Practical projects and crafts

Month: January 2015

Sewing Plans for Fabric and Patterns

The last list of plans is for sewing.  Now sewing is a little harder to plot out than gardening or knitting.  Part of this is the fact that I always have a hard time finding the fabric I want and then picking one.  Yarn is more straightforward!  (Not easy either, but at least easier than fabric.)  This year’s sewing is probably going to be more relaxed than last year’s.  I have a good baseline of clothes now so it will be less of a giant rush.  So I have two goals, first I’m not going to rush and second I’m going to make the things I really want rather than trying to sew in bulk.  In terms of not sewing in a rush, this means that if I make a mistake I’m going to rip out the seam and do it again; even if it would look “mostly ok”.  I’ve found that when I’m sewing I want to move on and do the next step, but if I leave in all the cludges I’m not happy with the end result, and I will feel a little sad when I wear it since it’s almost exactly what I want.

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Summer Dress – I like making a new summer dress every spring. I don’t know what it’ll be yet, expect it will be in a bright print and probably the Anna Dress.  I have several blue dresses so I think a nice red one would be fun, but it’ll all depend on what I find.  Picking out prints is really hard…  Sometimes though I find an amazing one randomly though.  That was the source of last year’s summer dress.

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Winter skirts – I’m working on these now.  There’s no pattern picture since I’m using a self drafted pattern.  I wanted an A-line skirt with some, but not too much, of a flair at the bottom.  Previously I’ve used a gored skirt pattern (B1314) but it comes out looking kind of frumpy.  This might be because gored skirts are targeted at women of a certain age in stores and it doesn’t look ‘modern’ either.  While I love having kind of a vintage look to my casual dresses and outfits, it’s not a good fit for work which is often very formal.  (until very recently the dress code was suites every day)  So the expected look is well cut pencil skirts or trousers.  Having a small waist and wide hips a pencil skirt hits at my widest point and then goes straight down which looks awful and wide leg trousers have a very similar problem.

So, how to have a ‘modern’ formal style that also works for a pear/curvy shape?  The answer that works best for me is A-line with a gentle flair and a curved waistband.  The curved waistband is important since modern skirts often sit a little below your natural waist and if you’re curvy there’s a definite angle at that that point on your body.  The curved waistband means that your waistband will follow that angle rather than sticking out and leaving an awkward gap.

Also by having an A-line skirt with seams at the sides, you have a smooth front on the skirt that’s visually similar to a pencil skirt (and is easier and faster to sew, a major plus for lined formal skirts!) but with a shape that emphasizes the waist and awesome curves.  Since these are incredibly rare as ready made skirts I ended up looking up some historical photos (1940s) as examples.  My skirts end up being similar to the pictures above.

I’m planning to make them out of wool suiting (at least two at standard weight and two at tropical weight).  I’d like to do at least two in black, one in dark grey and maybe one in tan if I can find a good color.  I will line them with rayon in a matching shade.









Summer PJs – These will be a second set, the same as 2014’s summer ones (Kwik Sew 3553 for the top and Tofino’s for the bottoms) in bright colored cotton prints.  I have one pair in a dark teal/green. So I think I’d like a second pair in blue.  Or maybe navy with a small red pattern.  I don’t usually add the piping or the bow to mine (the elastic is enough).  It’s worth doing the combination since the Tofinio’s have a better fit than the basic pants pattern that comes with K3553.

And as for why bother?  Sure, PJs can be any random T-shirt and pair of exercise shorts or lounge pants, but these look good and I don’t feel awkward wandering around in them in the morning before I take my shower and get dressed.  Also they’re more comfortable.  Made in a light cotton woven fabric they’re loose and breathe well which makes them cool and comfortable for summer.

Fall/Spring PJs – These will be the same patterns as the summer ones (Kwik Sew 3553 for the top and Tofino’s for the bottoms) probably with long sleeves (or short sleeves and long pants…) and in cotton prints, probably one set with green and flowers and one set in reds.

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Winter Robe – This is going to be a standard robe for wearing around the house first thing in the morning when it’s cold. I’m planning to make this out of dark green polar fleece using Simplicity 1562.  If I could find something a little more stylish that would be awesome, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen so I guess I’ll aim for warm and comfortable.









Work Shirts – This will be Butterick 5526, the test version went really well, so next up are versions using fancy shirting. I have a nice silver and grey plaid as well as a french blue with a subtle pattern.


Holiday Dress – This might be a Hawthorne or maybe the Anna Dress or maybe the Snowball Dress or B6089. It will be in a dark navy wool plaid with light blue and lavender lines. I want a proper awesome holiday dress that I can wear with my holiday shawl or cardigan, so this will be it. Whatever it ends up being, I’d like it to have a full skirt and either a shirt collar type bodice or a boat neck. We’ll see…


There will also probably be things for Patrick too, as he requests them. These are most likely to be work shirts and pants, maybe some t-shirts or shorts. I’d also like to make a second set of flannel sheets and some pillowcases to match.

Next Up Knitting Plans!

So, once the  goals have been established, the next step is planning!  January is the start of the new year, and therefore for me it’s also been the start of all my new plans.  Given that I try to split my time between work and a bunch of different hobbies and projects having an outline of things I want to make helps with organizing everything.

ShawlPattern Shawl

Summer ShawlLamira in a variegated green in Knit Picks Shadow is still going! I think I’m about two thirds done so far, so hopefully it will be done by this summer. This will be a light airy shawl. So far it’s been fun to knit, but it’s the sort of project you need to focus on.

Movie Night BlanketPattern Blanket

Movie Night BlanketAbrigado in Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky in Silver. I really want to have a big, warm, fuzzy afghan for the sofa and I think this one will do it. It looks nice on both sides and I will do an extra pattern repeat and make it longer to get the size I want. I’m going with Wool of the Andes because it will wear well, and I’m doing regular wool since I don’t think Superwash is actually all that much easier to deal with.

Sweater Pattern Blue Yarn Green Yarn

Everyday SweatersMy Favorite Sweater in Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky. I’m doing two of these since I think they’ll be nice warm everyday sweaters and they should knit up quickly. I’m going to do one in Bluebird and one in Grass, which will be nice happy bright colors for winter.  The pattern is customized based on your measurements so I’m hoping to get sweaters with a good fit.  I’m also hoping that since it will be knit in a bulky yarn that it will go quickly!


Winter SweaterFeather Nest Raglan in Cascade 220 in Silver. This one is a nice silver grey. The pattern looks easy to follow and will make it a little fancier than the other two.  I think the more detailed pattern will fit will with the light blue color.  Also, it looks similar to the pattern on the blanket I’m knitting so hopefully experience will make it go faster.

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Lace ShawlNadira in Knit Picks Alpaca Cloud in Midnight. It will be a pretty almost black navy color with a lot of drape. I think it will also be really soft and warm.  I haven’t knit with alpaca before so this will be an interesting learning curve.  I’m hoping it goes well, and since it’s a lace weight shawl I hope it won’t mater that the yarn is not as robust.

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Spring ShawlSummer Flies in a deep purple in Wool of the Andes. This is a “for fun” shawl to wear with my sun dresses in spring.  The last time I knit a smaller shawl it ended up being too small (I’m not sure how to wear it).  But Summer Flies looks like a happy medium in that it should be small enough for warmer weather and faster to knit, but it’s big enough to look like a shawl.

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Aran SweaterTelluride in Wool of the Andes in Spruce. This is a deep green with a little blue in it (it’s a Christmas Tree green).  I think the pattern looks like fun.  There will be seaming which I’m not happy about, but I like the pattern, and it’s one I already own, so I’d like to give it a shot.

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Holiday ShawlEdwina Shawl in Knit Picks Gloss Lace in Port. This is a jewel tone red and a pretty lacy shawl that I think would be fun to wear around the holidays. The Gloss Lace has a nice shine to it that fits well.  I really like the pattern on this shawl and I think it would look beautiful (and be warm!) to wear it in winter when it’s cold and dark.

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Dresses CardiganMiette Cardigan in Wool of the Andes in Baltic Heather. The problem with normal length cardigans is they tend to look odd when worn with my dresses that sit at my natural waist, so I want to make a more cropped cardigan to wear with my sun dresses in spring and fall. It’s also a good way to use up yarn!  I discovered last spring (when I wanted to wear my new dress to see the cherry blossoms) that I don’t have any cardigans short enough to look right on a dress that sits at my natural waist.  This will also be a good way to use yarn that I don’t have quite enough of to finish a larger cardigan.

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Holiday Cardigan – This would be the Hopper Cardigan from New American Knits in Wool of the Andes in Garnet Heather. I want to make myself an awesome wool dress for Christmas 2015 in navy and pale blue. I think this cardigan (and/or the Edwina shawl!) would look great with that.  I really love this color, and I haven’t used any of the patterns from New American Knits yet, so this will be a great way to fix that.


Favorite Color Shawl – This will be a shawl using the Road to China – Silken Jewels Light in Topaz Kristen gave me for Christmas. The yarn is beautiful and really soft, so I’m not brave enough to make a sweater out of it. I think a shawl will be beautiful and not subjected to as much wear and tear as a sweater. Currently I’m thinking this will be the Margarethe Lace Shawl, though I haven’t decided for sure.


Garden Plans for 2015!

2015 Garden Plan

This is my 2015 garden!  Or at least I hope it will be.  I have 6 beds to work with, they’re not big raised beds with defined sides, but I find it easier to build up the soil in my garden into separate beds and then mulch in between them.  The above picture shows the layout I have planned for most of the summer, though hopefully I’ll have some additional vegetables to grow in spring and fall.  I’m also hoping to grow herbs and some extra tomatoes in containers as well.


First we’ve got the border.  I planted two types of garlic last October, Chesnok Red and German Porcelain.  These are both hard-neck because I’m hoping to get scapes this year.  Also, I planted in fall since I’m hoping they’ll actually develop heads this year.  The first year I got very small heads of garlic and last year the garlic got taken over by the celery and peppers.  The garlic will also be sharing the border with marigolds, scallions and ginger.  The scallions and ginger I planted last year and the garlic should be ready to pull about the time the marigolds start to get big.

I’m planting the ‘French Vanilla’ variety of marigolds this year because P. really likes them.  They will also fit well with the other flowers I have planned.

Inside “The Fortress” I have a number of different beds.  The front left bed has three types of strawberries I planted last year.  There are early, late and ever-bearing varieties.  Last year they did pretty well, I didn’t get enough to make jam from them, but I did get plenty to eat fresh.  I also learned at the end of the season that they’re very good at making lots of new strawberry plants, which are currently trying to colonize the two beds above them.

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The bed on the upper left will be the squash bed.  After squash vine borers obliterating my squash the last couple years, this year I’m going with only two types of winter squash and no summer squash.  Both the White Cushaw and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck are supposed to be very resistant to vine borers and are also supposed to be good dense squash for roasting and making pies.  I’m also planning to grow a mix of colorful carrots (“Kaleidoscope”) around the edge of the squash bed.  I think they’ll finish before the squash gets big enough to take them over.

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Next door is the pepper bed.  We’re growing four types of peppers again this year since last year we actually did really well with out peppers.  The secret to the peppers seems to be making sure they have a reasonable amount of fertilizer and water and making absolutely sure they get plenty of light.  Giving them most of a bed last year seemed to do the job.  This year, we’re going to see if we can take that a step further and grow even more.  We got plenty of bell peppers (“Block Party”) and jalapenos (“Hot M”), but not as many wax peppers (“Hungarian”) and habaneros (“Caribbean”).  The habaneros still gave us enough for our needs (a little goes a long way!) but wax peppers are very tasty and more slow growing, so we’ll be doing more of those this year.

I’m also going to grow some “Tokyo Cross” turnips in this bed in early spring before the peppers get going.  They’re only supposed to take about a month to grow, so I’m hoping I can get a bunch of nice turnips before the peppers are ready to head outside.

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Moving further right I have the favorite victims of the slugs and cabbage moths.  Last year the experiment of direct seeding broccoli was a failure, made worse when the survivors got taken over by the tomatillos.  So this year, the “Sun King” broccoli is getting a second chance, mixed with “Packman” to spread out the harvest.  They will also spend their entire lives outdoors covered by a summer weight inset barrier so I’m hoping to get lots of tasty broccoli without having to spend 10 minutes evicting caterpillars before eating them.  In front of the broccoli we’re going to try chard (“Neon Lights”).  The spinach never got going last year, and I’ve read it can be kind of finicky so we’re going to see if chard does better.  P. has banned kale, so hopefully chard will be a good spinach substitute.

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The bed on the far right will have the most seasonal changes.  In spring, it will be half full of peas (“Little Marvel” and “Burpeeana Early”).  Last year we got about a cup and a half of peas, but they tasted wonderful.  So!  This year the peas get a lot more space.  Frozen peas may be cheap, but fresh peas are worth growing because they taste so wonderful.  Then in summer it will be half full of bush beans.  I have a mix of “Blue Lake”, “Cherokee Wax” and “Purple Queen” that are still good.  I’m going to aim for planting the purple and yellow beans because I love the flavor of yellow beans and purple beans are easier to find and harvest than green beans.  Then in fall this half of the bed will be a mix of peas, parsnips (“Half Long Gurnsey”) and some more turnips.  “Half Long Gurnsey” are supposed to be short stout parsnips, which I think will give them better odds in our clay soil.

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Behind the seasonal bed will be the main row of tomatoes.  Last year only the San Marzano tomatoes produced much at all, and then most of those were ruined by a disease that destroyed the actual fruit.  So this year’s plan is to grow “thug” tomatoes that can withstand our crazy weather, bugs and diseases.  So I will be growing “Early Girl”, “Ozark Pink” and “Arkansas Traveler”.  I will also be giving them each at least two feet of space and I’m going to use the heavy duty XL tomato cages from Burpee.  The cheap tomato cages I used the first year were a disaster (they bent under the weight of the plants) and while the Florida Weave method worked for my poor tiny sad plants this year, it was messy and didn’t contain them very much even if they were upright.  Therefore I’ve invested in some nice giant heavy duty tomato cages.  Hopefully this way they will be under control but won’t need a lot of pruning.

I’m planning to use these mostly for eating fresh.  I might freeze a few, or if we’re incredibly successful, do some canning.  But I’m planning to get most of my canning tomatoes from Butler’s Orchard (they’re a local pick your own farm).

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The last bed is the salad bed. There will be small, fast growing radishes, probably “Scarlet Globe” and “French Breakfast”.  Next to them will be more carrots, probably “Danvers Half Long” and lots of lettuce.  The lettuce will be all types.  “Ice Queen” for P. because he loves iceberg heading lettuce and “Buttercrunch” for me because it’s my favorite for summer BLTs.  We’re also going to have lots of leaf lettuce like “Baby Oakleaf”, “Flashy Oakleaf”, “Gem” and “Tango”.  I want these to grow quickly and provide enough greens for making a salad to go with dinner more often than not.  The last section will be cucumbers on a trellis.  Last year they died an untimely death from something that had to do with the cucumber beetles I think.  Still, I got lots of great pickles from “Boston Pickling” and even though “Marketmore 76” didn’t do well for me last year I want to give it a second try.  Since I love cucumber sandwiches, pickles and fresh salads I’m growing two of each.  I will also start new seedlings in July in case of more untimely demises of cucumber plants.

Crafting for a New Year

So, 2015 has started.  That means it’s time to make plans for what to make.  These are largely projects that fill a practical need, but also include things that are just for fun.  In particular I’ve got a couple things to work on, stuff I want to make, stuff I want to learn, and stuff I want to do.

Strawberry Jam  So, things to make.

  1. Clothing – Last year I worked on learning how to make basic clothing, either with sewing or knitting. This year I want to take that a step further and see if I can make clothing that meets or exceeds the standards of decent ready-to-wear.  This will mean working more slowly and carefully.  In terms of kinds of projects, this will likely be professional wear, dresses, sweaters and maybe some socks.
  2. Menswear – Another project last year was finding decent options for P.  There are surprisingly few patterns for men, so this year I’m planning to expand my collection of self-drafted men’s patterns as well as make some new clothes for P.  This will probably be professional wear again, with some casual shirts for fun.
  3. Household items – Time to make some useful things like flannel sheets, pillow cases and insulated curtains (what can I say, it may not be as cold here, but it’s damp all winter and that may actually be worse!).  There aren’t a lot of good instructions for these, so I think they’ll also make fun posts.
  4. Food – 2014 saw my first real attempts at canning and preserving, so this year it’s time to build on that!  This means making more jams, pickles, frozen veggies and seeing if I can put up some actual tomatoes this year! I’d also like to improve on keeping up with the make-ahead dinner options.


Next up, things to learn.

  1. Knitting Machine – It’s sitting in the living room in all it’s needs-to-be-oiled glory.  The circa-1957 instructions are pretty limited, so some experimentation needs to happen.  I want to learn to use it, maintain it and develop patterns for it.
  2. Plant propagation – Growing plants is awesome, having the means to generate more plants yourself for free is even more awesome. I want to learn to take cuttings from roses and save seeds.  I’ve got some pumpkin seeds from last year’s surprise pumpkins, so I will call that the first step!
  3. New Recipes – I want to learn to make desserts and new types of bread, so this will take some experimentation.  If I’m lucky though given that it’s bread and desserts, hopefully even the failures will be worth trying.
  4. Pressure canning – I’ve got a good start on water bath canning, so next is pressure canning.  I want to learn how to care for my pressure cooker and how to use it safely.


And finally, things to do.

  1. See more of the world – Making things, even practical things, is still a creative effort.  Getting out to see and do things like great music and the beauty of nature is necessary to fuel the ability to make.  So more of that!
  2. Share knowledge – I’ve learned a lot, and hope to continue that, so now it’s time to share that.  With any luck this blog will help with that.
  3. Work for myself – A lot of my crafts are practical, and I use them at home or for my family.  It’s a way of using my efforts to make our lives better, happier or just get a little closer to our goals.  I’d like to see if I can build on that.
  4. Grow things – I’ve got a couple gardens under my belt, so I’d like to see if I can make this year a garden I’m proud of from March to November.

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