Friday, December 30, 2011

Another Year Down

I've noticed a few people "taking time to review" and "reflecting on the year" now that it's December 31st.
I don't.
I'm not re-hashing what happened this year, because quite frankly, what good does it do? How about looking forward to 2012, and what's going to happen? Here's some stuff that I'm looking forward to:

The London Olympics. How cool is that? We get to watch soccer, basketball, tennis, badminton (no, really, have you seen the ferocity girls have when playing?), volleyball...we get to watch the gymnasts flip around like it's nothing to balance on a 4 inch wide beam. We get to watch Michael Phelps break his own record again and bring home more gold.

The Election. I admit, I love politics. Not that you'd ever guess from reading my blog...or speaking to me at work, for that matter. But I follow election news very closely. Because the leader of the United States of America is chosen by us, not someone else. It's a very big deal and always an exciting night.

The End of the World.  Some people say that since the Mayan calendar ends this year, so will the world. Other people say the Mayans got tired of writing. I'm just curious to see how it all goes down.

So what are you looking forward to in 2012?

and here's a little bonus pic of Star to help ring in the new year:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the 4th day of Christmas...

...I decided I'd better post again.

Christmas was wonderfully low-key. Tim and I exchanged presents, we had a skype conversation with my family, and then he started playing Skyrim while I played with the new yarn.

Oh, yes. New yarn. Mom was quite generous and sent me 4 hanks of Berroco Voyage, which immediately was crocheted into the Sagramor Cowl:
It's very, very warm.
And I'm apparently the first person (after the designer, of course) to make this on Ravelry.

I still have just enough yarn left over to make a hat...just looking for a pattern.

Today, I started working on some quilt blocks again. This time, it's using the Northern Cardinals jelly roll that I bought at half-price earlier in the month. (Thank you,  Fat Quarter Shop!) It's my first real attempt at strip-piecing:

I actually have two jelly rolls from the same collection. I'm thinking I'd like to make both the front and the back of this quilt pieced. Still working out the design for the back, but I'm leaning towards a rail-fence or streak-o-lightning design. I'm also still waiting on the batting I ordered, so I've got some time to play around with ideas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's getting a bit late on Christmas Eve here, in a few more hours we will find out if Santa visits Japan.
Which has me wondering, since houses here have no chimneys, how does he manage to get in? Through the shoji doors?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Pillow Cover!!??

Yes, that's right. I had another fit on Sunday and just had to re-cover an old throw pillow. It was looking a little worn, and needed a facelift anyway.
I love the look of log cabin blocks, and that inspired this design. It's not really a log cabin design, in fact I'm not really sure what to call it. But here it is:
It's made with some of the half-yards I ordered from Connecting Threads (they were on sale for $2.96/yard, and they were could I resist?).
In case you're wondering what it looks like on the other side:
This is the same method I used on the blue&black pillow I made last week. I like this style because 1) it's easy to get on & off the pillow, 2) it's fast to make, & 3) it looks good. Although in retrospect I would have the orange panel on the outside, instead of the blue.
Anyway, I'm definitely on a pillow-making kick, likely because I have a bunch of fabric that isn't tagged for a project. Plus, I like being able to finish a project in a day & enjoy it right away. And did I mention it's good practice for piecing? I'm getting much better at it!

The best things...

...come in small packages.

In this case three flat-rate priority mail boxes from Michigan that arrived today.
The best part of what was stuffed into these?
Well, it wasn't all the smaller boxes wrapped in Christmas-y paper.
And it wasn't these, either:
(Although that Sweet Cajun trail mix is like ambrosia to us...)

And it wasn't even the absolutely magical Chocolate Revel Bars that Mom made:

Nope, the absolute, amazing, beautiful things that arrived were these:
Yep. A couple of wooden ornaments from the early '80s. That teddy bear has hung on my parents' tree since 1983. It was a gift from Mrs. Carnahan in Edina, MN, when I was 3 years old. Since we left Minnesota when I was 5, I only have hazy memories of her...mostly playing with toys, those little plastic monkeys that you could chain together by hooking an arm over a tail, and see how long you could get the chain before it either reached the floor, or you knocked some of the monkeys and they all fell. But that teddy bear ornament was always mine to hang on the tree, and I'm pretty sure as the years went on it was placed higher and higher as I grew taller.
The cardinal I'm a bit less certain of, but I do know that for me, cardinals are associated with my grandparents' house in winter. There was always snow, every Christmas (and we drove there, every Christmas, for almost two decades), and there were always birds at the birdfeeders. My grandmother's napkin rings were painted wooden birds. There were paintings of birds, books about birds, birds done in needlepoint all around the house. (There were lots of flowers, too, but I like to associate those with summer.) Now I have a little red bird nested in my tree.
Since we can't be with our family this year, having a piece of the family here is wonderful.
Thanks, Mom & Dad, you two are awesome. I love you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What happened to the moisture?

I (re-)discovered the downside of cold weather this morning.
It required two tylenol and turning the humidifier on high for an hour to fix.

In Japan, very few houses have central heat. Instead, combination air conditioners/heaters are used. These are electric and work for one room. For other rooms, portable electric heaters may be used.
This didn't seem like such a big deal when we first moved in. I was a bit concerned about the cost, but when I discovered it costs less to heat the house than to cool it, I stopped worrying.
That was before the temperature dropped to just above freezing.
Now, it is very cold outside, and fairly warm inside...but dry. Very, very dry. So dry that when I took the laundry out of the washer and hung it up, the sweatshirts were dry in a couple hours. It is so dry you catch a static shock just by walking close to something metal.
It's so dry I woke up with a severe headache this morning.
So this afternoon, I will be venturing back to the Navy Exchange and picking up an additional humidifier for the bedroom.
Because I can't wake up every day feeling like my head is split in two.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pillow Talk

I get a bit manic sometimes.
I find myself inspired to take on a project, and then I just can't stop until it's done.
So it was last night, when I found myself still awake at 1 am, stuffing a pillow form into its new wrapper.

What do you think?
I'm pretty happy with it. The seams are all perfect, it fit over the pillow just fine, and it wasn't so big that there is excess fabric draping all funky.
Here's a closer view:
Unfortunately, due to the current season I'm never home during daylight hours, so artificial lighting is what I get to take photographs.

This weekend I have big plans for crafting. We'll see how much I get accomplished.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More Motifs (with bonus Buddy pic)

I really can't seem to stop making crochet squares. Maybe I'm not going to find that perfect motif because it doesn't really exist. Maybe I'm just wasting a lot of time (and yarn) by trying.
Then again, it's a lot of fun. I don't want to stop.

So here's the most recent in my exploration:
This was my attempt at the Sunrise/Sunset square. I've seen a couple of afghans on Ravelry using this pattern, and they look awesome. Mine....doesn't. I miscounted stitches and didn't realize my mistake until several rounds later. Oh well.

Next, there's this one:
I have to say, this is probably my favorite square to date. (Have I said that before?) This is Priscilla Hewitt's Spring Breeze Afghan Square. It is very easy to stitch, and looks so pretty! I'm going to stitch some more using more than one color...

In case you are wondering what happens to all these squares once I've finished them...

They get piled in a yarn box. Each and every one of them has Buddy's seal of approval.

Over the Hump

It's Wednesday. We're more than halfway to the weekend.
I wish I had more to write about, but really that's about it. Work is a grind. My evenings are spent browsing the internet, watching Big Bang Theory on DVD, and crocheting.
Oh, add sewing this week.
I found a pattern in the Winter 2011 issue of Simple Quilts & Sewing for fabric produce bags made from fat quarters, and I decided to give it a go. I've had some green batik yardage hanging around the craft bin for a long time (I think it was intended for pillowcases, but I bought it so long ago I don't remember.) Anyway, the pattern was ridiculously simple and I think each one took me about 20 minutes, and some of that time was waiting for the iron to get hot.
Here's what I finished with:
They're on the smallish size, but I fit two bottles of water, a notebook, colored pencils and a tylenol bottle in one of them just fine. Tim figured out they are the perfect size for an egg carton, too.

I might try making some larger ones. Next week.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekend Wind-up

Today, I don't feel like I accomplished anywhere near what I did last weekend.
I'm sure this is partly due to being called in to work last-minute today, the day I had planned to use for replacing the kitchen light, crocheting some more motifs, and finishing up piecing my first quilt top.
Instead I got to venture out into the cold and wind for a few hours.

But I did succeed in a few things yesterday, most notably creating (and subsequently rejecting) two more motifs, as well as piecing a large chunk of the quilt I am making for my niece.

One of the things I like about trying out so many squares (and other shapes) is that with every completed square I realize more of my requirements for that "perfect" one. Size is important, as well as ease of construction. Picots are out, and too many single crochets are cause for rejection, as well. Shape is, oddly, not that critical to me; squares, circles, hexagons, and octagons are all fine, so long as I can join them easily.

First, the crochet:

This motif came from the Sunset Evening Throw available on the Caron website. The motifs actually look pretty nice in the deep red sample featured on the website, but I don't like working it. All those little loops? There are many single crochets in each one of those. Far too tedious for me.

Next, is the Castle's End square, the pattern for which is on Crochetville:
Actually, I shouldn't say I've rejected this one yet. It's actually really cool-looking, and it's pretty fun to make. Also, the one I made is 7" square, which is pretty decent. This motif shows some promise.

On to the quilting:
I decided some weeks ago that I want to start making quilts. I have no idea where this impulse came from, but the upshot is that I planned two kid-sized quilts to make for my niece & nephew, Liz & Lincoln. I found a (very simple) pattern utilizing charm packs (5" squares of fabric) here, and I ordered the fabric, which arrived last week. I spent Saturday morning cutting, and Saturday evening sewing. As of bedtime last night, this is what I had:
There are eight strips piled on my table. Yes, that is a crochet tangle peeking out from underneath. No, I haven't made any more progress on either of these. My intention was to finish sewing the strips together today, but getting called in to work put a hold on that.

My weekend was by no means just wasn't as productive as I would like.
Maybe this week I can achieve more?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Secret Santa Origami Book

Here's the book:

Here's the inspiration:

Here's how I made it:

I started with a modified Swagged Square: there are extra post stitches in rounds 4 and 6. I used an I hook instead of an H for this, which was just enough to match the square size to the origami paper size.
Once the square was completed, I used half-double crochet across one side of the square, turned, and used hdc across until I could fold the panel to make a book cover:
You will probably notice I changed colors a few times. In this case, the color changes went:
Red- 5 rows
Green- 2 rows
Red- 3 rows
Green- 4 rows
Red- 3 rows
Green- 2 rows
Red- 11 rows

The next step was to fold the end over and make it stay. I used the green yarn and single crochet for this:

This wound up being a single crochet border around the entire book.
Once it was complete, it was wrapped & given to my Secret Santa at the office holiday party, who loved the origami paper. Not so sure about the crochet cover, but this was just to keep the paper from going all over.

 *A word about the color: That really is red and green, not red and yellow. The green and my camera did not get along, which is too bad.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What happened to the blue & gray?!

Something you may notice if you've been following my Quest for the Perfect afghan motif, this week's squares changed color.
Yes, I ran out of navy blue and heather gray. Now I'm using Forest Floor and Bone.
On the other hand, I've found one really cool square! This one is the Swagged Square by Karla Fitch, author of the blog The Itsy Bitsy Spider. It's from her book, The Great Granny Swap Pattern Book, which is available as a free Ravelry download. (Click the title to go there!)

Anyway, here is what I created:
I love the way the contrast looks! My only concern is for how a bunch of these squares will join...the sides curve in a bit, and I'm wondering if the blanket would have a ripple to it? There may be only one way to find out...

I tried another square from Edie Eckman's book, Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs (link is to amazon listing). This one was a square motif, #95:
This is another one of those squares that I thought was really cool-looking, especially since it reminded me a bit of filet crochet. That was before I hooked it. It's still a cool-looking square, but it was a little annoying to make, and I don't like that.

There's one final square that I made just tonight. It's from "Beyond the Square" again (I'm definitely getting my money's worth out of this book!), and it is Motif # 113:
I'm realizing that I should probably stop photographing these on my desk & dining table. The wood is just too dark for these colors to show up properly.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Quest Continues...

Despite today being Monday, I managed to try out two more motifs today.
I don't really like the way either of them turned out.
The first one was from the book Beyond the Square by Edie Eckman, as most of the motifs I've tried have been. (Actually, I think all of them have been, until today.)
Motif #93 looks so cool in the book. And actually, my one-color trial didn't turn out too bad:
It isn't very big (5.5" square), probably because I reduced the starting chain.
My issue with this square is the counting. I miscounted on the 2nd round, and didn't discover the mistake immediately. Then, when I was re-counting, I miscounted again.
That's a bit frustrating, and I don't want to get upset with every square I crochet. So it's off the table.

The second square I tried, I found on Ravelry. It's the Forest Chains square by Jessica Gil. It's a 12" square and the examples on Ravelry look awesome, so I thought I'd try it.
It didn't work out so well.
Something is wrong here. Since I've been having an issue with counting today, I double-checked it, thinking maybe I added an extra stitch that I shouldn't have, but no...

 I gave up on this one before it was finished.
It's just too ruffled, and although I really like the other squares folks have made, I just don't want to go through the hassle of fixing it.
We'll try again with some different squares tomorrow.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday's Trials (and Errors) part III

And now we come to the errors of the day.

I've been interested in quilting, so much so that I borrowed a few books from the library and dragged my sewing machine out of the closet where it sleeps for most of the year. I love to crochet blankets, and I somehow got it into my head that I could sew a quilt just as easily, but faster, than I can crochet an afghan.

The same department store at the Arcade where I found yarn, also carries quilting materials. They have 100% cotton by the meter, and they have pre-cut fat quarters and layer cakes. I thought, "Why not?" and bought some material to play around with.
So, a couple weeks ago, I tried piecing a quilt block. The intention was to make a cover for a 16" pillow form that I have stashed. I originally intended to crochet the pillow cover, but this seemed like good practice.
I read the books, looked at a few patterns online, and decided I wanted to make a Dove-in-Window block. Why this pattern? Because Laura Ingalls Wilder pieced a Dove-in-Window quilt when she was a little girl, and I loved the Little House books.

My first mistake was choosing a pattern so complex. I'm sure there are many, many quilters out there who can piece this block with their eyes closed and will say to me, "But that's easy!" And it might be. It sure looks simple.
My second mistake, was using a tape measure, cardboard template and regular fabric shears to cut the pieces. I work with the tools I have available, and my sewing kit didn't have all those fancy things like rotary cutters, see-through rulers and the like. I'm actually surprised I found spare bobbins and a couple pincushions.
The third mistake I made was piecing this on my sewing machine. Actually, to my mind, a sewing machine is the perfect way to make a quilt, but in this case...well, I just had the regular presser foot that came with the machine. And I eyeballed that 1/4 inch seam.
I was careful to press every seam, like all the books told me too, and pressed the seams to the darker fabric...but...well...
Why don't I just show you?
Pretty sad, huh?
Of course, after this disaster, I ordered a few things: a rotary cutting set, a 1/4 inch piecing foot, and an even-feed (also called a "walking") foot.

The rotary cutting kit arrived last week, and I immediately set out to practice using it. Practice is a very good thing. It helps you learn to be careful and make sure the cutting blade stays against the clear ruler, because otherwise you get a strip sliced at a weird angle. (Yep, did that once.)
After making a few practice strips, I decided to make a Streak O' Lightning block. This one is much simpler than the first one I attempted, which is good. I sewed two of the strips together, then cut the strip into squares, then sewed the squares into strips, then sewed the strips into a block. It went a lot better, but I discovered why I really want that 1/4" piecing foot:
You see it, don't you? Bottom left. That one seam messed up the entire block.

I know, I could have ripped all those seams and started over, but I'm holding on to these for the future. I'll get pretty good at this eventually. When I do, I want to show how far I've come.

And with that, I move into the final trial of the day. I found a pattern for a "mug rug" (basically a giant coaster), and it looked pretty simple. It's just a front & back piece of fabric (no piecing!) and the batting. I figured it's a good way to practice machine quilting.
And I learned why I ordered that even-feed foot.
The top layer of fabric didn't move as fast as the bottom layer, and the fabric wound up with a tuck in it. I also learned that the tension on my sewing machine likes to change on its own. I'm not really in a position to upgrade my machine (yet), so it's something I need to watch when working.
Anyway, this is what came out:


At least I'm practicing, right? I love learning new things, and this was certainly a day for it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sunday's Trials (and Errors) part II

The Quest continues...

I'm really feeling stuck on what motif to use for my sister's afghan. I don't want to use a traditional granny square, but I can't seem to find the right design.
Originally, I planned to make a larger version of the Sonoma Baby Blanket, but I changed my mind after reading the pattern again. It's a very simple pattern, but I realized that I would get bored making all those squares, and then I would have to join them all...
So, I started looking for something else.
I recently purchased "Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs" by Edie Eckman. I was very excited when this book arrived, and I am still excited when I try the motifs out.

I'm just looking for the "right" one.
And I haven't found it yet.

Motif #49 looked promising. I even made a couple more to see how it might work, using join-as-you-go. Here's what it looked like with 2 motifs:
And with three:
This may be what I go back to, but finding the "right" motif is a bit like finding a wedding dress: you have to try on 50 to make sure you get the right one.

So, my next attempt from the same book was motif #7:

This thing is huge. I put my hand next to it for scale.

I actually liked this pattern a lot, and unlike the other circle I tried, this one has 8 spokes, making it rather octagon-like. Octagons can be joined together quite well, and I'm sure I can come up with something to fit in the gaps.

One thing I'm not too thrilled with is, of course, all those picots. So I made another trial piece, without them. It looks pretty nice, actually. I think I'm going to have to make a third, though, and see how the joining might go...or perhaps I could crochet them all together afterward...hmm. Something to think about.

There was also an ill-fated attempt to make motif #121. It's a square, with long chains on each corner that tuck into the next. The example in the book is awesome. Mine looked...maybe not-so-awesome...especially after one of the cats snagged it out of my hands and killed it. The resultant yarn tangle is not fit to be shared with anyone (except maybe the other cat-they seem to love it.)

In conclusion: I have two solid ideas, but the search continues. I'm going to try crocheting a square a day, and see where that gets me.

Oh yeah-the day wasn't over with these. See part III for my mis-adventures in fabric craft.

Sunday's Trials (and Errors) part I

I'm having a not-so-lazy Sunday. Actually, it bordered on manic for a few hours. The result of my productivity is a multi-part post.

PGX8HEFSZQHH (<----yes, that looks weird. It's for the folks at technorati, so they know this is my blog. Please forgive it.)

This morning entailed a major shopping trip, during which I spent most of the yen in my wallet. However, I got the office Secret-Santa gift taken care of, and found an awesome gift for my sister.
I also found myself at Nishizawa, a department store that has a pretty nice fabric and crafts floor. I've found some yarn there (Note: 40g worsted weight does not go very far. At all.), and I finally picked up extra purple yarn to finish my amigurumi elephant. See, here he is:

When I said 40g of worsted weight doesn't go far? I meant it. Back in September, I found the yarn section at Nishizawa. I was on a budget, wanted to make some amigurumi, and I figured, this little guy isn't that big, one ball of yarn should be enough for the elephant, with maybe some left over.
I was wrong.
For several months, this is what sat in my yarn box:
Sad, isn't it? He had no legs, no tail...for months! Tim was even asking when I was going to finish this project; I think he felt sorry for it. But today, at last, he can walk!
In case you're curious, this is what the yarn looks like:

I honestly never saw that part on the label where it says "51m" until just now. Huh. I might have saved myself some trouble if I'd looked closer...but then again, I think at the time I was too scared of the kanji and hiragana to look for something that made sense.

I still have no clue what kind of yarn this is; I know that it is very fuzzy and works quite well with a "G" hook. It's pretty cheap, too; less than $2. (The current exchange rate is about $1=75 yen.)

Check out part II of today's post to see where I am on the Quest for the Perfect Motif.

A Very Productive Saturday

Wow! This is one of the first Saturdays I haven't been called in to work. I managed to get a lot done around the house, too!

For starters, I finally finished my "Delight" afghan. I found the pattern in a Leisure Arts booklet called "Beloved Afghans." You can find it on Amazon here; I bought my copy at a Michael's craft store in Texoma.
Anyway, here is what the final product looks like:
And this photo makes it look softer, I think:

I started this project back in October, pretty much the same day I received the yarn. The sample in the book used Lion Brand Homespun, which I have worked with before (remember my "I Am Loved" filet afghan?), but I'm not all that thrilled with the way Homespun ends tends to fray. With all this fringe, I wanted something different. So, I used Bernat Softee Chunky in Faded Denim and New Denim Heather.
The pattern goes pretty quick at first, and after a few repeats it would make a good scarf:
But then, I got to a point where Tim & I would be watching TV and I'd have this project in my lap, and I'd reach the end of a row and need to turn it...and the cats would choose that exact moment to jump into my lap. It's been getting pretty cold here, so 3 out of 4 times this happened, I'd just leave it. Hence it took almost two full months to finish.
Of course, finishing the rows are one thing. Then, there's the fringe. If I'd simply finished off the final row and let it be, it would have looked a bit scraggly:
 So I had to add a bit of extra fringe. Here's what it looked like after I added the dark blue:
And finally, when the light blue was complete:
Looks much nicer, I think.

Once I finished the afghan, I decided it was finally time to start decorating for Christmas. As in, more than a wreath on the front door. As in, put the tree up!
We have an artificial tree. Our decision to get an artificial tree was largely influenced by availability; Japan doesn't have Christmas Tree lots like you see stateside. The Navy Exchange sells live trees during Thanksgiving weekend, but to get a decent tree instead of a "Charlie Brown", we would have needed to be at the store first thing on Black Friday...and then we would need to figure out exactly how to get it home in our little Cube car.
There are some things to like about artificial trees: they don't pose as great a fire hazard, they stay green forever, and you don't have to buy a new one each year (and later dispose of it).
That being said, there are some downsides:
1. You have to store the darn things. We actually bought our tree two weeks ago, and the box was standing in our living/dining room until today. In January, when it comes down, Tim gets to wrestle the whole thing down to the storage shed.
2. You have to assemble them. Granted, this is much easier nowadays, with the trees being three pieces plus the stand. I remember my parents' first artificial tree had separate branches that needed to be attached individually to the trunk. After Dad put the three-part trunk together, we had to sort the branches by length and attach each one.
3. They don't look so pretty right out of the box:

See what I mean? All those branches had to be straightened & then spread. It took me a while.

It's up, though, and it has lights, and 17 ornaments. Yep. Just 17. We have 8 red balls, 8 gold balls, and one silver bell. There are also a dozen candy canes, but those will disappear over the next month.
Actually, I'm surprised I haven't tried to crochet any ornaments yet. Maybe I should get on that?