holding stitches from my provisional cast-on until I knit a bit of ruffle there. The back is stockinette, which shows off the tencel variegation beautifully with no pooling whatsoever. And yes, it fits her beautifully because the whole pattern was made up based on my gauge with these needles and this yarn, with the help of Jackie Fee's Sweater Workshop. Coming soon: Leah's very own finished object show-and-tell! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 06, 2007

thank you, kamikaze birds

There are two stained glass windows in our attic. Every once in a while, a suicidal bird does a dive bomb straight into the glass and shatters it. We occasionally dig around in our stained glass stash, pick a color, and replace the broken piece(s). However, the most recent crash actually caused the whole window to fall in on the attic floor, and it was in pretty tough shape anyway (as is the rest of the exterior of our house), so it was time to take real action.

First, Scott fixed the damaged wood with a product called Sculpwood, which we had read about in Old House Journal. We're pretty tickled by the performance of this stuff so far. Next, he removed all the old paint. He primed and painted, then rummaged around in the glass stash last night. He was up bright and early this morning to cut the glass he had chosen, and set it into place. He came up the stairs this morning to surprise me with the results...


Yes, the new window will be mounted with a layer of plexiglas on the outside to protect it from those crazy birdies. Now to figure out how to fix the rest of the exterior. Hmm... Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

the blue period

We're no Picasso, but it appears that we too are having a Blue Period. Ours is infinitely happier, though.

When we were rummaging through the spinning stash with our friends last Friday, I came upon some roving and novelty yarn (a.k.a. crazy funky stuff) that had been spun and dyed in indigo at the CT Sheep and Wool Festival last spring. I always intended to make this into a hat and finally set out to do it on Saturday. I wet felted the loose roving into a dome shape over a plastic bowl. Then I punched holes around the edge with an old leather punch and picked up stitches of the novelty yarn (some spun by Scott, some by Leah) to knit the brim. Quick, fun, warm, and one-of-a-kind.
Jesse's main focus of late is his new stash of assorted K'nex motors. Most recently he has come up with this train, where the blue box is the motor and I'm not sure what all the other sticky-outy things do, but I'm sure he could tell you in great detail what every single one represents in the history of trains. He made the track yesterday and needed to redesign his train so the wheels could turn to navigate the curves. Mission accomplished. This and the gatling gun behind it and the Nerf armory in residence provided much entertainment for the boy and a friend he had over today.
Since January 1 has come and everybody in the world is on a diet right now, this is the bakery's slow time, so Scott's making more beads again. When there was a mix-up about who was drinking which of the beer selection on Friday, he decided to make a bunch of beads for us and friends, each with a name written in glass, to prevent any such confusion. Worked well for New Year's Eve too. No, the kids weren't drinking beer; theirs were used for soda bottles. The blue thread made them the right size for the bottles, but they'll double as stitch markers when the blue thread gets snipped off.
And the biggest blue project of all to have been completed here recently is the poncho Leah knit for herself. She used the Very Harlot Poncho pattern and has been knitting it off and on since we were in Nova Scotia this summer. It has some boo-boos in it, but man, that's a lot of knitting for an 8-year-old! She's been working on it like crazy for the past few days, since I told her I'd help her start knitting her Twinkletoes ballet slippers as soon as she finished her poncho. She finished the fringe today and wore it with pride to meet friends at the hockey game tonight.
Do you see what I just wrote? Kids and Scott are at a hockey game tonight?! That means I have the house to myselfffffff! :::happy snoopy dance::: And off I go to work on a super secret project that has proven to me that my eyes turned 40 already, even though the rest of me still has a few days at 39. :-) Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 01, 2007

following our bliss into 2007

On this first day of 2007, I'm catching up on showing a few finished objects from 2006.
First is a pen I made for my mom at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. It's Honduran rosewood and was my first attempt at using a lathe, which is so much fun that I then took another workshop and am registered for another.

Next is an amulet bag I made for my grandma. Gram saw one of these, made by another participant in the weekend spin-ins, when we were at Adams Family Farm last New Year's Eve. She almost bought it then and said afterwards that she really wished she had, so I poked around and found that our library had Bead Knitted Pendant Bags and The Rainey Sisters also had a pattern on their site (although I don't see it there anymore). Then I called around to find size 0000 needles and found them at Creative Fibers. Size 0000 needles are about the same diameter as the wire of a large paper clip. It took a while for my hands to get used to working on such a fine scale, but the knitting itself was easy. I used one of Scott's beads that I think works well with the bag. It's a clear lentil with raku swirl, so it has bit of rust and teal. I took the second pic to show size of the finished bag. These things feel fantastic, with the texture and coolness and weight of the beads.

Last is a picture of the yummy cake we all enjoyed last night, made by one of Leah's friends (possibly with a teensy bit of help from her mom). We celebrated New Year's Eve with friends in what started as a plan to get together for appetizers and evolved into a feast and hobby fest. There was origami and spinning and knitting and sheared punched rugmaking and lampwork and felting and K'nex building and video game playing and beadazzling and dancing! Posted by Picasa