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An “art” a day

Just about a month ago, I mentioned that I wanted to do ten minutes of art a day.  I wanted to report back that I have been surprisingly successful.  Oh, not that I actually manage a conscious ten minutes of set aside art time every. single. day.  But that I’m doing it often enough that I feel like the mental muscle of just “doing art” is returning.

I’ve been reading a variety of “creative’s self-help” style books lately, and many revolve around this idea of doing a short art exercise every day.  Maybe at some point I’ll do a comparison or review of some of these books.  Anyway, regardless of format, each of these books comes back to the same point.  Do something creative every day.  Make it a habit.

So I have two little checklists in my planner:  Yoga and Art. I’m trying to notch each one for five of seven days a week.  When I can make time, I even do them during the work day.  After all, two ten minute breaks is not unreasonable, it takes less time than hunting down a latte, and I come out on the other end just as refreshed as if I had the espresso alternative.  I’m not trying to downplay my appreciation for a caffeine boost, but I might argue that art exercise also keeps my head clearer for longer as well.  Even if most days there isn’t time for either while I’m at the office, at least then I know I “owe” myself those activities after work.  My little 4 year old is quite happy to do the yoga or art along with me, if I can squeeze either of those in between work, dinner, and his bedtime.

So far, I haven’t felt the need to work through the exercises suggested by many of the “_____ a day” types of art books.  Though I’m glad they’re out there because if this becomes a life-long habit (I hope!), I might eventually want some suggestions.

So far, I’ve sat down and sketched images from my phone.  Or I’ve used a travel watercolor kit to play with color.  Or I’ve even put in effort on some larger art journal projects.  I just pull out the journal and spend ten minutes adding color or lines or shading.  Or I’ve done some very preliminary composition thumbnails for a larger project.  I’ve been so surprised at how much I can accomplish in ten minutes or less.  Some sessions, I even find myself finishing a planned activity quickly, checking the clock, and then pushing myself to spend the other 3 minutes refining the idea or moving onto another, quicker sketch.  It’s nothing brilliant, nothing worth showing off, but it feels good and any of it or none of it might be prep work for something more elaborate down the road.

And this effort pays off when I find myself with a little time between other activities at home too.  Instead of reading on my phone for a few minutes, I pop up into the craft room and put a little more effort into whatever is on the table.  I feel more mentally prepared for longer spans of creative time, more ready to find creative solutions to visual problems because I’ve been “thinking visual” all week.  And in some cases, I’ve been able to do the prep work of sketches or background color ahead of the larger block of creative time when I can break out the messier acrylics, inks, gesso, or gel medium.

It feels like the start of a great new journey.

What art or craft activities do you make time for each day?

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Egg dyed yarn

I was texting with Mom about Easter plans and about dyeing eggs with my kiddo and she said “With the left over dye you could dye a yarn blank.” Well that makes sense, I thought. I have dyed yarn with cake icing color and Kool aid, why not try egg dye?

Inspired by this video by ChemKnits, I felt like a cake dye would be most fun.

The yarn:

KnitPicks Bare – Sport Weight – 75% superwash Merino wool, 25% Nylon

274 yards/100 grams each

The dyes: PAAS egg dye tablets

The process:

First, egg dyeing. Can’t steal focus from kiddo’s fun.

Then, Presoak 30 minutes: 1.25 gallons water, 1.4 cups white vinegar, two 100 gram skeins

I had bought two egg kits at the store for different techniques and accessories. But we didn’t need the duplicate tablets.

I also saved some of the leftover egg dye. I figure, it’s pre-dissolved, but it’s just vinegar, water and dye.

Following ChemKnits’ idea, I jammed one and a half tablets into each cake of yarn. For the record, I think it’s 1 pellet of strawberry red plus half a pellet of pink in one, and 1 purple and half a pink in the other.

I jammed them in the middle, covering the gap with yarn. There’s a reason I picked reddish hues for the middle. I read somewhere that red dye would pick up faster into the yarn than blue. This might be crucial, because in the middle they will get less exposure to the bath and may dissolve slower. At least, that’s my thinking.

I poured some leftover, pre-dissolved stuff around the middle region of each ball and squeezed to move the dye through. (Purple on the one with the red center, blue on the one with a purple center).

Then I put them in the dye bath, and poured a blue-green leftover around the outside. Then dissolved another blue tablet and another green tablet in about a tablespoon of vinegar each (for the record, I tried just dumping them straight in the vinegar-water bath and they just weren’t dissolving, so I pulled them out and went the pure vinegar route to dissolve the tablets first).

It took forever for the dye bath to look exhausted. After about 30 minutes, I remembered from a previous food color dyeing adventure, that red colors seem to sink, and blue colors rise. The bottom of my cakes were looking pretty bare at that point. So I started flipping them over in the water every ten minutes. That helped even out the blue. But the bottom centers still looked pretty red.

After about 2.5 hours of simmering, it was nearly time for bed, so I drained them. The water in the pot was still looking bluish, but it looked pretty clear when I squeezed the cakes of yarn.

I could tell at this point that there will be bare yarn in parts of it. I suspected that there may only be thin bands of color and everything else will be blank.

Wet yarn cakes

Next I was faced with two soaking wet vinegary yarn-cakes that needed to be rinsed.  So I reskeined them with a niddy-noddy… while wet.  Kind of yucky.  But eventually that unpleasantness was over, I tied off the skeins at intervals and rinsed them carefully but thoroughly with cool water.

Once dried, this was the result.

Yarn speckled blue and purple

Finished egg-dye-tablet-dyed yarn

I don’t think there are any completely bare sections, everything has at least a tad of dye on it, and it has a somewhat speckled effect which is popular at the moment.  I’m pleased with the saturation of the colors in the sections that did dye, but a bit disappointed that less area was hit by dye than I’d hoped.  Like a long-change or gradient dye technique, there are definite zones to this yarn where the outer edge is one color and then inner edge looks different.  I gifted one skein and I’ll probably use the other one for a shawlette or a cowl.

I guess I’ll put these techniques in the back of my mind.  This would be really cool for an overdye on yarn that already had some color to it.  It was nice to prove to myself that even with my busy life I can squeeze in enough time for a quick and easy dye project now.  Kiddo is getting older and needs less constant attention which is allowing me to get more crafting done.

For my next dyeing adventure, I’m going to a real-live in-person dye class with my Mom in about a month that is specifically about long-change gradient dyeing.

Until next time, keep those dye-pots bubbling!

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Definition of artist

I was talking about card-making recently and someone asked me if I was an artist because they knew someone who made beautiful watercolor cards.  I quickly said “no, I’m not an artist” and then paused, and said “well, maybe”, and then finished lamely, just to explain the cards, “I make cute cards with paper cutouts and stamps from kits and such”.

When did I stop thinking of myself as an artist?

My best definition of artist is “a person who makes art”.  So maybe I stopped being an artist when I stopped making art.  I make time for crafts, and sometimes artistic crafts.  I am creative, I create things.  I don’t make most things from a kit, though I do like kits for notching quick handmade projects.  Do I make time for “art”?  I really don’t.  I still have ideas, but I don’t take the time to practice creating.

Art is that it’s a skill that gets rusty.  Not just the fine motor control, but the mental muscle that allows you to feel natural playing with your chosen media to get visual ideas out there.  Just knowing what makes good composition isn’t enough, practicing creating compositions is necessary to create good compositions.  Getting your hand to do what your mind’s eye envisions takes practice, practice, practice.

I’ve had lots of big ideas in the past few years, but I can’t execute because I’ve let the skills grow rusty.  My kiddo is big enough now that I can squeeze in 10 or 15 min of practice in a day while he plays, after work, before I’m completely wiped out and just want to sit on the couch.

I hereby challenge myself to an any-art-a-day.  I’m a mixed media person, so anything can count as practice, as long as I’m creating/sketching/doodling/photographing something that does not lead to a gift, memory-keeping, or other practical “craft” item.  We’ll see how this goes!  I’ve also challenged myself to a 10 min yoga per day routine.  Time to get that back on track too.

What is your definition of art?  What is your definition of craft?  Have you tried both?  Has life or an internal pendulum swung you one way or another?

To check out some of my related unravellings on the definition of art, I posted some thoughts in March of 2014.

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Is this thing still on? And updated thoughts on double pointed needles

When I started this blog I promised myself I wouldn’t make posts that made excuses for being back from a long hiatus. So I won’t. It has been about two years since my last post though, so it seems silly not to acknowledge that.

Here are some random things I have finished in that absence:

Border Socks pattern by Mary Jane Mucklestone, finished 2/18/18

My first “spinner” card

Some Stampin’ Up dies and my quirky sense of humor

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My first attempt in a really long time to do fancy decorations on a cake, February 2018

Liege Waffles from Smitten Kitchen recipe… I’m drooling just looking at the photo

Star bread from King Arthur Flour recipe… no more difficult than regular cinnamon bread, but so fancy-looking!

Holiday decorations

An experiment with my kiddo comparing leavening in pancakes:  baking soda vs yeast

Edith’s Secret, pattern by Kristen Ashbaugh-Helmreich, I added beads, finished 7/10/17

Black raspberry pie, made from black raspberries that we picked

I might even make time to talk about some of these projects along the way.  If you’re on Ravelry, you can at least see details about the knitting projects by visiting my Projects page.

Double Pointed Needles – Unravellings updated:

Waaaaaay back in May of 2009, I wrote a love note to DPNs for socks.  I lambasted the endless scooching of 2-at-a-time-magic-loop methods…  See the photo at the top of this post?  The lovely grey socks with the fair isle details?  The final iteration took over 4 years to complete – in part because of 1-at-a-time sock methods… So maybe I was wrong.  Maybe there is a place for 2-at-a-time-magic-loop methods for people like me who have too much going on in life to dedicate real time to one knitting project.

Why am I condemning the method and not just my questionable crafting-time-management?  Because with all the stops and starts of this project I would forget important details of what I did in the first sock, and my gauge would change, and, possibly worst of all, because they discontinued two of the colors of yarn in that long time (and I lost one ball for a while), I was perilously close to having to complete one sock in a totally different color.  The result of some of these hangups was that I had to rip back the second sock from half-way down the sole allllllll the way back to the cuff twice in those four years.  If I would have been doing two at a time, I would not have had some of those problems and color match issues could have been mitigated by design changes.

At first, I vowed that I’d only do 2-at-a-time socks from now on… but then my Mom got me a pair of Addi Flexi Flips, sooooooo, maybe there are more singleton socks in my future after all.  I’ll just have to solemnly swear to work on them with more dedication!  Or maybe a series of one-off socks would be appropriate, fraternal twins and such…

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Book Review – The Knitter’s Life List

Confession time:  I’m a library junkie.

Related confession:  I use my library shamelessly like a “try before you buy” service.

I order online and have other libraries send my branch all the latest (and oldest) popular pattern books, stitch books, and technique books.  Why, back when I was doing the Master Knitter Level I, I ordered the original June Hemmons Hyatt Principles of Knitting, and was able to renew it for months on end… and this was back when it was out of print and it’s secondary market value was inflated to $300+!

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I voraciously preview crafting books from the library.  So far, I haven’t done much to review the hundred or so craft books that pass through my hands every year.  Most don’t intrigue me enough to pursue past flipping through the patterns.  But today I’m going to give a review, simply because the book I found was such an interesting oddity.

During a recent rare browsing visit to the library (usually I just pick up my holds and dash), I found a book called The Knitter’s Life List.  As far as I know, a “life list” is a term from birding, in which the birder has a list of all the birds in a region, maybe listing rarity, and checks them off as they are observed in the wild.  I think it’s kind of a self-competition thing, a goal to try to catch a glimpse of the “rare whosiwhatsit bird”, and it also provides hobbyists with a point of reference when conversing with one another.  I think I went on a field trip as a kid where we were given life lists to inspire us to search the area carefully and quietly for wildlife.

And inspiration is certainly the point of The Knitter’s Life List.  The book is chock full of entertaining tidbits about our knitting hobby, the “who’s who”, and what this author feels are the big accomplishments.  The book’s chapters are organized by categories such as yarns, fibers, techniques, and types of commonly knitted objects such as scarves.  In the beginning of each chapter, there is a “life list” for the category which is subdivided into categories such as who to meet related to the category, resources to discover, knitting techniques to try or learn, and maybe other sub-categories like places to visit or “extra credit” questions.  Reading the rest of the following chapter will help explain some of the items on the life list, which give you a sense of being lead through a lesson.

On the whole, this is a fun book to get from the library.  There are lots of odd little facts, quotes from the luminaries of the current knitting world, tips and tricks, bits of history, and lists of movies or books that contain some knitting homage.  It’s fun to flip around and discover something new.  There are one-page biographies too, that offer a little more insight into some of our favorite knitters:  for example, Barbara Walker who is famous in our industry for creating some really great reference books of stitch patterns, is also an award winning author in comparative religion and a painter.  It’s nice to have a little more insight about an knitting author than the back of a book jacket might provide.

The life lists themselves have challenging and intriguing tasks and accomplishments, even for a moderately advanced knitter such as myself.  Almost every crafter ever has some area that they are more accomplished in than another.  Let’s take a look at a few from the socks section, as I’ve only ever knit about a half-dozen pairs:  “Make two socks at once on one circular needle” – done, but didn’t like it.  “Knit a sock using double-point needles” – done, definitely my preferred method.  “Knit a toe-up sock” – you know, I don’t think I actually ever tried this!  Don’t revoke my knitter’s license now!  “Knit and donate a historic Red Cross pattern.” – well, now, that’s a really cool idea that I would never have thought of!  There’s a good page and a half more to the sock list, as well as blank spaces for your own ideas.

So the lists are pretty cool, and a fun idea if you like to challenge yourself to try new things in the world of knitting.  And the rest of the chapter between each of the lists is fun and enjoyable, in kind of a knitter’s Mental Floss way.

And yet, I wouldn’t really want to own this book.

There are a few reasons why.  First, I don’t enjoy writing in books.  Obviously, I didn’t write in the library’s book!  But in general, I dislike the concept of writing in a book like this. It feels like a regular, bound book, with semi-glossy pages, and the kind of book one is not supposed to write in.  I don’t even think the page texture will take a mark very well, and would probably get kind of smeary if you used pen.  Although again, library book – I didn’t actually try.  If it was spiral bound or something though, and they had the list section with a different page texture, maybe I would feel more “invited” to write.  Semi-glossy, soft-bound, 320 page books do not feel like an inviting medium in which to work on a list.

Then let’s talk about this layout a bit.  While I’m skimming along through the chapters, it is nice that there is a list and then information that explains the stuff on the list, but this isn’t a great layout for returning to reference a specific fact or list. I’m not going to flip through an entire book every time I want to see if I’ve accomplished something I can check off.  A discrete list, reprinted at the back might solve the problem.  Better yet, a discrete list reprinted at the back with perforations so I can tear out the list and carry it around in my knitting bag might be better.  Or even maybe, like the textbooks do it, a one-time use code that leads me to a code-locked website where I can download and print a personal copy.  Or a downloadable PDF I can keep on my phone for reference when I’m at a class or guild meeting.  But no, it’s like this book invites you to enjoy it’s list and then mocks you for wanting to check things off.  Indulge my hyperbole, if you would please, it’s fun to pretend to be a book critic for a moment.

So, I’m not running out to buy my own copy, but I did find The Knitter’s Life List to be inspiring and entertaining.  If you see it at the library, check it out!  And I think I’ll use it as a jumping off point to create my own “life list” of crafting accomplishments and techniques I want to learn as a challenge to myself.  But, I think for mine, I’m going to use Wunderlist or something, so that I can carry my list around wherever I go.  Digital is a very good medium for lists.

What about you?  Do you have a list of knitting accomplishments that you want to try or master?  Would you keep a list for yourself to challenge yourself, or would you rather learn new things as they come up in service of a particular pattern or class?

Until next time, keep your needles clicking…

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Why doesn’t my knitting machine work?

While it is frustrating not to have objects behave as expected, I also find that this can be a very fun challenge.  Asking myself ‘why doesn’t my knitting machine work?’ is an invitation to better understanding all the little brushes, switches, flappers, and levers that are interacting between the machine bed and the carriage.  Non-electronic knitting machines are (presumably) a solvable equation.  If it doesn’t work, there is almost certainly something you can fix about it (although it might require replacement parts up to and including a whole ‘spare parts’ machine).  No advanced degree in machine knittery or rocket science required.

But mechanical aptitude and willingness to experiment are valuable attributes.  I will point out that I’m far more apt to experiment on the knitting machine than other types of things around the house.  Our furnace, for example, is temporarily knocked out and while we have opened it up and adjusted and cleaned some things to temporary good effect, I am quite ready to have a professional look at that dangerous and integral system.  See?  After staring at the guts of my furnace and all it’s gas and electrocution hazards, knitting machine repair seems like quite a soothing hobby!  The worst the knitting machine can do to me is snag my yarn and suck away my time.  It’s all about perspective.

Since I have 3 machines in my home that require some TLC and trouble-shooting, I think it’s time I develop a process.

Here’s my first few steps in assessing the “health” of a new-to-me knitting machine, (and I expect this process to evolve with practice):

  1. Check for really obvious missing parts (refer to manual for what should be present), look for bent/broken needles.  Try running the knitting carriage back and forth a few times.  If all goes well, no carriage jamming, move on to step 2.  If carriage jamming, skip ahead to step 4, Trouble shooting.
  2. Basic cleaning and lubrication – this means brushing needle beds and carriage with a medium-firm brush, removing excess lint, and rubbing everything with a soft cloth that has knitting machine oil on it.
  3. Check the sponge bar – if it has a sponge bar.  Disintegrating or permanently squished sponge bars are a really common problem in used knitting machines.  It’s an easy, relatively cheap part to replace.  I have read elsewhere that if the spongy part sits less than 3/8″ above the metal part, you should replace it.
  4. Try to knit a basic sample per machine manual instructions.  If that succeeds, great!  Move on to a test of the punch card operations, and then the lace carriage (if applicable).  If knitting a basic sample fails, move on to trouble-shooting mode.
  5. Trouble shooting mode.  From here, I want a flow chart…  but until I develop one, here is a nice chart on Needles of Steel for Troubleshooting tips.

So far, I have one machine (the KH 881) that won’t close stitches and I’m hoping it’s the sponge bar because I just ordered one for it, and the other machines (the bulky and the KH 800) are knitting the basics fine but may have other issues.

I’m also hoping to try Jack’s cleaning method, from The Answer Lady Knits & Ask Jack video series.  I watched a bunch of the videos while I was home sick one day last week.  It was kind of like listening to the Click & Clack of knitting machines.  The two people have a great rapport and cover a lot of really useful material about how to clean, test and repair knitting machines.  So far though, I haven’t noticed a video that covers a starting troubleshooting process for the beginner, which is why I want to develop my own process.

Also, it might be worth noting that, if you don’t feel you have the wherewithal to troubleshoot and repair your own knitting machine, people like Jack or others can be paid to service your machine.

Until next time… keep those needle beds zipping!

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A little history of knitting machines

I started writing a “page” to tell a little bit about knitting machines, and I got on such a roll that I decided it needed to be a separate post.  I hope to come back and update this some day with real research from real books, but for now, here are some tantalizing bits of knitting machine history gleaned from around the internet.

Knitting machine history:

Human beings have a long history of creating fabric with various tools.  If we loosely define a knit as a stretchy fabric made of loops, then early examples of non-needle knitting included peg knitting which is similar to today’s loom knitting and spool knitting, which appear to both date back to the Renaissance, if not the Middle Ages.  I need to do more research to see if I can find references earlier than that or specific dates.  The first more mechanized instrument seems to be the stocking loom that was said to have been shown to Queen Elizabeth I, who was said to have rejected it with the prescient fear that it would displace the nation’s hand-knitters (although some of this story may be apocryphal)… which it much later did causing social unrest (this is what the Luddite Machine Breakers were actually concerned with – it was a labor protest regarding knitting and other textile machines in industry).

A more modern, horizontal board of latches version of the knitting machine came at the close of the nineteenth century.  Followed by Japanese and European (Passap) machines for home use in the 1920’s and 1930’s respectively.  See the KnitTree for more details on that history.

The “modern” vintage knitting on a knitting machine is kind of like weaving on a loom except latch-hooks make a knit stitch by pulling in and out when you crank a carriage across.  A knitting machine may be electronic, but most are not.  The machine may require hand-manipulation of every stitch that is not intended to be plain stockinette as well as hand-manipulated increases and decreases.  Some machines have patterning options, the most popular being the punch card reader – I had an early 12-stitch punch card machine from 1971, but most are 24-stitch punch card readers.  The punch card reader works by engaging and disengaging the needles in a sequence defined by the holes in a plastic card.  This allows the creation of fair isle patterns with multiple colors, as well as tuck or lace textures depending on the other accessories of the particular machine.

Knitting machines were marketed to housewives in the late 40’s through the 60’s, and home fashionistas(?) in the 70’s and 80’s (the disparity between the 80’s poshness of the models in the beginning of this marketing video and the prim and bespectacled lady in who demonstrates the machine may say a lot about the decline in success of these machines). Knitting machines seem to have had a last gasp of niche hobby popularity in the 1990’s and have been slowly dwindling out of the mainstream of the textile hobby ever since.

The last magazines to print regular patterns and columns on machine knitting seem to have closed their doors in the early 2000’s and the major brands of knitting machines have stopped manufacturing too (Brother, Toyota and Passap are done, and I think Silver Reed/Studio/Singer ended production around 2012).  One knitting machine brand that MAY still be currently manufactured as of this writing (2015) is the Artisan.  The other, is of course, the readily available Bond, which can be found at many big-box stores including Joann Fabrics.  The Bond is something of a different animal, however, as it has a modular board and a very different style of cast-on, but it is most certainly a knitting machine of the flat-bed latch-hooking variety.  I think the Bond deserves it’s own whole post, however.

One last fun link – this lady seems to be, like me, enamored of the whole knitting machine phenomenon and determined to house every machine she can find in a “knitting machine museum”.  I don’t think my husband will let me store many more knitting machines in our small house, so please enjoy her website instead.