Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making a felted hat

As part of my attempt to upgrade my wardrobe, I've mentioned I've been pinning a lot of items to my Pinterest "style" page. I found Amy Ward's millinery via the Martha Stewart's 2013 'Made in America' design awards, and in particular I really like (and pinned) this little number (in her spring/summer collection):

I wanted a hat from her, but I wanted something for fall. I got in touch with her to see if she made autumn/winter hats. She politely declined, saying she only really likes working with straw.

But now I really wanted a hat! It occurred to me that I could make my own. What's my go-to method? Knitting, of course. I sewed some hats many years ago, but I felt they came out homemade-looking. A felted hat, though: That can look really sharp!

I've done several felting projects in the past. I've made felted animals, mostly, but also shoes and a Dallas Cowboys potholder (a gift for a friend). And felting is FUN! There are several methods, but the way I've done it is to knit an item in an enlarged size, then wash it in a little soap and very hot water. You need to keep agitating it for a long time, several cycles on a typical washing machine, so a home machine is more convenient than a quarter-fed one. But I've done it in the laundry room of my apartment building before I had my own.

I found a good pattern on Ravelry, the Vivian hat by Lisa Cruse. The yarn I spun from Icelandic lamb and alpaca fiber that I carded together. (It took forever to card the amount I spun for this project and there was still a lot left. I sent the rest off to a mill that handles small amounts to card for me, as I just couldn't face trying to complete it myself.) Sadly, I ran out of yarn once I passed the crown of the hat ... but it's black! So I pulled some other worsted yarn out of my stash and finished with that. It took two days to knit - these go fast because the needles are so big (10-1/2's). Here's the floppy completed knit, prior to felting:

The different blacks are pretty obvious here, but I suspect they will be less detectable once it's felted.

I threw it in the washer with a little Eucalan (though Dove dishwashing detergent is mild enough and works very well too) and ran it for about 30 minutes. When you do this, you will take it out and look at it and it will have done nothing for about 22 of those minutes. Then suddenly it starts to contract and thicken. At this point it's important to check it more often, to make sure it doesn't go too far. I have read claims of stretching out a shrunken wool sweater, but I don't believe them. Once wool has felted, there's no going back.

Once I got it shrunk to what I think is enough (it wasn't like I could try it on since it was wet), I took it out and blocked it. Finding the right object to put inside it to block it was hard, too. Many real milliners carve their own blocks! For this pattern, which has a slight Mad Hatter quality to it (wider at the top than around the head), you can't use a straight cylinder; you need an upside down conical shape. I finally found a trash can that was wider at the top than at the base and put the hat on it. I worked the shape of it into how I wanted it, and then I left it alone in the sink to dry.
[This was very hard to capture in a photo, since the hat is so black, and even flash didn't really bring out much detail. In the picture on the left, I upped the brightness in "postprocessing" (i.e., using iPhoto), which makes it look like the hat is floating in a sea of white. In the one on the right, you can just see the bottom of the can that is supporting the hat.]

Something interesting is how furry it is now. The felting process seems to have affected the fibers in the yarn differently. I don't know if the alpaca felted more than the Icelandic or vice versa? Another possibility is that there are lots of very short fibers in the yarn and those may be what are standing out. There's a definite fuzzy quality to the hat now. Adam asked how I planned to get rid of the furriness, and I said "shave it," mostly in jest but sort of, maybe, considering doing it. I'd be happy to hear any suggestions you may have about how to deal with the fuzz. Otherwise I will need a big fur coat and some platform shoes to go with the hat.

Next up is a trip to M&A Trimming to get the perfect ribbon to adorn it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spoonflower product test

Recently I fell in love with a shirt I saw on Pinterest.

It reminds me of several beloved shirts I have had over the years that have all fallen apart after years of use. It's simple and probably very comfortable. I also really like the combination of gray and cream in the stripes, which seems very new and modern to me.

It is also, unfortunately, priced at ¥29400, or about $300.

So my first thought was, okay, I can buy similar fabric, and sew my own. I have amassed a good set of online fabric store links over the past few years, and I visited them all in search of a good match for this fabric. To absolutely no avail. And I'm embarrassed to say I stayed stuck in this frustrated failure to find a good fabric - I think knit is probably more appropriate but I would have accepted woven - for more than a month. Then I remembered Spoonflower!

If you don't know about Spoonflower, and you are a sewer, you need to check this service out. There are others (e.g., Fabric On Demand), but they don't work the same way, and they don't provide the same access to other designers in addition to printing your designs. You can have your own fabric, wallpaper, removable decals, and wrapping paper printed, or you can buy fabric with designs by other people, selecting from a huge and amazingly varied catalog of patterns and pictures.

the simplest jpeg ever
I'm not good at drawing. Though I am expert at many crafts and I majored in sculpture and painting in college, I suck at drawing cute designs and patterns. But I've been sewing my whole life, so when Spoonflower came out in beta, I enthusiastically joined up as soon as I could get in. I created a design, but it wasn't especially good, and I'm not going to show it around. I would certainly never claim to be a fabric designer, even a little. But even I thought that creating a jpeg file of two-color stripes was easy. The instructions on Spoonflower are very clear and remarkably non-stringent, especially compared to other custom product makers that require super high definition files of exact sizes and whatnot. I created a 4"x4" square picture with 1/2" stripes, and I wasn't even especially careful about the colors I chose, figuring I'd see how they come out in the samples and adjust if necessary.

the samples from Spoonflower
It did take a somewhat long time for the samples to arrive. I ordered them on Sept 30 and they only just arrived on Oct 17. That's a bit long in this Amazon era of instant delivery. But on the other hand, I'm getting the exact fabric I pictured in my head, and that's worth having to wait a little while. I chose two knit fabrics to test, because I didn't know what they were like "in person," and while I was at it I also bought a giant full color display and a set of fabric samples. This is not the first time I've ordered fabric from Spoonflower, and it certainly won't be the last, so I figured it was a good time to get a set of samples.

I got test prints of the organic cotton interlock knit and the performance polyester knit. In the photo there, the poly is on the right. I prefer how the colors came out on the cotton, as well as its somewhat sturdier drape. The one disadvantage of buying a stripe printed on fabric rather than dyed into it, is that the reverse side is quite obvious. I can live with that. I'm going to order the organic cotton.

They have a whole bunch of cloth selections to choose from, depending on your use. Are you a quilter? You will no doubt enjoy the Kona© cotton quilting weight. If you want to sew a blouse, the cotton voile or the silk crèpe de chine would serve admirably. (I've used the voile, aka lawn, and it's nice, though slightly sheer.) You can re-cover a stuffed chair with the linen-cotton canvas. There are lots of options!

One last note: Spoonflower has (sadly) not paid me for this post. The opinions expressed here are 100% my own and are absolutely sincere. My only wish is that I had thought to invent Spoonflower myself.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Portland trip!

I have a group of close friends from college, most of whom moved to NYC right after school, as did I. But eventually everybody moved away to other cities. Dana moved to Chicago and married Jim. Jena moved back to San Diego and married Robert. Vicki moved to DC and married Roger. And Rosa moved back to the Boston area and married Mark. Fred lived a bunch of places on several continents, and somewhere in there he married the wonderful Jacqui, and eventually they ended up in Portland. I could tell a lot of stories about this group but I'll confine my intro thus. Given our diaspora, we began to have a mini reunion every year or two.

This year we chose to go to Portland. I've never been there, but I've seen every episode of Portlandia and have long wanted to see this city. The reunion was this past weekend. I found Portland just as lovely and quirky and homey as you would expect.

I have collected a bunch of Portland-related links and blog posts over the past few years. In preparation for the trip, I grabbed them all and made a map:

View places in portland OR in a full screen map

I made it to precisely six of the above places I aimed at, but it was a lovely weekend and I'm not sorry for the choices made.

Just waiting for the elevator is lovely
On Friday Adam and I landed in PDX at about 10:30 am. We came into the city using the MAX (train system) and checked into our hotel, The Nines. I loved this hotel! It's decorated so beautifully, in wonderful colors, which days into the trip still gave me delight. Black, taupe, silver, and Tiffany-box blue. I took a few pictures but they didn't do it justice. I have to say the bed was uncomfortable. Although Adam found it fine, my back was destroyed by it. But in comparison to our Tempur-Pedic, nothing is worthy.

Jacqui and her wonderful daughter Phoebe took us to a real Portland coffee place. Then we went back and met up with Dana and Jim in the hotel's lovely lobby. We hung out there for a while talking and catching up. Eventually Jacqui left to take Phoebe to a synchronized swim practice, and we went up to the bar on the top floor, Departures. This turned out to be a glossy, highly stylized take on a yacht cabin, complete with navigation maps covering the walls and captain's chairs around the bar. Soon enough the rest of our reunion gang showed up.

Once we were all convened we went out to find a brewpub for some dinner. The first place we went, Cascade Brewing Barrel House, was kind of a drag, super packed with youths and a bit generic and a long wait. It was just chilly enough not to be able to sit outside.

So we left there and drove out to McMenamins Kennedy School, a converted elementary school in NE Portland that has been, to put it mildly, renovated. It now contains a hotel, a theater, a brewery, a soaking pool, several themed bars and restaurants. It is an entertainment complex by and for strange and quirky people. It was just amazing and delightful. There was art covering the walls of the hallways and the bathrooms and the restaurants and the bars. There were loads of funky lights and murals and door decorations and signs and every creative thing you can think of. I was blown away. It was very nearly a creative overload. We had to wait for a table there, too, but it wasn't a hardship as there was lots of room and stuff to look at. I was pretty tired by this time - it was already about 9:30 pm when we got there (12:30am Eastern time) - and all I could do was gaze about me in wonder.
Two of the many attractions at
McMenamins Kennedy School
Adam and I went exploring and found all kinds of fantastic nooks and crannies. In the back yard of the main restaurant they had a wonderful terra cotta fireplace, at least 8 ft long by 5 ft wide by 15 ft high, covered with mosaics. Further along in the yard there was another open fire pit with a blaze going and a fiery warming station. And sculpture all around. The food was good, although I was too tired to appreciate it. I urge people to check the place out for the decorations and the creative juices it will get flowing in them. It made me want to come home and make art, the bigger the better. It made Adam want to build us our own giant fireplace outside, and I do hope he does!
A map of McMenamins!

After that we headed back to our hotel and crashed. I really was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. I woke up at 6:00 (ET 9:00), but since I'm adept at going back to sleep on a weekend at that time, I knew I could soldier on back to sleep. So I did and got 3 more hours and more or less set myself on Pac time.

We went to breakfast with Dana and Jim at one of the hotel restaurants, Urban Farmer. It was fantastic! Jim reckoned it the best breakfast he'd ever had. They began by bringing us a mini loaf of hot zucchini bread and grated chocolate over it at the table. So amazing. Then we got our breakfasts. I adored my french toast, which came with these nuggets of blended dairy butter and peanut butter and blueberry compote. I didn't even notice what other people had but we all scarfed it up.

After breakfast some of us went to the Saturday Market, a craft fair down by the river. I bought some hand balm and a CD by 9Swords, a musical duo who were busking and were really good. We were agog at the bass player's duct tape repairs to his flannel shirt. I felt pretty touristy when I asked if I could take their picture!

Tiny twig dam at the Japanese Garden
Next we headed out for the Portland Japanese Garden. This was as lovely as you might expect. Though not quite as tranquil. It was fairly crowded, both with throngs of photographers with tripods, and clusters of sightseers joking about how the caretakers could ever rake the gravel without leaving footprints. It was impossible to be alone with the scenery there, so I can't really report having had a serene and contemplative experience. I wish. But they had all kinds of amazing little details, like tiny dams along the side of the path hand woven out of twigs, and about a hundred types of moss, which I really love, and the trees changing colors in all their autumn glory.

Pano photo of the Flat Garden
After the Japanese Garden we went to Powell's Books, which Jacqui really wanted us to see. I only wish I'd had more time in it. I was looking in the crafts section and found a note in the knitting books area that Clara Parkes - blogger, luminary of the yarn world, and founder of Knitter's Review - was speaking there at 4 pm. I looked at the time; it was 4:09! So I headed quickly up to the third floor, Pearl Room, and heard a bit of her talk. The story she was telling when I got there was one I'd already read online in her project The Great White Bale, so I went nosing about the stacks. I found an interesting book on Greene & Greene (architects and furniture designers), but it was a bit on the heavy side and I didn't fancy shlepping it back in my luggage. I went down to the Gold Room, where they have the sci fi section, seeking Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites, but it's hard to find and they had no copies. So I ended up not buying anything, which Adam had decreed anyway (I am to buy no more books, supposedly, now that we have Kindles) so he was happy.

Beast menu
After Powell's, people did various things, wandering and napping and shopping. We had a reservation for dinner at Beast, one of those restaurants that has "seatings," providing a six-course prix-fixe dinner with menu determined by what they find in the markets. Here is what we were served; see menu: ------>
It was transporting, as expected. That was all we were able to do on Saturday. I think Beast consumed us, rather than the reverse.

On Sunday we had a firm plan to meet up early to go to breakfast at Meriwether's. This was, if possible, even better than the breakfast the previous morning. At least mine was: I had a Dutch Baby lemon skillet pancake, which is a kind of custard-bottomed lightly sweet pancake, baked and served in a small iron skillet. My friends reported delighting in their choices as well, though I was pretty focused on my own amazing meal to examine others' choices.

After we ate I pushed everybody to set a date for the next meetup. Dana and Jim were leaving after breakfast and I wanted to get everyone to discuss it in person. [In the past, we've typically done this over email; it's a giant pain getting everybody to reply to the email, much less commit early to a date. If the date is in one's calendar already, however, when one is planning things for the fall of 2014, for example, then one may be less likely to accept another event during that time.] So despite pushback from Dana, who protested it was way too early to think about it, I referenced advice from her husband Jim, who had said to pick a date and just stick to it. And when he chimed in with, "You should just say, Columbus day weekend next year," everybody else fell into agreement. I was delighted. I told them, these mini-reunions are a highlight of my year! I love seeing all these people so much. I get to see them far too rarely. After agreement was reached, Jim said, "And now, Barclay, when you get back, you send everybody an Outlook invite!" (Which I did today.)

After lunch Fred took Jim and Dana and Jena and Robert to the airport. Jacqui took the rest of us back to the hotel. Adam took a nap, and I went out in search of one or two of the craft destinations I had been planning to visit. It turned out that the Button Emporium was closed. What a bummer - from what I could see through the window it looked like my kind of shop indeed. But I did go to Knit Purl. I had read about them on the Juniper Moon Farm blog; they were a stop on JMF's yarn tour earlier this year. KP has its own new yarn line, containing one yarn so far but a doozy, a lovely thick cashmere. I bought a skein and they gave me a free pattern as well for a scarf they had a sample of in the shop.

Jacqui surprised us by inviting Adam and me to go with Phoebe to the Portland Timbers game on Sunday night! We were totally excited to get to go. I absolutely love that kid and we were delighted to be at the game with her. It was super fun. It was a big deal of a game, in which they beat the Seattle Sounders to take first place in their division. We sat in the North End, where they have booster club volunteers to pump up the crowd and lead sheers. They even pass out a cheat sheet with all the words. I put a couple of videos on Instagram, including one of the crowd right after Portland scored the only goal of the night! (Warning: it autoplays, in case you're at work.)

After the game, the three of us took a streetcar (their public transportation is absolutely delightful) to our hosts' home and had a light supper with Vicki and Roger and Fred and Jacqui and their kids. Their apartment is large and full of family and love. It was great to get to see it and them in it.

I love these college buddies so much and it was great to see them.

Next year in Austin, maybe, or Boston, or ... well, we'll figure it out. But at least we know when it'll be!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New dress from Ivey Abitz!

I've been trying to work on my style, and I started adding things to my Pinterest style page that I would like to integrate into how I dress. Then I started trying to move in that direction. I sewed an overcoat type thing that was definitely influenced by Ivey Abitz, but it's a little on the snug side regrettably so I'll have to wait to wear it. Or wear it only over a tank top.

Then I bought something inexpensive - too inexpensive - on Etsy that came from China. I felt weird about it. Knowing it was way too cheap, especially on the heels of sewing my own similar item, I had visions of a sweatshop somewhere and me contributing to keeping people chained to sewing machines. I hope that is not what is happening. But I can tell you you do get what you pay for; in this case, the thing arrived with chalk marks still on it, on the outside no less, with a weird lace-up thing in the sleeves that was cleverly hidden from view in the Etsy listing, and a top button that popped off the first time I tried to put it on a hanger.

After much consideration, biting of lip, and coveting, I decided to take the plunge and I bought a real Ivey Abitz garment. If you aren't familiar with her designs, she is very rooted in oldie fashionedie influences, but if you sprinkle them in with modern day clothes, it can be a very nice effect. Sprinkling is required as they are expensive.

It took a while for it to arrive (5 weeks). But when it did, it was worth an actual unboxing! It began with a hand written and flourish-graced thank you note atop sculpted tissue paper packing material, and the box with the dress inside nestled in more tissue packing:

The dress - an apron, almost, or frock - is a little wrinkled in these photos but very nicely made. I need to iron it a bit before wearing. It's a little heavy for this resurgent summer weather we're having this October, but if we ever get cold temps again, I'll definitely break it out and give it a lot of wear.

I don't know what is up with that weird pose I'm sporting. Also, my husband will freely admit he is a very reluctant, lazy, and thus terrible photographer. I need to work out a better solution for taking blog photos - perhaps I'll have to break out the tripod and do it myself.