Monthly Archives: January 2012

Why I Should Get Promoted More Often (A Long, Boring Discussion of Sewing Machines)

When I met with my boss yesterday, he offered me a very generous promotion. It means more responsibility and time at the studio, as well as a pay increase and insurance. My first thought was, “OMIGOSH, I can buy more yarn! Maybe I can even buy yarn at Bouclé!  Look, they’re right across the street!”  I did go buy two more pairs of needles that evening, but it was totally legitimate because I can’t knit Wool of the Andes with my Knit Picks Options because they split the yarn. Therefore, I needed to buy some size US 7 Addi Turbos in order to knit my beret. (I have settled on a pattern, by the way. It’s the Gretel beret by Ysolda Teague. Further bulletins as events warrant.)

However, I think I need a new sewing machine. You might be thinking that “need” is a bit strong, because I do have a pretty new Brother machine. The issue is that, while he does perfectly fine with thinner fabrics, and I’m loving the automatic clutch on the bobbin winder, the drop in bobbin, the quilting guide, and some other modern features, he has issues with thicker fabrics. I’m thinking that it’s time to go for an old machine. Enter Craigslist. There are tens of old machines out there for sale just in my city, all pretty reasonably priced.

My dilemma is this: I could buy a 1970s era Sears Kenmore that looks to be the same machine as my parents’ but perhaps a couple of years off. The sewing table that the machine is in actually looks like it’s in better shape than my parents’ is. But that seems silly because my mom has always talked about the fact that I’m going to get their machine eventually, and having two identical machines in the family seems silly. I do love that machine, and I know all of its quirks and foibles, so having a familiar machine has its advantages. And still I hesitate.

Another option would be get something closer to my great grandmother’s machine, which is in storage right now near my parents’ house. I believe that it’s an early 1950s model Singer. It’s in a beautiful cabinet, with drawers, a wide tabletop and working surface, a matching chair, and tons of bobbins and vintage sewing supplies tucked away in it. I believe my great grandfather bought it for Granny, and, if so, he did a good job. It needs some work, and I’ve been meaning to re-wire it. In fact, other than sewing a couple of seams with it when I first took possession of it in high school, I haven’t done any sewing on it. The old, cracked insulation makes me nervous, and I don’t want to get a shock or set something on fire. But, once again, buying another sewing machine like this one seems silly because I already have one of the nicer machines from that era.

My third option would be to go for something much older, like a treadle or hand crank machine. Disadvantages include possible (probable) troubles finding needles, replacement parts, bobbins, etc, and the fact that finding someone to do repairs could be difficult and/or expensive. Advantages include the fact that most machines in this category are tanks and can sew through pretty much anything you can fit under the presser foot. On top of this, maintenance is designed to be done at home. In 1915, not just anyone could hop in the car and drive to their local repair shop 15 minutes away. Also, the lack of electrical business and other complicated features would make repairs simpler. I know how to clean and oil a sewing machine. In fact, I’m pretty good at it, and fixing mechanical things seems to be an inborn talent for me. Plus, aren’t these really old machines just so pretty?

I’m thinking I should just get Granny’s machine out here somehow, but I’ve sent out a bunch of emails to people listing machines on Craigslist and we’ll see if anything truly promising shows up.

Any comments, helpful and otherwise, are welcome.



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A Double Knitting Tutorial for People Who Are Super Awesome at Counting or Why I Shouldn’t Knit Late at Night

When converting a pattern to double knitting with two strands of yarn, as I am doing for Hazel, it is important to remember that for every stitch in the pattern, there will be two stitches on the needles. For example, when the pattern says “K1,” you knit one stitch with the front yarn and one stitch with the back yarn. The easiest way that I’ve found to count this is to simply multiply the number of stitches given in the pattern by two and count every stitch.

As a simple example, my latest row started with “K14.” Using the method above, multiply 14 by 2 and know that you must count 28 stitches. When you’re done with these 28 stitches, note that your last stitch is actually a “front” stitch and that this is not correct. Make sure to go back and count the number of stitches in the front color. You will end up with 17. This is not correct. Swear. Check the clock. Is it past midnight? Yes? Then PUT DOWN THE KNITTING! For the love of wool, go to bed. It’s too late to deal with this.

Ignore the previous three sentences.

Count your stitches again. Reassure yourself that your front color is still in front, and that you’re just silly and can’t count. Knit back so that you only have 26 stitches (13 in the front color) on the needles. Swear again. PUT DOWN THE KNITTING! For the love of Addi Turbos, go to bed. It’s the middle of the night.

Ignore the previous three sentences.

Knit the two stitches necessary to make it to the end of that darn “K14.” Continue in pattern until you reach the end of the needle. Decide to write a pointless blog post about your experiences counting things late at night. Then go to bed. Really, it’s much too late for this nonsense.

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Getting Things Done

Today I did dishes, paid rent, met with my boss/artistic director (and brought Hazel along, which made him laugh, because his girlfriend is a knitter, too), got a load of laundry in the washer, measured my space to plan my apartment organization, read a chapter in the book that’s due at the library next week, and took a picture of Hazel with her color pattern started.

For my next trick, I’ll take out the garbage and get some more choreography done before teaching beginning pointe.

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Hazel 1.1

It lives!  I’m actually farther along than I was on Hazel 1.0 when I lost her to a dropped stitch and tight gauge.  I’m two rows away from leaving behind the horrors of multiple increases at least every other row.  I even dropped a stitch on this one, but it only ran back three rows, it didn’t run into any of the increases, and I was able to use my smallest crochet hook to pick it up.

One of the advantages of having to put my hair up in a bun or twist every day is that I’m surrounded by hair pins.  They’re the perfect cable needles or stitch holders, so when I dropped that stitch I was able to just reach into my hair, pull out a pin, and pop it through the stitch.  Of course, that moment when you actually drop the stitch is still torture, where you freeze, feel sick to your stomach, and think about having to start the whole thing over again all in the half second that it takes to register what the little dangling loop means, but it helps not having to open your tin full of notions or search for a cable needle or crochet hook before securing the run.

After picking up the stitch and finishing the row, there are 35 stitches of each color on the needles.  This thing is very compact, but the very slightly looser gauge makes Hazel 1.1 much softer than Hazel 1.0.  Please pardon my ugly, pink, provisional cast on.  It looks somehow vulgar to me, but you can rest assured that it’s only there to make the nose close up neatly.  Now I just have to decide when to do Hazel’s nose job.  I don’t want to do it too soon, because I want a good amount of surface area available to weave in the ends, and hopefully even make the little embroidered nose bumps with the yarn tail.

For now, I’m pleased with the progress.  I plan to place a lifeline when I get through the increases, despite the fact that I can’t remember ever using a lifeline in a project that wasn’t lace or insane cables.  It feels silly to do this when it’s still mostly stockinette up to this point, but I just can’t knit this nose one more time.

In other news, the apartment is still messy, my fuzzy pants and pointe covers haven’t progressed any further, and my coat fabric is still unwashed and unsteamed.  I did, however, substitute in five classes this week on top of my normal load of six classes and a couple of private lessons, and I got caught up on some laundry, so I’ll cut myself some slack there.

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Organize All the Things

My apartment is a wreck.  First up, the books.  There just isn’t enough space for all of them.  There are books on the shelves of the bookcase, books stacked on top of the bookcase, and books stacked in front of the bookcase.  There are also books sitting on my desk, books sitting on the sewing table, books next to my bed, and books all over the living room.  If I didn’t agonize over the purchase of each and every one, or keep perfect track of the books from the library, I’d swear they spawn.  The shelves are literally bowing under the weight.

The next issue is the knitting stash. It used to fit in two small under-bed storage bins, which don’t actually fit under my bed, but lived in the front closet. It spilled over into another, larger bin, which is really supposed to be for extra bedding. (In my defense, I didn’t actually buy that much more yarn.  The majority of the Great Stash Expansion of 2006 was just my liberating some of my high school era stash and Granny’s stash from my parents’ house.)

Then I got a large photo backdrop that didn’t have anywhere logical to go, so it joined the yarn and bedding. There wasn’t room for any more yarn, so my most recent additions are stacked on my desk. The extra bedding got shoved (semi-neatly) into the upper part of my bedroom closet, which meant that a large part of the fabric stash had to get removed to the living room to make room. As I got more fabric, it got stacked next to the existing pile, making an ever bigger pile in one corner of my living room. It’s also mixed in with supplies for a dress form that I haven’t gotten around to making yet; I need an assistant.

I also ran into problems when I bought my sewing machine and accessories this summer. For one thing, I drastically increased the amount of fabric that I have (see fabric pile above), and for another, the thread, seam rippers, machine needles, presser feet, bobbins, zippers, bias tape makers, pin cushions, and cutting tools exploded out from the small shelf that had previously held them. They’re currently stacked on top of the shelves in some nice boxes, and some flimsy plastic bins originally used to hold salad. A large faction have taken up residence on the sewing machine table, and don’t have anywhere else to go.

My dance clothing has always been an organizational hurdle. I have tens of leotards and pairs of tights, because I wear them in mass quantities. Then I have the wrap skirts, pants, fuzzy pants, shoes, more shoes, legwarmers, sweaters, and even more shoes. To go with these, I have a foam roller, back roller, foot roller, massage balls of varying size and density, Band-Aids, extra deodorant, industrial strength toenail clippers, baby powder, shoe deodorizers, extra pointe shoe ribbons and elastic, special needles and thread, assorted Thera-Bands, Icy-Hot, Badger Balm, ice/heat packs, and the list goes on. They currently reside in cloth bins next to the front closet, but these bins constantly get mixed up when I go digging for the particular warm-ups or shoes that I want.  They’re full to overflowing right now, even with many of the warm-ups in the laundry or in my bag at the studio.

(Yes, there is a bottle of dish soap sitting next to the dance clothing.  No, it doesn’t belong there.  It’s just taking a rest on its stressful trip home from the grocery store.  I wouldn’t want to traumatize the poor thing by forcing it out too soon.)

It’s gotten to the point that this requires action. My plan:

  1. Get under-bed bins to hold all of the yarn.  You heard me, yarn.  I said, “all.”
  2. Organize the bedding into the bins freed up by the above yarn organization.
  3. Get some wire shelves to hold the fabric stash, and a sheet or a simple cover to protect against dust.
  4. Get an over-the-door shoe organizer to hold the dance shoes and small accessories so they don’t end up falling to the bottom of the bins.  Hang it over either the front door or the closet door.  Then, spread out the large accessories and warm-ups into the bins so that I can actually find things.
  5. Get another small bookcase to hold all of the knitting/sewing/craft books to free up space on the original bookcase.
  6. Get actual bins (not flimsy, easily crushable, salad containers) to hold all of the sewing business.

Target had better get ready, because I’m a woman on a mission.  Tomorrow.  Or maybe this weekend.  But definitely before Coppélia opens.


Filed under ballet, books, knitting, organizing, sewing

Hazel the Horrendous

Remember how excited I was that Hazel was progressing so well? Well, she’s not any longer.

I took her to the dance studio Sunday morning when I met up with R to help her get some audition photos taken. I’m the one with a key to the building, so I got there when she did and then sat and knit while she warmed up. Things were going fine. I’d cast on with the Dove Gray the night before, and made it through most of the initial increases before L (our lovely photographer) got there, and put it aside while we picked out poses and took pictures.

Immediately after R was done, I taught my usual Sunday private lesson, and then went out to teach a ballet master class to a local dance team coached by my private lesson student’s mother. Hazel rode along in my tote bag, and all was well until I grabbed my keys to head back into my apartment  at the end of the day, and dropped them into my Midnight Heather yarn skein. They got tangled. I got them untangled with no damage to the yarn, but the skein was a mess with strands pulled out every which way. I still had the Dove Heather on the needles, and I did a bit more on that Sunday evening.

And then I dropped a stitch. One measly little stitch, which ran back down and got terribly confused with all of the different increases going on. I didn’t have a small enough crochet hook. Bouclé was closed.  I looked at my progress, and decided that my tension was way too tight, the dropped stitch was beyond hope, and that I was sick of that stupid whale.  I named the Dove Heather nose a gauge swatch, and I cut the yarn.  I don’t think I could have handled frogging it.  That left me with a fresh start on one skein, and another terribly tangled skein sitting in shame at the very bottom of my darkest bag.

I didn’t knit at all yesterday.  It was the first day this year that I haven’t knit anything.  I didn’t feel like picking up either my fuzzy pants or my pointe covers, Hazel was hidden away, and I’m still stalled choosing/making up a beret pattern.  Today, I cut my Midnight Heather yarn as well, writing that off as another too-tight gauge swatch, and I untangled the skein while winding it into a center-pull ball.  It was better than expected, with only the outer couple of layers being tangled, and they really were just tangled and not knotted.

So tonight I’m off to our Tuesday knitting club at the studio.  R, L, and I have been talking about this for a while, because L and I are both relatively long-time knitters and crocheters, R just learned over winter break, and we have several other knitters and crocheters of varying levels at the studio.  It should be fun.  I’m going to cast on again for Hazel, and we’ll see how this incarnation goes.  I think I’m going to try the double knitting right from the beginning this time and see if that goes any better.  Wish me luck!

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More Yarn, Please

Dear Universe,

If you let me win the Publisher’s Clearing House thingy, I promise to use the money for good and not for evil.  I promise that I will buy lots and lots of yarn with it, and the expensive, good yarn, too, so I’ll be supporting small local businesses like the yarn shop, and the small fiber producers and spinners and dyers of the world.  I’ll also buy more knitting needles, and I’ll try out different brands made by smaller companies, so I’ll be supporting them, too.  On top of all this, I’ll buy a really big house to put all of my yarn in, and I’ll make sure that it’s environmentally friendly with recycled materials and solar panels and whatnot, and furnished with goods from small artisans.  Then, I’ll go out and buy lots of old sewing machines, keeping them out of landfills and preserving them for future generations.  I’ll also buy lots and lots of fair trade chocolate and tea to fuel my knitting and sewing adventures, and I’ll hire people who were previously earning minimum wage and pay them exorbitantly to clean the trail of chocolate wrappers, dirty teacups, thread cuttings, and yarn ends that I’ll be leaving in my wake.

You have to understand, Universe, that my winning this super prize whatsit will be good for the economy and for the environment.  Of course it will be good for me, too, but that’s secondary.  I’m really doing this out of compassion for the world.  So, please, darling Universe, make this happen for me and for the world.


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