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Finish the Ravenna Satchel: check!

I’m sure some of you might be wondering if I’m ever going to follow-up with a post about the felted bag I had worked on over the summer. Well…I finished it! Yay!

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After I completed the needle-felting process a few months ago, the bag sat in a corner of my bedroom as life sped up around it. At one point, I sewed the zipper along the top edge. On another day, I added the feet to the bottom of the bag. And then I had to sew the handle rings to the outside of the bag. This part—the handles and how they’re attached—is where I will probably change things when/if I make another one of these bags. To offer a woman such a nice big bag (and it is big!) with such spacious real estate inside just begging to be filled and utilized…and yet to construct it with a weak handle system…well, a bag is only as good as the strength of its handles, right?IMG_2369

In order to give the handles more stability, I sewed through a square piece of fabric on the inside of the bag while sewing the rings to the outside of the bag. That way, when the bag is hanging off my shoulder or dangling from my hands, the weight is not just pulling my felted yarn, but also the piece of fabric (now hidden by the inside liner). It’s amazing the difference that created—because, yes, I attached the first ring without the fabric and my eyes bulged when I saw how it would pull on the sides of the bag!

Here and there throughout the autumn months, I worked on the inside lining of the bag—cutting the fabric, cutting the interfacing (the iron-on kind), cutting the MDF board (for the bottom of the bag), sewing everything together… Mind you, I had no pattern to follow, for a lot of the extra online information one could have found on this bag six years ago is no longer available, so I had to make up my own based on how I knew the bag itself was constructed. In the end, the liner’s girth was an inch or so wider than the interior of the bag—but with a little folding and the help of a curved upholstery needle, I was able to tack the sides of the lining to the bag in four different places with a running stitch from top to bottom. I finished that, along with my little zipper pull, during my daughters’ Christmas break.

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Thus, for the past few weeks, I’ve had only the handles to complete. To make those, however (strips of suede cloth wrapped around cotton belting) I needed my sewing machine—which lay under a mound of stuffed snowmen. Last weekend I finally unearthed the machine and joyfully made my two straight-sewn lines (yep, that’s all I needed it for). The incredibly difficult part came after I slid the belting inside the suede cloth sheath—I needed to hand-sew it around the handle rings.

Sigh. It helps to have the right tools when doing a specific task.IMG_2479

Somehow I managed to sew one side of a handle around the first ring with your run-of-the-mill sewing needle—and also managed not to injure my fingers in the process. Try as I might, however, I could not get that needle to go through the belting and suede cloth for the second ring. So off to Joann’s I went the next day to buy a needle specifically made for working with leather. After that, the sewing went easier. Easier, but not necessarily easy. My middle finger suffered a nice puncture wound from that needle (anyone seen the tip of a leather needle? It’s huge compared to the teeny-tiny points of your average sewing needle!), but thank the Lord for Neosporin. That stuff is amazing at numbing the pain!

And so it was this past Friday, with a fresh Band-Aid swathing my finger and just minutes to spare before having to pick up my girls from school this past Friday, that I finished a project begun around the time school had let out for summer vacation in 2014. 🙂

In time I might embroider my initials on the back of the bag...

In time I might embroider my initials on the back of the bag…

I’m hoping the bag will be able to come with me when we travel this upcoming summer…since that’s why I set out to make it in the first place. I say “hope,” though, because the thing is bigger than I anticipated and we’ll be traveling by airplane, so I have to wonder: will the flight attendants let me take it into the cabin of the plane?

Because after all the work I’ve put into it, it sure as heck isn’t going into the belly of the plane!

Have bag. Will travel. Almost.

Illustration of a cartoon style about summer and beach holidayser time vector

I’m on vacation for the next few weeks. When you think of the word “vacation,” what first springs to mind? Maybe relaxation. A time to unwind. A yummy drink in one hand and a good book in the other. Or maybe it means going to new places, seeing new sights, doing something different and fun each day. For my family, it means heading back to New England to visit friends and relatives. And for me specifically…it means not having to worry about what we’re having for dinner, because I don’t have to cook it! 🙂 It also means time to knit (since one can socialize and knit at the same time).

What is doesn’t mean is time to write–hence why it’s been just over two weeks since my last post.

Nevertheless, today I’m squirreling away here and there in order to share my progress on the one thing I’ve been able to work on this past week: my Ravenna Satchel.

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Last row of intarsia panel complete!

Roughly a week after I published the last post about the satchel, I finished the intarsia panel—yay! As the end came in sight and the number of color changes I had to make began to dwindle, the knitting process naturally sped up and it became a breeze to finish one row after another in one sitting.

And oh, the smile that lit my face when I knit that last stitch!

Then I saw the loose ends.

Yikes!

Yikes!

I can’t say my smile entirely disappeared. After knitting intarsia for so long, I found it rewarding to do something different. It took me a few blocks of time, but one by one those loose ends got weaved in. Once I fixed some random holes left by unwrapped stitches, I turned my attention to knitting the back of the bag.

In the original pattern, the back is solid black—a bit of a letdown, given the rest of the bag is so beautifully patterned with flowers and such—but I had long ago decided I’d carry the blue background all the way around and ordered yarn accordingly, buying more skeins of Clarity (light blue) and less of Currant (deep red).

Apparently I did not have my fill of intarsia, for I had knit no more than a few rows into the humdrum straight-stitch back panel when I decided to design a couple of flowers and possible leaves to liven things up a bit. Common Sense returned in time to [redirect] my grandiose plans into a more manageable one: one flower and one leaf. That kept me happily knitting for another couple of mornings, until I finished the specified number of rows and joined everything together again to knit the upper section of the bag in the round. That went quick and just before leaving for vacation, I had completed everything but the bind-off edge.

Finished bag just before felting...

Finished bag just before felting…

So I sacrificed a critical couple of pounds in my suitcase and took the satchel-in-progress with me.

I felted it within the first few days of arriving in New England. During the knitting process, I had been concerned about possible puckering in the areas behind which I chose to carry yarn; however, I’m pleased to report that puckering did not occur. Some of the darker colors did bleed a tiny bit, but it’s nothing the needle-felting can’t hide.

After felting. No, the picture is not out of focus--that's the blurry effect of the stitches.

After felting. No, the picture is not out of focus–that’s the blurry effect of the stitches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which is really what my fingers have been busy with this week.

Following the pattern instructions and taking needle in hand, I outlined each flower and leaf twice with the corresponding yarn and now I’m currently outlining the outline twice with my background color. (Long car rides and evening chats afford great opportunities to stab away at strands of yarn.) As you can see from the flower and leaf I knit on the back panel, it’s the process of needle-felting with the background color that really makes the pattern pop. Once I finish the outlines, I’ll fix any last troublesome areas by needle-felting over it with the correct color.

After needle-felting...

After needle-felting…

And when I’m done with that…uh, no, I won’t be finished. There’s a zipper to add and handles to make, feet to apply…and a search for the perfect fabric to line the inside that will make me smile every time I open my bag.

I suppose those details will have to wait until after my vacation. In the meantime, I can once again look people in the eye while I socialize. 😉

Green Makes Red

So about a week ago, I reached the mid-way point of the intarsia pattern of the Ravenna satchel and what keeps running through my head is the slogan to a TV commercial that used to air when I was a kid: Calgon, take me away!

For I am overrun by strands of yarn and self-made bobbins.

As one woman so aptly writes in her project notes on Ravelry.com, the Ravenna satchel is not a traveling project. The farthest my own satchel-in-progress has traveled is the few feet it takes for me to pull it from its perch on my sideboard to the nearby floor, where I then sit with skeins of yarn, my accessories bag, and the intarsia pattern sprawled around me. I barely move until I’ve accomplished the two rows I’ve set out to knit each morning.

I know, I know: “Two rows? That’s all she knits?”

I admit while there have been a time or two in which I’ve accomplished at most four rows in one sitting, it usually takes me anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes to knit one row. It all depends on how many times I have to stop to add in a new leaf or flower bobbin (which requires counting the stitches in the pattern and measuring out the correct length of yarn), fix stitches that have been pulled too tightly when switching colors or advancing a row, untangle the random bobbin, transfer yarn from one hand to the other, etc, etc.

Please tell me I’m not the only one to plod through this part of the pattern!

Looks decent from this side

Looks decent from this side

Considering this is the first time I’ve attempted intarsia, I may have—to use a tired cliché (my apologies, fellow writers)—bitten off more than I can chew without a lot of grumbling and swearing. (Uh, Mom, you can ignore that last bit.) I’ve done two-stranded color work before, where the non-working yarn is carried behind the working yarn, so I understand the need for wrapping the strands together to prevent holes in the pattern. And because I’m able to knit both Continental and English, the transition between colors is not an issue, either.

What is my problem, then?

I believe it’s the plethora of green leaves in the pattern that makes me see red.

Here is the thing about intarsia if you’re going to do it correctly: intarsia means you don’t carry the yarn behind your work, so if you are knitting a pink flower on a pale blue background, you need one bobbin of pink yarn and two bobbins of blue yarn—a blue bobbin for each side of the flower. Each bobbin, then, not only represents dangling strands of yarn prone to tangling, but also a starting and stopping point, i.e., loose ends with which to grapple during the knitting process and weave in at the end. Oh, joy!

In the lovely Ravenna satchel, we have twenty-nine leaves and seven flowers, to say nothing of the background color interspersed between them. That means we have…no, I can’t do the math; I’ll start to cry. But I think you get the picture. If not, look at the one below, taken almost two weeks ago.

Awash in wool spaghetti

Awash in wool spaghetti

Seeing as how on any given row I could be knitting up to six leaves and four flowers, I…um…haven’t strictly adhered to the rules of intarsia. One needs to maintain his/her sanity, after all. To that end, I have chosen to carry my background color (Clarity from Knit Picks) behind the leaves that are five stitches or less across. I may come to regret this in the felting process as the instructions say puckering can occur, but if that’s the case, at least you’ll know not to do the same thing should you ever attempt to knit this bag. 😉

I think if it weren’t for the many leaves, knitting this section would prove much less frustrating and taxing. It makes me wonder how the bag might look if one simply added all those leaves via needle-felting at the very end.

Maybe someday, once I’m fully sane again, I’ll try it with a new mix of colors and report back my findings.

Summer Knitting…

Ravenna Satchel by Marta McCall

About six months ago, I realized I could use a new travel bag—you know, something to bring on a flight or the occasional overnight trip—but I wanted to knit one for myself rather than buy one. So once again I visited Ravelry.com (love that site!) and I stumbled upon the Ravenna Satchel by Marta McCall. I swear the Halleluiah Chorus started playing (or maybe that was just the Christmas music in the background at the time), for even though it would take another several weeks before I purchased the pattern, I pretty much knew that was the bag I wanted to knit.

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Color scheme I chose from design-seeds.com

I hesitated forking over the money for so long because the pattern itself is $12—a hefty price tag for me when it comes to a knitting pattern. The written instructions, however, arrived on thick, heavy sheets of paper, almost like cardstock, with large, glossy pictures; I’m hopeful these sheets will survive the dozens of shoves and pulls they’ll undergo in my knitting bag as I refer to them over and over again. The other reason I took a while to make a decision was because I had to be sure I wanted to spend sixty-plus dollars of my birthday/Christmas money on wool yarn. (Very thankful for Knit Picks Wool of the Andes, otherwise the cost would have been higher!) In the end, because I really wanted to do another felting project that included needle felting and the bag looked soooo inviting and original, I just could not say no.

Before I ever ordered yarn, however, I did what many knitters decide to do on a project: change the colors to better fit my style. So to the Internet I turned for ideas, where I stumbled upon design-seeds.com (I highly encourage anyone who is contemplating colors and their complements to check out this site!). Amazingly enough, once I chose my color scheme, I was able to match all six colors with skeins of yarn from Knit Picks Wool of the Andes—which has over one hundred color choices!

Probably the easiest part of the pattern: knitting what will be the bottom of the bag

Probably the easiest part of the pattern: knitting what will be the bottom of the bag

I’m excited to undergo a new knitting challenge, and this time I thought I’d take you on the journey with me, so every few weeks (give or take a week depending on how often I get to knit, now that my girls are on summer vacation!) I’ll share my progress with you, along with any woes I’m certain to have. Because a project isn’t a project if it doesn’t have any woes, right? 😉

Bottom is finished and I've picked up the stitches to continue the body of the bag

Bottom is finished and I’ve picked up the stitches to continue the body of the bag

To be continued… 🙂

Life: One Row At a Time

A few posts back I mentioned knitting Teva Durham’s Cabled Riding Jacket, a beautiful, form-fitting jacket, but only accomplished via an intimidating, advanced knitting pattern. It took almost five years from when I bought Ms. Durham’s book, Loop-d-Loop, before I finally steeled my resolve to knit the jacket. A few things hindered me. First: I didn’t consider myself to be an advanced knitter. Second and third: Not only did the instructions for the pattern seem so complex and confusing, but I also knew I’d be coming at this pattern backwards, for I’m a self-taught left-handed knitter. Fourth: Online comments from fellow knitters, discouraged with a certain part of this pattern, had me questioning the feasibility of completing such a project. (Since those comments, errata are available here.)

The point is that for several years, I allowed my own insecurities about my knitting skills plus the frustrations and doubts of others to inhibit me from giving the pattern a try.

How many of us, I wonder, have avoided certain projects simply because the end results seemed too complicated, too unachievable with our limited knowledge? How many of us have given up on a dream because the path seemed impossible to traverse from where we stood at the crossroads? (I’m raising my hand, too.) Did you know that every knitted project I’ve ever done has been accomplished one row at a time? I know, I know: That’s obvious. Duh! But that means when I was knitting along on row 10, I really shouldn’t have worried about how I would handle integrating all the side notes and “At the same time” portions of the pattern—because I wasn’t there yet! It wasn’t until after I arrived at those sections that I had a better understanding of the instructions…and by then I found it easier to manage!

Life is like knitting. We can only take it one row—one day—at a time. Often, however, we allow ourselves to get overwhelmed thinking about our schedules for next week or next month, or we get panicky over where we might be (or not be) a year from now. And we exert mental energy trying to figure out all the “what if’s” that could happen between now and then to ensure we have a game plan for every scenario. (Okay, maybe I should change all those “we’s” to “I’s”.)

My husband and I are reading through the calendar-version of Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, and one of its recurring themes is learning to focus on today. What does God want me to do today? What does He want to teach me today? I’m not promised tomorrow or next month, so while there’s nothing wrong in making loose plans for the future, to fret about that future wastes time and effort better spent on living in the present.

For example, I have young children ages ten and seven, and over the years I’ve heard many people say, “Oh, just wait ’til they become teenagers!” (A non-threatening way to imply it’s bound to get worse than it already is.) Considering how society seems headed in the opposite direction of my Christian values, I have a tendency to worry about how I’m going to steer my girls through that tumultuous period of life. But here’s the thing I have to remember: I don’t have teenagers yet. God hasn’t equipped me with the strength and wisdom and patience I need to handle teens because He’s equipping me with what I need now to handle my tweens. (And who knows? Maybe by the time I get there, I’ll find my kids are generally obedient, loving, and respectful. If it could happen to my parents…)

In the end, there’s something extremely freeing in knowing I don’t have to agonize over tomorrow; God’s already there and He’s got my back. All He’s asking me to do is take care of today—and He’d love it if I held His hand while I went about it.

So the next time you find yourself face-to-page with a daunting knitting pattern, just remember to approach it row by row. Taken in stitch-sized segments, it won’t seem so overwhelming.

Taken in daily doses, Life isn’t so overwhelming, either.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”  Matthew 6:34 The Message, copyright 2005.

“Needle” little felt in your life?

In a previous post, I mentioned how much I’ve enjoyed the process of felting, but even though I have a running list of projects I’d like to attempt in the future, the concept itself recently began to lose its luster. And that’s when I remembered the embellishing power of needle felting!

First attempt at needle-felting

First attempt at needle-felting

Almost six years ago now, a friend of mind had introduced me to this intriguing craft, which is the method of bonding wool fibers together via a barbed needle. Projects can be two-dimensional, as in pictures or symbols on a previously felted backdrop, or three-dimensional, as in stand-alone sculptures. At the time, I eagerly bought a package of barbed needles, brought them home, tucked them away in my knitting cart…and ignored them for the next half-decade. A few weeks ago, I finally gathered up my courage, removed one of those “brand-new” needles from its plastic home and put it to good use. Now I’m wondering why it took me so long to give it a whirl! Though the prospect of jabbing a needle into a woolen foundation may sound intimidating (don’t prick your finger!), it’s actually quite easy and somewhat cathartic. It’s also hard to mess up, because until you’ve thoroughly bonded the different pieces of wool together, you can pull them apart and start over. (At least, that has been my experience.)

iPhone case, 2nd attempt

iPhone case, 2nd attempt

Once I conquered my initial trial run using wool yarn (see the above picture), I took a deep breath and embellished my iPhone case, which I had previously knitted and then felted. The brown and green colors are pieces of yarn and the light and dark blues are pieces of roving. When I wore it to Bible study a few days later, one of my girlfriends liked it so much, she asked for a case of her own. A week later, I gave her the one featuring a cross, a heart and a purple lily, which is a blend of two pictures I came across on the Internet (her case has a pocket for ear buds, thus the break you see in the pattern).

Phone case for my girlfriend

Phone case for my girlfriend

 

I find these phone cases make the perfect project to have at hand when I’m in the car for a measly ten-minute drive or when I don’t want to (or don’t have the luxury to) think long and hard about my stitches: Using the Magic Loop method, they are quick and easy to knit and once felted, they provide a great “canvas” upon which to try more needle-felted embellishments!

Still quite the novice at this craft, I prefer to work with yarn as opposed to roving, for to me it seems more controllable and malleable. That said, I’m sure a future project is out there just waiting to entice me to change my mind.

After all, I have yet to try my hand at a 3D sculpture.

Knit Two, Purl One…I’m Addicted!

I love to knit. Give me an invigorating skein of yarn, a pair of wood needles and a fun pattern, and no drive is too long, no extra-curricular activity too mind-numbing. (Provided I’m not the one driving, or my child in the spectator seat isn’t needling me to entertain her because she’s bored.) One of my girlfriends once said, “I wish I felt free to bring my knitting into the church service. I could concentrate on the sermon so much better if my hands had something to do.” I think many of us who love the craft would concur with that sentiment when we find ourselves having to sit somewhere, idle for too long. Oh, the rows we could have logged in that amount of time!

I fell into the art of knitting at random, if you ask me, though the idea had intrigued me for years. At some point soon after I graduated college, my grandmother gave me her mother’s array of knitting needles, my mom supplied me with your basic “Learn to Knit” pamphlet, and I was off and running. I don’t even remember having conversations about wanting to learn, but I suppose I must have needed something to do with my free time now that school work was out of the way.

Cabled Riding Jacket ~by Teva Durham

Cabled Riding Jacket ~by Teva Durham

My first project—a baby blanket—was a flop. Then again, most first projects are; do I hear an “Amen”? Over the ensuing decade and a half, I have since made umpteen successful baby blankets for cousins, girlfriends and my own two girls; when knitting all those rectangles became too tedious, I switched to knitting stuffed animals. I’ve knitted hats, mittens, and scarves; ponchos and sweaters (when my girls were little and one skein went a long way), and a few years ago I finally tackled the daunting Cabled Riding Jacket by Teva Durham as a gift for…myself! But my favorite things to knit, by far, are projects that I later felt in the washing machine and sweater tops for my BJD, Ellowyne Wilde. Below is my latest sweater from one of Becky Colvin’s pattern using Patons super fine yarn.

"Trendy Tunic" ~Pattern by Becky Colvin

“Trendy Tunic” ~Pattern by Becky Colvin

 

 

For more fun knitting patterns for Ellowyne Wilde and other BJDs, you’ll want to visit Becky Colvin’s website, http://www.sew-coolseparates.com/dollclothing/. She’s an incredibly talented knitter and seamstress! Kudos, as well, to sites like Ravelry.com, which provides thousands of patterns (some free, some not) for people like me who typically grow bored after knitting the same thing more than once.

So what’s a girl to do to fuel her passion for knitting when clothes and accessories fail to inspire?

Try needle felting, of course!

Childhood dreams

To start things off, I want to give a huge shout out and “Thank you!” to my gracious and multi-talented friend, Ashley Martin, for helping me set up this blog/website. She’s an amazing author with her own blog: http://www.lemonbiscuitcrumbs.com/. It’s worth a look-see, especially if you enjoy literary fun and a quirky sense of humor.

In my “About” page, I touch upon one of my childhood dreams of living in France and how God had other plans for me. I’ve had one more significant dream ever since I learned to read: I wanted to become a published author…before the age of 40. That dream has yet to come true. And while I still have a few more years to go before my self-imposed deadline, it’s the main reason why I’ve started this blog/website. I’m not sure where it’s going to go, or even where it’s supposed to go (God is slowly teaching me to think in terms of twenty-four-hour increments rather than twenty-four-day increments), but I’ve called it Scattered Whimsy to allow me the freedom to share some of the other projects I turn to when my writing goes south. Which it does. All too often.

So, welcome to a little piece of my world and be sure to pop back in every once in a while to see how I’m faring on this, my latest adventure.

~Laurie Germaine