Thursday, November 8, 2012

Snuggle Cat Scarf

I loved the idea of an animal scarf but I really wanted to make one in eyelash yarn so I could get the super soft snuggly feeling of a cat purring in your ear. Unfortunately, as much as I love eyelash yarn I have a horrible time crocheting with it.

So I’ve been playing with developing a knitting pattern for a simple cat that’s super easy to do but still actually looks like a cat.

Dagmar (the black kitty) was my first attempt. I used a strand of Boa yarn and a strand of Fun Fur for his body and when the Fun Fur ran out, made his tail in just one strand of Boa. His head is crocheted and his ears are a little on the round side. I’m immensely pleased with his legs though - I used a spool knitter. I suppose you could do an icord as well but my hands like spool knitting better:)

Lila was my next try. I redid the head so there’s no crochet work at all on her, just nice simple knitting. I’m still loving the spool knit legs; notice how the ends bulge out just a bit to look like real paws? It does that all by itself. Something I hate on scarves but it works out well for kitty legs. Her ears turned out way better too.

I’m trying for an orange kitty next. I think I’ll name him Brutus. I’ve actually named them all after cats I know, or used to know. I would say owned, but really, cats sort of own us:)

UPDATE: The pattern is up for sale in my Etsy shop, here's the link:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bell Knitting Pin Gauge

Just a really quick note today. I have managed to get my hands on two of the old Bell Gauges used for sizing knitting needles. Spent way too much but only because I couldn't find a reliable source to convert them to modern sizing.

So I scanned them and added measurements. Now you can print it out and judge for yourself. There are two lines of thought on how to use them. One is like a modern gauge where you stick the needle in the hole. The other is that you stick the needle through the hole but then also slide it out through the slot. Some of my patterns say "measured in the round" some don't.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Of Snoods and Hairnets and Reenacting

Much has been written on the subject of snoods and hairnets. Which is correct for your reenactment? And what’s the difference anyway? Oh, and where do you get one?

Now I’m not an authority by any stretch of the imagination. But I do read an awful lot of old pattern books and period magazines. My crocheted snoods are based on vintage patterns and happen to fit the general public’s idea of what is acceptable for Renaissance Faires and Civil War reenactments. Trust me, if you are attending a function that requires absolute historical authenticity they’ll make sure you know. I use the tags because I want my wares to be found and those words are what all my esteemed competitors use. It did start me thinking though...

and researching....

and more thinking....

and buying netting tools to make yet another stab at that confounded knot. I’m left-handed and I just can’t seem to get it. Although I have high hopes this time after a brief foray into Teneriffe lace and major web-surfing on net making in the fishing universe.

Back to the point. Look at this nice lady. Looks awfully similar to a crocheted thread snood doesn’t it?

Notice the word “thread” in the last sentence. I heartily agree that the modern ones made of thick yarn just don’t look right. Most of the pre 1920 patterns I see call for much smaller hooks and needles and much finer yarn/thread than is commonly used today.

This picture is on While you’re there take a moment to read the entire page - the man makes sense! I wear my snoods for house work, yard work and for keeping my hair from becoming a total rat’s nest when I’m riding on a motorcycle. For me it’s a practical item. The fact that a snood can be pretty too, well, that’s just icing.

Near as I can tell, the basic difference between a snood and a hair net is the size of the thread and the technique used to make it. Most of the Civil War clothing authorities on the web seem to insist that hair nets are netted, like fishing nets, not crocheted. I’d like to offer this quote from Godey’s in 1861:

This net, which has a very beautiful effect on the head (because the hair is shown to much greater advantage through the large square holes than in the ordinary style of net, whether done in crochet or netting), is made of bands of diamond open-hem, crossing each other, and edged on each side with a border of beads.

I’ve added the bold type of course, but you see my point?

There was plenty of crocheted headgear during the Civil War. Godey’s is full of patterns for various crocheted “headdresses”. Some of them bear a strong resemblance to a modern snood, just more finely done. Our lady above is wearing a headdress/hairnet. The back is probably a simple net design and possibly could have included beads or other ornamentation. Why else wear it for a portrait? Showing off one’s skill in fancywork was common practice back then just as it is today.

It seems that for serious Civil War re-enactors the acceptable modern equivalent to a historical hairnet is something called a Wave-O-Net. It’s available at beauty supply stores for about $1.50. It really does look like the ones the cafeteria ladies wore when I was a kid. I’ve got two problems with them; it’s machine made so looks like very fine crochet (not netting) and it starts life as a rectangle or square so has these cumbersome, unadjustable gathers at two ends. And, for the record, the mesh size isn’t that much smaller than the 1940 style snoods I currently crochet. If I were to decrease the mesh size and work in sewing thread instead of crochet cotton I bet I could get a pretty close copy. Without those funky gathers.

According to Wikipedia the first published crochet pattern appeared in 1824 in a Dutch magazine. Civil War Ladies were probably fairly comfortable with it. Human nature being what it is I’m sure that they started experimenting. Or even goofed up entirely but like the result so kept it. I meet very, very few fellow needleworkers who don’t “tweak” patterns to suit their own tastes. I can’t imagine that our ancestors were less likely to do the same.

I tend to agree with the people at Blockade Runner - a hairnet or snood is a practical item while doing physical activity. Something to allow you to move about without destroying your hairstyle. But not necessarily my first choice for a portrait sitting unless it was an exceptionally pretty one involving beads and fancy stitches. Or even a bold color...

Which brings me to another point of debate. While I agree that every day hairnets were most likely made in color to match the wearer’s hair as closely as possible, I tend to grab the brown one because it matches my hair, not all of them were.  The pattern quoted above states that the thread is to be scarlet, blue or crimson. Definitely not natural hair colors! And while women saved their hair to have it made into nets that were almost invisible they also took hook and silk in hand to make exquisite nets for dressing up in as well.

So whether you call it a snood or a hairnet, it existed in the past. So little needlework that we call new actually is. The names and materials change, the techniques become refined or modified, but the basic item remains the same.
These three girls could have used the same crochet pattern with small variations.

While obviously colorized, this chenille snood was just as obviously not invisible or made with fine silk. I believe it was made with the Godey’s pattern, shown on the right.

 Shortly after finishing this article I was browsing through the Metropolitan Museum Of Art collections online. I was using the search term "hairnet" and guess what showed up? Several Civil War era netted hairnets entitled "Snood". I don't think I'll argue with the Met....I'll just conclude it's a case of semantics and let it go:)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Huckaback Embroidery

Huckaback Embroidery

This style of embroidery was a precursor to the still popular Swedish Weaving done on monk’s cloth, which today is primarily used for afghans. Those designs are mostly geometric bands although sometimes simple motifs or letters are seen.

Huckaback embroidery is different in that the design is stamped (or drawn) on the fabric and a simple darning stitch is used to fill in the different areas. The embroidery is completed by going over elements with an outline or stem stitch to define the shapes.  It is an easy embroidery method that can provide impressive results.

Huckaback embroidery is older than many think; popular in the 1940’s, the New York Times ran an article about the “revival” of huck embroidery in 1909. Brainerd and Armstrong’s 1908 Embroidery Lessons book shows several beautiful doilies using this technique. Alas, they all seem to be 22 inches across and I have yet to locate a source for huck fabric in that width. (14-count Aida cloth comes in wider pieces though, and seems to be the modern equivalent to Java Cloth.)

The Encyclopedia of Needlework (2nd Edition) published in 1887 calls it “Darned Embroidery” and states the origin of the style as Oriental and that it was done in Europe in the sixteenth century, as well as in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The older forms show the design outlined while the background is filled in with darning stitch - a method shown in the DMC booklet titled “Colbert Embroidery”. Colbert embroidery seems to be the mother of the technique - the backgrounds are more complicated then simple lines of darning stitch, but the over all look of the finished embroidery is  very similar.

Almost any embroidery design can be used as long as it provides large, open spaces. Fine detail and intricate shapes will be lost. Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles work especially well. When choosing a design look for simple lines and bold shapes, almost a coloring book style.

Huckaback fabric or huck toweling is still sold by the yard and can be found with the by-the-yard bolts of monk’s cloth and cross stitch fabric and comes in 16 inch widths. You can also find huck surgical towels with an internet search. They seem to be mostly bright blue, with some other bright colors like yellow, red and green. They are mostly sold in bulk packages, so despite the small per towel cost, if you don’t need 100 of them, buying fabric and making your own towels may be a better option. Huck is 100% cotton so can be dyed any color you want. By the time you hem the edges and pre-wash it you’re left with a width of about 13 inches for your embroidery. The float count on the wrong side stays the same (10 floats per inch) both before and after washing. Most of the shrinkage occurs in the length; a 24 inch piece was about 22” after washing.

For larger projects Aida cross stitch fabric can be used and is also sold by the yard from bolts in 30 inch widths. Bolts of Aida will mostly be 14-count, but higher stitch counts can occasionally be found. And I think it would be interesting to see what could be done on monk’s cloth. Again, both Aida and monk’s cloth are 100% cotton so will dye well.

If huckaback is used note that you will be working on the wrong side of the fabric. If you feel the fabric between your fingers one side will feel smoother than the other - that is the side you will be embroidering on. The thread floats on this side are in pairs. There are also floats on the right side of the fabric, but as single instead of double threads.

You definitely want to use a tapestry needle. It slides easily under the floats without catching and is much less frustrating than trying to work with a regular sharp or crewel embroidery needle. You do still need a sharp embroidery needle for working the outlining. The very thing that makes a tapestry needle great for doing the darning makes it annoying to use for the outlining.

The older embroideries used silk threads, but six-strand embroidery floss is a much more economical alternative today. Use 2 or 3 strands of embroidery floss, depending on the fabric’s stitch count and your own preference. I liked 2 strands on the huckaback for both the darning and the outlining.

Whether to outline first or darn first is probably up to individual preference. I have seen instructions for both. Although if you outline first you will have an easier time finishing off threads as there will be stitches on the back to bury the ends in. The darning stitch is worked just on the surface of the fabric, so to end a thread you will need to bury it in the floats on the other side.

For my project I chose to darn the background and have the design itself outlined. I chose a design from DMC’s Colbert Embroidery book. Since it was originally intended to be a repeating band I fussed with it a bit in photoshop to end it at the sides. Then I printed the design out and taped it to a window with the fabric lined up and taped over it. I traced the whole thing onto the fabric using a fine tip pen. I tried pencil, but the fabric has too much texture to give a fine line and I planned for my outlining threads to completely cover the pattern markings.

I did not pre-wash the fabric as this project will never be thrown in the washer...and I was in a hurry to get started! I do recommend pre-washing your fabric if you intend to put it into the washer and dryer in the future. DMC embroidery floss is now colorfast and huckaback was originally intended as towel fabric. Some of you may remember the old towels in public restrooms - a big loop of fabric that you pulled around to a dry spot? That was huckaback. Sturdy stuff and well able to hold up to modern washers and dryers. For towels the general practice is to hem the sides and ends before washing. Iron the fabric when it comes out of the dryer and you’re ready to go. Do the same for aida cloth for larger doilies.

I started with the darning and buried the ends of threads by wrapping them around the floats on the other side. I tried to avoid any long jumps from one section to another on the back. When I started I wasn’t sure what it was eventually going to be; a pillow, a table runner or what. I’m currently thinking it will be an inset in a tea tray, but it may end up simply framed as art. Accordingly, where I can, I start a new thread or end a working one by running off the edges. Those edges will be turned under during the framing or mounting process.

At the beginning of the stitching I was asking myself what I was getting into, the unstitched area seemed to grow as I looked at it! And I started with the darning because it’s been a long, long time since I did any kind of embroidery other than needlepoint or cross stitch. As I worked though the lines of darning went surprisingly quickly. And with the pattern being so stylized, really just a big sketch, the outlining wasn’t too bad either. I would recommend a smaller project if you are a beginner, but only for the time involved, not because larger patterns are more technically difficult. This was started Christmas Day and the picture just above shows how far I got by New Year’s Eve. The total fabric is 16 by 26 inches. So yes, it’s a relatively quick embroidery technique. And it even looks pretty good with the outlining undone - which is always an option if your pen work is really neat.

I’m working on pattern pdfs for reproductions of the 1908 Brainerd and Armstrong doilies pictured above for for my Etsy shop for those of you who want to try their hand at this. And I made myself a bunch of huck towels to develop patterns for letters and motifs since geometric bands seem to be pretty well covered by Swedish Weaving, so look for those soon too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oh My Head!

I'm working on a tutorial for a 6 color woven ribbon headband and managed to stumble through my first one. It's loose and the weave has errors where I goofed, but overall it's passable.
I'm a little picky about my headbands as most are too tight and bug the heck out of me. So I was really bummed to discover that these were "those" headbands. Darn! Well, not much I can do about the one already made but at least I can fix the others I bought. I tried a trick knitters use to uncoil their circular needles and darn if it didn't work:)

So if you’ve ever wished those darned headbands didn’t give you a headache, here’s a quick solution.

The headband on the left is how it came from the store. I reshaped it to the one on the right.

Boil water on the stove (not microwave) in a pot big enough to give your headband plenty of room. You need a full, rolling boil.

Grab the headband with some tongs and dip one side into the boiling water. Keep it moving and don’t allow it to touch the bottom of the pan. I use a kind of rocking motion, submersing the headband from tip to center point, kind of rolling back and forth.

Keep a good eye on the tips, in about 20-27 seconds you’ll see the curve relax. Don’t look away while you’re doing this or you’ll miss it. Repeat the process for the other side.

And I couldn't resist trying it on my completed one too. I did take the precaution of putting binder clips on the ends just in case the glue loosened. I'm pretty sure boiling water will make the hot glue gun stuff fail, but I use E6000 and it seems to be staying. I'll leave the clips on until it dries.

Just 'cause I don't want anyone to ruin a hairband they love - consider if whatever your hairband is decorated with can withstand being plunged into boiling water for a couple of minutes before you try this on a completed one. The finished one I did was made with only grosgrain ribbon, and in my case it wasn't something I was going to be able to wear unless I could get it to relax. In other words, I wasn't losing anything by trying.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sugar Easter Eggs

Many, many, MANY years ago someone gave me a panoramic Easter egg. To be honest, I can’t even remember what color it was or what Easter scene was inside, but I do still get that sense of awe and wonder when I think of it. To my young eyes it was just so pretty and so intricate that it had to have come directly from the Easter Bunny himself. I always have to try making anything I see and I tried making some of my own sugar eggs as a teen. Unfortunately the humidity in my beloved tropical trade winds meant that carving out the inside was like, well, walking on eggshells. I did manage to finally get a completed sugar egg shell, but I never knew how to go from there and so the idea was abandoned.

Decades later and I’ve just completed a basic cake decorating class. There have been a few projects that have stalled over the years because I can never make that darn icing do what I want. I finally gave up trying to teach myself and signed up for the Wilton beginner class. Now I know that the leaf tip I’ve been trying to use was more than half my problem. So I thought I’d try the sugar eggs again. Maybe this time someone other than the trash guys will see them:-)

The sugar mixture I used I found on the internet, afraid I don’t remember where. It’s One egg white, 3.5 cups of granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. Beat the egg white really good then add the sugars and mix well. It’ll be like wet sand. I tried food color for a yellow, then switched to the gel colors. I packed in my sugar mixture good and tight, leveled it off with the back of a table knife and turned the egg halves out onto a foil lined cookie sheet to dry for a bit. When I went to scoop out the insides I discovered that the eggs had dried from the outside in, leaving a soft center which was easily removed. I used my metal measuring spoon to take out all the soft sugar and when it started scraping on the inside I knew I was done. SOOOOO much easier than in high humidity!

For curiosity’s sake I noted the drying time before scooping out the insides. You can see in the picture that waiting just one hour gives you a pretty thin shell. As the day wore on and got warmer a one hour drying time resulted in a thicker shell anyway. So temperature & humidity levels make a big difference!

The mold I used was intended to have a flat side for the completed egg to sit on. I wanted a vertical egg so I carved out a view hole using the flat part as a guide. Turns out that if you put one drop of water where you want the hole to be it will eat away at and soften the sugar. I scraped at it with a serrated paring knife until I got all the way through, then just kept scraping at the edges of the hole to enlarge and shape it. The trick is to scrape off a little at a time or you risk cracking the shell.

I’m not all that great at icing yet, but there are all kinds of pre-made royal icing decorations out there. There was this great bunny at Michael’s but apparently I waited too long to grab them - all gone by the time I went back. I did find some alternatives though and I think they’re pretty cute too.

I made up a batch of royal icing using the Wilton recipe, which is so simple I’ll just repeat it here: One 1lb box of powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons of meringue powder and 5 tablespoons of water (6 if you are using a hand mixer). I literally dumped the ingredients into my stand mixer, attached the whisk beater thing and let it run at high for 7 minutes. Of course, I did start off slow so I wouldn’t spray powdered sugar all over the kitchen... The icing got bigger, thicker and much whiter by the end of the 7 minutes. I scooped out about a cup and tinted it green and put the rest in an air tight container for now. I did have to thin my green icing a bit, added about 1/2 teaspoon of water. I loaded it all into a bag fitted with what I call the “grass” tip. It’s number 233. Just so you know, I love royal icing from a clean up stand point. Buttercream is most definitely not fun to clean out of tips or bags but royal icing pretty much just dissolves away. “Class” buttercream is made entirely with crisco and tastes icky anyway (sorry Wilton). I’m going to eventually try making buttercream frosting with actual butter to see if that helps the taste. So anyway, the only drawback to royal icing I can see is that it dries in the tip super quickly. Turns out even more quickly in the grass tip because of all the small holes. I ended up putting the tip under running water to clear it after every egg half.

First thing I did was pipe a bunch of grass in the back half of the egg. Then a kind of mound in the middle to set my little pre-made nest in. The pre-made bunny sits just behind the nest and is held in place by the grass in the back. Then on the front half I put more grass so when you look inside it doesn’t all just cut off.

Then I used a round tip and white icing to go aro und the e dge of the back half and “glue” the front half to it. You want to press the halves together pretty firmly, but no pinpoint pressure by the view hole please! I cupped both halves with my hands and tried to push evenly. Run your finger around the seam to wipe off or squash in any icing that’s oozed out.

I tried a few different designs for the opening and this was the one I liked best. The shell border looked pretty too, but I’m not good enough yet. Repeat the design around the seam to cover up the raw edges.

Right about then I was starting to wonder how I’m going to get them to stand up. I ended up putting a blob of icing on the base and then going back and covering it with the border design. All done!