Sunday, January 30, 2011

To Etsy or not to Etsy....that is a Question.

After almost 6 years of being a Stay-At-Home-Mom, or perhaps the better description is a Work-At-Home-Mom without a salaried gig, I am once again back among the ranks of the worker bees who go to their place of employment Monday through Friday for 8+ hours a day.  Hubby, only half joking, refers to this as being a mouse trained to push the food pellet button everyday.  So now my kiddos will be in daycare outside of their school hours.  I am not sure who will have the tougher time acclimating, them or me.  I start this Monday and I am both excited and sad to be entering this new phase of my life and my children's lives.

I like what I do for the most part and my new employer is a decently large company with little chance of being put out of business anytime soon.  The fact that I was hired while they were technically amidst a hiring freeze makes me feel pretty good about not getting laid off anytime soon.  So, yeah...  now that we have a second steady income, we might be able to get out from under a car loan, to replace my aging/high-mileage-doesn't-start-in-winter car, to put more money into college funds, to work on paying off the house early, and to retire (hopefully) before we are 70. 

It also means that my crafting time just became much more limited.  So now I am wondering if I should keep up with my Etsy shop or not.  It is not as though I am doing volume business there.  I enjoy creating and crafting.  Marketing and selling are just not a part of my bliss.  I like coming up with new patterns and putting them out there for people to try.  I like making things that make my kids and friends smile.  The Etsy shop was my attempt to justify the time I put into crafting and the different things I wanted to try and make.  I will admit to a euphoria when someone likes my crafts enough to buy something.  It's a nice validation that what I've done is worth something to someone other than myself, but I might be able to get that same validation by donating stuff to children's hospitals and troop support groups as well as making gifts for friends and loved ones.  So where does that leave my shop?  Should I keep it?  Or should I let it go?  I am still pondering.  I'll have a better feel for things after the first couple of weeks I think.  The shop will stay closed until I make a final decision. 

I will still keep up with writing this blog and The Midwest Texan.  I like writing and it's a nice way to journal things for myself, friends, family, and whoever (if anyone at all) actually finds me or my creative processes interesting.  But the Etsy shop....  I just don't know what it's fate will be.  Time just became a lot more precious to me and something... my crafting extra curriculars... will have to give.  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Word Smith's Craft

I have not forgotten about my blog and I am still crafting.  It is just that I am just doing a lot of extra word crafting right now in addition to my knitting and sewing.  Thus, the blogging has slipped a bit.  Click here for the whole story!

I promise, there will be more to come.  In fact, I am in the process of finishing up a custom order for my Aunt at the moment.  It is turning out quite well and I'll be sharing it with you soon.  I also have a new hat pattern to post that I hope will be the apple of your eye or at least something that the apple of your eye might like to wear.

Happy NaNoWriMo to you all!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Buddy the T-Rex Halloween Costume

Courtesy of PBS/Jim Henson

I have little boys, currently ages 5 and 3.  Both like dinosaurs and both like trains.  In point of fact, my youngest has a train obsession.  We have 20 hours of steam train documentaries on DVD and they are among his favorite videos. So when PBS and Jim Henson create a television show called Dinosaur Train, you know its going to be a winner at our house. 

I was expecting my littlest guy to ask for a Thomas the Tank Engine costume for Halloween this year but he surprised me several months ago when he began asking for a Buddy the T-Rex costume.  Buddy is one of the main characters in Dinosaur Train.  Asking me to make a costume in July is like asking me to juggle flaming torches, it isn't going to happen any time soon.  However, he has persisted in his request and PBS has a free pattern available on their website.  (Way to go PBS!!!!) Thus, the Monkadoodle gets to be Buddy this year.  (Note:  For those who wish to avoid sewing there are also no-sew instructions to make this costume.)

The boys and I went to the fabric store after school one afternoon a couple of weeks ago to get the fleece to make the costume.  The moment we entered the store, Monkadoodle announced in a loud voice for all to hear, "We came to get the fleece to make my Buddy costume.  I am going to wear it and say 'roar' to scare away all the ghosts!"  Then he made a bee-line to the back of the store where the fleece section is located.  I thought the store clerks were going to die laughing.  Every person we encountered in the store got the same ecstatic declaration.  He was vibrating with excitement.  I loved every minute of it.

Even at home, his excitement continued to the point where I had to do most of the sewing at night after the boys were in bed because Monkadoodle kept 'helping'.  Don't get me wrong, I love that he likes to help.  I love that he is interested in how the sewing machine works and asks literally thousands of questions about the sewing process.  I love that he is so invested in this project.  Most of all, I love every opportunity I have to teach my kids useful life skills and creative crafting.  However, Monkadoodle has been so excited about the project that his helping amounted to situating himself between me and the sewing machine while jumping up and down and pointing at the needle as it worked.  No amount of instruction or attempts to direct his energy were having any effect, and those little fingers kept getting way to close to the working needle for my comfort. 

My deadline to complete the costume was Tuesday, October 26th so that it would be ready for his school's Halloween Parade the next morning.  I finished up Monday night, one day ahead of schedule, and we tried it on Tuesday morning.  It's a bit big on him, which is good.  We use Halloween costumes year round as dress-up clothes at our house.  So Monkadoodle should be able to play Dinosaur Train in his costume for the next 2 years, unless he hits an unusual, above average growth spurt.  He just loves it and went around the house roaring before he decided that a fleece suit and hood worn over jeans and a long sleeve thermal shirt are too hot to wear inside.

I did make a few minor changes to the free PBS pattern.  These are as follows:

1.  I appliqued the blue diamonds that run down the back of the suit so it would look a little more finished and be more durable. 

2.  I put elastic around the ankles of the suit.  I knew it was going to be a little big and, with elastic, the pants legs would stay rolled up better if needed.  Besides, I like how it looks this way. 

3.  I did not attached the mittens to the sleeves of the suit.  While I like this idea, both my boys hate having the gloves or mittens attached to their clothes; so I kept them separate.  Instead, I cut the mittens 1.5 inches longer at the wrist than the the pattern called for and put some 1/4 inch elastic in the wrist edge hem so they would not fall off too easily.  I also added a claw to thumb and the finger section of the mittens to simulate the T-Rex claws on each of their two 'fingers'. 

4. For the hand claws and the toe claws, I made them a little bigger than the pattern called for and stitched as double layers rather than single layers for durability and a more finished look. 

5.  Since Monkadoodle is going to be wearing this costume to go trick or treating (thus, wearing his tennis shoes), I made the feet into spats rather than slippers by leaving the non-slip suede bottoms off the feet and stitching an elastic loop to the bottom hem.  This way he can wear the spats to cover his shoes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Template for Hemming

Picture by Lil Blue Boo Photography
I love tools and templates that make my life easier and my sewing faster.  I wish I could take credit for this little gem of an idea but I can't.  Ashley at the Lil Blue Boo came up with this dandy idea for a hemming template

I will most likely be making several of these in an assortment of measurements over the course of the next few months.  While Ashley uses poster board or heavy card stock to make her templates, I plan on making mine from the Dritz Quilting Heavy Duty Template Plastic I just happen to have on hand.  It should be quite durable.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October - The Start of Sewing Season

The air is growing crisp at night. Jack Frost has visited our house for the past three nights. The beautiful, mild, early autumn afternoons find my windows open and my children playing in the sand box. I, however, am tucked away in the basement sewing.

My sewing room used to be located in a cheerful,sunny bedroom located in the north west corner of the second floor. I had a closet and dresser in which to store my stash and loads of natural light from two almost complete walls of windows. When our second son came along in 2007, it soon became clear to me that sharing a room with his big brother was not going to work out. The baby was such a light sleeper that every sniffle and rustle that came from his older sibling left him awake and angry. Since was I was nursing him, I was the one who got up with the baby. The decision to shift my older son to his own room was born of sleep deprivation. It was the right choice for that moment. Unfortunately, it meant that my sewing and knitting would have to find another home. I carved a out a corner of the 'family room' in our mostly unfinished basement. My stash is stowed away in plastic bins which are shoe-horned under my hubby's camo/winter gear, just behind the love seat, and next to my sewing table. There isn't much in the way of natural light, but Hubby loves well-light spaces and installed additional overhead lighting in the basement when we first moved in. It's working out.

Every since we had our first child, October has been a sewing month for me. If nothing else I am making Halloween costumes. In 2005, it was an infant-sized panda costume. In 2007, it was a Green Giant costume (for Hubby) and a Sprout costume (for my son). In 2009, it was Hubby and son Tiger costumes. In 2006 and 2008, my oldest chose store bought costumes, so I had a reprieve from fur and felt and worked on curtains instead. Our Halloween costumes are part of year round dress-up play so we get our money's worth, regardless. In 2009, I followed up the costumes with a new pair of flannel PJ's for my oldest. So October has become a traditionally busy sewing month and the start of a busy sewing season which doesn't taper off until after Christmas.

Now it's October again. My oldest boy is going with a store bought costume this year but my youngest wants to be Buddy the T-Rex from Dinosaur Train, which no one sells so far as I know. Good thing PBS has a free pattern out there. I printed off the 51 pages of pattern last Sunday so I can start putting this thing together. Add to that the Thomas flannel that my little guy latched onto at Hobby Lobby the other day as he begged for new PJ's. He did need new PJ's and the flannel was on sale. So the PJ's are just about finished, the Buddy costume pattern pieces are being assembled, and I am thinking about an adult panda costume this year to use up the black and white faux fur in my stash. Yep, its October. Good thing too. I needed a bit of a break from my knitting needles.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baby Bib - Modified Pattern

I picked up a copy of Easy Baby Knits by Claire Montgomerie at Half Priced Books a couple of years ago.  It is a compilation of patterns for clothing and accessories for babies up to 3 years old.  The designs are lovely, basic, and elegant with a classic/vintage feel.  The only negative comment that I have is that you have to be very aware of gage and double check it against the intended size of the pattern.  Of course, this could just be an issue idiosyncratic to my knitting.  I had the sizing come out a bit funky on the Overalls pattern, even though I have met gauge, and have had to frog back quite a bit to make some adjustments to get it  back on track.  Of course, it could be the yarn I chose too - Caron Simply Soft, which I am beginning to hate.  Once it is used up out of my stash, I'll never buy it again.

The second to the last pattern in this book is Special Baby Gift Bib (page 116).  It is a basic, fast, very easy knit and I love it.  It would be a wonderful first pattern for a beginner knitter.  Most people would not think to knit a bib for a gift so you know that it will be a unique handmade thing to give.  Also, if made with a standard cotton yarn like Sugar'n Cream or Peaches & Creme, this is a nice absorbent dribble catcher that covers most of baby's torso, which is the whole point.  Speaking as a mother of two, I can tell you absorbent is nice, especially during the teething phase when my little ones wore their bibs every waking moment.

Me, being me, I did not like the pattern's original hook & loop closure arrangement.  This is, strictly, a personal preference.  I am tired of having hook & loop items go through the laundry and come out stuck on to sweaters and fleece, regardless of prewash prep.  The pattern as it is looks great and the original design would cover baby's shoulders, but I just can't get past the hook & loop.  I suppose you could use a button or a snap instead but then you might loose some of the "grow-with-me" potential.  A good bib is something baby can use from birth to preschool. So I chose to get rid of the hook & loop by altering the original pattern to include I-cord ties instead.  Below are my alterations. 

I cannot, nor do I want to, reprint those parts of the pattern that I did not modify.  So you have to get your own copy of the original pattern. 


Hynek's Handmade Alterations for Claire Montgomerie's Special Baby Gift Bib

Work as directed by original pattern until you get to Row 5 of the Shape Front Neck Section.  This is the place where the front neck edge bind off is complete and the stitches for the right and left shoulders are still on the needles.  I work both sides at the same time instead of putting the right side onto stitch holder as directed.  I also used an ombre yarn instead of working stripes. 

Work both sides as follows:

Row 5 - Seed Stitch 4, K7, Seed Stitch 4
Row 6 - Seed Stitch 4, P7, Seed Stitch 4
Row 7 - Seed Stitch 4, Sl-K-psso, K3, K2tog, Seed Stitch 4
Row 8 - Seed Stitch 4, P5, Seed Stitch 4
Row 9 - Seed Stitch 4, Sl-K-psso, K1, K2tog, Seed Stitch 4
Row 10 - Seed Stitch 4, P3, Seed Stitch 4
Row 11 - Seed Stitch 4, K3tog, Seed Stitch 4
Row 12 - Seed Stitch all
Row 13 - K, P, K2tog, P2tog, K, P, K
Row 14 - Seed Stitch all
Row 15 - K, P, K, P2tog, K2tog
Row 16 - Seed Stitch all
Row 17 - K, P2tog, K2tog
Row 18 - Seed Stitch all
Row 19 - Seed Stitch all

Place one side on a stitch holder.  Switch the other side to 2 DPN needles and work a 3 stitch I-cord until it is 15 inches long and bind off.  Then work the other side in a 3-stitch I-cord for 15 inches and bind off.  Weave all ends.

I need to test knit it one more time to be certain of the stitch counts.  However, I think you'll get the general idea once you get it on the needles.  I tried to maintain the integrity of the seed stitch pattern border.  It turned out pretty well I think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Testing Patterns and Products

Original pattern had velcro closure
I have always been a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kind of gal. Mom started teaching me to sew and to use her sewing machine when I was around 8 years old. I started with doll's clothes and progressed to making clothes for myself. My knitting was a nice augment to my sewing. Variety is a good thing and this is a useful skill set.

Now I am beginning to branch out from using other people's patterns to making my own. I started by tinkering with existing patterns to modify them to my style and preference. Now I am starting to simply make a sketch and then pull out my calculator to figure out the number of stitches I need to cast on my needles or the yardage of material I'll need. The first few times I did this I was a little nervous about wasting my time and materials budget on something that might not work out. So I started out on things that were for use in our home: curtains for my sons' rooms, EVE pillows for Christmas, and a new sweater for an old Pooh are good examples. Every time I look at these things I see what I would change or do differently the second time around - but that is just my design process.
A new sweater for an old Pooh

There is something incredibly liberating about crafting 'without a net' and on the fly. So what if I screw up, I'll just take it apart and start over. So what if some material gets mucked up, I just add it to the scrap bag and it will get used by another project. The hard part now is to remember to journal what I do so I can write down the pattern and instructions to improve or reproduce the product. Some of these on-the-fly patterns are very spur of the moment, like my Bottle Cozy pattern, or simple experiments in texture and materials like The Ashton Hat or Lorica's Toque. However, judging from the number of hits that those particular blog pages get and the fact that some other pattern sites are beginning to link to my blog, I think I am having some small successes.
EEEVAH! for Xmas
Improvement and reproduction is the kicker in pattern development, particularly if I want to publish the pattern or a tutorial as a freebie on the blog, or maybe even begin to do pattern sales via Ravelry and Etsy, one of my goals. How many times do I need to test knit something and in how many different sizes before it's good enough to put out there for other people to use? How will my product hold up to use and wear? How much testing should I do before it's something worth selling? It's one thing to make something and give it away. It's something else entirely to sell it. I want people to get their money's worth. Then there is money itself. How do you place a value on your development time and production time? These are just a few of the cares and worries I have in selling my work and making things available on my blog.

So far, with my free patterns, I have done the test knitting myself. I would love to have a friend or family member test knit them as well but I don't see that happening in a timely enough fashion to make it a viable form of proofing prior to posting. When I get to the point of selling patterns, I'll pay for a professional technical proof reader. However, while my patterns are free, I just can't swing that; but, if I get useful feed back regarding these patterns from other knitters, I will definitely incorporate it.

Product testing is tough for me when it comes to baby things because I don't have babies any more. I do gift things but I always take any feedback I get about these gifts with a grain of salt because most people are loathe to criticize, in particular, handmade gifts. However, experience as a mom and with knitting in general has given me a good feel for what works versus what doesn't. Still, feedback is nice.

Cotton-hemp soap sack in beta testing now
Lately, I have been experimenting with non-clothing items such as reusable produce bags and home spa products. These require more product testing. I have to make sure my produce bags can be ultra light weight and still stand up to holding a bunch of broccoli. My family and I have been and will be using these beta models for awhile before I make them publicly available. I am probably going to send my cousin and my mom a couple of things to try for a while too. Product testing is a definite kink in my product release schedule of late but, hopefully, it makes for a better product.