Sunday, 1 March 2015

Thank goodness it's not a leap year

Hello again! I'm so relieved February is over and today is the 1st of March. I was conspicuous last month mainly by my absence, for several reasons. First, and maybe most significant, February was really really frustrating on the health front. Back in January I was promised a new treatment that could make me feel actually well again (hurray!) but so far I haven't even got an appointment to see the person who is going to prescribe it (boo!). So, the possibility of feeling better, eventually, has hung there in promise for weeks now but in actuality no progress of any sort has been made.

In the normal run of things, I try to be as sanguine as possible about my health situation, because getting worked up about it doesn't help and ultimately just makes me stressed and fed-up. This month my equanimity failed me and I ended up feeling miserable for days and days at a time. It didn't help that for most of this month I felt, frankly, like hammered shit, because I am tapering one of my medications and I go through withdrawal for three days every time I change the dose... and I change the dose every six days. That's withdrawal symptoms on top of the side effects I already get! Ugh. UGH.

At any rate, general whining aside, the sewing implication of this is that about half the time I didn't feel like doing anything at all, and the other half the time hasn't seemed to coincide with really wanting to sew. It did coincide, however, with a couple of days of wanting to plan a lot of projects and make a mess of my sewing room in the process, which hasn't helped since I haven't had a good day since to tidy it all up again!

A second reason for my silence, though is that I actually kind of don't need to make anything right now. There are three factors that determine how many wardrobe gaps I have and how urgent they are at any given time -- my current size, the current season and what my lifestyle is like. At the moment I seem to be in a sweet spot of size/season/lifestyle where I have more or less everything I need. Therefore, I have no pressing need to make anything in particular, and although I have one or two "it would be nice..." projects on my list I don't feel any urgency about getting started on anything. It doesn't help that a lot of the places where I do have gaps would involve longer and more complicated projects or require work on fitting, and I just haven't felt well enough to deal with long/complicated or fitting.

At any rate, the upshot of all of this is that other than finishing a knitted scarf, and finishing my quilt (at last!), I did next to no sewing this month. I do have a few things in progress -- two bag projects, though both of them in the very early stages; another knitted shawl that I am about a quarter of the way done; and I made a muslin of a 1970s Vogue top pattern which was semi-successful but which, for various reasons, I have decided not to pursue for the time being. On the plus side, while I seemed to buy a lot of other things, I didn't buy any fabric, so I ended February with zero fabric out but also zero fabric in. I'll take that as a win this month!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Made: The Bird and Flower Quilt (a.k.a. The World's Slowest Quilt)

A long time ago, many years before I ever imagined I would get into sewing, I studied with a particular academic at the university where I did my first degree. One day I turned up for a meeting with her and, as she was nursing a terrible cold, while she was talking to me she curled up in the  armchair in her office, half-wrapped in the most amazing quilt. She told me her quilt had been made for her by her grandmother from silk saris when she first left home. It was very brightly coloured, and since she was the sort of extremely chic woman who wore layers of black every day and had extremely shiny straight black hair, the image of her and that quilt has stuck in my mind long beyond the content of our discussion or indeed anything else she ever taught me. As I've since learned, it's actually not at all uncommon for academics to decorate their offices like their living room -- at my most recent place of work, one of the other lecturers had a teeny tiny sofa in his office covered in an enormous traditional Aran patterned knitted blanket that I coveted quite intensely.

When I started sewing, back in the summer of 2011, one of the first projects I hit upon was therefore to make was something for my own eventual I'm-a-serious-academic-no-really office, and I decided to make a quilt. I started working on my initial ideas for the quilt as far back as February 2012. Of course, because it's taken me THREE YEARS to actually finish the damn thing, my circumstances have changed so radically I am not sure when, if ever, I will be back to working as an academic. However, I guess that when/if I ever am, I'll finally have my quilt all ready for my theoretical office.

The inevitable finished product ~~folded quilt photo
I'm actually really happy with my finished project, though in some ways for reasons that have nothing to do with the sewing. I'm glad it's FINISHED and not lurking about in a bag taking up space. I'm glad it looks more or less how I expected. I'm glad I've done it so I can say to myself that I had a go at quilting at least a little bit. On the actual sewing front, I have to admit though that I feel like my quilt is successful in part because there are SO MANY mistakes and problems with it, I don't think any SINGLE glaring error leaps out pokes you in the eye -- it's all just a uniform level of quilting incompetence! I'm OK with that, because it's my quilt and I like it anyway. :D

Quilt top. Not going to lie, my favourite fabrics are actually the eggs and feathers!
The actual quilt top itself is a very basic design. I used a pattern called Turning Twenty (sort of -- I mean, I looked at pictures of Turning Twenty on the internet and then guessed at dimensions). I made a 6x6 square quilt, and in the end after rather more trimming than I expected, but plus the sashing, it ended up as a 1.4m square, which is sort of lap-quilt-ish in size. I really didn't do that much research into standard sizes for quilts when I first started this project. I knew I wasn't going to put the quilt on a bed, so other than "big enough to go over my lap" I decided it didn't really have to be any specific size. Not sure I'd be so sanguine about this if I were starting a quilt today.

The colours and fabric choices were based around a piece of William Morris cotton that I acquired from the factory shop in Lancaster. It's not the Strawberry Thief design although it has some elements in common with it: lots of birds and flowers. When I went looking for supplemental fabrics at the end of last year, those motifs and the colours in the WM fabric were what I concentrated on matching. As a result, my non-William Morris fabrics are a mix of florals and two "bird-related" fabrics -- one with feathers, one with eggs. I also used a beige and white dot and a stripe as sort of neutral elements both in the quilt top and as a pieced binding.. As I was buying online, I struggled with colour matching and some of the fabrics are not quite what I expected when I ordered them, though I am more or less happy with the co-ordination/colours. I definitely see why beginner quilters are encouraged to use pre-cut, pre-matched sets from the same fabric range, because it does take a lot of the guesswork out of this part of the project, particularly if you are limited to online ordering.

Quilt back -- you can just about make out my various quilting patterns
In addition to the William Morris fabric and quilting fabrics from various well-known brands for the quilt top, I used recycled fabrics for the sashing and backing, which I harvested from a duvet cover set that I used and loved for years. The top of the cover was a medium weight self-striped cream cotton fabric, while the back was a lighter weight cotton. It had shredded badly along one of the seams and had some minor marks in places so it was ideal for my purposes as it was no longer usable as a duvet cover. I took it apart, dyed the lighter-weight fabric green and chopped it all up into suitable pieces. For all the use of recycled fabrics was mostly a pecuniary decision on my part, I kind of like that it's also a little bit of a nod to older traditions of quilting as a recycling craft.

There were actually quite a few problems when I started sewing. I started this quilt right back at the beginning of my sewing career. I did most of the actual sewing in the last 8 weeks or so, but unfortunately I did a LOT of cutting and preparation work two to three years ago. At that time, I didn't necessarily have the same skills, understanding or patience with long jobs that I like to think I've developed since them, and as a consequence I inherited some... imperfections, maybe would be the best description from my past self. Not least of these is that for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to have the William Morris print only used for one particular shape in my quilt blocks, which I would not have chosen to do if I had been cutting out now. I also didn't do the best job of cutting my WM print top pieces, backing, batting or sashing very accurately. I mean, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either.

Close up of quilt back and sashing. Observe how ABSOLUTELY NOTHING lines up /o\
I am also not sure I would have chosen to do Quilt As You Go if I were making that decision again. There were some things I liked about it, particularly how modular it made the experience of making the quilt, which was really good for me personally as I was able to keep working on it while I was feeling horrible in January in very short bursts. On the other hand, there are things about it that are aesthetically less appealing to me that you are forced into by the QAYG method, or at least the method I followed, particularly all the sashing.

I did most of the construction work in the last fortnight, including one epic day yesterday when I connected up the rows of blocks I'd been putting together into the finished quilt. I have renewed respect for people who make multiple quilts a year -- so much crawling around on the floor! so much physical effort to shove the quilt through the machine, especially when I was on to the last little bit of construction! I have no idea how people wrangle quilts for king-sized beds when a 1.4m square was so much like hard work. I did no hand sewing AT ALL -- everything is sewn by machine. I have no fear of hand-sewing, I just... didn't want to do it? I even did the binding by machine, which I understand is an epic quilting fail, but whatever.

I made two strip-pieced backing pieces, mainly because it seemed a shame to waste the ends of the fat quarters I used
So what did I learn? I am probably not ever going to be a massive convert to quilting, for one. Don't get me wrong -- I quite enjoyed making this one, and there were elements of the process I really loved (figuring out and then sewing the quilt top blocks and the strip-pieced backing blocks in particular), and parts that I enjoyed quite a lot (funnily enough, the construction process, because I really enjoyed seeing it all come together at last). On the other hand, there were quite a lot of things that bored me (quilting the blocks and above all, oh my god, the CUTTING OUT. I don't even like cutting out with garments, and quilting is a hundred times worse because of how persnickety you have to be, and I wasn't even fussy cutting.) Quilting is also expensive, especially if you insist on buying 100% cotton. Even with using some recycled fabrics this was really not a cheap project.

Faux mitred corners, achieved by following this tutorial for binding without hand-stitching
On the other hand, I did like being able to work on it a bit at a time. I don't like having unfinished things lurking about, but I did like having a project that repaid spending 15-30 minutes a day in my sewing room in obvious progress. With garment sewing I tend to struggle to actually get anywhere with that kind of short-burst sewing and therefore I binge sew instead. Overall, I don't think I'll be making another quilt any time soon (because I don't need another -- in fact, in my current situation, I no longer even need this one!) but I would never say never about making another one day.

In conclusion: \o/ World's Slowest Quilt: STICK IT IN A BOX MARKED DONE.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Made: Nurmilintu scarf/shawl

I finished another knitted thing! After knitting a whole series of (very easy) cowls at the end of last year, back at the start of January I decided to cast on something a little bit more challenging. I picked this shawl/scarf called Nurmilintu (Ravelry link), a free, single skein fingering weight pattern mainly in garter stitch with three small bands of lace. I had previously bought a skein of Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal Tweed in the Midnight colourway intending to make socks. However, the extreme nobbliness of the yarn (not a technical term -- I have no idea what the technical term would be for how lumpy and irregular the yarn was) was not at all suited to knitting on toothpick sock needles, and I therefore repurposed the yarn to this shawl. I am not sure this pattern suits the nobbly yarn any better, actually, but I don't care, I like my finished product and as it's cashmere and wool, it's delightfully soft and cosy.

Lace pattern (observe my many, very obvious, mistakes!) and draped in shawl fashion on Flossie
There were a ton of new things I had to learn as I worked through this pattern: reading a lace pattern chart (very badly, I had to rip back the first lace panel three times), knitting the various lace stitches, including one that was new to me (also badly, so the first two lace panels have SO MANY mistakes in them. I think I got the third and final panel all correct, go me), and the fun bobbly edged cast off at the end. I also had to block the scarf, which was an interesting experience. I've blocked socks, but all I do with that is wash them and then stretch them over a vaguely foot shaped form I made from a coat hanger. Blocking this involved spraying and stretching and pinning and all sorts.

Unblocked lace pattern (also you can see the multicoloured yarn flecks best in this shot)
I made one minor change to the pattern as written, and really just because I hate scrap yarn. The pattern is written that you finish the scarf after the third lace panel. I have to admit I wasn't 100% sold on this anyway, though if my yarn had worked out that way I would have followed the pattern. However, when I got to the end of the pattern as written I had fully ~18g left of my yarn of a 100g skein, and that just seemed wasteful. I added a final half width panel of the garter stitch and finished up with just a tiny 3g ball of yarn left over at the end, and I think I actually prefer how this looks overall.

I'm not really sure how you WEAR one of these weirdly shaped shawl things. This was my best estimate!
I've already cast on not one but TWO new knitting projects. The first is another fingering weight scarf (Ravelry link) in a pattern best described as "utterly mindless" -- endless stocking stitch. It's a very portable project, and thus useful for travelling/hospital appointment waiting rooms and also perfect for mindless knitting-while-watching-TV. If I pick this up and put it down as much as I expect to, it'll probably take a good long time to finish.

The second project is a sweater (Ravelry). I know, I know, I swore off knitting sweaters after the Purple Monstrosity Disaster! But I have this goal for working my way through my yarn stash and this huge pile of aran yarn that I don't know what to use for if I don't make actual knitwear, and I found this sweater pattern that I thought would make an actually easy casual aran weight sweater and... yeah, I don't know, it will probably end just as badly as the last sweater I made. Further updates from the field to follow, please feel free to make O.o eyes at me when it all goes wrong. /o\

Friday, 6 February 2015

Ottobre 02-2015

As is well-established, I'm a HUGE fan of Ottobre Woman and last year the current and back issues were my largest source of patterns. I've been looking forward to the new issue being released for weeks now, especially since Burda this year so far has not really been very appealing. (I thought February Burda was dreadful, in particular. I'm a bit more optimistic about March although I haven't seen line drawings yet and that's always the make or break for me with Burda.) Today the Ottobre 02-2015 preview came out and according to their Facebook page at least the magazines are already on their way to subscribers. Keeping my fingers crossed that mine therefore arrives very soon.

The full preview of Ottobre 02-2015 is here and of course you can download your own copy of the PDF line drawings as well, but here they are:
Ottobre 02-2015, from Ottobre website

What I like about Ottobre is that most of their patterns are basics that you can imagine using in several years time just as easily as this year. There are a couple of more trendy items in this year's Spring/Summer pattern set -- the kimono jacket (#8) and the pleated shoulder t-shirt (#10) for example. Burda's been churning out t-shirt patterns with unexpected pleats for the last year or so. On the other hand, I am delighted that there's a pattern for a princess seam sheath dress (#3, 4, 15) as it's something Ottobre have not done before, and there really couldn't be anything more timeless. If those shorts (#18) are in a knit (they look like they might be?) then I will be delighted as I was looking for knit shorts just the other day. I also want to look more closely at a couple of the other tops and the little jacket (#5) when the magazine arrives, and I'm also intrigued by the longer dress -- I can't really understand the skirt from the combination of the line drawing and images, I think I need the pattern pieces to make sense of it. On the whole there's no one pattern that leaps out at me that I MUST make, but I still feel like several of these patterns might find their way into my summer sewing queue in due course.

On the magazine in general, I know Ottobre's overall styling is generally considered at best an acquired taste, but at least, as usual, most of the garments are visible and made in fabrics so that you can actually see the details of the garment in question. It's also good to see more than one non-white woman among the models. To be fair to Ottobre, they're based in a non-racially diverse part of Finland and most of their early Woman magazines used the editorial and design staff as models, so it's hardly surprising that initially their models tended towards the Nordic-blonde stereotype. However, it's good to see a more diverse group of models now that the magazine is being sold more widely. However, less happy-making is that this is the first issue where they haven't shown a model in the upper end of their size range in at least some outfits. One of the nicest things about Ottobre from a pattern perspective is that all their patterns are available in sizes 34-52, and historically there has always been a model in the size 48-52 range included in the images. This issue, the models all seem to be at the smaller end of the range, which is a shame, I think.

Friday, 30 January 2015

January Projects Post, plus February plans

I have been rather dilatory about blog posts for the second half of January. This is mainly due to the fact that my time for anything enjoyable, including sewing, in the second half of the month has been much reduced by (more of the same old) illness. When I did feel well enough to sew or knit, a lot of what I have been doing has been slow going and/or part of a bigger project, or else a not-very-interesting pattern repeat. Thus, this post, which I plan to do each month this year just as a catch-all of things that don't deserve a post all of their own.

Garments: I didn't make much in the way of clothes this month. However, I did manage to knock out a couple of easy pattern repeats:

Burda 11-2005-127 and Ottobre 02-2013-02, both very easy pattern repeats

On the left, a pair of Burda 11-2005-127 yoga pants in blue, a pattern I made up previously in December 2014. I have nothing to say about the pattern beyond: A+, would sew again, just like last time. These are very unphotogenic yoga pants, though. They look much better in person.

On the right, yes, that is yet another Ottobre 02-2013-02 "Summer Basics" tee. That is my 11th use of that pattern. It wasn't my first choice for this fabric at all. I bought this border print as a "panel", and I had a plan in mind for it thinking I was getting a 1m piece. What actually arrived was a scant and badly cut 85cm piece. I was not thrilled, and I am still not clear to what extent this was as a result of me misunderstanding of the fabric description and how much is the fault of the vendor (the very uneven cut, at least, was entirely their fault). At any rate, my original plan was out, and as I was feeling grumpy about the whole thing I flung this pattern on it and cut it out as it was all I could think to do with such a small piece. I kind of regret this decision because once I got over my grump I realized it would have made an interesting contrast piece in a Grainline Linden sweatshirt or similar but, eh, too late now. As it turns out though, the biggest problem with this top is that the fabric is very itch inducing, so I'm not sure the way I used the fabric in the end matters when thinking about garment longevity -- I just can't stand itchy clothes.

My February garment sewing plans are a bit vague at the moment, even though I have a whole huge list of things to make in my sewing queue. The problem is that I find it hard to think about sewing for spring when we've actually got snow on the ground at the moment, but I really don't need much more in the way of winter clothes. Plus, quite a few of my favourite and most enticing projects are at the more difficult and labour intensive end of the scale, and thus the whole continuing-illness thing becomes a stumbling block. I'll have to see how I get on, I guess.

Quilted quilt blocks ready to be sewn together with sashing
Quilt: Since my mid-month update, I've been quilting the individual blocks in dribs and drabs and then trimming off the excess batting/backing. It's actually been a nice project while I've been feeling ill because it's a perfect project to sew in very short bursts. Each block only takes a couple of minutes to quilt and a couple of minutes to trim, and thus even if I only felt up to venturing into my sewing room for 10-15 minutes I was usually able to get a couple of blocks done in a day. I was also able to do a bunch of different shapes when I was quilting: some I stitched in the ditch, some have just lines across the block, and a half a dozen are quilted with big concentric circles. That said, I have to admit I was totally over the quilting process long before I'd done all 36 blocks and was glad when I finished them up. At this point, there are really only two more tasks left: putting the blocks together with sashing and then binding the outer edges. Thus, I'm hoping that the World's Slowest Quilt will become my first finished quilt during February.

Alabama Chanin style "Bloomer" stencil on knit, testing out different threads and stitches
Hand-sewing/embroidery: I'm still pursuing the Alabama Chanin and hand-embroidery thing. I decided a useful way to spend some time was to make some samples of AC-style embellishment using knits. I dug out a couple of large-ish scraps of knit in two shades of blue (left over from a raglan tee I made in October 2013) for which I had no other use, made a list of "samplers" I wanted to make, and got started. You can see my first finished sampler above, which was a test first and foremost of this method on knit (I had previously only used the stencils with wovens when I made a couple of little calico bags) and of some different weight and colour threads. It turned out very ugly as a result of the mix of thread colours! I'll be carrying on with my samplers for a little while, mainly because I'm still percolating a much bigger plan for where I want to take this next. More on this soon.

My Nurmilintu scarf. You'll have to take my word for the existence of the lace section, since I couldn't get it to come out in the photo
Knitting: This is my Nurmilintu scarf (Ravelry link) in progress - it's about 40% done, I guess. I'm really enjoying knitting this even though my first lace section, one of three in the pattern, turned out really badly. I was fine (as you would hope) on the long pointy bit of garter stitch, but as soon as I started out the lace section I had to rip back the first three rows 4 times. Mostly, this was because I didn't understand how to read the chart, which meant I got the pattern all wrong initially. After consulting a more knowledgeable friend, I at least understand now what I should be doing, although I don't always seem to manage to actually do it. As I got further into the lace pattern, I realized I had I made multiple mistakes in several rows that didn't seem fixable short of wholesale ripping back, which I kind of couldn't face. In the end, I decided I could live with my mistakes and kept going. Thus my first "lace pattern" section is perhaps more properly described as "a section with some randomly spaced holes". Still, I love the yarn, the colour and I've decided I can live with the imperfection, especially since, as the image above demonstrates, the lace isn't really all that visible. I am a pretty slow knitter, so I suspect most, if not all, of February will be taken up with finishing this project.

A pile of pompoms

Random: For sick-and-insomnia-ridden-and-in-charge-of-a-credit card reasons, I recently bought a 99p (with free postage) pack of pompom makers from an eBay vendor in China. Pompom makers + an assortment of cheap, nasty and brightly coloured yarn I once obtained from the front of a knitting magazine = one afternoon spent gleefully and pointlessly making pompoms. I made some in plain green (on the right, idk why they look like they're glowing) and then experimented with various ways to make them multicoloured (green and white halves on the left, and then mixing two or three colours in the rest). I like the giant pink and purple one (bottom left) best, though I have no idea what to do with any of them now I've made them.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Bits and pieces

1. I finished knitting yet another cowl. I know, I know, I am the most boring knitter in the world, even more boring than my sewing.

Yet another Gap-tastic cowl, this time in vintage burgundy bouclé and DK held together
I am on a mission to substantially reduce the size of my (thankfully, not very large to begin with) yarn stash this year. When I first started knitting at the very end of 2012/start of 2013, the impetus was being given a huge box full of my maternal grandmother's knitting accoutrements, untouched these last twenty or thirty years. I recently discarded much of what I acquired in the box because it was mostly remnants of cheap, unpleasant yarn, and I sold some other yarn. However, I kept two things: a pile of burgundy DK 25g skeins (13 of them, to be exact) and a similar tone of burgundy bouclé yarn that I tried but failed to knit once before. It's actually more red and less brown than this photo makes it appear.

I adore how this turned out. It's hard to tell from the photo, but the bouclé totally obscures the stitch so the cowl is just a gorgeous nobbly texture, and the interweaving of the two shades of burgundy looks so gorgeous in real life. So, even though this is really uninteresting because it's just Yet Another Cowl, I consider it a raging success, hurray!

Meanwhile, I am also plodding along knitting the shawl I started. It's going well so far, but then I haven't hit the lace pattern yet. Updates from the field soon.

2. Quilt progress: Back on 22nd December I cleared up all my WIPs and made sure that the only thing I carried into 2015 was the World's Slowest Quilt, which I originally started in April 2012. Since then I've: bought the remaining quilt top fabrics I needed; cut out all the pieces; made 36 quilt top blocks; organized the blocks/batting/backing sandwiches (I am making a quilt-as-you-go quilt, so I have to assemble each block separately); and started quilting. My quilting so far is really REALLY basic, I've just been outline quilting along the seam-lines of the blocks. I plan to try to get fancier with my quilting, including possibly trying out my free motion foot that came with the machine, as I progress further into my pile of blocks. (So far I have quilted 3 of 36, so I have time!)

Blocks waiting to be quilted (the very large pile) and already quilted (the very small pile)
I'm not disliking the experience of quilting -- there was something very satisfying about making all those lovely straight lines of stitches and pressing the seams open. However, I can't say I'm a massive quilting convert so far. Plus, to be honest I keep looking at the part where I have to connect all the blocks together at the end and going D: However, forward momentum has been achieved!

3. Partly momentum has been achieved because I am dragging my feet on my next garment project. Well, next but one -- first I have to make a boring but necessary pair of yoga pants, but then I am going to make a new shirt or two. However, in order to make it I have to muslin it and eh, I have a case of the don'twannas about the whole thing.

Here is the pattern, Vogue 9906 from about 1978-9 (ish), which I picked up from eBay in my mad pattern buying spree at the end of last year. I shan't be wearing a beret to accompany my version, but I am planning to make view B.

Vintage Vogue 9906
There are several reasons I have to muslin this blouse -- mainly that the bust fullness is provided by shoulder gathers rather than a dart so I can't do what I did with my previous shirtmaking attempts and slap a darted sloper over the top as a comparison. Also, the shoulder is forward and I always have to adjust, sometimes quite dramatically, for square shoulders, and I am not entirely certain how to do that with this pattern -- stick a wedge in it somehow, is all I know for sure.

4. Meanwhile, my sewing-related reading at the moment is dominated by tailoring books and the Alabama Chanin books (not intended for use together). I am still obsessed with making a jacket (although if I have the don'twannas about muslining/fitting a shirt, you can't imagine the extent to which I am digging in my feet over fitting a coat or jacket) and also, separately, with the whole embellishment/embroidery/slow sewing thing at the moment. I keep sort of marrying up all kinds of other, sometimes long-held obsessions with both of these things, with the end result that I have Grand And Epic Plans, in my head at least, for things to make and do in the future. Alas, I fear my ambitions and my abilities are, as always, separated by several miles, but Grand and Epic Plans are always the most fun in the creation stage.

5. And finally, since a numbered post is not a proper post unless it has 5 things in it, a minor personal update. Long-time readers may recall that since I have been quite seriously ill off and on for almost two years now, which culminated in me having to leave my job and return to the UK last summer. I was actually starting to feel tons better in the autumn, almost back to normal even, but then I relapsed spectacularly in mid-November and I've been miserably ill ever since. However, last week some new and different progress was finally made after I went to a long-awaited appointment with the Most Special Of All Specialists down in London. Among other things, the Most Special Specialists FINALLY gave me a diagnosis (except it has the word idiopathic in the name, which basically means: haha, we don't really know why this is happening to you! but never mind). There are several more hoops to jump through before I actually get the new treatment they prescribed, but I am very hopeful that things are looking up already health-wise for 2015. :D :D :D

Unfortunately, I then celebrated by buying 5m of fabric, but let's not focus on that. /o\

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

In which I embroider (and review a Craftsy embroidery class)

Over the last few weeks I've finished a few small projects that involved some element of simple embroidery, mainly just tote bags. The more I did, the more I realized that actually, I have no real idea what I am doing with embroidery beyond the absolute basics and a couple of tiny sashiko projects that I made at the end of 2013.

I considered buying a book to help fill in my knowledge gaps -- and I probably still will, in fact, buy one or more embroidery books -- but in the meantime I had another resource available to me. In my round-up of my 2014 spending on craft projects, I mentioned that over the last few years I have bought but never used several Craftsy classes and, as I had concluded that they were poor value for money, I had sworn off buying any more. The last one I bought before I made this decision was "Design It, Stitch It: Hand Embroidery" presented by Jessica Marquez, which I had never even started. From memory, I saw this reviewed extensively on someone's blog (probably someone who got paid by Craftsy for the doing so) and because this whole embellishment/embroidery thing has been rumbling along on my wish list of things to try for quite a long time, I bought it when it next came up cheap in one of Craftsy's (many) sales. (I should add that I am in no way affiliated, paid by, or even a fan of Craftsy. I'm not going to link to Craftsy/the class directly so that there's no question about this.)
My set of ineptly embroidered samplers
At any rate, when I decided I needed to try out some embroidery stitches this last week or so, this seemed like a good chance to get some use from the class. I therefore spent a few days making like a ye olden days schoolgirl and doing some simple samplers according to a template provided by the Craftsy class, making extensive use of the videos.

Sampler 1: Flat stitches (I really liked the multicoloured stitches in the middle)

The class is divided into five lessons, each of which deals with a group of stitches and has a sampler attached, plus a class on designing your own simple embroidery templates. The stitches are (from left to right) flat/straight stitches, chain stitches, knitted stitches, cross stitches and fill stitches. You're encouraged at the end to turn your samplers into a tiny mini quilt thing for framing but, uh, no.

Sampler 2: Chain stitches (I really liked the couching stitch and the bottom and the daisies)
I used plain unbleached calico as my base and alternated between stitching with polyester embroidery thread on a spool (the lilac thread) that I erroneously bought a couple of years ago and various random skeins of embroidery thread left over from a cross-stitch kit gifted to me when I was 11. Since I turn 40 this year, this latter will tell you something about (a) my level of hoardery, but also (b) my level of organization, since I was immediately able to put my hands on the small tin box in which I stored said skeins of embroidery thread at least 25 years ago when I finally abandoned the half-finished cross-stitch thing. I also had a wooden embroidery frame left over from that same project that I used. I also had some embroidery needles that came in a box of assorted needles when I first started sewing. So my overall costs for trying this out were very low just because I happened to have hoarded carefully preserved so many hitherto useless pieces of equipment and thread.

Sampler 3: Knotted Stitches (I like how some of these look, but omg, I hated doing them)
 Overall, I found the samplers straight forward to use and quite entertaining to try. There are several stitches I immediately loved, especially some of the chain stitches, couching and some of the cross stitch variations. I liked the knotted stitches least as they were time consuming and went wrong all the time, and were impossible to fix once they had gone wrong. The fill stitches (satin stitch and the like) were also time consuming but look really good when you're finished (except my Cretan stitch, which is at the bottom of the sampler on the far right, which went so very wrong and I hated it).

Sampler 4: Cross stitches. (I liked the stars and the multi-coloured stitch best)

As far as the Craftsy class itself is concerned, I found that the presenter was actually very good. She's very clear and gets a good balance between showing what she is doing and talking about it. She also makes mistakes/fumbles a bit in places but what's good is that she talks about how to fix the little problems that come up as you embroider (like the skein working loose, or thread getting pulled in from the back). I actually found her soothing to watch because she seems much more comfortable with being silent than many Craftsy presenters, who seem to feel the need to fill the empty air with a lot of useless words. She does shill for her book quite a bit, though, and she needed to find new words other than graphic and textural since she says both about a million times.

Sampler 5, Fill Stitches (with terrible, TERRIBLE Cretan stitch at the bottom in blue)
As I was stitching the samplers I found myself weighing up the difference between the class and buying an embroidery book. With a book, I'd have had a more permanent and accessible record of how to do each type of stitch, and for the price I paid for it I could have bought a much more comprehensive guide to embroidery stitches. That said, it was definitely easier sometimes to see someone doing the stitch than look at diagrams, especially when you're first starting out with something like chain stitch, which I had not done before. Every subsequent variation on a theme is much easier when you've seen the first, basic stitch demonstrated.

I am not really walking back from my original position that Craftsy classes have mostly been a waste of money for me, given that I made such limited use of the classes I've bought. However, I am actually pretty happy with this particular class and how I was able to use it. I don't doubt I could have replicated the content with various free YouTube videos, but the pre-packaged content of the class and sampler templates was very convenient and easy to follow. I think the big problem with the YouTube approach is that you have to know what it is you don't know in order to look for the content. Since I was starting from scratch, this was far easier.

In the end, my conclusion is rather specific: if you can get the class in one of the Craftsy sales, you have very little embroidery experience and don't really know where to start, I actually consider this particular class to offer decent value, not least because the presenter is clear and her presentation style is easy to watch.