Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Darning Foot Cloche

Here are some pictures, which I posted over on BurdaStyle, of a hat I made a few years ago for a magazine submission. The project never landed in the publication's pages, but it sat on my daybed for a while, feeling quite dejected. But now that I have this display head I thought I dust it off for a show-and-tell. The hat is made from a boucle knit from Vogue Fabrics. I essentially emptied out my half-used Metrosene and Gutterman threads onto my sewing machine, attached my darning foot and did free-motion embroidery to create this stiffened fabric.  I just cut a huge chunk of fabric and stitched away, layering color after color on it. It shrank under all that stitching, so I continually had to add more fabric. I'd try on the hat and then add more fabric. The beauty of this kind of stitching, it's almost like felting since it pounds the fabric together while stitching. The finishing touch? A set of 1940s black felt millinery bows along the side. I think the cloche is cute even though the display head wears it more than I do.

Try using the darning foot at home. Remember to drop the feed dogs and set the stitch length to 0 (YOU are the stitch length is how I remember what to do). Pick a woven fabric that can take the punishment of multiple layers of stitching and have a ton of fun. Keep your finger away from the sewing needle.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Harlem Avenue Antique and Resale Annual Sale Ends This Week

If you're a fan of the Harlem Avenue Antique and Resale Shoppe (and at least one Chicago Tribune reporter regularly raves about this off-the-beaten-path place), you really might want to drop by in the next few days for the big annual sale, which ends this week. Here's the deal: this store doesn't do discounts. Ever. So if you're want something there are a marked-down price, this is the only time of year you can get one. It's not a huge (20 percent), but at least it's something. And who doesn't like a deal? What you save you can spend at the hamburger/gyro joint next door. Or at least that's what I aim to do...and then I just order a cup of chicken noodle soup.

There's a lot of stuff at this store (so cutely called a shoppe). Old photos, cigarette lighters, picture frames, dishes, yearbooks, etc. I love how it's all nicely arranged with not a dust mite in sight. Not one. Everything is moved around on a regular basis. Really. Visit once, come back two weeks later and what was up in the store front somehow has moved to the back. I don't know how it's done without spilling the massive candy jar perched on the costume jewelry dresser ledge. Mice movers? When I go to Harlem Avenue, here's what I look for, and this is just me. (By the way, the shoppe is known for its huge and I mean huge costume jewelry collection arranged by color and theme).

1. Sewing Patterns. In the back, usually shoved under the clothes rack. There's usually a good selection of 1960s and 1970s Butterick, Simplicity and McCall sewing patterns. I love it when there's old patterns from the 1930s and 1940s. These are are around $3-5. Not bad prices.
2. Slips. I'm a bit old guard, I do like a nice slip with pretty lace trim. This is the place to get it. There's stuff as old as the 1930s, but most of it is probably more current, 1960s and 1970s rayon. But it's useful under skirts. I bought a pretty lavender one last year to wear under a transparent crochet skirt that I made. The slip was longer than the skirt, heck, in the old days that would matter ("Yoo hoo! Your slip is showing!" now it's just style. About $7 each.
3. Belts. Stashed in a hat box, I swear these are gems. I love old rhinestone brooch ones from the Depression, but the ones I end up getting are from the 1950s. Most recently I pick up a thin one red-and-white gingham one for about $5. I plan to make a gingham skirt...a blue and white one would be fund with red and white trim.
4. Knitting Patterns.  I'm a bit of fingering-weight yarn nut, so these old patterns which call for 7 stitches to the inch are more of a must-have than the latest magazines, books from Barnes & Noble. I got a very nice Minerva pattern book for $2.50 a couple of years ago at the shoppe. I haven't yet made anything from it. Yet. Knitting booklets are $5 generally speaking.
5. Belt buckles and buttons. Like the costume jewels, these are all artfully displayed by color in flatfile drawers. You could bring a project and get just just what you need like those ladies do at Vogue Fabrics in Evanston. Which reminds me, if you ever need tea saucer sized buttons (someone on Ravelry said recently in a project post she had a hard time finding some for her thick yarn Twinkle cardigan project), this is the place to find 'em. Go for the old, 1940s coat buttons. They're massive. Usually black or brown though. Not a lot of color choices there. Buttons, $2-$5.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leave Blog Post Comment for **Free** Download of Yarn U v1.2

I've got hats on my mind because I want to have a hat completed for Easter...I'm thinking I might simply finish my re-do on the cranberry/oatmeal colored hat that I actually wore last year and found too large. Here are some other ideas. The first one is a Modest Hat by StitchDiva Studios. The other a hat embellished with twill tape at Loopy Yarns in downtown Chicago.

On a non-hat-related topic, leave a comment here and tell me what's your favorite yarn, your email contact info and I'll email you a promo code for a complimentary download of my app, Yarn U v1.2. If, in addition, you become a blog follower, I email you two codes - one for you and a friend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fingering Weight Yarn, How Much Do I Love Thee?

Sabrina Mitts, designed by Cecily Macdonald. Courtesy: Quince & Co.

Knitting is full of surprises, like which yarns you end up falling in love with, which ones go barely touched straight to the church donations bag, and then the scrappy end-of-skein bits you horde, not sure you know what to do with. I fell hard for fingering weight yarn when I made a pair of booties for my mother over a year ago. I found a 1960s pattern on Ravelry, a free download. This would be my back-door entry into sock-making. We wouldn't call it a sock because that would sound hard. Who really needs to know the architecture of turning a heel? It's a bootie, for goodness sake. So I dove in, using two skeins of vintage 1970s Evermatch yarn that my mother gave to me from her church donation bag. Really, it was going to be a quick project. The yarn? It was I needed to get the project done.

Yet I hadn't expected to like this yarn so much. It was easy to work with, even on those pesky double-pointed needles. Easy to undo! Yet they didn't unravel when I wanted them to stay put. Better than a dog! And such great stitch definition. And amazingly, there were no breaks, no dusty spots...surprising considering this yarn was older than a Jimmy Carter for President t-shirt. Old! But I loved the stuff so much that I asked for more later (I had seen an obscene amount of this yarn in my mother's bag)...and learned that it was gone! All of it for socks for preemie babies or something like that. I was heartbroken. But I kept after my mother, and asked her if she ever got more, than I wanted a sweater's worth. Well, some months later, I got my wish. I had to giver her unwanted yarns in return, but I got like 27 skeins of buttery yellow Evermatch yarn. More than I could ever use. So I made a sweater from a vintage pattern. Still more yarn left. Now I'm working on another vintage pattern, a cardigan. Last time I peeked, some more yellow skeins smiled back at me. Will I get tired of Evermatch? Maybe. On second thought, nah.

Alas, my mother doesn't have more Evermatch yarn (called sportweight and sock yarn on the label) in other colors to I've gone questing on eBay, nothing bubbles to the top in my searches yet. Still I've got fingering weight yarn on my mind. A little goes a long way, which is one reason why it was popular during the Depression. Now it seems like the top reason for owning fingering weight yarn now is to make socks. I don't know...socks don't intrigue me much. They fall down.  They're often too thick for my taste. They can look peasanty with sandals. So fingering weight, in my mind, is meant for hats, gloves and glorious sweaters.

Since I don't have access to the Evermatch of my dreams, I've been looking at other varieties. New stuff still in production. Here's what I have my eye on:
  • Tern by Quince & Co. (Tern will haves own entry in v1.3 of Yarn U, the iPhone app)
  • Boreal by St. Denis (Veronique Avery got me hooked when she visited Loopy Yarns last year. I've yet to buy...but it's tempting me badly.)
  • Bijou Spun by Bijou Basin Ranch (Ultra-expensive...I'd just make a hat with one skein of this luxury fiber)
  • Shepherd's Wool (the fingering weight variety)
and the grandest import of them all, Excelana, coming all the way from England, and the backs of Exmoor Blueface sheep there. I'm more than three-quarters tempted to pre-order the second volume of A Stitch in Time, just so I can get a skein of Excelana and test it out on my size 2 bamboo needles. But it would be far, far, far cheaper just work up something made stateside (or at least in North America). Heck, why not just go for the KnitPicks fingering weight yarn by the UPS package and call it a day?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yarn U iPhone App v1.2 is Live!

Friends, I know it's Friday, late in the afternoon here in the U.S. I'm thinking about the weekend and no doubt you are too. I know I want to visit Vogue Fabrics to buy buttons, maybe scare up a hank or two so I can make more progress on my crocheted granny square tunic, maybe clean if I dare to get around to it. In any event I did want to tell you that the latest version of Yarn U is now in the iTunes story. There are now a grand total of 120 yarns, so there should be something you like. Something. Parting shots for today, most of the millinery variety -
  • Did you know that this Chicago building was the Millinery Mart Building? I wonder what kind of hats were made here. I was in this building, now known as 65 Wacker Place. Didn't see any milinery supplies or anything remotely hatty. One day I'll need to do research to find out who the most famous milliners to work in this building. Halston, maybe? Of course, I'll have to go to the Gage, another famed millinery building, now turned into a restaurant for post-research libations.
  • Check out this DKNY knit (incorrectly described as crocheted) hat, which I swear resembles exactly what Anthropologie sold several years ago. I actually bough the Anthro version, and returned it because it was falling apart. Good news: it inspired me to knit the High Society hat.
  • Last but not least is not time to think about the Kentucky Derby (tickets for which I understand are selling faster than I'm sorry I don't have a good analogy this late in the day. See the lovely hat above (removed 3/27/11 by request) by a former student, Jenny Pfanenstiel, of Formé Millinery

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Other Hobby: Rug Hooking: Pearl McGown Pattern

I've been busily undoing some of the improvised crochet on my Crazy Lacy Cropped Cardi, mostly because I didn't like the look of a shell stitch on top of my ribbed collar along the front, even the art of undoing is difficult. Unraveling two threads at once (I was knitting double) calls for many curses.  I plan to retain the crochet ruffle on the bottom of the cardi, add a button placket on one side and then some shell stitching on the opposite side. Finish the whole shebang with shell stitches on the sleeves. But I should really go get some nice buttons about now, before I go any further so I at least know how big to make those button holes. A trip to Vogue Fabrics might be in order tomorrow, a good day to go considering the store stays open until 9 p.m.

This blog post is about rug-hooking. Don't read any further unless you have an interest in this topic. I got in rug hooking because my mom was into it more than a decade ago. She was doing these awesome paisley patterns on a printed burlap. I just loved all that shading and I decided I wanted to get into rug-hooking too. So away we went to her instructor, whose love for wool was so great she stacked yards upon yards on it into an unused shower (I hope the pipes were disconnected, I mean who would want to lose all that great fabric with one twist of the knob?). Plaids, plain Jane solids, but no blends, it was all stacked up neatly in the stall, an amazing sight any time I needed to use the washroom. Anyhow, my instructor was big into Pearl McGown, a rug-hook extraordinaire during World War II. McGown was most renown for her intricate floral patterns, ranging from itty-bitty floorway entryway rugs to massive living room-sized mother of all rugs that take years to complete.

Since I was a diehard romantic with a huge interest in Jazz music and vintage clothes, I instantly took to Pearl, long dead at that point. I really didn't have much of a way to get to know her intimately beyond a dog-eared book. There was no real Internet at that point, so I had to learn everything about this woman and her approach to rug-hooking from my instructor, who when she wasn't adding to her stash, was out sailing with her husband for months at a time. I got so into rug-hooking that I bought the frame, hooks, a wool-strip cutting device, dyes and burlap patterns. I think I bought about five, and completed four when I lost interest in my fifth and most ambitious, pictured in part above. Oddly enough, it was swing dancing, also popular during World War II, that led me to abandon my hook, rugs and dye pots. I mean when it's a choice between hooking rugs in front a TV alone and dancing with handsome guys, wouldn't you pick swing dancing? All my stuff promptly went into hiding into closet, and somehow I must have given my mother the half-finished rug.

So now more than a decade later, my mother wants to finish the rug. And she is, with a half-hearted assist from me here and there. Mostly there. I'm outta rug-hooking mode even dancing too,  now into knitting. But I help mom dutifully when she pleads and I'm visiting as I was last night, which is when I took a picture of the rug this morning on my iPhone.

In the decade between the time I started my rug and gained some other hobbies (I forget that I've since acquired a sewing machine and a serger), the Internet came to life. Now there are umpteen places to learn about Pearl: the McGown Guild,  Cushing (the supplier for the dyes used for the wool. Eight different shades of the same color was one way McGown created depth for her hooked flowers. Dying fabric is almost more fun than hooking, but I digress), a McGown devotee's site and a heck lot more if I had my druthers to bother, but I don't right now. Anyhow, looking at these Pearl McGown patterns reminds me of my favorites. I was always drawn to the paisleys and flower prints, particularly roses and peonies, which called for a lot of shading and dye pots. I liked the finer cut of wools, not the thicker variety often associated with the early American rugs. For those who dig Pearl McGown, which rugs do you dig?