Friday, May 8, 2009

Every Day in May - expanded updates

I've been Twittering my very short Every Day in May updates so I don't forget what I do each night. While good in theory, it sure doesn't help with my goal to make a good attempt at blogging. So, today is devoted to expanding on what the Tweets mean.

May 1 - counted the Every Day in May blog post as my creative outlet for the day.

May 2 - I love knitting dishcloths and have been hooked on a simple bar pattern from the Mason Dixon knitting books. It's such a great pattern because you can easily memorize it, it looks much more difficult than it really is, and you can play with all sorts of color combos to use up bits and bobs of yarn. Over the past few weeks, I'd knitted up several of the cloths but never wove in the ends. This day was devoted to weaving in all of the ends (strangely satisfying) and then starting just one more of the dishcloths because I couldn't resist. After this cloth, I must move on.

May 3 - finished up the dishcloth. I also started on a new project - a knitted monster. I have a great knitting book that shows how to make knitted icons. Most of the patterns are for a simple knitted generic body, and then how to turn those body parts into famous actors/musicians/artists/etc. There was also a king kong pattern that looked like it could easily be made into a monster. Why am I making a monster? For a swap . . . not for me. I don't need a monster in my life. I got through quite a few of the monster parts.

May 4 - finished up the monster! Finishing meant knitting up the rest of the monster parts, weaving in yet more ends, and then assembling the monster. There were a surprising number of parts to the little guy -- the head was in three parts plus add-on ears, two parts for the body, arms, legs and also arm/leg "pads/hands". I knitted him up in blue, purple and green to go along with my swap partners likes. Overall, I think he turned out good, but not great. The experience reinforced my desire to learn how to crochet because I think the crocheted amiguramis turn out SO much cuter than knitted animals. There's one exception - I made an adorable hedgehog over the holidays, but it was a knitted animal that needed to be felted.

May 5 - I needed to take a break from the knitting, otherwise, I would have been tempted to start another one of those addictive dishcloths. I took out a cross-stitch kit I'd purchased during my last craft purchasing binge and got to work. It's a lovely pattern of three hanging herb sachets. The colors are primarily different hues of beautiful purples and greens. While watching TV (latest Biggest Loser - very emotional), I stitched up a little section of the project. I hadn't cross-stitched in a while -- been embroidering a lot more these days -- and it was fun to get back to following a pattern and making little x's all over the fabric.

May 6 - Back to knitting. I stayed away from the dishcloth, but didn't stay too far away. My other favorite Mason Dixon knitting pattern is for a hanging hand towel. I made several of these for Christmas and gave them all away. Now, I'm going to make a couple for myself. I like this pattern because parts of it are memorizable, you can play with different color combos, and it has a cute button-over top so it will hang nicely on a rack. It's mitered, so you start with 95 stitches and slowly decrease up to the top. The one pain of the pattern is that the top third of the towel is knit using two strands of yarn, not one. In the end, the reinforcement is definitely needed -- no droopy towels arounds here -- but I still haven't found a way to avoid tangling yarn.

May 7 - Made a little (14 rows) of progress on the hanging hand towel. The bottom part is a rich purple. I haven't decided what the top part will be yet. I need to evaluate the yarn situation.

Tonight and over the weekend, I'd like to get several things done --
1. Finish the hand towel
2. Start (and maybe finish) an embroidered picture to include in a swap.
3. Find all of my digital camera parts (charger, camera itself, cords) -- this is a must-do.
4. Photograph backlog of items I've recently received from others as well as some completed projects so I can post in appropriate places.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Every Day in May

French Toast Girl ( is hosting "Every Day in May" again this year and I'm thinking it may help me focus on getting stuff done.

The concept is to commit to creating something every day this month. On my end, I'm going to focus on three activities -- blogging, knitting and embroidery. I figure that, between the three categories, I will be inspired to do at least one of the three every day.

Of the three, blogging continues to be the most challenging. I'm still working out whether blogging is something that's helpful to me or weighs me down. Since I love reading so many other blogs (and reading in general) and have "write a novel" down on my all-time dream list of accomplishments, I think that mastering a blog is a reasonable goal/first step to the ultimate. The two main issues are that 1) I'll not think of writing anything down until I'm already away from the computer and/or 2) I am horrible at documenting activities by taking pictures. For some reason, I have never been fascinated by photography as a hobby. As a result, I'd always surround myself with people who do like to take pictures and are willing to send me copies (or links to digital photos these days).

Knitting and embroidery are much easier challenges. I can't bear to watch TV without something in my hands, so these are both activities that are perfect. The only issue with both past-times is that I get serious cases of startitus. I love starting new projects and end up finishing a lot of them; however, I also end up with numerous UFOs lying around the house. I'll need to monitor myself to insure that the month of May does not end with 31 UFOs. That would be quite a sight!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Strange Dreams

Throughout my life, I've been a master at mixing up people and places in my dreamworld, so it's not a surprise to me when I see an old high school friend in a new work situation. What's bugging me lately is that I'm having more and more dreams that are in school-like settings, but there is nothing school-like in my life. I finished my graduate studies years ago, don't take any recreational classes and don't teach any classes.

Last night, I can remember several school sequences and bet there were probably more that I don't remember. There was the classic dream of just realizing that I was enrolled in a class but I couldn't remember where the class was (the physical meeting place) or when I had last attended a lecture. This one always stops with me knowing that there's a test or paper due, so I'm looking all over creation for the meeting spot. I don't think I ever find the meeting.

A new dream sequence was a two-in-one that combines possible with impossible. The first scenario has me signing up for delivering some amazing amount of a crafted item (I don't remember what it was, but it was something small that could be made in multiples) in a short time span. The commitment took place in a school setting.

Next, I was presented with TONS of sheet music because I had also signed up to be an accompanist for hire for a bunch of music majors. The professor was someone familiar, yet intimidating . . . maybe someone famous. Somehow, I was supposed to know all of this music and not make a single error, even though I had just received the assignment. To make matters worse, there were these two strange boys (college age, since I thought I was also college age) that decided to sit beside me. One didn't say a word or help at all -- even when I discovered that many of the music books were actually picture books -- and the other made it very clear that he was an accomplished pianist.

The two scenarios came together when I was trying to figure out how I was going to learn all of the music perfectly so I wouldn't lose my part-time gig while at the same time honor my crafting commitments.

What's up with all of this drama? I'm not under any tight deadlines at work or in my personal life, so it's puzzling that I'm wasting so my energy in my sleep trying to sort things out.

I'm not a big dream person, but thought I'd capture these thoughts because they were a combination of old stress dreams with new dreams that take hobbies/interests and turn them into stress situations. I hope that this is not a sign that this is going to come to fruition in my real life.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Good Weekend for Projects

This weekend was another bad weather weekend here in Chicago, so I took full advantage and stayed in my condo for the vast majority of the time. Of course, seeing that VH1 was airing the complete "100 best one-hit wonders of the '80s" on Saturday afternoon helped make my decision that much easier. There were some really great songs in the countdown - especially in the final hour. I wonder if any other decade had so many one-hit wonders or if it was an '80s phenomena? I'm sure there are always one-hit wonders, but really think there were more in the '80s than then '90s. I suppose VH1 will answer my question eventually.

Anyway, on to three projects and something that stumps me.

1. Friday night dinner - Friday nights are labeled in my mind as pizza nights. I think that's common across America but could be mistaken. My label comes from two childhood memories:
-- Spending Friday night with Grandma and Grandpa. Many times, Grandma would "doctor up" those cheap Jeno's frozen pizzas with homegrown tomatoes, additional cheese and whatever else would make it better. When it was ready to serve, she would cut the pizza with kitchen scissors. I thought it was fabulous that scissors could be used in that way.
-- In junior high/high school, Friday nights at Pizza Hut, the only pizza place in town that we were allowed to frequent. There was one other -- don't recall the name -- but it was attached to a bar, so that was not an option.

Now, I really don't have pizza every Friday night, but do catch myself going to it when I can't think of a better option or am feeling nostalgic. This past Friday, I made a great semi-homemade pizza that will never have been found in Grandma's kitchen or Pizza Hut.
-- pre-made pizza crust (not Boboli, but a rival brand that's cheaper and comes two per pack)
-- Alfredo sauce (any brand will do, I selected based on price)
-- frozen chopped spinach
-- fresh sliced mushrooms
-- pre-cooked southwestern style chicken breast
-- minced onions
-- shredded Italian cheese blend (not much needed since there's an alfredo sauce below)
-- Italian seasoning
-- Red pepper flakes

It was great! It was just as good cold and for lunch the next day.

2. Tea towels - I've transferred designs onto three tea towels for a tea towel swap over on craftster and began stitching on Saturday. I have one of the designs complete and have it hanging in my living room to see whether I like the towel itself. The problem is that I'm taking a real animal but stitching it in impossible colors for it's species. I wanted to do something that appealed to my swap partners list of favorite animals as well as favorite colors. I'm glad that I started stitching now so I can live with the results for a while before deciding whether or not to send it on it's way.

3. Dishcloth - On Sunday, I didn't want to embroider two days in a row, so I knitted a quick dishcloth to get rid of some leftover cotton yarn I used to make Christmas dishcloths. I used one of my favorite patterns - the ballband dishcloth pattern from Maxon-Dixon Knitting (buy their books!) - and it didn't disappoint. I love being able to mix and match three different yarns into a cohesive dishcloth pattern.

Stumper - Sometimes, I decide to do something/sign up for something without really thinking the move through 100%. This is the case with another swap I've signed up for on craftster. It's a swap where you exchange "inchies" -- one inch squares of little art -- with a set of folks and end up with 50 inchies in the end (10 sets of 5, so 9 partners + you). I don't do papercrafts, but couldn't resist these guys because they are so cute! Now, I'm reading through the craft thread and everyone has all of this technical equipment, including paper punches that punch out perfectly sized inchies, special glues and techniques, etc.

On my end, I've purchased some black paper and have ideas to incorporate other papers, embroidery floss, yarn, and other bits and bobs to make my inchies. I'm tempted to run around looking for punches and other specialty items, but fear that I'll never use the items again (especially if I hate making these suckers!). So . . . stumper of the week is whether or not to invest in supplies or just move forward with my ideas and see what happens. I think I'll try some without buying anything else first because I do not need anymore craft/art supplies in my life at this time!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tea Towel Love

Who doesn't love a hand-embroidered tea towel? I know I do and I can't get enough of them. Growing up, I thought everyone's tea towels were all hand-embroidered. It was a long time before I found out that many people just buy towels at Target/WalMart/etc and there is no embellishing involved in the process.

I have so many Aunt Martha transfers that it's not even funny, yet I still look through the options whenever I'm in a craft/fabric store and buy any that look good. I also love to find images in Dover coloring books, on the web, or adapt ideas myself.

The latest tea towels I embroidered were for a swap over on craftster. By the time I'd finished them, I was in love with them. It was very difficult to part with the towels. I still want another set for myself.
Here are all three together (pics courtesy of my lovely swap partner, Slingmomma, because I forgot to take pics before I mailed -- a common problem of mine), plus a knitted flower. She said that she liked bright colorful patterns and loved flowers. So do I!

This one is my favorite. I love the way the flowers turned out. I used a combination of stitches - laisy daisy, satin stitch, chain stitch, backstitch, and stem stitch. The variety of stitches created a very nice texture.

The second tea towel is actually the first one I embroidered in the series. I think it's ok, but not great. I like the middle flower, especially the way I filled in the center with a sort of overlapping of stitches to create a textured basketweave effect. I'm not sure about the four outlying flowers. The main reason each on is different is that I didn't really like the way the first one turned out, so I decided to experiment with them rather than rip and re-stitch. If I did it over again, I'd make the four flowers the same and either use the upper left of bottom right flower as a guide.
The third tea towel was completed in no time because I used backstitch and long, straight stitches. I really like the clean look of the lines and the effect of using these two very simple stitches.

Now, I'm onto another set of tea towels for yet another crafter swap. I'll be keeping plans for these under wraps for a while -- just in case my swap partner wanders over here -- but look forward to sharing in the near future.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Random Friday

Today at work, I had to pack up my office because our department is switching floors. The last time I moved offices was 3-4 years ago (and I had a lot of stuff then), so I have several boxes of stuff that's making the move. I finally opened one of the boxes that moved with me the last time -- and has acted as a trust-worthy footrest on a daily basis -- today. In the entire box, I found one file folder of information that needed to be kept.
The most annoying thing I discovered was 3 mugs and 1 ziploc bag full of loose change. I hate carrying around loose change and never even try to have exact change when paying in cash, so it accumulates like crazy. I think the 3 mugs were moved into my current office during the last move, so they're moving once again. Some time next week, I need to go to a CoinStar machine and redeem the change for a gift card.

I know that I have an issue with loose change, but I really didn't think I'd find more of it today because I took ~$75 worth of change to the CoinStar just a few months ago! I truly thought all of it was out of my life. Ugh.
Twin Trees Afghan
At home, I'm working on my first knitted afghan. It's an Aran Twist tree design and the picture looks wonderful. My afghan is going to be winter white. I'm not sure if I like the green one (called sage). It's getting a little tricky keeping track of where I am in each of the design features because all of the designs are repeats at different lines. (Does that make sense?) Right now, I've mapped out how the lines correspond to each other on a piece of paper and have that, along with the design instructions, laid out beside me when knitting. For a split second, I thought about typing up a table in Excel, but then I caught myself. I can't let Excel creep into my personal life at this stage in the game!

I'm alternating knitting with embroidering a set of tea towels for a swap. They are turning out so nicely. It's going to be incredibly difficult to ship these guys away because they would be so sweet in my kitchen.

This weekend in Chicago, it's a mad St. Patrick's Day celebration. The river gets dyed green, there's the South Side parade in Beverly, and I think there's probably a tamer parade downtown. I'm going to skip the festivities and work away at all of the projects that I keep starting around the house. I'd also love to go for a long walk if the weather cooperates.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Eat Down the Fridge and Craft Down the Stash

This morning, I ran across an article talking about Kim O'Donnel's (has food blog in The Washington Post) week-long challenge to Eat Down the Fridge. Perfect timing, since that was one of my March goals. Basically, it's an effort to quit buying so much stuff from the grocery store and use what you already have stored in your freezer/refrigerator/pantry.

I'd embarked on this exercise last week after receiving my massive Burger's Smokehouse order and realizing that the amount of food in storage is a bit ridiculous for one person who works outside the home. It would be different if I had a family and/or ate all my meals at home.

There's a lot of good stuff housed in my apartment . . . it just needs some assembling. This winter, I fell into the trap of buying quite a bit of ready-made or near-ready-made meals from the store for no good reason, other than laziness.

After one week, my supplies are down a bit, but there's lots more to go, so I'm continuing on this quest for the near future. One of the reasons this is possible is that I do buy lunch Mon-Fri. Someday, I'd love to get in the habit of bringing my lunch more often -- I even have tons of cute bento supplies to keep it fun! -- but I will have to find a way to wake up earlier before this happens.

In a similar vein, I am also ready to Craft Down the Stash. Over the past year, I've amassed a good supply of craft supplies for tons of different projects. This is the year that those projects need to get made. There's enough variety in the stash that it will be difficult (but not impossible!) for me to make an argument for buying much more stuff this year. I think the exceptions will be for finishing items (buttons, backing, frames) or if there's some new amazing thing that is revealed over the year that I simply can not live without.

I believe we'll see a lot of this type of projects in 2009 because of the horrible economy. In my life, I don't need to make changes because of the economy (yet), but I do like the idea of simplification and using what I have rather than buying more . . . even though this philosophy will not stimulate the economy. Ugh - what a dilemma we've all created over the past 8-10 years.