Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mitts in the making

For some time, I've been admiring the Fetching mitts from Knitty that so many folks are making. I longed to make some for my hip, urban daughter, but didn't know if they were really cool. I'm often wrong about these things.

Turns out the concept of fingerless mitts is not only cool, but uber-cool. So when Maureen was home a couple of weekends ago, she picked out some yarn that would also be acceptable. She selected a lavendar Paton's Brilliant, which was a total surprise to me - not her usual hip, urban black -- but she thought this color would look nice to complement an early-spring ensemble. This was fine with me, particularly since it would not require me to race madly to complete said mitts.

The gauge of my swatch was totally off the Fetching pattern requirements, though. I didn't want to increase my needle size, and I did want to stick with the yarn Maureen liked. So I gulped, drew a deep breath, and decided to just make up a pattern. I've made tons of mittens, after all. I can do math. How hard could it be?

So far, it's not been hard at all.

I'm doing a plaited cable right down the middle, gradual decreases to taper toward the wrist, and a few rows of ribbing on smaller-sized needles at the inside of the wrist to sort of draw it in a little. At this point, I have five to six needles going on the thing, so it's a little like handling a porcupine. Don't know how it'll all work out, but I'm having a lot of fun in the process.

Thanks to Tracy's recent post on Wool Windings about keeping good notes while knitting, I've been doing exactly hopefully the left one will exactly mirror the right one.

They're not Fetching...but still fetching. And perhaps even cool.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

What a great day!

My fingers are sore, my shoulders ache, and I can't remember when I've had such an enjoyable day. Our quilt guild had an all-day sew-a-thon today to work on lap quilts for residents at the local county nursing facility. It was a great example of terrific teamwork and focus on a worthy goal.

We started the day with about 15 quilt tops in various stages of completion. Some had center blocks stitched together, but needed borders. Others just needed to be layered with batting and backing, then pinned and quilted.

We'd all brought some stash fabric along and tossed it into one jumbled pile from which we plucked borders and backing to complete the quilts. It was amazing how quickly they all came together with so many willing hands doing what needed to be done.

I was kicking myself that I forgot to take my camera along, because the finished gallery of nearly-completed quilts was truly spectacular. Many of the members chose to piece together some of the five-inch charm squares that we swapped each month for a couple of years -- so almost everyone could recognize some of their own fabric in our collaborative work.

We ended the afternoon with everyone taking home at least one of our mutual creations to complete with binding. We'll have them ready to deliver to the nursing home by next month's meeting. Here's one I brought home to bind - and I think I have just the right purple print in my stash to finish it off.

Here are two more that another member already finished -- isn't it great how random squares can turn out looking so cozy and warm?

Imagine 15 quilts like these, in a wide variety of color combinations, and you'll have a pretty good picture of what the guild churned out so efficiently today. We had a great time, and I hope some of those good feelings will transfer on to the ladies and gentlemen who will receive them a few weeks from now.

Monday, January 22, 2007

It pays to experiment

Last time I combined a couple of crafts - by crocheting a purse out of strips of quilting fabric - the results were distinctly underwhelming. So I wasn't expecting much last weekend when I had the urge to experiment once again.

This time, I loved the results!

A pink floral yo-yo with a pearl button in the middle really jazzes up this little baby hat knit out of white Caron Simply Soft. I'd like to try a toddler-sized hat, too, with a cluster of three smaller yo-yos. (Here's a good tutorial for making yo-yos, by the way.)

And for my next trick...some leftover flannel from making receiving blankets was just right for a wide binding around this thick stockinette-stitch blanket. Plus, stitching and trimming the knitted fabric helped make me think I really could try steeking without breaking out in a nervous rash.

Experimentation - where would we be without it?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Some stuff to think about

I ran across some fascinating posts in the archives of another blog recently. The writers were bluntly critical of what is commonly referred to as charity crafting. The most interesting thing about them was that, with a couple of exceptions, I could totally understand why the writers felt the way they do, and though I might not agree with them, they still offered a lot of valuable food for thought. So I thought I'd share some of the comments here, following up with my own observations.

"As a kid, I was often on the receiving end of "charity" which is why I hate that damn word...There is nothing uglier than the sentiment of "they're poor, they shouldn't be picky" which I sure had enough of to last me a lifetime by the time I was 6."

If this isn't a reminder to us about putting quality at the top of the list with the things we donate, I don't know what is. I also really favor the term "service projects" as opposed to "charity." No wordplay will change the sentiment if it's not sincere, but I really don't consider things like bereavement items for infants or chemotherapy hats for cancer patients to be "charity" at all. Same goes for sending slippers or cool ties to soldiers. They're opportunities to serve fellow citizens who are going through a trying time and need things that aren't readily available except through volunteers. The more important issue is not what word we use to define it, but our approach to quality - and not donating anything that we wouldn't be proud to use ourselves.

"For a lot of people it's a cheap way to feel virtuous and charitable without having to really be so--hence the crocheted afgans for a family that can't possibly need them."

"My personal feel is that if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And so you get folks sending frilly pink hats to soldiers, just because they 'can.' "

Good reminders to look very closely at what the recipients really need, and the specs that will make those items most useful. It requires some research and communication with the potential recipient, be it an individual, agency or other ogranization. It also requires the willingness to recognize that, as much as we like to think that a handmade blanket can solve everything, sometimes it's better to write a check or volunteer in other ways - like supporting political candidates who can have much broader influence than most of us.

"I am stoutly against the idea of charity knitting (or crocheting). Partly because of the way the donors feel compelled to talk about how very charitable they are because it's charity outof CRAP. Partly because I cannot imagine most of the CRAP is wanted by the given-to."

"I fall into the camp of folks that thinks charity ought to be personal and not broadcast."

Yep, there are some self-righteous crafters out there who are into public piety to a nauseating degree. But I'm sorry if anyone thinks they represent the majority, because I'm convinced they don't. I also think it's unfair to assume that if people share ideas and examples of their service projects on blogs or other websites, they're doing it simply to say "look at me." I know I love to scour other blogs for ideas and inspiration, and if people didn't "broadcast" their accomplishments, I'd be missing a lot of good information that will, I hope, end up really making a positive difference to someone.

"I don't do charity knitting myself, but I have respect for people who do if they do it *right*. Make items that the charity can actually use, to the charity's specs, and you're golden. Make acrylic afghan squares for someone who has no possible use for them, and you're a posturing schmuck."

Unflattering, stinging remarks about what so many of us love to do? Yeah. But why not take a moment to pause, check our approach, and redouble our efforts to make sure we're doing things right?!

Friday, January 12, 2007


I’ve gotten hooked lately on Neonatal Doc’s blog. His stories – some hopeful, some harrowing – are fueling my recent energy toward projects for NICU babies.

It had been awhile (since July, I guess) that I had completed any bereavement items for the families of babies who have lost their NICU struggle. I was reminded of the need for these items both through Neonatal Doc’s posts, and the blogs of many folks who comment regularly on his missives. Candy, who writes so openly about the loss of her daughter Emma in 2005, has been a great inspiration as well.

Every family’s story is different, but the one consistent theme I’ve noticed – both from health care providers and the parents themselves – is that if a heartbroken family must say goodbye to their baby, they want to know that their little one is beautiful. This may truly be the only thing they will ever really know about this child. Or if they have spent weeks or months dealing with the ventilators, tubes and tests of the NICU, they want to focus on the beauty of their baby away from all those un-beautiful things.

So the little blankets and outfits they use for that last goodbye or memorial service need to be absolutely beautiful as well. No shoddy work, no scratchy fabric, no dropped stitches. Nothing to detract from the beauty of this lovely, innocent child at peace.

With that in mind, I’m choosing soft, clear colors and purest whites for my latest batch of bereavement quilts and blankets. A little embroidery around the edges. Yarn with a bit of sheen. Satiny ribbon to hold the precious bundle. Nothing to call attention to itself…just something simple and lovely that, as the parents' last keepsake, will echo the pure beauty of their child.

I'm really moved by the stories I read in other blogs about parents' experiences, and I thank each one of them for the inspiration for this special service work.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dapper little dressers

A few years ago I dropped off a bag of things I'd made for the NICU at one of our local hospitals. The nurse admired one of the little blue flannel coverlets that was part of the batch, and said, "I'm going to take this in to one of the mothers right now. Her baby's doing a little better, but she's tired and feeling low today. This will really perk her up."

I was thinking of that mother this weekend as I worked on sewing this little batch of preemie-sized sleeveless shirts. Often referred to as "isolette shirts" or "diaper shirts," they probably don't serve as a great a purpose for the baby as a blanket or a hat. But the bright prints and stripes are so cheery, and I can just picture a little three-pounder snuggled in his little bassinet, wearing an unexpected bit of humor like one of these snappy little vests. And I can imagine that would be a rather welcome sight in an otherwise sterile environment.

I found the pattern here. It was incredibly easy - the only meticulous part was hand-sewing the bits of baby-soft Velcro on the shoulders and shirt front.

Thanks to Candy, I also found a similar pattern from Ginger Snaps designs, so I plan to order that one and try it out, too.

If these simple little shirts can cheer a tired mother for a moment...or make a weary NICU nurse pause and smile, seeing the wee one as real little kid and not just a patient...then they're a project well worth doing. Plus, they were really fun to make!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

It's Red Scarf season!

The Red Scarf project has picked up incredible steam among bloggers over recent months, and now that January has arrived, it's time to send the scarves in. Here's what I'll be popping in the mail to the Orphan Foundation of America tomorrow - along with a couple of gift cards to Subway (eat fresh!)

My photo is marginal at best, but I really like how the scarves turned out. The one on the left is knit in ordinary Caron Simply Soft, using the enjoyable rib stitch that's my new scarfy favorite. The other is knit in seed stitch out of a double strand of thin red chenille and something really fluffy - it's been a couple of months since I knit it, but I think it was Red Heart Light N' Lofty or something like that.

I just love the whole concept of this project. The Washington D.C.-based OFA mobilizes volunteers to send care packages for Valentine's Day to kids who have transitioned out of foster care and are now attending college. Most have little or no family support. The OFA helps with scholarships and plenty of other resources, too -- but volunteers can salute these determined kids by sending a little extra encouragement in the form of a handknit scarf.

I clearly remember how great it was getting packages from my folks when I was in college lo these many years ago. And as a mother, I loved sending them to Maureen, too. It's great to know that this organization will connect volunteers with kids who probably wouldn't be getting that little surprise otherwise.

For a much better look at some of the fabulous creations that knitters everywhere are sending to this great project, check out the photo gallery on Norma's Red Scarf blog.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Getting a Hedda myself

Meet Hedda, who recently took up residence in my sewing room after we first met on eBay.

I'd been wanting one of these glass mannequin heads for some time. I thought she would come in handy for fitting and photographing chemotherapy caps, and I put her to use for that very purpose today.

I had enough of this pale blue geometric print to make several of these caps. Blue is a great choice for chemo caps because it's flattering on almost all patients. I want to dig out some more of my newly reorganized fabric to sew a few more hats to take to the cancer center next weekend. With Hedda so ably modeling them for me, I may even experiment with some embellishments on the band...

It's been so wonderful being off work for 10 days, but tomorrow it's time to head back to the office. Sigh. But I'm sure Hedda and Abigail will keep things in line in the sewing room while I'm away.