When to Say Goodbye

This is a personal post, something I have been trying to tackle for a long time.

I am in the process of getting rid of stuff. Stuff that I don’t want any more. Stuff that doesn’t work any more. Stuff that I’m just tired of looking at. Stuff that other people have given me that just isn’t useful to me or even my taste. Stuff that just doesn’t make sense to own any more. I plan on going through every drawer, shelf, nook and cranny. I decided a good place to start was in my craft closet (you know the one, the guest room closet that is crammed from top to bottom with crafty goodness because my formal living room turned studio is not big enough). I was able to gather one whole Trader Joe’s paper grocery bags worth. Woo hoo. Can you hear the sarcasm or do I need to start adding ridiculous emoji. (don’t get me started on emoji) I was hoping to downsize the whole contents of my house by one quarter, too ambitious?

So as I was going through my crafty items I came across a bag of UFOs. In the knitting universe, that means “Un-Finished Objects”. I had four projects in a rather nice bag taking up about 10 inches on my knitting shelf. I decided it was time to reclaim that yarn and that 10 inches on my shelf. I also gained back a few circular needles and the last missing needle tips from a set that I want to get rid of and just didn’t have the heart to pass it along until it was complete. The yarn went into my hanging yarn organizer (just a shoe rack that hangs from the closet rod). I put the project pages into my project binder. The separate pieces that made up that bag of UFOs were put away where they belong, so they didn’t take up any additional space. The ‘before’ doesn’t look much different than the ‘after’ but I will consider it a small victory.

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Before

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After

Some of those projects had been sitting there close to a decade. Sad I know. But why hadn’t I reclaimed the yarn sooner? I think I didn’t want to ‘waste’ the time I had already put into the knitting. Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I was defeated by yarn and a pattern. Maybe I didn’t want to take the time to undo them. They might have been boring projects that didn’t inspire me. I really don’t know the reason but I will tell you that it was a relief to clear that 10 inches of space.

I don’t regret or miss anything that I have taken out of my home so far (or ever now that I think of it), yet just thinking about getting rid of that much stuff would have sent me into a tizzy not too long ago. I want a simpler life. I want to reach into the closet for a bag and not have a dozen baseball caps fall on me. Our house isn’t that bad compared to some I’m sure, but I know we could do with a lot less. And be much happier after all the excess is gone. Now if I can get my children on board that would be a miracle! My daughter just the other day said that she has too much stuff! I should have struck while the iron was hot but we had to go somewhere and I’m almost certain if I asked her about it she would deny she ever said it!

Getting rid of things can be easy for some, a pain in the rear time wise for others or sometimes just outright impossible. Humans can have emotional attachments to things. I know my memory isn’t great so ‘stuff’ will help me remember good times.

And then there are times when you lose someone special and the things they loved or owned have new meaning. People cope in different ways. Just to share a little background with you on this last picture. My Mom looooooooooves animals, sometimes I think she loves them more than her human offspring, and takes it hard when one of her pets passes away. She recently lost her favorite bird due to some medical issues, long before anyone would have ever thought she would pass. When I was growing up my Mom was very protective and extremely safety conscious. I wasn’t allowed to write on my hand with pen for fear of the chemicals in the ink. Completely understandable, right? Until I get a call from my brother asking if I had seen my Moms new bird. I quietly swore to myself as he texted a pic of the new bird, thinking “oh no, not another mouth to feed”. (she has multiple large birds, two dogs and a horse and perhaps other creatures I haven’t been made aware of their existence) And then I swore some more, not because I was mad but in disbelief! Look at THIS!

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She now has a permanent reminder of her sweet bird, Pique, a sulfur crested cockatoo, on her arm where she can see her all the time. It has helped her get over her loss and move on. And I think she is very brave for getting that tattoo. She was able to get over her safety consciousness that would have held her back normally, not to mention the pain factor. She never had anything against tattoos, we just weren’t allowed to even think about getting one, EVER. It was her saying goodbye to her beloved bird and letting her go. I did get permission from my Mom before posting a picture of a pretty personal story. It sometime seems like we are getting rid of either the memories of a loved one or the memories of a special time period when we get rid of the associated items. True. But I want to make more of those memories, even if I forget them I want them to be there for my children and also just to enjoy my life! Not having to deal with material things will help make more time and energy available for living that life!  Next post will be craft related, promise, no heavy posts back to back!

Questions? Comments? Does this sound familiar to any of you?

When Converting a Purse into a Cross Body

I have a new(ish) purse.  It was a great price, color and size. It has lots of pockets in just the right places for what I need to organize. Only downside is it has a single short strap.  It looks great but when wearing a slick wintry jacket it doesn’t stay put and don’t even mention when bending over how it swings down and almost knocks me out. I have always liked cross body bags but they became essential once we had kids. Who can deal with all the kids baggage while fighting to keep a purse in place on a slick coat or just on your shoulder? Not I. Vera Bradley bags were my go to, but they wear out so quickly and cost a pretty penny… so enter the cheap, fake leather bag with the awesome layout. True it might not last long but considering its cost and the simple way to make it into a cross body I figured it was worth the effort. Here is what the purse looked like off the shelf:

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good old grey

Here it is with my strap fabric.  I’ve had this little piece of fabric for a few years, it is heavier than quilting cotton but a little lighter than canvas. Made by Echino I think. If not it really reminds me of the style and weight.

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Now onto the mechanics of the strap. Making the strap itself is straight forward and great to know for other types of tote bags. Here is the tutorial. And here is the strap magically finished!

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I took a look at my other cross body bags to make sure I understood how the strap was put together. I needed the strap to be adjustable, sometimes I need to wear it on one shoulder (when carrying multiple bags I like it to go on my shoulder so I don’t have straps crossing me every which way, not so flattering). And that’s just me, I like to make things as useful as possible so adjustable it had to be! So I found a very plain strap adjuster, yes that’s its actual name, imagine something named for what it really is…

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Thread it onto the strap like so: making sure the side you want to show is on the top in this photo.

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Folding under the last 1/4 inch, hold it so that it folds back on itself just like this:

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Try not to let your cat catch it, he (Leo) isn’t supposed to be on my work table but he worms his way on there every day and I don’t have the heart to tell him to go away. It gets kind of lonely working alone all day so he is great company (truth is: I can say that I am talking to him instead of myself, if he weren’t here it would be the wall).

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After stitching shown below (forgot to take a picture during). I stitched the same distance from the bottom edge as I did when making the strap and then added two more lines of stitching to secure it. Same stance apart to make it look nice, make sure you are keeping the edges lined up and catching the folded under 1/4 inch. Doing the first end is a little bit easier, you don’t have to touch the bag yet.

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Now it is time to place the new strap on the bag. Be very careful to do it right, see how the free end of the strap is looped through one side of the purse. I put the adjuster towards the back of the purse in relation to how I was going to wear the bag. I am right handed and I like to have the bag on my right side so it rests on my left shoulder. It is handy to have the little key pocket on the outside, so keep things like that in mind when putting the strap on.

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Here is how the strap went onto the other side. No twists or flips or anything to make it uncomfortable.

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Folding it in the same way as the other side and being very careful with stitching. Don’t let the purse or ring get in the way. Go slow through all those layers. A thicker needle would be helpful here.

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This is how it looked before the final, irreversible cutting of the original strap.

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The point of no return. Make sure you like the new strap you added before you cut the old one. In this case there was no turning back once it was cut.

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What do you think about the convenience of cross body bags??? I think all of my purses from here on out will be cross body!

Essential Tutorial: Tote Bag Straps

There are a few different ways to make straps but this is my favorite and it’s sturdy! You can use the same fabric as the tote but remember if you are making something out of less than sturdy fabric don’t expect it to last a really long time. This construction method is good for quilters cotton weight fabric through to a thin canvas. Heavier weight canvas might give your sewing machine a headache, it depends on the strength of your machine and if you have the guts. I admit, I go super slow on thick fabrics and sometimes wince when I think there is a chance the needle will break, it happens to the best of us!

To start, you need a straight edge on your fabric. No idea how to do that? See here for the how-to. When you have your fabric edge straightened, determine the length and width you want your strap. We need to cut a piece that is four times wider than the final width. The length is your final length needed plus your seam allowance time two plus a half  inch (this becomes a quarter inch to turn under to make the ends nice and neat). If you want the strap to be very secure, use a longer seam allowance so that you don’t sew too near the edge and have a strap that is literally hanging on by a thread. For example: a 1 inch wide strap x 42 inches long (with a 3/4 inch final seam allowance and extra 1/2 inch to turn under) would be cut 4 inches x 44 inches.

Keep an eye on your fabric design if you want a special part of the design repeat to show. In the following images I am using a fabric that has a larger design repeat than the width of the strap’s final width. So I cut it the best I could and when I added the strap to my bag I chose the side that looked better. You’ll see…

My fabric was a half yard so I needed to piece together the cut size. I am making a strap to convert a short single handled purse into a cross body. (Post coming soon)

I needed a one inch strap with a width that would go over my shoulder and then a few inches for some flexibility in final length. So I cut this: 4 inches x 46 inches. In reality the fabric was cut so that my final length was 4 inches x 46 inches.  I used two pieces that I matched up so that my strap would be the same the entire length and a 1/4 inch seam length to reduce bulk.

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See it? It’s a little blurry but it’s really there. 1/4 inch seam

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I like to use a thin fusible web (one side has heat activated adhesive) to create:

1) strength, especially because of my pieced together fabric
2) the feel of a more expensive bag, not flimsy
3) a crisp strap, not floppy
4) an easy to sew strap
Read instructions on the fusible well, you do not want to get the adhesive on your iron. It is no fun (I can attest to this). Plus make sure your fabric will withstand the heat required to adhere the fusible.

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After fusing the fusible, fold under 1/4 inch on both ends and press with the iron on the appropriate setting for your fabric. This creates a nice end which will come in handy for the end purpose of this strap.

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Now fold the strap in half length wise to find the center. Press with your iron along the entire length of the strap.

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Now open your strap so that it’s flat and fold each side down to meet at that newly pressed center line. When ironing, I like to bring the side edges of the 1/4 inch fold over down slightly. This is helpful when folding over so that the rough edges do not appear at the end of the strap.

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This is what it looks like when you don’t fold and press a little past 1/4 inch. Yuck.

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Ahhhhh….  Much better.

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Stitch all the way around the perimeter of the strap. I like to line mine up to the inside of my clear presser foot. It’s less than 1/4 inch, probably a decent 1/8 inch. Stay close to the edge but keep it even and make sure it is catching both halves of the strap.

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Finished product! Stay tuned for the final use for this particular strap.

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Keep sewing!

Essential Tutorial: Straighten Fabric Edge

This is an essential skill when making anything that requires straight edges like quilting, tote bag straps etc. I suggest investing in a good rotary cutter and a decent sized self-healing cutting mat. Bigger is better, I use a 18″ x 24″ mat because that is what I bought a long time ago, I would go bigger if ever I get the chance. Go slowly with a rotary cutter, you will be sorry if you don’t. Also, make sure you *STAY ON* the cutting mat with the cutter, I have accidentally cut through table cloths and even made a nice straight cut onto my antique table top (cringe). This was before having a table dedicated to crafting.

Caution* this is a very image dense post and there are lots of descriptive words ahead. I write for those who have never touched a rotary cutter and cutting mat in their lives. For those of you who have done this before, just follow along and try not to distract the rest of us 🙂 These are also written from the perspective of a righty. I’ve added directions to make it lefty friendly where necessary.

Step 1: Fabric Prep

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Fabric is usually does not come home from the store all straight and aligned. We need to do that ourselves if we want it to cut nice and straight. A little fabric knowledge to drop on you first so you can follow along: The straight sides of the fabric, adjacent to the store cut edge is called the selvedge. It is usually considered to be a straight edge (but not always! just look to see) and can have either little fuzzies, holes, a more tightly woven edge, printing to tell you the manufacturers/designers name or a combination. The selvedge is usually cut off before the project pieces are cut out but in some cases, if you need a half inch more fabric that will eventually go into a seam, it can be used in an emergency. Be cautious about selvedges that are a little more tightly woven, they are the ones that can cause trouble.

So, here is the procedure…
Fold fabric in half with selvedges on the same side.

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To get a straight edge from which the strap will be cut, fold the fabric again so that the two selvedge sides are lined up with the first fold.  Here is where experience comes into play. When lining up the selvedges and all these edges, the fabric might not want to lay flat. The goal here is to make the fabric smooth and comfortable, ignore the uneven cut from the store for now. If you line up the selvedge edges and the store cut end to try to make a 90 degree corner but the fabric doesn’t want to fold nicely down the middle you need to make an adjustment. Slowly move the store cut ends until the middle fold lays flat and there are no large wrinkles in the fabric and the selvedge edges are still lined up together. Now that you have the middle flat and happy, take the selvedge edges and fold them up to meet the middle fold. Which looks like this, below:

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We are going to use the straight edge of a long ruler to cut the uneven end off with a rotary cutter. If you have never used a rotary cutter, treat it with care, they are sharp! Using the clear ruler, line up the straight edge (as shown below) past the shortest spot on the store cut.

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Once you know where the straight edge needs to be, we need to make sure the straight edge is perpendicular to the bottom fold (the original ‘middle’ fold and selvedges edges are at the top). Fabric should be folded into fourths lengthwise and we are using the bottom folded edge to check that the ruler is forming a 90 degree angle with the straight edge you are going to use. Make sense?

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Use the rotary cutter to trim off the uneven ends.

Note to Lefties! The images show what righties need to do, if you are lefty do the same steps but before cutting, turn your cutting mat 180 degrees so that the uneven edges are to the left of the ruler. Make sure nothing slipped during the turn.

Hold the ruler with your non dominant hand with at least one finger or your elbow on the cutting mat so the ruler doesn’t shift at all. Taking the rotary cutter in your dominant hand, undo the blade cover and place the side of the cutter up against the side of the ruler. Then starting closer to your body and using a slow and steady motion, cut the fabric in one long stroke. Like cutting a pizza but do it in one motion and make sure you can feel the mat below you. A sharp cutter should be able to do this in one pass, if it doesn’t, replace the blade when you can.

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Unfold, smooth and lay out your fabric flat and look at the straight edge using the ruler and selvedge edges to check. They should be perpendicular. Look at the entire length, does it look straight to you? If not you can do the same process again, just don’t take off too much fabric when cutting, we want to save as much as possible. All done! Now you can move on with your project knowing you have a nice straight edge to start.

Questions? Comments?

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When working a pattern: Using Graph Paper

One of my favorite tools of the trade is good old graph paper. It is a simple way to keep track of where you are in your pattern. I have a very hard time keeping count and everyone in my house knows that when I am counting out loud they need to not distract me. Add that difficulty to counting rows, adding increases or doing decreases every few rows and it is imperative for me to employ some way to find my place when I pick up my knitting again. I also add other important information on the graph paper such as: name of the pattern, designer, date started, yarn used, needles sizes etc. All the information needed if you want to repeat the pattern later on.

Where the graph paper is the most useful is when you are given a set of directions that need to be repeated a specific number of times:

For example:
First Pattern Block
Row 1: K2, YO, P2, K to marker, M1R, SM, K3, SM, M1L, K until 4 sts remain, P2, YO, K2.
Row 2: K2, YO, K2, P until 4 sts remain – slipping markers, K2, YO, K2.

When the pattern says to repeat rows 1 & 2 a total of 5 times and then knit another row 1 again for a total of 11 rows, this is how I would keep track of these directions on my graph paper:

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By outlining the blocks that coordinate with the rows I need to repeat, I will not have the chance to do more than necessary.  I can also make note of my stitch count at the end of each row.  That definitely helps when the designer includes that information in the pattern. NOW… the most important part is to make notes and not forget about why you took the time to set up the graph paper in the first place. I like to make my check marks after completing a row, not when I start it. I have been consistent with my habits and like most things in knitting, (and life) being consistent really pays off.

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After finishing my project I like to save my graph paper along with the pattern for future use or reference when casting on a similar project. It has actually helped me many times, like when doing a special cast on and not remembering the best way to approach it if something didn’t work out properly the first time around I would have made note of it.

I hope you find that as helpful as I do!

Questions? Comments?

When Vera Bradley Straps Die (aka replacing straps on a good tote bag)

The straps on my favorite Vera Bradley pattern at the time were fraying and looking rather shabby. The photo below is my new favorite pattern (yes, I know it’s not a recent pattern, but I really try to make them last as long as humanly possible, they aren’t cheap!) and what the strap should look like on a tote bag. Now go down to the next photo, to see what I did to save my bag.

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What it should look like when new.

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What you can do to rescue your tote.

I bought four rings that coordinated with my bag. Then as luck would have it, I found an almost exact match for the bag fabric at the local big chain fabric store. I think it was supposed to be a look alike fabric (nice term for rip-off or copy cat) so the colors and design all matched pretty well. I was planning on getting a solid color to match but this was so much better. I did a little measuring to make sure I didn’t cut too low.  I wanted to have enough space to make a loop around one side of the ring and be able to get it onto my sewing machine. That probably means about 4 inches. Don’t quote me, I’m too lazy to get up and measure at the moment.

I recreated the same strap by using a little batting and the usual strap procedure (cut fabric 4 times final desired width and add 4″ to desired length, fold each side in to meet in middle then fold in half again matching folded sides together on one side, stitch lengthwise to secure and mimic the sewing lines on the original straps) to make it look as authentic as possible. Now sew each of the ends of the tote bag’s original straps to the rings and then attach the new straps. Make a lot of measurements as you go to either match the length if you liked how the bag hung on your shoulder or adjust accordingly. Don’t TWIST them in a funny way! You will be ripping out stitches!

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Before and After. Pretend they are the same pattern.

Great way to rescue favorite bags and keep them in use a little bit longer…

Want to see a more detailed video or tutorial? I’ll make one if enough of you are interested!

Thank you to Vera Bradley for making such beautiful bags!

When it is a Purl or a Pearl

I can’t say for sure why the word purl is spelled the way it is, I just know that it is the twin to the knit stitch. Sometimes I call it the ‘evil twin’ but only because it is a little more difficult to maneuver for beginners. Purl is shorter than evil twin, that is good when writing out patterns, less ink…

Many sites, including the Oxford Dictionary, say that it is from Middle 17th century of unknown origins and has two short definitions:

1) A knitting stitch made by putting the needle through the front of the stitch from right to left.

2) a cord of twisted gold or silver wire used for bordering or edging something.

Dictionary.com says that the word pearl is variant of obsoletepirl’ to twist (threads, etc.) into a cord. I feel like there is something connecting the two, don’t you? So much so that when teaching my students about the differences between the knit and purl stitches I use the idea of a pearl necklace to remember the direction the needle goes into the work. Plus, the purl stitch looks like bumps, just like running your finger over a strand of pearls. I call them bumps all the time.

So, if you forget which way to insert the needle for the knit or the purl stitch, think of it this way:

When you have your work facing you with the working yarn on the right, you need to enter the next loop to be worked and point towards yourself or towards your ‘pearls’ with the working needle (right hand).

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Vs the knit stitch:

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The knit stitch means you point away from your self.

Doesn’t everyone wear a strand of pearls when knitting?