Sunday, July 29, 2012

My 13th Month Blogiversary!

I must have been knee deep in sewing on June 29, the first anniversary of my first post on this blog. I discovered a few days later I had missed the date. So I'm celebrating a month later!

It's hard to believe a year (and more) has passed since beginning this adventure. I've had lots of fun sewing, knitting, painting, and writing about it, but the best reward has been all of the wonderful people I've met here. You readers have lifted me up and boosted my spirits time and time again. Your blogs have inspired me. So on this blogiversary, I celebrate each of you! Thank you for keeping me company here!

Since I haven't posted in a while, you may wonder what have I been up to this month. For starters, I made a wearable muslin of a tank top pattern today. It's too wide through the neckline and shoulders, and I cut the vee neck too low, so it's going to be loungewear for home. I'll probably make some adjustments and try it again, as it fits well in the lower part. It's darted, which makes for a terrific fit through the bust.

I've been doing a lot of knitting this month, partly as a means of staying cool in the heat. Sounds like any oxymoron, I know. Our home is air conditioned, but my husband thinks 78 is comfortable. My overweight, postmenopausal body thinks otherwise! Our den is on our basement level, and it's cooler down there. There's a large window and a sliding door, so I don't feel hemmed in. The TV and stereo are down there, so it's the perfect place to knit.

First I started a drapey cardigan for myself, in a gorgeous cherry red textural cotton ribbon yarn. A couple of weeks into that, I got the itch to knit a throw for  my sister. I've been at that for about two weeks now. I'm on my third version, as I wasn't pleased with how the first two looked. Here's a sneak peak:

A market bag is also in the works. I save it for knitting group nights, as it's easy to knit with conversation going on. Then there are the socks and necklace, set aside some time ago and waiting to be finished. Can you tell I like to jump around a bit on knitting projects?!

My largest and most time consuming project this month is a handbag. It was a project to end all projects, involving paint, quilting, and eight layers of fabric and interfacing. I'll be writing about it soon. Until then, here's a sneak peak:


Thanks for stopping by and helping me celebrate a fun, fun year of blogging!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Indian Corn, Horace and Trillian - Say, What?

That's probably the most obscure title I've ever composed, but what else can I say about a shawl, a horse, and a scarf? These are some of the knitting projects I've completed in the past six months.

By far the oldest of these projects, I purchased this yarn in Maine and began knitting it at least 10 years ago. My longtime blog readers might recognize the fabric, as it was featured in a blog header last autumn. The yarn is a wool boucle from Mountain Colors, in a colorway they named indian corn. The triangular shawl is knit with garter stitch throughout. On size 7 needles, it took what seemed like forever to knit.

About halfway through, my relationship with the friend I was making it for cooled, so I put it away for what ended up being several years. When I came across it last fall I realized I now have a friend who will appreciate it, so I finished it up. The fabric is very spongy and not scratchy, so it will be a pleasure to wear.

Meet Horace the Horse, a project I began a little over two years ago for my niece's baby. That baby is now a toddler, and there's a new 5-month-old in the house. I saw them over the 4th holiday, and decided a few days earlier it was time to finish it and give it to my grandniece.

The pattern is from the book, Vintage Baby Knits, and the pattern hails from the 1930's. I chose it because my niece likes horses, and she decorated the nursery with a vintage vibe. This took a fair amount of time to knit, and even more time to sew together, stuff and embroider. Not to mention the mane, which was hooked into the fabric, piece by piece. 

The finishing was rather difficult, as the book gave no instruction on how to do the embroidery, nor where to place it. All I had was one photo from which to make educated guesses. A look at Ravelry told me I'm not the only one who was puzzled by this. The instructions in the book are rather sparse.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to present the horse to my grandniece in person, as there were 3 other toddlers present who would have wanted to play with it. But it was a big hit with the moms (my nieces) who got a sneak peek before it went onto a high shelf.

Those of you who were reading my blog last summer will recall this scarf, as I started it last July, and photographed it for my blog header over the winter. It is finally finished!

This is Trillian, an elongated triangle that was fun to knit but took a long time. By now you're probably catching on to the fact that I get bored with most knitting projects before completing them. I always have several projects on needles, and I jump around between them. I take the easier ones to my weekly knitting club at my local yarn shop (The Fiber Loft in Harvard, MA), and save more complicated work for quiet at-home times. 

Along with the great stripes of this shawl, I really like the simple lace edging. I'm not a frilly kind of gal, but this bold, geometric lace adds the perfect finishing touch to the scarf. 

This scarf is going to be great fun to wear. I'll be using it to perk up black tops, and tone down purple and blue ones. You can read about the pattern and yarn at my earlier post about Trillian.

That's a snippet of what my knitting needles have wrought so far this year. I'm sure I missed a project or two, and will post them when I finish another item or two.

I'm so glad I learned to knit! Although it took me away from sewing for nearly a decade, I learned a great deal about fabric and garment construction, texture, and color. My sewing skills helped my knitting skills, and learning to knit helped my design skills. I love having a knitting project at hand for those times when I don't quite feel like sewing.

How about you? How do you create when you're not sewing? Do tell!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Deep Pink String Art Top

Fifth and final in my month-long Butterick 5215 series, this top may be my favorite. I love, love, love the color of the cotton/lycra jersey (from Homespun Boutique in Ithaca, NY). I always get compliments when wearing this color, as it flatters my skin tone. I also like the contrast added by the black, pewter and white paint, and how the black mesh trim frames it all.

I began with the same pattern pieces as I used in the fourth top. This time I overlapped the vertical seams in front and back, and inserted the mesh between them. I added two rows of black topstitching for an added punch. I finished the sleeves and lower hem the same way. Here is detail on the back:

Each of these elements contributes to the drama of the completed top, but the paint is the key. Since several readers have mentioned wanting to learn to use silk screens, I've photo documented the process so I can walk you through it.

I must stress, I'm no expert at this. I strongly recommend finding a good teacher. That can be done in person or virtually. I learned to do it by watching Marcy Tilton's CD, On the Surfacean excellent tool filled with all sorts of techniques for surface design. The CD gave me a good grounding in how to go about painting with silk screens, and experience has taught me even more. I still learn every time I paint with my screens. I'm going to show you how I do it, but please don't think this is the only way, or the best way. It's just my way, and it keeps evolving.

The first step is to set up a work area. You'll need a counter-height surface in an area where the floor can be covered or easily cleaned. Drips and spills can happen. I imagine a table would work, but sitting doesn't give the range of motion I prefer. You'll also need enough room for two kitty litter pans with some water in them, and some space to dry the screens after painting and washing them.

After years of wanting to silk screen but not having the proper space, I'm blessed to have a very large cutting table that's just the right height for my tallness, built by my husband. It's the perfect place for me to paint fabric. To protect my cutting mat, I purchased a roll of plastic table covering. The painting process goes best with a bit of padding on your work surface. I had some yardage of needlepunch (from back in the olden days when I made shoulder pads. Yeesh, to think of the time I spent on that!) I lay the needlepunch over my cutting mat, then unroll the plastic tablecloth over it. Blue painter's tape is used on the edges to hold everything in place.

Fabric can be painted in yardage, or after the pattern pieces are cut out. I prefer to do it after cutting, so I can better determine flattering image placement. After painting a damselfly nearly on my bust point on one of my early painted tops, I've learned to hold the piece against my body to see where I might want to place images, and where I might not want to. When painting a piece, I tape it down here and there on the edges to hold it in place.

To paint all of the black horizontal lines down the edges, I knew I would need to paint the screen several times. I used a ruler to measure the length of the image on the screen, then placed the screen so the next image would begin in the correct place.

I could have just painted starting at one end of the seam line, but the paint needs to dry before placing the screen adjacent to it, or else the frame will overlap and smear the paint. Since I had 4 repeats of the screen, it would take a long time to complete the painting, as I'd have to wait for one to dry before doing the next. So, I marked with tailor's chalk where the images would end/begin, and painted one at the end of the seam, and one two spaces away. These shots don't really explain the process, so I hope my words do.

For this top, I chose Neopaque paint in black, and Lumiere in pewter and white. I've always used a sponge brush to apply the paint. Another method is to store the paint in a squeeze bottle, squeeze a line onto the screen, and pull it across the image. Since making this top, I've tried the credit card method and I must say I actually prefer it. I think less paint is wasted using the card.

Once the screen is placed where I want to paint, I load up my foam brush, and stroke it across the image. The screen needs to be held in place with the free hand while the painting hand brushes across the image until it is completely covered. Then the screen is carefully peeled away from the fabric. My brush strokes can be seen here, and you can see the fabric through the screen as I'm lifting the screen away. (The lower part of the screen has no paint because I didn't use the entire width of the image.)

Voila! Here is the painted image.

As is clear to see, I didn't force enough paint through the screen in a few places. This is easy to do, and I sometimes claim artistic license and leave it. This time I chose to use a very small paintbrush to touch it up. Here's a shot of the same image, touched up.

I did this along the length of the front and back seams, as sometimes the inner ends of the lines didn't match up well. The texture of the paint when dry can be a bit different when brushing it on like this, but in a bold paint job like this one, I wanted the graphic to be even and strong.

After using the screen ("striking") two or three times, it goes into the water bath. The paint can dry in the holes of the screen, so it's important to keep it very wet. That means working quickly. The metallic paints are worse for clogging screens, because the tiny metal bits dry rapidly. I use a sea sponge to softly wash the paint from the screen. Not all of the paint will come off, as the edges dry quickly. That's why you see darkness in the photos of the screen before I painted it. It's residue from past uses. It's dried on the surface of the screen, but not where the holes are.

Once clean, the screen goes for a dip in the rinse pan, and onto a wire dish rack to dry. If I'm in a hurry to use it again, as I was in this case, I lean it somewhere in the studio where there's good air flow. The wall directly across from my air conditioner has been my preferred drying area this summer.

Once I completed the black Riffle pattern, I started using the Circle Game screen (both from Marcy Tilton). I played with placement until I saw what I liked. I tried to paint two or three spheres with every strike, so I wouldn't have to make a separate strike for every sphere.

One effect I like is to blend two or more colors in one image. I used white and pewter on the large image above. This is done by simply swiping the colors where I want them. Sometimes the paint doesn't pass through the screen well where the colors meet, because I'm not applying even pressure there. Once again, a fine paintbrush completes the missing lines.

Toward the end of the painting process I got tired and made a big goof. Somehow I pushed a big blob of paint through the screen, resulting in this:

Actually, the blob was the wide line to the right of center. Not wanting to re-cut another front piece, I chose to turn the blob into a design element by painting a zig-zag across the entire image. This made the error appear more intentional, but I was still disappointed. After sitting on it (not literally!) overnight, I decided it didn't need to be "perfect" and went ahead with the construction of the top. The vertical and shoulder seams were sewn, and the mesh was inserted around the neck. I trimmed the last bit of the binding, and a moment later noticed I had cut about 2" into another part of the binding. That made two reasons to re-cut the left front piece. The third reason was the neckline was a little too wide at the left scoop, and wouldn't lie flat. I had the extra fabric, so I decided to redo it all. Hey - it's only time.

Taking out the double stitching was lots of fun, uh huh. So was cutting the left front again, this time folding out nearly an inch of the pattern at the front neck edge. Painting it was truly fun, as it was another day and I wasn't tired of painting. I placed the images a bit differently. Most notable is my choice of smaller images for the hemline. I decided placing a large sphere where it would fall in front of my crotch was not such a good idea! Here are the second and first pieces. The second is definitely an improvement.

I intentionally placed the spheres toward the center and neckline of the garment, to create a vertical element and frame my face. I always like to add a small touch of paint to a sleeve. It adds just a little touch of whimsy. I'm really pleased with the overall effect of the painting. The lines and spheres look as though they could be made of string!

A funky black mesh (from Marcy Tilton) was the icing on the cake for this top. It's a cool stripe of solid and sheer lines. The sheer parts have smidgens of fiber in them, like a burn-out. I cut the width of two stripes, but allowed only the sheer part to show. I like how it curls here and there, and gives strong definition to the neckline and overlapped seams.

Smooth, lightweight cotton jersey in a delicious color, bold graphic painting and asymmetry make this a top that I'll wear again and again. It was a very fun project, including the documentation of the painting process. I hope the information is helpful to anyone interested in learning to use silk screens. Please ask questions if you have them!

P.S. You may recall I was making these tops for a contest on Pattern Review. As the month progressed, I lost interest in the contest, and never entered it. But there's no loss, as I have five new tees to carry me through summer!