Making it Easier – January

In my summary of craft for 2023 I noted that I seemed to get into a culling frame of mind after getting Covid, but when I think back, I reckon the urge was already simmering in the background. It started after Mum went into care, but not in a ‘you can’t take it when you go’ sort of way. Instead it was in reaction to seeing how bad Dad’s hoarding was getting. I know when he passes away I’m going to have a lot of stuff to get rid of, but I’ll want to keep some things too so I feel the need to ‘make room’ at home to make those decisions easier.

So I tried again to pass on the Passap, and this time was successful thanks to a very helpful person at the Machine Knitters Association. Honestly, I was almost as excited to find it a good home as I was when I bought it, ten years ago. Our ironing board now occupies the space. Not particularly exciting, but I am sewing more often now and it’s been set up in one room or another, always in the way, for most of the last few months. Now it has a permanent home, and that makes one small part of domestic life easier. It even led to Paul ironing the button bands of his shirts!

In non-crafty areas of the house… well, this is the tenth year we’ve been here and our usage of the house has changed quite a bit. When we first moved in we had big parties. Our friends had young kids, and people often stayed over. Now our friends are exhausted from wrangling teens and ageing parents simultaneously, and for the first time nobody stayed over on NYE. So in the days after, I culled a lot of things related to entertaining that are too much trouble, we don’t use now or we are just tired of.

More recently, we watched The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning on tv, then I read the book, which were fun and enlightening. The tv show takes the concept much further than the book, especially in regard to my new favourite term “reverse robbery”. Since I don’t have kids or nieces/nephews, if I die it’s going to fall to friends or even a stranger to sort out my possessions and I’d rather they didn’t have a huge mess to clean up. And since we do plan to downsize eventually, it’d be less of a shock if we don’t have to cut back our possessions all at once.

Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway.

I hesitated to add ‘January’ to this blog post title. It makes it feel like I’m setting myself a challenge to do at least one thing to make life easier each month, which actually makes life harder. My intention is just to remind myself of this year’s motto at the end of each month, and note any new ideas I’ve implemented.

The Granny Square Jumper

When I cleared out and assessed my yarn stash last year, I put aside some 8ply/dk yarn in greens and purples with some kind of crochet granny square garment in mind. The mix skewed a bit dark and green, so when I found some mauve yarn in an op shop a few days later I knew it was what was needed to brighten the colour scheme.

Patterns I’d considered included several granny squares made into a jacket or a jumper in the usual grid, the same but joined at a 45 degree angle, a jumper with one really big square each for the front and back, and two hexagons that could be folded up to make one half of a body and sleeve in each piece.

While the multiple squares versions had a traditional appeal, by the time I’d crocheted a square using all the yarns it was much bigger than required for the multi-square garments. It looked good, and the thought of the sewing together of squares didn’t appeal – probably due to subconscious memories of the pin loom blanket. If I just continued on enlarging the square I’d soon have a front, so I decided to do the square-for-front-and-back design.

I didn’t use a pattern, figuring I’d just crochet until the square was big enough for a front, then repeat for the back. Being the perfectionist I am, I decided I wanted both sides to match and that wouldn’t be possible if I ran out of one of the yearns, so I began crocheting both at the same time. Then I noted that the sleeves in one of the patterns I liked are also big squares, so I started those and had four squares going at once.

When the sleeve squares reached the right size for my arms, I put them aside and I continued on with the front and back. Then when the front and back were big enough I decided I wanted the sleeves to end on the same colour, so I added some more rounds. Then I joined everything with a join-as-you-go method, which is something I’ve not tried before. It was a nice surprise to find that the sleeves are the perfect length. The only extra crocheting I did was a single round of granny clusters around the neckline.

I really enjoyed making this jumper and I wish it was cold enough in Melbourne to wear it. The bigger the rounds got the longer they took, which I didn’t mind. I only had trouble making myself stop so my hands didn’t get sore. I’m now ready to try turning the UK trip scarf yarn into a garment.

Indigo Interlude

After a week on which I sewed every day, and spend a lovely Saturday afternoon at a friend’s Sewing Day & Pizza Night, I decided that on the Sunday I’d take a break from sewing and relax.

Well, I did take a break from sewing, but I didn’t manage to relax. When I considered what I could do instead of sewing I remembered something I’d been meaning to do for nearly a year now. Last year I made an attempt at starting an indigo vat with ripe bananas and failed dismally, so I ordered fructose and hydrated lime in order to try that recipe. It was time to give it a go.

This time the vat seems to have worked. It’s not particularly strong – I chose the ‘medium blue’ recipe because I only had 32 grams of indigo powder left but only got a light blue. My aim was to only shift colour with over-dying and the vat was dark enough to achieve that.

I started with some over dye test strips I made during the Maiwa class, in module 7. They got two dips. The result was interesting in that the indigo moved the red dyes toward purple but the yellow dyes didn’t change to green. I still went ahead and dyed the bigger piece later, but doing only one dip. I’m glad I did because the result is lovely! The background is a light blue and the leaves now range from yellowy green to olive.

The next was Dusk, a big jumper I’d machine knit by adapting the Weekender pattern. The yarn had been through two dyeing sessions previously: first a failed eucalyptus dye, then over-dyeing with some leftover old wool dyes. It was mauve with orange bits.

I’d made a hat in the same yarn on the Addi circular knitting machine, too, and there were three more skeins of yarn. They all had two dips in the indigo, and are now a coolish grey. I also popped a skein of sock yarn in. It was an unappealing mix of browns, and turned a much nicer blue-brown.

(I have to add: the above post-dye photos aren’t the best. The light here has been terrible for project photography lately, which is usually only a problem in winter.)

The indigo dyeing took up most of the day and most of my energy. So much for a restful Sunday! But I managed a successful indigo vat, improved some pieces of clothing, yarn and fabric, and had a nice break from sewing.

The Rainbow Cat Quilt – Part One

At last I got to the quilt that had inspired me to return to making quilts. As with the previous two, I started by ironing the strips then laying them on my cutting board to see if they were straight and the correct width. Unfortunately, the answer was pretty much ‘no’ to both. I think by the time I cut them, during lockdown back in 2020, I was well tired of making strips. Or maybe the cutting machine was getting blunt. Either way, they were very wonky.

So when I saw a video showing how to sew strips on a 45 degree angle onto squares of paper, I realised it was the perfect method for this quilt. With this technique it doesn’t matter if the strips are of different widths or are a bit crooked. You just sew each strip down and fold it flat, and the wonkiness gets hidden in the seams.

However, I essentially had only two fabrics. One was the stripe, cut in two directions, and the other was the cat faces. What I needed was another fabric so I could vary the order of the fabrics. Preferably purple since there wasn’t any of that colour in the stripe fabric (and you don’t have a full rainbow without purple!). Even better if it had cats on it. And if I was going to buy fabric I may as well make it the backing fabric, too.

So I went shopping. No luck getting purple cats. I could get plain purple at Spotlight, but there wasn’t enough left for backing. I found a nice purply-blue fabric with multicolour ovals on it at a patchwork shop, but there wasn’t enough of that either. Hunting on the internet when I got home, I found another Spotlight store had white fabric with multicoloured dots on it and decided to go get it the next day to use as the backing fabric – and if it wouldn’t work on the front I’d get a little bit of plain purple to use for that.

The next morning I remembered that box of leftover strips from projects I’d woven and sewn, so I decided to have a dig around to see if there were any purple strips in it. And what did I find?

Purple fabric with cats on it.

Seriously.

The Snakes & Ladders Quilt

The second and larger batch of wiggly stripe fabric was a mix of red, blue, black and green, and had been cut both vertically and horizontally. I also had a good sized piece of uncut fabric to play with. I took inspiration from a video showing ways to use striped fabric in blocks to find a design that looked good. Though I tried a few plain colours mixed in with the fabric, in the end I decided I liked it all made from the same fabric.

I started as I had with the Cat Quilt, pairing up the already cut strips – one vertical, one horizontal. Then I considered what length to cut them to use most of the fabric. This time I had two lengths that worked, so I embraced that and made columns of alternating widths. The columns were separated with one long strip.

I like how the design I settled on looks like ladders. It was a pity, I thought, that I’d already used serpentine stitch for the top stitching of the last quilt. When I looked at the next stitch in the list, it was also very snake-like:

So that’s what inspired the name of the quilt.

For the backing and binding I used the fabric I’d set aside for the Aqua Quilt leftovers. It turned out to have a small rip in it, but I was able to use it for this quilt instead.

The Snakes & Ladders quilt is a bit small for a couch blanket and too big for a cat quilt, but makes a generous lap rug. By the time I’d finished it, I had already done a test block for the next quilt – the Rainbow Cat Quilt. Now that one is going to be fun!

The Cat Lap Quilt

With the Blue Quilt and Aqua Quilt leftovers packed away until I figured out what I wanted to do with them, I was free to go back to sewing clothing. So what did I do?

Given some time, I came to the conclusion that while I hadn’t liked the quilt making as much fun as I’d hoped, I did like the result. Having a mental picture of what the finished piece might be like could be the motivation I needed. Perhaps if I kept the projects small and manageable the process would be more pleasant, too.

I got to thinking about the other batches of flannelette strips, and started watching videos of sewers making things from fabric “crumbs and threads”. Some of these had potential, and there was one particular batch of strips cut from a rainbow fabric that might make something the daughter of a friend would like. I dragged out the box and laid out the strips according to fabric.

The rainbow fabric had been cut both lengthwise and widthwise. Another fabric of cat faces went well with it. This would make a bigger piece – maybe a couch blanket.

There were two batches of colourful wiggly stripes on a white background that didn’t go well with the rainbow – but I had uncut pieces of the same fabric to work with. If I added fabric to it, the smaller batch was about the right size for a small lap rug for protecting my clothing when the cat sits in my lap of an evening – what I call a “cat quilt”. The larger batch of wiggly stripes would be something bigger but I wasn’t sure what yet.

The rest of the strips went in the box of leftovers from other projects.

I decided to work on the cat quilt first, and to test some of the things I’d learned in the videos, and some methods I hadn’t yet worked out how to do on my machine, like using a walking foot and some decorative stitches I could select. For the additional fabric I chose to use up some of the backing fabric trimmings of the Aqua Quilt. Instead of sewing strips end to end, I matched them up by length and sewed them together lengthwise. Then I worked out what length to cut everything to use up the most fabric. I made three long columns of strips, then sewed those together.

The part where I learned the most was during the quilting. Firstly, I worked out how to select the serpentine stitch on my machine.

I noticed that the curves might start going in the same direction, but they ended differently. So to prevent one side always being the same, I turned the work around every four or five rows. What I should have done was sew every other row then turn it around and sew the rest, because the drag of the machine foot from different directions made the seam of the three columns distort into a wave. I used the normal foot, so I decided I’d try the walking foot next time.

Fortunately, I like the wavy seam. It kinda goes with the topstitching. I used the rest of the wiggly stripe fabric for the backing and bias binding. Once finished, I was still keen to keep making quilts, and got stuck into the one using the other striped fabric.

Aqua Quilt Leftovers

Having realised I had as much fabric left over for the Aqua Quilt as what I started with, I decided to use up as much of that fabric as possible before sewing anything else. I had:

  1. A short bit from the end of the Aqua Quilt top, cut off because the batting was 254cm but the top was around 300.
  2. A 1.5ish metre length of the aqua flannelette I’d intended to make into bias binding.
  3. A bundle of remaining original strips.
  4. The remaining strips from Mum’s pyjamas
  5. Offcuts of the aqua flannelette backing.

I decided to make a lap blanket. The first thing I did was cut the offcut of the top in half. The new width was just right for a lap blanket… and once sewn together it would be a good length for one too. That wasn’t going to use up much leftover fabric, so I decided to make two lap blankets, using the same method as for the quilt.

I cut up most of the offcuts of plain aqua backing fabric to use as the alternating strip against the mixed, paler fabrics. Once they were all sewn together and added to the offcuts from the quilt top, I had this.

This would make a lot more than two lap blankets.

This presented a dilemma that I haven’t yet solved.

The Blue Quilt – Part One

So the blue quilt needed to be more interesting than the aqua quilt. I had an idea how to achieve that: a design that echoed the log cabin structure in weaving. For that I needed the same amount of dark blue fabric as light blue, and while I had a piece of dark blue floral fabric I’d found in an op shop that would work, I didn’t have enough of it to make the queen sized quilt I had in mind. I also had a small piece of navy flannelette I’d bought to add variety to the mix, which I decided to buy more of.

The navy worked best with patterned fabrics, the dark blue floral with plain. Lots of sewing later, I had one set of four blocks sewn together…

… and about 22 more blocks. I did some math and drew a plan, and realised I needed 99 blocks.

It was at this point I put everything aside so I could finish the Aqua Quilt by the end of the year. With that time to think, I came to the realisation that I wasn’t enjoying the process of making the Blue Quilt. And maybe even making quilts at all. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t having fun.

Life’s too short for crafts you don’t enjoy.

This dissatisfaction was compounded by the fact that I hadn’t reduced my flannelette fabric stash at all when making the Aqua Quilt. The offcuts of the backing fabric were about equal to the strips I started with. Thinking about all the fabric I had bought fabric in order to make the Blue Quilt work, I felt a sinking feeling.

I don’t wanting to waste the fabric or the work I’ve already put in, so I’ve been considering my options. I haven’t cut all of the dark floral and navy flannelette into strips yet, and I have some small batches of untouched plain light blue. I could…

  1. Use the blocks I’ve already made to construct a small piece, like a lap rug
  2. Then make a pair of pyjamas with the uncut fabric, assuming there is enough
  3. Then make another strip quilt or a few small ones with the remaining strips
  4. Or try making fabric-wrapped rope baskets
  5. Or save the strips to use as stuffing
  6. Or send all the strips to fabric recycling

Whatever I do, I need to stick to my new rule of only making things I want, not just to use up stash. Trouble is, I don’t need more pyjamas, or a fabric-wrapped rope basket. But I could do with more cat quilts (small blankets for protecting my clothes and legs from claws).

Books Read in 2023

I’m so relieved I found my reading mojo again this year, after last year’s sad total of five. Going on holidays helped. There’s nothing like having only two or three free-to-air tv stations to get book covers opening. Books also got me through the difficult first seven months of the year. It’s intriguing to me that I didn’t read any traditional fantasy, instead powering through series of science fiction, horror, and modern day setting fantasy – as well as a stand-alone near-future science fiction book, a retelling of nordic myths, and an alternative feminist regency story.

No non fiction this year, which is unusual. I was reading a non-fiction book on hoarding at the start of 2023, but stopped because it was depressing me.

Leviathan Wakes James Corey 
Caliban’s War James Corey 
Abaddon’s Gate James Corey 
Cibola Burn James Corey 
Nemesis Games James Corey
The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies Alison Goodman
Babylon’s Ashes James Corey
Persepolis Rising James Corey
The Courier’s New Bicycle Kim Westwood
The Screaming Staircase Jonathan Stroud
Tiamat’s Wrath James Corey
Leviathan Falls James Corey
Between Two Thorns Emma Newman
Winter’s Gifts Ben Aaronovich
Any Other Name Emma Newman
All Is Fair Emma Newman
A Little Knowledge Emma Newman
All Good Things Emma Newman
The Whispering Skull Jonathan Stroud
The Hollow Boy Jonathan Stroud
The Gospel of Loki Joanne Harris
The Creeping Shadow Jonathan Stroud
The Empty Grave Jonathan Stroud

Motto for 2024

For the last few years I’ve come up with a motto for the coming year. Last year it was “Make it Fun”. 2022’s was “Evolve and Simplify”. 2021’s was “Be Flexible”. It doesn’t look like I had one before that, though I reckon if I’d had one for 2020 it would have been “Try Out This Retirement Thing”.

Did I manage to live by my 2023 motto? Yes, but not in the way I’d intended. It was meant to be a way to motivate myself to tackle tasks I’d been putting off. Instead it became a survival strategy. A way to find calm. Mental health maintenance.

So what about 2024? What kind of motto might carry me through the next year?

Lately I’ve been considering what a healthy amount of time and space is for each of the aspects of my life. Art. Craft. Time with Dad. Time with friends. Gardening. Especially gardening.

Mum’s move into care and death, and our growing physical limitations over the last few years, have me wanting to downsize. We love our house and don’t want to move, so I’ve been simplifying the garden and making small changes to make cleaning the house easier. Whenever there’s a physically demanding task, I try to hire someone to do it, or buy a tool that can make it easier.

Our holidays were short and domestic and fuss-free. The weaving projects I did were less slow and complex. Painting on canvas sheets rather than stretched canvasses made framing simple and inexpensive. Going out with friends for lunch rather than having to cook a big dinner was less exhausting. More simplification of the garden this year made maintenance more manageable.

I really want to make sure I continue looking for an easy way to do something, so 2024’s motto is going to be “Find An Easier Way”.